Frequently Asked Questions
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|Balancing||What is a balancing muscle group?|
|Opposing||What is an opposing (counter-balancing) muscle group?|
|Completing||What is a completing muscle group?|
In order to get a true gain in flexibility, you must continuously contract the target muscle group while elongating it. 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 resisting continuously). Most of the stretch occurs during the movement and not at the end point of the stretch.
Most people are surprised at the feeling the stretch provides immediately after their first experience of activiating 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.
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 active 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.
This work is perfect for those who are searching for a well rounded total body workout. Active 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 negative eccentric 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.
Pain while stretching is generally caused by failing to contract the muscle while elongating it. Without the contraction, you may simply be over-extending and over-stretching the muscle, which is painful and may lead to injury.
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 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.
Balancing muscle groups are referred to as the agonist and antagonist in western physical therapy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each meridian has a balancing meridian and so the term balancing may also apply when referring to muscles. For example, the gall bladder meridian runs along the lateral muscle groups in the lower body. The liver meridian balances gall bladder and runs through the medial muscle groups located directly through the leg. 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 opposing (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 traverses 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 superficial opposing muscle group (anterior/front muscle group).
Counter-balancing muscle groups are located perpendicular to each other. Optimal strength and flexibility in the counter-balancing muscle group ensures stability in the rotational vector of the target muscle group. 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 Opposing Muscle Groups
The abductors traverse the lateral aspect (outside / yang) of the thighs and legs. Therefore, the opposing muscle groups traverse the anterior aspect (front / yin) of the thighs and legs.
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 humerus.
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.
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 using 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.
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.
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 insure that the weakest movement pattern of the muscle is strengthened in exactly the way that it needs to be strengthened.
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.
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.
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.
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 when 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.
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.
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 hard.
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.
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.
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.
As you advance in your stretching, you may find that your eating habits improve. Your sweet cravings may become less frequent, over eating 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 packed, low-glycemic, and high in antioxidants as well healthy fats is a great way to become more healthy and more flexible. Many people 'hit a wall' with their flexibility gains simply because their bodies are too toxic.
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 opposing 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.
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.
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 emotional, spiritual, and psychological health.