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You can find many effective stretching exercises to improve your flexibility and range of motion, but one pretzel-like exercise stands out because it works multiple muscles at once and counteracts the impact of hitting the road: Brettzel. This single full-body exercise -- named after his colleague Brett Jones and by physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist Gary Cook -- stretches you from your ankles to your shoulders. While this may not be the only stretch you need, it's something every runner should do.
"Most of the time, when we discuss stretching or moving techniques, people focus on one part of the body or one muscle group," Cook said. Exercises like Brettzel actually stretch the movement patterns so that they target the entire muscle chain—especially the anterior chain (i.e., the front of the body), he said.
For most of us living in the modern world, the front chain (think your quads, core, and pecs) is always tight when sitting and stretching forward. "Most athletes spend too much time arching their upper bodies and tightening their glutes," says physical therapist Jay DeCharlie, author of "The Rewired Running." While the recent focus on the trailing rear chain has popularized exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings and ribbon walks -- all of which help activate the "dead ass" -- the importance of maintaining power balance with the front half is often ignored. The same goes for stretching. That's where Breitzel comes in. "This stretch can help people open up their torso, shoulders and hips in a combined movement," Cook said.
Yoon yoga instructor, personal trainer and trainer Terry Cockburn says Brettzel is one of her all-time favorite stretches and a go-to for runners and cyclists. Specifically, she loves how stretching releases chronic tension in the front of her legs and hips. "Additionally, the rotation of the upper body helps open the chest and brings much-needed twist to the thoracic spine, putting the body in a different plane of motion than the forward momentum created by running," she says. Achieve symmetry by incorporating this stretch into your cooling program a few times a week.
How to become a Blazer:
1. Begin by lying comfortably on your side with your hips and shoulders folded together. If necessary, use a foam pad or rolled towel to support your neck.
2. Bend your thighs, bring them to slightly more than 90 degrees in front of your chest, and hold them firmly with your lower palms. Push your lower knee down and back, then down to grab your ankle with your upper palm. If grasping the ankle is too difficult, use a towel or belt to pull the leg back.
3. Inhale slowly while exhaling slowly, rotating your upper shoulders back and down to the ground.
4. Repeat 5 to 10 breaths, rotating downward each time, until your upper shoulders touch the ground (or within your range of motion).
5. Rotate your shoulders back slightly, try kicking your shins away from the handle and moving your knees back to increase the stretch in your lower body.
6. Take two to three more breaths, relax your shoulders, and hold this position for one to three minutes. It is at this point that you want to fully relax your muscles and soften your entire body. Let your breath go smoothly and welcome the tranquility.
7. Release your hand, roll to the other side, and repeat the process.