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Stretch Like Mike

3 minute read
Christine Gorman

With all the attention to Michael Jordan’s retirement from the National Basketball Association last month–the replays of his last championship-clinching basket, his trademark leaping and twisting shots–there was one element in Jordan’s success that was overlooked. And it’s one that we all can emulate. Through 13 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, six championships and five Most Valuable Player awards, Jordan suffered only one serious injury: a broken foot in 1985.

Much of that extraordinary good fortune can be tied to Jordan’s intense conditioning regimen, especially his devotion to stretching before, during and after his workouts and games.

Stretching–uggh! It’s the part of our exercise routine that most of us are tempted to skip. Yet, the more exercise physiologists learn about stretching–which causes the ligaments, tendons and muscles to lengthen–the more benefits they find. It helps maintain flexibility and range of motion, eases muscle soreness and improves recovery time. In addition, new research suggests that stretching combined with weight training can actually make you stronger faster than weight training alone.

Just ask Tim Grover, founder of A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics of Chicago and Michael Jordan’s personal trainer since 1989. “There’s no doubt in my mind that stretching prevented a lot of injuries for Michael,” Grover says. “Especially as he got older.”

Typically, Grover’s sessions with Jordan began with a light warm-up–jumping rope, pedaling a stationary bike–to get blood flowing freely to muscles. Jordan then worked through a series of stretches that engaged each of the major muscle groups, from the feet to the neck and out to the fingers, in just 10 minutes. “He stretched before and after each workout, even when he did three workouts a day,” Grover says. Jordan also stretched individual muscles between sets of weight-training exercises and, of course, as part of his warm-up routine before games.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of stretching. Start by banishing the idea that it has to hurt. The most you should feel is a mild tension. Bob Anderson, a fitness expert in Palmer Lake, Colo., and author of Stretching (Shelter Publications; $13.95), tells his clients to “forget about no pain, no gain. Stretching should be enjoyable.”

It is possible, though, to injure yourself by stretching improperly. Always warm up for at least five minutes to get blood flowing before stretching. Don’t bounce during stretches and breathe freely to stay relaxed. If you feel you don’t have time to stretch before your exercise routine, concentrate your stretching afterward, when your muscles are nicely warmed up.

Be patient. Research shows that most stretches have to be held for at least 30 sec. to provide lasting benefits. “The stretch that you’re doing today is not going to be of any great benefit today,” says William Evans, an exercise expert at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. “But it will help you tomorrow and the day after.”

Incorporate stretching into your everyday routine, while watching television or to break up a long day at the office. If you’re looking for more structure, consider classes in yoga or Tai Chi. Even if it doesn’t make you play like Mike, stretching can help you match his injury-free performance.

For some sample stretching exercises visit www.stretching.com on the Web. E-mail Christine at gorman@time.com

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