Flex-ible vs. FLEX-ABLE.
WELCOME TO MUSCULAR SYSTEM SOLUTIONS
Welcome to Muscular System Solutions Blog Page. The goal of our blogs, are to help educate the community about Muscle Activation Techniques™ and offer a different point of view on how and what it means to maintain a healthy muscular system and body.
This week's blog is offering a different view on improving flexibility by being Flex-able. I’ve been in the fitness industry for close to 15 years, my clients' goals have ranged between wanting to gain muscle and lose weight, to just wanting to age, feel, move, and recover better. But regardless of the goal, the common theme across the board, no matter what age, is to become more flexible.
Flexibility is very important.
According to the Mayo-clinic flexibility may:
- Improve your performance in physical activities
- Decrease your risk of injuries
- Help your joints move through their full range of motion
- Enable your muscles to work most effectively
What's the difference?
So, what’s the difference between Flex-ible and Flex-able, besides flexable is a word I just made up to offer another view? Give up? They’re mindsets. The mindset of individuals who want to be Flex-ible believes the only way to become flexible is to lengthen tissue by applying some type of outside force, such as stretching, massage, foam rolling, etc. While, the mindset of individuals who want to be Flex-able look at their muscular system as an integrated system, I’ll explain more in a minute, and rely on improving their own muscular contractile capability to improve their flexibility, via contacting vs. lengthening. So, let me explain.
I remember when I was little, maybe around 8 years old, every time I watched the gymnastics competition in the Summer Olympics, I’d be mesmerized. I’d watch these men and women flip, bounce, catapult, and stretch their way to gold. Right then, I decided, I needed work on becoming more flexible. I spent weeks attempting to become more flexible by pulling, pushing, bouncing, and grunting my way to this vision of flexibility perfection. The worst part was I never improved -- never even got close to my toes, and worst yet it hurt!
It’s sad to say, as I got older my flexibility got worse. I remember during football, baseball, and swimming practice my coach would set aside 20-30 minutes before and after practice to stretch. I hated it! I was extremely inflexible and I got made fun of. I always envied the kids that were limber, like the gymnasts. I wished I could somehow become more flexible. The unfortunate thing was my inflexibility caused my injuries to sky rocket.
The definition of flexibility is the ability to bend without breaking. It makes sense why we are brained washed with this idea, if your muscles are “tight” or the range of motion is limited, then the only way to improve our flexibility, is to either to lengthen or manually manipulate the “tight” muscles, until you feel mobility. This is why people have developed the mindset that our muscles are like Gumby, moldable, like silly putty, or stretchable like a rubber band.
Then I became Flex-able!
I finally got flexible, by being offered a new mindset. I was 26 years old. After being certified as a Muscle Activation Technique Specialist in 2008, I learned that tightness is secondary to weakness and to improve your flexibility is to become a better flexor. That’s right, by improving the contractile capability of your muscles, the by-product is flexibility. I honestly didn’t believe it, I so put this idea to the test. Within a couple weeks I was touching my toes! I ditched the idea about trying to be Flex-ible and focused on becoming Flex-able.
Communicating between two systems
How do you become Flex-able? First, we have to offer a different view on how the muscular system works. The issue with the current model is that we believe a huge characteristic of muscles is their ability to stretch. Muscles do lengthen, but not in the way we currently think. Muscle have a coefficient of flexibility, but every material has this characteristic. A rubber band has a high coefficient of flexibility and is able to stretch pretty far without breaking. While a 4x4 piece of lumber, has a low coefficient of flexibility before breaking. With this being said, there is a huge characteristic of a muscle that is being ignored -- it’s called nerve signal.
