The World's Greatest Stretch (WGS) is a legendary catch-all movement in the field of sports performance and fitness, and has been for a long time. It is extremely versatile and coachable, which makes it very easy to incorporate into a strength program for clients of any age or experience level.
You really get it all with the WGS—hip separation, thoracic mobility, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, increased blood flow and all of the things you want in a warm-up. You can even use it as a cool down, since it is far less intense than your actual training session and has recovery-focused qualities as well.
Don't get me wrong, I love the WGS as it is, but I have made some subtle tweaks to make it what I feel is the world's greatest World's Greatest Stretch!
Here's a look at my version and why I believe it's a better option for most people to perform.
Half-Keeling Hip Flexor Pulses
Begin the movement in a balanced half-kneeling position, which allows you to get true and effective hip flexor stretching without going into a monstrous Lunge and over-exaggerating that stretch. Perform about five 1-2 inch pulses in this position before moving into the T-spine portion of the stretch.
Coaching Note: Setting up in the half-kneeling position is a bit different from the "runner's lunge" movement typically seen. Neither one is right or wrong, but I feel that the split stance creates a more advantageous hip flexor stretch without risking lumbar overextension and inhibiting the core musculature.
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Half-Kneeling T-Spine Rotation with Reach
After the hip flexor stretch, remain in the half-kneeling position and bring both hands to the ground inside your front knee. Next, take one hand off the ground and rotate through your mid- and upper-back until your hand in pointing up and diagonally directly behind you. Reach as if you were trying to get your fingertips as far away from your shoulder as possible. Reach to lengthen your arm. Return that hand to the ground and repeat that motion with the other hand.
Coaching Note: Most people sloppily flop their arms around during this part of the movement with no real intention or goals for the task. Again, the half-kneeling stance encourages you to rotate through the T-spine; and the cue, "lengthen your arm" works wonders for giving purpose to the rotation. It opens up the upper back, releases the pecs and gives you some great mobility work.
Lateral Step Hamstring/Calf Stretch
So you've knocked out steps 1 and 2. Now let's bring it all together. Remain in that perfect split stance with about 90 degrees of flexion at each hip and knee. Instead of lifting your hips and hovering over your front hamstring, move your front leg out to the side and stretch the hamstring from this position.
Using your hands for balance, take your lead leg out to the side with your heel on the ground and your toes in the air, similar to a Cossack Squat. Rock back so your butt rests on your back heel and perform small 1- to 2-inch pulsing stretches to finish the WGS. After this, switch to the other leg.
Coaching Note: The standard hamstring portion of the WGS isn't faulty. I just don't think it's all that great —especially compared to the awesomeness of the rest of the stretch. A lot of times, people just hover over their front toe with no sense of position or postural integrity. It kind of turns into a lazy, slouchy hunchback-looking toe touch.
I believe moving the foot out to the side and rotating the leg slightly gives a far more effective stretch to the hamstring and calf without sacrificing comfort or optimal positioning.
That's a Wrap
This variation has the same flow as the World's Greatest Stretch you know and love, only with a few slight tweaks. It works better for me both pre-and-post-workout. I even use it between sets when it's appropriate.
The whole point of the variation is to prevent falling into the most common errors we typically see. If you change the movement to something that is less likely to get botched, you get the most benefit out of the stretch. It's all about trying to make the most of your training time and allow a minimal amount of poor movement as long as you can control it.
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