Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of The Optimized Geek. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer. I have with us today Luther Cowden of the Genius of Flexibility Center of Santa Barbara. The Genius of Flexibility Center is global. Bob Cooley is the creator of the technology and of the center, but Luther Cowden is a founder of the Santa Barbara location. He’s been involved with resistance flexibility training for over a dozen years. He offers certifications. He does private sessions. He’s also the Director of Technology and an elite trainer. He set up their online training, so he’s worn quite a number of hats, in regards to the Genius of Flexibility Center. He also is an expert on resistance flexibility, so that’s where I’d like to start. Welcome, Luther.
Hi. Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Absolutely. I’d just like to have our listeners understand what exactly is resistance flexibility, and how it’s different from normal stretching.
Sure. What resistance flexibility is, it’s a technique that was developed by Bob Cooley, and you can read more about how he figured it out in his book, called The Genius of Flexibility. Essentially, he was hit by a car, and it was a tragic accident. His friend died and he lived; this was in the ’70s. His body was pretty messed up from the accident. He was trying to get range of motion back, so he went to a lot of different experts to get that range of motion, and it wasn’t quite doing it. He developed a new technique, where he figured out that the principle of flexibility is not about just elongating a muscle, and holding the stretch, while relaxing to the stretch, and breathing into the stretch, and so on. Instead, in order to truly stretch a muscle, you have to contract the muscle while it’s being elongated.
That’s the basic principle behind resistant flexibility, the need for generating tension, and using resistance while stretching. It’s different from other forms of stretching, because it’s not so static. It’s not really a static type of stretching, where you’re holding a stretch. It’s actually more beneficial and more effective to start with the muscle in a very shortened position, then contract the muscle while it’s shortened, and then while it continues to contract and resist, you elongate the muscle under that force. That’s what we call resistance flexibility. It’s utilizing the centric contraction of the muscle, but most importantly, it’s changing the dense fascia in and around the muscle, which is what is really causing people to have inflexibility.
What are the benefits of resistance flexibility? You mentioned Bob Cooley. He used this as a way to recover from a debilitating injury. What, basically, happened to him because of this technology that he created, and what have you seen in terms of benefits of others?
Yeah. There’s a lot of benefits. One of the most immediate benefits is that it’s an immediate effect. First of all, there’s a group of people that feel like they’re permanently inflexible, and they’re not meant to have that. Those types of people, we can show them that that’s not true, and not only is it not true, but you can get a change in flexibility immediately. It’s not something that you have to wait for years, working on the same stretch, in order to get a change. There are other benefits that come along with that. Again, like I said earlier, the changes we’re making are not so much in the muscle fibers, but we’re changing fascia in the body, which is a very helpful tissue, but becomes burdensome when it accumulates and becomes too dense.
When you start to change this material in the body, it also allows the bones to rotate into their more natural positions, instead of them being pulled out of their natural rotational patterns, and their relationships become more congruent. It also takes stress off of a person emotionally, psychologically, and it also changes a person’s life or has energetic effects. Essentially, there’s an understanding in the East of Chinese medicine, and how there are energetic flows that happen, or occur, through the body, that also correspond with the functioning of an organ. If you go to an acupuncturist, they often use needles to puncture radian points, which are energy channel lines, and those points are connected to the functioning of the organs.
That’s an energetic type of medicine. What we’re doing is similar in that it’s based on principles from traditional Chinese medicine, but it has more of a physical basis. When we want to improve the health of the person, we can target any part of their body, and based on which muscle group we’re working on, there are many associations with that muscle group, in terms of the whole functioning of the person. In other words, you can work on a particular muscle group to affect their outward rotation of their thigh, or you could work on that muscle group to allow them to turn outward, in terms of a movement pattern, or there might be something going on with the ligaments which would be associated with that muscle group. It’s also associated with the functioning of the organs, so if the person’s having trouble with fat digestion, that’s something we could target.
