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The author of this book, Charles Kenny, is a medical doctor and fellow in both the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American College of Sports Medicine. He attended and trained at several of the country's most prestigious universities. Clearly, Kenny brings impressive credentials to his method which forms the title of this book, Natural Flexibility. The foundation of Kenny's technique is progressive sequential isometric exercise, or what he terms PSI (pronounced "sigh"). Ultimate PSI is his method of developing Natural Flexibility at the extreme limit of range of motion, ideal for enhancing peak performance in athletes.
Kenny's basic theory certainly resonated with me. He talks about how traditional stretching, which trains the muscles to relax, does little to prepare the muscles for activity, and thus is not helpful in injury prevention. The isometrics used with the Natural Flexibility exercises, however, are designed to prepare the body for further movement. Although this made sense to me, I was less clear on why Kenny was so insistent that there are no benefits to systems of stretching other than what his own--for example, why couldn't other styles still be incorporated after exercise? This was my first, but not my only, problem with Kenny's work.
Unfortunately, the exercises in Kenny's Natural Flexibility program are actually rather tedious. I think many athletes include traditional stretching into their routines at least in part because it feels gratifying (Kenny even has a section in his book titled "But Stretching Feels So Good..."), but the Natural Flexibility exercises are different. The full upper body warm-up takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, and during this time, there are only subtle variations amongst the movements, not that powerful, sweet sense of stretch (despite the amount of time you are putting in). The warm-up continues with an additional several minutes for the lower body; these moves are a bit more vigorous, although still unlike traditional stretching--instead, Kenny offers "clock jacks," a modification of classic jumping jacks, here. There are also several additional routines, including a shorter (6-minute) warm-up routine, a short (5-minute) wake-up routine, and a full (20 minutes?) wake-up routine.
The part of this book that I was most interested in was Section III, Assessing and Alleviating Pain, but again, this proved to be a disappointment. In the first chapter of this section, Kenny focuses on how to test your body when you are sore. He utilizes the same exercises from the Natural Flexibility section (and thus there is the same monotony associated with these), but here he adds what he calls "The Language of Pain," a 5-stage guide to interpreting the results of each test level. I diligently attempted to follow his example to diagnose the soreness/tightness in my neck and shoulder area, but I found the entire experience to be utterly unhelpful. I think the main problem is that both the movements themselves and the signs to be looking for are quite subtle; I believe that the average reader is unlikely to get any useful information from these self-tests. Furthermore, the final chapter, "Your Chiropractor in Your Pocket," was also fairly disappointing: it was no more than a repetition of some of the exercises contained earlier in the book as well as some run-of-the mill, common-knowledge back care advice (e.g., sleep with a pillow between your knees, don't twist your back when you bend down, etc.).
I am someone who exercises on a regular basis and who incorporates flexibility training as a usual part of my routine, mostly through yoga but also through other programs which include an isometric element like Kenny recommends. Therefore, I was completely open to Kenny's method at the start; I only became more hesitant as it became clear that Kenny believes that his Natural Flexibility is the only option. I do still see some value to Kenny's method, particularly to the Ultimate PSI component; I found the segment of the book on converting common stretches to Ultimate PSI to be one of the most practical and useful. Perhaps an athlete working with a trainer might be able to patiently wade through Kenny's Natural Flexibility routines, but I just don't see the exercises holding the interest of the average reader.
© 2009 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com
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