I Tried Hyperbolic Stretching And It Delivered — With One Big Caveat
You could get closer to the splits in this four-week program that promises to increase flexibility. Or you could get a strained groin and a bunch of spam.
Growing up, the only thing I accomplished as a gymnastics school dropout was being able to do the splits. But I’ve become less flexible as I’ve gotten older, as most people do with age, and have lost that skill. Being flexible isn’t necessarily a marker of good fitness — and it’s even debated whether it confers any benefits that can’t be achieved with alternatives like strength training, according to a paper in the journal Frontiers in Physiology. But then I came across Hyperbolic Stretching, a popular four-week program that supposedly increases a person’s flexibility through a series of paywalled exercises that promised to “unlock the hidden potential of your pelvic floor muscles, boost your muscle elasticity, improve your overall body control, and help you reach your full athletic potential.” Maybe a little flexibility really was all I was missing. Intrigued, I dove in.
It should be noted that “Hyperbolic Stretching” isn’t a scientific term, but more of a made-up phrase from a vaguely credentialed man named Alex Larsson. Perhaps Hyperbolic Stretching comes from the word “hyperbole,” as Larsson markets the program in an exaggerated, hyperbolic way, boasting that his “revolutionary program leverages the power of autonomic survival reflexes.”
Arrogantly and nostalgically, I thought I might be able to get back to my more elastic and youthful roots with just a little guidance and a few minutes of stretching per day. And besides, what did I have to lose, besides a one-time payment of $27 and maybe a little dignity?
According to physical therapist, trainer, and strength and conditioning specialist Phil Page, Ph.D., who has studied stretching extensively, the biggest issue with sensationalized, pay-to-play programs like this is that they claim to be suited for everyone, in order to increase profits by appealing to as many people as possible — especially those who are notoriously “bad at stretching.” Unfortunately, that type of program is not backed by science.
“Like most things, one size does not fit all when it comes to stretching,” Page told me. For instance, people with hypermobility disorders shouldn’t stretch at all. Some people are genetically ‘tight,’ and researchers aren’t sure if forcing the discomfort of stretching is helpful in these instances. “We just don’t know enough about this spectrum of mobility,” he says.
While Larsson, a self-described “expert,” signs his newsletter emails with “MSc.,” indicating a masters in science, he does not elaborate on his qualifications in his bio. (Larsson did not respond to multiple interview requests. But he does feature many pictures of himself doing the splits on his website to illustrate his expertise.)
Another red flag with Hyperbolic Stretching is that it doesn’t distinguish stretching from flexibility, let alone define flexibility, which is the “the extent of the range of motion around a joint,” says research professor David Behm from Memorial University in Canada, who has studied the efficacy of stretching in detail.
Perhaps more importantly, you don’t need the extreme flexibility that Hyperbolic Stretching promises. The average person doesn’t need the flexibility of a gymnast — and some people are genetically unable to achieve that level of bendiness anyway.
“If you’re too stiff and have a book on the floor and want to pick up that book and don’t bend properly, you can throw your back out because your ligaments or lower back muscles are too stiff. So anyone, whether you’re an athlete or average individual picking a book off the floor, needs a certain amount of flexibility to do those things,” Behm says. But all you need is enough flexibility to be able to move through your daily life and exercise without injuring yourself. If you can do that, congratulations, you’re probably already as flexible as you need to be.
But since I was already $27 in deep, I decided to see for myself if the hype of Hyperbolic Stretching lived up to its name.
Week One: Splits for Beginners
Within days of subscribing, I had received several newsletter emails from Larsson with spammy subject lines like, “Got knee pain, Lauren?” and “They say ‘you can't get flexible after 40’ Here’s what I believe…” In his first mass-message, he instructed anyone starting the program to take a before picture to track their progress. I reluctantly obliged.
Week one of the program simply consisted of one 8-minute video illustrating three basic exercises: lunges, standing hamstring stretches, and then a combination of the two in order to attempt a front split. As much as it loosened up the back of my legs and hips, the routine was like yoga, but more bizarre. Each exercise was separated with a title card that read, “free distribution of this work or its parts is strictly prohibited” — despite the fact that many tutorials for these stretches are available on YouTube.
There was an additional video for learning the side splits that I almost overlooked due to the chaotic website layout. This 10-minute video featured two different sets of leg-lifts to warm up, one on my back with my legs split open and the other on my hands and knees. This reminded me of pilates or the kind of strength training I could do with resistance bands, rather than just stretching.
Overall, the first week of the stretching program felt way more hyperbolic about protecting basic content behind a paywall than it did about increasing my flexibility.
Weeks Two and Three: Intermediate Front Splits
After attempting the splits everyday for a week, I was reaching painful and diminishing returns.
Behm’s work suggests that static stretching (stretches that are held for 15 seconds or more) can occasionally have detrimental effects, particularly if you hold the positions too long. That was precisely what I had done under the Hyperbolic Stretching regimen — pulling my groin and tweaking my hips in a way that didn’t require medical attention but did call for three consecutive rest days.
To avoid injuries like this, Behm recommends focusing on movement in general to promote flexibility, rather than forcing stretching. “The latest research shows that you may not need to stretch, but flexibility is important,“ he said. In his recent book The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching, Behm explains that stretching is one of many ways to become more flexible, but foam rollers and resistance training can do the same thing. And when you have more flexibility, there’s less of a chance you’ll get injured or experience chronic pain.
With Hyperbolic Stretching so far, I was only causing more temporary pain. To Behm’s point, the side-split videos tapped into this range of movement with leg lifts, but also a strange pulsating position designed to loosen up my hips and make it look like I’m humping the air.
Once my hips and groin recovered from week one, I continued on with the program. Catching up was surprisingly easy, because weeks two and three only consisted of one short video with the exact same three stretches as the first week.
Week Four: Closing The Gap
After three-plus weeks of attempts, I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed by how badly I wanted to do the splits. To my delight, the final week contained some additional instructions for easing into the harsh pose, along with all the other stretches I had grown to dread over the past month.
Sadly, by the end of the week I was not able to land the splits like when I was a kid. But as Behm pointed out, there’s really no need to do that. “I can’t think of any person in the average activities of daily living that would need to do the splits,” he says.
Ultimately, both experts I talked to agreed that the average parent shouldn’t have to spend money to learn how to stretch, “unless they are the type of person that has to ‘have skin in the game’ to make themselves do it,” Page says. What’s more important than stretching is engaging in 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which again, inherently fosters flexibility.
And after four weeks of doing the same stretches and basic exercises, I could understand why movement was what matters most. If the alternative to this program was doing nothing at all, of course these videos are better. But replacing my active routine of yoga, running, and the occasional HIIT workout with Hyperbolic Stretching did not do me any favors.
To Larsson’s credit, I did get closer to the splits at the end of the four weeks than I was at the beginning. But busy parents who are trying to improve their flexibility might want to start by getting more movement with activities they enjoy doing — whether that be playing with the kids, biking, or pickleball — then forcing themselves into the splits. Because in the end, doing the splits is like having abs. It serves no real purpose beyond looking cool in a picture.