There’s also psychological implications associated with each of these different parts of the body as well. If the person is having trouble making decisions, we know which muscle group to target to improve the health of that, and then allow those types of activities or behaviors to be more available to them. This is giving you a wide net here, but essentially in flexibility, it’s not just about a physical limitation in the body. If there is a physical limitation in the body, then it’s also going to limit the person in all these other ways. That include psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. We use the physical body as a mechanism to improve a person’s physical health, make them feel more comfortable, reduce pain, and then that reflects in all the other parts of the person.
Right. I experienced this technology, because I came in and had a session with you. It was pretty amazing. I think of myself as very inflexible, and I can’t, for example, touch my toes without bending my knees. It was pretty mind blowing to see that I could be as flexible as I was, just by putting some resistance to, in a sense, fighting the other direction, so that my muscle could then relax in a way that it never had before. You had me stretching my leg really far back, and stuff that I just never have experienced before. It was pretty amazing. It was also a bit exhausting too, but it was a good exhaustion. I can definitely give accolades to this technology, from my experience with it. What would be an example of somebody, or maybe a few different different people, who have had their lives completely turned around by using resistance flexibility?
We work with a lot of different types of people. A lot of people that come in have simple, not necessarily simple in terms of how it’s affecting them, but simple in terms of the types of people we work with, problems. Let’s say a person has lower back pain. That’s something that could have been plaguing them for decades. For us, it’s one of the easier things to resolve. It’s usually an indicator of having too much dense fascia and scar tissue in the lateral hamstrings, posterial lateral part of the lower body. By removing that dense fascia, we can change the biomechanics which will decompress a lot more spine. Those types of things people come in for.
We also work with a lot of people who have tried a lot of other techniques to improve their flexibility, or to reduce pain. We work with athletes, professional athletes, Olympic athletes. We also work with people who are interested in learning how to be more at peace with themselves, or to feel more emotionally developed, to process their anxiety better. People who are dealing with wanting to be more clear thinking. We also work with people who are looking to get in shape, whether that means losing weight, or develop their body in a way that would allow them to be more functional in their movement. Pretty much everyone could use this, and it’s really a basic principle of the biomechanics of the body that’s essentially been left out of most people’s training. In that regard, it’s got a very wide application base, in terms of who can help.
Could you elaborate a bit on how this is an undeveloped area of medicine, of biomechanics, of exercise?
Yeah. Let’s say you wanted to strength train a muscle. You go into the gym. Let’s say you would start with your bicep. You want to do some bicep curls. When you want to strengthen your bicep, you start with your arm elongated, so that way your bicep’s in an elongated position. We put weight in your hand. That causes your bicep to contract, and then you overcome the force of the weight, and you shorten your bicep by flexing your arm, and you lift the weight. What’s happening there is that your bicep is shortening but it’s also contracting. It’s called resistance strength training. It’s a basic bicep curl, and eccentric contraction of the muscle. When you lower the weight, the muscle is easily able to lower the weight, compared to how much force it took to overcome the weight, to bring it up. In other words, there’s more force during the elongation of the muscle under resistance than there is under the muscle being shortened, and that’s the eccentric contraction, what we call resistance flexibility.
What we were doing is, we were training that negative phase of the movement, and that’s what we understand to be a true stretch. That’s the difference between what we see other people doing, in terms of their stretching, and what we’re offering. The reason it’s been missing is because there is a tremendous amount of force that isn’t being utilized whenever you lower the weight. Whenever you’re stretching, there is a missing element in terms of understanding why that resistance is there, and what you’re supposed to be doing with it, and how it relates to all of the different parts of yourself. What we’re teaching people is that there is a common ground between strength training and flexibility training. It’s often thought of as completely separate concepts, that you use resistance and you shorten the muscle during the strength training, and you do reps, and then in stretching, you just elongate the muscle and hold it.
There’s actually a common denominator, and that’s the use of resistance. When you’re strength training, we use resistance as the muscle shortens, and when you’re stretching, we use resistance as the muscle elongates. The only difference between the two is the direction of movement. One’s shortening, one’s elongating. The key is to be able to use much more force during the elongation phase. That’s what really creates a stretch, and so to do that, you would have to be assisted. That would mean, let’s say, we’re working on someone’s hamstring and we want to stretch out their hamstring. They would lay on the ground and kick down with their leg. As they kick down, one, or two, or many more people would lift their leg up towards their chest. It would flex their thigh.
