How does one actually improve their flexibility?

  • Tejo

    Posts: 4

    Jun 09, 2007 8:09 AM GMT
    In regards to performance in martial arts, breakdancing, etc., how is one supposed to "properly" improver their suppleness. Namely the back and legs.

    The basic leg stretches are easy enough to do, but I haven't really spotted a guide to how to really train flexibility.
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    Jun 09, 2007 4:12 PM GMT
    Flexibility is of 3 components: Muscular, ligamentus, and capsular.

    Muscles respond to lenthening static and prolonged mechanical/positional lenthening of the tissues. The contractile tissues can adapt its length. A child with CP and severe muscle contractures can be splinted, and over time, the static lengthening of the muscle will make the tissue adapt to the new length (although very severe spasticity does not respond to splinting and needs local botulism inject or Baclofen either orally or intrathecal injec.)

    But remember to NEVER bounce when you stretch muscles. Muscle fibers have tiny protien organs in them called muscle spindles taht is wired directly to the spine, and bypasses the brain or any voluntary control, to contract the muscle when it is stretched too fast. It is velocity dependent. This is the same as your DTR (when doctors tap your knee and you get a knee jerk) or when your ankles corrects itself to avoid spraining when you step into a pothole. Stretching with bouncing will casue the muscles to contract and you can tear something...

    Also, if you stretch, watch out for pins and needles or burning sensation, that means you are stretching any nerves that is inbedded in the muscle fibers. Stretching is like ringing a wet towel, and all the moisture comes out. Tissues cannot survive without circulation, especially nerve. You can do nerve damage if you keep streching when feeling neuravascula symptons...

    Muscluar stretching NEEDS to be maintained, as the tissue can adapt to shorten position...

    Also, muscular stretching, once injured, it is scared down, and prone to future injuries at the same sites... Chronic!

    And there is the capsular and ligamentus levels.. This is largely determined by what you were born with (female looser than males, child looser than adults, pregnant woman more than non-pregnant becasue of increase in body relaxin hormone so to ease child birth), or with very long period of training started at a very young age. Ligamentus laxity is irreversible. Capsule as well, unless prolonge immobility or high blood sugar can scar down and stick down...

    You can stretch the ligament and capsule, but the result is VERY slow. It just takes time, like how some pitchers have so much external rotaiton of the shulder. That is capsular and liagmentus, not muscular flexibility. Too fast a stretch will lead to truamatic injury, as these structures are even less contractile than muscles. Like a dislocated shoulder...

    Now the spine flexibility is mostly ligamentus and capsular, as you have many, many small joints and the muslces connectime each vertebrae is rather horizontal than vertical (the multifidus.) You just ned to start trainnig early, consistantly, and train smart to avoid injuries..
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    Jun 09, 2007 4:19 PM GMT
    Oh forgot to mention some tricks when stretching muscle...

    When you are weight bearing, all the muscles around the weight bearing joint will co-ontract to stabilize the joint to fight gravity, not a good idea to do rigrous stretching on that limb...

    Contract/relax: When a muscle is in contraction in a non-weight bearing, open chained position, its opposit pair will be neuroligicall inhibited to contract and easier to stretch. So if you are contracting the agonist, stretch the antagonist at the same time. OR, a muslce will go into contraction inhibition immediately after a forceful isometric contraction. So you can do a very strong iometric contraction of the agonist, then stretch the same muscle immediately after it relaxes...
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 09, 2007 7:40 PM GMT
    This is interesting. I often wonder about flexibility gains. I've been seeing this physical therapist for my knees, and he measured a handful of muscle lengths, and measured both the maximum flexion of the joint (i.e. muscle resisting but willing to lengthen) and also the resting lengths of the muscles (i.e. flex the hip until the hamstring offers even the slightest bit of resistance.)

    In the case of my hamstrings, mine are more flexible than most thanks to the yoga; I can put the palms of my hands under the soles of my feet with ease. At the same time, my hamstrings' resting lengths are short; my physical therapist said he felt resistance after just 40 degrees of hip flexion, which he identified as being below average.

    So when I *need* to flex the hip, I can, but the fact that my hamstrings offer resistance starting at 40 degrees means (he proposes, anyway) that they are probably contributors to my knee symptoms because while I'm cycling, my hamstrings are like rubber bands trying to keep my hips extended and knees flexed.

