Whilst you’ve been training in your local gym, you’ve no doubt seen personal trainers stretching their clients out at the end of a tough session. Is this something all trainers do, is it standard practice, or something people are paying extra for?
Is there even any benefit to being stretched or can you simply do it yourself?
The good news is, I used to stretch clients at the end of each session they had, so I can tell you exactly why it’s done and walk you through the heap of benefits clients get from it.
In a nutshell
Yes, personal trainers stretch their clients either by making use of assisted stretching or by teaching manual stretching methods. They will also make it clear how to perform these effectively and safely, whilst explaining the numerous benefits that can come from regular flexibility training.
Here’s a sneak peek of just a few of the points we’ll be covering in this article
- Does every trainer stretch their clients?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the risks?
- Should stretching hurt?
- What should you expect from a stretching session?
These are just a few of the topics we’ll be covering, there are several more, so keep reading to learn all you need about personal trainer stretching sessions.
Does every trainer stretch their clients?
No, not every trainer will insist, or even offer to stretch clients after each workout. Whilst nearly every training qualification that takes you to certified personal trainer status will teach assisted stretching techniques, it is not a required part of personal training sessions.
Some trainers would prefer to spend the entire session completing exercises and allow clients to stretch themselves after a workout, whereas others who see the benefit of stretching will suggest making it a part of the end of each session completed.
What are the benefits?
Assisted stretching has several benefits over stretching on your own.
Assisted stretches take your joints through their full range of motion
Stretching your muscles manually can certainly have its benefits, however, as some of you reading this may have discovered, your own anatomy makes it hard to be able to effectively maintain a stretch, let alone work it through its full range of motion.
A hamstring stretch is a great example. People starting with a very poor level of flexibility may find it difficult or near impossible to pull their leg towards their chest whilst laying on the ground, and they also struggle to maintain this stretch. Assisted stretching of this muscle couldn’t be easier and will allow for much better control and precision, making them more effective in the long run.
A fitness professional will know how to stretch you safely
Much as it may seem simple, stretching a muscle in a safe and effective manner can be quite complex. For example, you may have heard it’s good to stretch before you go for a run, so you can start with some simple quad and hamstring stretches, hold them for a few seconds each and then be on your way.
The problem with this is that stretching a cold muscle can very easily tear or at least strain it, resulting in an injury that could put you out of the game for several weeks or even months. A trainer would know this and only allow you to stretch in a safe manner by using either dynamic stretches at the start of a workout and gentle, assisted stretching towards the end.
You will get a full-body stretch when assisted
There are some parts of the body that can be pretty tricky to get a decent stretch through, and they aren’t often taught to you during PE classes in school. What you are probably used to seeing is the quad stretch, hamstring stretch, maybe shoulders and for some reason, forearm stretches.
Trainers, on the other hand, have been taught how to stretch the entire body with a range of positions and poses to make sure that no muscle groups get left out, and more importantly, muscular imbalances are prevented.
Your trainer will be able to target troublesome areas
A common cause of a great deal of discomfort is a tightened piriformis muscle, which can often bring on lower back pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. Whilst there are stretches available for you to perform yourself, your trainer will be able to take this stretch much deeper and apply the additional, gentle pressure required to relieve the tension and pain that comes with it.
This is a great example of a troublesome area that many people would be unaware of, but your trainer will have full knowledge of and be able to assist with.
What is PNF stretching?
PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, it is a method of taking a muscle through a fuller range of motion that can be achieved through standard stretching methods.
It’s the preferred method of assisted stretching for most trainers, so you can expect this to come up at some point if your trainer offers to stretch you.
The process is complex, but to simplify things, when a muscle is stretched, the body has a perception of what the safe range of motion should be to prevent overstretching and possible injury. Once this point is reached, you will start to feel tightness and possibly some discomfort in the area.
This safety mechanism can be “overridden”, by tricking the brain into thinking the stretch has ended, allowing it to relax the muscle, and move deeper into the stretch once again.
In the example of a hamstring stretch, the client will be asked to tell the trainer when they start to feel discomfort as the leg is being drawn in towards the chest whilst they are laying on their back. When this point is reached, they will be asked to push their leg against the trainer as hard as they possibly can for five seconds or more.
The trainer will then ask the client to relax the muscle and breathe out as they gently press deeper into the stretch, increasing the depth of stretch far further than can be achieved alone.
