As a fitness trainer, I’ve often stretched clients after their workouts. Read this to see the benefits and general guidelines I follow when doing so.
Sometimes It Is Absolutely Necessary
There are quite a few people who can’t reach back and grab their foot to stretch their quadriceps. Usually age and decades spent sitting has left them stuck.
I usually have these individuals get down on a mat face down and I will assist them in stretching out the front of their leg by pushing their heel towards their butt.
It is a totally normal, and in this case necessary, approach to helping your clients achieve their fitness goals. Sometimes we need a partner to stretch us.
I don’t personally get this kind of pampering, but when I do, it actually does do wonders. I often note to myself that I should charge more for it.
Skills Involved in Stretching Someone Else
You’ve got to be in very good communication with the person. There is a certain amount of discomfort involved in stretching and if you are going for serious progress, then you’re right on the edge of pain.
I always tell people that pain is not what we are going for. We are going for relief, things loosening up and moving, but pain is telling us that tissues are tearing.
It takes a good perception of how much resistance you feel pushing back against you. At some point in stretching a person, they are going to tense up the muscle to stop the contraction. This is a normal reaction based on the muscle spindle. It is designed to protect your muscle from over stretching.
But if you’re stretching a person slowly, they can usually relax the muscle again and you’ll be able to get further. I remind them to breathe and to let me know if they are experiencing pain.
Always remember that they are running this show and you are their assistant. Don’t get it backwards because hurting someone is a good way to make an enemy.
Why It Works So Much Better When Someone Else Stretches You
There are several reasons that assistance works so well:
The person being stretched is able to fully relax. This is the coolest part of being stretched. You can totally play like a rag doll and just focus on not activating your muscles.
Some stretches just can’t be done on your own. In the case of an individual who just isn’t flexible enough, you’ve gotta help them.
You get an objective evaluation of progress. When I am stretching myself, I have a pretty good idea of what is happening in terms of my own progress.
The Trainer Stretching the Client
When I’ve worked in smaller gyms, I’ve had no problems stretching my clients. There weren’t a lot of onlookers, my clients weren’t hot supermodels wearing bikinis to exercise and it was generally a homely environment.
But in a bigger fitness facility with anywhere from 10 to 15 people watching you stretch someone, it can get funny.
The main reason is that everyone wants to line up to be stretched and I just don’t have all day to do that.
The other reason is that it involves a lot of personal contact. While I don’t have any questions about my intentions with my clients, the way things are sometimes perceived when you’ve got two bodies on the floor touching each other can get kind of funny. The last thing I want is a picture of me next to a woman on the ground that looks like we are tangled up in something silly.
These are actual concerns that should be thought with when you’re stretching your clients or getting stretched. Everyone has a camera on them these days and, man, they are willing to use them.
These days I’ll relegate stretching to the following:
- Clients with injuries
- Older clients that genuinely need assistance
- Athletic clients with massive performance goals
- Those who beg for it
Part of any fitness trainer’s job is his reputation. If you are a male, it is best to be known as someone who doesn’t stare at women’s bodies or get touchy-feely. But if you’re a 30+ trainer and you’re stretching the teenage girl on a daily basis, you’ll raise some eyebrows.
I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t a concern.
Isometric Stretching (PNF)
So there are times where deep stretching is needed. It also usually has to be done with a partner. This is called Isometric Stretching or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.
I really enjoy doing this style of stretching because the results are quite magical.
I mentioned the muscle spindle earlier. That is a sensory organ that tells your muscle when it is stretched too far and it sends a message to contract the muscle. But there is a little hack to reset that and get some more stretch out of the muscle.
You basically take someone who is face down and bend their leg so their heel is moving towards their butt. When it starts to get tight, have them push against your hand gently. Don’t let your hand move back.
With this slight amount of pressure held for about 10 seconds, tell the person to relax. Then, like magic, you’ll see the heel move closer and closer. (You might also hear some screams from the person!)
This type of stretching is very valuable to getting people through some stuck points.
I’ve used it when they “Just aren’t getting anywhere” with their own stretches. I have them get on the ground and I show them what an actual stretch feels like.
The Increase in Range of Motion
The entire goal here is to increase the range of motion at any joint.
Joint pain is often caused by an imbalance of tension in the muscles that cross that joint. This means that if your biceps are super strong and your triceps are completely undeveloped, you may experience some shoulder pain because the joint is constantly being pulled one way.
Lack of range of motion is also a precursor to injury.
Here is a big piece of information: The goal with every joint in your body is to restore full range of motion and strength through that full range of motion.
With everything that I have done as a fitness trainer, it involves this raw, core, fundamental datum.
As a fitness trainer, I can use dumbbells, machines, body weight, bands, ropes, pullies or my bare hands to get the job done. In the case of stretching my clients, sometimes they just need a little help.
I’m also not a massage therapist, but if I see that someone has a tight IT band, I’ll have them sit down while I work the hell out of it for a few minutes. This is to show them the difference between a totally tight IT band and a loose one so that they’ll start using the foam roller and handle it themselves.
Stretching people usually occurs once they are warm or after their entire workout. This can be somewhat of a… slimy affair.
Before the pandemic, everything was whatever. I would wash my hands before and after I stretched someone. There was no mask wearing to stop the smells from reaching my nose. It was rough stuff.
If someone sees you stretching your client, they may also freak out that it is a health concern. I try not to have those people in my gym. If they are that paranoid about germs they shouldn’t be in a gym in the first place.
But nonetheless, it is something to think about.
Pairing Up People on Stretching
I have had success in pairing up spouses and couples on stretching. I teach them to do PNF stretching on each other and it has worked out very well.
Sometimes I’ll have a guy that just needs to loosen up and it involves more time than I can personally give him. So I’ll have his wife get involved. I’ll have her apply the pressure to his leg and see the magic of PNF stretching (I honestly love this type of stretching a lot) and then I tell them to do it at home.
This is a simple technique to learn inside or outside of the gym. If you have some flexibility goal, grab someone to help you and you both learn the technique.
How Quick We Lose Flexibility
I stress flexibility so much because when we stop working out, it is the first thing to go.
There was once a study of athletes who had a full battery of tests done on them and then they were put in a bed full time. Literally no movement. They were then tested regularly. The first thing to go was flexibility, then endurance and then strength.
So flexibility is something we need to constantly use and work on to keep. Come up with creative ways to do it throughout the day to maintain what you’ve got. If you are dealing with a “been sitting for decades” kind of situation, then work out how to regain it and then maintain it.
This is probably the one thing that makes people look old. That grunt as they stand up or sit down. Usually the grunt is the person fighting against their own tight muscles.
So loosen them up and do them a favor.
Stretching is an immensely satisfying and relaxing activity. It quietens the nerve activity to the muscles and leaves one very relaxed.
It is actually a very nice way to end a workout and with everyone I’ve stretched, they have thanked me profusely. And they keep coming back.
So long as you respect hygiene, have an awareness of how others perceive you and are solely focused on getting results, you’ll do fine.
If you pair this up with massage, foam rolling and any other type of tissue-loosening activity, you will have hips that feel 15 years younger, shoulders that feel like they did when you were a teenager and a back and knees that finally work as they should.
Do not underestimate the benefits of regaining range of motion.