Frequently Asked Questions
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|What is a balancing muscle group?
|What is a counter-balancing (opposing) muscle group?
|What is a completing muscle group?
Why does traditional stretching never give the flexibility gains that I think I should get?
In order to get a true gain in flexibility, you must continuously contract the target muscle group while elongating it (eccentric contraction). Many forms of traditional stretching involve contracting the muscle for a specific period of time at a certain point in the stretch. Other forms of stretching don't involve muscle contraction at all, which results in over-stretching and possibly injuring the target muscle group. An optimal approach is beginning all stretches in a position where the muscle(s) are as short as possible and move into a position where the muscle(s) are as long as possible (while continuously resisting and generating tension). Most of the stretch occurs during the movement and not at the end point of the stretch.
How soon will I feel the results?
Most people are surprised at the feeling the stretch provides immediately after their first experience of eccentrically contracting the target muscle group while stretching. It is truly a unique and powerful way to use your muscles that most people have not experienced throughout their entire lives. The results happen immediately, however it can take many repetitions of specific stretches as well as life changes to release chronic tenseness in certain areas of the body. Many people find that after they begin, they find the "problem" areas of their body and gain a greater understanding of their pain and problems. As they begin to focus on these areas and stretch them out, they usually start making changes in their life situation as well. Switching to an organic diet is usually one of the first things to change.
Why is flexibility the foundation for aerobic and strength training?
Flexibility is the foundation for strength. In order for a muscle to fully strengthen, it must have access to it's full shortening capacity. The shortening capacity of a muscle is limited by accumulated dense fascia and scar tissue in and around the muscle. The most effective method of removing this dense tissue is to perform many repetitions of eccentric flexibility training, where one's natural tension and resistance is used to exceed the tensile strength of the dense tissue, thus causing it to break down and be removed from the body. As the muscle becomes more flexible from this tissue renovation, it is not only able to elongate more fully, but also able to shorten more optimally, which translates into increases in strength and aerobic capacity.
Does this replace my current workout?
This work is perfect for those who are searching for a well rounded total body workout. Eccentric flexibility exercises can be used to take the tenseness out of the tight areas of the body, and the stretches can be reversed to provide strength training to the areas of the body that are weak.
This practice is also for those who already have a workout routine. Active flexibility exercises provide the muscles used for working out the balancing action for strength training, which is elongating the muscle while contracting simultaneously (loading the eccentric/negative phase of movement). This will not only relieve tenseness, stress, and pain, but will also prepare your muscles for future workouts thereby increasing your total performance.
Does stretching always have to hurt?
Pain while stretching is generally caused by failing to contract the muscle while elongating it. Without the contraction, you may simply be over-extending the joints and over-stretching the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which is painful and may lead to injury.
Can't I also increase my strength and endurance?
Each of the flexibility exercises can be reversed to provide strength training. This is where you begin in a position where the muscle(s) are as long as possible and move into a position where the muscle(s) are as short as possible while continuously contracting your muscles.
You can also target a specific muscle group and do a back-to-back set of flexibility and strength training to provide an aerobic workout for the muscle group. This is where you begin with your muscle elongated, contract and shorten your muscle to strength train, and then continue to contract and resist while you elongate it going back to the beginning position for a stretch, and repeat.
It takes two to six times the force to eccentrically stretch a muscle as it does to strengthen it. The beginning of the strength phase results in increases in flexibility because of the isometric stretch that initiates the concentric strength phase of movement.
Why is it important to stretch the areas of the body where there is minimal feel and sensation?
A person can withstand much more force during the elongation/stretch/eccentric phase of movement than they can overpower during the shortening/strength/concentric phase. Targeted eccentric movements are the neglected aspect of physical training. As a person begins to systematically develop the health of the body's tissues through these loaded elongation movements, they begin to feel the magnitude of the resistive force residing in that particular area of the body. This is something that a person is not feeling and is completely unaware of until they are finally trained in such a way.
The amount and nature of the force that is revealed is an indicator of the health of the tissue. For example, an excessive amount of resistance often indicates an excessive amount of accumulated dense fascia and scar tissue. The health of the tissue improves with each eccentric/negative rep, which not only restores and develops functionality in movement, but also allows a person to begin to feel the health of their tissue. A regular practice serves as a powerful fail-safe by ensuring that all areas of the body are continuously felt, old problems are healed, new ways of being are developed, and further accumulation of dense tissue is deterred.