This process can be used on multiple muscle groups of the body.
What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a method of creating extended ranges of motion during movements. It’s a great way of combining both exercise and stretching and makes for an excellent warmup or alternative to partner-assisted stretching if you feel uncomfortable with the idea, or if your trainer doesn’t offer it.
This type of stretching is often used by trainers at the start of a session (after a warmup) to prepare the muscles for the workout to come.
A movement I used to use a lot with my clients was a walking lunge hip flexor/hamstring stretch. The client would perform a walking lunge, and at the deepest point of the lunge, I would ask them to raise their arms above the head and gently lean towards the leading leg, holding the stretch for around one second before the next rep began.
There are all types of movements that can be used as a dynamic stretch, and they are a fantastic time-saver if you don’t want to separate stretching from training, or you have chosen shorter session times with your trainer.
Should stretching hurt?
This is an easy question to answer, stretching should NOT hurt. There may be points during either dynamic, assisted, or manual stretches where you feel discomfort, but that is very different from pain.
Should you feel what you consider to be pain during a stretch, you should tell your trainer and you should certainly stop the stretch.
Remember, the whole point of a stretch is to take the muscle through a larger range of motion than it is used to, which is how flexibility is increased over time, this itself can be uncomfortable, but there should certainly be no pain felt.
When should assisted stretching not be used by your trainer?
In certain circumstances, stretching isn’t a good idea and is more likely to cause harm rather than progress. Some of these may be fairly obvious, such as when you have had a recent injury, you have had a recently diagnosed muscular condition, you are not warmed up enough, or you are hyperflexible.
Under no circumstance should stretching be performed if you have any of these or similar situations. If your trainer suggests performing assisted stretching after you have told them about an injury you have, ask them why they are suggesting it, they may have their reasons, but I would always be very cautious of your trainer if this occurs.
What should you expect from a stretching session?
A typical assisted stretching session will last around ten or so minutes, with each stretch lasting around 1-minute. The most common assisted stretches you will see are for the calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, back, chest, and lats.
I personally used the PNF technique described above for all these stretches. You will be asked to take deep breaths in and try to relax as much as possible during the session.
Once your stretch session is complete, you should feel a lot more relaxed and ready to continue your day.
How should a trainer touch you whilst stretching?
A trainer should follow all the same guidelines for touching during your stretch session as they would during the rest of the training session.
They should limit contact where possible, but in assisted stretching, this is not always possible. In the example of a lower back stretch, both the shoulders and knees need physical contact in order to complete the stretch fully.
The correct way to do this is for a trainer to ask the client to bring one leg across the body and to keep both shoulders against the floor. Then, with open hands, the palms should be used to hold one shoulder against the floor, whilst the other palm gently presses the crossed leg towards the floor.
This is the method that should be used in all stretches where possible. Open hands are used at all times and no intimate area contact at all.
What if you don’t want to be touched?
Let me make this perfectly clear, you are under no obligation, at all to be stretched by your trainer. Whilst useful, as stated, partner-assisted stretches are not a vital part of personal training. If you feel uncomfortable with the concept and would really rather not be touched, make this clear to your trainer.
I had plenty of clients who for either personal or religious reasons did not want to be touched by me as a trainer. This was very easy to facilitate, I simply gave a list of every manual stretch they could do to cover the whole body, and even showed them how they could use pieces of equipment to enhance the stretch to closely simulate an assisted stretch.
Do trainers need to be qualified to stretch you?
In a sense, yes they do.
Trainers need to be qualified in order to stretch their clients, however, the good news is that in order for a PT to be allowed to train clients, they will need to be level 3 certified in the UK, and in this course, assisted stretching is covered within the courses they learn.
So, in a sense, whilst a trainer does need to be qualified to stretch you, by default, they will already have this certification.
In conclusion, personal trainers will often stretch their clients, but it is not mandatory.
Whether or not they choose to make physical contact during these sessions is up to both the trainer and client. The benefits of stretching post-workout should certainly be made clear, however.
I hope this article has helped clear up any doubts you may have had, and alleviated any concerns. remember though, you are in charge of your sessions at all times, so if there is anything you are still unsure of, ask your trainer, that’s what they are there for.
I wish you all the best and have a great day.
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