You can find many effective stretches to improve your flexibility and range of motion, but one pretzel-like move stands out for its ability to simultaneously work multiple muscles while counteracting the effects of pounding the pavement: The Brettzel. This single full-body movement—which Gary Cook, a physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist, named after his colleague Brett Jones—stretches you from ankle to shoulder and, while it may not be the only stretch you need, it is one every runner should be doing.
“Most of the time when we discuss stretches or mobility techniques, people focus on one body part or one muscle group,” says Cook. Moves like the Brettzel, he says, actually stretch movement patterns so that they target a whole chain of muscles—specifically the anterior chain (aka the front of the body).
For the majority of us living in the modern world, the anterior chain (think your quads, core, and pecs) is perpetually tight from sitting and reaching forward. “Most athletes spend too much time crunched and hunched in the upper body and tight through the hips,” says Jay Dicharry, physical therapist and author of Running Rewired. While a recent focus on lagging posterior chains has popularized movements like deadlifts, good mornings, and banded walks—which all help activate “dead butts”—the importance of striking a strength balance with the front half of your body is frequently overlooked. The same goes for stretching it. That’s where the Brettzel comes in. “This stretch helps people open up through the torso, shoulders, and hips in one combo move,” says Cook.
Terry Cockburn, yin yoga instructor, personal trainer, and coach, says the Brettzel is one of her all-time favorite stretches and a go-to for runners and cyclists. Specifically, she likes how the stretch releases chronic tension along the front of the legs and hips. “Additionally, the rotation of the upper body helps open the chest and invites a much-needed twist to the thoracic spine, taking the body in a different plane of movement from the forward momentum generated by running,” she says. Achieve symmetry by integrating this stretch into your cool-down routine several times a week.
How To Do the Brettzel:
1. Start by lying comfortably on your side with your hips and shoulders stacked on top of each other. Use a foam pad or rolled-up towel for neck support if desired.
2. Bend your top leg and bring it toward your chest a little past 90 degrees and firmly grip it with your bottom hand. Drive bottom knee down and back, then reach down with your top hand and grab that ankle. If it’s too difficult to grab the ankle, use a towel or strap to hold and pull the leg backwards.
3. Relax and inhale then, while exhaling slowly, rotate your top shoulder back and down toward the ground.
4. Repeat for five to 10 breaths, rotating lower each time until your top shoulder reaches the ground (or as far as your range of motion allows).
5. Back off your shoulder rotation slightly and try kicking your bottom leg away from your handhold, moving your knee back and increasing the lower body stretch.
6. Relax your shoulder back down with two to three more breaths, then hold in that position for one to three minutes. It’s at this point that you want to allow your muscles to fully relax and your entire body to soften in shape. Let your breath flow easily and welcome the stillness.
7. Release your hands, roll to the other side and repeat the full sequence.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.