By doing that, the person laying on the ground is able to generate a tremendous amount of force. A lot of that is coming from the muscle, but most of that is coming from the fascia. The fascia has natural resistance. We can talk more about that. Essentially, we are generating much more force during that stretch phase of movement than most people have ever experienced. Most people have never experienced that in their lives, and not only are we loading that phase of movement, but the person that’s assisting the one that’s getting stretched is actively looking in their body, for wherever they have the most resistance. They’re feeling into their body, and they’re trying to find where that resistance is at. Do they need to rotate their leg as they lift it? Do they need to adduct their thigh across their body? Whatever they have to do, you’re looking for that in the body, and that’s something a person would not ever be able to do on their own.
For one, there’s so much force during that stretch phase of movement that the person wouldn’t be able to overcome it with their own arms, although we do teach self-stretching, but that would be, you would be able to do it, but you wouldn’t be able to use as much force. When you get assisted, you can use much more force, and get a much greater result, in a much shorter period of time than you would ever be able to do on your own, and certain on your own without using resistance.
Right. You absolutely have to have at least one, or multiple partners, helping you with this, who have been trained.
Yeah. You can do this on your own, so for example, the bicep strengthening movement I described earlier. You can do that on your own, with your own resistance. If you wanted to strength train your bicep, you’d start with your arm elongated. Say that my left arm is elongated, and then put my right hand on top of my left hand, and when I pull my left hand up toward my shoulder, on my chest, my right hand is going to slow down that movement. That’s a bicep curl, except instead of using weight, I’m using my own right hand as the weight. I’m starting elongated, I’m shortening my left bicep, contracting my bicep. My right hand’s just applying enough force to overcome that resistance, or to slow down that resistance.
If we wanted to stretch that muscle group with the resistance, what we would do is resistance flexibility training, we would start with the bicep in a very shortened position, and then the same thing’s happening in terms of what my left hand’s doing. It’s still continuing to pull in towards my shoulder, and my right hand is still on top of my left hand. As my left hand pulls toward my shoulder, my right hand now overcomes the force of my left hand. My left hand is resisting by pulling it toward me. My right hand is overcoming that force. If you notice, if you try to use as much force as possible with your left hand, the right hand has no chance of overcoming the left hand. That’s how much more force there is during the elongation phase of that movement. You can still do it. You would just have to use less force. I’m still resisting with my left hand, but I’m pulling in with just enough force so that my right hand can overcome that. That is a great way to stretch out your own body.
You can do that for every major muscle group of the body, but, as I said, you have to lessen how much resistance you’re using for the target muscle group. That’s not optimal. Still has benefits, it’s just not optimal, but if you have other people get involved, they can facilitate your development at a much faster rate, because you really do need maximal resistance in order to get an optimal effect. Like you said, when we’re working with people, it takes skill to know how to move the person, so people that want to learn this technique, depending on the audience you want to work with, it could take up to three years of active training, to really figure out how to do this in a way that works for people. As we’re moving the person, we’re not just having them resist us. The key is for us to feel into their body, and find where the resistance already is.
It’s a natural phenomenon to resist when you stretch, and if you watch a cat or a dog stretch, you’ll see when they put their paws out in front of them, they kind of claw the ground and that moves their bodies. They’re using a resistance, and they’re generating tension. That’s a natural phenomenon. When we work with people, we are encouraging them to naturally use those parts of their body functioning, and then us as trainers are responsible for moving them in the way necessary to create an optimal result. It does take education on their part as well, in terms of knowing how much resistance to use, knowing how to breathe naturally, knowing how to analyze what’s happening in the movement, and identify how it’s affecting them, and knowing about the positioning and the movement. It’s a very collaborative effort. It’s not very much like other training modals, where the trainer is telling the person how to move themselves, and then the person tries to do that to the best of their ability. It’s very much that the trainer and the person who is getting worked on are working together, and figuring out just what needs to happen in order for them to get the result they’re looking for.
