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a woman stretches in a gym setting

For many of us, stretching is like flossing — tedious but necessary. When someone helps you stretch, however, it can change the equation altogether.

“Humans are social animals,” says Los Angeles–based yoga and martial-arts instructor Steven Schilling. “Helping another person stretch appeals to our caretaking impulses.”

Working together also provides valuable feedback. “Alignment is crucial,” says Schilling. “But not everyone can see what their back, toes, or chest is doing when they’re in a deep stretch.” The extra pair of eyes helps ensure that you’re lengthening the correct muscles without putting undue strain on your joints.

After your next workout — or any time you’re feeling stiff — grab a friend and run through these four moves. Take turns as the stretcher and stretchee, assisting with the stretch and allowing yourself to be stretched in turn.

High-Kicker’s Stretch

Partner high kickers stretch

SETUP

Partner 1:

  • Sit on the floor with your neck long, shoulders relaxed, your back long and upright, your feet flexed and toes pointed toward the ceiling, and your legs spread wide, about 90 percent as far as possible.

Partner 2:

  • Sit in front of your partner with the soles of your feet braced against your partner’s.
  • Extend your arms forward and clasp hands with your partner.

STRETCH

Partner 1:

  • Keeping your back long from your tailbone to the top of your head, slowly lean forward at the hip joints, extending your arms directly forward (not down).

Partner 2:

  • Slowly lean backward, gently helping your partner stretch while making sure he or she keeps a forward gaze, feet flexed, toes pointed upward, and back long.
  • Hold the stretched position for 30 seconds, relax briefly, and repeat.

No-partner option:

  • Perform the same sequence sitting on the floor with your feet braced against the legs of a table, reaching forward.

Wall Stretch

Partner wall stretch

SETUP

Partner 1:

  • Place your hands on a wall at about chest height and shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide, index fingers pointed upward.
  • Step back about 4 feet from the wall; place your feet at hip width and parallel; and bend your knees slightly.

Partner 2:

  • Stand next to your partner’s hips, placing your hands on the iliac crests — the bony areas along the sides of your partner’s hips and lower back.

STRETCH

Partner 1:

  • Keeping your arms straight, your neck relaxed, and your lower back in its natural arch, slowly press your chest toward the floor, folding at the hip joints as much as possible.
  • Breathe deeply, pushing your heels into the floor and straightening your knees as much as possible.

Partner 2:

  • As your partner stretches, observe your partner’s lower back, making sure it remains arched — not rounded up. Help him or her deepen the stretch by rotating the hips forward to further lengthen the hamstrings.
  • Encourage your partner to breathe deeply and hold the position for 45 to 60 seconds.

No-partner option:

  • Perform the movement as described, this time pushing your heels backward, as if trying to scrape the bottoms of your feet along the floor.

Pectoral Release

Partner pectoral release

SETUP

Partner 1:

  • Stand with your back straight, your neck long, and your arms extended directly forward, palms facing each other.

Partner 2:

  • Stand in front of your partner holding the inside of his or her right elbow in your left hand, the inside of the left elbow in your right hand.

STRETCH

Partner 1:

  • Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your arms together against your partner’s hands, at an effort level of about a five out of 10, maintaining that level of effort throughout the stretch.

Partner 2:

  • As your partner resists, push outward on his or her elbows until your partner’s arms are directly out to the sides (extension).
  • Slowly reverse the movement, using slightly less pressure on your partner’s arms.
  • Continue exerting the same level of pressure as your partner moves slowly through the movement three or four times, taking 10 to 15 seconds per cycle.

No-partner option:

  • Stand in a doorway facing the jamb and place the palm of your left hand against the wall on the left side of the jamb.

Eccentric Hamstring Stretch

Partner eccentric hamstring stretch

SETUP

Partner 1:

  • Lie on your stomach with your left leg extended and your right knee bent as much as possible.

Partner 2:

  • Sit on the floor next to your partner’s bent leg and place your right hand on the back of your partner’s right thigh (not at the knee joint) and your left hand on their heel.
  • Press downward on your partner’s thigh and keep pressing throughout the stretch.

STRETCH

Partner 1:

  • Contract the hamstrings of your right thigh at an effort level of about 50 percent, maintaining that level of effort throughout the stretch.

Partner 2:

  • As your partner resists, slowly pull on your partner’s heel until the right leg is nearly completely extended.
  • Reverse the movement, easing up on the pressure on your partner’s leg so the knee bends and the hamstring contracts . Contraction should be easier than extension for the stretch.
  • Continue exerting the same level of pressure as your partner moves slowly through the movement three or four times, taking 10 to 15 seconds per cycle. Repeat the move with your partner’s opposite leg.

No-partner option:

  • Stand with your right foot flat on the second step of a staircase, your left foot on the floor.
  • Contract the hamstrings of your right leg, as if trying to drag your right foot backward on the stair.
  • Maintaining the tension in your hamstring, slowly rock your body forward and back, bending and straightening your knee, taking five to 10 seconds per rep. As above, work harder on the extension phase, and less hard on the contraction phase.
  • Repeat the move six or eight times, and repeat on the other side.
Illustrations by: Kveta

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