My younger son Matt decided at 11 years of age to take up martial arts. Having myself dabbled in Tae Kwon Do several times in the past (never more than 6 months at any one stretch), the choice was clear-cut. It also helped that, fortuitously, Master You had just opened up a studio in our town (the next closest location was over 15 miles away).
As a result, Matt stuck with it for a year and earned a red belt. Six years later, at 57, I had progressed halfway (2nd stripe) toward a 2nd degree black belt. Two subsequent injuries, an MCL from Tae Kwon Do and the lower back from lifting (bulged disc), sidelining me from any exercising for several months. Life got in the way during this period and returning to formal training never occurred. [Side note: I acquired a firsthand connection as to what back pain can truly be, which will be the subject for a future column].
What I did not comprehend at the time was what insight would be acquired from just doing what all dads should do, be involved in their kids’ activities. Tae Kwon Do presents a challenge on all physical fronts – cardio, resistance, flexibility, balance and breathing. As the training progressed, a true awareness began to emerge about the fundamental importance stretching played in the overall perform of this martial art.
As the forms became more complex, the realization took hold how the quality of performance was directly related to range of motion (aka ROM). Being comfortable with the full extension of the quads/hamstrings/lower back/gluts, being able to go through unimpeded movement patterns, allowed the focus to be entirely on kicking techniques. The mechanics were ‘on point’ (practice, practice, practice), although Master You always felt improvement could have been made on my ‘chi’, which I interpreted to mean ‘flow’.
What followed was a recognition that, if heightened pliability amplified the body’s movement in all planes (sagittal, frontal, transverse) for Tae Kwon Do, why wouldn’t other forms of exercise benefit as well? And what about athletic endeavors?
The next day you are at the gym, make a conscious effort to note how many times you see a member doing any kind of stretching. I would be willing to put down some hard earned cash, betting your observations would reveal less than 10% even make an effort. Why? Here’s my theory.
Several years ago I wrote a column stating the ‘problem’ was there were too many choices. My belief at the time was rooted in the idea there was no consensus of opinion. There were too many techniques from which to choose. First, did you focus on ballistic, active isolation, yoga, static or PNF. Then, should you stretch before, during or after exercise? How long should you hold the stretch? There were some circles actually questioning the validity of stretching.
Later on, it dawned on me this initial viewpoint was somehow misdirected. There is also no consensus of opinion when it comes to tackling cardio or resistance training. The level of diverse choices available for these two methodologies are too innumerable to even begin to list in this column. In fact, that list would dwarf what exists for approaches toward flexibility.
So, what was I missing? Then it struck me. Having no consensus was not the issue. Instead, the industry, in most quarters, treated ROM as the ‘red-headed stepchild’. There wasn’t a fundamental clamor to emphasis flexibility with the same diligence cardio and resistance enjoyed. That stretching is indispensable to any training protocol is foreign to most articles and columns. ROM is customarily the shortest chapter if it gets a chapter at all.
For confirmation, let’s go back to observing the activities in the gym. Everyone is either doing some type of aerobics or strength training or both. Those activities were the reason they drove to the gym in the first place. They’ve been doing these types of workouts in some form or fashion, probably since high school in many cases. The whole world ‘knows’ doing cardiovascular and resistance exercises is essential, without question. Meanwhile, stretching is, at best, an afterthought. (How many people did you say you saw on Team Yoga today?)
There are literally hundreds of books spelling out the long list of benefits for this cardio discipline or that strength training protocol. Now, how many of those same books preach range of motion with the same passion and dedication? From the readers’ perspective, flexibility is relegated to, at best, a secondary role.
It could be argued the first thing the baby boomers become cognizant of is their loss of flexibility. Turning around to back up the car or bending over to tie their shoes becomes ‘a bridge too far’. They are starting to experience a decline. When you introduce a stretching component into the overall exercise program, the over 50 crowd will welcome having been given the tools to regain their formerly lost mobility. The beauty of teaching this element is your clientele can also utilize these techniques outside the gym (on vacation, doing yardwork, at work, etc).
I would like to advocate for a reevaluation, a renewed emphasis toward stretching. My contention is ROM is on an equal footing, it carries the same relevance, as does aerobics and resistance training when it comes to the well-being of the client. I want to impart an understanding that, without incorporating flexibility training into every cardio and resistance event, neither one can reach its true potential.
If you decide to implement ROM as part of your training strategy, your business will now have another asset to offer. You will stand out from the crowd. Your credibility will be enhanced. Retention levels will rise (clients stay with me an average of over a year). You will sense a gratitude coming from that senior who recognizes you have given them something that will improve their quality of life, both now and in the future.
[Part 2] The next column will go into the details of how to approach stretching along with some of the specific techniques learned over the past 17 years. Stay tuned.
Good Luck and Good Health!
ACE and AFAA Certified
1st and 2nd Stripe Tae Kwon Do