Right. The thing about this is, it’s not universally practiced everywhere, so it’s potentially hard for somebody to find trained professionals to help them with this resistance flexibility. If you live in Boston, you’re in luck, for example, or Santa Barbara, or if you’re in LA, you just have to make the trek to Santa Barbara. If you’re, I don’t know, in Dubuque, Iowa, you might have a problem if you wanted to really practice this on an ongoing basis, and you’d recommend how many times a week?
That’s a good question. It depends on what the person’s goals are. Some people I work with come in once a week. Some come in three, four times a week. Some come in every blue moon. The great thing about changing fascia is that it’s a permanent change. It’s not like training muscle, where you have to keep changing, keep improving the muscle, otherwise you lose the strength. Fascia is like an energetic matrix of resistance in the body, and it’s an integrity matrix of structural integrity in the body. In other words, whenever you change the fascia, it’s like an architectural change in the body, and that’s your new way of being, that’s your new alignment and everything.
Everything else gets to operate better, because there’s a better system for everything to be floating in, so to speak. Even if a person comes in once, and they get worked on, they can get immediate results, and that might be just what they needed. They might want to continue self-stretching, to keep changing as much as they can on their own. Maybe they come in every once in a while, and they get worked on again. There’s a lot of different ways to get involved. It is true. We don’t have very much trainers yet, and that’s something we’re constantly working to change. A lot of it is that most people haven’t heard about us yet. Bob Cooley, he’s been developing this technique since the late ’80s, and it’s always changing. He’s always figuring out new ways to create new results.
We do offer private sessions in Boston, and Santa Barbara, California. I was living in LA for a while. I did privates down there, but in the mean time, before we have private sessions available for the world at large, there are ways you can do it yourself, and you get amazing results, just by doing self-stretching. That’s why I developed thegeniusofflexibility.com, in order to create a platform for people around the world to be able to dig in immediately, no matter where they’re at. You can go on the website, you can sign up. It’s $19 a month. You get access to a couple hundred videos that teach you how to work on every major muscle group of your body, how it’s connected to all the different parts of yourself, in terms of organ health, psychological and emotional changes that can occur, so on and so forth.
There’s some basic assisted stretches on there too. We do workshops, weekend trainings, where people have no idea about this stuff, and they come in. When they leave that weekend, they know how to do the basic self-stretches, and they know how to do the basic assisted stretches. If someone comes in for a private session it’s a whole other ball game. We have a person strapped to a board that stabilizes one of their legs, and we move them in a very sophisticated way. For the average person, you can learn how to assist someone, just by watching a video. This is available to people who are interested in doing it. A lot of people start online, and they learn as much as they can by watching the videos, and then maybe they take a trip out to Santa Barbara and they do a weekend training certification course. They’re like, “Ah, there were a couple things I was not quite understanding.” In the future, we’re going to keep making it more and more easy for people around the world to get involved, and definitely after we start getting more exposure, we’ll be doing many more certification programs to train the people who are really interested in learning more about this.
This is some sort of secret weapon, that I somehow managed to luck myself into finding out about. It really is something that is, unfortunately, still a secret for most of us. I found out about you guys, and the technology, from my co-author Eric Enge, my co-author on The Art of SEO, because he lives in Boston, and discovered resistance flexibility. He raves about it, so for several years, I heard him raving about how amazing it was, and I really didn’t, being on the West Coast and not knowing yet that you guys had set up shop over in this part of the world, I just didn’t take any action. Shame on me, for not taking action on something that could have had amazing health benefits to me several years ago. In any event, this is a good model for folks to just start by learning about it, and implementing it, in a simple form, by going to thegeniusofflexibility.com, learning some self-stretches, some assisted stretches they can help their friends, partner, or whatever with, and vice versa.
