Pyramid Science

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Friday, June 10, 2016


Stretching is about resetting the tension in a muscle that the brain will allow. Without a mechanism to limit tension, it would be impossible to walk. Your legs would separate like a giraffe drinking water. The permanent lengthening of the muscle. It is definitely not short term and is not lost if discontinued. It will last. The stretching is the method to achieve flexibility to the desired maximum for the particular requirement. It would seem pointless to achieve a greater range of motion than is necessary but the greater the flexibility over requirement then the greater the flexibility reserve.
   This translates to safety.
   There is a diminishing likelihood of injury if the flexibility is well past that which is required for your purpose. It is much like a car built with a high-speed potential. You do not need to drive the car at top speed just because it is possible. But if necessary the reserve performance is available.
   If you have no intention of asserting yourself and applying what is needed then I recommend you do not bother to attempt stretching to achieve this greater potential. You will be wasting your time and energy. You will not get the desired results and possibly only injuries. Read on and perhaps you will be inspired.
   If you know what is needed and understand what is necessary, you will want to get down to it and get some pain.

It's your reward for effort

   Stretching for its sake only is not realistic. It is useful to a degree but what it takes to achieve this greater range of motion is probably not worth the effort. Taekwon-Do without an increased range of motion in all directions (including those not yet imaginable) is dangerous. The technique will always be poor. So, separately stretching or Taekwon-Do is useful. Together the combined benefit is tremendous. This is symbiosis in action - the sum is far greater than the individual components.
   The most important aspect of stretching is to realise that discomfort is to be expected. Not only should it be expected, but it should be regarded as your reward for good quality training. It should be embraced. Welcomed.
   The attitude should be to look forward to it. If there is no feedback from the body in the guise of pain then there has not been sufficient effort expended to cause adaptation of the body to the stress.
   Stretching pains arrive about 36-48 hours after the training session and last about two days. It will then be gone (until the next time - DA). It is a different sort of pain to the usual stiffness caused by untrained muscle use. This is residual lactic acid generated through anaerobic exercise and inadequate blood flow to remove the byproducts of such energy production.
   The whole point of receiving pain is that it shows that the stretched muscles have become stretched and/or strengthened, depending on the type of work done, and are really undergoing change. More ability to accommodate the stresses of a further stretch or strength improvement will happen. The next time you train and use stretching exercises you will need to increase your range to attract more pain. This is the progressive nature of stretching. If the stretch range is not increased then the pain will not happen, but there will be no further range increases. Clearly, pain does equate to improvement.
   No pain, no gain. It really is true.
   Passive stretching is satisfactory if there is plenty of time - years! This is not always a suitable time to wait, but it is the easy way. If you keep it up. So, look forward to pain, but make sure it is caused by good technique. The pain must not be caused by injury due to sloppy or incorrect technique. The type of pain will be recognised through experience.
   A second very important factor to understand is that stretching a muscle weakens it. It is not necessary to know about muscle physiology to accept this other than the overlap of the two contractile proteins within the muscle is reduced. It is not important that children do strength work to counter this since the normal development of a child will naturally lead to increased strength in muscle. As young people continue to grow and become involved in all kinds of sport then again strength improvements will occur naturally. The person at risk by stretching without strengthening is the one who is fully grown with an associated full muscle development for their lifestyle. The stretch of this muscle will require some sort of strength improvement to make training safe. Muscle protects joints. If the muscle is weakened then the joint becomes exposed to injury - it can become unstable.
   The stretch actually resets what the brain allows. If tension failed to keep limbs (legs) together, walking would be impossible.
   Sit on the floor and keep your right leg directly in front of you. Move the left leg quite easily to 90deg left. Now change the direction of your legs - left ahead and right up towards your right. Again, quite easy. The left and right legs are not connected by either muscle or tendon so why is it difficult/impossible to take the left leg to left and right leg to right to perform a split?
   The brain must relearn the allowable tension.
   This is the real purpose of stretching.

