Mahalo for continuing to share some of your insights regarding the fastest way to improve flexibility.
— Jennifer A, Kauai
Aloha, Jennifer. As I mentioned in my previous column, we all need to do something to counteract the millions of “shortening” contractions that occur to our muscles throughout each day.
There is a single secret which causes the elasticity of your muscles to increase in seconds, quite literally. It’s called “Eccentrics in Stretching” and you’re going to love it.
Joint flexibility, by definition, is the functional capacity of the joints to move through a full range of movement. The major limitation to joint flexibility is the tightness of soft tissue structures (joint capsules, muscles, tendons, ligaments). Of all of these tissues, muscle is the most modifiable structure in terms of improving flexibility.
Proper stretching technique focuses on the slow and deliberate elongation of your muscles. Stretching a muscle is, by definition, an “Eccentric” muscle action. The two ends of the muscle are moving off-center, away from the middle of the muscle belly. If you did nothing else, slow static stretching would eventually work, at least to some extent.
Slowly stretching the two ends of the muscle apart, relaxing the muscle as much as possible, and then stretching a little bit further is a safe and conventional approach.
Eccentrics in Stretching, on the other hand, is an unconventional technique for rapidly increasing muscle plasticity. Still safe and sound, it is the most productive form of flexibility training in existence.
Everybody is quite different and each body responds slightly differently. However, this super-advanced method can be effectively applied to each muscle and every movement.
My system is based upon a verified and well-established modality, often used in physical therapy and rehabilitation. This invaluable tool is called “Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)” and has been repeatedly proven as the preeminent method for improving flexibility, essentially immediately.
The technique uses the muscles’ internal proprioceptors to send relaxing messages to the muscle being stretched. How are these proprioceptors “triggered?” By doing the most off-center and unconventional thing that you can possibly do during a stretch — slowly contracting the stretched muscle. Here is the science, in simple terms:
Located within the muscle-tendon junction is a sensor called the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO), which functions by sensing how much tension is being placed on the tendon (which connects muscle to bone). When a muscle is slowly contracted during a stretch, the GTO is activated, prompting and persuading the muscle to further relax. In a nutshell, while in a stretched position, slowly contracting and shortening a few of your muscle fibers will result in the relaxation and lengthening of the rest.
This “inverse stretch reflex” is the basis for Eccentrics in Stretching, and goes way beyond the concept of steady static stretching, entering the world of actually training for flexibility.
Slowly and steadily contracting a portion of the muscle toward the center allows the muscle as a whole to instantly relax into a more elongated and off-center (aka Eccentric) position.
Let’s imagine a muscle having two sides, say a top and a bottom, as pictured. When the fibers on the bottom of the muscle contract, or shorten, the fibers on the top of the muscle have no choice but to stretch, or lengthen.
After the brief contraction is complete, the newly stretched fibers now allow for the entire muscle to become instantly lengthened. This process is definitely the fastest facilitator of flexibility available — anywhere.
No other training technique compares to the power of Eccentrics in Stretching for providing an instantaneously safe and sound remodeling of muscle and connective tissue.
Please remember that, in order to stretch a muscle safely and effectively, the muscle must be warm. Do not stretch to warm up but, rather, warm up to stretch. Cold muscles (and tendons) are analogous to cold silly putty or taffy. Stretching any of these substances while they are in a less-than-warmed state is not cool. To avoid any unwanted snap, crackle, or pop, always stretch after exercise, never before.
Next time, we will go through the mechanics of a specific stretch, so you can try this technique firsthand while reaching for your foot. I think that you’ll be absolutely amazed!
Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kaua‘i and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss, both online and in person. To submit your questions, or for more information, call 808-652-6453 or visit www.DougJonesFitness.com.
Source: The Garden Island