Bodywork, March 1999
It Pays to Be Flexible
The best way to choose a type of stretching that suits your style is, of course, to try them all. But whether you suspect that you'll be a fan of the relaxing benefits of classic stretches or, at the other end of the spectrum, the efficiency of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, you still may want to mix and match different styles for different needs, as does Kim Rostello, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With her help we've devised the following head-to-toe routine, a 15-minute sampler that draws from all the major forms of stretching. Consider it a starting point to help you master the various mechanics. "Technique is crucial," says Rostello.
Neck Stretch (static)
Without scrunching the shoulders, lean your head to the left. Place your left hand on your right ear and gently pull your head toward the shoulder. Hold the stretch for 25 seconds; repeat on the other side.
Shoulder Roll (static)
Sit on a Swiss ball, one of those giant plastic orbs that looks like a refugee beach toy ($24 from Ball Dynamics International; 800-752-2255), and walk your feet out until your head and shoulders are resting on the ball. Stretch your arms overhead so that your palms are facing the ceiling. Now, rotate your head away from the right shoulder. Hold the stretch for 25 seconds; repeat on the opposite side.
Pectoralis Stretch (PNF)
Grasp the sides of a doorway with your arms at shoulder level behind you. Walk forward until you feel a stretch and hold the position for three seconds. Next, lean forward for eight seconds while mildly resisting the movement (with about a quarter of your pectoralis strength). Then relax and ease off the lean while inching forward to stretch a little farther and hold the pose for 20 seconds. Repeat the sequence three times.
Waist Twist (dynamic)
Standing straight with your arms hanging at your sides, slowly twist as far to the left as you can without incurring pain, and then to the right. Be sure to keep your feet flat and your knees fixed to focus the motion at your waist. Repeat 12 times.
Hip Stretch (static)
Kneel down on your left knee with your right foot forward, making sure the kneecap doesn't extend ahead of your toes. Lean your hips forward and down to create a stretch. Hold the position for 25 seconds and then switch legs.
Groin Stretch (PNF)
Sitting with your heels together and drawn toward your torso, push your knees down with your elbows until you feel a strong stretch. Now resist the push slightly for eight seconds. Then ease off the pushing, but apply enough elbow pressure to keep a good static stretch for 20 seconds. Do the sequence three times.
Back Stretch (yoga)
Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms at your sides, palms down. Slowly lift your legs as a unit, swinging them over your head until your toes touch the ground behind your head — or until you reach a comfortable limit. Hold the pose for 20 seconds. Then unfurl to the starting position, keeping pressure on your shoulders. Rest for several seconds and repeat once.
Thigh and Spine Stretch (yoga)
Lie on your stomach, bend your knees, reach behind you, and grasp your ankles. Pulling against your ankles, slowly lift your head and chest as high as possible. Next, lift your knees and thighs from the floor. Hold the pose for 10 seconds before easing back to the starting position. Keeping hold of your ankles, rest for several breaths and then strike the pose twice more.
Calf Stretch (active isolation)
Sit with both legs in front of you, toes pointed up, and loop a towel around one foot. Using just the strength of your leg muscles, cock your toes back toward the knee. Now pull your foot farther with the towel for two seconds. Release the stretch, repeat 10 times, and then switch legs.
Photographs by David Roth