Equinox Fitness San Francisco Personal Training Tip of the Month On "Flexibility"
Posted Dec 15 2009 12:00am
Crossing the line of flexibility
by Sean Leon Gallon
In the world of the physical strength training, flexibility holds a mysterious position. Concepts of what flexibility is, why you need it, how you get it and how you keep it, have been forever unfolding. No matter what you might believe, there is no bending around the truth that human flexibility makes us capable of being bent repeatedly without injury or damage as defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary, while playing a key role in normal human posture and better muscle development.
During training or stretching my clients, I often use the term, "Strengthen and lengthen your extension!" About 50% of the time I get a strange look as if they are not understanding what I mean. I remember a young client in training to be a dancer telling me that she was tall enough and that she didn't need to stretch. As funny as that may sound, the awful truth is that most people are not pliable to the importance of being pliable. What is the purpose of having flexibility? Is it necessary for most to be able to go down into a split or to scratch their head with their toe? No! However, beyond having impeccable posture, flexibility can increase your stamina, your daily life performance and keep you agile so that you are exuding youthful energy.
Basic human body mechanics strives to work cohesively with gravity. Gravity, being the force that it is, can weigh heavily on the human body if the two are not trained to exist in harmony together as two dancer dancing a tango. Even with amazing muscular strength, if there is no flexibility to achieve normal posture or skeletal alignment with the line of gravity, then gravity will dominate and aches and pains will be the final result of your daily endeavours. When standing with normal posture the body is balanced around the the line of gravity and minimal muscle effort is required. In Stern's text book, Core Concepts, normal posture is highly efficient as the line of gravity passes through the following:
Through the cervical spine
Through the lumbar spine
Slightly behind the hip joint
In front of the knee joint
Just in front of the ankle joint
Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and work through positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.
Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in arthritis.
Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions.
Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
Prevents strain or overuse problems.
Prevents backache and muscular pain.
Contributes to a good appearance.
The energy use during other various activities (cal/hour, for a 70kg/154lbs person):
Sleeping = 65cal
Lying still = 90cal
Sitting at rest = 100cal
Standing relaxed = 100cal
At attention = 115cal
Walking level at 5kph = 350cal
Climbing stairs = 1100cal
Of course, this is if you have flexibility to maintain proper human posture. Though the reality is that many of us go about our daily lives with less than par posture in hopes that the few hours a week of physical activity in a gym or outdoors can balance our daily training of sitting behind a desk or standing for 7 or more hours a day, 5 or more days a week for years and years. The unexplained dis-alignment of the skeletal system and/or tight, weak or overactive muscles causing aches and pains are generally the results of our daily training. Personal training, chiropractic visits, massage and other health services are increasingly being recognized as a necessary means to prolong health and wellness. These types of professional services provide us with a deeper understanding and awareness of our body and daily guidelines are given to keep us in good standing. Nonetheless, when we are made aware of our body and are able to achieve proper posture for even a moment, the neuromuscular system must pass through the three phases of learning to maintain proper posture.
Three Phases of learning:
Cognitive phase - Identification and development of the component parts of the skill - involves formation of a mental picture of the skill
Associative phase - Linking the component parts into a smooth action - involves practicing the skill and using feedback to perfect the skill
Autonomous phase - Developing the learned skill so that it becomes automatic - involves little or no conscious thought or attention whilst performing the skill - not all performers reach this stage
Utilizing a range of basic movements in every plane and range of motion through all three phases will aid in achieving and maintaining flexibility and proper posture. Once the autonomous phase is reached more intense and/or complex movement can be implemented to challenge the neuromuscular system. Still, even the most physically aware person needs a pair or professional eyes and attention to make sure that they are moving properly, just like that young dancer. That dancer, by the way, learn to love stretching soon after and by crossing the line of flexibility, she was selected to join the Swedish Ballet a couple of years later. It seems that flexibility can aid us all in reaching our fitness goals or get us a bit closer, so keep on reaching.