    I've also always had tight hips. Maybe it's just because in yoga classes it's usually me and a bunch of women, and your average woman on the street can basically put her leg behind her head on a whim compared to us guys. But my hip external rotation is low, maybe 45 degrees on the right and 55 on the left. To properly perform lotus position you need more than 90!

    I know that grasping and desiring aren't supposed to be parts of yoga, but I really would love to be able to pull my legs into lotus hands-free while in a headstand or handstand, but I have no idea how long it could possibly take to open my right hip another 50 degrees!
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    Jun 09, 2007 9:25 PM GMT
    To answer your questions...

    Woman are more flexible than men not only due to general ligamentus and capsular laxity of the joints, but also due to smaller muscle mass and also, when it come to hips, the actual shape of the bony structure. Women have wider and lower setting hips where the hip sockets are facing more laterally, with the thigh bones forming a Q angle. While men's hip sockets face more anteriorly and inferiorly. This permits women to squat with legs more to the sides. Squating also permits the pubic symphsis to slightly separate. This is to ensure easier birth giving. During pregnancy, women also increase a hormone called relaxin, which loosens the ligaments, including the pubic symphasis.

    So you are not abnomral when it comes to hip external rotation... Don't try to force it either... The hips are a BIG weight bearing joint and the capsule is rather thick (you can see the difference in human cadever disection.)

    As far as hamstring flexibility, many do not realize that the hamstring only crosses the hip and knee joint, and NOT the ankle joints. When you stretch your hamstring, and if you dorsiflex your foot (toes pointing towards your knees), most will feel a slight discomfort behind your knees. This is NOT your hamstring stretching, but rather your tibial neuralvascular bundle being stretched, and this is NORMAL.

    Yes, you do need the tibial neurovascular bundle to give some slack, and its length is also adaptive to stretching over time, but atmuch slower rate than muscles. Forcing stretch witht he feet dorsiflexed too fast and severely will just stretch the neurovascular bundle, which is BAD for it! You can do nerve damage. Nerves are not to be tugged and stretched like that.. It takes a long time for this structure to adapt to a longer length.

    So youare not doing too bad, for a man, at all...
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 09, 2007 9:37 PM GMT
    The Iyengar yogis also distinguish between the sensations during muscular stretching, saying that you should make sure to concentrate the sensation in the belly of the muscle, towards the center, and that if you feel the sensation mostly at the ends (in the case of the hamstrings, near the sit bones / ischial tuberosities or on the lower leg / tibia where they insert) that you risk tendon injuries. People who too aggressively stretch their hamstrings often end up complaining of sharp pain at the sit bones when they sit, which is just a tear or other injury to the tendon.

    I wonder whether it's more effective, in terms of muscular length, to stretch dynamically or statically. That is, my physical therapist has me standing up straight, then raising one leg onto a stool in front of me, keeping both legs straight, hips square and vertical, etc. and then rolling the leg, internally rotating and then externally rotating, so on the internal rotation I feel the stretch through the hamstring. So it's a dynamic thing; I'm not shocking the muscle, not bouncing, but I am moving in and out of the stretch smoothly over a period of a couple seconds.

    On the other hand, Iyengar yoga is all about holding static stretches for longer periods of time, and working with all the reflexes you discuss, the tendency for the muscle to contract, so you work with that, release that reflex, find a little more length, etc. for several minutes at a time, sometimes.

    I do wonder which approach tends to actually lengthen the muscle tissue and increase its elasticity faster, though.
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    Jun 09, 2007 9:50 PM GMT
    I don't know where your PT got that move.. Dynamic "stretching" has never been studied. And it is NOT taught in schools. I definately do not tell my interns to do that... The only type of stretching, proven over and over again to be effective, is like what your Yoga is teaching you: Static prolonged stretch.

    Rotating the leg just concentrates the stretch at the 2 hamstrings (bicep femoris and semitendinosous) but does not activate and neural inhibition of muscle contraction of any muscle group. As a matter of fact, I see this as shortend stretch and relax of muscle fibers as you switch from the bicep femoris to semitendinosous. It is NOT BAD, but not sure if there are any other advantages.

    Further more, internal rotation of the hip during a hamstring stretch is done when the hips are also flexed, which is not all that fucntional as your hip joint capsule would likely go into end range before any muscles are adequatedly stretched... Therefore, you may feel less stretch and more dicomfort in the hip and the thigh (am I correct?)

    This has been done for centuries by Yoga masters and also classical ballet dancesr and gymnasts (I was a classical ballet dancer for 10 years before I was a PT.)

