New Approach to Stretching: 3D Flexibility

I’ve been busy at work putting all of my research and ideas on flexibility together in a way that makes it as easy to understand as possible.

Einstein said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

That’s what I strive to do because most of you don’t have a degree in science and I’m betting that you probably appreciate me translating science-geek into plain English.

Consider me the bridge between the geeks and the regular peeps.

So after I scribbled everything down on paper and stepped back to take a look at the big picture, it all came together in one neat package: 3D Flexibility.

Yes, it’s a cool name that will market well.

Yes, it’s a name for the approach I’m going to use going forward when addressing flexibility issues.

And yes, it makes complete sense, once you understand the background behind it… which is what I’m going to explain to you right now.

What is 3D Flexibility?

In the first article, I gave you 7 critical flexibility concepts to understand, which lay the groundwork for the 3D Flexibility system.

Within the 7 critical components, I gave the the 3 main factors that you must address if you’re ever to achieve improved functional flexibility.

Not just the ability to hold a static stretch (which you’ll get as well), but the ability to smoothly use your full range of motion (ROM) with speed and power.

There are 3 main factors to address to improve your flexibility:

  1. Soft Tissue Length
  2. Neuromuscular Control
  3. Strength

So the name 3D flexibility makes sense, no? But wait – shit gets deeper – I’ll explain in a second,  but first…

These 3 main factors are not completely independent of one another, but any of them can limit your ability to achieve your flexibility potential.

In writing the previous sentence, that term sticks out for me – flexibility potential – because not everyone is capable of drinking a bottle of Coke using their feet.

Remember from last article, I mentioned that your flexibility can be limited by your ligaments,  which you may not want to stretch because of potential joint instability problems, and your bones and joint architecture, which won’t change despite your best efforts.

But luckily, this isn’t the case for most functional ranges of motion that we want to achieve, such as kicking a guy in the head.

However, using myself as an example, I’ve been able to determine that the only way I can do the front splits is if I stretch my iliofemoral ligament – not something I want to do because I’d rather have a stable hip joint. I’d imagine that hip dislocations aren’t much fun.

Now beneath each of the 3 main factors, there are 3 sub-factors that you address to regain lost flexibility or achieve flexibility you’ve never had.

The 3D Flexibility Factors

Soft tissue: fascia, muscle, joint capsule

Neuromuscular: pain threshold, unconscious reflexes, conscious ability to relax

Strength: prime movers, the core muscles, joint stabilizers (muscles that provide stability at that range of motion)

When things wrap themselves in neat little packages like this you have to run with it.

So we’ve got 3 main factors and 3 sub-factors beneath each, which gives us a total of 9 (3×3=9 for those of you who skipped the multiplication component of early childhood education) factors to address.

As I mentioned, each factor may be the one limiting your flexibility.

You may be worriedly thinking, “Does that mean I have to do 9 different things to improve my flexibility?”

Not necessarily. Because there are certain techniques that hit multiple factors at once. I’ll give you an example of it in this article.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!

Since writing this article, I've released a program to help anyone who has tight hips called the Hip Flexibility Solution.

If your hips limit you from kicking, grappling, squatting ass-to-grass or deadlifting with proper form, check it out:

www.HipFlexibilitySolution.com

Before we do that – let’s talk about static stretching – the most well-known method of stretching – and what factors are affected when performing a static stretch. Let’s also discuss the limitations of static stretching based on the 3D Flexibility model.

Static Stretching vs. 3D Flexibility

When you hold a static stretch, a few of the 3D Flexibility Factors come into play to affect what exactly is being stretched.

If you’re unable to relax the muscle being stretched, say, due to one of the neuromuscular factors, you may be stretching out your tendons (SEC).

Here’s an analogy so you can see why this is so:

Imagine a spring (your muscle) that has a rubber band connected on each end (tendons).

Now imagine that the spring is glued together or so tight that it can’t stretch.

If you pull the rubber bands apart, what is being stretched?

Come on, think about it, don’t wait for me to give you the answer…

.

.

.

If you said the rubber bands, which represent your tendons, you’re correct. Gold star for you.