Muscle: Names, Stretching and Aims


The aim of this article is to stimulate the desire to stretch correctly and thus to benefit most from a stretching program. What I hope to show is the relationship between stretching and strengthening and the importance of balanced muscle power and length. Both correct method and technique are essential if safe and good development is to be achieved.
   This is neither a guide to Taekwon-Do training or any other sport nor does it deal with muscle building techniques. However, the content does provide information to develop the body to be a better tool. Some people believe that although they know that stretching is part of Taekwon-Do they do not really appreciate its importance and place within the training program. As a result of this lack of understanding, stretching is at worst not done at all or at best without motivation and application. Generally poor results ensue. Everything has to be learned and practiced. We do not remember learning to stand upright and walk but watch an infant struggling to its feet. There you can see the continuous micro adjustments of the neck, back and leg muscles to alter the balance. We all do this but with smoother and more sophisticated muscle control. Progress in Taekwon-Do is quite similar, just more advanced but it still relies on personal effort. The more good quality work done then the greater the overall benefit.
   Nobody is completely flexible just some more than others. There is no such thing as a double-jointedness or natural flexibility. The only way to be able to perform well executed techniques in Taekwon-Do or any sport that requires leg movement with power is to be flexible. By not stretching every important muscle group some techniques cannot be performed properly if at all. Those that people have difficulty with or cannot do usually results in these techniques never being attempted. Body inflexibility will restrict the range of motion and it is unimaginable that a serious track athlete would not stretch extensively to work the hamstrings. An explosive extension of the hamstring muscles from starting blocks caused by a powerful knee extension (quadriceps contraction) would rip the back thigh muscles apart - even if well warmed up such an explosive action would be hazardous to a short hamstring.
   A footballer also using powerful quadriceps contractions when kicking the ball would experience severe hamstring problems under such conditions. The hamstrings must be long enough and flexible enough to stretch out rapidly as the knee is extended forcefully. It is absolutely essential to understand and be certain that without flexibility and strength it is impossible to achieve control. This is regardless of whether to restrict or increase speed and power.
   Stretching is but one part of training much in the same way that patterns, sparring and destruction are all integral to Taekwon-Do. Strengthening of skeletal muscle is an essential part of Taekwon-Do for control purposes and protection from injury. Thick and strong muscle protects the softer and more vulnerable parts of the body - joints, particularly the shoulder, bones and vital organs.
   The head is an area that needs protecting, but cannot be strengthened. Everybody, no matter how big or strong, has a vulnerable head to protect. What body strength will do is allow protection more effectively by preventing (blocking) attack.
   Perhaps more importantly is the exposure to injury through weakened joints, especially the knees. If the muscles and ligaments around the knee joint are stretched then the whole joint may become less stable by virtue of less tension.
   Strengthening is important to retain stability. Strengthening and flexibility cannot be separated from one another. They are totally integrated. Again, this applies not only to Taekwon-Do but to many sports. Be sure, there are no short cuts to stretching. There is no other way but through effort using the correct technique and the appropriate type of stretching within any training program. With the right approach and attitude rapid results can be achieved - months or even weeks instead of years.

Flexibility and Strength

It is important to get in touch with your body and feel by actually touching or simply sensing the muscles (kinesthenics) as they tighten or relax. It is also important to know which muscles are involved in any action. By knowing this it is possible to deliberately relax a muscle through mental control where the natural reaction is for the muscle to tighten especially when being stretched. This is a natural protection mechanism and must be offset by training. It is fundamental to stretching and improved flexibility. The difference between an isometric stretch of 5-30 or so seconds and a sustained relaxed stretch (static passive) of 15-30 seconds or more must be understood. The former is a deliberate and hard contraction at the full muscle length.
   The muscle cannot shorten under this contraction as the limb is prevented from moving. The latter is a completely relaxed muscle but at full length working against the natural tendency to contract. It is difficult to learn this control but is the key to effective stretching. It is the same kind of mental control necessary to relax while fighting yet retain fast and smooth movements. One parameter to increase power is to increase speed over a fixed distance.
   Power is related to the square of the speed of the fist or foot (tool) and the kinetic energy (KE) is one-half the mass x the square of the velocity: 1/2 x m x v x v. So doubling the speed gives four times the power. Three times the speed results in 9 times power and so on. As an example consider the focus of punching power and the speed/distance relationship. The chest and back muscles can be prestretched much in the same way as an elastic band if pulled apart. They will contract very powerfully. Stretched muscles are elastic. The added energy can be utilised during a concentric (positive) contraction immediately following the stretch. This would lead to a stronger contraction. The main muscle groups involved in punching are at the side of the back below the arm (latissimus dorsi) and chest (pectoralis major). The punching arm is brought back with the hand to the hip and elbow to the rear.
   The chest muscles and the large muscles of the back between the rear of the shoulder and waist all tighten - if the elbow moves out to the side the tension between the chest and shoulder is lost as is that down the back on the side of the punching arm. The punch is delivered and the chest muscles contract more powerfully as the arm straightens. At the same time as the punch is prepared the opposite side of the body is also prestretched across the chest and back by raising the reaction arm outwards and to the centre in front. The combination of left and right prestretched muscles enhances even more the punching power by the increased speed of contraction. Prestretching the shoulder and chest muscles increases the energy available for a punch. Now, if the muscles are lengthened by stretching not only is the distance between the fist and target increased but also the contraction power of the lengthened muscles. The hand can travel a greater distance in the same time assisted by this prestretching. A stretched muscles results in more potential power through prestretching than does an inflexible one. The greater the length of the muscle and the resultant increase in contraction by stretching, then the greater the potential speed. The punching power is increased. This is simply in regard of stretching. If the muscles are increased in size and strength then the increase in power is even more. The same applies to any technique. The greater the length of a muscle the contraction power is increased as is the prestretching potential.