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Theory & Practice: Flexibility vs Stretching

In general, people have the impression that flexibility = stretching. That flexibility is just as simple as stretching your muscles in order to lengthen them to get a bigger range of motion. People misconceive that after stretching, we can relax our muscles, and by doing this, prevent our injuries.

This is what we have been taught, educated by press, articles and books in the fitness field. There is a long-standing misunderstanding of what flexibility is all about.

FLEXIBILITY ≠ STRETCHING

Flexibility

Flexibility, (“flex” means “bend”, or ability to bend) as a bio-motor capacity, is the ability of your joints to bend during movement. This is provided by three elements: joint mobility, elasticity of tendons and ligaments, and ability of our muscles to relax, which allows us to increase their anatomical length.

Mobility of joints is something we mostly inherit, so development of joint mobility is a difficult task. The situation with ligaments and tendons is better, because of their ability to increase their length through elasticity. However, there is a limit to both elements because of their autonomy from the influence of our brain, which cannot regulate their state of flexibility.

Muscles, on the other hand, are directly connected with the brain and their most important function is to contract and relax. Knowing this, we can assume that we can directly and indirectly regulate muscle relaxation during movement.

Stretching

I could not track down the origin of the reason for association of this term with flexibility. Perhaps, it came from a visual image of flexibility exercises, where it looks like we are pulling our muscles to make them relax. I don’t think our muscles like any violent approach to making them relax. On the contrary, our muscles do not like any special efforts made to lengthen them and react to these attempts by becoming tense; the muscles contract in order to prevent hyperextension, as you can probably recall from your own experience. Nevertheless, millions of people exercise stretching, moving in the wrong direction of damaging their own muscle tissues.

Muscles contract and relax. When you stretch them – they actually lose a bit of elasticity for a brief period, so you intently and intentionally weakening your musculoskeletal system instead of strengthening it. Stretching your muscles on regular basis will have lasting effects, but not the ones you’re looking for.

Why don’t our muscles work this way? Because they obey your body’s movement as a whole, where muscle activity and relaxation is used to serve the desired movement. So our muscles contract or relax according to the body’s needs to make this or that movement, but not as an isolated function. When we just “ask” them to relax, by stretching them in a separate movement, they do not understand this action. Our brain does not allow the muscles to stretch independently without their involvement into the movement of the body. Pulling your own muscles is the straight way to injuries or to muscle soreness, at the least.

 

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How to Develop Flexibility

What would be the best way to develop our flexibility? First of all, do not stretch your muscles – ever. What I propose for this matter, I call, “Action Flexibility”. The essence of it is very simple, work with or through your mind.

Your ability to bend is achieved through your mind and muscles. It involves them into the movement you want to do. Muscles will contract & relax on their own. This will produce the movement, or relaxation in their reciprocal relationship, so that not to resist the movement being performed.

Therefore, our brain makes this precise regulation about which muscle is supposed to work and which is supposed to relax. Following this simple logic, we can see, that our ability to relax and flex depends on how much we can focus on production of the movement, without any consideration of muscle tension or relaxation.

Try This Exercise

Do a simple test by bending forward, keeping the knees straight, in order to touch the floor with your fingers or hands. First, what will cross your mind, will be a concern about the hamstring muscle tension, which gives you a signal that this movement is a dangerous activity. This is normally what your body’s and mind’s reaction is – a safety issue, a survival instinct.

But you have to be free from these precautionary reactions and keep your focus on the action (doing) of what you want to do, which is to bend forward and touch the floor with your fingers. To put simply, worry about touching the floor, not stretching your muscles. Certainly this action requires you to overcome your basic reflex – fear, but this the only true way to develop your flexibility. Do not stretch your muscles – do the action, touch the floor!

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Athlete’s Muscles

I hear discussions of muscles and fibers and I wonder if people participating in the discussion are talking about doing something or is it a theoretical discussion of anatomy. If you’re studying anatomy or have scientific interest in the topic of muscles, tissues and fibers then it makes sense, but if you’re an athlete of any level or a coach – while it might satisfy some curiosity, it won’t serve practical purpose.