They could go do a certification weekend with you guys, and take it to the next level, or fly in for a private session with you in Santa Barbara, or with your colleagues in Boston, to really get that more in-depth, advanced version, especially if you have some sort of issue that maybe is making it problematic for you to walk without pain, or whatever it is, to finally have that breakthrough. This could be it. This could be the thing that breaks you through to the other side. I wanted to circle back, though, on the fascia, because most people don’t really understand the importance of the fascia. It seems like it’s just connective tissue, and just doesn’t really do anything. If you’re a meat-eater, I’m not, but for those who are, if you are cutting through some meat and this stuff that you peel away, it just seems like it’s just there doing nothing, and then you eat the meat. It’s really, profoundly important, the fascia. Maybe you can elaborate a bit more about how it serves us, and how life wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have it?
I love that you phrased it in a positive context, because it does serve a very important function, but it has been ignored by medicine at large, in all parts of the world, for, as far as I can tell, until this day and age, just now starting to become a subject of research. Like you said, if you have a piece of chicken or steak, it’s that white stuff that is binding the muscle, or the meat, together. Often times, if you’ve ever looked at a cadaver, it’s the white film that’s over the muscle. In terms of Western medicine, it’s the stuff you cut through to get to the muscle, or to get to the joint, or to get to the organ. It’s not really thought of as very important.
Now it’s becoming a subject of interest. It’s not just hanging out in the body for no reason, and it’s not just on the surface of the muscle. It’s quite pervasive in the body, and Jean Claude Guimberteau, who is a surgeon in France, has created a video called Strolling Under the Skin. He’s made several videos and now, he’s releasing a book this fall. We do research with him, in France. He is the first person who has filmed, in a live human being, what this tissue looks like. He worked with people who had carpal tunnel, and tendinitis, and problems with the forearm. He found that by cutting out the fascia with this special scalpel, and literally throwing it away, and then sewing the person up, that person would be able to move more effectively with their hands and their fingers. That shows how problematic this tissue can become. I’ll dive more into that in a second.
What it looks like in a live human being, it doesn’t look like this white film and sheath. That’s just a layer on the muscle. It’s instead, under 20 times magnification, you can see that it’s a spiderweb white material, where there are strands that go in just about every direction. These strands of material, it’s a collagen-like material, they transport fluid, and they’re very adaptable. This tissue is very adaptable, in that these strands can conjoin, and they can subdivide, and they go through everything. Talking about the surface of the muscle as a base, it also goes through the fat and then into the skin, and then it goes through the muscle, and then into the bone. That’s what I was saying early, is its integrity matrix in the body, because this fascia has natural resistance, and so everything is not – it’s not like the muscles are holding the bones together, and the bones are the structure, and then the muscles move the bones. It’s more like you have this spiderweb-like material that is pervading everything in the body, and everything is essentially floating in this resistance-like fascial material. It’s crucial for movement, because since it has resistance, it’s kind of like a spring. Whenever you make a movement, this fascia then allows that movement to occur, and then it brings you back when you’re done. You want to throw a ball, your pecs have to contract, and your arm goes forward in space, instead of muscles in the balancing site having to fire again, to bring you back. That fascia’s like a spring, and so it brings you back without having the muscles fire twice, and so it’s a very energy efficient material. It’s very helpful.
The problem comes in when we go through traumas in our life. These types of traumas happen from a young age, and they continue to happen as a person progresses through life. It could be a physical trauma. A person falls down, they get in an accident, they were physically abused. It could be a psychological trauma. A person was told from a very young age they were very stupid, they would never amount to anything. Maybe it was emotional. The person’s looks were insulted, or they were sexually abused. Could be a life issue, where someone intervened on a person’s life, and prevented them from doing what they had planned on, in terms of their life.The problem comes in when we go through traumas in our life. Click To Tweet
Regardless of the abuse, or the trauma, it shows up in the body if the person isn’t able to process the event. In particular, it shows up as an accumulation of dense fascia, in specific muscle groups, depending on what type of trauma occurred. This fascia begins to accumulate. It also becomes less hydrated. It becomes conjoined. It doesn’t adapt as well. It essentially becomes not functional, in terms of helping you make movement, and so that’s what we experience as tightness. It’s not usually that the muscle is just in a tense state, and it can’t relax. That is part of it, but mostly, it’s that the muscle is surrounded and interspersed by this dense fascia, which does two things.