A good way to experience this yourself is through assisted stretching. If you work on another person and find a pathway that has tremendous force, you'll see that the person you are stretching can very easily resist, almost effortlessly, while on your end there is so much force that it's nearly impossible to move the person. If the person you are stretching pays attention to how much strength it's taking on your part to stretch them, they can begin to feel into the magnitude of the force that is always being exerted within their own body that they are completely unaware of. For the person to really understand, you'd have to switch roles and let them stretch you. When they find the same amount of excessive resistance in your body and have to use their own strength to overpower it, they get a feel of that same phenomenon from the outside, rather than the inside, which allows them to know it from both perspectives.
Another way to experience this is to stretch yourself and target one muscle group on one side of your body for 15 minutes. Continue to work on that one muscle group and see what happens to the level of feel that you have for that part of your body as you continue. After 15 minutes, check it out, stand up, walk around, get in different positions, compare the side you worked on to the side you did not, and see what happened to the level of feel you have in that part of body.
How can I discover traditional Chinese medicine meridians, organ associations, and yin yang through stretching?
In general, the yin contiguous muscle groups traverse the anterior and medial aspects of the arms and legs while yang traverses the posterior and lateral. One way to discover the properties of yin and yang is to practice only yin exercises for an extended period of time and allow yourself to identify where your attention goes as you practice. In your next session, you can do the same with only yang exercises and then compare what happened for you in each session.
One way to discover the organ associations and other data is to do many repetitions of one particular exercise for an extended period of time. A more advanced way to do this would be to explore one isometric position for an extended period of time (ensuring that you are staying active in the pose to prevent over-stretching).
Another way to make discoveries is to target one of the three vectors (adduction/abduction, flexion/extension, internal/external rotation) of the proximal bones/joints for an extended period of time and identify the particular sensation/feeling that arises as you focus on that vector.
To take it further, each of these vectors combined makes eight possible positions or movements to explore. Practicing one of these eight patterns for an extended period of time may further refine the sensations, feelings, and associations that arise.
It can be helpful to take notes of what you become aware of as you practice in this focused fashion. Each time you do this, you'll have more data to identify what you're aware of when you work yourself in that particular way.
What is an energy flow series?
An energy flow series is a sequence of exercises that targets all 16 major muscle groups. It begins with exercises that target the superficial muscles and continually progresses to the deeper layers.
Exercising in this order allows one to warm-up naturally and prepare the body for the challenging areas by resolving substitutions in the superficial muscles first. The superficial muscles need to be functional and stable in order to develop the deeper muscles which carry accumulated dense fascia and scar tissue.
This order of exercises begins by targeting the muscles associated with the hip girdle and progresses down to the hip/shoulder joints, knees/elbows, and finally the ankles & feet / wrists & hands. This is similarly useful because the health of the extremity joints are dependent on the functionality and stability of the proximal joints.
An energy flow series is all about balance. It begins with an exercise that targets the yang muscles along the outside of the thighs and is followed by an exercise that targets the balancing yin muscles along the inside of the thighs. Exercising in this order acknowledges and supports the complimentary and inverse muscle group relationships. The next set of exercises targets balancing muscle groups in the upper body, followed by the lower body, back and forth until all 16 major muscle groups have been developed. This sequence cultivates balance between the upper and lower body and follows traditional Chinese medicine principles of energy flow and balancing organs.
What is a balancing muscle group?
Balancing muscle groups are referred to as the agonist and antagonist in western physical therapy. In traditional Chinese medicine, each meridian (energetic pathway) has a balancing meridian and so the term balancing may also apply when referring to muscles.
These muscles are located directly across from each other through the bone and have opposite directions of action. Balancing muscles have an inverse and complimentary working relationship because when one shortens, the other elongates. The limiting factor for both the strength and flexibility of any muscle group is the flexibility of its balancing muscle group.
For example, the gall bladder meridian runs along the lateral major muscle groups (MMG) in the lower body. The liver meridian balances gall bladder and runs through the medial muscle groups located directly through the thigh. If you find that the lateral muscles are tight, and you aren't getting results from stretching them, it is most likely because your balancing muscle group is too tight or weak. In order for your lateral muscle groups to fully elongate, the balancing muscle groups must be flexible enough to be able to fully shorten. So you may want to stretch and strengthen your adductors and then go back to the abductors and see if you have made progress. If you still are not making flexibility gains in the abductors, you may need to stretch and strengthen the counter-balancing muscle groups.
Example of Balancing Muscle Groups
The abductors traverse the lateral aspect (outside / yang) of the thighs and legs.
The abductors are balanced by the adductors which traverse the medial aspect (inside / yin) of the thighs and legs.
The stretch length of the abductors is limited by its balancing muscle group's ability to shorten. Stretching the balancing muscle group increases its ability to both shorten and lengthen.
