I am continually on the quest for flexibility and it is an uphill battle. I hate to stretch, it hurts. It’s a necessity, and I don’t just mean for pole and it making tricks pretty. As you age, your muscles naturally lose strength and size and can become less supple and stiffer. This can affect the range of movement around your joints, which may lead to stiffness and put you at risk for injury. While trolling Aerial Amy’s blog i came across this video and entry on resistance stretching. Read below for an explanation on what the benefits of resistance stretching are from Ellen Lovelace a pole instructor in Redwood City, CA. and check out her video below!
I discovered resistance stretching when my Rolfer showed me some of the stretches to do in my quest to restore movement to a hamstring that was locked up with scar tissue for almost 20 years. She also referred me to a resistance stretch trainer for assisted stretch sessions (there is a whole other form of this work that involves being hands-on stretched, kind of like a Thai massage but WAY more intense.) I started to see tremendous gains in my flexibility, and realized the power of this form of stretching for me. Passive stretching always hurt, and I’d find that the next day, I was just as tight as I’d been before stretching the previous day. With this method, I found that each time I stretched, I maintained some of the gains from the previous session. By engaging my muscles while stretching them, I realized that I couldn’t overstretch, and therefore never felt like I was injuring myself, while I was able to go deeper into stretches than ever before. The first time I used resistance in a center straddle stretch, and my nose touched the floor in front of me, I was hooked for sure! When the Ki-Hara people offered resistance stretch training in California, I couldn’t wait to attend and learn more.
I’ve seen a lot of the same gains in clients with whom I’ve used these techniques. Both in people who are trying to achieve gains in flexibility for pole, and in people who are just looking to be looser and more comfortable in their bodies for everyday life. Forward bends get deeper, splits get closer to the floor, hips open, and bodies feel longer and stronger.
Resistance stretching is the concept of continually contracting a muscle while you move it through its range of motion. If I contract my bicep (“make a muscle”), and you pull my fist away from me to straighten my arm while I gently resist you, I am getting a resistance stretch of my bicep. The main advantage to this method is that you cannot overstretch a muscle since you are actively engaging it during the stretch. Also, as you’ll see in the video, each stretch has a counter-move, so that in one direction you are strengthening the muscle (while you contract/shorten it), and in one direction you are stretching it (while you extend/lengthen it).
In resistance stretching, we focus on the balancing muscle groups in the body. Think again about “making a muscle” with your bicep. When your bicep is contracting, your tricep is extending. When you straighten your elbow, the tricep contracts while the bicep extends. In theory, if your tricep was really weak, you might not be able to straighten your arm, no matter how long and flexible your bicep was. Now apply this to your leg: if your quads (front of the leg) are very weak and can’t contract effectively, your central hamstring (back of the leg) won’t be able to fully lengthen. I can just work a client’s quads, have them touch their toes, and watch them get closer to the floor than before, without ever going near their hamstrings. This is why we do both a strengthening move and stretching move for every muscle we work on–we need to be both long AND strong in all the balancing muscle groups in order to achieve maximum flexibility. Today’s stretches are all about the hip flexors, but the medial, central, and lateral hamstrings are every bit as important!
The main challenge people have with this method at first is the tendency to resist themselves too hard. You should be providing gentle resistance, such that you can smoothly move through the range of motion, and are not shaking with effort. About 60% of your max resistance is all you need. Keep the target muscle engaged/resisting through the entire range of both the strengthening and stretching motions—you should never be relaxing the muscle. These stretches should feel like work! And remember, unlike traditional static stretching, there is no need to “hold” the stretch at the end range. Rather, you should be continually moving, contracting and extending, strengthening and stretching. To see these concepts illustrated, check out the video below or take a peek at it directly on YouTube here.