Category Archives: 1-Stretch

Two Balls and a Sock – It Ain’t Nothin’ But a Peanut

If you haven’t already been to Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD video blog, do your body a tremendous favor and check it out (Travis – Thanks again for turning me on to Kelly’s work).  Watch the vids and experiment with the mobility work that Kelly (K-Star) puts up nearly every day.  Here is an example:

Enter The Peanut

At the 1m 35s mark Kelly goes over some back work and for this, he uses a “peanut” to help.  Turns out this is a massage peanut, which I could order from Amazon, except there’s is all spiky and scary looking.  Also, it could take weeks to get to me here in Korea.

The Tools At Hand

If I still wanted to try this mobility work (I did), then I had to come up with my own solution.  Here’s what I had and here’s what I came up with:

1  Dress Sock + 2 Tennis Balls = DIY Peanut

Directions: Stuff tennis balls into dress sock.  Tie off dress sock with a knot.

Note: I tried using a zip tie first, but the sock slipped and loosened up.  So far, the knot is holding fast.  I’ve been hesitant about trimming the excess, because I may need it at some point to retie the knot.  But, if you want to make it look pretty, by all means trim away.

Peanut Enhancement

In this early episode, Kelly briefly mentions duct taping two lacrosse balls together to create a peanut.  I figure with a more durable athletic sock and two rubber coated practice baseballs (plenty of baseball stuff available in Korea, not so much lacrosse stuff), I can get something similar.

The Peanut In Action

Check it out – A short vid of me rolling with the peanut.



DIY Fitness Gear – Sandbag 101

DIY Gym Equipment

Recovering From Injuries

STRETCH: Hip Flexors

My recent workouts have included a focus on working the glutes.  There are many reasons, both athletic and aesthetic, for strengthening these muscles, but that is another post entirely.  For purposes of our discussion, it is important to realize that many of the exercises that work the glutes, require good range of motion (ROM) in the muscle group known as the hip flexors.

The hip flexors (also known as the iliopsoas or inner hip muscles) are a collection of three muscles: Psoas major, Psoas minor, and Iliacus).  When flexed, these muscles work together to pull the femur upward.  The head of the femur rotates in the hip and your thigh moves up toward your torso.  These muscles require regular stretching to avoid shortening and to maintain normal tone.

Image by: Beth ohara

The most common hip flexor stretch is a kneeling stretch.  Kneel on both knees, then move one foot forward, until, you can feel your weight pressing down on your inner thigh and hip muscles.  Keep your pelvis stable and in a neutral position.  Let gravity do the work for you.  Note, you do not want to lean forward on this stretch.  Watch the video below, as the instructor takes the time to thoroughly review this stretch.

Hold the stretch for a period that is comfortable (I hold the stretch for 45-60s).  Switch legs and stretch the other side.  Then, repeat the stretch a second time on both sides.  On the second stretch, you will be amazed at the increase in ROM as compared to the first stretch.  If your hip flexors are very tight 10-15s might be all that you can handle.  Don’t push it.  Take your time.  Be patient.  If you stick with it gains in ROM will come and you will be able to extend the period of the stretch.

If you have a stretching partner, you can experiment with this alternative method for stretching hip flexors.

With your hip flexors properly  stretched, you are ready to start working those glutes.



STRETCH: Hips – The Source of Your Physical Power

STRETCH: Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

NINJA: Squat Stretch

STRETCH: Hips – The Source of Your Physical Power


Image by: Beth ohara

*Your hips and the atendant muscles form large complicated joints.  As the main transfer point for speed and strength your hips are the source of your physical power.  Healthy flexible hips and the ability to move through multiple  ranges of motion are the key component to superior athletic performance.  More importantly, healthy flexible hips are necessary for mobility and the application of strength to daily tasks.

Tametomo_lifting_a_heavy_beamTametomo Lifting A Heavy Beam

*Hips often go neglected.  This is particularly true of men and even worse for those of us confined to office work and a desk chair.  Additionally, hip mobility and flexibility tend to decrease with age.  Watching an infant or small child playing, bending, twisting, and stretching, from the hips vividly demonstrates how much flexibility we lose as we age.

*Unless you have made a conscious effort to work with your hips, they have tightened up.  Neglecting them and the resulting loss of flexibility and range of motion is limiting your athletic performance and threatens your future ability to get around and perform tasks that require applied strength.

*Loosening up your hips and keeping them loose can be difficult.  But, just a few moments of quiet reflection, thinking about the important role that these big joints and their muscles play in your life, will have you focused on restoring and maintaining hip health.  Use the three types of stretches and exercises discussed below to help you get started.