It prevents the muscle from fully elongating, which is what people experience as tightness. “Oh, I can’t touch my toes like I used to.” It also prevents the muscle from fully shortening, so that means the shortening capacity of a muscle is also limited, if the lengthening capacity is limited. That’s a very important point, because most people think of inflexibility as the lack of range of motion. There’s actually a difference between range of motion and flexibility, but I can talk about that later. The important point is that if you’re limited in one direction, you’re limited in both. What that means is that if you’re tight, or if you have too much dense fascia in an area, you also are limited in your speed, and your agility, and your accuracy of movement, all the movements that require a shortening capacity of the muscle.
That is what is happening in most people’s bodies, and then it could become scar tissue, which is essentially even – you can think of scar tissue as super-dense fascia. Essentially, it’s like a foreign object in the body. That really doesn’t allow the muscle to do what it needs to do. Since the fascia impregnates into the bone, it also pulls the bones out of their natural alignment, which can cause problems with joint structures. It can cause problems with posture. It can cause all sorts of pain, and so many other things. That’s what fascia is, and that’s what we’re understanding it as. We’re doing research to quantify the changes we’re making in the fascia as we stretch people. Like I said, we’ve worked with Guimberteau in France, and we’ve seen how the fascia does change by using resistance, which, we haven’t seen it change through any other means. We are also using MRI technology and ultrasound to measure the density. We just haven’t figured out how to quantify the changes yet.
That’s a basic introduction to what we are educating people about, in terms of fascia, but there’s also another component, which is, okay, you have this dense fascia in the body. How do you change it? I’ll go into that now. If you go and you get a massage, if the person working on you is knowing about fascia, maybe they don’t even know about it. They’re probably looking for the areas in your body that are really bound up. You can get some relief from doing that, and that’s great, and I like doing that as well. What I really prefer doing the most is to get access to that tissue myself. That means that I have to generate tension, and I have to use resistance, to actually get into the tissue first, and then I can use movement to actually change that tissue.
What I mean by that is that it takes a lot of force to change dense fascia, and that’s because as this fascia accumulates, it increases its resistance. That’s why it’s preventing the muscle from doing what it needs to do. If you want to change that fascia, you actually have to use that resistance to your advantage. That’s why whenever you go into an elongated position, let’s say you try to touch your toes or something, at a certain point, you feel that “Oof,” and the muscle contracts, and you feel that resistance, right? It’s like, “Ugh. I’m tight here.” It’s important to know what’s happening with that stretch reflex. It’s not like the body is against you, and it’s saying, “Hey. You’re not gonna go there, because I’m stopping you.” It’s not really that what’s happening. It’s actually your body saying, “Hey. This is the range that we have access to with the current biomechanics we have to personalize the body.” Let’s use resistance and tension to protect the joint structure, and to engage the tissue that’s too locked up to prevent more range from happening.
In other words, that stretch reflex you feel is actually your body telling you to use tension, and to use resistance. That’s why your muscle contracts, and you feel that resistance. The reason you need to do that is because it’s a natural thing to do, first of all. Also, that’s what it takes to actually reduce that accumulation against fascia that happens from trauma. In other words, if you start with a muscle that’s shortened, and then you contract the muscle, what happens is the fascia essentially gets pulled into the muscle fibers. As you start to elongate that muscle with resistance, especially if someone else is helping you, you can use all of that resistance, that extra resistance that’s accumulated in this tissue, and then as you use that resistance or contract the muscle, that fascia starts to break apart. We’ve seen it in the endoscope, in a live human being, starts to turn 90 degrees and break apart. When you finish the rep, the fascia does not go back to the way it was before.
