The beginner's guide to flexibility

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Van Zandt, Feb 6, 2009.

  1. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    I think it may end up as several posts because the sheer volume of text will probably exceed MAP's character count. :eek:

    The update will start with an outline on the theory of flexibility (types of flexibility, types of stretching, principles of training etc). BUT it (well, the whole thing really) is being written for dummies. Er... I mean, it's being written in plain English. But I'm a bit of a condescending **** so we'll see :D

    It's inevitable I have to use some anatomy & physiology terminology. I'll include a glossary for anyone who struggles with the subject. After all, my purpose here is to make flexibility training easier, not awe people with big words.
  2. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    Basic differences or a compare/contrast of static (active and passive), dynamic, proprioceptive neuro-something-or-other, ballistic, etc., preferably short vid clips of each, when is it advisable/not recommended to do a certain type.

    One thing that I see referenced here is it will be mentioned something about contraction of an opposing muscle group during a certain stretch, for example - which I'm clueless what the non-opposing one's are much less the opposing or antagonist and agonist muscles :dunno:

    Ya, written for dummies seems appropriate.
  3. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    'Agonist' and 'antagonist' are just labels to identify which muscle does what in a movement.

    'Agonist' = any muscle which causes movement by contracting. In a biceps curl, the biceps tense up to move your hand up to your shoulder ('elbow flexion'). The biceps are therefore the 'agonists'.

    'Antagonist' = any muscle which opposes the role of 'agonists', generally by relaxing through a process called reciprocal inhibition (one muscle tenses and its opposite number relaxes, which allows movement to happen). In a biceps curl, the triceps must relax so the biceps can tense up. The triceps are therefore the 'antagonists.'

    A simple view of a complicated process but that's the gist of it.

    It gets a little more complicated when you talk about 'agonists' and 'antagonists' in stretching. Let's take the side split as an example:

    The outer thighs and hips tense up to 'abduct' (pull away from the body) your legs. They are the 'agonists'. Your inner thighs relax to let the movement can happen, so they are the 'antagonists'.

    The method of stretching you were referring to is called CRAC: contract-relax-antagonist-contract. It's one of several ways to do isometric stretches.

    Because isometric stretches require you to tense the muscles that are being stretched, the labels get switched around for the duration of the exercise. So the inner thighs are called the 'agonists' and the outer thighs are the 'antagonists'.

    The CRAC method works like this:
    • Stretch as far as you can;
    Contract your inner thighs;
    Relax your inner thighs;
    • Tense your outer thighs while you increase the stretch - Antagonist Contract.

    Remember the part where I talked about reciprocal inhibition - where one muscle is forced to relax when its opposite muscle tenses up? Well, the 'AC' part of the CRAC method is you consciously using reciprocal inhibition to increase the amount you can stretch after tensing your inner thighs. By tensing your outer thighs, you're forcing your inner thighs to relax. Your legs have no choice but to spread apart further.

    Research has shown CRAC to get the best results of all the different methods of isometric stretching. The other methods work just fine though. I don't use it because tensing my inner thighs is painful enough. :p

    Does that help?
  4. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    Ya, thank you kindly for that, though I'm needin to print this off and have a sit-down in the loo to mull it over.

    Its especially helpful to know that the Stretch-CRAC method is the preferred one in isometrics - I think that is where some of the confusion lie - being able to discern iso stretches from the others, having several ways of approaching isometrics and not knowing which of those methods is the better.

    So, of course, very helpful!
  5. righty

    righty Valued Member

    Well, I surely hope that strength is still important. Especially as I finally got a bodyweight squat.

    For someone as time strapped as myself it would be useful to know how much time needs to be dedicated to this to see different results. Also, some information on the difference (or similarity) between 'flexibility' and 'mobility'.
  6. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    No worries brother.

    Bottom line:
    • Relaxed/static = holding a stretch
    • Isometric/PNF = tensing during a stretch
    • Dynamic = swinging limbs during a stretch
    Ballistic = bouncing during a stretch (red because you never do it!)

    I think the biggest bugbear when it comes to flexibility training is that it takes trial and error to find out which particular way of doing the above works best for you. It's funny because it requires pretty much a similar level of investment as weight lifting or cardio, but people seem to have this preconceived notion it's much harder than it needs to be. :)
  7. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Oh for sure. Range of motion in adults (who didn't stretch often as kids) is mostly determined by strength. You can see how strong you are through a joint's range of motion because resistance in a stretch appears at the point where your strength drops. Splits are a great indicator because you know a full split is 180°, so if you're about a foot off the ground then you have strength through a range of about 120-130°.

    The stronger you are when you start stretching, the faster your gains will be.

