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Reciprocal Inhibition is a feedback reflex. For example, when your stretch a muscle, if you contract the opposing muscle on the opposite side, it transmits a signal for the stretching muscle to relax. When the muscle relaxes, it enhances the stretch and range of motion without trying to force the muscle to lengthen.
For example, if you contract your back, your chest will stretch. Or, if you contract your quads, your hamstrings will stretch. The same goes for your glutes and hip flexors, ankles and calves, and biceps and triceps.
How it works?
Reciprocal inhibition works by contracting the opposing muscle repetitiously before or during the stretch to enhance the range of motion. Let's take the lunge, for example. When you contract your glute as hard as you can before the stretch a few times, the hip flexor will become more pliable, compiling, and engaging during the stretch.
However, you can contact the glute during the stretch too. This is the best option because maintaining the glute contraction during the lunge improves the hip flexor stretch and strengthens hip stability and alignment. And by improving stability and alignment, you optimize the effectiveness of mobility.
Reciprocal breathing involves cycling your breath through a stretching pattern that will gradually adjust and adapt to greater ranges of motion. This technique allows for a deeper level of relaxation. The most important thing to understand about breathing is that inhalation facilitates tension and the contraction of muscles. And exhalation promotes the relaxation and stretch of your muscles.
So, inhaling and exhaling using reciprocal breathing reduces stress and tension, enhancing muscular flexibility. As you cycle your breathing throughout the stretch, it increases the relaxation that you feel and see through a greater range of motion.
How it works?
Begin to stretch. When the lengthening stops, hold the stretch. As you hold the stretch, inhale entirely using nasal diaphragmatic breathing. Hold the stretch and the breath for about 5 seconds. Then after about 5 seconds, as you exhale your air out, you will stretch more. Again, once the stretch stops, hold that position and repeat. You can do it as many times as you want.
The result is that you will gain flexibility without forcing your stretch. When you force your stretch, your muscles tighten and restrict your range of motion.
Autogenic Inhibition is simple to understand. For example, when you stretch and cannot go further, simply hold the muscle’s tension for 7-10 seconds. Doing this will cause the muscle to relax and increase the stretch instantly. Try to do it a few times during your stretch.
How it works?
For example, let's retake the lunge to make it easy. Contract your glute and lunge slowly. When you feel the stretch stop, hold for 7-10 seconds. Don’t force; just hold. After 7-10 seconds, the muscle relaxes, and the stretch increases. Stretch slowly to the next point, and you will increase your range of motion each time.
Most people make the mistake of stretching fast. Unfortunately, stretching fast will do the opposite, contract and restrict the muscle by activating the stretch reflex. If the muscle does not stretch, forcing it will keep initiating the stretch reflex to occur. And this is a point where you will create small micro tears that will damage your muscle.
There are two proprioceptors called GTO and muscle spindles. When you stretch, GTOs cause the muscle to relax. But when the tension becomes greater than the muscle perceives, the GTO will activate and relax the muscle. So, the GTO's job is to relax tension when it becomes too much for the muscle to handle. This protection mechanism works perfectly when lifting too much weight and to improve flexibility.
Remember, don’t force. Instead, go slow and use these principles to create flexibility.
Using Resistance- Don’ Isolate Your Stretch
Isolated stretching will produce flexibility. However, isolated stretching is not the best either. When you isolate your stretch, your muscles:
- Become lax.
- Lose the ability to absorb and produce force.
- Become less resilient.
- Can’t contract as forcefully and fast.
- Increase length but decrease stiffness.
As a martial artist, your muscles need to have the capability to stiffen and be springy to be explosive. Static stretching removes this ability. Static stretching doesn’t hurt you, but it will decrease the muscle's force and contractability.
Stretching with resistance will help your muscles maintain resiliency and stiffness with the ability to be explosive. In addition, the added resistance makes the muscles absorb force, whereas static stretching dissipates the force.
How it works?
Using a resistance band works best, or just implement slow eccentric training with isometric pauses. For instance, put a resistance band around your waist and lunge. Or you can do a deadlift with about 70% 1RM. You must be able to handle the resistance you use to control the stretch slowly, or a different mechanism will fire and prevent the stretch.
Sometimes using more resistance is more restrictive than using less to be productive.
Putting it All Together
Before starting your lunge, put a medium or heavy resistance band around your waist. Move away from the anchor point so you can feel the resistance pull you back. Now contract your glute before you begin the stretch. As you stretch, keep the glute contracted the whole time to maintain hip stability. Also, the glute being contracted will reciprocate and cause the abdominals to stabilize too.
Now, stretch until you feel the stretching stop. Hold the stretch, and don’t force it. Then, inhale entirely using nasal diaphragmatic breathing to activate your core. Hold your breath and the stretch for 5-7 seconds. Then exhale, and the stretch and range of motion will increase.
Repeat the process until the stretch has stopped and no more can be attained.
The Best Times to Stretch
Stretching this way is best to maintain speed and explosiveness before training and competition.
- Heavy stretching with resistance for three days a week improves strength, enhances speed, and increases power. Also, it generates greater flexibility and mobility.
- Dynamic stretching a few days a week will improve flexibility and muscular stiffness.
Static stretching has a purpose. Just don’t do it before training or competition because it will diminish your power and explosiveness.
To understand more about stretching, stiffness, and springiness, my book, The Balanced Body and Instant Strength, explains them all more thoroughly.