That’s the idea. Your average fitness class is about incinerating kilojoules in the name of six-pack abs. But Best Stretch Ever is part of a surging fitness movement towards active recovery workouts that energise your body instead of drenching it in HIIT-induced sweat. “This will be anything but a passive regeneration experience. It’s a proactive approach to deep fascial stretching, strength and mobility training,” McCaw promises. “You will feel good! This class is not for masochists.”
That nourishment comes in the form of two 15-minute exercise sequences that are the antithesis of CrossFit; I’m not crushing my muscles, just feeling them move. And it’s powered by the stick, the perfect crutch for those of us who struggle to touch our toes. I use it to stabilise my body so I can focus on deepening each stretch instead of fighting to maintain balance.
We start simply, by planting the stick about half a metre in front of us, hinging at our hips, folding forward and leaning into the bar. It’s like a standing version of downward dog, but McCaw instructs us to keep pulling the bar apart. It has some give, allowing us to lean into and deepen the stretch with each breath. But we aren’t just stretching; my shoulder muscles flex to pull the stick.
Next, we launch into lunge variations. I feel my tight hips loosen as I lunge and bend at the waist. Pulling on the stick forces my abs and glutes to come to life.
There’s nothing new about integrating sticks into stretch work: yogis have been working with wooden dowels for millennia. And it was a stick-yoga course in 2015 that inspired the creation of Stick Mobility by three US trainers: Dennis Dunphy, Neal Valera and Mitch Taylor. Intrigued by how a dowel added a challenge to basic yoga, the trio wanted to invent a movement system that utilised a strong, flexible stick to improve strength and mobility. They started with wooden sticks (too rigid), then tried PVC piping (prone to shattering), before ultimately designing the ultra-flexy stick with end grips that I’m using in class. (Want one of your own? Pick one up at stickmobility.com.au; $70-$140; and check out the instructional videos.)
Initially, the trainers broke out the stick with clients to enhance warm-ups, cooldowns and injury rehabs. Then word spread to Major League baseball, the NFL, the NBA and the ranks of professional golf. Stick Mobility reached Australia last year and has been wielded by teams including the Wallabies, Melbourne Rebels and Perth Glory. “Elite athletes like it because it’s simple and efficient and strengthens your outer ranges of movement to help prevent injuries,” says Valera. At the non-elite level, trainers and yoga instructors who’ve attended Stick Mobility courses are introducing classes to their venues.
The stick makes stretches better by adding a strength component. Pulling or pushing it ensures you’re never only stretching. “The stick gives kinesthetic and visual feedback to coaches and their clients,” says Dunphy. “It aids body awareness and sharpens coordination.” You’ll feel that after class, whether you’re squatting, lunging or swinging a golf club.
After consulting Matt Berenc, Equinox’s director of education, McCaw designed the 30-minute class. She views it as the muscle equivalent of flossing: an addition to your classic workout. About 28 minutes in, I understand why. I’m sweating and my heart rate’s purring along as I lie on my back – stick overhead – doing single-leg hip thrusts.
I’ve done hip thrusts before, but I’ve never felt this connected, from my feet through my knees and hips and up my spine. Some of it may be greater awareness, since McCaw said I should feel this stretch in these areas. But leaning into the stick certainly helps me focus.
When class is over, my lower back and hips have gotten a serious workout – and they’ve never felt better.
Ready to take your workout recovery sessions to the next level? Best Stretch Ever co-creator Dana McCaw shows you how below, with her three favourite Stick Mobility moves
BOW AND ARROW
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens core; improves mobility of back, shoulders and hips; strengthens grip.
Do it: Place the stick outside of and in line with your right big toe. Put your right hand on the logo and your left at the top. Push your hips and right hand away from each other while vigorously pulling up with your left hand. Hold each bow and arrow for 10-15 seconds; do 3-5 reps on each side. Do 3 sets.
Benefits: Stretches back, chest and lats; strengthens grip and abs; improves posture.
Do it: Grip the stick with your left hand at the top. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Root the stick just a little bit in front of you. Hinge your hips and bend your knees. Rotate your torso so your chest faces the stick; grab its bottom end with your right hand. Feel the stretch. Hold for 10-15 seconds; do 3 reps per side. Do 3 sets.
Benefits: Mobilises lower spine, shoulders, chest, hips and ankles; strengthens abs.
Do it: Place the stick across your lower back, palms facing forward, feet wide. Hinge your hips, knees slightly bent. Rotate 1 end downward until it’s anchored; feel a stretch. Shift your weight slowly to your left hip. Straighten your right leg; hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 3-5 per side.