Natural Flexibility - How All Animals (Including Humans) Stretch
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Bob Cooley explaining the natural principles behind Resistance Flexibility.
Contracting and Resisting While Stretching, Muscles Lengthening and Shortening, Fascia Compared to Muscle, Tissue Regeneration, Muscle Tension/Relaxation, Stretching and Strengthening, Muscle/Fascia/Organ/Psychological Health Concomitance, Balancing Muscle Pairs, Joint Compression and Suspension
(Revised and Edited For Easier Readability and Additional Clarity)
Hi, I'd like to talk about natural flexibility; the way all animals, including humans, stretch. Many years ago, I made a discovery while trying to repair my body from a pedestrian-automobile accident that traditional stretching didn't work and make me more flexible. I discovered instead that all animals actually contract muscles when they stretch them. And when you do that, it increases your flexibility. So you all know this already. You watch cats and dogs and other animals and they reach forward and then you see them do that thing. And then when you get up in the morning and you go like this and then you go... What is that part? That's the best part of the stretch feeling and I identified all that is is that your muscles need to contract when they get stretched.
So you can find out if you read the medical literature that anytime you lengthen a muscle, say you're lengthening your bicep, it starts contracting. But a lot of people don't know that if you let the muscle tense and contract, the fascia that surrounds the muscle tissue will also resist that elongation. And when you do that, you actually will get a change in the flexibility of the muscle. Everybody then thinks, well, flexibility is the end game. Well, no. Flexibility, natural flexibility, results in not just an increase in the ability of the muscle to elongate, but also in the capacity of the muscle to shorten and the rate at which that muscle can shorten and the rate of the rate or the acceleration of that muscle's ability to shorten. Say you want to do activities where you like to jump. While the muscles on the back of your legs and glutes that go up to your back contract, that pushes against the ground to push you up into the air to jump. But if they're not flexible enough, they can't shorten enough so you can't jump. Most people think it would be the strength of those muscles, or the size of them that would determine how much you could jump. It is a factor, but the bigger factor is whether the muscle actually shorten.
So I discovered many years ago that all animals naturally contract muscles when they stretch. And then I found out later that fascia material is kind of like a plastic wrap, like a saran wrap or cellophane. It surrounds and roots inside of the muscle tissue and also around everything else. Your tendons, your ligaments, your bones, your epithelial structures, everything is impregnated by this fascia material. It's like the fascia material is the soup stock and your bones and muscles and everything else are the things inside of the soup. And so when you go to stretch your bicep and you start where the muscle is really short and then you go to where the muscle is in a longer and longer position, while this muscle is contracting you'll feel the muscle contract, but you won't be very aware that the fascia that surrounds it, as it's being elongated, has two to six times of the tensile strength or resistance to the elongation compared to the muscle contracting. So if you lifted a weight of 20 pounds with your bicep, it would require two to six times that amount of force to stretch the bicep. So if you just lift the bicep and lower the bicep with the same amount of weight], even if you do it at a slow rate, you just become muscle bound. But if you resist, you have to use much more force to stretch the muscle and [when you do the fascial structures change.
Many years later, I also discovered from [a] very good friend of mine and a great scientist at Harvard, Sharif Tabebordbar, that when a muscle contracts while it's being elongated, that muscle releases enzymes that cause the changes or the transfiguration of the fascia material and regeneration of other tissues. So that's why animals stay more flexible. The other concern is that most people not only don't know that they should let their muscles tense and contract when they stretch, but also that the further you go in elongating the muscle stretching, the more tension and contraction that muscle will naturally want to generate in addition to more resistance from the fascial material. If you interfere with that, you actually interfere with that process of becoming more flexible. So the muscle will relax, but it does so because it reaches a level of tension and then a reflex fires to allow the muscle to relax. That's a natural thing that just happens when you stretch, you don't force that to happen. Take your hamstrings for example. Everybody knows the muscles on the back of their legs are really tight and when they bend forward to stretch their hamstrings they're thinking, "Oh I should relax that because that feels really tight." But if you didn't do that and you let the muscle contract you'd actually get a stretch and if you feel it with your hands, you'll get even more feedback about what's happening to your hamstring. You'll find that as you bend forward while your hamstrings are contracted, you'll actually feel yourself getting a better stretch than if you interfered or thought to make it relax. And then when you come back up out of that stretch, the muscle now gets to contract and shorten and you develop strength in that muscle group.
