If you followed the swimming program of the recent Olympics closely, you know that 41 year old 5 time Olympian, Dara Torres, was one of the few female swimmers who looked cut and lean. You probably also know that she achieved unprecedented success for a swimmer of her age by winning a silver medal in the most explosive of all swimming events, the 50m.
Dara attributed much of her career longevity and her recent improvements in the fourth decade of her life to a relatively new training technique called resistance stretching. What is this and is it of any use to a land based athlete?
Resistance stretching is a hybrid of flexibility and strength training. The term and the concepts of the training were created by the Meridian Flexibility Center. According to their website, resistance stretching-
Offers immediate, cumulative, and permanent increases in flexibility; takes the pain out of stretching, and protects you from injuring yourself by over-stretching.
Elsewhere on the site you find that the system is made up of stretches for 16 unique muscle groups with concomitant physiological and psychological benefits.
So what’s going on here? Is there something magic or new? Well, it seems the answer is yes and no. The concept of combining strength and flexibility is a fairly old concept. In fact, it is one of the fundamental principals of yoga. Furthermore, the late great Mel Siff dedicated an entire chapter of Supertraining to the possibilities of using PNF ‘stretching’ as a training stimulus for producing a variety of physiological adaptations, including strength. In fact, it appears that the effectiveness of resistance stretching appears to be much the same as using PNF as a training modality (rather than just a flexibility enhancement modality).
Take a look at the video below and you’ll see what I mean. The combination of stretching and contracting of muscles has been proven by research to be one of, if not the best method of enhancing flexibility. In addition, this type of training has the possibility of placing extreme eccentric loads on a muscle which can in turn produce significant strength gains due to a muscle’s ability to produce greater force when contracting eccentrically and the subsequent strengthening of both contractile and non-contractile tissue following the high level stimuli.
What you can see from the video is that the stretcher places the athlete in a position where the muscle is at it’s shortest length. The athlete then contracts while the partner forces the athlete’s muscle to lengthen. While manually applied resistance is a somewhat novel concept and several of the exercises indeed appear innovative, the idea itself is not much different than doing ‘negatives’ in the weight room with an exercise that permits very large ranges of motion. Valuable? Yes. New? Not really.