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

11/09/2009 3 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&A

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)

Flexibility Experiment, Part 1: The Problem with Stretching Exercises

01/09/2009 5 comments

Photo by Piez

(Total reading time: 4 Minutes.)

I have practiced different styles of martial arts for most of my life and I’ve been a martial arts instructor since 2000. Part of the training regimen of every style I’ve ever practiced was stretching. In all these years of training, I have never become as flexible as I would like to be, so I decided to do a stretching experiment on myself and see if I can learn something new.

What you Expect vs. What you Get

A long, long time ago, when I first started stretching regularly, I knew practically nothing about it, but had certain expectations none the less. I imagined that stretching regularly would make me more and more flexible. Simple enough, right?

I want to quickly introduce two scales going from 0 to 10, in order to illustrate my point:

  • Flexibility Scale: 0 being completely stiff, 5 being able to touch toes and being fairly flexible, 10 being full splits and the kind of flexibility required for acrobats, figure-skaters and the likes.
  • Stretching Intensity Scale: 0 being no regular stretching exercises, 5 being stretching on a regular basis (e.g. Yoga-class several evenings a week), 10 being hours of intensive stretching every day.

Here’s what I expected:

Stretching: Graph 1

I imagined that keeping up a good, steady stretching routine would take me from wherever I was on the flexibility scale all the way to a super-flexible 10, given enough time. Had I thought about this a little more, I would have maybe concluded that I could only reach an 8 or 9 of flexibility unless I stepped up the stretching intensity at some point, but no matter: Both assumptions turned out to be very wrong.

First of all, something initially unexpected but quite natural developed: Over the years of training, my focus changed, my exercise regimens changed and the intensity with which I practiced stretching changed. There were times when I only stretched a few evenings per week, there were times when I stretched every day at home, there was a short period during which I trained Wu-Shu (think of it as Chinese martial-acrobatics) and did very, very intense stretching every day and there were times when I hardly did any stretching at all. Ok, so here’s what that might look like:

Stretch 2

Simple: The higher the intensity of exercising stretching, the more quickly I should become more flexible. When I slack off with stretching exercises, I will stop making much progress, but as long as I keep regular stretching a part of my exercise program, I should keep making progress, right? Wrong. Here’s an approximation of what I actually experienced:

Stretch 3

I was already fairly flexible to begin with. When I first started out with stretching, I made progress very quickly. Within a few months, I went from not quite being able to touch my toes (with straight legs, of course) to being able to firmly plant both of my palms on the floor. I saw the same kind of progress for other stretching exercises as well. After that first burst of progress however, I reached a plateau that has remained practically unchanged for years ever since. Extremely intensive stretching exercises budged my flexibility up a tiny bit and slacking off made me lose a fraction of flexibility. By and large, my flexibility seems to be immune to the amount and intensity of stretching I do.

Doing it Wrong

Of course, there are many different ways to stretch and perhaps I have just been doing it wrong? Well, while I can’t claim to have tried every stretching technique on the planet, I have practiced a fair range of techniques. Most of the time, I did stretching exercises that were a mix of Hatha Yoga and “western” static stretching. During the time of practicing Wu-Shu, I did a mix of static and dynamic stretching exercises as well as specific strengthening exercises that were also supposed to increase flexibility. Mostly, I did some stretching before exercising and some afterwards. I have done stretching as an isolated exercise some time during the day and I have done stretching as a part of exercise routines of various intensities.

Common stretching exercises don’t seem to work. I wouldn’t be making such a bold statement based just on my own example, though. As a martial arts instructor, I have seen hundreds of students of all ages doing stretching exercises more or less regularly and more or less intensely (depending on what style they were training). Almost everyone I’ve seen made a certain amount of progress and then reached a plateau. People go from an inflexible 3 to a fairly flexible 5 or from a flexible 6 to a very flexible 9, but I’ve never seen someone transform from inflexible to very flexible, no matter how they trained. What’s worse: Some people seem to be naturally rigid and they make almost no progress by stretching.

Does this simply mean that I and all of my students and peers have been doing it wrong? Perhaps. I haven’t given up hope, though. I recently came across a technique called Resistance Stretching, and it has an approach that is completely different from anything I’ve seen so far. I will introduce Resistance Stretching in my next post and outline the self-experiment I will do with this technique. I, for one, am very eager to see if this will make the crucial difference or if it’s just another fitness-fad.

This post is part of the Flexibility Experiment series.
Part 1: The Problem with Stretching (currently viewing)
Part 2: Introducing Resistance Stretching
Part 3: Method and Benchmarks
Part 4: Q&A with Anne Tierney, Resistance Stretching Expert