A simple yoga strap goes a long way when you’re stretching. We talked to staff at Halfmoon Yoga Products about just how versatile a strap can be for opening up your shoulders, hips, and hamstrings. Today’s post includes four stretches with a strap that are good for kayakers, runners, climbers, or anyone who could use a few extra centimetres of help when they’re stretching.
“The Halfmoon Loop Strap that MEC carries is made with a fixed loop at one end and a sliding buckle at the other. It’s extremely helpful for deepening your leg stretches, correcting your alignment, and extending your reach,” explains Lisa, Marketing Manager at Halfmoon.
All great things. So now, how to use it.
Shoulder Opener, aka: Cow Face Pose (Sanskrit Gomukhasana)
Good for: Kayakers, stand up paddleboarders, and swimmers following a day on the open water. All that pulling and pushing against resistance demands good shoulder mobility.
In a nutshell: Most of us hunch because maintaining proper posture feels like way too much work, which, you have to admit, sounds a bit zany. Giving your shoulders a bit of release allows your chest to open up, your shoulders to fall naturally, and your ball-and-socket joints to stay lubed up.
How to: Place the back of your right hand on your lower back, palm facing out. Holding the strap in your left hand, stretch the left arm up and bend your elbow so your hand comes down behind the back of your head. Drop the strap down to your right hand. Move your left elbow away from your head – “You shouldn’t feel like this stretch is somehow compromising your neck, or forcing your head to be in a funny position,” reminds Sandy, Halfmoon’s Sales Account Manager – and from there, work your right hand up the strap until you’re feeling a stretch in both shoulders. “And be sure to keep your chest up and shoulder blades down,” says Erin, Sales Coordinator at Halfmoon.
My thoughts: I’ve hated this stretch since high school volleyball practice. We didn’t use straps, so my best attempt was to inch my fingers up my back and cling tightly to the back of my shirt. I’d end up looking like a turtle because of how hunched my shoulders were, and how craned my neck was.
When I tried this stretch with a strap, though, the resistance caused by pulling on the strap felt good, and because the strap created space between my two hands, I wasn’t hunching. It still felt like work to hold the pose, but I’m pretty sure that was an indication of just how much I needed it.
Insider tip: One of these days, you’re going to end up with your shoulders open, your range of motion enhanced, and your hands clasped. Definitely pat yourself on the back when you get there (and Coach Adelman, this is what the stretch is supposed to look like).
Reclined Twist Variations
Good for: Runners, climbers, skiers, and cyclists. Who wouldn’t want a more agile gait, reduced back pain, and improved circulation?
In a nutshell: It’s an all-encompassing lower body treat that improves breathing, eases neck and back tension, and soothes frazzled nerves. “This hip opener is a deeper modification on the supine twist that also allows you to get into the legs, glutes, and IT band. It also gives you the wringing out and rejuvenating benefits that come from twisting,” explains Sandy.
How to: Lie on your back, with one foot looped though the strap. Let your looped-leg fall across your body and, with the hand opposite your looped-leg, pull up on the strap until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg (just make sure it’s a stretch you can hold comfortably, without a lot of shaking). Keep the shoulder that’s not holding the strap on the ground for balance, as well as a deeper twist.
My thoughts: So. Divine. This stretch is good for cranky hips, and my neglected hips were no exception. They lapped it up. As a bonus, once I found my edge in the stretch, I could just peace out in it. I actually turned my head in the direction opposite my leg and watched 30 Rock.
Insider tip: After twisting both sides out, Erin recommends swinging your leg back to its natural side, eliminating the twist, and going for an inner leg and groin stretch. Simply lie with your leg out to the side, at whatever height feels best. Again, stop in the sweet spot between the stretch and the shake.
Butterfly, aka: Bound Angle Pose (Sanskrit Baddha Konasana)
Good for: Climbers and runners in need of a little hip and groin opening.
In a nutshell: “Small adjustments are key to this position,” says Sandy. “Inevitably, it will work your hips and groin, but depending on your angle, there might be a little something in it for your back. If your feet are farther away from your midline, the hamstrings will get more of a stretch. If your feet are close, your adductor muscles get stretched more.”
How to: Use the sliding buckle to make a continuous band. Sit on the ground with your feet touching and your knees splayed out. Put the strap around your lower back, and pass it under your mid-feet. Then simply settle into it. If you adjust the strap’s tightness to intensify the stretch, remember to maintain your posture.
My thoughts: The only reason I stayed even remotely pretzel-like was because of the strap. My legs were shaky and not at all interested in lying parallel to the ground, and my feet needed to be very far away from my midline. That said, the more my body realized it was supported, the more it relaxed and allowed me to, adjustment by adjustment, coax my legs down a bit further and my feet in a bit closer.
Insider tip: “Don’t feel like you need to force your knees down to the ground. If you have tight hips, or if sitting in this position causes you knee pain, simply put a block under each knee for extra support,” recommends Erin.
Seated Forward Fold – The Trifecta
In a nutshell: Hamstrings rejoice! Seated forward bend can incorporate any of the three props we’ve talked about in this series. There are variations for all depending on the state of your hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
How to: On the days your hamstrings aren’t giving you an inch, use the strap. Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and the strap held across your mid-feet. As soon as you start to feel the pull in the back of your legs (and your spine is still straight), just hang tight there.
When you want to incorporate a little TLC, go for the single leg stretch with one leg tucked up, the other extended, and a bolster pulled in. Lean to reach the end of the bolster, not your foot, for a supported stretch.
If you have the wherewithal to extend past your feet and are looking for a bit extra (while still maintaining good form), place a block at the end of your feet to provide additional distance to your bend.
My thoughts: I felt most satisfied with the strap approach; I found it to be a non-stressful way to get the stretch I needed without causing my legs to shake like crazy, or really rounding my back.
Insider tip: “Check your ego at the door when it comes to stretching. That voice inside your head that’s telling you to touch your nose to your knees when you’re forward bending is likely causing you to compromise the integrity of your posture,” reminds Erin. “Using a strap, block, or bolster makes the stretch safer and accessible, because it meets your body where it’s at, not where your ego is saying it should be,” seconds Sandy.
There it is: permission to stretch, regardless of your flexibility. So grab a block when you want to bring the floor closer, a strap when you want to extend further, and a bolster when you’ve had a day that needs unwinding. And then start twisting, bending, and reaching for your toes more. Your muscles will love the attention, be less prone to injury, and be willing to climb, run, cycle or paddle a little longer.
Halfmoon straps are available in stores and online. We can’t wait to hear what you think of your strap and these stretches. And if you have a stretch that’s really working for you, let us know!
Image credit: Thanks a heap to Erin, who was awesome enough to be the model for these shots, and to Lisa, who supplied additional images.