While being a youngster doing martial arts of course I did a lot of stretching. Mostly it was ‘relax stretching’. I never was really flexible, but then again, it wasn’t really needed for Kempo and traditional Kungfu. Dynamically I could kick about the height of my head, and that was enough.
When about 18 years old, I also practiced some modern Wushu more and got obsessed with more flexibility. Besides relax stretching, bouncing and pushing methods were used. People could push my leg far above my head and I got close to a side split. And there the problem started, people pushing the leg of the other person and bouncing (unsafe methods!). One day my hip was just stuck and hurting. From then on, when I tried stretching, it came back the day after stretching. As a result, I abandoned stretching almost completely.
Following sport (scientific) articles, in recent years, I started doing light relax stretching as a cooling-down again and some dynamic activators as a warming-up.
It wasn’t until Pavel Macek – long-time Kung Fu friend and in latest years a well achieved kettlebell and stretching expert, as well as organizer of this Flexible Steel seminar – pointed me to the book Flexible Steel, written by Master Jon Engum.
Initially, it was mainly the part on mobility drills that I included in my training and classes. Later, I also started to practice activators as Cossacks and Lunges as finishing part of the warming-up. In my private training I also included kettlebells. My dynamic flexibility and strength increased rapidly, the same with the Kung Fu students. And the best part, there were no injuries at all.
Wanting more, a few months ago I started with the power stretching part of the book, but very carefully and gradually. In addition, I expended my library with the work of Pavel Tsatsouline, and started working on isometric stretching/PNF (books of Pavel Tsatsouline: Super Joints and Relax into Stretch). The results were interesting (toe touch from halfway shins to almost touching the toes), yet I stayed a bit cautions to previous injuries.
Furthermore, I decided it was time to understand the full program, to avoid any mistakes in understanding and get more tips. It was time to follow a Flexible Steel seminar.
The Flexible Steel seminar was held in Prague, organised by Pavel Macek. The seminar itself was taught by him and Steve Freides from the US, both Flexible Steel team leaders. They were assisted by Pavel’s wife Justyna and the Polish Flexible Steel team: Andzelika Stefanska and Piotr Kowalik. This team completed each other wonderfully, which led to a smooth seminar.
The seminar was one full day, from 9:00 am to 18:00 pm. In the morning the principles of testing the mobility, trouble shooting (trying different exercises to increase Range of Motion) and retesting the mobility were explained. The main test was the shoulder overhead mobility, e.g. for people pressing weights overhead and people with (previous) or vulnerable for shoulder injuries.
The exercises were mostly joint mobility exercises. Even though, most of these exercises are familiar for martial artists, the Flexible Steel program excels here due to functionality. Many tips on how to improve intention, create space in the joints and spreading the load lead to immediate results.
Furthermore, even with just the joint mobility drills there were lots of attention for safety tips and how to work with a partner (for coaches, personal trainers,…). Interesting also, was that for quite a number of people working the ankles would improve the Range of Mobility of the shoulders, proving Flexible Steel’s principle that the body is one chain in stretching and stretching is done with the entire body.
In the afternoon the isometric, tension-relaxation stretching and ways to use body reflexes were introduced. The main principle is that the brain actually withholds the body/muscles from lengthening by contracting as a safety mechanism and the body can be trained to allow the muscles to ‘allow’ more. Again, drills were shown, had to be practiced with a partner and each time the Range of Mobility had to be tested before and after an exercise. The main focus for this kind of stretching were the legs, being toe touch, front and side split.
As a ‘volunteer’ for many exercises which were tested and retested with the toe touch, the organizers Pavel and Steve pushed me to the limits (mentally that is, while actually I am the one using my strength to push, bend and lift my legs myself). The exercises actually cost a lot of strength and energy. But the results show: from a near toe touch to a comfortable real toe touch. And then suddenly ‘FlexiMagic Steve’ got me about half hand length further (my knuckles almost touching the floor).
Then it was time to work on the same drills with a partner – I think there wasn’t anybody who’s range didn’t drastically improve. Last, but not least, it was time to work on hip drills for splits. Although splits weren’t really my cup of tea (I mean: aren’t yet, but hopefully soon), quite a few people achieved big improvements. At the end of the instructor seminar, everybody was very tired (especially the legs) and loaded with information.
I had sore muscles all evening and night, but felt great on the gained insights. It was a great seminar, and I can’t wait to improve my own flexibility and work with kungfu students on the Flexible Steel program.
The motto of Flexible Steel is: “If you can choose between flexible and strong muscles, just chose both”.
Flexible Steel is an efficient program and even though it’s quite heavy, it’s actually quite safe. This last is very important to me, because where in the 1980’s lots of people dropped out of martial arts because of injuries mostly while stretching, I think any injury of a student is one to many; it means the method must be improved or the specific exercise being dropped. Flexible Steel thinks the same and delivers what it promises.
The seminar has a great set-up. Even though the seminar is an instructor seminar, it is not only suitable for personal trainers and martial arts teachers but for anybody with an interest in strength and flexibility training or martial arts. As a matter of fact, I would even advise people who mostly train individual at home to just follow this seminar. It will rock, guaranteed!
For more info on seminars, please visit: www.flexiblesteel.com
About the author: Charris van ‘t Slot Sifu, Hung Ga Kung Fu Utrecht www.kungfu-utrecht.nl. Part-time Kung Fu teacher and strength training fanatic.
Intro photo: JCVD, Bloodsport.
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