July 17, 2017

Stretching the Flexor Chain

Today, I’m sharing some tips on the importance of keeping the flexor chain flexible and supple.

An example of poor posture from muscle imbalances

The flexor chain encompasses all of the muscles that flex the body or, in other words, those that bend it forward. In today’s very esthetically-driven society, there is a great deal of pressure for both sexes to maintain that “six-pack” look, or a muscular and sculpted chest (mostly among the guys!). But this drive to look good comes with a price.

Many people regularly experience pain in the neck and shoulders, or get trigger points in between their shoulder blades. Pain in the middle back after sitting for long periods of time or lifting weights is also common. As my regular blog readers know, the body is a very complex kinetic system with linkages from front to back, left to right and diagonally. So, you cannot simply look at or treat the spot that hurts and expect to get lasting results.

Think of your muscles as springs and your spine being in the middle of the springs (muscles) that bend your body forward and pull it backwards. If your chest, abdomen, quads and/or hip flexors get tight, it will tend to pull your chest down, your shoulders forward and your head forward. So, after exercise routines that involve a lot of pushing or crunching or even heavy lunges, you’ll want to stretch these flexors out and mobilize your chest.

In addition to creating pain in all the areas I’ve listed above, a tight flexor chain creates a postural position which blocks the natural flow of chi or life-force energy through your body. This disrupts the flow of energy through chakra systems, which conveys higher vibrational energy into the lower vibrational energy of the body and back out, resulting in emotional energies getting bottled up and unable to be released. People who get stuck in this posture also over-activate the sympathetic nervous system, a position that is common in fight-or-flight scenarios.

Abdominal stretch over a Swiss ball

In my vlog today I’ll show you six stretches and mobilizations for the flexor chain that you can try. As with any stretches, if you get into the position but do not feel a stretch, then this is a good indication that you are not tight in this area and don’t need to perform it. A good stretch program is designed to balance the body. You only need to stretch areas that are short and tight which is why generalized stretching programs are not very effective, and can be potentially dangerous for athletes. If you think of your body as a bicycle wheel with some spokes that are too tight while others are too loose, if you loosen all of the spokes, you may help the tight areas, but you can over-loosen those areas that were not tight to begin with.

A good rule of thumb: Stretch what is short and tight. Strengthen what is loose and weak.

Video Contents

  • 0:00 – Why stretch the flexor chain?
  • 4:10 – Foam roller mobilization for the chest, pectorals and ribs
  • 5:15 – Pec minor stretch on a Swiss ball
  • 7:10 – Pec major stretch on a Swiss ball
  • 7:55 – Stretching the abdominals on a Swiss ball
  • 10:15 – Swiss ball quadriceps stretch
  • 12:44 – Lunge stretch for the psoas

Recommended Resources

For those of you who are interested in more in-depth knowledge about stretching, my book, How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy!, has 20 flexibility assessments and stretches and is a great place to start. If you are looking for more in-depth knowledge and techniques, either The Golf Biomechanic’s Manual or The Tennis Biomechanic’s Manual contain more advanced information on flexibility assessments. Both are especially useful for anyone working with athletes of any sport, not just tennis or golf players.

Stretching Equipment

  • 4” x 36” foam roller – Make sure you are using a 4” foam roller and not the larger (and more common) 6” diameter rollers. You can find these at Amazon.com
  • Swiss balls – Make sure you are using a high quality burst resistant ball. All sizes from 45-75cm are available from the C.H.E.K Institute shop.

I hope you enjoy my vlog today and I’ll be back later in the week with a new superfood product line that I have recently been introduced to and am loving!

Love and chi,

Paul Chek

  • Hi Leon

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing my opinion. You have accurately described the situation in the diagram where the abs and glutes/hamstrings are comparatively weak and long which contributes to the anterior pelvic tilt. To address your question, it depends one what kind of people you are working with. If your client’s are sitting all day and do not work out regularly, then the situation is as described in your comment where you will likely find long weak abs in which case stretching them is likely to make things worse for you client. However, if you’re client are going to the gym regularly where they do a lot of crunching and sit ups (as is very popular in most gyms that I have been to) to achieve that six-pack or flat tummy look, then over time this will lead to the postural issues described in Paul’s post above. In summary, this means adaptive shortening of the abs, which pulls the body out of alignment, hinders respiration and encourages forward head posture. So these types of clients would benefit greatly from stretching their abs. I guess the diagram is a bit confusing, as it doesn’t display the postural issues discussed in the post (to be fair, the label says “AN example of poor posture from muscle imbalances”). Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Leon

    Hi Paul. First of all, a big thank you for all the time you put into sharing very helpful information on a wide range of topics. I have learnt a lot from you!

    I have always been a bit confused about Janda’s crossed syndrome. I understand that a lot of people have tight pecs and hip flexors, and why you would encourage people to test if they are tight, but I’m confused about the role of the abs and would be grateful if you could clarify this for me. According the Janda’s crossed syndrome, aren’t the abs typically weak and long and in need of strengthening in the case of the commonly seen anterior pelvic tilt? It looks like this is was is represented in the diagram at the top of your post, where it the abs and hamstrings/glutes (in green) are represented as weak and long, while QL, the spinal extensors in the lumbar region and the hip flexors (red) are short and tight.


    • Penny Crozier

      Hello Leon,

      Your interpretation of the diagram is correct.

      The muscles in green are classified as “phasic”, which means they have a higher percentage of fast twitch muslce fibers than tonic muscles do (tonic muscles are the red ones); phasic muscles react to faulty loading, trauma, overloading, or stress in general by lengthening and weakening, while tonic muscles react to the same stress factors by shortening, tightening, and getting stronger…producing a cascade that “runs away” with progressive time and use.

      The key element that you may not be aware of (these articles/blogs are kept simple so most people can get the message) is that “thought the phasis muscles are listed as reacting by lengthening and weakening, it doesn’t mean that the muscle is weak from a neurological, nor contractile perspective; it means that the phasic muscles become lengthened, changing their length-force curvatures, which throws them out of functional (neuromuscular) balance with antagonists, synergists, and neutralizer muscles”.

      The shorter a muscle becomes, the steeper the length-force curve – and – the longer a muscle becomes due to adaptive changes to posture and other stress factors,(such as the progressive lengthening of the abdominal wall in a pregnant woman) the longer the length-force curve becomes.

      Therefore, someone with a Lower Cross Syndrome (as shown in the bodybuilder in the diagram) has low back muscles (such as the multifidus) that are shortened and reach peak contractile force very quickly in a shortened functional range of motion/action, while the abdominals – functional antagonists – have become lengthened and respond too late to create effective co-contraction, which is essential to spinal stability in numerous instances of daily functional movement.

      Within 24 hours of being in a shortened, or lengthened position, research shows the shortened muscles actually begin to drop sarcomers (functional contractile units within muscle fibers), and those that are lengthened begin to add sarcomers.

      This is an adaptive response.

      If you’d like a more comprehensive understanding, I go into this more thoroughly in:

      Love and chi,
      Paul Chek