Ari Weller Stretches Mehmet Oz’s Mind

‘Drugs don’t solve the problem, they’re a Band-Aid’
Ari Weller was one of two “pain-proofers” Dr. Oz had on his television show recently. The other was Dr. Anita Gupta, a pain specialist at Princeton.

Ari Weller, the founder of Philosofit, the fitness studio across the street from the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, gave a movement and stretching class at one of his client’s houses this past summer, in which, as it turned out, one of the participants was Dr. Mehmet Oz of television fame, who, until he encountered Weller, had thought there was nothing to be done about his chronic knee pain.

The kind of stretching he champions, Weller said during a recent conversation, simultaneously lengthens and strengthens muscles, resulting in musculature that is strong and long, the high school swimmers he’s been working with for the past few years being “a perfect example.” Yet, in truth, what he calls “stability stretching,” using gravity-loaded eccentric exercises and, sometimes, a folded hand towel, were good, he said, for everyone.

“Sometimes muscles get stiff because they lose stability — they tighten up to protect themselves,” he said. “Some athletes are really tight — they tear their muscles sometimes because they are so tight, like a new rubber band that snaps. Other athletes have too much flexibility; their muscles can become too long and tear too, like an old rubber band that’s lost its elasticity. You get the same injuries from the opposite ends of the scale.”

“So,” he continued, “we want to achieve a middle ground, through stretches that yield an equal amount of flexibility and strength. . . . You want to balance your body out so that you no longer have pain. When there’s an imbalance, you have pain, and there’s no gain with pain.” 

Dr. Oz, Weller said, “had an imbalance in the musculature that surrounds his knee. His ‘brakes’ weren’t strong in descending stairs or going downhill. It’s very common. When you’re descending you decelerate and a lot of pressure is put on the joint.”

After doing Weller’s exercises for a while, his quads, glutes, and hamstrings were rebalanced to such a degree that Dr. Oz declared himself cured and invited the fitness trainer, along with a pain specialist from Princeton, onto one of his shows to demonstrate that moving into and out of stretches was to be preferred to static stretching, and that eccentric stretching was far to be preferred to using opioids to combat pain.

“Drugs don’t solve the problem — they’re a Band-Aid,” said Weller. “The dysfunction is still there.”

Weller likes to liken the body to a corporation. “The brain and the nervous system are the C.E.O. For a corporation to be successful everybody has to do their job — every muscle, every bone, every sinew, every organ has a job to do. You know that at work not everybody does their job, and, consequently, some people have to overcompensate for those who don’t do their jobs. And that makes them tired, stressed, and angry, and maybe it even causes them to quit — which is to say in the body’s case an injury occurs, because there’s an imbalance somewhere. The lower back, for instance, is doing a lot of work that the glutes should have been doing. . . . You find the imbalances and fix them. . . . When people move better, they feel better.”

One of Weller’s clients who is feeling better is Steve Gaustad, who played on Pitt’s national-championship football team in 1976. The former tight end said he is much looser now. He can touch his toes, for example, which he never could do when he was playing football. “I’ve been with Ari for five or six years now. He’s been amazing, always introducing new things. We did a little bit of stretching in my day, but nothing like this. No more static stretching — we’re constantly moving.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Cynthia Del Mastro, whom Weller described as “hyper flexible,” came to him to build stability into her frame, hoping chiefly that she could ameliorate knee pain and the need for knee replacement surgery.

A former yoga and dance instructor, Del Mastro said, “I cannot say enough about him — his program is very intelligent, very well thought out. I’ve learned more from Ari than I’ve learned from anybody else, and I’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long time. I was once told I was ‘dangerously flexible.’ I’ve become stronger with Ari’s exercises, and, so far, though you never should say never, I have avoided knee replacement. I have far less knee pain than I’ve ever had. I’m so grateful to him.”

Stability stretching videos can be seen for free on Weller’s website, Philosofit. com.