Minimalist Stretching and Mobility

Frankly, I don’t always understand the fitness industry. We tend to sway back and forth with things:

You MUST stretch 24 hours a day.
Stretching destroys you…you will die.
Mobility and Stability are the only things…
Mobility and Stability are over rated.

Now, nutritionists make it worse with the wine is good/bad, coffee is good/bad and all the rest, but most of us know that obesity is not caused by too many vegetables, coffee and red wine. Ah…but what about white wine?

I love to incorporate simple basic stretches and mobility movements into my training. If you know my work or my hands on workshops, you know that we try to make stretching and mobility work “seamless” in a training program. Between sets of something like swings, I usually have people do a Goblet Squat or two and maybe an additional movement for global issues around the body. It’s a “rest” period without sitting down and texting. It also gives you a chance to get OUT of the gym which I actually see as a good thing. The best gym mantra is “Don’t waste my time” and that is probably true for most of life.

I drink deeply from the work of Tim Anderson when it comes to the warm up part of training. I use his rocking, crawling and marching as a base of training. I repeat a bit of it in my book, Intervention, but Tim’s work is worthy of exploration. It is inexpensive but will provide you with years of ideas. Here:

As much as I love “this and that and this,” I tend to like programs that have just a few things. I had a good conversation yesterday about a “perfect” training program for a particular goal and we came up with:
Day One:
Warm up with Turkish Get Up, Goblet Squat, and Swing
Bench Press
Day Two
Warm up with Turkish Get Up, Goblet Squat, and Swing
Bench Press

That’s it. A twice a week program for someone who has limited time in the weightroom and big goals outside of it. I also like what we did in the 10,000 Swing challenge where I would do:
Day One
500 swings
Goblet Squats
Day Two
500 swings
Day Three
500 swings
Pull Ups
Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, there should be no surprise that I also like a minimal approach to flexibility and stretching. I base the program on two issues:

First, as a Road Warrior traveling most weekends, I have discovered that I share the same stiffness and tightness that any one with broad shoulders discovers during flying. Oh, and it affects everyone else, too. Travel, overtraining, and stress seem to do a few things:

  • Tightens the hip flexors
    Puts the Rhomboids to sleep
    Takes T-spine mobility AND rotary stability (these are related somehow)
    Basically it simply ages you into an old man’s shuffling walk.
  • Janda warned us about this with his explanation of “tonic muscles.” As we age, these muscles tend to tighten:
    Hip Flexors
    Innie Muscles of the thighs

    Sadly, these are the muscles most people train, but they are literally aging you if you overdo them. These are great muscles for holding on to a tree as tight as you can, but they don’t necessarily help performance. So, I have come up with two simple stretches to take care of all of this. Certainly, we do more than this, for example, adding Bird Dogs each workout, but these two moves cover just about everything. They are: the Windmill Stick and the Stoney Stretch.

    Hold any stick or pole in the T Position…as seen here with our beautiful model:
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.11.01 AM
    From there, “Check your Hinge” and push your butt back until you feel your hamstrings stretch. Remember this feeling.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.11.37 AM
    This is important and you might miss it: stand straight up again and slide one foot forward. If you were to step on your own foot that would be the relationship. In the pictures, we are right foot forward. NOW…reestablish the HINGE. With the feet staggered, feel the hinge again. Feel the hamstrings stretch, but don’t judge it…don’t worry about which one is tighter. We are all a lot different.

    Now, without losing the hinge, twist your right elbow into the inside of the right knee and lock it in there.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.12.21 AM

    Keep pushing your butt back! Not down, not up, back. Wedge your body into that elbow/knee connection and twist away. The stick should be vertical. Now, for the “eye trick:” In this case, close your left eye and try to find the top of the stick with your right eye. In this pic, I am unwinding my whole spinal column and twisting me head around to see the stick. It is taken just before I found it.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.16.05 AM

    Now, I like to hold this until I feel myself cheat forward and lose the hinge. Once that happens, I am losing that bow and arrow or tug-of-war feeling across my body. And interesting thing is this: where you feel it might indicate where you are having issues. Guys who bench and curl a lot tend to feel it in their pecs. Throwers feel it in the ribs and some people don’t feel anything…usually because they are cheating and not doing it right. Hold the hinge!

    Oh, and I get it ballerina/yoga girl…you don’t feel it. “I don’t get it.” Good for you, you have the ability to turn off your hamstrings. That is NOT an advantage in performance.

    The next is named after our famed superhero of training, Stoney Beckstead. Stoney recently had his fifth son and has missed some days, but he is the inspiration for this movement. In our gym language, “Stoney” is any movement in a lunge position where you pulse down (but NEVER touch the ground) with the whole down knee side of the body.

