Active Recovery

Gymnasts Swear By the Daily ‘Pancake’ Stretch for Better Flexibility

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Vasily Pindyurin

No worries if you’re feeling extra rickety recently from being cooped up at home. Sedentary behavior doesn’t just result in a depressingly low step count, it manifests in a body that feels tightened up and less likely to hit those harder poses during Vinyasa flow. What you need is to get loose again by learning how to do a pancake stretch.

The pancake stretch helps gymnasts stay extra bendy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. You basically want to have your legs spread and, with your back straight, lower yourself to the floor. A little intense if you’re already out of practice with your fitness routine, but the benefits are there.

“The pancake stretch hits a lot of key muscles that are good tests for flexibility—inner thighs, hamstrings and even low back,” says Vanessa Chu, co-founder, Stretch*d. “As a former gymnast, I used to practically live in this pose. For those of us who aren’t as flexible, or no longer have the flexibility of a 12-year-old gymnast, we recommend easing into this stretch.”

The necessary pre-stretches ensure your tendons won’t snap as you try to do the splits. Remember to warm-up your muscles before doing something intense because it’ll mobilize and lengthen the connective tissues surrounding your muscles, allowing your joints to move with ease. Chu recommends trying out Stretch*d’s Hello Hammies and Side Sweep*r stretches as a way to prep for the Pancake Stretch, or as an alternative if you can’t get into position yet.

“The stretches are not only a better alternative for those too inflexible for a pancake stretch, but can also serve as a warmup for those that are able to attempt a pancake because of the active, controlled and repetitive nature of the movements,” says Chu. “These will help to promote blood flow and warmup the muscle as you’re stretching. Again, if you’re unable to get into a pancake easily, don’t force it and try these stretches first.”

How to do a pancake stretch properly

1. Complete 10 reps of the Hello Hammies and Side Sweep*r stretches on each leg.
Hello Hammies:

Side Sweep*r:

2. Straddle your legs as wide as you can: “You may want to use your hands to manually externally rotate your thighs so your quads, knees, and toes are pointing up to the sky,” says Chu. “You can do this by using two hands to roll your thighs out so you are sitting directly on top of your sit bones.”

3. See if you can sit up straight: “The natural curve of your low back or lumbar spine should occur easily,” Chu says. “If not, take a folded up blanket or towel and sit on it. Get back into position and test.”

4. Keeping your spine as erect as possible, slowly walk your hands out in front of you: “Think about reaching as far out as possible, and less about flattening your torso to the ground,” Chu says. “Eventually it will get there. Keep making sure that you keep your toes up towards the sky and the thighs continue to stay externally rotated to get the maximum stretch in the adductors and hamstrings.”


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