*Open Up Your Hips.

—Step-overs are the most effective exercise that I have found for opening up your hips.  This is a simple exercise to understand.  Set up an obstacle, I use a bar stool, but a length of string or a bar in a Smith rack can work just as well.  Stand, facing front, with the obstacle at your side.  Now, raise your knee in front of you and step laterally over the obstacle.  As you step over, the hip joint will open up and stretch.  Once your foot touches down on the other side of the obstacle, raise the other knee, bring it in toward the obstacle, and step this leg over.  When you finish, you should be standing in the starting position, but on the other side of the obstacle.  Now, repeat the exercise by stepping back, leading with the other leg and opening up your other hip joint.


Step Over 2

Step Over 3

Stepover 4

—Fire Hydrants are performed like a dog sidling up to a fire hydrant to relieve himself.  Starting position is on your hands and knees.  Lift one knee out and up to parallel (or as close to parrallel as possible ) with the floor.  Hold this raised position for 2-3 seconds.  Return to the original position and lift the leg on the opposite side.

ThomePhoto by: dereksemmler

*Drop Into Your Hips.

—Static Raised Lunges are a great way to drop into your hips.  Find a step stool to rest your foot on.  Place your front foot on the step stool, then take a standard lunge position.  Note, you may want to move your back foot out slightly to gain greater stability.  Now, place your hands on your hips and let gravity do its job.  After 30s, you will definitely feel gravity pushing your torso down into your hips and forcing your muscles to stretch.  If you relax and sink into this stretch, you can gain even more flexibility.

—As mentioned in a prior post, relaxed squats are another way to drop into your hips, improve hip flexibility and increase your body’s ability to generate power.

long jump 2Photo by: Carl Blake


—Upside Down Wall Splits are a good way to prepare for more demanding splits.  Like static lunges, with this stretch gravity is your friend.  Start by laying on your back, looking at the ceiling, with your legs raised and pressed against a wall.  Your body should form a right angle, with your rear end pressed into the corner formed by the floor and wall.  Now, let your legs seperate and fall.  You do not have to force your legs down to start this stretch.  Just lay there as long as you can and allow gravity to do the stretching for you.

—Doorway Splits.  For this type of exercise all you need is an open doorway.  Position yourself in the middle of the doorway with your legs out to either side and pressed against the wall.  Reach into the doorway and use it to pull your body closer to the opening.  Once you are in this position, you have several options.  You can continue to pull against the doorway to get a good stretch.

Pulling Into Position

You can fold your body forward, lowering your forehead to the floor for a different type of stretch.  Also, you can twist and lower your shoulder to the floor.  Or, you can remain seated and rotate your torso from side to side.  While rotating, try reaching back as far as you can.

Thai KickPhoto by:

*After experimenting with the above exercises, you should have a pretty good idea of how much your hips tighten up with age.  You have to loosen them up and you have to keep them loose.  Use these exercises as a starting point for your commitment to healthy hips now and in the future.

*Working on your hips, will help you make gains in your athletic performance.  More importantly, working on your hips is your personal commitment to maintaining mobility and strength as you age.  Focusing on your hips is fundamental to your physical performance throughout your life.

STRETCH: Dynamic Stretching

Female girl kicking a ball playing on the sand beach in late eveWe have to learn static stretches, but dynamic stretches come naturally.  They are a part of our play as children and required when making a full effort in sports.

Photo by: Mike Baird


As we advance in our athletic training, the joy of dynamic stretching is swapped for the rigor of static stretches.  Once that shift is made, many lose interest in stretching altogether.

Photo by: Boomtish

Let’s bring the joy back!

One of the most recognizable dynamic stretches is the front high kick (photos).  This is a straightforward stretch.  Stand up straight with your kicking leg just back of your plant leg.  Kick your leg in front of you.  Take it up as high as it will go.  Return to the starting position.  This stretches out the hamstrings of your kicking leg and forces you to work on your balance with the plant leg and your trunk.

Note: Try varying your ankle position from toes pointed to toes straight back.  Also, bring some of your concentration to your core / trunk muscles.

Another dynamic leg stretch is the inside-out kick.  From the same starting position as the front high kick, swing your leg through an arc that crosses to the inside of your body, rises to the top above your head, and descends to the outside.  This dynamically stretches the hip musculature and requires more balancing strength.

The outside-in is the inside-out’s companion kick.  From the starting position, swing your leg slightly toward the outside of your body, follow the arc to above your head and complete it by bringing your leg to the inside of your body.  At the end of the kick, return your kicking leg to its starting position.