    Congrats on the squat :)

    Trial and error is really the only way to find that out. Obviously the more consistent you are with stretching, the better your gains. Like any other type of athletic training. I'm throwing out anecdotal evidence here, but as few as 2-3 sets of isometric stretches (about 15-20 minutes per workout if doing front and side splits), 2-3 times a week are usually enough to see steady gains. But how effective all the different factors will be - strength and duration of contractions, number of contractions per set, rest between sets, sets per workout, etc - can only be determined by you. Like weight lifting, I can give you guidelines but you gotta do the legwork (pun intended).

    Definitions of flexibility and mobility differ from person to person. I think of flexibility as total range of motion in a joint; mobility is, as I see it, an umbrella term incorporating other athletic training and therapeutic methods (like foam rolling for example) that affect upon the body's movement as a whole.
  8. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick


    I got lots done this week but still only about 1/2 way through. My schedule picks up next week so I'll be working on it when I can but it'll still be a week or two off yet.
  9. BiGF00T

    BiGF00T New Member

    This thread ended unexpectedly (though it was probably the longest thread which I have ever read in its entirety). And thanks to Van Zandt for all the infos.

    And one question: I've seen Tom Kurz doing splits with feet forward from Mabu down to the floor. In this thread also, isometric split stretching was suggested. When I just tried isometric sidesplits (or what is supposed to become splits in a few months from now), I felt that my knees were put under a lot of pressure. The leverage is huge if I press my legs together by flexing my muscles (with 6ft 8in and long legs, I'm afraid the leverage might ruin my knees). Should I strengthen my knees and how? Is this why one should do adductor flies and pulls? Apart from that, isometrics were great and I could go deeper than before.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2014
  10. Cowboy_Bebop

    Cowboy_Bebop New Member

    I think this will be an interesting read for you:

    If a stretching machine is not an option, maybe you should tense less hard (safety comes before progression imo) or perhaps alternating between toes-forward and toes-up side splits to shift the pressure from medial ligament to the back of the knee (which is more natural) is an idea. But this may also shift the stretch from the adductors to the hamstrings so the experts need to fill me in.
  11. mark linu

    mark linu Valued Member

    Thanks for sharing this guideline. Because it gives me the new way for learning martial arts.
  12. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    Van went in for surgery on his Achilles Tendon last week. I don't know when he'll get back on, but hopefully it won't be too long.
  13. BiGF00T

    BiGF00T New Member

    Then I hope everything goes well for him.

    I'm not too fond of machines. I'd rather do it using body weight. I'll probably go for your suggestion to do it with the feet up. At the same time, I could try to strengthen my knees by doing some exercises. Any suggestions what could strengthen the stabilizing muscles around the knee?
  14. Cowboy_Bebop

    Cowboy_Bebop New Member

    Quadriceps strengthening exercises like squats. It should also help you with your flexibility training:
  15. mdgee

    mdgee Valued Member

  16. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Yeah, strengthening your knees will help massively. Hindu squats are my favourite exercise for that purpose, followed by basic weighted squats (back and front variations with a barbell), and deadlifts.

    The adductor flies and other adductor-focused exercises are designed more for increasing strength in your inner thighs as a preparation for isometric stretches, rather than strengthening your knees. You should probably experiment with your side splits to help take the pressure off your knees; have you tried placing a chair/stool in front of you, so you can use your hands to control the amount of weight pushing down on your legs?
  17. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    If Cowboy_Bepop has the spare cash to buy a machine, it can certainly help. The Versaflex had, in my opinion, the sturdiest construction and was therefore up to the task of withstanding isometric contractions in the seated position.

    And, like you suggested, reducing the intensity of contractions (i.e. tense less hard) is a good idea. The pressure is very likely coming from him simultaneously trying to spread his legs apart while extremely tight adductors are trying to pull his legs together (i.e. his lower leg is going to the side, his thigh is going to the floor).
  18. Cowboy_Bebop

    Cowboy_Bebop New Member

    Thanks for the tip. I looked up prices for the century versaflex and it's cheaper than I thought.

    very, very tempting ...
  19. BiGF00T

    BiGF00T New Member

    I think in the splits progression thread I saw a reply about keeping the leg muscles flexed throughout the sliding down to prevent knee pain.

    Is it true that I don't slide down relaxed, then tense for the given amount of time and then slide down more? Should I keep my muscles tensed all the time to give the legs stability? If so, then my knee pain could be the result of not keeping the muscles flexed before pinching the floor.

    EDIT: Another question is whether you slide down with straight legs or horse stance your way down as I saw in Tom Kurz' video.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
  20. Top Gun

    Top Gun New Member

    Relaxed stretches


    I just joined this forum, I found some great info, but I am a bit confused. I have been following a programme under flexibility by Dan that states you should do dynamic exercises (leg swings) twice per day Isometrics stretches followed by Relaxed stretches. But then I found another saying that Relax stretches are bad for you? can you please clear the confusion for me and recommend the best way, quickest and safe way to achieve flexibility (high kicks) also out of interest, why is relaxed stretches bad for you, I thought that Tom Kruz recommend it as part of a training plan?:bang:

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