Pyramid Science

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Strength, Flexibility, Speed and Power

The interrelationship of all four of these elements is important. They all coexist and you will not be able to safely perform kicks or any other movement, especially in Taekwon-Do regarding personal injury, without all four working together. Speed requires flexible muscles which have been trained to extend to full length at full speed. Increased strength allows a more forceful muscle contraction which will produce the potential for greater speed. The greater the speed then the greater the power generated. How to relax. Before we can examine the issue of relaxation we must be clear what is meant by relaxation. This can mean many things depending on the circumstances. Relaxation can be a tranquil mind especially if your lifestyle is stressful. Anything which can remove you from such conditions can be relaxing. Some peoples' idea of a holiday is to relax and "get away from it all".

Perhaps a few extra minutes in bed in the morning can be a much needed period of relaxation. Relaxation can be the deep meditation state of a yogi, for example, who can free up the mind from everyday problems. This will achieve a relaxed condition. Relaxation in this instance will offer almost complete slackening of muscle and is the ideal state to be in to improve muscle flexibility. This is passive stretching but is not associated with strength and control. It is useful to acquire a relaxed state both of body and mind. Such stretching is a slow process and it may take many years to achieve the desired level of flexibility. Under normal conditions all inactive skeletal muscle (limb moving) is under some tension, the resting tonus. While Iying down, especially while floating in water, it is possible to reduce this tension at will. This is the difficulty.

The above paragraph should be reviewed when power yoga has been examined. People who indulge in yoga properly do have remarkable flexibility. What of strength? How long? Not much documented on this. If relax and allow muscle tonus to be reduced and facilitate longer muscle what is it that resets the length? Is it simply passive stretching?

How do you do this? This is the relaxation that is needed. When asleep agonist muscles become more relaxed that normal. The brain (control centre) detects this reduction in tonus and compensates by contracting or shortening the muscle to reinstate the expected level of tonus. On awakening the muscle length must be restored and results in the "morning stretch". It is interesting to speculate whether the greater the stretch then the deeper the sleep (relaxation). If you awaken and stretch very little (if at all) then perhaps you had a very restless night? Relaxation when considered in sport can be all of these things but it is also the ability to lower the tonus (resting tension) within muscle.

Dynamic and static stretching are terms which will be encountered. Static has two conditions - active and passive. Also isometric stretching is very important. Dynamic means motion and all movements involving fast leg, arm or body are dynamic. All kicks are dynamic stretches. Leg raising (to front, side or rear) are dynamic movements. Static means still or without movement. Static passive is the type of stretching done by the yogi described above. Static active stretches require strength to maintain a limb in a position which allows a stretch to occur by what is known technically as proprioceptor neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). It is essentially the relaxation of one muscle (antagonist) caused by the contraction of another (agonist). Isometric stretches are caused by contraction of a muscle at full length but which is not itself allowed to shorten.

All these stretching methods have effect on muscle length but will take different amounts of time to provide such an effect. The quickest and most painful method is isometric. It must be done carefully and at the correct time within a training program. It is anaerobic and will affect other training if done at the wrong time. It will cause pain. The static active method is physically tiring much in the same way as the isometric stretching in that it requires full contraction of one muscle to relax another. Static passive is easy and painless but takes time to get results. Considerable thought must be used to ensure that the type of stretch aimed at does not in fact produce another type of stretch. For example, for an untrained individual the side splits (legs out sideways while body vertical and facing forward) will certainly be isometric by virtue of body weight pressing down if the hands are not used to take the weight.

It is impossible to do a static passive stretch in this way. Not until the maximum spread has been achieved will the stretch become passive when no longer body weight is involved. In order to control the conscious relaxation of a muscle it is necessary to firstly be aware of it. There are two possible ways to do this. Firstly ensure your stretching is absolutely maximal so that the anticipated discomfort will identify the muscle. The mind-muscle link can then be established since you now know where it is and what it feels like, not physically touching but in your mind. It is not always possible to isolate and feel a muscle unless you have this knowledge. The second method is to physically feel around all your leg/hip area as you move your leg variously inward and outward (sideways - abduction and adduction), upwards to the front (hip flexion) and upwards to the rear (hip extension). Once you begin to get control of selectively tensing a muscle and feeling the response of an individual muscles then you can begin to control the relaxation of muscle. Remember that contracting (tensing) a muscle causes it to go hard as it moves a limb (or whatever it is attached to) upto its minimum length (hardest).

The reverse of this to allow the muscle to lengthen or relax. You really need to know about your body and its muscularity in order to do this properly. You need to know which muscles should be involved in a particular movement and more importantly which are not or should not be involved. Almost certainly you will use muscles inappropriately while learning about the feel of limbs working. You can learn then to relax and take out of action muscles which are not involved. This is a great part of relaxation - knowing the difference between used and unused muscles and how tension is moved as other muscles become involved and some become redundant in particularly more complex movements.

Most movements in Taekwon-Do involve complex combinations and continual change of muscle group involvement. Consider for a moment the complex nature of the outward circular leg swing. This movement begins with the pull by adduction inwards of the leg and relaxation of the abductor muscles. A forced inward swing across the body puts these abductor muscles into a dynamic stretch as the leg continues to move inwards. The hip flexors then come into play as the leg is raised still maintaining the stretch of the abductors. The angle should be inwards and upwards. As the leg reaches the top of the movement the hip extensors should be under dynamic stretch with a full contraction of the hip flexors. Continued motion now starts to involve the abductors and they begin to contract to take the leg in the outward direction. The limit of the upward motion should still be maintained to place the hip extensors under continued dynamic stretching conditions. As the leg starts the downward part of the cycle the abductors keep the leg moving outward stretching the adductors dynamically. Finally the hip extensor starts to contract as the leg moves rearward placing the hip flexors under a dynamic stretch. Clearly this exercise is very complex and involves many muscles but is a terrific movement. To benefit from the outward circular leg swing the maximum range of the circle must be maintained. If not then the full dynamic stretching potential is lost and it is simply a strength exercise to lift the leg up and control the downward motion.


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