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Can You be Strong and Flexible at the Same Time?

Do we have to choose one, or can we have both?

Strength or Flexibility

Most of us were taught that being strong or flexible was a choice that had to be made, like you could not have both. Leading many to believe that these two aspects are measured against each other. We now know that this is incorrect.

An individual can simultaneously develop these qualities along side of each other using advanced stretching and mobility. Methods that have existed in high level athletics and training for years, however they remained unknown to the laymen due to lack of exposure. With the information age and the explosive growth of the internet, these methods are now available to you!

What is Loaded Stretching?

We already know how to build a mobility practice form the previous series. Now we can use that foundation of mobility and begin to layer the strength on top of it. This is done with isometrics and loaded progressive stretching.

Isometric : comes from the Greek “iso-“, equal + “metron”, measure = maintaining the same measurement, dimension or length. Positioning one part of the body against another or an immovable object in a strong but motionless action creates the isometric movement.
Loaded Progressive Stretching : Using the stretch reflex, we can learn to find the edge of flexibility (end-range). Then we transition safely between passive, active and dynamic (kinetic) stretching methods. Once this foundation of mobility exists, external load can be added to amplify the efforts within the stretches. This is progressively loading your tissue under tension.. a/k/a Loaded Progressive Stretching.

Talking to the Tissue

Your tissue responds to tension, we can think if this as the language we speak between the mind and body. When we safely apply tension to a stretch position, we are telling the tissue to become stronger and more resilient within that position. As long as we do not exceed the tissue capacity, adaptation will occur. (Tension ≤ Tissue Capacity = Adaptation)

The external “load” or “force” can be an isometric or weighted resistance. This does not only imply external weights and can initially be bodyweight alone. In a sense, the dynamic version is always the first loaded stretch. An increased range of motion should be accompanied by an increase in strength for that range of motion.

Think of loaded stretching (or stretching in general) as painting a canvas opposed to drawing on paper. When painting, a slow effort of the stroke fills the canvas in nicely. When drawing on paper, there may be many strokes needed to saturate the same area. Less is more with loaded isometric stretching, save the repetitions for cardio vascular work and actions focused on athleticism.

Isn’t this weight lifting?

Yes, but no. They are very similar in concept, however when it comes to execution there are noticeable differences. The main difference is the range we are working with. Weight lifting is typically a mid-range load bearing exercise. LPS (Loaded Progressive Stretching) loads the entire range of motion available.

In addition, because we are working with more range, less weight is used in the process. Weight is only added progressively (and slowly) in order to maintain a safe tension in the stretch reflex. As the end range strength increases, so do the progressions of tension.

Remember: Tension ≤ Tissue Capacity = Adaptation | Tension > Tissue Capacity = Injury

How to get started

If you are ready to take the next step and add these methods to your practice, start slow and listen to your body. Begin with stretches you are comfortable with, in ranges that your joints are already strong.

When you think of “going deeper”, which is what most people say to progress a stretch, we’re looking to increase depth of the stretch, not range. It is unsafe to go deeper into tissue that is weaker, we want to go deeper into tissue that is stable enough to support the increased tension.

Once a safe tension is achieved, more time is spent in the position (Time Under Tension). This strengthens the current stretch reflex, basically showing the tissue (joint) it can be safe in the range. When the tissue feels strong in the current range, it allows for more end range flexibility to be achieved. Then the process of strengthening the new range begins again.

It’s not easy to understand and implement these concepts. It takes time, practice and maybe some collaboration with others. If this article is a little confusing, read my series on How to Start a Quality Mobility Practice for more information.

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