I decided to use Pete Egoscue’s supine groin stretch as an alternative starting point for experimenting with relaxing the leg and hip joints, but instead of focusing on the extended leg I concentrated on the raised leg, particularly the hip flexors and hamstrings. Initially just relaxing a while, then lifting slightly and lowering the leg, and eventually using the slightest of contraction in order to engage the hip before relaxing again.
This base position allowed me to relax fully while experimenting with contracting different parts of the hip/lower back/thigh musculature and to begin to build an awareness of the difference between “on” and “off”. Sometimes I used my hands to provide additional tactile feedback, but in any case I progressed by feeling rather than labelling and attempting to consciously instruct parts of my body.
I also incorporated yesterday’s technique of lifting the leg using a band wrapped around a stick, both from a 90 degree supported position as well as without the chair so that the leg can relax completely to the floor.
[This technique led to the inadvertent discovery of a more efficient way of stretching internal rotation that avoids the problems associated with creating excess torque at the knee joint.
The leg is placed in the loop of the band just above the knee, and the band is then twisted in order to gain traction on the clothed leg, and then wound in a clockwise direction (for the left leg). The loose end of the band is then threaded with a stick which allows for a solid grip with both hands. As the stick is pulled away it causes the leg to internally rotate, which overcomes the limitations of trying to hold and twist the leg directly – you can act upon it from a more relaxed position, you are not limited by how much your hands can grip your leg, and the twisting force is generated indirectly from a more efficient straight line pull.]
Until now I have been trying to relax as quickly as possible, that is, to feel the change from tense to relaxed as quickly as possible. I think this is simply because it appears easier to observe the relaxed state when it is in the form of a falling or drooping limb, due to the contrast between the two opposites. This is compared to say, a relaxed muscle whose limb doesn’t change position because it is passively held in place by an outside force, as per yesterday’s exercise with the bicep.
Although the goal is to be able to transition from a naturally (subconsciously) maximally relaxed state to the opposite end of the spectrum in as short a time as possible, it doesn’t mean that this is exactly how we should train to achieve it.
I think though that slowly relaxing is harder for a beginner as it actually requires more control to be able to regulate various amounts of tension. It seems paradoxical that I must learn to relax progressively, when I can already seemingly flip the switch to do so instantly, but what we are really talking about developing is a state of controlled relaxation. Being able to move consciously and deliberately-unconsciously is only half of the equation. The other half is about preventing unwanted unconscious movement, which is perhaps an even greater task. When attempting to slowly turn off – by moving one limb with another through its range, there is a “stuttering” or “speedbump” type effect that can be felt when performing CARs. The muscles seem to anticipate certain positions or movements and attempt to contract accordingly, causing a conflict between these unconscious patterns and our new demands. It is almost as if the body recognises itself in a position and assumes that it must actively play a role in maintaining it. This is why when passively holding a bent arm, upon letting go it remains still instead of falling. Pulsing or rapid release does not have this effect, which is why I began to passively hold in end range before attempting to let go some seconds later.
I suspect that some ranges are more difficult to relax in than other, which means that the exercises must continue to operate in multiple dimensions.
Having decided to try and use a pulley-type system in order to make passive holding of the limbs easier, I began experimenting with a small resistance band. With one end wrapped around my wrist and the other draped over the back of a chair and lightly held with the opposite hand (this could just as easily be attached). The use of an elastic instead of a rope or cord provides unique opportunities, as the limb can be flexed against the resistance of the band and then released, as well as be actively lifted against gravity and then relaxed. This way, both the agonists and antagonists can be incorporated in a particular position. The activation of opposite muscle groups should also help trigger relaxation through reciprocal inhibition.
The main purpose of the pulley system though, is to allow a relaxed limb to be slowly moved through its passive ranges of motion in order to teach the muscles that it is safe for them to turn off, and only come on when instructed. I imagine that such exercises will come to form the bread and butter of this training method.
– With the elastic in place I tried to transition from triceps tensed to biceps tensed, while only recruiting the muscles in question. I realised that the anterior deltoid quite quickly becomes involves when attempting to bend my arm.