On the other hand, if you can achieve total relaxation of the muscle involved, you may be stretching the PEC – the muscle fibers themselves.

Now if you need to stretch the SEC – you can purposefully perform a stretch where you hold an isometric contraction at the end ROM.

If you need to stretch the PEC, your goal is to stretch while the muscle is totally relaxed.

The thing is, you don’t always have perfect conscious control of the contraction of the muscle.

Neuromuscular reflexes such as the myotatic stretch reflex, which automatically contracts the muscle if it is lengthened too quickly can prevent you from achieving total muscular relaxation.

Strength of the muscle dictates what rate of lengthening the myotatic stretch reflex occurs at.

If your muscle is very strong at that ROM, then the myotatic stretch reflex doesn’t kick in as soon as it does if you’re stretching a muscle that is weak.

This is an ingenious protective mechanism that our bodies have built-in that prevent us from tearing muscles apart. But it can also limit us from achieving peak flexibility if we don’t know how to overcome it.

Strength also controls your ability to enter and exit the ROM, so when you do increase flexibility, you’ve got to ensure that you simultaneously increase strength, to make sure you don’t make your active:passive flexibility deficit any bigger.

Can you see how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Let me give you some ideas to address most of the issues presented above…

First, it’s impossible to tell if it’s your SEC or PEC limiting your flexibility. Either way, if you need to increase your flexibility, stretching both is a good idea. Except in certain cases where you don’t want to lose stiffness, such as the calf/achilles complex, where stretching the muscle is OK but you want to leave the tendon alone for power generation.

There’s an ancient Chinese concept called “surrounding the dragon” where you do everything that you know of to fix the problem you’re dealing with. You don’t worry about isolating variables. That’s exactly how we should address our flexibility problems, if we really want to deal with them quickly.

So to stretch both the SEC and PEC, you could perform the Contract-Relax method of stretching.

To do this, you simply enter the stretch, then when you’re at the end ROM, you contract the muscle being stretched for 5 seconds at anywhere from 50-75% of max contraction. Then you relax and go deeper into the stretch, holding for another 5 seconds. Repeat this process 3 times. This hits both the SEC and PEC components of the soft tissue.

However, if the muscle being stretched is tight due to the myotatic stretch reflex, ensure that you enter the stretch slowly. Remember – the myotatic stretch reflex responds to the speed at which you lengthen the muscle. Entering the stretch slowly negates this reflex. This is a little tweak that will make the difference between an effective and ineffective stretch.

Bingo, now we’re stretching the SEC, PEC and we’ve taken care of one of the neuromuscular factors – the myotatic stretch reflex.

But what if your inability to relax the muscle isn’t due to the stretch reflex, but simply a tonic (facilitated) muscle? [NOTE: a tonic muscle is one that fires and takes over when it’s not supposed to]

We can throw in a contraction of the antagonist, to invoke the law of reciprocal inhibition. 

The law of reciprocal inhibition states that when you contract a muscle, the opposing muscle group will relax.

So instead of just a contract-relax stretch, we can perform a contract-relax-antagonist-contract stretch. That term is kinda messy, so I like to call it dual contract relax (DCR) stretching.

This way, you can further address the 3D Flexibility Factors. Not to mention that you’re now strengthening both the agonists (muscle being stretched) and the antagonists!

Talk about efficiency. 🙂

Now, there are a few factors I haven’t addressed: fascia, conscious relaxation and dynamic strength. But I wanted to give you an idea of my mode of thinking and how a deep understanding of the background of a topic allows you to come up with efficient solutions to your problems. 

I also mentioned last email that I was going to think about what to do in the meantime for those of you who want to increase your flexibility now, but don’t want to wait a couple of months for my 3D Flexibility program to launch.

Well, after much thought, I’ve come up with it, and it’s pretty cool.

I’ll be spilling the beans next week. [Hint: the focus of the ‘program’ will be to improve kick height, speed and power]

And as always, I’d love to hear your feedback about this article, so hit me up in the Comments section with your questions, thoughts and ponderings.

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Nindz
Nindz

Hi Eric,
What’s the status of this programme now?

