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The "Brettzel" Story

September 11, 2009 08:39 AM

The inaugural CK-FMS Workshop was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, in August 2008. The event exceeded all expectations, including my own, and I cannot compliment my co-presenters/instructors (Brett Jones, Master RKC; Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader, and Danielle Cook, RKC II), the participants, and the staff of Dragon Door Publications enough. It was truly an amazing experience, and I look forward to bringing the same kind of energy and enthusiasm to all our future collaborations.

During that groundbreaking workshop, we publicly introduced a new stretch in our corrective exercises progression. It was so well received that I felt that explaining it would be of benefit to the Hard Style community at large. The stretch itself has an interesting back-story, and I can't help but want to let you in on this story. The only thing better than blindsiding a respected colleague and peer with a good practical joke is to repeat the same joke a second time in public. Get ready for the instant replay.

Brett and I had just finished shooting a DVD on the expanded applications for the Turkish Get-Up. The two of us have had several DVD collaborations, resulting in "The Secrets" series. The tone of these DVDs is impromptu, cordial, and familiar. With very few exceptions, most of the footage was shot in one take. If either Brett or I discovered an issue with our movement patterns, we dealt with the underlying mobility or stability problems in a relaxed, lifelike atmosphere. OK, I admit it…. We were actually looking forward to catching each other's problems, like a couple of prank-obsessed schoolboys.

Now while I was working on the outline for our most recent project, a scientific dissection of the Turkish Get-Up, I realized that there was a ripe opportunity to catch Brett on camera while playing somewhat of an inside joke on him. Those of you in the Hard Style community who've been to RKC events and trained with Master RKC Jones know that strength is not an issue with him. Flexibility, on the other hand, is not his most outstanding attribute.

Having had the opportunity to treat Brett as his physical therapist and being completely aware of his movement screens, I leapt on the opportunity to put him in a highly productive self-stretching position during our last video shoot. The position was challenging for him, as it exposed all of his limitations simultaneously. While putting Brett into the position, I deadpanned the camera and called the new self-stretch application "The Brettzel", playing on his name and the human pretzel that I'd turned him into. He didn't even see that coming, but played along with it like the great sport that he is.

During the CK-FMS, we took to the field to teach our new Turkish Get-Up progression, cover some variations of a functional deadlift, and take the participants through some of the corrections and screening movements firsthand. That gave me the perfect chance to segue into the legend of "The Brettzel". After the laughter died down, the entire group was down on the ground, stretching themselves into it.

There are two variations of this stretch that I would like to discuss with you. The most important part, however, is the essence of the entire CK-FMS workshop. Simple exercises and stretches will often expose you to left-right asymmetries and imbalances in your body. Strength training in the presence of asymmetries and imbalances will often reinforce them and make them harder to overcome. Therefore, using simple drills and stretches to balance the body and remove asymmetries is at the heart of this simple, yet complex philosophy. And the Brettzel is a key piece in the FMS toolbox for discovering and removing such asymmetries and imbalances.

Instructions for Performing "The Brettzel"

Lay on your side with your neck supported so it remains in a neutral position. Since your shoulder will be on the deck, elevate your head with a towel or foam pad so that your neck is not downhill, or uphill, but right in line with the remainder of your spine. The neck should be completely relaxed during this stretch. Draw your knees and hips into a fetal position, bending at your hip joint to create as tight of an angle as possible (with your hip flexion exceeding ninety degrees.) If you are extremely flexible, you may be able to place your thigh directly onto your chest wall, but it is important to take up all the available slack. Assuming that you are lying on your left side, hold your right knee close to your body with your left hand. Reach back with your left leg, bringing your thigh as far behind the plane of your body as possible, and bend your knee as much as possible. Try to grasp your left ankle with your right hand. Once you are in position, and not until you have both legs secured, proceed to the next step.

The next step in "The Brettzel" is a maximal shoulder rotation away from the deck and toward the sky. If you're lying on your left side, try to turn your body toward your right as far as you can. Let your neck remain in a neutral position. And, then, slowly look with your eyes and turn your head to enhance the shoulder turn. If you cannot grasp your left ankle with your right hand, use a small loop or belt to extend your reach until your flexibility will allow. Do not drop the maintained right hip flexion since it will protect your low back and influence the rotation stretch on the thoracic spine.

