Flexibility Experiment, Part 4: Q&A with Anne Tierney from Innovative Body Solutions

Published September 11, 2009 in Physical Performance - 4 Comments

I have been doing the Resistance Stretching exercises daily for one week now. This method of stretching took some getting used to and I had difficulties with some aspects of the exercises. Luckily, when I contacted Anne Tierney, a Resistance Stretching expert, she generously gave me input and advice. Anne uses and teaches a branch of Resistance Stretching called Ki-Hara, and together with Steven Sierra, she has trained numerous top athletes. Here are a few of my questions about Resistance Stretching answered by Anne:


Q: For some stretches, I have difficulties because my legs are a lot stronger than my arms (naturally). So when I am pulling my leg into a stretch and resisting it, it’s a huge effort for my arms/upper body. Also, I can never fully resist a leg stretch, because if I did, my leg would just remain contracted. Am I doing something wrong?

A: Yes! You don’t need to resist so hard. The arms will never be able to overpower the legs.  Because of the name ‘Resistance’ Stretching people automatically think it means resisting as hard as you can, but really all you need is some resistance, like a 5 out of 10. You want movement!  Resisting too hard will not only stress the arms, but it will also cause the joints to lock up, substitution, etc. You do not want to fight yourself – it is a losing battle! It is most important that the resistance is even and consistent.

Q: I am still used to traditional stretching, where you stay in the stretched position for a relatively long time. Doing six to ten repetitions of a Resistance Stretch doesn’t take very long and I can’t help but wonder “is this enough?” How important is the amount of time the muscle is in the stretched position for good results, in your opinion?

A: If you do 6-10 repetitions of all 16-17 exercises, you will actually get a pretty good workout and feel like you did quite a lot. In Resistance Stretching, we rarely hold a position and if we do it is with a contraction and only for a few seconds. For the most part we don’t hold the stretches, though.  What’s more important is the methodology of why it is working and why holding it there usually just creates an overstretched muscle. Think about it – how many years have you been stretching the “old” way where you claim you “feel” like you are getting more done – 10, 15, 20, 30 years?  How flexible do you feel? Has it changed much? (Nope. See first part of the series) If you follow the philosophy of resisting and balancing muscle groups you could easily gain 2 or 3 inches in 10 minutes. Some people haven’t gained that in 10 years of traditional stretching or if they have they have done it at the expense of the integrity of the joints and strength of the muscles.

Q: I often think that it would probably be a lot easier to do the Resistance Stretches with a partner pulling me into the stretch, so that I would only need to concentrate on the resistance part. When you work with athletes, do you mainly teach them to do the stretches on their own or do you mainly “work on them”, helping them with the stretches?

A: Yes, obviously getting assisted is the best way possible because you can give more resistance, make more dynamic movement/rotational patterns and just get a lot more done – as in life, a little help goes a long way. However, the ones that we have been most successful with have done a combination of assisted stretches plus working on their own. Because again, as in life – a little hard work also goes a long way! Plus the more they work on their own the more they learn about their own body and and can provide more useful feedback to us. The combination of working on your own and working with assistance is invaluable.

Many thanks to Anne for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information on Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching on the Innovative Body Solutions homepage, where you can also find Resistance Stretching coaches near you and learn about workshops and upcoming events.

This post is part of the Flexibility Experiment series.

Part 1: The Problem with Stretching
Part 2: Introducing Resistance Stretching

Part 3: Method and Benchmarks

Part 4: Q&A with Anne Tierney, Resistance Stretching Expert (currently viewing)

Part 5: Update and Subjective Impressions
Part 6: Before and After

  • Pingback: Flexibility Experiment, Part 1: The Problem with Stretching Exercises « The Explorative Approach()

  • Alpaca

    Reposting this to your new domain… which only has up to Part IV, I’m going to read the rest now (Part V and Part VI)

    Hi, I’m in the 4-5 range and had similar experience to yours in your Part I post. That is I got some initial flexibility improvements, but it tapered off quickly. I’ve done power yoga, iyengar yoga, bikram yoga, pilates again I still experienced that quick diminishing returns of flexibility gains like you. She mentioned that there was a studio in the Bay Area that offered it…

    I stumbled upon resistance stretching by accident much like you… I heard Dara Torres mention it a few times and didn’t think about it for a couple of months until I got into a conversation with a friend who is a cyclist and sports therapist. I had talked about how I was looking to improve my flexibility and mentioned resistance stretching as something I would like to try next… she mentioned that there was a studio that practiced it near by.

    So I signed up for a local group class and was unimpressed by it (low intensity, minimal gains). I also skimmed a copy of “The Genius of Flexibility” at the studio are was also really put off like you about the fantastical claims the book made. However, the instructor (Tom Longo) told me to give a private session a try. I figured it was worth the experiment (it’s not cheap) as like you I like to explore things.

    So I would like to say private session with a good instructor is very different than self-stretching for two reasons… first a stretching partner can apply leverage at angles that you can never really do yourself. The second is a trained resistance stretcher really can angle you arms/legs/torso isolate different muscles which is also important.

    I’ve been doing it for about 6 months now and I can tell you my body is completely different – but it’s important to note that my physical flexibility range is not significant more than it was before… but without sounding too crazy, it is much more… functional.

    So being able to so splits and stuff is mostly loose joints. Resistance stretching seems to focus and having soft and loose muscles. Stiff, crunchy muscles with knots in them are be definition a bit “tighter” and more importantly “less functional” (since a muscle contracts to provide power, it cannot contract fully if part of it is already tight and knotted). Think of it like an engine with only half of the cylinders firing… so anyways the things I notice are more “functional”… for instance I play ice hockey, snowboard, and rock climb.