Mike
Mike

HI,

I just wanted to say thank you for making this program and I can’t wait to get it. I have been training in muy thai for over a year and still can’t achieve a 90 degree spread for my legs. Even worse I can’t kick to the ribs because when I turn my hip over for the kick something tightens up and pulls my legs together. Usually I won’t reach proper height or my bottom leg will get pulled up into the other leg causing me to fall over. I have also been stretching like my coaches have told me with no results. hopefully this program is what I need.

Nicholas
Nicholas

Hi Eric, some good points you’re making there, some I haven’t even heard of. I’m 15 this year, just started Taekwondo, I suffer mostly from a very stiff lower body, like you I didn’t really focus on it till now. I’ve been stretching like nobody’s business but my flexibility still remains and reverts back the moment I skimp on a daily stretch routine. I’m looking forward to your next post, keep it up man, some real good stuff here. Interested to know more about it. ^_^

Paulius
Paulius

This is forced relaxation technique.
Try looking up a book named “Relax into stretch” by Pavel Tsatsouline. He has several books with his name, all of them great, I believe it is rare considering the number of “gurus” we have today.

JDavila
JDavila

……..uhh I tried the contract – relax method…..I think I’m stuck…..I look like a pretzel 0_0. But it worked!!

marios
marios

Very very interesting!
Would love to read more!

Colleen
Colleen

Very sound, that’s why yoga is so beneficial -where with a good instructor these precise concepts are practically applied for safe movements.
Thanks a bunch!

itai sharon
itai sharon

Great article, and most importantly very usefull yet founded.

richie
richie

yeh good stuff, i’ve often read that strength has a lot to do with realising your flexibility potential but you’ve hit the topic with a surprising amount of depth. look forward to hearing more on the topic.

just curious, how did you determine your iliofemoral ligament was a limiting factor to you completing a front split?

Steve VB
Steve VB

keep writting that programme, looking forward to the finished product.

Josemm
Josemm

Great i really need this info thanks eric.

Leinz
Leinz

Yeah, gives sense to some well-known stretching “rules” like
breath deep, take time, relax, . . .
Good to know background of it

Avi
Avi

So deep, thank you!

Elton

GReat stuff as always Eric

Pai Mei
Pai Mei

It is the wood that should fear your hand not the other way around,

Tim NZ
Tim NZ

Sounding good so far Eric,looking foward to doing headshots at speed!!

DJ...
DJ...

Really great stuff Eric, and explained well in layman’s terms.
Looking forward to the next instalment.

Gary George
Gary George

Eric, what are your thoughts on this?
http://www.roguefitness.com/voodoo-floss-bands.php

any feedback would be greatly appreciated

and what kind of gloves are you using during sparring? I personally use Rival RS-1’s, and had them for awhile now. By far the best glove I’ve ever used with ZERO hand issues, and I’ve had scar tissue in my right wrist for years that occasionally puffs up during intense S&C sessions.

William Walker
William Walker

This is some deep stuff i dont particulary have trouble with flexibility but i do have som range of motion issues. Like i can kick head high if i dosome fast but i cant slowly go through the range of motion with control. Will this program improve the dexterity and fflexibilty of muscles?

Cork_boi
Cork_boi

Good stuff Eric, sorry to hear about your hand. I find it takes a lot longer to recover from injuries now that I’m in my 30’s, than when I was in my teens?
Why is this?
Thanks and get well soon – keep up the good work.

Justin
Justin

Nice! Exactly what I need to improve my head kicks, cant wait!

Gary George
Gary George

I want to be able to drink a coke using my feet while simultaneously pulling off a jumping one legged spin kick! Can’t wait for this program to launch, and I’ll start using the concepts above today. Thanks Eric

Stan
Stan

Awesome explanations Eric ! Bring on the techniques !!!!!!!!!!!!

Can’t wait to get started ! I feel better already, just knowing more!!

Alan
Alan

Great article Eric!

Look forward to the next article and the 3D Flexibility Program. Hammer it out!

Alan

Nindz
Nindz

I need this info now damnit!

ferman

Hmmmm…. Interesting. I’m looking forward to the next post on this.