When I started stretching, I wanted to do everyday things like bend over to touch my toes or sit on the ground without being in pain. I was inflexible my entire life until I decided one day that I wanted to change that. Now I can do the splits on both sides and I am 3 inches away from getting a full pancake. It’s been quite a journey and I’m excited to share with you my pancake stretch progression over the past year.
One of the biggest things I learned from stretching is that stretching is really just an interplay between your muscles. Some muscles stretch while muscles on the other side contract. By understanding which muscles are active when you do a stretch, you can then engage those muscles and strengthen them. In the pancake stretch, you are stretching your hamstrings and adductor muscles while contracting your hips and glutes. Here is my pancake stretch progression so far and tips on how to do the pancake stretch for beginners.
- My Pancake Stretch Progression
- What Muscles Does Pancake Stretch
- Modified Pancake Stretches For Beginners
- How to Do the Full Pancake Stretch
- Form Check: Good Pancake vs. Bad Pancake
- Tips for Getting Your Pancake
My Pancake Stretch Progression (2018 – 2019)
I used to hate any stretches where I needed to reach for my toes. Now, they are my favourite kinds of stretches. It’s funny how things change when you can reach past your toes.
In 2017, I started stretching two times a week and honestly I didn’t know what I was doing or what my goals were. I decided to start small. My first goal was to touch my toes and if I could learn that then I wanted to sit on the ground comfortably.
Here’s me touching BOTH toes. I know I know – 2017 Webcam quality and a lot of excitement.
I started taking flexibility classes that year and I was nowhere close to the ground in any of my stretches. A lot of stretches were done incorrectly and even the modified versions were quite painful. I didn’t want to admit it but I was 23 and it hurt to move. I put off a lot of things in the past by telling myself that I was inflexible and I believed it. This time I decided to just try instead and I kept trying. At this point I was stretching everyday – once in the morning and a 1 hour stretch routine at night. Check out this post for my pancake stretch routine for beginners.
I didn’t see any major results for 3 months of stretching but all the small wins were stacking up to become bigger ones.
3-7 Months of Stretching
I started seeing progress a lot faster in months 3 to 7. My toes should be flexed here but I was still learning the correct form. I could now bend past 90 degrees using my hips! Doing these hip flexor stretches helped gently open up my hips to get into deeper stretches.
I stretched for the pancake occasionally, my ultimate goal (at the time) was to get the splits. It wasn’t until I came back to flexibility class a few months later that I realized how much my overall flexibility had improved. My pancake was looking good!
In 5 months, I could touch my toes, sitting comfortably on the ground and I got my front splits. Along the way I also got my king pigeon by surprise. Here I am 3 inches from a full pancake and side splits.
This journey completely changed the way I think about myself and my flexibility. At the start, I would let my inflexibility define what my physical limits were. Now I think of flexibility as something that I can work on and improve over time. Flexibility enables me to do so much more with my body than I ever thought was possible.
After 2 years of stretching, I’ve learned a lot about how to stretch correctly and effective tips that helped me get the results I wanted. Now, let’s go into what muscles you’re stretching when doing the pancake and stretches you can do as a beginner.
Update (January 2020)
With weights, I can now touch my chest to the ground. Without weights, I’m about 1 inch away! I also go my side splits during this time – woooo!
What Muscles Does Pancake Stretch
The pancake stretch is the ultimate mobility stretch to improve your hips, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and adductors.
Modified Pancake Stretches For Beginners
Here are 2 pancake variations for beginners. Do these stretches to start opening up the muscles in your hips, groin and legs. Make sure that you always start off with a good warm up to get your blood flowing before attempting static stretches. Warm ups help to prevent injury and will help you get better range for your stretches.
1) Standing Pancake Stretch
This is a standing variation of a full pancake stretch. If your hamstrings are tight, you may find it difficult to get past 90 degrees for this stretch. Modify by going down as far as you can with a flat back then resting your hands on your thighs.
- Start in an upright position with your feet wide (about two times the width of your shoulders). Both feet should be flat, toes pointed forward.
- Fold your upper body forward as far as you can with a flat back. Your core engaged.
- Make sure that your legs are straight. Then lower your upper body as far as it can comfortably go, hold your elbows above your head and let your body hang.
- Breathe and hold for 30 seconds getting a little deeper each time on each exhale.
2) Half Pancake Stretch
This variation stretches one side of your legs. Use your bodyweight to get a little deeper into the stretch on each leg before attempting the full pancake. You will feel this stretch on the inside of the thighs.
- Start in a kneeling position with your right leg extended out to the side.
- Flex the right foot and turn your leg out so the toes point up to the ceiling. You should feel the lengthening of muscles at the back of your legs.
- Place your hands on the floor in front of you and begin to sit your bottom towards your heel.
- Slide your hands forwards and lower your head. You should feel the stretch down the inner thigh of the extended leg.
- Breathe and hold for 30 secs. Repeat on the other side.
How to Do The Full Pancake Stretch
The key to doing a full pancake is learning how to do it with the correct form. There are a few things you need to correct, the most important one is that your back needs to be completely flat! Check your pancake form below.
- Sit on the ground in a straddle position.
- Flex both feet and turn your leg out so the toes point up to the ceiling.
- Use your hands to tilt your pelvis forward so that your sitz bones are on the ground. To modify, you can sit on top of a yoga block. This increases the angle between your hamstrings and the ground making it easier to fold over with your stomach.
- Slowly walk your hands out in front of you. Keep your chest lifted, shoulders relaxed and away from the ears. Walk out as far as you can with a flat back. Reach in front of you. I usually place a yoga block in front to hold.
- Breathe and hold for 30 secs.
Form Check: Good Pancake vs. Bad Pancake
To see progress in your pancake stretch, you need to always stretch with the correct form.
- Learn to anteriorly tilt your hips forward. I like to think of this as moving your glutes out of the way. Your hips need to tilt forward to get your stomach to the ground.
- Your back should be completely flat. We tend to want to hunch our backs to get deeper into the stretch but you’d be putting tension on your lower back rather than stretching your hamstrings and hips which are needed for the pancake.
- Flex your foot towards the ceiling.
Tips for Getting Your Pancake
Patience is Key
This is an advanced mobility stretch. Do not cannot force your way into a deeper range of motion if you’re not ready. Be patient and work your way through the different variations while stretching supporting muscles that are tight. There are other techniques such as loaded mobility training, PNF stretches, partner stretches and myofascial release to help you get your pancake.
Dynamic Stretches Reset Your Hip
After stretching for the pancake, do some dynamic stretches to reset your hip rotation such as the windshield wipers or hugging both knees towards the chest.
The pancake stretch requires you to build flexibility in your hips, groin, hamstrings and adductor muscles. My biggest tip would be to break your goals down, work towards the small wins and be patient. They will add up!