Best Stretch Ever

The solution: Best Stretch Ever, a nontraditional, active regeneration class created by McCaw that combines joint mobilization, strength training, and deep fascial stretching exercises to boost performance. The 30-minute class launches January 2 at select Equinox clubs.

The concept for Best Stretch Ever came to life when Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills, discovered the Stick Mobility, a tool that he said would disrupt stretching for the regeneration-averse crowd. “It offers the opportunity to be more engaged and more purposeful with your stretching and your mobility work,” he says.

The downfall of traditional stretching is that you hold a position at the end of your range of motion without engaging your muscles. The Stick Mobility uniquely blends stretching with strength because, unlike a rigid body bar, it’s flexible. “When you push into it to deepen a stretch, the stick pushes back,” Berenc says. That means you need to activate your muscles to stay in the stretch, which promotes mobility.

During the class, you use the stick to stabilize your body so you can focus on deepening a stretch instead of maintaining balance in a position. The 30-minute session takes you through two 10-minute flows that combine full-body stretches with core work. It wraps with a deep stretch and body scan, in which you take inventory of the sensations you experienced from head to toe. As a result, you’ll have improved joint stability, motor control, tissue quality, coordination, posture, balance—the list goes on.

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of Best Stretch Ever is its promise to reduce recovery time. “When we look at the body as a whole unit and consider what makes up a truly holistic fitness regime, mobility yields a faster recovery response,” McCaw says.

In the slideshow below, McCaw demos nine stretches from the class. For the full half-hour experience, sign up for Best Stretch Ever here.

Superior Warrior

Start in Warrior II position with left foot facing forward, a 90-degree bend in the knee, and right foot planted firmly on the floor at a 45-degree angle. Rotate your torso to the right and hold the stick vertically with a wide grip, with the left thumb pointing up and the right thumb pointing down. Once stable and aligned with the left knee above the ankle and hips tucked under, begin to pull the stick apart to ignite more strength and deepen the stretch. Push your hips toward the stick and activate the core. Perform 2 sets of 6 purposeful pulls on the stick, returning to standing between each set, then repeat on the opposite side. 

Benefits: Improves thoracic spinal rotation; opens the chest and hips; builds strength in the core, glutes, and adductors

Stick-free variation: Use a yoga strap instead of the stick to pull arms in opposite directions.

Rotating Seated Straddle

Start seated and straighten your legs out to the sides, maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your sit bones on the floor. Hold a microbend in the knees throughout the pose and increase the bend if hips are tight or mobility is limited in this position. Hold the stick with both hands and position its ends just below the ball of each foot, near the arch, with feet flexed and heels on the floor. While pushing the feet into the stick and pulling the stick to flex toward the body, release your left hand and twist from the spine to rest your fingers on the floor behind you, keeping your heel of palm lifted to increase the degree of thoracic rotation. Bonus: Roll the stick up and down the bottoms of your feet for a myofascial release. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch sides and repeat. Repeat once more on each side.

Benefits: Improves spinal rotation and hamstring mobility; builds strength in the postural muscles and adductors 

Stick-free variation: Anchor feet to a wall instead of to the stick, placing one hand in front of your body and the other behind you in the same manner as above.

Dead Bug

Lie faceup with with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift the right leg to a 90-degree angle, with knee stacked over hip and foot in line with or slightly above the knee. Hold the stick in its center with the right hand and place the end on the right thigh above the knee cap. Extend the left arm overhead and straighten the left leg, lifting both arm and leg 6 to 12 inches off the ground. Progress from the isometric hold by moving the left leg in toward the midline as the left arm reaches to touch the knee. Return to start for one rep. Perform 10 to 15 reps, then switch sides and repeat. 

Benefits: Improves coordination; builds strength in the core

Stick-free version: Push your hand into your thigh instead of the stick.

Prone Super Stick

Lie face-down with stick in front of body and arms extended to grip the stick. Grip the stick with hands 1 to 2 feet apart, thumbs on the inside. Lift your chin to look at the stick, then tuck your chin in to align the spine before lifting the arms and legs. As the stick rises, begin to pull outward with both hands as if you were pulling it in two, keeping a firm grip on the stick to enhance neurofeedback and increase neural drive. Bend at the elbows to bring the stick behind the head so arms are in a goalpost position, hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then extend arms overhead and lower the body back to start. Repeat 3 to 5 times. 

Benefits: Improves coordination in the upper- and lower-body posterior chain; builds strength in the spinal erectors and postural muscles

Stick-free version: Use a hand towel instead of the stick.

Child’s Pose

Start in a kneeling position with the stick about 12 inches in front of your body, with one end on the floor. Send the hips back while you walk the hands up the stick and find a comfortable spot to anchor and hang in the stretch. Hold here for 1 to 2 minutes, moving your hips from side to side to stretch the sides of the body and rounding and arching the spine throughout. 

Benefits: Opens the chest; builds mobility in the lateral lines of the body

Stick-free version: Assume the traditional Child’s Pose, then walk hands out with arms extended and hips elevated above the heels for a chest-opener and hip and low-back stretch.

Bow and Arrow

Stand with feet at hip-width and the stick 8 to 12 inches outside the left foot, holding it in its center with the left hand. (The closer the stick is to your foot, the more challenging this stretch will be.) Reach the right arm overhead and to the left to grab the top of the stick. Press the hips to the right, away from the stick, and once the hips are stable, push the stick away from you with the left hand and pull it toward you with the right hand, simultaneously pressing it into the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then carefully release by moving hips back to center while easing your grip and relaxing the arms. Repeat 2 to 3 times. 

Benefits: Improves full-body coordination and stability; builds strength in the lats, obliques, and hips

Stick-free variation: Use the corner wall of a doorway, instead of the stick, to anchor yourself.

Kneeling Bow and Arrow

Start in a lateral lunge with right knee bent and left leg extended with the stick centered between the feet. Hold the center of the stick with the right hand and the top of the stick with the left. Push the stick away from you with the right hand and pull it toward you with the left hand, simultaneously pressing it into the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then carefully release by standing upright, easing your grip, and relaxing the arms. Repeat 2 to 3 times. 

Benefits: Improves mobility in the lateral line and hip flexors; builds strength in the core, glutes, hamstrings, and grip

Straddle Hang

Stand with feet wide and toes facing forward, holding the stick with both hands in a wide, supinated grip. Place one end of the stick on the ground in front of you, with right hand on bottom and left hand on top. Once you’re stable, activate your core and glutes and release the right hand from the bottom of the stick, maintaining an active grip with the left hand. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, keeping your hips facing forward and legs straight. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Benefits: Opens the chest; improves thoracic rotation and hip mobility; builds strength in the lats and hamstrings

Stick-free variation: Perform the same move without the stick, reaching the bottom hand toward the floor and extending the top hand toward the sky.