Types of ‘Knowing’

Within the context of athletics and training there are things we need and don’t need to know in a sense of practically useful information. It is human nature to want to know. However, just because we’re curious about various layers of muscles, it doesn’t mean we need to know, or that that type of knowing will be practically helpful for performing a specific task. As a matter of fact, certain types of information prevent people from seeing the big picture. It’s ok to amass information, but it is also important to not lose sight of the correct hierarchy of things.

Knowing various types of muscle fibers or singling out various muscle groups, their structure and their function will not make a practical difference and will not make you a better athlete. If you want to be better at running, throwing, jumping, lifting, swimming, etc – what you need to know is how to do it and what specific action(s) to take to make it happen.

Ego VS Body

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our body, our muscles “know” what they need to do and they do it. Our problems begin when we insist on controlling every aspect of our body moving in space and time. Add to that the fact that most people either have zero instruction or the wrong instructions on HOW to move and it is not difficult to see the potential mess we can get into.

While we think about what we assume our muscles should be doing in order to move our leg this way or that way, and we think of what muscles should be firing or working – our body and its constituent parts have already not only activated the necessary parts, but most likely have already finished the job, too. The speed of our thought, no matter how fast we assume we think, is a lot slower than any interaction that naturally goes on within a human body. So, unless it is your intent to slow yourself down, think only of the action that needs to happen to promote a particular task at hand, i.e. if you want to run, think only of pulling your foot up to change support. The rest of the elements of a particular athletic activity should be worked on and brought to the level of autopilot in training sessions.

‘Big Picture’ Hierarchy

The most logical place to start the hierarchy of movement is our environment. Our movement is not a random and independent twitching of muscle fibers. Our whole body is at the mercy of natural forces that make up our world and are ruled by gravity. It holds everything together. Gravity is the starting point.

Gravity gives us bodyweight. No gravity -> no bodyweight -> no movement. Gravity less than on Earth -> same body different weight -> dramatic changes in basic movement (Ex.: running turns into hopping)

Dr. Nicholas Romanov, founder of the Pose Method, demonstrates how our active muscle efforts are useless without the presence of body weight. How do you use your muscles when running? Have you ever been told to “fire your glutes”? In this video, watch how your muscles can be rendered useless when you can’t apply your body weight.

Muscles’ Purpose

All muscles are equally important. We should not take our body apart – these muscles are for running, these fibers are for speed, these are for cycling, and these are for lifting, etc. This is not how it works. This confusion comes from lack of understanding of how our body operates. Each muscle and muscle group perform their own important function, and, as we can see, they are all connected. All muscles work in sync. The synchronization includes the entire body and extends all the way to our heartbeat.

Now let’s zoom out to see the big picture. Muscles, along with tendons and ligaments, hold the whole body together and provide an intricate network of mechanisms that allow movement. ‘Allow’ is the keyword. Without our bodyweight, the same network of muscles still provides the same mechanisms yet movement either does not happen at all, or looks very differently.

As far as movement is concerned, our muscles mean nothing without our bodyweight. Muscles do not create or initiate movement. Muscles play the supporting role.

 

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About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Training: Calf Soreness

Calf soreness is a rather common occurrence but not a standard one by any means. Some get it and others don’t. It often appears at the beginning of the learning process in the Pose Method of running and ‘bothers’ the runner for around 2 weeks while he or she is adapting to the new neuromuscular coordination and to the new regime of muscle loading.

Is it possible to avoid this? Yes. And many do by following the recommended route of preparation instead of just diving in. Others have the luxury of skipping it simply due to already being prepared more or less. For example, if jumping rope is a normal routine for you, chances are you won’t suffer the calf soreness when transitioning to pose running.

How It Happens

The fact of having calf soreness (muscle strain) is the first indication of getting DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) syndrome, which appears 12 to 48 hours after exercising and is characterized by tenderness and stiffness of muscles. The discomfort is caused by micro-tears of muscle tissue for a simple reason – resisting gravity.

The mechanics of the injury are very simple. During landing on support the body moves forward and down towards the ground. The final muscle groups responsible for accepting the body weight are lower leg and foot muscles, and calves are the strongest ones of them.

The main biomechanical goal of the body movement over the support is to provide redirection from the downward-forward flow to upward-forward one without losing momentum and horizontal velocity and even try to gain a little there.