    One of the first things I noticed was that on skates I was able to power through a hard turn on my right leg (which has a somewhat bad knee due to a couple of ACL/MCL sprains). Previously, the knee would buckle or give out or just refuse to drive into the turn that hard (I’ve spent years strengthening it with lots of single legged squats so it was decently strong)… but after a session or two… I sudden noticed much better “functionality” there. Also, I would notice much more easily if I lost the “functionality” due to tightness and realize that I needed to “resistance stretch” my psoas, quad, and gluts again to get it back.

    The second thing I noticed is increased functionality in my psoa (inner hip flexors). These were really not functional (although apparently since the rector femoris part of the quad is also a hip flexor I could get away with it). I would notice this on long run (5-8 miles) that my hips would really ach and burn. Also long mountain hikes would also cause my hips to ache. I thought this was just me getting old as I was almost 30 (30 this year) … but no, it was tight/non-functional hip flexors. After a few months, I could do a 6-8 mile run no problem (I mean I would be tired muscle wise, but it felt like a good tire – no hip aching/tightness/pain).

    What else… oh one last big change was my neck… for random reasons, over the years my neck has gotten stiffer so I realized one day that I couldn’t comfortable liedown with my head turned to the right (vs turned to the left). A few months in, I mentioned this to Tom and her worked on my trapezius, supra-spinata, etc… and suddenly… I can turn my head to the right farther than I have in years (still needs work, but the change after 20 minutes was pretty dramatic).

    Anyways… I’ve rambled enough… just some thoughts then:
    1. Partner Stretching with an expert stretcher yield noticeable better results

    2. Work on all muscles in the area as more than on can be “getting in the way” of the others (i.e. for hamstrings – I also stretch psoas, quads, gluts, adductors, and TFL). I’ve learned that if you feel tightness somewhere else while stretching a muscle, that is a sign to stretch that part too (to me, it is most notable when stretching adductors… sometimes the abductors and gluts get in the way).

    3. Take note of your functionality in more complex movements (a tricky spin kick or something – I’m not a master martial artist) over time. I noticed that rock climbing tougher problems suddenly became easier for some reason (like with my body more functional and aligned… suddenly it was easier to push/pull my body is complex balancing positions) than before. At least that’s how it feels to me.

    • Thanks for reposting this here.

      The concept of increased functionality is one that intrigued me about Resistance Stretching as well. While I don’t know how stretching can influence this exactly, there’s no doubt that the same set of muscles can be more or less functional. I know that for martial arts, good intermuscular and intramuscular coordination is absolutely essential and these factors basically amount to “muscular functionality” – quite simply, if you want to throw a punch, how cooperative are all the muscle in your body being? You can typically see beginners being very tense around their legs, hips and shoulders and that’s why they can’t throw a strong punch.
      So if Resistance Stretching increases muscular functionality, it’s invaluable for martial arts (and probably any sport).

  • Alpaca

    I know I must sound a little bit of a loony (I believe myself to normally quite skeptical of miracle cures), but I do believe the resistance stretching increases muscular functionality and is pretty much invaluable for all sports. To a lesser degree I think resistance stretching would be of great help to regular people as well (more so than yoga because when done properly it is more targeted or person specific) since pretty much everyone sits at a computer or in a car for long periods of time everyday (which leads to tightness/loss of functionality in the hips and back/neck muscles).

    So a muscle is made up of a lot of muscle fibers weaved together. A muscle “works” by contracting from an elongated position to a shortened position. However, often some of the fibers get stuck in the contracted position (a knot in your muscle) – when they are like that, they can’t really contract. So you are only getting a percentage of your overall muscle output when you use it (yes you can strength and get a bigger muscle, but you are only drawing from the functional muscles at are relaxing/contracting – so it’s always a percentage of the whole). It’s kind of like having a 6 cylinder engine, but having three cylinders that are not firing. If the knot is not fixed for a long period of time (months, years) your brain “forgets” how to access that inert piece muscle because every time is signal nerve impulses to that muscle nothing happens and eventually the brain just gives up on it.

    Resistance stretching does two major things… first through mashing and eccentric stretching/strengthening you loosen out previously inert/tight muscle fiber knots. The second is that you are retraining yourself to regain “access” to those muscles through rarely used nerve pathways (kind of like teaching yourself to raise only one eyebrow or wiggle your ears – where in the beginning you just don’t know what nerve impulse to make to work them alone). This is exactly what major accident victims have to go through after they have been in bed for weeks/months in traction – (i.e. relearn how to walk and use their muscles again after weeks of non-use and the brain has forgotten).

    Why is resistance stretching better than traditional stretching? Because unlike traditional stretching, which typically stretches either the parts of your muscle that are already willing to relax and your tendons/ligaments, it specifically targets those knots, those inert bundles of muscle fibers. That’s where the resistance is important. It’s a little hard to visual, but image you have a piece of rubber band like this —==—. The single dashes represent the functional fibers of your muscle and the double is the inert muscle fibers. If you pull on the this rubber band… you will see the thing parts stretch, and the thick part stay basically the same ( ___==___ ). That’s what I think is happening to your muscle too under a passive stretch. However, if you tense the muscle as you stretch it it becomes like this <<>> and now the tension is put on the inert fibers and they are pulled, woken up (you kind of “feel” them being pulled), and forced to relax (once you are aware of the tight spot you can start to mentally relax them, controlled breathing helps a lot). Ending up something like <<>>.

    Anyway that’s my really poor attempt at an explanation.