In this episode I talk with Anne Tierney of Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching. Discovering myths about stretching and flexibility (as well as discovering what actually works!) has been a recent obsession of mine lately, and with all I’ve discovered Ki-Hara looks to be one of the most promising options out there for obtaining gains not only in flexibility, but also in strength. Anne and I talk about what the advantages are of this kind of eccentric training, why alleviating global imbalances is the name of the game, how all of this can lead to a pain-free life, the dangers of overstretching, and why the results of this kind of work are more lasting.
Anne Tierney and Steve Sierra have created Ki-Hara Resistance Stretching. It’s a form of bodywork focusing on eccentric trainig and balance in the body. So while it is a flexibility program, there is a big focus on strength. Mainly on balancing muscle groups.
The muscles are being contracted and lengthened simultaneously. Eccentric is lengthening under contraction. Most people are used to relaxing into a stretch, but if you contract a muscle while you stretch it you don’t over stretch it and it creates its own safety mechanism.
I reference Jules Mitchell interview (on the podcast in the past, linked at the bottom of this post) and that if your nervous system can be in control you can get more out of it.
When you think about being stretched it’s a very vulnerable thing. You’re just trying to push yourself farther and farther and you don’t know if you’re engaging the muscles, or if other muscles are substituting. We say when you can’t resist anymore that’s the end range of the stretch. That’s it’s own built in safety mechanism. That way there is an actual neurological connection so you know you’re working the muscles you are supposed to be working. That prevents you from injuring yourself from stretching.
[Brooke:] You’re saying people talk about it [being injured from stretching] a lot, but there are some communities- some yoga forms and even some athletic disciplines- where there is a belief that there is no amount of stretch that is too much. There isn’t an idea that there is too much- the more gumby we can get he better off we are, but people really do injure themselves that way.
What it usually is is that they don’t have the strength in the range, or it’s that their body is so unbalanced. If you see people with really long hamstrings and their quads are really short… If you have one muscle that is underactive, and the balancing muscle is overactive, that’s where injuries occur, because you have nothing stopping the other. That’s the really problem with stretching too much- it can’t fire when it gets in those really long ranges. if it doesn’t have the strength to come out of those really long ranges we consider that damaged muscle. It isn’t working properly.
The question isn’t can you do the splits, but can you pull yourself out of the splits?
[Brooke:] There is research showing that eccentrically trained muscle is stronger than concentrically trained muscle. (in resources)
If you’re in the gym and you are weight training with a 20 lb dumbbell that you’re gong to do a bicep curl. Raising up that dumbell might be harder, but the lowering is easy. You see people trying to raise these heavy weights swinging their whole body, but lowering it is no problem. That shows you right there that an eccentrically trained muscle is stronger. It takes about 2x the force to stretch a muscle as to contract a muscle. An eccentric muscle is able to handle a lot more load than a concentric muscle.
[Brooke:] And this creates more powerful and explosive movements when you are training eccentrically.
You can load it more, you’re going to get more range out of it, and if you have the power at those end ranges and can go farther, that creates the more powerful more explosive movements which is really key for athletics.
[Brooke:] You also touched on that you are not really so interested in spot treating things, you are looking at these issues of global imbalance.
A lot of great therapists don’t treat the symptoms, but try to find the source. Let’s say a pulled groin or adductor muscle- they are going to ask what can i do for the adductor muscle? We re going to ask what is going on in those abductor or outside muscles that is causing the inside muscles to pull like that? The outside muscles are usually way too dominant, and the inside muscles are too weak and don’t have the force to overcome it. We are always balancing muscle groups. Or we’re gong to find he right combination. Steve always says it’s like a lock, and you try to find the right combination to unlock it.
So if someone has back pain, we’re not going to look at their back, just like a lot of people wouldn’t. A lot of times the source of that pain comes from the front of the body, not just he abdominals, but the quads, or the iliopsoas being really tight and pulling on the lower back…
It’s about altering this balance of the length-tension relationships in the body.
The length-tension goes along with the eccentric training. Basically we are trying to broaden that length-tension curve so that as you lengthen you still have tension. Every muscle group of the body has a different length-tension curve. When we do it manually we can focus on every different muscle group and treat it all differently. And we view every person as being different and every body part as being different.