Advanced: Put your hand above your head and try to hit it with the bottom of your foot.

Super advanced: Clap your hand with the bottom of your foot.

For all of these kicks, you can do 10 with one leg and then switch and do ten with the other.  Or, you can do one kick on one side and then the next on the opposite.  As you get better at keeping your balance, you will want to increase the speed of the kicks, so that you are throwing two or three without pausing. This way, one rep equals two or even three kicks.

For the upper body, a preferred dynamic stretch is the crossover.  Start with outstretched arms, then swing them in with one arm crossing over the other.  Swing them back to the starting position.  The next time you bring the arms in, the opposite arm should be on top.

Note: Try doing this in a bent over row.  Also, alternate palm positions to vary the stretch.

For a total body stretch, I like hand walks.  Start on your hands and knees.  Lift your butt to form an inverted V.  Keep your hands planted, now walk your feet forward.  When your toes touch the back of your hands (or as far forward as they will come), walk your hands out to a full planche.  Now, walk your feet back to your hands.

Be careful people.  Go slow at first.  Being properly warmed up helps avoid injury, particularly with the kicking stretches.  Once you have a slight sheen of sweat going, you are ready for higher and faster kicks.

Further reading: STRETCH: Good Morning and check out this NY Times article for a brief review of why dynamic stretching is a better way of preparing the body for exercise than static stretching.

Q: There are lots of dynamic stretches out there to experiment with, isn’t it time that you brought the joy back to your stretching routine with a few them?


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Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

Xiomara_reyes_Giselle06PNF combines passive (relaxed or static stretching) with isometric contractions.  PNF as a method for stretching was developed in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It was originally designed to rehabilitate patients suffering from polio induced paralysis. By the late 1970’s, athletes were using PNF to improve flexibility.

My first encounter with PNF came during a stretching session in our TKD class.  Larry, a much more advanced student was helping me with a basic hamstring stretch.  I was on my back with one straight leg raised and the other flat on the floor.  Larry was gently pressing the raised leg back towards my shoulder, while I relaxed.  When we reached the limit of the stretch, Larry asked me to press my leg against his shoulder and try to push him back.  As I flexed my hamstring, he leaned against the leg, so that neither of us actually moved, while my hamstring contracted.  After 10s, he told me to relax again.  He gently stretched the leg while I was relaxing and it moved past the initial stopping point.  When he did this on the other side, the same effect was achieved.

The Myotatic Reflex

To protect themselves from injury, muscles have a built in reflex called the myotatic reflex or stretch reflex.  As a muscle lengthens, it sends out signals along the nerves to the spinal cord.  If the muscle lengthens too far or too fast or both, an input signal is sent back to the muscle directing it to contract and protect itself.  This forms a nice feedback loop.  As you reach the end of your lengthening stretch for the hamstring, signals come back to contract the muscle and protect it from over stretching.

You can change the point where this return signal is fired.  By holding a static stretch you are getting your muscle comfortable with the new length and recalibrating the point where the muscle feels threatened.

The Golgi Complex

Muscles also have a feedback mechanism for protecting themselves due to excessive contraction.  Anyone who has had a dramatic failure on a max lift attempt is familiar with this reflex.  The Golgi tendon organ is a part of the muscle that measures the tension of muscles as they contract.  As the tension builds, the Golgi tendon organ sends signals to the spinal cord.  If the tension becomes too high, then to protect the muscle, a feedback signal is sent directing the muscle to relax.

Gray938-Click Image to Enlarge-

hacking the system

By introducing isometric tension, you override the contract reflex and substitute the relax reflex, allowing for a deeper stretch.  Exercise extreme caution when performing this type of stretching.  The body has these protective mechanisms in place for good reason.

If you want to experiment with PNF, try the following hamstring stretch.  Stand up straight, legs shoulder width apart.  Relax and bend at the waist.  Keep your legs straight, but let your muscles relax.  Slowly count to 30.  After 30s stretching this way, make two fists and tense your muscles: glutes, hamstrings, calves and squeeze your fists to tense your upper body.  Hold for 10s.  Take shallow breaths during the 10s of tension.  At the end of 10s, exhale and relax, dropping deeper into the original stretch.  If you still feel comfortable, tense a second time, then exhale and relax the muscles.

Padangusthasana-Big_Toe_PosePhoto by The Holistic Care

If you have success using PNF with this stretch, then consider experimenting with using this protocol for other stretches.

NINJA: Squat Stretch

A while ago, I came across this article about relaxed squatting and how it helps improve performance on squats and deadlifts.