    You can do this in a door frame or with people, but the TRX works well for us at our gym. Step into the TRX and align your arms above your head with no slack.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.17.21 AM
    Step forward first, then lunge back. If the straps loosen, wiggle yourself forward. Try to squeeze your knees together this whole drill.

    Now, here is the stretch: “Fly” down with gentle arm pumps which open your pecs and biceps. If you are squeezing your knees, these mini-lunges should be open your hip flexor. Now, none of the moves are direct hamstring stretches, but actually they are. You are stretching them in both moves in the systems they work in, not as one of the pieces of Frankenstein’s monster’s body.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.19.30 AM

    I know when I am doing the Stoney Stretch right when my upper chest opens up. Remember, keep squeezing the knees in or together and continue to pump or pulse. Push the down knee hip forward as best you can during this drill.

    With a minimalist strength program, these two stretches are going to be an interesting addition. Listen, I KNOW you can do more…I know it! But, will it be better?

    • Dan Martin

      I am Dan Martin and I approve this Blog post.

    • Daniel John

      Awesome, Dan. Merry Christmas to you!

    • Gareth Quinn

      Just tried the windmill stick stretch, LOVE it….. Will be a regular occurance in my lifestyle now…. Thanks Dan!!!!

    • Daniel John

      Good to hear, Gareth. Toss them in (both moves) anywhere in your training. In a future blog, I will discuss using these as an assessment, too…basically a daily quick check in on what is going on.

    • Scott Tighe

      Just what I wanted for Christmas. Thank you dan

    • Dave Rascoe

      Great job. Can’t wait to incorporate these into my mobility class. Wonderful systematic moves to implement everyday. You are the man.

    • Daniel John

      Be sure to quote me…tell them to work harder.

    • Daniel John

      Well, you have been nice, not naughty.

    • Christopher Warburton

      Love the windmill. Cannot wait to share this one.

    • Darren Stratton

      Great stuff, as always. I am planing on integrating these into my session with my T&F youth athletes. Along with the benefit of the stretches, a great way to get them to etch in the hip hinge and really feel it and to aid them in learning to dissociate and move with the right muscles doing the work. Thanks for sharing. Loved your talk in London btw, thanks for sharing your wisdom and some great ideas on the importance and value of building community.

    • Darren Stratton

      Would really like to hear your ideas/thoughts on using as an assessment – fits great with the testing is training principle.

    • Craig Brown

      Most excellent! The Stoney’s are in constant use, will try the windmill sticks…and agreed on Tim’s book, it is very useful.

    • Daniel John

      Be sure to just do something as simple as the march in place stuff between sets (from Tim’s book) as we found that this was so helpful. You will wonder why you didn’t always do this…

    • Daniel John

      You bet. With your throwers, use the windmill stick as a daily check in for things. It’s not a miracle worker or anything, but you get a sense of how we stiffen up as we throw harder and harder.

    • Jason M

      Recently found your blog. Really enjoy the insight into simple, effective training. Thank you!

    • chrishighcock

      Great post

    • Mark Laws

      Here in England there is a saying that ‘soccer’ is a simple game overcomplicated by fools. To a certain degree isn’t the fitness industry sometimes guilty of the same thing? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting my head around a geeky technical post as much as the next man, but for the vast majority of the time – Just tell me how it is!!! Which is why I enjoy reading your material so much Dan. No nonsense, no bullshit, nothing fancy…but simple and effective! Merry Christmas and look forward to reading plenty more in 2014!


      Mark Laws
      Training Academy Manager
      Jordan Fitness

    • Shane Mclean

      This is the first time I have read one of your blog posts, Dan. It will not be the last. Really like check your hinge. Will incorporate this into my warm up right away. Thanks

    • Tom Young

      Do you have any videos to go with these stretches? Just so we can be sure what we’re doing?

    • Susan Moore

      Love this. Absolute time saver. I see it as the Swiss Army Knife of mobility. You feel it where you need it.

    • Daniel John

      That’s a nice way to say this…

    • Daniel John

      Thank you…I will be in England twice this year…hope to see you.

    • Mark Laws

      Looking forward to it, let me know where and when and I will be there. Merry Christmas!

    • Jason Lake

      Well, the windmill stick was an eye opener!

    • S Liu

      Who are you and what have you done with my stiff body?

    • S Liu

      Who are you and what have you done to my stiff body

    • Maggie Stephens

      Having recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis – forward flexion esp with rotation is contraindicated. Any alternative to the Windmill Dan?

    • joy byxbee

      Wonderful article!

    • Maria Malina

      forward bend with back straight / warrior1 / triangle against the wall – some yoga moves replicate this movement pattern with no equipment, even more minimalistic!

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