[Brooke:] If I were going to get a session with you, how would that go?
First we’ll do some basic evaluations and assessments- we’ll watch you walk and sit, we’ll ask you if you are having any aches and pains, see if there are any muscles that seem not to be firing, to be not connected neurologically. We get a feel for what is not working and what is working.
[Brooke:] Do people usually work with you long term or for a session?
If people come to us with pain things can typically be resolved in anywhere in 5 to 10 sessions- that depends on their lifestyle too- but they usually still come back because is it feels good.
[Brooke:] The results do seem to be lasting, clearly you are talking to the nervous system in the way that it can digest the information and keep it.
It’s pretty bizarre. We’ve seen it over and over again. People can’t believe it when they haven’t been able to touch their toes for 15 years and they can touch them after the session. And when we see them next time they can still touch their toes even if they didn’t do their homework.
[Brooke:] I’m putting out on the site soon a guide on just rehabilitating short hamstrings because I hear about that issue so much (in resources).
Stretch the quads and strengthen the hamstrings! Usually people need strength in the hamstrings and glutes. And if it can’t fire under a loaded contraction- you can’t stretch a muscle that’s not strong. You need both. A lot of people focus on one or the other- stretching with yoga, or hitting it hard and lifting in the gym. But you need both.
Sitting- I think in the article that brought you here (in resources- the piece I wrote on Breaking Muscle) if you’re sitting all the time the tissue starts to get adapted to that position. If your arm has been in a bent arm cast for 4 or 5 weeks they can’t stretch it out. That’s because they couldn’t move it and so the body decides that’s how they want it to be. The body thinks it’s helping you.
[Brooke:] It does what we tell it to do!
[Brooke:] Speaking of that casting analogy- one of the articles you had sent over to me is about the sarcomeres and that with the Ki-Hara work it actually shows an increase in sarcomeres.
I’m not an expert in sarcomereogenesis by any means, but the research shows that the eccentric contractions can increase the sarcomeres especially at the end ranges over time. This allows for increased range of motion and control of the end ranges. To e able to create more sarcomeres is an incredible thing, we’ve seen it time and time again that the eccentric stretching concept is really working.
[Brooke] You’ve worked with a number of high level athletes, probably most notably the Olympic swimmer Dara Torres.
They are the hardest working, most dedicated people and are in a league of their own when it comes to being focused and working hard. They usually have something really special about them. They are genetic freaks in some ways, along with their drive and dedication.
Dara had some of the best tissue we’ve ever worked on. She was tested at some point and she has more type 2 muscle fibers than all the other Olympians- type 2 is the fast twitch. Ki-Hara really hones in on that and makes more type 2. So it was a marriage made in heaven.
What are some of the things you are currently fascinated by either in your work with other people or in your own daily movement practice?
I have a 3 year old son, so he keeps me pretty busy. I’m fascinated by the things they can put their bodies through. I’m very intrigued by athletes and their recovery. It’s amazing how much athletes can abuse their bodies and continue to do it. I’d like to see more of them take better care of their bodies. It’s the best investment they can make. Dara put a lot of money into her body and it can pay off. I’d like to see other athletes realize that if they take care of themselves they can play longer and just feel better.
It’s counterintuitive [contracting while lengthening] but it really works and we have some amazing trainers across the country who are really genuine people and work really hard. It’s great for the everyday person too, just to give their body some relief from the routine.
We do something called mashing which is the bodywork with our feet (in resources), the stretching itself helps regenerate things. The more the muscles are being eccentrically loaded, the less sore they get. As you go on you get less and less sore and you train harder.
Anne Tierney was kind enough to give me permission to link to 3 of their YouTube videos in the Liberated Body Guide to Short Hamstrings. So what better way to get a feel for Ki-Hara than to try it out! Here is Dara Torres demonstrating 3 resistance stretches for the hamstrings muscle group:
Eccentric training (article by Pam Pedlow summarizing the research on gains from eccentric training)
My article on Breaking Muscle: Stretching Doesn’t Work (the Way You Think it Does)
Data – Altering the Length Tension Relationship with Eccentric Exercise: Brughelli and Cronin: School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Australia (this includes the information on sacromerogenesis)
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