The communication system that drives the muscular system, consists of an electrical feedback loop, which is due to an interdependent integration between the Muscular System and the Nervous System. The Nervous System tells the Muscular System what to do, and the Muscular System does it, if it can. In a nutshell, when a demand is put onto the body, the mechanoreceptors, located in our joints, sense this demand through a change in lengthen of the muscles surrounding a joint. The signal starts through a sensory nerve that is attached to the muscle fibers. The sensory nerve will send a signal to the spinal cord, where the communication is transferred to a motor neuron(s). The motor neuron(s) will send a signal back to the muscle, through a motor nerve, to tell the muscles to contract. This response is necessary in order to overcome or match the demand on the muscle(s). (This is very simplified, but I hope this builds a picture).
How can you become Flex-able?
The key tool to this mindset is isometric exercises. According to Wikipedia, isometric exercises or an isometric are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during a contraction. Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. By applying an isometric contraction in the direction of limited mobility you are asking your muscles to generate a contraction, which in turn will create the ability for your body to become more flexible. Why are isometrics better, in my opinion? If your goal is to build more stability and mobility at the same time, then I suggest isometrics to help you own your joint control and in the long run own your body. If you are interested in just mobility, then keep to your current view, but a body with mobility, but lack stability, equals instability.
This was a very brief over view on the how to become more Flex-able through isometrics. Stay tuned for my next week’s blog: How Isometrics Can Keep Joints Healthy.
The Big Picture
I'm just offering you an opportunity. If you are open to change, try viewing your muscular system as a highly interrelated electrical system feed back loop, between the Muscular System and the Nervous System. The results could create more flexibility in your joints, but more importantly you'll be building neuromuscular integrity. Neuromuscular integrity means control. By improving muscular control you'll have the opportunity for your joints to be healthier. In my opinion, the best effect of isometrics is the sensation of feeling the muscles contraction, you are feeling your body getting stronger and you aren't forcing your body to go into positions that isn't comfortable. When you are able to improve muscular contraction -- you definitely more Flex-able.
I challenge you to try isometrics for a week and see if you feel any better. Leave a comment at the bottom telling me about your isometric adventure.
More about the Author: Scott McWilliam MATm, RTSm, CPT, lmt
Founder of Muscular System Solutions and co-founder of Lateral Fitness. Scott has been involved in the fitness industry since 2004, but has been involved in sports and exercise his entire life. He made a life changing decision his sophomore year of high school to lose 75 pounds. Scott realized his love of weight lifting in his senior year of high school after his baseball and swimming career ended cause he needed something to keep his weight in control.
This was the beginning of his life calling. He dove head first into working out and competed in his first bodybuilding competition in 2003, winning his weight class. What goes up must come down. Scott's bodybuilding career came to a screeching halt with a back injury. After his back was "healed", he decided to make his career official and attend NPTI in 2004 and obtained his first personal training position at Fitness Formula Club (FFC) in the Gold Coast. As his hours and the demand on his body increased he was continually plagued with a constant back issue, which interfered with his workouts. He was introduced to massage therapy shortly after his hire to FFC. Scott had good results allowing him to get back to lifting, so he decided to become a licensed massage therapist, at The New School of Massage, to understand the muscular system more to help his clients. Massage was the tip of the iceberg in his education. Scott then learned about Greg Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Techniques™ which focused on improving muscular function, between 2009 and 2013 he not only became a MAT Specialist, but he received his MATm and Mastery as a Resistance Training Specialist™.
Scott's back problem was finally resolved from getting regular Muscle Activation Techniques treatments and adopted a new mindset on exercise. By learning how to slowly improve muscular tolerance and realizing workout is a marathon not a sprint. His back is stronger than ever. Scott's passion to understand the muscular system is endless. He is continually striving for excellence.
- NPTI (National Personal Training Institution) Certified Personal Trainer (2004)
- Licensed Massage Therapist (New School of Massage 2007)
- Certified MAT (Greg Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Techniques™) Specialist (2009)
- Certified Resistance Training Specialist™ Mastery (2012)
- Certified MAT Master Specialist (2013)
- Currently enrolled in MATRX Foot and Wrist/Hand (2017)