You may have heard of the 42 year old Beijing Olympic Swimmer Dara Torres, who attributes much of her training success to resistance stretching. Bob Cooley is one trainer who created a system of movement around this concept, Meridian Flexibility system. Before this in the 1950s the physical therapy concept of PNF stretching was created to help people retrain muscles with isometric contractions followed with passive stretches of muscle to improve range of motion.
At the early part of the 20th century, Joseph Pilates created his own resistance training method combining Western calisthenics with Eastern movement principles, working from the inside out and elongating muscles outward as they were being contracted simultaneously in order to maintain core stability. Go further, a thousand years or so, and we find the concept of muscular balance and flow, stretch and strength, yin and yang, in movement arts throughout Asia, such as in Tai Chi and yoga.
The idea of stretching and strengthening simultaneously is not new. But it seems to be a hard lesson to learn. Brainpower is a necessity. It requires patience and knowledge of one’s own body. Most of us do not seem to have time to invest in ourselves, although it would reduce injuries and add to our active lifespan.
In my ten years of teaching pilates i have found several truths about people and our bodies. One in particular is: flexible people love to stretch and tight people like to strengthen. Funny how we do. A very broad example is that it’s very hard to get a runner to slow down, become internally aware of deep muscles and breathe. It’s also a huge challenge to get a yogi to speed up, not to over think, and push their strength training more while forgoing lots of stretches. Part mental, part physical in both cases.
There must be a balance of both stretch and strength, body and mind to create true balance.
In any exercise you do, look for a lengthening, stretching muscle, reach against gravity. Use awareness and gravity to create resistance. If all you feel is a passive stretch, explore the muscles which should be contracting in their length to support the stretch. Don’t just hang out in a stretch! This is what is meant in muscular balance.
Don’t force a stretch, and don’t force a muscle to be in a certain place. These things come with time. Forcing your body (and mind) into place will not create sound balance any sooner. In fact, it might impede it.
Here are two moves, from previous posts, to help you contemplate your own balance.
#1. The Forearm Plank ( detailed in Hip strain post)– test strength, learn to release tension in difficult situations and find the stretch. I go to this again and again, but it is a safe test for strength, balance, and control for the entire body.