So, in the Pose Method this is achieved by landing the foot close to the point of projection of the General Center of Mass (GCM) on the ground, and proceeding with falling forward with minimum or no braking, i.e. maintain the Pose position while falling forward and quickly change support.

The downward movement of body weight is supposed to be finished before the beginning of falling forward. But very often calves resist this downward movement by getting tense, which is caused by our desire to hold the heel in a certain position and prevent the foot from touching the ground. Why is this happening? The reasons could be different: wrong understanding and overdoing of the command to keep the body weight on balls of the feet, another one could be attempting the push off. It could be done on the conscious or subconscious level, but the result is always the same – overloading the calf muscles.

Biomechanical basis of it consists of counteraction of two forces, gravity and muscles activity, resisting the body weight, working simultaneously in the opposite directions. Who wins and who loses is not difficult to guess. The muscles suffer the consequences.

The downward movement of body weight is finished when the body’s general center of mass is passing over the ball of the foot on support. The logical consequence of it is the following: the faster the body passes through the vertical line over the ball of the foot, the faster the calf muscles are released from the body weight load. If during the downward movement of the body the calf muscles are not active by holding or pushing the body weight, then they receive less loading.

How to Avoid Calf Soreness

  1. Don’t put too much effort into staying on the ball of the foot.
  2. Don’t hold the heel above the ground, let it touch the ground and allow your ankle to move freely. The point is to keep your body weight on your forefoot.
  3. Don’t do any active propulsion or push off with the leg and the foot. Keep your perception of the foot as being not loaded, but on the opposite, as getting unloaded, when you start running.
  4. Do concentrate only on the pulling action of the foot from the ground.

How to Prevent It

  1. Jump rope (lift feet, don’t push) on regular basis before you start implementing the Pose into your running. Do it barefoot and in shoes to get different perception of foot touching down. Stay relaxed. Start with the minimal number of jumps to give yourself time to get used to it and gradually increase the number of reps.
  2. Do the prescribed running drills and strength exercises. If you want to follow a program – try the Beginner’s Guide to Pose Running where we provide a structured approach & detailed instructions with a specific training schedule.

How to Fix It If You Got It

As the saying goes – this too shall pass. The temporary discomfort will go away on it’s own. It will do so faster if you help it of course.

  1. Use the above recommendations on preventing and avoiding
  2. Do a warm/hot lower leg or full body bath with sea or Epsom salt
  3. Don’t ice
  4. Massage

Note: Light runs uphill or up the stairs are better and more effective than what’s called ‘calf raises’, a somewhat forceful exercises that can do damage to your calf muscle.

Keep in mind the difference between discomfort and pain. This applies to every situation where we deal with pain. You have to be honest with yourself to properly assess your condition.

1. Temporary discomfort is not the same as pain

Discomfort is experienced when we do something new, our muscles are not used to that type of loading, it feels a bit straining but bearable.

Pain is a much higher degree of discomfort and it’s a different ball game. The cringe, the grimace, the limp, etc should be your indicators. Pain is a signal that you crossed the line, you’ve done wrong (simply stated).

2. Discomfort goes away on its own, pain doesn’t.

While discomfort will disappear on it’s own typically within the two weeks window or less, the pain will either stay or keep rearing its ugly head. Pain needs to be addressed appropriately and in timely manner. Your technique, your movement needs to be reevaluated and corrected.

It is very useful to do short runs barefoot to learn the proper neuromuscular coordination and to feel relaxation and looseness of the support foot and ankle. Jumps with the rope on one or both legs reproducing the Pose stance are good as well. These exercises teach you to synchronize the body weight moving down with relaxation of your calves. Start from these exercises and move on to faster and longer running without calf soreness.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Muscle Elasticity

What is muscle elasticity? If you were to stretch a muscle you would see it shrink back a bit. In plain words, it’s a natural ability to recover to original form upon the removal of the force initially applied. In physical activity it is the ability of muscles to perform work, specifically, to contract rapidly after and immediately prior to extension.

A human body is a mix of physics, geometry, psychology and all that good stuff, so we should not talk about muscles and their function as separate from the whole. Muscles are a part of our entire system, and as such, whatever functions they perform or whatever is going on, it does not happen on its own. There is a whole chain of processes happening.

