Resistance Stretching

| December 18, 2013 | Reply

by Fitness Pro Chuck Rowland

Resistance stretching combines flexibility, strength training and core development. This technique dynamically lengthens and strengthens muscles simultaneously. With eccentric contraction as its foundation, resistance stretching produces immediate and cumulative results that leave muscles energized. Probably what distinguishes resistance stretching from other flexibility modalities are its ability to remove muscle tension and its contribution to muscle elasticity. These two elements, along with traditional benefits of stretching, make it particularly attractive to athletes requiring power and agility.

How Resistance Stretching Works

The first principle of resistance stretching is that a muscle must be shortened AND contracted to be stretched effectively. The target muscle is then lengthened under load, and resists the force of the load throughout the lengthening process. Another principle is true flexibility. That is, a muscle is only truly flexible to the extent that it can continue to contract while being lengthened. The lengthening process ends when the muscle contraction begins to fade. Why? Because the muscle is approaching the point at which it can no longer contract or flex. Past that point, the muscle no longer has strength or stability. It is no longer elastic – much like a rubber band that has been overstretched beyond its usefulness. Continuing the stretch further would expose the muscle to risk of injury. The primary objective of resistance stretching goes beyond increasing range of motion. It’s assuring that there is strength throughout the range of motion.

To understand the dynamics, we must take a look at how muscle tension occurs. Muscle tension occurs by way of concentric contractions. Sarcomeres, the smallest functional unit of the muscle, repeat contiguously along the length of the muscle like a chain. During the concentric contraction, the sarcomeres may sometimes “bind”. Ideally, we’d expect the sarcomere chain to return to its original length. However, when this doesn’t happen, the remaining clustered sarcomeres create tension, hindering force production. The only way to remove the tension is with eccentric contraction. By shortening and contracting the tense muscle, we engage the entire sarcomere chain. The linked sarcomeres essentially pull one another, as we lengthen the muscle (an eccentric contraction) eventually unraveling the bound sarcomeres. Naturally, surrounding connective tissue is stretched, as well.

As the technique is counterintuitive, there are important points to be clarified. First, as you’ll see in the examples provided, basic resistance stretches require no equipment. You use your own body to resist your own force. Second, muscles should be warmed up (muscle recruitment) with 4-8 concentric contractions (strength) prior to stretching. Finally, all stretches begin with a shortened and contracted muscle. Generally, between 6 -12 repetitions produce an effective stretch, with each rep taking anywhere up to 8 seconds. Most importantly, never hold the stretch at the end. When the contraction can no longer be maintained, lengthening must end. In short, there are two things required for a resistance stretch: a shortened and contracted muscle; and movement.

Sample Resistance Stretching Exercise

Bent Leg Medial Hamstring

To Strengthen: (Muscle recruitment)

  • Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on floor (support head with foam roll, pillow or towel)
  • Draw one bent knee (right) back to same side shoulder
  • Rotate the right hip externally, bring your right arm inside the right leg and grab the heel of your right foot (if difficult, grab the calf or use a yoga strap)
  • Lengthen the leg by pulling your foot toward the right shoulder, only to a point that you begin to feel a stretch. This is the beginning of the strength movement.
  • Now, kick your heel toward your glutes by contracting your medial hamstring.
  • As your heel kicks toward your glutes, use your hand and arm to pull up on your heel to decelerate the downward movement. The effect is similar to that experienced on a leg curl machine in the gym, the hand and arm acting as the resistance.
  • It is important to calibrate the force of the contracting hamstring.
Figure 1a.   Start position for strength movement                   Figure 1b. End position for the strength movement

Figure 1a. Start position for strength movement             Figure 1b. End position for the strength movement

To Resistance Stretch:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on floor (support head with foam roll, pillow or towel)
  • Draw one bent knee (right) back to the same side shoulder
  • Rotate the right hip externally, bring your right arm inside the right leg and grab the heel of your right foot (if difficult, grab the calf or use a yoga strap)
  • Contract your medial hamstring to kick your heel to your glutes. This is the beginning of the resistance stretch movement. (Note that it is the same as the END position of the strength movement).
  • While kicking your heel to your glutes, use your right hand and arm to draw your heel back outside your right shoulder, lengthening the medial hamstring.
  • Be sure to lengthen the muscle ONLY to the point to which it can resist, and never hyperextend the knee.
Hamstring-Strengthening-Stretch

Figure 2a Starting position for resistance stretch               Figure 2b End position for resistance stretch

Benefits

  • Resistance stretching is a training modality that’s based in eccentrics. As such it creates increased muscle power production, and helps athletes to meet the deceleration-acceleration and directional change requirements associated with sports performance. Specifically, resistance stretching:
  • balances the body
  • improves joint mechanics
  • breaks down dense scar tissue
  • increases elastic stored energy
  • removes scar tissue
  • corrects postural dysfunction
  • avoids injury from overstretching
  • improves muscle recruitment
  • removes chronic joint stress.
  • improves core stability

What to Consider

Admittedly, resistance stretching is counterintuitive. Shortening while lengthening a muscle is something that often throws people off, initially. However, one quickly acclimates.

Other things to consider:

  • As mentioned, resistance stretching is eccentrics –based. Any form of eccentric strength training results in more delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than concentric training. This is true with resistance stretching, as well. During your initial experience you may sense some muscle soreness in the ensuing 24 – 36 hours. Upon repeated bouts of resistance stretching soreness diminishes. It is always good to consume plenty of water afterward to flush out toxins.
  • Never stretch a cold muscle. The strength movements should precede the resistance stretch in order to increase blood flow to avoid injury.
  • One must perform the stretches to his/her own tolerance. Resisting too hard during the stretches could lead to compensation/substitution.
  • It’s important that you properly align the joints during these stretches. This is critical, not only for efficiency, but also to avoid torque at the joints.
  • Resistance stretching is a workout. You are stretching AND strengthening muscles at the same time. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. If you have any doubts about your physical capacity to perform these exercises, consult your physician.
  • The last thing the body needs is additional tension during the performance of the stretches. So, be sure to breathe freely while stretching.

How Resistance Stretching Compares to Other Techniques

It’s important to note there are hosts of effective stretching techniques, and like them, resistance stretching addresses certain conditions better than others. Many of the other techniques are very effective in creating increased range of motion. However, increased range of motion without stability and strength is not ideal. Without reciting the differences, chapter and verse, let’s just keep it short. Resistance stretching, by beginning with a shortened muscle, and maintaining its contraction, stretches the muscle through the entire range, not just at the end. In doing so, it removes tension anywhere along the range, increases the range of motion, and assures that the muscle has strength throughout the range.

Resistance Stretching Techniques

There is several resistance stretching techniques. They are all eccentrics-based. There are organizations in the US that certify resistance stretchers from around the world. Some offer self-stretch workshops for all fitness levels, as well as companion DVD’s and workbooks. At least one, if not all of these options, is advisable to properly learn the technique.

As with most stretching techniques, resistance stretching is most effective with the assistance of a certified resistance stretching trainer. During assisted resistance stretching, the trainer employs complex diagonal and rotational movements to capture more muscles fibers and address joint stress. Two or more trainers may also be used to finely adjust the movements.

Resistance Stretching Videos

Bent Leg Medial Hamstring Stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch

Author Bio: Chuck Rowland is a New York City fitness professional, actively certified with NASM (CPT, CES and PES); PTA Global (Bridged and Advanced); and FMS. He is a Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching® Master Trainer www.ki-hara.com. He also practices one other style of resistance stretching, Dynamic Contraction Technique.

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Category: Types of Stretching

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