Photo by: Funky64

This is a deep squat onto flat feet with your arms resting on your knees or between your legs.  At first, I had to hold onto the leg of a table for balance.  Eventually, I was able to squat down and keep my balance without holding on to something, but I was resting my weight on the inside of my feet.  So, I worked to distribute my weight more evenly and keep my feet flat.

To envision the proper position, just think of any group of construction workers on a smoke or coffee break in South America or Asia (places where this squat is commonly used).  They squat down, relax, talk, smoke, drink, etc.  If you still can’t picture it, you should watch this short instructional film by Daniel Hsia:

Unlike an hour of the Asian squat, sitting at a desk takes a toll on your body and your posture.  Throughout the day, I get up and stretch.  The squat stretch is a favorite, because it loosens my lower back and hips.  Try it out, stick with it (at least once a day for a month) and see if you don’t notice greater flexibility and improved leg strength.



NINJA: Pull-ups

How to Count Like a Ninja

The Two Numbers That Could Save Your Life

STRETCH: Recovering From Injuries

recovering-from-injury-neckA few weeks ago, I injured a neck muscle.  The trapezius muscles are a weak spot for me, as I have injured them before and, if I am not careful with certain exercises, reinjury occurs.  In this case, I thought I had warmed up adequately.  I was pacing myself, rotating through five rounds of Bench, Pullups, Wipers, and Thrusters.  On the fourth round, during pullups, I could feel a slight twinge in my neck.  Knowing this could mean trouble, I stopped the workout immediately.  (Note: A couple of factors led to this injury.  I prefer to work out at midday or in the evening, rather than in the morning, and this was a morning session.  Following pullups with wipers was not a good choice.  Pullups put the upper back, including the traps, through their paces.  One aspect of wipers, beyond the obvious ab workout, is that hanging in place is an isometric exercise by itself, which was too much for my left trap to take.  I have since substituted L-Sit press ups for wipers, as my ab exercise for this work out.)

The first thing that I did was to gently stretch my neck.  I really did not want the muscle to tighten up.  I have a tendency to over protect injured areas.  Meaning, I instinctively curl in around the injured muscle and try to compensate for the loss with other muscle groups.  The result usually is a really tight injured muscle and greater risk of further injury to the compensating muscle groups.

I continued to stretch the muscle throughout the recovery period with two extremely effective stretches.  The first was to slowly run through the neck joint mobility stretch…rotating the neck slowly and gently around its axis first one direction, then the other.  The second stretch was recommended by Master Kim, my Tae Kwon Do instructor.  He had me lay on my back and gently fold my straight legs over my head into a hairpin shape.  This helped stretch the neck and back muscles out.  He also had me slide my feet over one shoulder, then over the other shoulder to stretch out both sides of the neck.  Master Kim also pinpointed a spot in the muscle and used the tip of his index finger to push really hard into the muscle and massage that area.  That and some icy hot helped quite a bit.

During the recovery period, I tried to stay in front of the pain by alternating between tylenol and ibuprofen.

I also used lots of heat.  In the shower, I got the water as hot as I could stand and focused it on my neck.  But the best heat came from Eileen’s DIY project.  She filled a tube sock with rice, tied it off and threw it in the microwave to heat it up.  With this set up, I could wrap the warmth around my neck and shoulder.

The last thing that I did was to buy a compression t-shirt.  Nothing too crazy, just a little bit of pressure to help support the muscle during the day.

This injury was not that bad and was cleared up within a week.  But, I took all of these steps, because I hate being injured and I did not want to take any chances on the injury getting worse.

There are some things that I would have done differently.  The most obvious is to ice down the injury.  I usually like to slap a bag of frozen blueberries or peas on right away.  I didn’t do that this time, because, initially, I thought I had stopped before any substantial injury had occurred and that stretching and Tylenol was enough.

Another treatment that I would like to explore would be massage.  Master Kim’s pinpoint massage made me think that additional massage could really help with recovery.

Finally, applying Icy Hot felt good, but I am not sure how helpful it was.  In the past, I have used Tiger Balm for injuries and again it feels good, but hard to say how much it contributes to healing.  In high school, our trainer used to swear by Atomic Balm, which was really really hot going on.  I may try that again, to see if there is any difference between these balms.  Also, liniments may be worth trying out too.  I have never tried them before, but there might be something there that helps.

The foundation treatment here is RICE.  Rest.  Ice.  Compression.  Elevation.  Experimenting / adding to this foundation may help with your recovery.

For more home remdy tips, see STRETCH: Home Remedies.