What’s happening there is that you’re exceeding the tensile strength of this material, which then causes it to break down, and then the body starts to remove it. You start to feel better, and you start to get better blood circulation, lymphatic flow. The bones start to rotate back into their natural alignment. The muscle can elongate more fully, can shorten more fully. The stress associated with that pain or tenseness in the body starts to subside, and the organs start to function better. The person starts to behave in new ways. All those things start to occur, but you have to exceed the tensile strength of that material for that to happen.
Let’s say you have 50 pounds of strength in your bicep. Optimally, you’ll have, let’s say, 100 or a couple hundred pounds of resistance in the negative phase, or during the stretch phase. That’s optimal. One to two, or two to three times the strength. When there is an accumulation of that dense fascia or scar tissue, that ratio is why out of proportion. You might have 50 pounds of strength, and then 500 pounds of resistance. That means the resistance in that fascia is suffocating the muscle. The muscle has no chance. There is so much more force in the fascial resistance than there is in muscular strength, and so you would have to exceed that extra resistance, and then as you exceed it, then it breaks apart. That ratio starts to become more normal. That’s what’s happening when we assist people. We’re having them resist and generate tension, and we do enough reps to keep breaking down that tissue so that things start functioning better.
Wow. That sounds like if you don’t do this kind of resistance flexibility, you’re going to be fighting against yourself, your own body, and not getting the results you’re after with your weight lifting or whatever, because of the way that the fascia is misaligned or overly dense, or what have you. You’re just not dealing with the core problem here. You’re kind of stepping over it, and hoping for the results anyways.
Yes. I see that a lot with not just strength training, but sport-specific training, cardiovascular training, even a person learning how to overcome traumas and become better at functioning practically in life. All these different things, they’re trying to add new ways to train the person, in order to develop something that they don’t have. In terms of strength training, the strength of a muscle is depending on the flexibility of the muscle. That’s the inverse relationship between strength and resistance flexibility, so if you only have 60% of your optimal lengthening capacity, then you’re only have going to have 60% of your optimal shortening capacity. This is something that Bob Cooley has discovered and developed, and one of the core principles of this work.
What that means is that when you strength train a muscle, you’re missing 40%, let’s say for this example. You’re missing 40% of that optimal strengthening capacity, and so you’re only strengthening the range you already have access to. If you increase the resistance flexibility of that muscle, then you get more strength. Beyond that, you also are able to move in a way that’s more natural. If your fascia is too dense in certain muscle groups, it’s going to pull the bones out of their natural rotation. Which means whenever you’re making strength training movements, or you’re doing cardiovascular exercise, or whatever it is, all those movements are, there’s a lot of substitution occurrence, essentially, which means that instead of your leg moving forward in space, it starts to outwardly rotate, or it starts to adduct, or whatever it is.
You’re essentially using most of your energy to deal with all this substitution in your body. That’s why when we work on people, often times when they get up, they’re like, “I don’t get it. I just used tons of resistance, and a lot of effort, yet I feel lighter, and I can move easier, and I have more range of motion.” It’s a very mind trip for people, and a big part of that is because you can’t really feel in your body where this accumulated and dense fascia is. It’s not really connected to the brain in the same way that the muscles are, in terms of sensing tenseness in the muscles. You can’t really sense dense fascia. What that means is that there’s a couple implications of this. One is you resist, and you generate tension, and you get stretched, and then as you’re doing that, you can’t even tell that you’re using that much force.
Most of the fascia accumulates on the posterior and the lateral aspects of the body, so let’s say for the hamstrings, a person can be kicking down and they’re like, “Yeah. You know, I’m using some resistance and I’m generating tension, but I’m not working that hard.” Yet they look up, and there might be three or four people who are barely able to move their leg. What that means is there’s a ton of force in this tissue that they’re not aware of, and beyond that, there’s a lack of awareness of the tissue to begin with. People often feel tight in their hip flexors, and they’ll, “Hey. I’m really tight in my hip flexors. I need to stretch them out.” I’m like, “Okay. You could be really tight there,” and I’m sure they do need to be stretched, but hip flexors typically don’t carry much tense fascia. It does get tense, and when it’s tense, it needs to be elongated with resistance and tension. You have to use tension to resolve the tenseness.
