As a powerlifter, stretching is an essential part of my daily training routine. I can’t, after all, get into a deep squat if I’m not flexible enough! But as a personal trainer, I know that the number one thing that people — including me! — tend to neglect in the gym is stretching. If you’re one of those people who wants to stretch, but doesn’t know where to start, then the “world’s greatest stretch” is for you.
This stretch — which gets into your entire body, from your fingertips down to your toes — is dynamic rather than static, getting your body warm and ready to go. It also begins to activate the muscles that you’ll use in the workout while waking up the muscles you don’t think about when you’re sitting down most of the day. This is essential, because diving into your workout without “waking up” any of your muscles — or only swinging your arms back and forth a few times (so classic) — can lead to injury and decreased performance.
To get started on the World’s Greatest Stretch, you’re going to grab a mat and start on all fours. Make sure your knees are directly under your hips and your hands are right under your shoulders. Keep your back in a neutral position, and remember that any and all of these movements can and should be modified based on what feels good, what feels bad, and what your body needs at any given moment.
Once your body is set, engage your core by imagining that someone is about to punch your lower stomach: your core will brace, just like it needs to whenever you lift weights. Ground yourself and then raise your left leg up behind you, stretching it back and up toward the ceiling. Move in a way that feels good for you. And when you’re ready to come down — remember that this is a dynamic, active stretch, so feel free to move into poses rather than holding them for long periods of time — bring that left leg up beside your left hand. You’ll look a little like a runner about to take off into a sprint.
With your left foot up by your hands, take some time to rock your hips back and forth. This should get into your hip flexors and groin: you’ll feel it when you’re doing it right. And when you feel ready, raise your right knee off the ground and lean back — when your body figures out the position, you’ll get a nice stretch in your left hamstring. Move back and forth a little, in and out of the stretch — again, you’re waking up your muscles, activating them with movement.
And finally, you’ll integrate your upper body. Drop your right knee back on the ground and keep your right hand planted (so your right hand and left leg are supporting your upper body under your shoulders). Elevate your left hand and, keeping your balance as best as you can, extend your left arm up to the ceiling, really letting yourself get a good stretch through your chest.
When you come back down, reach beneath and across your body with your left hand (as though your phone is a few feet from the right side of your body and you’re trying to grab it). That will give you some nice activation in your thoracic spine. Repeat as needed, generally between five and eight times. Switch sides and repeat all these movements with your right leg and right arm.
The beautiful thing about this stretch is that you can really customize it to your own body. Can’t quite get your foot up by your hands? That’s OK! Adjust as needed, and your body will adapt to stretching over time. Depending on what your body needs and is used to, you can take this opportunity of being close to the ground to really stretch and activate pretty much any muscle you want.
Right as I’m beginning this stretch, I will often rise from resting my weight on my palms to resting my weight on my fingertips — I do this because I love the stretch and because I still have ghost pains from a surgery, so I need to take special care to activate the muscles in my hands before I lift. I also plant my toes and pull my heels toward the ground to stretch my calves: because I have plantar fasciitis, my calves can always use a good stretch. Finding these little adjustments that your body will love is the greatest part about the World’s Greatest Stretch: you really can make it your own. And in return, it will help you blaze through a great workout.