The target muscle group will stretch more successfully after the balancing muscle group has been stretched. If you still are not making optimal flexibility gains in the target muscle group, you may need to stretch and strengthen the counter-balancing muscle groups.
What is a counter-balancing (opposing) muscle group?
Counter-balancing muscle groups are located perpendicular to each other and may also be referred to as opposing muscle groups. Optimal flexibility and strength in the counter-balancing muscle group ensures stability in the rotational vector of the target muscle group. If your target muscle group does not increase in flexibility after developing its balancing muscle group, then you'll need to develop the counter-balancing muscle groups.
For example, the muscles on the outside of your thighs determine the correct rotation of your thighs when you are using your hip flexors.
Example of Counter-Balancing Muscle Groups
The outer muscles of the lower body are a yang muscle group, traversing the lateral aspect of the thighs and legs.
The outer muscles of the lower body are superficially counter-balanced by the front muscles of the lower body, a yin muscle group that traverses the anterior aspect of the thighs and legs.
The outer muscles of the lower body are deeply counter-balanced by the front muscles of the upper body, a yin muscle group that traverses the anterior aspect of the arms.
What is a completing muscle group?
Completing muscle groups share the same vectors in the upper and lower body. For example, the lateral/outside muscle group in the lower body abducts, flexes, and internally rotates the thigh. The same is true for the lateral muscle group in the upper body and the upper arm.
Example of Completing Muscle Groups
The iliotibial band traverses the lateral aspect (outside / yang) of the thighs and legs and is completed by the lateral deltoids which traverse the lateral aspect (outside / yang) of the arms.
How should I breathe while stretching?
Let your body and desires breathe your body naturally as you stretch. If you find yourself holding your breath, it could mean that you are generating too much resistance and tension. Controlling your breathing while stretching can distract you from observing how you naturally breathe and where your attention naturally goes while stretching. Instead, take note of what happens to your breathing as you explore each of the major muscle groups in your body. Discover how each particular muscle group teaches you how to breathe naturally in a new way that is not mechanical, but hormonal.
Is there a certain order that I should do the stretches in?
The order that you do the stretches in depends on your goals for the stretching session. For example, if you are limited on time and want to clear your channels before you start your day, you could go through the energy flow series. Or, if you feel that your quads are really tight, you could do a set of quad stretches.
When you work on one muscle group, it is beneficial to follow up by stretching the balancing muscle group as well. You might sometimes feel like doing a set of quad stretches followed by a set of medial hamstring stretches, and then repeating. Then perhaps you may feel like stretching the completing muscle groups.
As you progress in flexibility, you may become aware of your emotional, spiritual, and psychological health. For example, at some point in the day, you may feel like you have negative and depressing thoughts or you may have feelings of abandonment. This may cue you in to stretch the muscles that you've discovered help process these feelings.
In what direction should I stretch and strengthen my muscles?
While stretching, you may find that there are many different angles and directions to move your muscles while contracting and elongating them. For optimal gains in flexibility, stretch the muscle at different angles and directions until you find the path where you resist the most. This is the tightest movement pattern of the muscle and the best area to target while stretching.
While strengthening, you may find that there are many different angles and directions to move your muscles while contracting and shortening them. For optimal gains in strength, strength train the muscle at different angles and directions until you find the path where you resist the least. This is the path that the muscles want to move in while strengthening and will ensure that the weakest movement pattern of the muscle is strengthened in exactly the way that it needs to be strengthened.
At what speed should I stretch my muscles?
Let your body be the authority. You may find that it is best to begin by starting slowly and gradually increasing speed and resistance or vice versa.
How long should I hold a stretch for?
This work differs from common stretching methods in that most of the stretch occurs during the movement of the muscle and not at the end point of the stretch. Consider how strength training works: you start with the muscle elongated and then you shorten and contract the muscle. If you want maximal strength gains, you wouldn't want to shorten and contract the muscle and then continue to hold the weight once your muscle is shortened. Instead, you would want to do a set of reps. The same applies for flexibility training. Elongate and contract, and if you wish, you can continue to contract isometrically at the end of the stretch, but the most change happens during repetitions.
In what range should I stretch my muscles and when do I start and stop resisting?
For a great stretch, start in a position where the target muscle group is a short as possible. Then begin contracting the muscle group while elongating it at the same time. Keep elongating your muscle as long as you can continuously resist and as long as the balancing muscle group is able to shorten. This is your true flexibility range. If you continue to elongate your muscle when you can no longer resist or when your balancing muscle group is not flexible enough to fully shorten, you are in danger of over-stretching and injuring the muscle.
How many repetitions should I do?