There are eight muscle groups in your lower body to move you in eight different directions and there are also eight muscle groups in your upper body to move you in eight different directions. And each one of those muscle groups happens to be identical to the pathway of muscle groups that are associated in traditional Chinese medicine with different organs. And they're also associated with 16 Genetic Personality Types trait development. So when you stretch a muscle and you now find that you get a much better stretch when you let your muscles contract, you don't just get the benefit of more flexible muscles, you also get benefits in organ and physiological health and also in specific personality trait development.
There's one more thing to know about when you're stretching a muscle and that is when you're stretching a muscle, say your bicep, when you're stretching your bicep and you start where the muscle is short and you go to where the muscle is long, the question is, how far do you take it when you're stretching that muscle? And the answer is, it's not about the bicep. It's about the balancing muscle, your tricep on the other side of the bone. So if I want to stretch my bicep, obviously, my tricep has to shorten. And as I talked about earlier, the capacity of a muscle to shorten is really based on its flexibility. So when you're stretching your bicep, as long as your tricep can shorten because it's flexible enough to be able to shorten, you can keep stretching and elongating your bicep. It's not whether the bicep can keep tensing and resisting, but whether or not your tricep can keep shortening. So when you're stretching any muscle group, you have to feel the balancing muscle group on the other side and make sure it's shortening or tensing. Otherwise, you're overstretching and hurting your body.
The other great news about natural stretching is that these fascia materials that go through groups and groups of muscles, like your hamstring fascia material, also goes through your calves into the bottom of your feet and through your glutes and up your back and over the top of your head. So the muscles only go a certain distance, but these fascial materials collect whole groups of muscles going up the whole body from the legs up into the head or from the arms up into the head and trunk. Huge, contiguous groups of muscles are getting affected when you stretch any one muscle because it grabs fascia all the way up the chain. That fascial material is a tensegrity structure. A tensegrity structure is like a geodesic dome, so when you put a weight on a geodesic dome, the members on the outside of the dome support the weight as it goes to the ground as opposed to a column in a building where the weight goes down into the ground through the column. The fascia material, like a tensegrity structure, suspends the weight around the joints to go down to the ground.
So when you're standing and the weight of your body goes down your leg towards your knee, if the fascia material on the back of your leg in particular is healthy, the weight goes down but it doesn't go into the knee. Most of it goes around the knee through the fascial material and then down your lower leg until it gets to the ankle where the weight gets suspended around your ankle. So this magical fascia material is the most energy efficient material in the body. When you contract and shorten your bicep, the fascia in your tricep stretches like a rubber band. If it's healthy and when you stop contracting and shortening the bicep, the fascia in your tricep just returns your arm back to where it was before the stretch so it doesn't take any energy for the tricep to contract to move you because it's extremely energy efficient. This is true unless there's been trauma to the fascial material which is why you need to stretch that material to remove that trauma. So this great fascia that makes it really easy to move also causes suspension in all your joints structures. So, if you have torque or tension in your knee, it just means the fascia structures are not suspending the weight and instead are compressing the weight around your knee. So for example, when you stretch out your central hamstring on the back of your leg, what ends up happening is that it causes an increase in suspension around your knee joint. So if you normally have creaky knees or knees that don't feel the way they used to feel when you were younger, it's probably the fascial material causing that assuming there's no damage to the joint itself. So you can actually regenerate muscle and other tissues to make them healthy and like the way they were when you were younger. And you can also suspend all the joints structures so you can have this incredible freedom of motion.
The fascial material is such a magical part of movement. When scientists analyzed a cheetah's running with electrodes and taking measurements of the muscles contracting, they found that the muscles contracting didn't produce the speed of the cheetah, rather the fascial material returning is what creates the speed. So when you stretch naturally, you get a benefit of increased flexibility, you get an increase in potential physiological health of the organ associated with that muscle group, you get specific personality type trait developments of that muscle group and you get this youthification of your body. Because people are just prematurely aging. They're not supposed to be aging at the rate they are currently are, it's not about getting younger. It's about reversing the premature aging and natural stretching is what does that. So have a great time naturally stretching. Pick whatever muscle group you wanna work on. Try with your bicep. Try with your quad. Try with your hamstrings. See if you get a great result. And then start doing it everywhere and get other people to help too. Because you don't do anything by yourself. Everything requires everybody else. So get other people to help stretch you [and] help stretch them. Okay, have a great time. So we have three centers, one in Santa Barbara, one in Los Angeles, and one in Boston, with lots of trainers, wonderful people to meet. And a web page The Genius of Flexibility, which has hundreds of videos for you to self stretch and also assisted stretch. Have a great time.