Forget what you’ve always assumed about stretching — that it’s a waste of time, that women are naturally more flexible than men, that it’s just a warm-up and not “real exercise.” Trainer Bob Cooley’s book, The Genius of Flexibility, gives you 10 good reasons to get flex.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably already tried several forms of stretching and yoga. Common assumptions everyone has about stretching often go unquestioned.
You may believe that some people are just born naturally flexible. You may assume that if someone is flexible physically, then he is also mentally flexible. You might assume that stretching is a form of passive exercise and that it won’t give you the rigorous workout you’re looking for. You might believe that men are less flexible than women and children more flexible than adults. You may think stretching is a warm-up, something you do before the “real” exercise begins. You may have concluded that stretching is a waste of time because you didn’t notice much of an increase in your flexibility or experience other benefits from it in the past. You might have exacerbated old injuries by stretching, or even created new ones. You have never experienced stretching as an activity that can impact all other areas of your life, not just your physical body. These are all false beliefs.
Resistance stretching advances every aspect of your life. In the process, many of your firmly held beliefs about stretching will change. The following ten principles of resistance stretching ask you to rethink many of your ideas or beliefs about stretching. These ten principles are not just theory. They were derived from my experience with thousands of people.
A New Way to Stretch
1. You need to contract and lengthen your muscles while stretching.
Placing yourself in overextended positions is not stretching. Pulling and yanking on your muscles is not stretching. When you stretch a muscle, it naturally contracts and resists to produce the stretch. Your true flexibility range occurs only when you maximally resist while lengthening. It takes twice the tension to stretch a muscle as to strengthen it! Contracting a muscle while simultaneously stretching it is called resistance stretching.
2. Resistance stretching offers immediate, cumulative, and permanent increases in flexibility (and strength).
Most people never become as flexible as they want to be, but not because there is something inherently wrong with them or they’re not athletic enough. They aren’t achieving their flexibility goals because they haven’t added resistance to the stretching equation. By resisting the stretch, necessary tension is created in the muscle, which results in an immediate increase in flexibility. Maximally resisting brings exceptional increases. Getting into a stretch position is not enough to get a true stretch. You must add resistance! Because a muscle must contract when you stretch it, that muscle must also be strong enough to produce the stretch. Reversing the direction and application of resistance of any stretch movement changes that exercise into a strength training exercise. Thus sufficient strength is a necessity when stretching.
3. Resistance stretching takes the pain out of stretching and protects you from injuring yourself from overstretching.
Many people have abandoned stretching because they felt they weren’t getting the results they wanted or because their stretching led to injury or unreasonable soreness. Only by contracting your muscles when you stretch does stretching finally become pleasant rather than painful. Better yet, your muscles are protected from overstretching. Stretching without contracting a muscle produces a false range of motion, known as substitution, and ultimately results in overstretching and injury. You must stretch the balancing muscle to ensure a successful stretch. Resistance stretching takes the unnecessary risk out of stretching.
4. Stretching is one of the most effective self-help preventive medicines.
Individual stretches have often been reported to improve specific physiological and psychological conditions, allowing individuals to choose exact stretches that help them heal chronic problems and replace dysfunction with healthy functioning. Physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological benefits from stretching provide powerful motivation for practicing stretching regularly. Stretching accelerates the rate of personal change.
5. To achieve the highest level of improvement in flexibility, it is essential that other people assist you.
Many things can be done only by yourself — no one else can do them for you. Unquestionably you can acquire incredible increases in your flexibility by stretching on your own, but more significant gains require people to help you stretch. This is because when another person assists you, you can resist him or her with your greatest amount of resistance — greater contractions than you can generate when resisting against yourself. Maximum resistance brings maximal results.
6. Natural breathing produces the best stretching results.
To get maximum benefits from stretching, you must be open to new ways of breathing. Each type of stretch produces different ways of breathing, creating tension and relaxation. Ingrained patterns of breathing are broken down and replaced with new, healthier breathing habits. As your breathing improves, you will achieve greater ranges of motion. In stretching, you go looking for the pain and tension in your body in order to remove it. This can happen only by not controlling the way you breathe. Natural breathing makes everything feel effortless.
7. Everyone has unique patterns of flexibility, and everyone can be flexible.
Flexibility is an equal-opportunity endeavor! Everyone can be flexible, regardless of gender, race, or age. Just because you are tight in one place does not mean that you are tight everywhere. Just because you appear physically flexible does not mean you are equally flexible spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. Different personality types have predictable flexibility patterns. Positive and negative life conditions affect your flexibility. Regular stretching is positive conditioning.
8. Stretching affects every type of tissue in your body.
Each stretch presented improves the health of a different type of tissue, including muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, cartilage, bones, circulatory and lymphatic flow, oxygenation of blood, endocrine functions, cerebrospinal fluid, and so on. Some parts of your body require more time to become flexible than other parts because of the nature of those tissues. For example, your hamstrings take more time to make flexible than your quads.
9. Stretching involves using intense force for dramatic increases in strength, power, speed, and accuracy.
Stretching matches and often exceeds all other forms of exercise in intensity and use of force. When you stretch a muscle, twice the tension is generated in the muscle compared to when you strengthen the muscle. In other words, it takes twice the force to stretch a muscle than to strengthen it. Maximal resistance must be attempted regularly when stretching to reach maximal flexibility. Because a muscle’s ability to shorten is directly determined by its flexibility, as your muscles gain flexibility you can expect an immediate 15–20 percent increase in strength — without any additional weight training — as well as significant gains in power, speed, and accuracy. Remember, all stretch movements can become strength-training exercises simply by reversing the direction of the movement. You need sufficient strength to contract your muscles maximally when stretching them.
10. Nothing is a substitute for stretching.
Within minutes after stretching, everyone feels better. There is something inherently healing and pleasurable about stretching. Stretching teaches you how to handle the most intense situations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Cooley, author of The Genius of Flexibility: The Smart Way to Stretch and Strengthen Your Body (Copyright © 2005 by Robert Cooley), founded The Moving Center in 1974. Through postgraduate work in Exercise Science and years of research in Physical Therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Personality Theory, he created Resistance Flexibility Training® and The Meridian Flexibility System®. Over the past fifteen years he has helped thousands of people to completely transform their bodies and health. Bob works with professional and Olympic athletes and people who are severely injured. He lives an organic lifestyle in San Jose, California.
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