Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Relationship Between Strength & Flexibility

It occurred to me while I was writing yesterday’s post that some of you may be a bit confused. Why am I posting strengthening exercises, but categorizing them under “flexibility”?

A few years ago, a friend of mine fell and broke her arm. Because the doctor who tended her (and I’m being extremely kind here) “botched the job,” her arm had to be re-broken and reset. It doubled the healing time and made her lose a lot of strength and flexibility. She couldn’t even straighten her arm when she started therapy.

But here’s the interesting part. When the therapist held her arm with a secure grip, the therapist could extend her arm to its full length without causing her any pain.

The reason is that your nervous system has an involuntary reaction that prevents muscles from stretching to a position they aren’t strong enough to reach safely. (I can’t remember what it’s called. If I find it again, I’ll add it to this post.) Basically, this means that if you want to increase your flexibility, you need to strengthen the muscles.

I found a post at swimnetwork.com that talks about Olympic swimmer Dara Torres’s stretching routine. She uses something she calls “resistance stretching.” The post says:
The inside secret to resistance stretching is that the routine combines strength and flexibility training, so it develops both, explains Tierney [Anne Tierney, one of the certified trainers at Innovative Body Solutions who developed her workout].

"Resistance stretching is the eccentric phase of weight training (lowering the weight). Focusing on the eccentric movement will give a swimmer more strength than concentric weight training."

With resistance stretching, the swimmer starts the exercise where the muscle is as short as possible and contracts the muscle while taking it to where it is as long as possible—while resisting throughout the entire range.

Most swimmers don’t realize that it takes twice as much force to stretch the muscle as to strengthen the muscle, says Tierney. So if you do a traditional bicep curl with 60 lbs, then it would take 120 lbs. to actually stretch your bicep.
You don’t have to use free weights to get this benefit. You can create the same effect just by working one set of muscles against another, or by using gravity as part of an exercise. For example, you can both stretch and strengthen your chest muscles by doing “lower-downs” instead of push-ups. Take what most people call the finish position of a push-up – with your arms straight – and lower yourself very slowly until your chest is just above (but not touching) the floor. If you have trouble doing regular push-ups, you can do sets of lower-downs to develop your strength. (To get back to the straight arm position, just use your hands and knees, then resume your push-up position.)

Anyway, that’s the reason I combine strength and stretching under the flexibility category. You don’t need to do separate routines, which means half the workout time. That’s something that every weekend player can be happy about.

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