    The best stretches are done on the floor (if youare flexible enough), where your joints are not weight bering. All the contract relax manual stretching techniques are all done on a bed or floor, non-weight bearing.

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    Jun 09, 2007 10:04 PM GMT
    Wait, how much hip abduction are you in when you are internally and externally rotating..?

    That makes a huge difference which muscle is being stretched.

    The hips, when adducted, flexed, and internall rotated, is at what is called a Quadrant position for the hip. This is the position of the least amount of capsular give for the hip joint,a nd it can also gap the sacroiliac joint. Therefore this is also called the SI provocation test. This is not a functional position for the hips... As a matter of fact if not puts stress on the hip joint capsule, but also loads your knees MCL... For most peopel you get less hamstring stretch this way..
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 10, 2007 6:06 AM GMT
    Wait, hip abduction / adduction, I'm having trouble visualizing that. That's just how separated the legs are, right? Like, when sitting on the ground with the legs stretched out and touching, the hips are fully abducted, but if you spread your legs apart, that's hip adduction?

    In that case, in the stretch my PT has me do, the hips are fully abducted, and whichever leg I'm stretching is raised. My lumbar spine keeps its natural curve, and the chest is lifted, so the whole spine is in its natural shape, the hips are vertical, etc.

    Yeah, I think the idea of rotating the raised leg externally & internally from the hip is mainly to stretch & relax the biceps femoris, since as I externally rotate it shortens the muscle and decreases the stretch.

    I don't feel discomfort in the hip and thigh, though.

    I mean, it strikes me as similar to Uttanasana, the normal Yoga standing forward bend, i.e. "touch your toes" -- you engage the external rotators of your lower leg while simultaneously engaging internal rotation of your femur, so the knee doesn't really rotate, but the seat widens (or, that's the sensation -- obviously the sit bones cannot actually move away from one another, but the glutes release and the muscles of the lower back release too.)

    I know what you mean about the weight-bearing vs. non-weight-bearing stretches. That's exemplified in yoga by these two postures:

    Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
    Supta Padanagusthasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose)

    And it's a toss-up, really, in my experience. On the one hand, the reclining hamstring stretch is safer for the lower back (especially if you put a rolled-up blanket underneath the lumbar to keep that curve), but in the standing forward bend, you can really engage the quadriceps and, with some mindfulness, let the hamstrings increasingly relax & release, and then you have the added help of gravity pulling your upper torso forward and down, which can intensify the stretch over the reclining version.

    But lengthening my hamstrings is such slow work it's hard to really say which "works faster."
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 10, 2007 6:07 AM GMT
    Whoops, in my first sentence, swap "abduction" and "adduction." Adduction would be legs together, abduction would be legs apart?
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    Jun 10, 2007 1:31 PM GMT
    Yes, legs apart is abduction. Legs closer to eachother is adduction.

    Now, becasue of the way our hip sockets are, the more you flex your hip, the more you abduct your hip at the same time, the more external rotation of the hips you have. This is because the acetabulum, or the hip sockets, are facing laterally and inferiorely and with the superior part facing more anteriorly.

    What your PT is doing for you is actually a very god thing. Your leg is abducted, so there is no restrictions form the hip capsules. Whatever restrictions you feel are only your lower back, your muslces, and Sciatica/Tibial nerve complex. Since your leg is abducted and resting on the step, it is also in open chaine and non-weight bearing. And it uses gravity to do its work to bring the hip/trunk inot flexion.

    Now the Yoga pictures.. Yes, the top one would be closed chained, the bottom one technically open chained... However, because the person onthe bottom is using a sheet to bring the stretched leg towards her, this actually made it a close chained position as there is a dowrad resistance onthe stretched limb. If someone was pushing her leg for her, then it remains open chained.

    Waht your PT is doing is not taht different from what the Ballet dancers have done for hundres of years, except they use a bar insted of the step. the other way is just like how gymnast stretch, sit on the floor and spread your legs and reach for one of the foot (if youare flexible enough, otherwise it becomes all lumbar spine flexion..)
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    Jun 10, 2007 7:47 PM GMT
    Google on "stretching exercises." There's lots of good info on the web.

    NEVER, unless you are a very advanced athlete with daily routines, stretch a cold muscle. That goes BEYOND idiotic. Always to stretch a warmed up muscle, preferably post-event / post workout.
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    Jun 11, 2007 12:25 AM GMT
    Both chucky and NYC have it correct and also proper breathing when stretching helps big time. Your muscles will give a bit more stretch on the exhale, like NYC said never bounch to increase the stretch but everytime you exhale you should get a bit more lengthening of the muscle.
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    Jun 11, 2007 2:27 AM GMT
    Righto on the breathing.

