Pretzel Stretch: Benefits and Utility Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 27, 2022

Stretching exercises offer many benefits when performed with proper technique and form. In general, stretching may address muscle tension that limits the range of motion by producing an increase in the length of the muscle, or, to put it another way, by extending the distance that the muscle spans between the origin and insertion of a muscle. One stretching exercise that particularly targets the gluteal muscles, back, and obliques is the pretzel stretch.

The pretzel stretch is a type of static stretching exercise that may be performed either while sitting or lying down. This stretching exercise is great for improving flexibility. The primary advantages it offers are as follows: the relieving of tension in the glutes, back, and obliques; the improvement of spinal rotation; and the enhancement of hip and mid-to-lower back flexibility.

Although there are several variations of the pretzel stretch, all of them share similar objectives and benefits. However, in order to achieve the benefits that have been outlined above, it is important to avoid making the common mistakes of bouncing, aiming for pain, not performing a proper warm-up, and holding one's breath while stretching.

What is a Pretzel Stretch?

The pretzel stretch is a type of exercise that will make the thoracis spine, lower back, and hips more flexible, which will in turn increase their range of motion.

pretzel stretch

Pretzel stretches are static exercises, which means the position is held for a certain amount of time. This allows for the muscles to be lengthened and may prove beneficial for those suffering from tight muscles in the thoracis spine, lower back and, hips.

Additionally, it is an excellent mobility exercise to supplement trunk rotation and can be beneficial in sporting activities, such as baseball, that require a high range of motion in these segments.

How to Perform a Pretzel Stretch

This can be done while sitting or lying down, and although both positions mainly stretch the same muscle groups, doing the activity in a sitting position also stretches some of the shoulder and upper back muscles to an extent.

It is equally important to ensure that the exercises are carried out in the correct manner in order to achieve the desired results, regardless of whether they are performed while seated or lying down.

Lying Pretzel Stretch

Place a mat on the floor and lie on your left side. Flex the left knee and grab the foot with the right hand. A band may be used if current flexibility does not allow the hand to reach the foot.

Upon grabbing the left foot, flex the right knee and hip forward at about 90 degrees for both joints, and support the right knee with the left hand. Try to push the elevated shoulder to the floor to intensify the stretch. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute, and then repeat on the opposite side.

Sitting Pretzel Stretch

Sit on the floor or a mat with the knees straight. Put the sole of one foot on the floor and bring it around to cross the other leg and plant it on the outside of the other knee. Turn the torso so that it faces the side of the bent knee, and reach the arm on the same side of the bent knee behind for support.

Position the elbow of the opposite arm on the outside of the bent knee so that it provides the pushing force for the stretch, allowing the torso to twist. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute, and then repeat on the other side.

Muscles Involved in a Pretzel Stretch

The pretzel stretch, whether done in lying or sitting primarily stretches the same muscle groups such as the obliques, gluteal muscles, hip abductors and enhances rotation in the thoracic spine. In a lying pretzel stretch, the quadriceps femoris muscle is stretched unlitarally when pulling on the foot.

pretzel stretch muscles

During the sitting pretzel stretch, the posterior deltoid as well as the rhomboids are both stretched, which releases tension in both of these muscles. 

Benefits of Pretzel Stretch

Many factors contribute to a reduction in joint range of motion. One of these is what is commonly referred to as "muscle tightness,” which is caused by tense muscles. Muscle tension increases through two mechanisms: active or passive. In the fitness world, active mechanisms are more important, as these are a result of muscle spasms or contractions.

The addition of stretching to a workout routine is done so that an increase in muscle tension brought on by active mechanisms can be alleviated. Any type of exercise that involves stretching aims to increase the length of the muscle as a means of reducing tension in the body.

According to Page (2012), when it comes to stretching, the relationship between muscle tension and length is typically inverse: muscle length increases as muscular tension decreases, whereas increased muscular tension is related to a decrease in muscle length.

The resultant increase in range of motion brought about by the decrease in muscle tension brings with it proper movement patterns and a reduction in the risks of muscle strain and injury. 

For the pretzel stretch, the main muscles targeted are the gluteal, back, and oblique muscles, hence, this activity is effective at reducing tension in these specific regions. In the sitting position, the pretzel stretch is also able to relieve tension in some shoulder and upper back muscles.

As a result of muscle lengthening and improved range of motion, hip and mid-to-lower back flexibility and spinal rotation are also improved with the pretzel stretch. These improvements help with movements that assist in daily activities as well as reduces the risks for muscle strain or injury to the spine and hips.

Apart from activities of daily living and a reduction in the risk of injury, the pretzel stretch may also be of benefit in sporting activities that require twisting the trunk and crossing over of the legs. These activities include tennis, golf, and football.

Mistakes to Avoid While Pretzel Stretching

Bouncing

One of the most common mistakes while stretching is doing a bounce. This is commonly referred to as a "ballistic stretch." Although this may be beneficial for some movements, when done aggressively, this may trigger the muscle to suddenly tighten because of the shock of a sudden deep stretch, which might eventually lead to a muscle tear. 

To fix this, instead of doing a bounce, it is better to elongate the muscle at a slow pace by holding the stretch for a few seconds, then releasing it and repeating it, and then gradually deepening the stretch to avoid injuries.

Aiming for Pain

Stretching should never be a painful activity, although there is a specific type of stretch pain that one should become familiar with. Going over that certain pain by exerting too much energy and going too deep into a stretch may lead to a torn muscle. 

It is better to slowly ease into the stretch until a slight discomfort is felt, but again, it should never hurt. To acknowledge the particular pain that should be felt, try stretching the neck sideways by pulling it with the hand. The sensation felt on the stretched neck should be felt while stretching other parts of the body.

No Warm-Ups

Most people think that stretching is a warm-up in itself, but the fact is that there is a need to do warm-ups before executing a stretch. A pre-stretching warm-up is done to increase the temperature of the body; doing so enables muscles to generate more blood flow and be more flexible. 

Warm-ups such as jogging, light walks, jumping rope, and others not mentioned can be done to prepare the body before doing stretching exercises. These activities will increase the heart rate, therefore increasing blood flow, while also activating muscles to loosen them. 

Holding Breath

Unconsciously, most people tend to hold their breath while doing stretching exercises. This is a mistake, as holding the breath causes the muscles to become tense and resistant. In opposition, breathing helps with increasing the blood flow and delivering oxygen-abundant blood to the muscles. Lastly, the use of proper breathing techniques helps to relax the muscles and make them more responsive to stretches. 

Final Thoughts

The pretzel stretch is an excellent movement used in barre and Pilates classes that strengthens the glutes. It targets multiple muscles, such as the obliques, gluteals, hip adductors, erector spinae, posterior deltoid, and rhomboids. This stretch offers multiple benefits, which include alleviating muscle tightness and improving range of motion, among others. 

Although it may seem like a simple stretch, there are multiple factors that come into play that should be taken into account, like doing warm-ups before the stretch, avoiding holding the breath, and many more, to maximize the intended benefits and avoid injuries from occurring.

References

1. Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7(1):109-119.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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