Book Review: Relax into Stretch by Pavel Tsatsouline

Book Review:

I read a lot of books, and I mean a lot, so for a book to stick in my mind distinctly from other books really says something. The best book I\’ve ever read on the topic of flexibility is Pavel Tsatsouline\’s \”Relax Into Stretch\”.


Here are are a couple of interesting tidbits I learned:

The reason you can\’t do the splits is not because of your muscles, but because of your nervous system. Case in point: raise one leg out to the side until it\’s parallel to the ground. Then repeat with the other leg. Chances are you were able to repeat that move on both legs. So why can\’t you do the splits? After all, there is no muscle, no tendon, and no ligament that crosses from one leg to the other. What\’s stopping you from doing the splits?

The reason is the nervous system. It constantly monitors which positions you get into and don\’t get into. So if you\’re not used to doing the splits, if you attempt to do so, your nervous system will recognize it as unfamiliar territory and cause you to tighten up.

How do you overcome that reflex? By fooling the nervous system through other neurological reflexes. One technique he talks about is \”waiting out the tension.\” That is going to the position of slight discomfort but not pain. Then hold that position until the discomfort isn\’t felt anymore. The cessation of the discomfort is indicative of the nervous system\’s defenses coming down, and allowing you more range of motion.

Another technique for getting past this reflex is something called \”proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation\” (or PNF for short). How does it work? One of the reasons that your nervous system puts on the brakes before the muscles are even close to the full length is that it believes that if your muscle stretch any further, you will not have the strength to bring them back to a \”comfortable position.\” By actively contracting your muscles in this stretching position, you demonstrate to your nervous system that you can still contract the muscles in those positions, so the nervous system lets its guard down a bit, and allows you slightly more range of motion.

There are of course lots more tidbits in \”Relax into Stretch\”. I originally read the book about 8 years ago, but have come back to it numerous times. And at less than 150 pages, it\’s a quick read, written for the layperson, but the quality of information is extremely good.

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