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  1. @Emmet Louis showed me something at two workshops recently that I have both been working on, and thinking about what might be the neurophysiology behind the effects. In his "Modern Methods of Mobility" workshops (strongly recommended), Emmet uses and promotes a technique he used to call "end-range closing". Using the pancake as an example, he works towards each leg in turn, using a concentric or contracting force with the agonists to achieve the 1" pulses he recommends; in other words, the hip flexors and the abs are pulling you into the end position, not the hands as the typical ST approach recommends. After each leg, he recommends a second line, somewhere between the leg and the mid-line, and last movement towards the mid-line (the typical pancake direction). When I first tried this, I realised that this was a dynamic use of the reciprocal inhibition reflex, which I have written about extensively, but it was much more than this: practising this contraction at the end of the ROM achieves two effects: it makes you able to access, then develop, strength in the end ROM (essential for straddle-ups, and all the gymnastic moves that require strength in the fully-contracted end ROM) and in the process, via the reciprocal inhibition reflex, inhibits the antagonists, in this case all the muscles you want to stretch. I have suggested to Emmet he calls this approach "Concentric Stretching", because it describes perfectly what his technique does. In saying this, I don't want to give the impression that this is his only technique; far from it—concentric stretching is one tool in the Emmet protocol; it's one that interested me particularly because my strength in this part of the ROM is average to poor. Today I realised two things: if you try to lift the leg you are moving towards up off the floor before trying to pull your chest towards the knee the effects (both activation and inhibition of the muscles being stretched) are stronger and, if you statically reach and keep reaching further (rather than the slow ~1" pulses he recommended on the last workshop) the effect for me is much stronger. In other words, a different self-cue to get the activation happening (lift leg off floor before trying the reaching) and not using pulsing (something I otherwise always recommend) and instead the 20 repetitions he recommends of only reaching x 20 times works significantly better for me. In reality, there is a continuum between reaching repetitively and pulsing; in reaching as I do it, an observer would see little movement of the trunk. The original Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Handbook (p. 92) only had a short paragraph with descriptive names of the techniques they recommended to improve ROM in the cerebrally and spinally injured, and we have taken one of those (we call "Contract–Relax" but which was called "Hold–Relax" in the original; the reasons behind changing this are discussed in Stretching & Flexibility) and we built largely ST around it. But the original textbook described a number of others techniques to increase ROM, all of which we tried many years ago, and at that time decided that C–R worked the best in healthy people. One of the other techniques is called "Agonist–Antagonist" and this is what Emmet has rediscovered, I believe, and now we are refining its use with people who are trying to optimise health and performance. For the reasons mentioned above, it is particularly relevant for people who want strength at the shortened end of the ROM they are using. The C–R approach develops strength at precisely the other end of any ROM we are exploring. I have found, in the last few weeks, that if you combine both approaches in the following ways, the results are better than either: Start with the activation drill I mentioned, by trying to lift the leg you will be moving towards up off the floor (I think "I will lift my leg towards my chest). You will feel rectus femoris contract immediately. With this sensation still in the body, then try pulling your chest along the leg; this activates the deeper HFs and the abs in my body. Then reach 20 times further down the leg. Actively reach past the last point achieved. Emmet recommends pushing a Yoga block away from you in this drill. Do the other leg with the same protocol. Do the second line as Emmet recommends, then end with the standard pancake line, and hold that end position. Now add the C–R: reach out and hold your feet, arch the back backwards as far as you can (to reverse the flexion in the lumbar spine), aggressively lift the chest, and while lifting the chest, try to pull back from your held feet. All the antagonist muscles will contract strongly. Contract for at least 20". Then to finish, let go of the feet and once more use Emmet's contractions to go deeper, directly in the standard pancake line. Hold for 30" (if you can; this is hard work). Then hold the feet; take in a breath and as you breath out, relax the tummy completely. Take in another breath, and use agonist contraction AND the strength of your arms to get into today's best position. This combination gives me an excellent result—please try it and report back. Thanks @Emmet Louis!
  2. (Imagine HG's voice): Hello sports fans! (I love that guy). I just posted an excerpt from a long (1.25 hours) sequence that I taught at the National Convention late last year (How to get side splits; all the preparation elements; this was the same sequence that I took the pancake fascial release YT video from). This little video shows one of my favourite ways of loosening gracilis and the inner hammie; it can be done any time (as long as you are not too sore). We will be releasing the whole program ("How to get side splits") as a download (this is not the same as Mastering the Pancake, which is being purpose-designed and shot in our studio in a few week's time) once we get some technical details sorted on the site. Here's the video: Enjoy!
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