Stretching improves flexibility, which allows you to move your joints through their full range of motion. And flexibility is a key element of fitness; it can enhance physical performance and relieve muscle tension and stiffness.
You need no equipment to stretch, and you can do it anywhere. Stretching with a partner is a good way to enhance your routine, and some Olympic athletes have said they do it to get in shape for events. Partner stretching can help you achieve a greater degree of flexibility and range of motion. A partner can also provide motivation and help you vary your workout.
Ready to pair up? Here are the basics, plus five stretches to get your started.
Who should I pick as my partner?
It’s a good idea to start with a trainer at a gym or a physical therapist, but after that you can do it with a friend or family member—someone you’d like to spend time with anyway.
Is there a recommended technique?
There are many ways to stretch with a partner. One well-known type is called PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching. Though you can do it alone, a partner really helps.
In one version of PNF called contract-relax stretching, you contract a muscle against resistance, in this case provided by your partner. Then you rest for a few seconds, after which your partner helps you move that muscle into a stretch (see illustrations below). You repeat this three to six times, typically.
After a while you can switch positions, so your partner stretches and you help. Many studies suggest that PNF can promote greater flexibility than regular stretching. It is often used by physical therapists for rehab of certain musculoskeletal problems.
What does the helping partner need to do?
If you’re the helper, use your body properly for leverage, so that you don’t hurt yourself or your partner. Use the large muscles in your legs and trunk to resist the stretcher’s movement, rather than small muscles like those in your arms. It can be hard work. If you’re standing, make sure your stance is balanced, with knees slightly bent, legs set wide, and abdominals contracted; don’t slouch or tense your neck or shoulders.
Avoid any unnecessary twisting or bending. If either of you feels any pain, stop.
Can you tear a muscle when stretching with a partner?
There’s always some risk when you work muscles against resistance, so start gently. The risk of forcing a muscle beyond its range of motion increases if your muscles are very inflexible and if your partner provides too much force. The rule for any kind of stretching is that it should not hurt. Never try to twist a joint into an odd position or force it beyond its normal range. Starting with a trainer or physical therapist will give you a sense of how far you can go safely.
Five stretches to try
Butterfly stretch (for adductor muscles in inner thigh).
Sit on floor, bringing heels together near groin and holding feet together by ankles. Have partner gently help you lower your knees; hold for 5 seconds. Try to bring your knees upward as partner provides resistance for 3 to 5 seconds.
Relax, then have partner help you lower your knees again for a greater stretch; hold for 5 seconds. Repeat.
Back stretch. Sit with knees slightly bent and legs apart. With partner’s help and using your abdominal muscles, lean forward for 5 seconds; bend at hips, don’t hunch over.
As partner provides resistance, try to push backwards for 3 to 5 seconds, not using your hands. Relax, then partner helps you bend farther forward; hold for 5 seconds. Repeat.
Thigh stretch 1 (for quadriceps, on front of thigh). Lie on stomach. Have partner grasp your lower leg and help you gently bend it toward your buttock until you feel the stretch on front of thigh.
While partner provides resistance, try to push leg back for 3 to 5 seconds.
Relax, then partner helps you bend your leg again until you feel the stretch again; hold for 5 seconds. Repeat, then switch legs.
Thigh stretch 2 (for hamstrings, on back of thigh). Lie on back. With partner’s help, lift one leg and rest it on partner’s shoulder until you feel the stretch in back of thigh; keep hips down, do not strain (bend other knee, if this is more comfortable). Hold for 5 seconds.
While partner provides resistance, push leg down for 3 to 5 seconds. Relax, then partner helps you lift leg higher, until you feel greater stretch; hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat, then switch legs.
Neck stretch. Lie on back. With partner’s help, gently bend your head to one side for 5 seconds, keeping your nose pointed toward ceiling; partner helps prevent shoulder from rising.
Press your head against partner’s hand for 3 to 5 seconds.
Relax, then partner helps you bend your head again for greater stretch; hold for 5 seconds. Repeat, then switch sides.