Back in the seventies in Pittsburgh, I listened to a Steelers' game. The announcers said that "playing injured," was part of the game. In other words, damaging your body forever was the price to pay for winning football. I understood the reality, but in my mind, I hoped there was a better way. I'm not sure there is, but I believe the following is a step in the right direction.
Resistive flexibility is a term I first heard from Paul Uram, who was the conditioning coach for the Steelers. He said it was the highest form of flexibility training. This made sense and correlated perfectly with what the famous 1940's bodybuilder John Grimek said about full range strength and training. Simply stated, you have to use light resistance through a full range of motion to achieve dynamic movement and the ability to resist injury. This is a complex area where people quickly force the loads and can get injured.
The truth of the matter is that being lazy with intensity, but strict with form can actually yield incredible results. The simple use of weights is but one area of this specific technology. The use of resistance bands would certainly fall into this category and provide methodology, limited only by your imagination and should be included in the formula. The mental picture is that through slow progress, (think years) of moving through an amplified range of motion with light resistance, the nervous system accommodates loads willingly in positions of anatomical compromise. Being forced into those positions, like falling or being hit is a wild card, but your durability, or ability to withstand abuse, is greatly improved.
If you do this enough years with the patience of a monk and the speed of a glacier, you become bullet proof. Not magically indestructible, but able to walk through the fire without being scorched. I'll outline the methods and the madness. Be forewarned, the reader takes all responsibility for his training progressions and reckless activities. There is no free lunch. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.
I'll break these exercises up into categories of Bracing, Stretching and Moving. Let me explain:
Bracing is loading positions that instill the body with resistance in areas of comprised leverage.
Stretching is moving in and out of extreme positions with small amounts of added resistance to install improved range of motion and durability in those positions.
Moving is carrying resistance through lifts that incorporate weak spots in movement. These look like circus tricks and are criticized as such, but insure that unbalanced development in strength does not occur.
There is much overlap within these categories, so the lines begin to blur. The overall theme will be consistent and while some soreness will result from this training, the effects will be restorative. A linear progression should be tossed out the window and perfection of the skill of movement should proceed the greater challenge of increasing resistance. I'll describe several exercises in each category and offer some very open-ended templates that can be installed into your training program.
Bracing is an important action that lends itself to the protection of the body structure. We are all aware of the "plank" and its variation. Fifty years ago, they had a different name for this: a push up. The body was held stiff in a prone position and you dynamically moved, providing exercise for the triceps, front deltoid, and pectoral muscles. The rest of the body was held ram rod straight. This movement and its versions still has tremendous value. Too many people jump on machines and start doing a "pushing" exercise when they would be better off dumping the 2000 dollar machine and just doing pushups.
An improvement over a push up would be to load the body and provide a greater challenge to the muscles involved. An exercise such as the Renegade Row fits the bill nicely. You are doing a plank with your hands on dumbbells or kettlebells. Your feet are spread for some added stability as well. The choice to start the movement with a push up is optional and entirely up to you. The real crux of this technique is to stabilize the body and pull "row" the dumbbell or kettlebell to your hip. This requires massive levels of body tension. Repeat the movement with the other arm and then add a slow pushup. Repeat. Determine your repetition range and training volume. This exercise will have a powerful effect on your whole torso. Visualize this exercise and concept to internalize the concept of "bracing."
Stretching is moving to the bitter end of a joint's range of motion and building strength and added mobility. Resistance bands are the primary tool in this context. There are countless exercises that can be demonstrated, but the fundamental skill is to pull the desired limb into a stretched position and keep active movement. There is no static component here. The limb is pulled, flexed, rotated, and contracted against the load in the extreme range of motion. Not only does this methodology improve flexibility, but it adds strength in areas where we are often quite weak. This is a clear example of the simplest of tools providing an elegant result.
Moving is the last area of our study. These are weight training exercises that have us manipulate weight in positions of compromise. These exercises do not lend themselves to unnecessarily high loads. They lend themselves to the seamless integration of total body movement, eliminating weak or under developed muscle groups and positions. You can actually gain strength rapidly with these "moving" exercises. Progress however should be slow and more like a process of exploration. Look for kinks, dead spots and tight areas.
A good time to do this is after your primary workout. These exercises are non-competitive and therefore require no pushing. They require a journey inward to allow ability to happen. Here is an example of such a workout which will cross the boundaries of categories within the vehicle of many attributes.
Goblet Squat - Simply hold the dumbbell or kettlebell like a goblet at its base between your palms. Squat slowly and sit back as you do. Force your knees apart, activating the muscles of your hips. This exercise teaches you how to squat deeply. At the bottom, use your elbows to pry your knees apart, stretching the deep, inner, thigh area. Come out of the bottom position slowly and repeat. Focus on tracking the knees over the toes, dropping the torso, which remains erect, between the thighs. This is not about heavy resistance. This is about biomechanical efficiency. We are not natural squatters in the Western world. It will take some time to get your groove on.
Jump Stretch French Press - This will require the use of a Jump-start band, bungee, or even a dumbbell. The resistance is meaningless. The weight or band will be held overhead. If it is a band, you must be stepping on it securely, assuming all risks for lousy technique. Keep your buttocks and thighs tight. Your biceps should be near your ears as you lower the forearms towards the ground behind your head. Keep your elbows from spreading laterally. A true French Press would focus on the triceps, but this press has you bracing the torso and lower body, while allowing the upper arms to extend to a stretched position. By flexing the triceps in this fashion we allow a bit more movement around the shoulder and upper torso muscles. This stretching allows for easier shoulder function and has major effects on the posture.
Hockey Deadlift - This exercise, if done with too heavy a weight, or too quickly involves risk. However, this exercise develops a series of skill sets that allow a robust range of motion in an area of much neglect. You may start with NO weight or a very light one. Stand up tall, with the weight, usually a dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands. Sit back as if you were moving your buttocks to a wooden park bench. Lower your weight, or finger tips to the outside of your ankle bone. Move slowly and don't insist on reaching your goal the first time or your one hundred and first time. Change directions with absolutely no ballistic component. Come to a fully erect position and endeavor to keep length between your tailbone to your scalp. Then repeat on the other side. It's almost as if you were sitting in a chair and reaching to tie your shoe, but just a going a bit further.
Walking Splits - This exercise requires no equipment. Start on a surface where your feet will not slip. Standing with feet at shoulder width. Stay erect and don't lean forward at the waist. Now rotate both heels out, keeping the knees locked. Then rotate both of your toes out. This will take your feet further apart. Continue to "walk" your feet apart by doing this internal and external rotation of the femur or upper leg bone. Eventually, your range of motion will max out. Hold this position and pinch the floor as if to slide your feet together for about thirty seconds. Now, without losing balance, reverse the process by "walking" until your feet are again shoulder width apart. Repeat this process two more times, trying to get a bit deeper. Don't force it. This subtle muscular action will actually develop strength in the hips and increase your range of motion.
These four fundamental exercises represent a small part of a total system of preventative and developmental methodologies. I recommend several sets of three repetitions.
|This article was featured in the August 2010 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. "Bullet Proof: Enhance Your Body's Durability" was written by Tom Furman. You can purchase this issue by Clicking Here.|
Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. Find out more at www.TomFurman.com
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