The move dubbed “the world’s greatest stretch” really is, in my professional opinion, a combination of two stretches that everyone should perform daily to wake up the entire body.
This stretch requires a deep lunge and a twist, while incorporating a hamstring stretch. The dynamic stretch incorporates movements that are not only found in basic training routines, but that are also a staple in yoga sequences.
As a personal trainer and yoga instructor, I love stretches that combine aspects of both modalities. The fact that the world’s greatest stretch works on stretching out the lower body and improving mobility in the upper body simultaneously makes it a move I encourage my clients to do daily.
What does the world’s greatest stretch do for the body?
This stretch is an amazing way to loosen up the entire body after sitting all day, providing relief from common aches and pain, and a way to warm up the body before exercise. It loosens the hip flexors, which is imperative to help relieve low back pain. It also loosens the glutes and hamstrings to allow you to feel more flexible and limber in everyday activities. The world’s greatest stretch incorporates thoracic mobility through the twist that’s performed during the lunge, and it also loosens up the muscles of the lower legs through the hamstring stretch performed at the end.
Opening up the hips, mobilizing the spine and stretching the biggest muscles in the body (in the lower legs) can be a way to de-stress and quiet the mind as well. Stretching allows us to to slow down and feel looser, while alleviating muscular pain and discomfort, all things that help us relax.
The common mistakes people make when doing the world’s greatest stretch
I cringe when I see people performing this stretch quickly with their front knee lunging way forward of the front ankle, and the twist hyper extending their low back instead of concentrating on the middle back. I also too often see trainers encouraging their clients to fold further into the hamstring portion without flexing the extended foot or engaging the leg’s quadricep.
These mistakes can wreak havoc on the body and even lead to injury. Keep in mind: This stretch is supposed to be a warm up! When performed too quickly or without mindfulness, it can cause problems for the body rather than helping loosen the body.
Here are my top tips:
- Make sure to bend the front knee over the ankle, reach the back heel towards the back of the room, and pull the abs in while twisting.
- Don’t lean too far forward or backward; try to maintain your balance throughout.
- During the hamstring stretch, flex the front foot and squeeze the quad to get into the back of the leg.
How to do a modified world’s greatest stretch
I recommend lowering the knee of the back leg to the mat to stabilize yourself. If your left leg is the back leg, then place a block to the inside of your right leg. Bend the right knee and make sure the knee is over the ankle. Then, put your left hand onto your yoga block to prop yourself up higher as you twist the right arm up to the sky. By leveraging the height of the yoga block, you’re helping your spine twist higher up instead of twisting from the low back, which is a common mistake.
During the hamstring portion of the world’s greatest stretch, place the block in front of your left knee when your right leg is straight, and place your fingertips on the block to give you more height and help you maintain proper form.
How to perform the world’s greatest stretch correctly
When you’re ready to perform the full stretch, follow these step-by-step instructions and keep the common mistakes mentioned earlier in mind.
- Start on your hands and knees. Step your right foot forward and bend forward so that the right knee is over the right ankle and you feel a stretch in your left hip flexor.
- Tuck the left toes under and extend the left leg straight back so that the leg is off of the ground.
- Place your left hand on the ground inside of the right foot and then twist toward the right, reaching the right hand up toward the sky.
- Pull the naval in toward the spine and look up at the right hand. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Bring the hand down and shift your butt back toward the left leg so that the right leg straightens and you feel a stretch behind the right leg. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
4 exercises that will help you perform the world’s greatest stretch
The world’s greatest stretch is dynamic and brings your body through a big range of motion. If you’re not the most flexible, you may want to prepare for the move with some other stretches.
Standing forward fold
Standing with your feet hips-width apart, slowly fold at the hips and allow your arms to dangle down toward the ground. Feel a stretch in the hamstrings and hold for 20 seconds.
Standing high lunge
Standing with your hands on your hips, step your right foot forward and your left foot back. Press down through the right heel and reach back through the left heel with your left toes on the ground. Pull your naval in toward your spine and lift your chest up. Relax the shoulders and breathe here as you feel a stretch through the front of the right hip. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch sides.
Lying down spinal twist
Lying on your back, bend your knees into a tabletop position. Open your arms out to the sides in a "T" shape and then let your knees fall over to the right. Turn your head to the left and hold here for 10 seconds. Relax the shoulders and release the abs. Feel a stretch in the back. Then come through center and repeat on the left side.
Cat and cow
Come onto your hands and knees, making sure your knees are underneath your hips and your shoulders are over your wrists. Inhale and arch your back to look up with your head and neck. Then exhale as you round your back and tuck your chin to your chest. Repeat 10 times.