Flexibility Experiment, Part 5: Update and Subjective Impressions

Published September 24, 2009 in Physical Performance - 5 Comments
Pictured: Flexibility

Photo by stephcarter

I have been doing Resistance Stretching exercises regularly for 20 days now, so I’m just over half way through my 30-day experiment with this technique. The book I use as a guide (Genius of Flexibility, Bob Cooley), describes four series of flexibility exercises. The first series is for beginners, the second one for intermediates, the fourth one contains advanced stretches and the third one contains stretches to be done with a partner. I have tried all of the stretching exercises except the ones that require a partner. Here is what I have experienced so far:

Learning Curve

The first few times I did the Resistance Stretches, it felt very strange, I tensed up everywhere and had difficulties breathing properly when doing the exercises. Just as it was starting to get frustrating though, I noticed the exercises becoming gradually easier to do. Soon, I could breathe easily and deeply and after the first week, the stretches felt natural to me. It was interesting to experience this adaptation, especially because it came about almost by itself. When I had trouble breathing, I didn’t know what to do about it, but the problems subsided by themselves after a while.

Another thing I notice is a progression for each of the individual stretching exercises. Sometimes I get into a stretch that I’ve done many times before, but this time, something goes “click” and suddenly, everything feels right. Or rather: Everything feels “righter” than before. I can stretch farther and my body feels more in line with itself as I’m doing the exercise. I haven’t had this “click”-experience with all of the stretches yet.

So far, it seems like it might take quite a long time before you can get the most out of Resistance Stretching. Before accommodating to the style of the exercises and to the individual stretches, the benefits are probably not that great.

Exercises

The beginner exercises are a good way to get a feel for Resistance Stretching, but as I already mentioned in one of my questions for Anne Tierney, some of them will not really stretch your muscles. At least not if you are somewhat flexible to begin with. I recommend moving on to the intermediate and advanced stretches as soon as you no longer have any difficulties with the beginner stretches. I definitely feel like I’m getting more out of the advanced stretches and besides, they are more fun to do.

What It Feels Like

A big difference between Resistance Stretching and static stretching is that the former is much more exhausting. Part of your musculature is always working to resist the stretches and this will get your heart going. I’d love to tell you by how much my heart-rate increases when I do the exercises, but unfortunately, my heart-monitor broke just recently (either that, or my resting heart-rate really is 199bpm). What I can say is that it feels like doing light cardio. The feeling I get in the muscles I’m stretching is neither more nor less pleasant than when I used to do static stretches. The feeling I get after a session is much better, though. I feel warm and relaxed all over and the feeling stays with me for about an hour. It’s really very pleasant and makes the whole thing that much more rewarding.

Progress?

An important question is, of course: Does it actually make me more flexible? Well, I haven’t re-measured the benchmark-stretches yet. I’ll wait until the end of the experiment before doing that. What I can say is that I haven’t felt any dramatic progress in how far I can stretch, but my high kicks do feel a bit more comfortable. I feel more relaxed and mobile in my hip-joints when practicing kicks and that’s already a welcome advantage.

On a side-note, I mildly hurt my left knee during sparring practice and decided not to do the stretching exercises for three days afterward. My knee was reacting with pain to any kind of tension or any twisting motions and I wanted to play it safe. I will extend the experiment by three days, so that I can get a solid 30 days of stretching before re-measuring the benchmarks.

Brief Summary

  • Resistance Stretching has quite the learning curve.
  • Skip to the advanced stretches before you get bored with some of the beginner “non-stretches”.
  • Resistance Stretching is slightly exhausting and gives you a good post-exercise feeling.
  • Stay tuned for the final results in about two weeks!

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

Part 5: Update and Subjective Impressions (currently viewing)
Part 6: Before and After

  • Alpaca

    Yes… you described the feeling really well in your “Learning Curve” section – like how it’s hard to get the stretch to work right to “resist” with the muscle without “locking” the muscle as you elongate it – deep breathing is really key. If you can’t breathe, you need to back off a little bit and try it again as the breathe really helps let your muscle relax into the stretch.

    Also as you’ve notice, the stretching is quite tiring, Tom says so long as your are breathing deeply and relaxing through the stretch… the more fatigued you muscle is means you’ve let more tension out of the muscle. It’s an odd sensation – where you muscles are kind of fatigued to failure – but at the same time you feel this weird looseness and lightness through the muscle at the same time (i.e. it doesn’t feel like a battery-acid filled piece of lead). They’ve told me to go do a light workout within 24 hours of a session (20 minutes of something tha tmakes you break a sweat) and while “tired” I still can get some really good runs or training sessions in as I feel very “mobile” in stretched muscles… allowing me more range of motion in my joint (which is different from having hyper-mobile tendons/ligaments).

    Yes… as you noticed, injuries and inflammation can get in the way of things and you need to back off a little. I separate my shoulder in ice hockey and had to be a little gentle with it for a while… but after a few weeks, resistance stretch really helped me complete the physical therapy… one thing important to do (in addition to icing) is to”mash” the knots out… I mean really dig in there to warm up loosen the muscles a bit before stretching them. A foam roller works for big muscles like quads, it band, calves… but I’ve found a softball works even better onces you are somewhat loose. For shoulder, a theracane (search for it Google) helps a lot too.

    • I haven’t tried any “mashing” yet. I guess you’d need an expert to do this, right?

  • Alpaca

    You definitely do not need an expert to help mash you (it helps but any deep tissue massage will work, whether from masseuse, yourself or a willing friend). Basically anything that feels tender/sensitive should be rolled on with a foam roller or softball (basically just move around with most of weight over the roller/softball until you feel a tight spot)… or mashed by someone – most often with the heel of their foot.

    An expert will know how to position you so they can most easily and dig in as much as possible without going too deep (although they REALLY dig in there). They will also dig into places you didn’t know could/should be mashed (the muscles between your ribs in your armpits, the hip creases at the top of your thighs)

    My resistance stretching encourages me to mash myself and teach others to do it too. I know most of the legs now (having had to done to me a lot). The main prop you need is a ladder or chair so that second person can shift their weight off of your (i.e. they only put a percentage of their weight onto you when they step on you as full body weight is too much for tight muscles) Here’s what is looks like – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtNaRPerbeM . Basically if you can have anyone just imitate that… it will help a lot. If you have a question about targeting certain leg muscles (gluts, quads, adductors) I can tell you what has been done to me.

    • Thanks for the input. I think I’ll give “self-mashing” a try. 🙂

  • Alpaca

    One thing I’ve noticed is that if I find a spot that is tender/tight via some basic probing (normally you should mash it until you feel like the tight spot is harder to find – a sign that the muscle is softening/relaxing) – resistance stretch the corresponding muscle, and then try to find the same tender spot… it’s usually a lot less severe afterwards… this tells me that the resistance stretching is doing something