In the book Relax Into Stretch, Pavel Tsatsouline says that “Stretching is NOT the best way to become flexible!”. The statement goes against what we have think we know all this while. Pavel explains that the Western approach to flexibility has failed because it assumes that the muscles and connective tissue need to be physically stretched. Pavel thoughts on this are exactly the opposite. For him, you don’t need to stretch if you want to be flexible.
Contrary to the Western school of thought, Pavel says that what really prevent all of us from being flexible has nothing to do with “short” muscles, it’s the nervous system. The fear of injuring yourself fire up your nervous system to tense up your muscle. The muscles tighten up and resist lengthening. Russian scientists call it antagonist passive insufficiency.
Our nervous system will condition the muscles in the way that we most often use them. If we try to elongate the muscles beyond that, the stretch reflex fires and it reins the muscle right back in. We can put it this way, it’s the programming or the software (nervous system) that is preventing your from doing the splits, not so much the hardware (muscles).
The key is for us learn how to hack the programming of our nervous system. We need to learn to override it and learn to relax the muscle into the stretch. Human muscles are designed to be long enough to do all of the flexible movement including the splits. What Pavel do is he teaches people to control the nervous system response by manipulating tension and breathing.
As obvious as it is, people often forget that human muscles is interconnected with each other. To isolate just one portion of our body for stretching is not the optimal approach. Pavel points out that if you were to improve your shoulders flexibility, you will be able to perform the squats with greater ease. If you were to increase the flexibility of your spine, your rib cage will be more open and you will be able to bench press heavier weight.
Pavel strongly recommends the loaded passive stretching; esoteric forms of stretching that can make you stronger and bigger. In this type of stretching, you use light weight to stretch out your muscles after a set. To put in in practice, say you are doing barbell curls, in between the sets, you sit on an incline bench and let two dumbbells stretch your biceps. Just let the weight hangs for a while, don’t try to contract or relax the muscle. This technique is proven to make you stronger.
With intelligent approach to flexibility, you will be able to maximize your performance. For example some weight lifters are unable to lock out a deadlift due to the fact that their hip flexors are too tight. With the right stretching, the lifters will able to get better result and the numbers up. To move with a body that’s not flexible is akin to driving the car with the hand-brake on, which is not really an efficient way to drive.