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Athletic Trainers can be a little narrow minded in respect to how stretching should be performed. Often times the focus is on the concentric action (a simple static stretch) we learn initially and focus on this movement to strengthen and stretch during rehabilitation programs.  However, this focus on the concentric movement limits the athlete in several ways.  For that reason, we need to realize what degrees of motion our muscles have.

The muscles in our body all perform concentric (shortening the muscle), eccentric (lengthening the muscle), and isometric (contraction but no movement) movements.  These movements can also differ in respect to whether the athlete is in a weight bearing or a non-weight bearing position.  In most cases, the athlete will need to be weight bearing to function in their respective sport.  With this in mind, three-dimensional stretching has been developed to be an aid in rehabilitation and training.

Have you ever thought about why you do certain types of stretches? Maybe it is to just increase flexibility, but stretching can do many more things than that. “3D” stretching can be used to ‘turn on’ your muscles before exercise or even to treat the cause of injuries. Multiplanar or ‘3D’ stretching is beneficial for all pre and post workout routines.

It is essential that we utilize the knowledge that each muscle in the body performs three movements over three planes of motion.  They can move in the frontal, sagittal, and transverse or rotational planes. Here’s an example, as many of you know, muscles move in more than one plane of motion. When you simply go to wave to a person, you pick your arm up at the shoulder in the frontal plane, you raise the distal part of your arm in the sagittal plane, and (if you are the queen of England) you do a dainty wave in the transverse plane. This is proof that you move in way more planes of motion than you thought you did.

From here, it is rather simple to put together a 3D stretch that pertains to the functions our athletes need to complete to perform optimally.  For this post, videos and written descriptions will be demonstrated for various areas of the body. It is important to note that each stretch should be performed doing 3 sets with 10-15 slow pulses (1 pulse= 1 movement to each side) per movement. In the videos, I have my subjects doing 4-5 pulses to allow you to see the movement solely for demonstration.

CHEST (Pectoralis Major/Minor)

A traditional stretch for the chest is to lean forward with one hand on a wall corner and then lean forward.  We can use this as our starting point for maximizing the effectiveness on this stretch three-dimensionally.  Position yourself as mentioned before, but now you lean forward and come backward, then rotate side-side, and then lastly rotate all while keeping your hand on the wall.  This covers all three planes of motion and once you give this stretch a try, you will feel the effectiveness of the stretch in all aspects of range of motion.  Another great aspect to this perspective on stretching is that we can tailor it to your individual needs. See Michael demonstrate below.

3D Chest Stretch Video

SHOULDER (Deltoids, Pectoralis Major & Minor, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboid, and Teres Major & Minor)

To start, find a doorway, and put your arms up in the position where you extend the furthest. From here, push your elbows or forearms up against the door with your body in the doorway. Extend your body through the doorway as far as possible to feel a stretch (use this as your starting body position for each plane of stretch). To add in the 3D component, push your body front to back through the doorway to get the first stretch, move your entire body side to side to get the second stretch, and rotate your body around the edge of the door that your arm is on to get the final stretch. See Mario demonstrate below.

3D Shoulder Stretch 1


The way you stretch this is as follows: 1. Hold onto the edge of a doorway with your hand and move away from the door until you feel a stretch in the shoulder. 2. Keep your arm in at least slight amount of flexion (elbow bent) so that you simulate poling motion. Last, move your body front to back (remember not to move out of the point of feeling a stretch), side to side, and rotate your body all around your arm that stays fixed on the door frame. See video below.

3D Shoulder Stretch 2

GROIN (Adductors, Sartorius, Gracilis, etc)

For the groin, the starting position will be to step your left foot out sideways about 5 feet from your body while keeping your right foot in the same spot. Slowly bend your right knee until you feel tension in your left groin. This should feel similar to if you were performing sideways lunge. For the first movement, put your hands on your hips, gently rock your hips back and forth sideways (you should feel the stretch when rocking away from your left leg). The second movement, put your hands on your hips, gently rock your hips forwards and backwards. Finally, hold your arms out in front of you for balance, rotate your upper body left and right keeping your feet firmly planted. (You should feel the stretch when rotating to the right) See Matthew demonstrate below.

3D Groin Stretch

HAMSTRING (Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus)

Before you begin, select a foot. The foot that is in the front will be the one you will be stretching. To start, you will simply lean forward, touch your toes and rock forward and backward slowly. The second action, you will remain bent over, but you will have your hands to your sides and you would rock from side-to-side. Last motion, you will twist to your right and then twist to your left, or if it is easier you can walk your hands to your left and then walk your hands to your right. See Gonzo demonstrate below.

3D Hamstring Video


Begin by kneeling down on a knee, making sure you have some sort of padding under that knee. Then, place the other leg in front, bent at a 90 degree angle and lean back with your torso. Place your hands on your hips and rock back and forth. The next motion will be to rock side to side and finally, twist your torso to reach for your other foot. Some variations would be to point your toe in or out to feel a different stretch. See Amanda demonstrate below

3D Hip Flexor Video

QUADRICEPS (Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis)

These stretches can be done either kneeling or standing. To perform it standing, place the top of your foot on a nearby table or use the back of a chair. For this demonstration, we will show kneeling. Begin by kneeling on the ground, keeping one knee on the ground and stepping the other leg out in front of your body, placing that foot on the ground. Reach behind you and grab the ankle of the leg with the knee on the ground and slightly extend your hips. From this position, lean side to side, bending from your waist while continuing to look straight ahead. Returning back to the starting position, lean forward and backward, again bending at your waist, over your knee, pulling back on the foot in your hand. In the starting position, rotate your body over your knee, rotating at the waist and looking over your shoulder at the end of the motionSee Anna demonstrate below.

3D Quadriceps Stretch Video

CALF (Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Plantaris)

A few examples of calf stretches include bringing one foot forward and forcing your foot into dorsiflexion against a wall or flat surface. (Dorsiflexion is bringing your foot toward your lower leg.) To begin, slowly rock your body forward and back, in the sagittal plane. Then slowly rock side to side, in the frontal plane. Finally slowly rotate your body from side to side, in the transverse plane. See the video below

3D Calf Stretch 1

Another stretch includes posing in a lunge-like position with one leg more forward than the other while keeping the back foot flat on the ground. Only separate your legs as far as tolerable. Any painful movements will not be beneficial. While holding this lunge position bring your arms out and press them into a wall or flat surface and rock your body forward and back, in the sagittal plane. Then slowly rock from side to side, in the frontal plane, and finally slowly rotate your body from side to side, in the transverse plane.  See Kristi demonstrate below

3D Calf Stretch 2


3D stretching lengthens out the entire muscle group that you are targeting. This lengthening is what increasing an individual’s flexibility. Increased flexibility, or in other words the increased ability to lengthen a muscle, allows for an individual to load up their muscle, which is an eccentric contraction, in order to explode, which is the concentric contraction. This load-to-explode concept is what gives athletes their power. An example would be, the calf is used to push off with running. The heel is the first body part to strike the ground when running (unless you are a forefoot runner). The position of the heel on the ground and the toes still up in the air is dorsiflexion, a lengthened position for the calf.

Multiplanar, or three dimensional stretching is still a new concept, and something really cool for athletes and skiers to try out. To be afraid, it helps mix up the boring routine of static stretching, give it a try! A huge thank you to all the students at Concordia for helping out with this!

One Response to “3 Dimensional Stretching, a whole new approach to stretching”

  1. Barret Says:

    I’m sure most of us have tried moving around a little during a stretch but its nice to have confirmation of the idea and a few more ideas. Thanks