Before addressing the specific question, it’s important to acknowledge that many opinions about the benefits/dangers of stretching continue to fuel industry discussion. This blog piece is written from the viewpoint that stretching is good – and in the spirit of full disclosure, I teach facilitated stretching seminars for personal trainers to learn safe and effective stretches to use with their clients.
Even so, I value differing opinions that help further the discussion and contribute to the pursuit of the best interests of our clients.
Nick Tumminello, founder of Performance U International, is known for his innovative, hybrid fitness training concepts and for his ability to provide simple, honest, and immediately applicable solutions to common problems fitness professionals face .
When asked whether trainers should stretch their clients, he gave this response:
“Manually stretching clients is not a part of the Performance U approach to personal training because:
1) There’s a lack of good scientific evidence that assisted stretching offers clients benefits they can’t achieve from doing basic strength training and active mobility modalities (i.e., yoga, dynamic stretching, etc.) through full, controlled ROM.
2) We found clients start looking at trainers as some sort of pseudo-massage therapists who they keep asking to stretch them instead of actually working out.
3) In the sue-happy world we live in, we feel it’s safest for trainers not to put their hands on their clients to manipulate them in any way.”
Depending on the stretching technique, there can be some risk with manual stretching. Trainers need to stay within their scope of practice and shouldn’t be doing any technique that they haven’t studied and practiced, particularly if it poses some risk to the client.”
At this point in the discussion, let’s agree that flexibility is an important component of fitness. Given that agreement, the key points to address to help answer the title question fall into four categories:
Who Should Perform the Stretches?
The crux of the issue isn’t whether clients should be working on their flexibility; it’s how they should achieve that flexibility. Do we encourage flexibility work but leave it to the clients to implement it? Or do we take a more active role to include stretching during training sessions?
In contrast to Tumminello’s approach, I say trainer-assisted stretching as part of each training session is more effective in the long-term for helping clients improve their overall flexibility. It’s also true that little or no benefit will accrue if clients are stretching only on the days they work with their trainer. This leads into the next point, client dependence.
Many trainers feel that stretching clients at the end of a workout is a poor use of time because clients should be stretching on their own, outside of the training time they paid for. As Tumminello points out, clients may prefer to work less and have the trainer spend more time stretching them. In my view (and Nutting’s), this dynamic should bring us back to reviewing the client’s goals and the results of the needs assessment.
To avoid dependence, trainers need to take the time to teach clients how to perform stretches correctly on their own, outside of training sessions. This provides an opportunity to enhance communication and rapport with the client, and allows the trainer to continually monitor clients’ stretching techniques to ensure they’re correct.
Work Within Scope of Practice
A review of scope of practice documents from a number of personal training certification organizations finds no specific mention of stretching. The general guidelines are that personal trainers evaluate their client’s fitness and design, implement, and supervise appropriate exercise programs for them. Stretching would certainly fall within these guidelines.
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