Principles of active stretching

Traditional approaches to stretching views muscles as isolated units and recommends selecting a start position that puts the muscle on the stretch and then applies slow, sustained stretch to the muscles. The underlying assumption is that sustained tension on the connective tissues elements of the muscles leads to a degree plastic deformation. 

So for instance hamstring stretches empathize hip flexion with the knee in extension, either in sitting or standing. 

Trunk rotation in ring sitting

An alternative approach to increasing SLR and forwards reach in sitting.  You will find instructions for this exercise here 

Rethinking flexibility from a fascial network perspective

  1. A fascial network perspective emphasizes the intimate connection between the myofascia, deep fascia and aponeuroses. These connections transmit active and passive forces generated by muscles across multiple segments.
  2. Another important aspect of the fascial network is the ability of the different layers of fascia to move relative to one another. This sliding is facilitated by the hyalurronic acid present in the thin layer of areolar connective tissue that separates layers of fascia.  
  3. Flexibility thus depends on movement of fascial layers relative to each other. Movement changes the characteristics of the areolar tissue - repeated movement increases the slipperiness and allows more movement. 
  4. Lack of movement causes an increase in the stickiness of the ground substance and restricts sliding. 


Active stretches combine lengthening with movement

Active stretching exercises combine trunk and limb movements that elongate sets of muscles and associated fascia with movement to encourage movement between fascial planes. 

Try the following: Reach UP and Breathe


Stand erect in front of a mirror and observe the level of your shoulders. They are probably fairly even. 

Fully elevate both arms and notice the end position.  Feel for any tension in your shoulders. Does one arm have more ROM than the other? 

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Exercise instructions

►   Now reach up with your right arm, so that the upper arm is in line with your ear. 

►   Take a deep breath in, and at the same time try to reach up higher with your right hand.  You will probably notice some elevation of the left scapula, and some thoracic side flexion. 


►   Maintaining the stretched position of your arm, breathe out to the count of 4. 

►   Repeat the breathe and stretch sequence one more time. 

►   Breathing normally, maintain the arm position for 10 slow counts. 

Re-assess: What was the effect of this stretch on your shoulder posture? 

  • Now lower your arm, and take a look at the level of your shoulders? Is there a difference. 
  • Elevate both your arms again. Do you feel and see a difference between left and right? 
  • Take a deep breath. You may feel a difference in the expansion of the chest on the left and the right. 

SfA Therapist Resources Active Mobilzation and Stretches for children
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View online. Download PDF exercise instruction sheets (HEPs).  Make suggestions and request additional exercises. 


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Why these particular stretching exercises?

Over the years working with young children with joint hypermobility and low muscle tone I have developed a set of stretching exercises that address the typical patterns of loss of flexibility. 

They have been adapted so as to engage children,and be relatively easy for them to perform. 

Make suggestions and request exercises or pictures 

If you would like to see exercises that address a particular problem, or have an exercise that you find particularly effective, please let me have the details and I will create the pictures and produce an exercise PDF.