This depends on your goals for the stretching session. If you are going through an energy flow series, you may want to do anywhere from 6 - 10 reps of each stretch on each side. This allows you to get a decent stretch on all of your muscle groups in an efficient amount of time. If you are focusing on a certain muscle group, you may choose to do many more reps of flexibility training, and possibly strength training as well. Stop stretching before you feel that your muscles are becoming fatigued. It takes twice as long for your muscles to recover when you stretch them to the point of fatigue.
How long should I stretch for and how often should I stretch?
This also depends on your goals for the stretching session. You may prefer to do a quick 15 - 20 minute energy flow series or a two and a half hour intense stretching session. Or, you may choose to do a quick arm stretch or two as you are waiting in line at the grocery store. Remember to stop stretching before your muscles become fatigued and let your body be the authority. Stretch whenever you feel tenseness in your body, whenever you feel emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually burdened. Eventually, you can know exactly what stretches you need to do and when.
How much should I resist?
Eventually, you'll need to resist maximally for optimal gains in flexibility. This can normally only be done by having other people assist you because it takes two to six times the force to stretch a muscle as it does to strengthen it and there are multiple vectors of movement at play. However, take it easy, and let your body gauge how much resistance to use. Start off resisting to where the stretch feels good, and then gradually increase resistance as your body sees fit. It is important to remember to not overdo yourself and not to resist to the point where you fatigue your muscles. If you can't breathe when resisting, then you are likely resisting too much.
How should I position myself for maximal resistance?
You should always place yourself in a position where you have the greatest leverage while stretching and you generally want to apply pressure to the bone as opposed to the muscle if possible. For example, to do the bent leg central hamstring stretch, you can place both hands on your lower calf or both hands on your heel, or maybe just one hand on your heel. You could also grab the middle of your foot from the side, or cup your hand around your toes to grab the bottom of your foot. Always search for the position where you can resist the most and have the greatest amount of leverage.
Where should my focus be while stretching?
Consider four aspects to stretching: position, resistance, breathing, and the psychological effects. While all of these are important, it is best to keep your focus on whatever 'comes up' while stretching. Each stretch may cause you to experience different sensations. Most people find that focusing on the sensations that arise while stretching provides the best results. Learning how to follow your attention is one of the most valuable lessons that can be gained from flexibility training.
Do I need to warm up before stretching?
Many people find that warming up before stretching allows them to have greater gains in flexibility. You could do an energy flow series to warm up before focusing in on a certain muscle group. Or, you could skip the warm up, and begin focusing on a certain muscle group and gradually increase resistance as your muscle warms up. Once you have done enough repetitions to warm up the muscle group, you could then begin resisting maximally for optimal gains in flexibility. It is best to make sure your muscles are warmed up before resisting maximally. Infrared saunas are also a great way to warm up the body.
What role does nutrition play in being flexible?
Many people 'hit a wall' with their flexibility gains simply because their bodies are too toxic. As you advance in your stretching, you may find that your eating habits improve. Your sweet cravings may become less frequent, overeating may occur less often, and the quality and type of food you purchase and consume may improve. Many have found great benefit in supporting and consuming certified organic food. Ensuring your diet is organic, nutrient dense, low glycemic, antioxidant rich, and plentiful with healthy fats and protein is a great way to become more healthy and more flexible.
How do I stretch a previously injured muscle?
You probably need help with a skilled trainer in private sessions. If the injured area is in too much pain for strength or flexibility training, stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the injured area, especially the balancing and counter-balancing muscle groups. Once your injured area is healthy enough to be worked on directly, you may need to perform many strength and flexibility repetitions on the problem area. Focus on these muscles until you feel that they have had a good workout, then move onto other areas of the body. Then go back to the injured muscles and repeat. Focus on the injured muscles until they 'catch up' with the rest of your body. Eventually, the many repetitions to the injured areas of your body will eliminate the scar tissue and additional layers of tough connective tissue.
How can I protect myself from over-stretching?
Continuously contract the target muscle group while elongating it and ensure that the balancing muscle group is able to simultaneously shorten. The contraction keeps the muscle "in check" and as long as you are contracting, you are preventing the muscle from being over-stretched, provided the balancing muscle group is also shortening.
How can I decrease soreness from stretching?
If you have had a really good stretching workout, you should feel a 'good' soreness later that day or perhaps even two days afterward. If you feel uncomfortably sore after stretching, you probably overdid yourself or did something wrong that needs to be identified and corrected. Many people are sore after they are first introduced to stretching, but as time moves on, their body is more capable of recovering faster and the soreness decreases. To keep soreness at a minimum, make sure that you are training just enough but not too much, have sufficient vitamin (food based) and mineral intake, great organic food and hydration, as well as healthy psychological, emotional, and spiritual health.