Flexibility - More Than You Want To Know

Oh the possiblities!
Over Easter Break I didn't do squat. Ok. Maybe one squat, but not much more. And I felt it. My hips, quads, calves and achilles were super tight. I pretty much sat on my ass working on my computer (yeah... you would think vacation means "free of work," HA! Not in my opposite world!) This scenario is pretty much a recipe for disaster as far as my mobility goes. Yeah. If you saw me get up to walk across the room you would point and laugh. I looked like a severely wounded animal trying to drag my carcass to the nearest corner so as not to be labeled road-kill.

So over the last few days of my break I pretty much replaced my normal mobility routine with, well... working and cocktails. Funny thing is, the cocktails worked. Talk about FLEXIBILITY. Awwwwyeah! After a couple gin and cranberies or a few beers I swear I could do the splits! OK. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration (um... maybe not as much of an exagerration as you might think), but I wrote this post on the last day of my vacation while under the influence so take my words with a grain of salt, or maybe a splash of bitters. Trust me, the bitters are the way to go. *wink*

So before my sudo health hiatus, otherwise known as Easter Break, I was working diligently on getting my mobilitude on. Its all about the mobilitude, flexibilitude, pliabilitude, bendabilitude... And lately I've been working on the split-it-itudes. (how do you like my George Bush inspired vocabulary?) Well, at least I was working on doing the splits. Last time I tried it I got low enough (which really isn't that low for me) my hips locked up, my abs cramped and I needed to recruit help to get myself back up again. Seriously. Trying to do the splits right now is a two person endeavor. I need to call for back up.

As you can see my fitness is not limited to sweat drenching workovers, high intensity sprinting or even whacking myself in the head multiple times with a jump rope. I have work to do in the mobility and flexibility department especially if I want to run long stupid miles. Or if I want to fix my bad posture. Or stay injury-free. Or, well.. as my minus-mobility break revealed... walk.

But, what exactly is mobility and flexiblity? Yeah. I've been trying to suss this out for myself. It seems some people have it and others don't. So here goes a partly intoxicated explanation:
Flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle and other soft tissues to lengthen, but its more than that. It also encompasses mobility in a joint which is the range of motion that joint has. If you don't have flexibility, you will limit your mobility. As Seth puts it... 
"Being inflexible is the same as driving around in your car while your parking break is on.  It won’t stop you, but it sure as hell puts a ton of wear on the car and requires much more force to get anywhere."
And you'll probably look like a total dork. Which isn't hard for me to do. I try to limit my dork-like tendencies by not driving with the parking break on. So flexibility is yet another reason why I'm working my ass off with all this mobility stuff. Well, not literally working my ass off, cuz it was still there last time I caught some random creepy dude at the gym taking a picture of it. Really. Maybe I should wear a pair of shorts like the chick above that say "No Flash Photography, Please." on my ass next time.

Moving on... 

Flexibility can either be static or dynamic in nature. 

Static flexibility is the range of motion that can be achieved when, for example, someone else takes your leg through a hamstring stretch. 

Dynamic flexibility is the range of motion an athlete will produce on their own during a movement. Here's where speed and velocity become a factor. A sprinter might need more dynamic flexibility in their hips than say a pole dancer. Ok. Maybe pole dancers do need lots of dynamic hip flexibility. Bad example, but you get it. Its important to have a good amount of range of motion in a joint in order to produce speed and velocity.

But, mobility and flexibility is not just about the joints and the muscles. The nervous system plays a key role here as well. In fact, many experts believe that our nervous system may be what's keeping people like me from doing the splits. If I can lift my left leg up to a 90 degree angle and do the same with the right leg what's stopping me from doing both at the same time? Well, other than the fact that I don't have two classical columns to prop myself up on like this dude...

Men who can do the splits are pretty hot.
When I try to do the splits my inner thigh muscles are screaming out, "OH HELL NO!" and they're not budging. So what gives (or doesn't give in my case)?

Well, first of all, its not our muscles that are saying "OH HELL NO!!" its actually our nervous system. Specifically some little nerve dudes who live inside the muscle in what is called the muscle "spindle." They like to chat with their pals in the spinal cord about our stretch reflex by barking out technical coordinates and such like the length and rate of muscle lengthening. Apparently they think they're pretty smart since they help to control our muscle reflexes.

