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The Best Basic Stretches - If You Could Only Do 3 Forever?

Someone asked me recently:

"If you could only do 3 stretches for the rest of your life to feel better and prevent issues...what would they be?"

This was a tough question. It is tough because I don't know exactly what issues I will face in the future. So the best thing I can do is make an educated guess.

To give a decent and honest answer I had to base it on the fact that I am human, and therefore I will probably get human problems. So I applied the Pareto Rule to my thinking. What are the 20% of movements that will have 80% of the impact or benefits that I will most likely achieve from stretching?

In other words, I am not going to choose a thumb stretch for one of my stretches because it is pretty much guaranteed that it will not be in that 20% that will achieve 80% of the results.

The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.

So what is?

Back to my earlier point. What problems am I most likely to face throughout my lifetime?

#1 - The Spine

Why the spine?

Well according to every article on the prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions I have ever read, the spine will be the most likely culprit of pain and dysfunction. Low-back pain in particular accounts for the highest % of medical costs for an MSK condition. And that is worldwide to my knowledge.

My Spinal Movement Nominations:

  1. Elephant Walks (standing & seated)

  2. Spinal Waves

  3. Jefferson Curls

  4. Yoga Position (Cobra, downdog, etc...)

  5. Hanging from a bar or Inversion Tables

Cobra Pose

And the award goes to:

Spinal Waves

Not sure anyone performs them better than Jon Yuen

*This was an impossible task because the spine is very robust and honestly needs much more than some unweighted spinal waves. However, I ultimately had to choose the movement that would create the most movement. And not only into flexion (bending down) or extension (bending back) but all directions since spinal waves can cover all directions if practiced and understood fully.

**Now if you wanted to be a stickler and say "Hey, that isn't a stretch!" When then fine, I would probably choose a pike position elephant walk routine that I can do seated or standing anywhere! So there!

#2 - The Hips

When considering my second stretch I instinctively answered with a hip stretch.

This was more of an emotional response than a clinical one although I think clinically it holds merit. Over the years I have had many patients with arthritic hip joints. They are painful, they disrupt sleep, they affect gait (the ability to walk), they prevent squatting and bending, they stop you from sitting on the floor or a blanket at the park. They often involve a hip replacement once space becomes totally diminished. And I personally just really want to avoid this path.

Why will this area continue to give rise to pain and problems in the future? Easy...we (general public) sit too much and move too little with too little movement variety. Hips are a ball and socket joint. All you need to know about that is that they are evolved to move!

So with an emotional and subtle clinical reaction, I chose Hip Stretching.

My Hip Stretch Nominees:

  1. Couch Stretch, (hip flexors, front of hip and thigh)

  2. Pigeon Stretch (back and side of hip)

  3. Piriformis Stretch

  4. Hip CAR (controlled articular rotation - from FRS)

  5. Standing Wall Hip Flexor Stretch

Variation of the Pigeon Stretch

And the award goes to:

Standing Wall Hip Flexor Stretch

Check out this video by Range of Strength stud Lucas Hardie

*This was my choice due to the dynamic nature compared to the more passive couch stretch for example. You can also do PNF stuff (contract/relax) by really focusing on squeezing the butt to get a better hip flexor stretch. It also involves a fair amount of strength, endurance, and coordination to pull off well which increases its value for the effort spent!

#3 - The Pec Stretch (more nuance below)

And finally, the third stretch is one I believe has a lot of utility beyond the local muscle being stretched. And that would be some form of pec stretching.

Short or "tight" pecs can contribute to a host of issues beyond chest tightness. The pec major is an internal rotator of the arm (thumb moves towards your body then behind you). Along with that rotation it pulls the arm forward and toward the body. It attaches to the clavicle (collar bone) and the sternum. The smaller pec, keeping this simple, can downwardly rotate your shoulder blade and can pull up your ribs.

"Angry" pecs can contribute to:

  • Shoulder blade issues (dyskinesia, winging, weakness)

  • Sternum issues (costochondritis, Tietze-like pain)

  • clavicle issues (tight traps, neck stiffness)

  • Shoulder joint dysfunction

All of which can lead to issues like:

  • Chest pain, shoulder pain, posture changes, neck pain, headaches, upper trap tightness and pain, breathing issues, restricted spinal rotation, and on and on...

Why this area?

This area won't affect everyone as universally as stretches 1 and 2 but with the increased prevalence of office work and the decreased prevalence of variable movement activity (throwing, hanging, lifting, climbing) I can safely bet my money that this problem isn't going away anytime soon.

My Pec Stretch Nominations are:

  1. Door Stretch (single or double)

  2. Laying anterior shoulder stretch

  3. Shoulder CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations - Functional Range Systems)

  4. Modified German Hang

  5. PVC Pipe **

And the award goes to:


Controlled Articular Rotations

This is the winner for me despite really wanting to choose a more specific Pec Stretch like the doorway or anterior stretch like we show in our BOOK. The reason is because it moves everything and in a 3-dimensional manner. We get neck, shoulder, shoulder blade, collar bone, ribs, pecs, and even some spine (and pairs well with Spinal Waves). I like to do these every morning while I wait for my Nespresso to provide me liquid happiness.

In conclusion, the winners were:

  1. Spinal Waves

  2. Standing Wall HF Stretch

  3. Shoulder CARs

The truth is that any stretch is only as good as its individual utility (case-by-case basis), but they are definitely heaps above many options out there. They will no doubt keep the body in a better condition as we age compared to not doing them.

So these are my answers today, ask me tomorrow and who knows!


For those of you who are even more lost and/or feel like these are nothing like enough to be optimal, because lets be honest they aren't, check out Stretch Club with Dr. John. He leads you through:

  • 3 full-body stretching workouts per week (completed in under 30 minutes)

  • Access to the full stretching library

  • An understanding of the what, why, and the how behind the workouts

click to join

Happy Stretching friends!


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