Length Before Strength

How to get your muscles working the right way.

So you want to get strong? Improve upper body strength. Squat deeper. Deadlift more weight. It’s very easy to go into a gym, or even a Pilates class and pick up a heavier weight or select a heavier spring – dig deep and just persevere.

But what you have to ask yourself is – do I have full range of movement in the first place? When it comes to strength, your muscles need to have their full length in order to perform a movement most efficiently.

Have you done front splits in class and seen someone else effortlessly going back and forth; straight legs, not breaking a sweat, on a yellow or even blue spring? I know, I hate them too! This person, this crime against nature, their hips and hamstrings have full range of motion – so when the instructor says, (meanly) “hold at your longest position” – they can do this too, no problem.

This is an example of full range of motion, where gravity and your own bodyweight is playing a part. This is a much more effective, and safer way to improve muscle flexibility, which ultimately leads to improved muscle strength.

Which brings us to ‘end range of motion’. This is where strength comes into play. Flamingo in class, can you do it well? Great technique? Flat back? Try this. Stand on one leg and hold your other leg out in front of you at 90* for 1 minute.

Now your muscles have to work against gravity in order to maintain this position. Your hip flexors are at their shortest, your glutes at their longest; both working hard to hold this position. Everything else is working too; postural muscles, core engagement, feet and ankles etc. So next time you’re in class, or the gym, taking that extra spring, or opting for that extra weight plate, – ask yourself this, how well can I do this movement just with my own body? Firstly with gravity assisting to improve your muscle length, then against gravity to improve your muscle strength. You will find you will not only get better results, limit potential injuries, but most importantly – show off how truly strong you are in class!

By Ben Blane
Personal Trainer & Pilates Instructor

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