The spindle is also responsible for the phenomenon known as reciprocal inhibition. What happens is when a muscle contracts the opposite muscle will relax to allow the movement to occur without resistance. THIS, my friends, is TEAMWORK.

Check out this party trick:
To experience what I'm talking about here firsthand, stand or sit in front of a counter or table and press the edge of your hand, karate-chop style, onto the tabletop. If you touch the back of your upper arm—your triceps muscle—you'll notice that it's firmly engaged. If you touch the opposing muscles, the biceps (the big muscles on the front of your upper arm), they will be relaxed.  

This reciprocal inhibition shit is pretty cool stuff. Ok. I will admit. My geeky side is on display right now.

And you know who else likes to chat with the nerves in the spinal cord? The Golgi Tendon Organ (commonly referred to as the GTO). Hey! G-T-Ohhhhh! GTO sounds a little gangsta to me.

The GTO lives in some fibers that attach muscle to bone (hence the tendon description). So this guy is one of the first to know when a muscle is being contracted or stretched. This dude might think he's a big know-it-all telling the nerves in the spinal cord all about what's going on with the muscles around him but its really the smaller, more nerdy nerve cell in the spinal cord that sends the signal back whether to initiate smackdown by either contracting the muscle or relaxing it. Those little nerdy guys are pretty bossy. They like to bitch slap me if I even THINK about doing the splits. Afterall, they are trying to keep me from hurting myself and having to call back up.

So its my small, nerdy nerve cells in my spinal cord that I need to have a talking to. But apparently they eventually chill with their "OH HELL NO!" signals and let our muscles relax once the muscle spindle has had a chance to adapt to the new length. Which takes about six seconds.
This would totally explain all that hooha about how stretching before activity might not be such a good idea.

Its probably not a good idea to put my muscles to sleep right before I'm about to run a time trial or do Tabata sprints. And I don't need a bunch of slacker muscles right before I'm about to do deadlifts or heavy squats either.

But if I did a bunch of lunges, squats, or whacked myself a few times with a jump rope my GTO dude would yell out "GAME ON!" and give me some power.

A dynamic warm-up increases blood flow to the muscles and can increase power, flexibility, and ultimately range of motion which is why its great before a workout. On the other end of things static stretching is great for after a workout since its sending the "chill out and don't do shit" signals to the muscles if they are in any static position for more than six seconds. I wonder if that's why I get all narcoleptic while I'm stretching after a workover. Hmmmmm...

So it IS possible for me to do the splits. Eventually. But it may take some time. I have to convince my spinal cord nerds to tell their GTO and other buddies to lighten up and relax a bit. In the meantime, I've gleaned some valuable information just on flexibility and mobility and how it all works with my brain and nervous system. See what five days in the woods does to you?

And now I have to apologize for vomiting all this information all over you. Drinking and unrestricted access to the internet is a dangerous thing.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  1. Oh my godness, just looking at those pictures hurts!! lol

  2. I like that you have done your homework on how the muscles function. Most folks don't take time to do this. We each have our own ROM, and flexibility limits of course. Their are some safe ways to increase those limits. Many injuries come from not respecting your muscles limits.

    I'd encourage you to check out "muscle activation therapy" if you have some extra cash. Look at Greg RosKopf's MAT site. Unfortunately the site does not show any registered MAT specialist in your area.

    Basically to extend your range of motion/flexibility. You would want to isolate the particular muscles you want to extend. By doing isometric excersices at home. It takes very little time to do day to day. As you do them you can alert, ot train the nervous system to extend your motion. It's actually very simple, but MAT workers can assign what muscles you need to isolate, and show you the iso excersices.

    So you might want to dig around for MAT specialist. You can find some examples of you tube, but the videos are limited. Greg has the circle kind of locked down. I used the modality in the past it works wonders for muscle nervous system imbalances. The MAT thinking is opposite of what we learned as children. So it kind of requires a open mind which I see you are not short of.......

    MAT is usually used to correct at the source a injury. Though you could certainly use it to extend ROM, etc.


  3. Very informatudinous! Does alcohol help relax the appropriate muscles?

    1. well... I wouldn't advise a routine of stretching and doing the splits under the influence, but alcohol does depress the nervous system and slows down the signals. Not sure this is very safe, but it sure is more fun and entertaining for those watching!

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences here on your blog.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Twenty Miles Of Punishment

Shame and Camel Toe

Evofem's Softcup Review

I'm A Sucker For Beauty & Athletic Eye Candy

A Running Orgasm?