Saturday, October 22, 2005

You Can't Be Flexible without a Rigid Plan

I've been working hard on leg stretching the last few weeks, and I'm finally starting to see some progress. It takes me a good half hour to get to where I want to be for that particular day, but every few days I do notice some extra flexibility. Not much, but enough to be encouraging.

I saw a book called Ultimate Flexibility: A Complete Guide to Stretching for Martial Arts by Dr. Sang H. Kim. He is a martial artist (Tae Kwon Do) but has a masters degree in physiology. His doctorate is in communications. He's not a medical doctor or even a physical therapist, but he's certainly thorough in his understanding of the body. Much of the book is pictures of exercises, but the best parts are in the front and in the back. He really gets into explaining the nature of muscles and flexibility, and even explained why after stretching or exercising it sometimes seems that you don't get anywhere, that things may actually get worse for some time. He explains how to get past those periods. Comments about what happens as your body ages were particularly encouraging, as he explained how there were things you could do and that there were no reasons to get discouraged. He did explain that starting older you will never get the flexibility of younger students, but that with diligence you could make some rather significant strides. That made me feel better.

His other book, Martial Arts After 40, did have some of the same matter in it, but it did have other insights, such as dealing with teachers who are much older than you. I found that to be funny since I was a college professor when I was 25; virtually all of my night students were older than me. Now the shoe is on the other foot, that is, if we wore shoes in karate, that's where it would be.

One of the best features of the Ultimate Flexibility book is that it outlines, visually, exercise and stretching routines that focus on particular problems. The exercises are described with multiple photos and usually identify ways of executing them for beginners and advanced students.

I was not aware that stretching after class could be valuable, and he is a big proponent of that. After all, your body and muscles are already warmed, and getting a little extra out of it would not be a big deal. I've tried it a couple of times, and it seems to work. I feel kind of dumb for not realizing it. I wonder how many months I wasted by not doing it. So now I just take a few minutes after class to stretch some more.

He also emphasizes that you can't get flexibility unless you develop more muscle strength. In my situation, unless I can build up the muscles that allow me to lift my leg, I can never expect to throw higher and better kicks, no matter how much I stretch. So in addition to stretching, I'm also doing more basic leg lifts, and soon I'll add some leg weights to it. I've been told by some of the other students that all I have to do is just do more kicks, and I have to say that I think it's too simplistic and short-sighted. There are muscles that just doing more kicks can't really get at. After all, athletes have known that cross-training helps them considerably, and this is the principal reason why.

I've still been dealing with the gastric issues, but things are managing okay. For business reasons, I'm changing my class schedule and I'll have four days in a row without a class pretty regularly. It will be interesting to see if the condition starts to recede with that much "rest" in between classes. I certainly hope so. It would be nice to get off the medication, but that may not be possible at all. That kind of decision is months and months away.

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