IN 2010, KIKA DuBose went to a gym in New Jersey which attracted a number of promising bodybuilders. Gradually, she noticed that most of them weren’t flexible enough to hold their hands behind their backs. Many had only limited mobility in their necks. A few couldn’t even sit on the ground with their legs straight ahead.
So DuBose, a former professional dancer, started helping the men stretch. The results were immediate: After stretching one guy’s neck, she says, his daily headaches started to disappear. (She hypothesizes that it was because of the improved blood flow.)
But beyond mere flexibility, the lifters also noticed a strange phenomenon: After being stretched, they could also crank out more reps during their workouts. By becoming more flexible, they apparently became stronger—no extra lifting required. Stretching doesn’t just make your show muscles stronger, either—it could be good for your heart, a recent study in Japan found.
I figured there might be something behind this stretching method. So Men’s Fitness sent me, a dedicated gym-going test subject, to visit DuBose at her studio (she has locations in Manhattan and New Jersey). There, she recommended the following five tips that can help anyone improve their fitness through stretching.
1. Stretch after your workout—not before
When I visited DuBose, I’d just finished working out, which is when she says it’s best to stretch. To my surprise, though, she didn’t tell me to add a huge chunk of time to my gym sessions.
“People are like, ‘I can’t stretch for 45 minutes,’ but they don’t have to,” DuBose says. “Just focus on your problem areas, and your whole body will let go.” She recommends five to 10 minutes a day.
2. Keep your shoulders down
DuBose stretched my neck, back, hips, hamstrings, and calves. Every minute or so, she had to remind me to relax my shoulders. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that my shoulders were one of the tightest parts of my body.
3. Gravity is your friend
Prospective clients often confuse DuBose’s method with yoga, but the two practices rely on different techniques. “In yoga, you’re holding positions, and your muscles are contracting,” she says. “That’s not stretching—stretching is releasing those muscles and letting go.”
One simple technique she recommends to harness gravity: Stand up, fold forward at the hips, and let the weight of your torso stretch the rest of your body. “You don’t have to pull yourself,” she says. “Just hang.” This stretch helps increase the blood flow throughout your entire spine, she says.
4. Pain doesn’t equal gain
Pushing into the pain cave may be the goal for your upcoming triathlon or CrossFit WOD, but DuBose says it’s counterproductive for stretching: “Men are accustomed to pain, so they’ll stretch too far and actually tear a muscle,” she says. “When you feel like it’s a good stretch, just stop there.” When I asked her how I could tell for sure, she gave me a look. “You know when it’s a good stretch, there’s that voice in your head, like, ‘I’m just gonna keep going’? You don’t listen to that voice.”
Lesson learned: Consistency, not extreme measures, will have the greatest payoff.