Bend, Don't Break
Stretching qualifies as a workout if you follow the gospel of active stretching preached by Jay Blahnik, a fitness consultant to Nike and author of Full-Body Flexibility. "Having someone lift my arms behind my back may make me more flexible, but it isn't as valuable as having the strength to put them there on my own," says Blahnik. "That's called mobility, and that's what we're all really after." It's mobility that helps us when we're in a tight jam on a rock wall or in a Class IV hole.
Three times a week, do the following active stretches in continuous movements ten times. Hold each passive finish for 20 seconds.
Glutes: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and knees bent, and place your right ankle across your left knee. Lift your left leg until it's at a 90-degree angle to the floor. In that position, rotate left leg in ten slow, small circles. Repeat on the other side, with left ankle on right knee. Passive finish: Grab your elevated leg behind the knee (keep other foot on the floor), pull it toward your chest, and hold. Repeat with other leg.
Hamstrings: Lie on your back with legs slightly bent, feet flat on the floor. Lift your right leg toward your head as far as you can, keeping the leg straight and the heel flexed. Lower and repeat with the left leg. Passive finish: Grab the elevated leg behind the knee and pull it toward your chest, keeping the leg straight. Repeat with your other leg.
Back: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Roll your shoulders forward, round your back, and reach out as if you're going to hug a tree. In the same motion, bring your arms slowly back to your sides. Passive finish: Stand like a rag doll. Let shoulders, arms, and head roll forward. Focus on fully relaxing your trapezius muscles.
Hip flexors: While standing, extend one leg in the air behind you as far as possible by contracting your glutes. Keep the other leg and your body straight and upright. Switch legs. Passive finish: Step into a lunge, straighten the rear leg, and hold. Repeat on other side.
Quads: Stand and lift one heel toward your rear, while stabilizing yourself on a chair. Switch legs. Passive finish: Reach back and grab one ankle, pull it toward your rear, and hold. Repeat with other leg.
Abdominals: Stand, place your hands on the small of your back, and push your hips forward while slowly arching backwards. Passive finish: Lie back on a stability ball, lace your fingers behind your head, and plant your feet on the floor. Drape your head and shoulders over the ball. Hold for ten breaths.
Toolbox: A stability ball "can help with flexibility," says Mike Bracko, a Calgary, Canadabased exercise physiologist and member of the American College of Sports Medicine. "It takes you out of the normal realm of stretchingwhich can be boringplus it allows you to develop balance at the same time." Our pick? The DURABALL PRO, which features a heavy-duty, puncture-resistant plastic skin. ($48; 800-348-8371, www.fitter1.com)