Category Archives: Stretching

Twist Holds

Since the release of Convict Conditioning 2 last fall, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the exercise demonstrations I provided for the book. Most of the questions are about the clutch flag and human flag holds, but I’ve also gotten quite a few about author Paul Wade’s “trifecta” progression, particularly the twist holds.

There are several variations leading up to the full twist hold and I recommend beginners practice the basic versions for at least a few weeks (probably longer) before moving ahead. It’s important to take your time with each step to avoid setbacks and injuries.

Do The Twist
Twist holds give you a lot of bang for your buck, providing a fantastic stretch for your spine, hips and shoulders, as well as giving you a little extra core work. Along with the bridge hold and L-hold, twist holds are one of just three stretches that Coach Wade finds necessary for peak performance. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but he provides an entertaining (and pretty convincing) argument for this approach in the book.

To perform a basic twist hold, sit on the ground with your left leg straight in front of you, then bend your right leg and cross it in front of the other. Reach your left arm across your right knee while squeezing your obliques to rotate your trunk as far as you can. You can also play around with leveraging your elbow against your leg to get deeper into the stretch. Try to keep your chest tall and avoid shrugging your shoulders. I find it helpful to breathe slowly, gradually lengthening my spine with each inhale, and trying to squeeze a little farther into the twist each time I breathe out.

Twist Ending
The last step in the twist hold progression is to reach your arm beneath your top leg, while simultaneously reaching the opposite arm around behind your back, eventually clasping your hands. (It’s fine to use your other arm to help get the first one under your leg.)

There are a few other stretches that can help you out along the way, including the yoga “noose pose” (seen in the photo on the right), which helps you practice the shoulder mobility without having to twist as far as you need to in the full twist hold, and the more commonly known “triangle pose,” which provides the opposite benefit.

Even once you achieve the full twist, you can still work on increasing the stretch by trying to get your hands farther behind you and higher up on your back (two things I’m still refining myself). My twist hold still leaves plenty of room for improvement, but I intend to keep practicing.

Check out the video below (and get a copy of Convict Conditioning 2) for more info:

Back Bridges

The back bridge is a timeless exercise that can help build total-body strength and improve your flexibility along the way.

Whether your focus is strength training, calisthenics, yoga or any other type of exercise, back bridging is bound to come up in some form.

While bridges are often performed isometrically, they can also be done for reps. Like all exercises, there are many variations on the back bridge. Here are a few of the basics:

Beginner Back Bridge

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your knees bent. Your feet will be flat on the ground. From here, push your heels into the ground, squeeze your butt and lift your hips as high as you can. You’ll also need to think about pushing your chest up and squeezing your shoulder blades together while your head stays on the ground. If you can’t keep your knees from bowing open, you might find it helpful to squeeze a yoga block or small exercise ball in between them.

Straight Bridge
This time you’re going to sit with your legs straight in front of you, almost like an L-sit except you’re not in the air. From here, lift your hips by contracting your hamstrings, glutes and other posterior musculature. Drop your head back, press your chest up and try to look behind you. You’ll wind up looking like an upside-down plank.

Neck Bridge
This starts off in the same position as the beginner back bridge except your hands are placed on either side of your head, palms down and wrists bent back. From here, press yourself off your back and onto the top of your head. You might want to place a towel or other soft object between your head and the ground when starting out. For an added challenge, try taking your hands away and supporting your upper body with just your neck. This variation is sometimes called a “wrestler’s bridge.”

Full Back Bridge
Don’t be in a rush to get to a full back bridge, as it can put a lot of pressure on your spine. If you aren’t ready for it, you could be in for a world of hurt.

However, if you are ready to try it, start by coming into a neck bridge. Next, press your hands into the ground, dig in your heels and push your chest forward. This last part is really important for those of us with tight shoulders, as pushing forward with the chest will facilitate a deeper stretch through the thoracic region.

Watch the video below for more:


Assessing Your Fitness (Part Three: Flexibility)

I once knew a guy who threw out his back while getting a beer out of a cooler. Seriously.

If you don’t take care of your body, at some point you’ll wind up getting an (easily preventable) injury.

Flexibility is often the most overlooked aspect of fitness, but without a full range of motion in your joints, basic exercises like squats, overhead presses and even pull-ups can be problematic.

The most common areas where people tend to become overly tight are the hips, hamstrings, shoulders and back, though tightness in the wrists and ankles can also pose a problem when performing exercises like push-ups and squats.

If you’re inflexible, you need to devote as much attention to improving your range of motion as you do to increasing your strength. After all, without a healthy range of motion in your joints, you can’t fully work your muscles.

Hamstring Flexibility
The standard way to assess hamstring flexibility is the sit and reach test. (See photo above)

After warming up, have a seat on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Without bending your knees, reach forward for your toes. If you cannot touch your toes, you need to work towards loosening your hamstrings.

Hip Mobility
To test the range of motion in your hips, you’ll need a sturdy table or ledge just below waist height. Pick up one leg and place the outside of your ankle on the table. Now rotate your hip to try to touch your knee to the table as well (your shin should be perpendicular to your body.) If you cannot touch your knee to the table, your hip mobility could stand to improve.

Shoulders and Back
Shoulder mobility can also be easily tested. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Reach both hands overhead and try to touch your wrists to the ground without raising your lower back off the floor. If you cannot do this, guess what? You have poor range of motion in your shoulders and upper back.

While men generally tend to be stronger than women, flexibility is one area where the ladies get the long end of the stick. Most men will not be able to pass all three tests (I can’t – my shoulders are tight!) so don’t feel bad. Luckily, there is a simple solution to this problem – stretch!

Improving your flexibility takes time, especially for older individuals as your body has had more time to get used to being stiff. You must be patient and dedicated if you wish to increase your flexibility.

Right: I’ve found this stretch, which I like to call a “wall dog,” to be helpful for my upper back, but it can also be useful for stretching the hamstrings and calves. Start by grabbing a bar or a ledge that’s a bit higher than waist level. Next, step back, push your hips out and press your chest to the ground. Try to avoid bending your knees or rounding your back.

For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!

For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

Assisted Stretching

Hamstring/groin stretch It’s common knowledge that flexibility is an important part of overall fitness, yet many people still neglect this key component of a well rounded exercise regimen.

One way to make stretching more interesting (and in many cases more effective), is by having a partner or trainer to assist you.

One great stretch to do with a partner is for your hamstrings and inner thighs. Start by sitting upright with your legs stretched out in a V shape.

Have a partner sit across from you in the same position with one person’s feet pressed up against the other persons ankles. The person with shorter legs should have their feet on the inside (see photo). Grab your partners wrists and have them pull you in.

Keep your back straight and your chest up and take the stretch in your hips and legs. Hold for at least 20 seconds and then switch and stretch your partner.

Chest stretch Another great stretch to have a partner assist you with is the one pictured to the left.

Sit with your hands behind your head and your fingers laced together. Have your partner stand behind you and pull back on your elbows. It may be helpful to have your partner’s knee or torso pressed against your back for leverage. You will feel this stretch in your chest and shoulders.

Remember to breathe deeply and try to stay calm while stretching. Of course, thinking about relaxing always makes it harder! Simply focus on your breath to help you relax.