What is Muscle Elasticity

So, actually, ‘muscle elasticity’ is an incorrect term to use. Muscles do not work independently, nor do they work under our command. The sooner you let go of what you imagine you control, the sooner you will discover what you do control and consequently you will move better.

In Pose Method all of the key elements that are of any significance or benefit are brought together. Everything is connected. The center of the method, the Pose, is the most ‘ready to go’ pose of the body facilitating optimum elasticity allowing for the most effective interaction with the support where the entire musculoskeletal structure is ‘loaded’ with potential energy.

When we talk about muscle elasticity what we should be discussing is a ‘muscle-tendon complex’. Tendons play a very important and active role in this process, but the muscles run the show, yet let’s not forget that the true master is gravity.

Muscle-tendon Elasticity Complex

The concept of muscle-tendon elasticity complex is a relatively new one and research with the correct goals is much needed. There are, however, already some very certain and obvious facts about muscles and tendons and how they work together making for a unique system. For example, it is a fact that tendons can stretch more than muscles. It is most likely because tendons were meant to stretch and muscles weren’t as much, muscles were meant to contract and relax.

Speaking of tendons, let’s mention the Achilles tendon, the biggest tendon in our entire body, which just happens to be located at the ankle, which is part of the ‘mechanism’ of movement like walking, running. So instead of being concerned with overloading the largest tendon of the body during running (if it is the largest tendon, is it not logical to assume that it was meant to and it can handle the loading during running? It’s not the loading it is how it’s done that causes the problem), why not question the integrity of the idea of loading the joints (knees) that were obviously meant to simply bend, yet it is often recommended to actively use them in some many other ways.

It is a requirement in Pose Method of running to keep knees slightly bent at all times, why? Besides the fact that joints bend and should not be in locked positions when in motion, especially during running, bent knees help to absorb the shock during movement. It is also a part of the ‘rules’ of the muscle-tendon elasticity complex.

How It Works

Muscle-tendon elasticity complex is the natural ability of your musculoskeletal system to ‘return to its original state’. When the limb of your body is moved in any way in any direction for any purpose, muscles and tendons accommodate by elongating or shortening at various key spots. When we move our limbs back to where the movement had started, it is easy to notice how everything goes right back to its shape and form, and place. When we pull the foot up with the hamstring we work with this mechanism.

Muscles and tendons work in unison and in tandem, each one however, with its own timing doing its own job. As should be expected and as mentioned above, muscle-tendon complex has ‘rules’. In order to ‘activate’ the complex and benefit from it, one must adhere to those ‘rules’ otherwise the effectiveness of the complex is dramatically minimized or completely lost. And worst of all – injuries happen. Muscle tears and tendon ruptures are consequences of breaking those rules and performing moves out of synch with gravity.

Muscle-tendon complex, like so many other processes in our body, happens in space and time. It is a rhythmic work of muscles & tendons combined with rhythm of loading. And, it is a biomechanical law that guarantees the magic – with high cadence muscles ‘come to life’, so to say, and work at the highest level of their elastic function. Without much effort on your part your body continues forward movement. Elite athletes, most of whom are naturally highly talented, instinctively run with high cadence. Their perception allows them to naturally sense the ease of movement provided by it.

With age muscle-tendon complex naturally changes, but the decline in elasticity is less for active people than for non-active. So keep moving!

Check out progressions of drills and exercises in our video program for runners aimed at developing your muscles’ elasticity to help you become a better runner.

Read more about muscle-tendon elasticity complex in the Pose Method of Running.

Did you know? The payoff to “elastic” running is that you can maintain a high stride rate without “going anaerobic” and using up your body’s available energy supply of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the fuel of your highest intensity sprints. Elastic running gives you the ability to run faster for greater distances and still keep something in reserve.

References:

  1. Alexander, A.M., 1988, Springs as energy stores: running. Elastic mechanisms in animal movement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31-50.
  2. Cavagna, G.A., Saibene, F.P. and Margaria, R., 1964, Mechanical work in running, J. Appl. Physiol., 19:249-256
  3. Cavagna, G.A., 1977, Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  4. Cavagna, P.R., La Fortune M.A., 1980, Ground reaction forces in distance running, J. Biomech, 13:397-406.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.