Pros: Good stretches; detailed warnings; ‘courses’ for specific injuries or sports
Cons: Drawings instead of photos; most stretches are simply yoga stretches renamed
Rating: 4 out of 5
I have to admit, my first thought when I heard of Barbara & Jamie Templeton’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stretching Illustrated was, ‘how do you come up with enough information on stretching to fill a whole book?’ Now I have two answers to that question. The first is, they included a wealth of detail aimed at stretching programs to fulfill a wide variety of needs. The second is, this is in many ways a yoga book by another name.
That first point is my favorite, and the one that makes this a fantastic book well worth having in your home. Along with plenty of general information on why stretching practices are important to your health no matter how active or inactive you are, there’s a ton of very specific information to make the most of your own body’s issues. Do you know that you have problems with a particular part of your body? There’s a chapter that provides stretches body part by body part. Do you want whole-body stretches? There’s a chapter of those too, including both gentle and strong stretches for various levels of fitness.
Do you suffer from some sort of pain or discomfort? This is where Stretching Illustrated really comes in handy. There are stretches aimed at relieving head and neck discomfort, TMJ (jaw) pain, joint pain and stiffness, hip and knee pain, carpal tunnel, back soreness or pain, and sciatica.
There are different courses of stretching recommended for a handful of sports you might engage in, such as walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming, golf, and tennis. There are gentle stretches for seniors, and stretches for women meant to relieve menopause symptoms, PMS, stress, etc.
One thing I always look for in such books is a responsible set of warnings. Many stretches can harm as well as heal if done incorrectly or in the presence of certain injuries. The book is very good at including, in obvious side-bars, warnings about contra-indicated conditions, as well as the sorts of pain and sensations that indicate you should stop or see your doctor.
I only have two reservations regarding this book. One is the drawings used to illustrate the stretches. Unlike photos, drawings tend to lack a certain degree of perspective (in particular, a background), and this sometimes makes it hard to tell exactly where a given limb should be placed in relation to the floor or whatever. The sort of simple illustrations they use in here in particular sometimes lack that necessary perspective. Photos would have worked far better.
The other is that most of the stretches are simply yoga stretches re-named. The odd part is, I can’t decide if this is brilliant or stupid. In a way, it depends on the intent. If the idea was to get a whole book of supposedly original stretching material by simply re-naming a bunch of yoga stretches, then it’s rather annoying. On the other hand, since a lot of people hear ‘yoga’ and think of things like California, health nuts, and a need to be super-duper flexible, maybe the authors did this deliberately to introduce skeptics to the gentle, healthful, easy side of yoga without scaring them away. In which case, it’s positively brilliant. Because it’s true that much of yoga is actually very gentle on the body—not at all the pretzel-twisting impossible stretches that photographers love to depict—and many people could greatly benefit from that side of it.
At any rate, if you haven’t yet explored the benefits of stretching, then this makes a very good introduction. If you want additional resources on yoga, one of my favorite books is still Yoga the Iyengar Way, which includes a wealth of photos and detailed instructions. I think the two books together would be perfect.