Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 88, Strength = Flexibility

There is this huge myth out there that as you get stronger you have to trade in flexibility. I think in the back of our minds we have the image of the strongmen whose bulging muscles make them move like automatons at Epcot Center.

Well, I'm here to tell you that belief is false and doesn't make any sense anyway. Here's the proof that it's false:

As I've gotten stronger with the PCP I've been amazed that my yoga practice has improved as much as my physical strength. They've gotten better in lockstep. Here's why this makes sense.

A stretch doesn't ever happen with just one muscle. If a solitary muscle were just floating through empty space (there's a weird image for you) it would of course be impossible for it to stretch. Every stretch requires two muscles working across a joint. So, in the case of the above picture, I say something like, "I'm stretching out my hamstrings" but what's really happening is "I'm stretching my hamstrings by rotating my pelvis to pull up on them while my stationary legs act as a grounding force, with the arms adding additional stability." I wouldn't get through many yoga classes talking like that though (although it's not a bad idea).

So, we have one muscle pulling on another one across a connective joint. Now let's say through some training you make that muscle stronger. Guess what? The next time you do that stretch it will feel deeper, simply because you have more raw pulling power. It's like having an extra person give you a hand as you deepen your pose.

Then why do those bodybuilders move like that? Simply because they don't stretch enough. As you gain muscle, you are actually shortening the muscle fibers. Over time you'll get nice and pumped, but if you don't spend some time each day stretching deeply, you'll also get rigid and tight.

So strength training needs to be matched with flexibility training. But most people just don't know how to stretch properly and end up doing some half assed standing leg stretches for 5 mins before hitting the iron. This is one reason I make my videos, to educate people on the principles of stretching, not just the form.

Why is it important to be flexible? You can think of flexibility as the lubrication in an engine. Without it, no matter how powerful, the engine just won't work well and will break down quickly. Having open, flexible joints and connective tissue allows you to avoid injuries and heal them faster if you happen to get one. Circulation improves, and your body can deliver antibodies and endorphins where they need to go more efficiently.

Not to mention the fact that a flexible body does what you want it to do. You are able to place your skeletal system just where you want it, without having to fight internal forces and frictions. This is an invaluable asset if you are playing a sport or studying a martial art, and makes daily life much more pleasant.

There is so much information online about stretches and yoga, there's no excuse not to give it a try. You'll be amazed at the ability of your body to rebound even after years of inactivity.

As for my stretching, I am deep into my secret technique to accomplish hanging side splits. It's pretty crazy stuff, and I can't wait to share it with you all once I've managed a version that satisfies me.

Until then, have you done a backbend today? You gotta do those, everybody. How many hours a day do you spend with your spine curving towards a screen, a meal, a steering wheel, or a newspaper? All that forward bending deserves at least a few minutes in the opposite direction everyday. This isn't rocket science people!

1 comment:

miranda said...

Ah, thanks for the reminder on the backbends. I forget this a lot! Posture, the final frontier...