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Muscle and strength.
Welcome to the world of muscle and strength. Not only will you learn how to stretch properly, but you will also find many types of stretches here. Forget all those preconceived notions about the value of holding a stretch for an indefinite amount of time. Let these stretches move you.
There’s more than one way to stretch. That’s because there’s more to it than simply stretching
muscles. Arteries, veins, and nerves that supply the muscles are involved, too. What is also important is the stretch of the fascia the connective tissue that permeates the whole body, wraps around the muscle and holds them close to the skeleton.
Think of it as biomechanical “architecture”. The bones are the scaffolding and the fascia is the
bricks and mortar that support the volume of the structure. The fascia adapts to its environment. If
you were put into a small cupboard and made to sit in a crouched position for days on end, over time your body would attempt to shrink to fit into the extreme environment. The fascia does the same.
Compensating for bad habits
Our bodies are remarkably forgiving because we still function, even with poor posture rounded
shoulders and a forward head, or a protruding belly or collapsing ankles. The body compensates for
weaknesses or faulty habits, but the compensations become “solidified”, altering the patterns of our
fascia and muscles.
For this reason, we need different types of stretching to reverse any tightening to which our body has become accustomed.
We also need different stretches to address the properties of the various parts of our body. Moving
stretches where, for instance, the head is rotating, the knee is bending, or the arm is circling, tend to be re-coordination stretches.
They help to break up the body patterns we develop from being right- or left-handed, as well the patterns that come from other re-occurring motions. Merely changing the direction of those familiar patterns can significantly increase our range of motion. Another stretching strategy has to do with stretching muscles on the opposite side of joints.
This is called reciprocal stretching. For instance, when you bend your elbow, the muscles on the
front side of the joint the biceps shorten, and those on the other side the triceps have to lengthen to allow the motion. Using reciprocal stretching techniques automatically relaxes the lengthening side, allowing those muscles to stretch.
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Proper positioning of the arms, legs, and head helps us to physically find the link between muscle and connective tissue. Using focus and intent when we line these extremities up with the torso gives us a powerful tool for changing body posture and developing flexibility.
The science of biomechanics identifies various structural body connections and physical forces
that are involved in body function. In order to devise appropriate exercises, it is necessary to use our knowledge of the nature of our body parts (how plastic, or changeable, the various components
are) to create the effect we need.
Three important structural connections in the body that we have to consider are the “X” model, the inner unit, and the lateral system.
The “X” model
The “X” model shows the connection between what is going on externally and the inner unit. It shows how the limbs are connected with each other and how these connections pass right through the inner unit. Think deep; think three-dimensional. The right arm, for example, is connected to the left leg and vice versa.
The positioning of the head, which can weigh up to 6.8kg (15lb), is also important. Tipping it in
any direction activates an intricate system of overlapping muscles that both bind the head into the trunk and yet allow a marvellous telescoping range to the neck.
The inner unit
Various groups of muscles form the inner unit. These are the muscles at the bottom of the torso
(the pelvic floor), the deep abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominals at the sides of the abdomen, the deep low-back muscles, the multifidi (a group of muscles either side of the spine), and the muscles deep inside the rib cage (the diaphragm).
Working the muscles of the inner unit correctly with good form promotes low-back and pelvic
health. The exercise instructions also help you to use the inner unit as a stabilizing foundation, giving more precision when you stretch the external parts.
The lateral system
The lateral system connects the muscles and fascia that run down the sides of the body. Think of it as a long road running from the triceps in the upper arm, past the armpit, down the side of the ribs and waist, extending down the side of the leg past the thigh and shin, and ending at the side of the foot.
This lateral system is often overlooked, but opening it through stretching is key to balancing the body and improving posture.
pulling it all together
Coordination between opposing limbs and the trunk is demonstrated by the “X” model concept.
• Precision in stretching is created by achieving stabilization of the inner unit, which provides a firm foundation.
• Elongation of the lateral system promotes symmetry and balance.
flexibility and posture
Genetics dictate how flexible you are and also your postural body type. Stiffness and over-flexibility both cause aches, pains, and difficulty in day-to-day activities. Explore your flexibility with these easy tests, and strive to find your best neutral posture. Gravity has a greater impact upon our posture when we are upright in sitting or standing.
If we give in to it, the “segments” of our body collapse. The result is that our muscles are out of balance and our joints are misaligned. Stretching counterbalances this and helps you develop a good neutral posture. You start by using good form and working the muscles of the inner unit.
This helps you stretch the chest and shorten the upper-back muscles, open the lower back and engage the abs, as well as stretch the front of the hips and thighs, and the calves. Practising sitting and standing tall also solidifies your intent to push vertically upwards against the force of gravity.
The beauty of this formula is that it applies to all body types and levels of flexibility. Gravity breaks us into unbalanced segments (far left). The head falls forward. The chest shortens and sinks, and the upper back rounds. The lower back tightens and collapses, and the abdomen protrudes. The front of the thighs and hips tighten, while the hip extensors slacken.
Body weight lists back on the heels, shortening the calves. The goal is to balance the segments
and achieve neutral posture, with a straight line running from the head through the pelvis (left).
Imagery as a tool
Use imagery as a tool to help create precision and a sense of the inner layers of your body in your stretches. Connecting everyday concepts to the exercises gives your stretches an effective edge. Strive to internalize the cues. They are the key to true physical transformation. Actors, musicians, and dancers use imagery to help them “act out” their message.
Children play imaginary roles in imaginary settings to prepare for adult life. As adults, we can employ visualization to help us make our exercise more effective. The programmes in this book contain some imagery cues that ask you to use your imagination.
Focus on them to help coordinate your muscles and access the deeper connections of your body. For example, “Lift the imaginary swimming-pool water” asks you to press upwards in the abdomen when you’re lying on your front. Mention of “smile lines” is a cue for you to hold your hips in true extension when lying down, and gives you the range of motion you need to achieve a neutral pelvis.
When you get it right, two arcs separate the buttocks from the upper thighs or hamstrings. By training these deeper muscles to engage as you perform your stretching exercises, you also train
them to engage when you carry out your everyday activities.
Although some images apply to certain body positions, such as finding the smile lines while lying on your front, you can also relate to them in other positions. In other words, you can find your
smile lines when you’re standing, too.
They can help you find your neutral posture. The imagery I use is truly the key to taking your
exercise life into your daily life. Study the pictures in the exercises on these two pages, and start a
lifelong habit of using your body more completely.
Imagining water pushing up against your abdomen deepens abdominal connections. Visualizing “smile lines” stabilizes your pelvis and brings precision to hip stretches.
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