The trainer really wants me to stick it to the stick. My entire body is straining and stretching as I fight to push it together, lats flexing and shoulders loosening with each attempt. “Now, imagine you’re trying to pull the stick apart using 80 percent of your max grip strength,” says Equinox creative manager of group fitness Dana McCaw, who’s leading a group of 20 men and women in a new class called Best Stretch Ever. “Exerting the same amount of force, try to shorten the stick, pulling toward your midline.”
I’m supposed to hate this stick, a piece of orange-and-black plastic that is technically known as Stick Mobility. It’s so sturdy that it can support my weight yet pliable enough that I can warp it. And I’m supposed to break it. Bend it. Kill it. But the only sensation flowing through me is love.
That’s the idea. Your average fitness class is about incinerating calories in the name of six-pack abs. But Best Stretch Ever is part of a surging fitness movement toward active recovery workouts that energize 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 stabilize my body so I can focus on deepening each stretch instead of fighting to maintain balance.
We start simply, by planting the stick about two feet 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 forward and bend at the waist, but pulling on the stick forces my abs and glutes to come to life. I’m stretching tight muscles as I strengthen others.
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 trainers at NorCal Functional Fitness: Dennis Dunphy, CPT; Neal Valera, CPT; and Mitch Taylor, CPT. Intrigued by how a dowel added a challenge to basic yoga, the trio wanted to invent a movement system that utilized 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 your own? Pick one up for $69 at Stick Mobility.)
Initially, the trainers broke out the stick with clients to enhance warmups, cooldowns, and injury rehabs. Then word spread. The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Dodgers started using it. Curiosity–provoking images from the likes of NFL all-pro Antonio Brown, NBA star Ben Simmons, and PGA golfer Paul Casey followed on Instagram. “Elite athletes like it because it’s simple and efficient and strengthens your outer ranges of movement to help prevent injuries,” says Valera.
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 baseball bat.
After consulting Matt Berenc, Equinox’s director of education, McCaw, along with the personal-training department, designed the 30-minute class. She views it as the muscle equivalent of flossing after you brush your teeth: 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, arms trying to pull it apart—and do 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.
By The Numbers
Best Stretch Ever
Where: Equinox gyms
How long: 30 minutes
Calories burned (by Ben Court): 240
Resting heart rate: 60 bpm
Max heart rate: 90 bpm
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 favorite 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, thumb facing down. 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 to 15 seconds; do 3 to 5 reps on each side. Do 3 sets.
2. Monkey Hang
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 to 15 seconds; do 3 reps per side. Do 3 sets.
3. Slap Shot
Benefits: Mobilizes lower spine, rib cage, shoulders, chest, hips, and ankles; strengthens abs, feet, and grip.
Do it: Place the stick
across your lower back, palms facing forward, feet wider than shoulder width. Hinge your hips, knees slightly bent. Rotate 1 end downward until it’s anchored in the floor; feel a stretch. Shift your weight slowly to your left hip. Straighten your right leg; hold for 10 seconds. Do the same on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 3 to 5 per side.