February 26, 2023

Why You Should Try Assisted Stretching

Having a partner help you stretch can prevent injury and lead to an increased range of motion

Two people helping each other stretch on floor.

It’s a familiar scene: You’re watching the big game and see the wide receiver or the point guard on the sidelines stretching out their hamstrings with help of a trainer.

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This type of stretching is known as assisted stretching or partner-assisted stretching and can be beneficial when it comes to increasing your flexibility and range of motion.

So, whether you’re recovering from an injury or just want some relief from chronic back pain, is this something you should try?

Exercise specialist Ben Kuharik walks us through what assisted stretching is, its benefits and some basic moves to try.

What is assisted stretching?

Assisted stretching is a form of passive stretching, which uses an outside force to stretch your muscles. You can use a towel, fitness strap or in the case of assisted stretching, you can use a partner.

Assisted stretching is also known in the physical therapy space as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF stretching.

“With assisted stretching, you use a friend, trainer or teammate to apply an external force to help with your stretches,” explains Kuharik.

You may be familiar with dynamic stretching, which involves moving your joints and muscles repeatedly in the same motion before physical activity to help improve your power and coordination.

Or you may have heard of static active stretching, which is based on holding a stretch as far as you can go for a set length of time, typically 30 to 90 seconds. This type of stretch can improve your flexibility and improve balance.

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“But with assistance stretching, you’re spending more time focusing on stretching out a specific area, which can lead to an increased range of motion,” says Kuharik.

How does it work?

All you need is a partner — whether that’s a family member, teammate or gym buddy — to help guide you through stretches. Practitioners and physical therapists are often trained on assisted stretching and can help you determine the best stretches for you and your goals.

“During an assisted stretch, you’re pushing the leg, arm or other body part of your partner into a lengthened position,” explains Kuharik. “That’s followed by flexing the lengthened muscle as hard as you can for five to 10 seconds.”

That action causes your muscle to become fatigued or tired.

“Then your muscle naturally relaxes,” Kuharik continues. “And that’s where the partner comes in and pushes your muscle a little bit further to a point your muscle normally wouldn’t get to in a non-fatigued state.”

The goal? To push your muscles a little more, which results in a deeper stretch and improved flexibility and range of motion.

“Over time, after doing an assisted stretch a few times, that expanded stretch will become your natural range of motion,” says Kuharik.

Assisted stretching benefits

Is assisted stretching worth it? Yes, stretching can be great to help with aches and pains. Here are some benefits of assisted stretching:

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  • Promotes communication. Having a partner walk you through a stretch with you can be helpful in avoiding injury. You should have an ongoing conversation about how you’re feeling during each stretch. “Your partner isn’t looking for a ton of resistance in your stretch,” notes Kuharik. “The goal is to just get a few degrees deeper with each stretch.”
  • Increases range of motion. By working on improving how far you can stretch with each session, you’ll slowly become more limber. And if you’re recovering from an injury, this can help not only return to your original flexibility, but also help improve it.
  • Reduces stiffness and tension. While you may be a little sore the next day, Kuharik says that as you improve your range of motion, you’ll notice less stiffness and tension in your muscles. “Your muscles will feel looser and you’ll feel less achy.”

Assisted stretching examples

Want to give assisted stretching a try? Here are a few basic assisted stretching moves:

Stretch for your hamstrings

This single-leg stretch helps loosen up tight hamstrings.

  1. Lie down face-up on the floor with both of your legs straight and have your partner kneel at your feet.
  2. Place your left leg on your partner’s shoulder and try to force your leg down to the floor, squeezing as hard as you can.
  3. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds.
  4. Relax the muscle for five to 10 seconds, and then have your partner gently push the leg past its normal range. Hold this stretch for five to 10 seconds.
  5. Rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat three to four times and then switch legs.

Stretch for your quads

This is a good stretch for your quads, which can help prevent injury and increase flexibility.

  1. Lie down on your stomach with both of your legs straight. Have your partner kneel at your feet.
  2. Bend one knee toward your glutes (butt muscles), while the other leg stays straight.
  3. Have your partner place their hand under your knee, while using their other hand to press your leg towards your glutes.
  4. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds.
  5. Relax the muscle for five to 10 seconds, and then repeat three to four times. Switch legs.

Stretch for your chest

Spend your days hunched over a computer or desk? This stretch can help relieve any tightness you have.

  1. Stand up and have your partner stand behind you.
  2. Raise your arm at your sides.
  3. Have your partner gently pull your arms back until you feel tension.
  4. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds.
  5. Relax your arms and repeat three or four times.

Does assisted stretching work? Whether you’re an athlete or just sit at your desk all day long, assisted stretching can help.

“If you want to gain flexibility, this is certainly the best type of stretching to increase your range of motion,” says Kuharik.

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