May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996


With 15 minutes and a spot on the floor, Trace Worthington can fire up your muscles for anything
By Mark Jannot

The world's greatest aerial skier says that if he weren't so dedicated to maintaining his flexibility, he probably wouldn't be skiing at all anymore. Whenever Trace Worthington takes an ugly tumble down a hill, his doctors shake their heads reverently as if some miracle had saved him. "They're like, 'Unbelievable! Your knee should be ripped in half right now,'" says Worthington. "They always say it would be a lot worse if I wasn't as flexible as I am."

Injury prevention isn't the only role flexibility plays for the 26-year-old 1995 world champion, who routinely flies more than 50 feet into the air on skis, contorting his body into such improbable maneuvers as the quadruple twisting triple-four twists and three somersaults. "When I stretch before I go out, it gets the muscles ready to move suddenly, in a hundredth of a second, when I need it," he says. Of course, it's not just Olympic freestyle skiers who need that kind of flexibility. "Everyone--from runners to windsurfers--can get tight, and it affects their performance."

Worthington says all you need to prevent that stiffness is 15 minutes and a little room to maneuver. Before heading out to train, systematically stretch all the major muscle groups and joints in your body, from neck to ankle. Hold each stretch for eight seconds at the point where you feel a comfortable burn but no pain. Finally, Worthington recommends that when you finish working out for the day, you repeat the entire regimen: "That keeps the muscles you've just used from tightening up, which can only help the next time out."

The Neck
Stretching the neck is a four-step process. First, place both hands underneath your chin and gently push your head back. Then, with your hands on the back of your neck, tilt your head forward, moving your chin as close to your chest as you can comfortably get it. Next, put your right hand over your head, to the left side, and pull so that your right ear moves toward your right shoulder; repeat for the other side. Finally, roll your head a few times in each direction.

The Shoulders/Chest
Bring one arm straight across your chest and pull on the elbow with the opposite hand. You'll feel this stretch either in the back of your shoulder around the rotator cuff or in your chest, if it isn't very flexible. Repeat on the other side.

Next, bring your right arm up and behind your head, stretching to reach toward the left shoulder blade, and pull down on the elbow with your left hand. Repeat on the other side. Finally, from a seated position, rest your hands on the floor behind you, elbows locked. Gradually slide your arms back, so you move toward a lying position. "That's for the skier whose arms get dragged behind him, for the water-skier who gets stretched by the rope, for the golf swing and the tennis follow-through," says Worthington.

The Abs and Lower Back
Stand up, feet shoulder-width apart, and twist from side to side slowly for 30 seconds to warm up the muscles in your trunk. Start with your hands at your side and then extend your arms so you're generating more momentum, which enhances the stretch. Then lie down on your stomach and do a sort of half push-up, lifting only your upper body and stretching so you can feel it in your abs and lower back. Next, roll over on your back and bring your feet back over your head, keeping your legs straight and pointing your toes to try to touch the ground behind your head. This stretches the entire back.

The Legs: Hamstrings,
Calves, Quads

Sit up, stretch your legs straight out in front of you with knees locked, and lower your forehead as far toward your knees as you can to stretch your hamstrings. Reach out as far as possible and grab your calves for extra pull. Next, reach forward and try to grab the tips of your toes. This stretches your calves--you should feel the burn right behind the knees. "In just about every sport, you're using this area the most," says Worthington. Stretch the hips and inner thighs by bringing the soles of your feet together and pulling them toward your groin, with knees butterflied out to the side. Push the knees toward the ground with your elbows.

Stretch the hip flexors and groin muscles next by moving your legs as far apart into a V as you can. Lean forward, pushing your chest toward the ground. Do the same stretch twice more, lowering your forehead toward each knee in succession. This works the hamstrings again, as well as the outside of the hips. From there, stand up to stretch your quadriceps. Place your left hand on a wall, bend your right knee, bring your foot up behind you, and pull it toward your butt.

The Ankles
Worthington ends each session by finding a set of stairs and standing with just his toes on the edge of a step. He lowers his heel, then raises it, standing on his toes. He then steps off the stairs and rolls his ankles in circles a couple of times. "After I do all these stretches, I can feel every single part of my body," says Worthington. "It wakes those muscles up. Really, it's very simple to maintain flexibility."

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