    I just started paying a lot more attention to breathing and is has helped my shapes and lines immensely as I advance towards nationals.

    My current trainer, Jesse Levya, is very emphatic about breathing.

    Sound advice.

    We've dropped my abs to six sets. That's all, with strict breathing and my lines in my mid section have improved a bunch.
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 11, 2007 2:49 AM GMT
    Yeah, the yoga thing is to expand/lengthen on the inhalation and stretch deeper on the exhalation. It seems to pair well, because on the inhalation you're expanding your upper torso just by filling your lungs. So in a standing forward bend, you try to lengthen your belly button away from your pubis as you inhale, using the filling lungs to help, and then on the exhalation, fold more deeply.

    It really does feel viscerally like your inhalations and exhalations are helping move organs and whatnot around to accommodate the stretch.
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    Jun 11, 2007 4:07 AM GMT
    It is easier to relax when exhaling, because...

    Inhalation is contraction of the diaphram, and it increases intra-abdominal pressure, thus also a temporary increase in blood pressure. ValSalva, coughing, sneezing, straining on bowel movements, ALL increases your blood pressure.

    But dont do concentric contractions when inhaling, your blood pressure would go sky high... Althought many who thinks they are exhaling when doing pushing exercises such as bend press are actually holding their breaths during the pushing, and exhale only until they have already pushed out the weights, because increae intra-abdominal pressure increases stability of the trunk in close chained pushing movements (not open chaine pulling iones.)

    Better to exhale when stretching, and the same when pushing weights.
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    Jun 20, 2007 5:29 AM GMT
    i became much more flexible for my martial arts by increasing the strength of my legs and stomach. i learned this from a gymnast friend. he can do not only passive stretching, but he has functional stretching strength. he has great strength with his legs while they are either in a front or side split. but what do you expect from gymnasts? they are the strongest athletes out there.

    in regards to your stomach, the strength of your abs has a great effect on your flexibility. compress,or suck your gut in next time you try to stretch. you'll be able to go much farther. build up your compressive ab strength and your flexibility will increase as well.
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    Jul 13, 2007 8:53 PM GMT
    stretch everyday. remember it takes atleast 90 seconds to stretch a muscle and make it worth something.


    (ballet dancer here)
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    Jul 16, 2007 9:31 AM GMT
    The most obvious answer is yoga.. esp Bikram .. you'll get extreme core strength, and it's a great spritual practice as well. Flexibility is something you get only with lots of stretching, unless you were born like a ruber ban, and -well, some are.
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    Jul 16, 2007 2:48 PM GMT
    yoga & pilaties have been working for me. give it a shot.
  • MikemikeMike

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    Jul 24, 2007 2:31 PM GMT
    Tejo

    Listen to NYC. He knows his stuff!!!
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    Aug 04, 2007 7:47 PM GMT
    Pilates did wonders for my 37 year old body as I continue to throw it around the rugby pitch. No muscle/bone injuries at all this season.

    Oh yeah, it also did wonders for the 2005 national champion Texas Longhorns football team.
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    Feb 03, 2008 7:37 AM GMT
    Inhale and exhale ... breathing thats what yoga is all about. Loosening up the bod and let it everything flow. Pilates is kind of the same but tightens everything up. I do both on a regular basis to keep up with a good beat boy bod and ready to work it on the dance floor.
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    Aug 02, 2008 4:55 AM GMT
    I've always been a flexible kid growing up (did gymnastics) and maintained it through the years (ballet, yoga, etc.), but I never really saw gains until I stopped listening to my body and had some assistance. Static stretching where you stretch until you can't move, allowing your body to deepen the stretch with breathing, didn't give me any improvement in my flexibility, it just kept it "as is." I called it maintenance stretching, and being gentle, "listening" to my limits. But as all my fellow ballerina's like to remind me, it is about pushing those limits. Partner stretching and weighted stretching gave me the biggest gains. By weighted stretching I mean holding weights while stretching so that gravity, plus the additional weight (10lbs medicine ball), plus the deepening with the exhale, allow your body to challenge itself. I'm not talking holding onto a 200lb barbell here, just some extra weight to push those natural limits. Like everyone has said, stop when in utter pain, but a little challenge is a good thing to see those limits expanded. That's my two cents.