During your pre-workout warm-up, there's one dynamic stretch you absolutely shouldn't skip: the world's greatest stretch (yes, that's really what it's called). Combining an inchworm, plank, lunge and hip and chest stretch, this move lives up to it's name by targeting multiple muscles and joints at once.
Benefits of the World's Greatest Stretch
What makes the world's greatest stretch truly great is that it allows you to save time stretching, loosening tight muscles head to toe simultaneously so you're not skimping on the very essential act of warming your body up for the workout that follows.
As a dynamic move, you transition from standing to a forward fold to a high plank and then a lunge, which allows you to undo some of the effects of poor posture from sitting at a desk all day, says Nate Feliciano, owner and head of training Studio 16, a private personal training studio in New York City.
"The world's greatest stretch targets your hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, calves, shoulders, pectorals, the upper and lower back and even the obliques," Feliciano says. "In my experience, people who sit at a desk for work are tight in areas that can actually be targeted by the world's greatest stretch."
For example, when you're walking out from a forward fold to a high plank, the key is to keep your legs as straight as possible. This helps lengthen your hamstrings and core muscles while stacking your joints properly.
And as you bring your foot to the outside of your hand to get into a lunge, you loosen tight hip flexors as a result of sitting. Reaching your arms toward the ceiling and adding a spinal twist also helps relieve tightness in the chest, shoulders and obliques.
But stretching and lengthening isn't the only thing that the world's greatest stretch does.
"You're also activating various areas by holding yourself in a plank position as you go," says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d, a stretch and recovery studio in New York. "Muscle lengthening and activation is the perfect recipe for a great workout. You need the muscles to operate properly, and they will be unable to do so if you don't help prepare them for the workout."
How to Do the World's Greatest Stretch
While the way you design your dynamic warm-up largely depends on what exercises you're including in your workout, the world's greatest stretch is seen as a universal move because it lends itself to a variety of workouts, especially ones that train the lower body.
"Those doing workouts that involve a lot of compound movements (such as deadlifts and push-ups) will benefit the most from the world's greatest stretch because of its ability to target many muscles," Brannigan says.
"Furthermore, the activation will help prepare the muscles to contract and be productive, which is especially important during these types of workouts because of the higher risk of injury associated with them."
World's Greatest Stretch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and fold over to plant your hands on the ground.
- Slowly walk your hands forward while keeping your legs as straight as possible until you are in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
- From a high plank position, step your right foot to the outside of your right hand so you’re in a low lunge.
- Twist to your right side, reaching your right arm toward the ceiling and opening your chest.
- Bring your right elbow to the inside of your right foot, then reach your right arm toward the ceiling again.
- Repeat this motion for a few reps before returning your right leg back to a high plank position.
- Repeat on the left side.
How long you hold the stretch for depends on when you're doing it. After a workout, Feliciano recommends holding the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds on each side and repeating it for 2 to 5 rounds.
But if it's part of your warm-up, Brannigan says the stretch is more effective if you hold it for only a few seconds at a time.
"You'll find that when you flex your hip forward so the leg is next to your arm, the hip flexor becomes very contracted," Brannigan says. "If you stay in this position for a long time, there is a chance that the hip flexor will feel very tight as you bring the leg back out to the starting position."
By keeping the static parts of the stretch brief and alternating sides frequently, you can prevent this tightness and actually create more activation and movement throughout the body.