The benefits of this stretch demonstrate a three-dimensional chain of events that often play off of each other. You will expose yourself to any quadricep or hip flexor tightness on the left leg. You will also expose yourself to any piriformis, glute, or low back tightness with the right hip flexed position. Lastly, once this position is maintained, rotation will expose you to any T-spine rotation deficit. Thoracic spine mobility plays heavily in shoulder mechanics and may be the underlying cause for shoulder problems. At no time should you strain your neck, but only use your neck turn and your "eye look" to complement the shoulder rotation that you are executing.

Once in position, use slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing to relax. To gain extra distance, pull each leg away from the arm that is gripping it without actually coming free from the grip. You're trying to create an isometric contraction by pulling the legs towards each other against resistance.

Immediately after this contraction of trying to extend the right leg and flex the left leg, at the hip, relax and rotate the spine an extra few degrees, which should be available to you after the contraction. Use your deep, relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing and this contract-relax cycle to achieve maximal stretch in this position.

Obviously if there is any pain, this is no longer a stretch. Rather, it is just an insult to an underlying injury that you may not be aware of. It is advisable and strongly recommended to have a medical professional check this out. Muscle tension and stretching should not be seen as pain, but pain isolated in joints or around tendons should definitely be examined by a medical professional.

Many individuals will not receive a maximal stretch in this position. They may have less of a mobility problem (one joint limitation), and more of a flexibility problem (multi-joint limitation, usually found within muscles that span multiple joints). Since the iliotibial band (which arises off the gluteus maximus / TFL), and hamstrings fit the definition of multi-joint muscle tendon packages, a second variation of "The Brettzel" can be done with a flexed hip and an extended knee. It is advisable to perform both of these positions on one side, and then compare and contrast the differences through the light stretch on the alternate side.

In the absence of pain, asymmetries should be first and foremost addressed and normalized. If this does not change after one stretching session, do not give up. Chances are, it has taken you a long time to create the limitations that you have now discovered and it will take some time to combat them. Remember, tight muscles aren't bad muscles. You've learned how to use those muscles to move in a particular pattern, and your muscles are simply following the pattern you've laid out for them. The FMS corrective exercises, of which "The Brettzel" is one, are a means to break those patterns.

You can use "The Brettzel" stretch as a super-set. The definition of a super-set is usually a secondary activity that works a reciprocal muscle group or an alternate exercise that enhances the quality of movement, body awareness and reflex stabilization. The best way to get reflex stabilization and have your stabilizers work automatically is to improve mobility. Most of the times when both flexibility and mobility are limited, prime movers secondarily assume the role of stabilizers. This creates the illusion of tightness and increased muscle tone against stretching.

If you immediately elongate these prime mover muscles and then proceed with stabilization activities, like a single-leg deadlift with the alternate arm, or a Half Get-Up, you will give your stabilizers an opportunity to assume their primary role, thus removing the obligation of prime movers to work in less than optimal range of motion. Eventually, you can combine this stretch with a full Turkish Get-Up to appreciate the benefit of a mobility-stability super-set.

As far as the uniqueness of "The Brettzel", I cannot recall any instance of seeing this application or stretch before. However, it is entirely possible that this stretch exists under another name, and if I neglected to give appropriate credit for a previous reference of this stretch, I offer apologies for my oversight at this time. However, it is more important to recognize the sequence of events in this stretching application, as well as left-right comparison, and not just focus on a position or a static stretch. Breathing, contract-relax, modification of the top leg for an alternate stretch, and a left-right appraisal are of utmost importance through the application of the stretch. Secondly, it is also important to get both legs positioned before thoracic spine rotation is performed. The opposing hip stretches will serve to protect the low back and target the thoracic spine for rotation. Therefore, they must be set, in place, and on tension before T-spine rotation occurs.

I hope this article has given you some food for thought, a new corrective stretching tool, and an insight into the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes with the making of the "Secrets" Series. Enjoy "The Brettzel"!

RKC Chief Instructor Pavel enjoys the Brettzel

And, not to be outdone, Senior RKC Jeff O'Connor follows suit

Gray Cook MSPT, OCS, CSCS is one of the most sought after lectures in the country, developer of the Functional Movement Screen and consultant to many professional teams and military groups. You can learn more about Gray and the Functional Movement Screen at