Most of the problem is probably coming from your central hamstrings. They’re like, “Huh? What do you mean? My central hamstrings feel fine.” I’m like, “Do they? Can you feel them?” They’re like, “Well, I don’t feel pain.” I’m like, “Well, you should have some sort of sensation there.” It’s actually not the areas in the body that you feel tight, that are the tightest, it’s the areas of the body that you don’t have very much feeling at all that are probably the problem areas. We would work on the central hamstrings, and then they would be able to see how much force there is in that tissue. That should be an indicator there’s too much dense fascia there. After we do several reps, we could have the person stand up. Without even stretching their hip flexor, they would suddenly feel looser and more open in the front of their hip.
They’re like, “How is that possible?” We’re like, “It wasn’t the hip flexor’s problem. It wasn’t that it couldn’t elongate, because it was not functional. It was that the central hamstrings couldn’t shorten enough to extend the pelvis, for it to posteriorally tilt the pelvis, which would then allow the balancing muscle group, in this case the hip flexors, the ability to elongate.” We’re really trying to teach people that, in order to get better strength training, in order to get better cardiovascular training, in order to get a better pitch with your baseball, or whatever it is, instead of continuing to try to train your core, or strengthen your hip flexors, or try to control how you’re moving your body, which can actually create many more problems, we’re instead saying, “Let’s remove the problem that’s causing you to not be able to already do those things. You should naturally be able to do all those things, so why aren’t you able to do it? Why can the person next to you do it, but you can’t? It’s not that you’re not trying hard enough. It’s not that you’re not smart enough. It’s that there’s something in the body that’s preventing you from having that natural function.”
Resistance flexibility, it’s a subtractive technology, as Bob likes to call it. It’s really about removing the stresses that are preventing the person from having what they should have already.
Right, right. I get occasional massages. I go to a chiropractor to deal with tightness in my shoulders, and from my neck not having the right curvature, the arch of life is not at the right angle, because I’m spending so much time in front of the computer, typing and so forth, so my head’s a bit too forward. Am I missing out on a core component by not doing the resistance flexibility? I’m dealing with realigning my bones with the chiropractor. I’m dealing with breaking up the tenseness in my muscles through massage, but I’m not dealing with that fascia. If I’m correct here, that the chiropractor’s not dealing with the fascia. He’s just realigning my bones, which will then go out of alignment again, because the fascia weren’t dealt with, correct?
Yeah. These are really good questions, so let’s talk about that. It depends on what the person’s trained in, in terms of how they’re affecting the body. From what I’ve seen, you can’t really change the fascia to the degree that it needs from outside the body. Like I said before, if there’s 500 pounds of resistance, and we tried measuring this with goniometers, there’s tremendous amounts of force in this tissue. If there’s that much force in the fascia, and if you have to exceed the tensile strength of the fascia in order for it to change, than that would mean you would have to apply 500 pounds of resistance from outside the body, into the body through a massage technique. That would cause the person to pass out. It would be far too painful.
Instead, I find massage to be really helpful for increasing blood circulation and lymphatic flow, and to bring awareness to different parts of the body, which will then allow the brain to do what it needs to do to cause those parts of the body to relax. You might be able to change a little bit of the fascia from the outside, but not really from what we’ve seen. You have to change it from the inside, and until you do, those types of methods are going to be good for some things, and they’ll provide a temporary relief in terms of pain and tension, but they’re not going to change the biomechanics of the body. There’ just too much force.
When a person is getting stretched, they’re kicking down, and as they kick down, they can’t even feel that they’re doing it, so there’s no pain associated with using resistance this way. There is a recovery process, but as you’re doing it, you can’t actually feel that much is happening, and so it’s a nice, non-invasive way to make a change in the body. In terms of the bones. The bones are getting pulled out of alignment from this tremendous amount of force in the fascia, so sometimes you might need to get adjusted because you had an accident, and a bone is really out of place. In terms of regular maintenance, you have to address why the bones are being pulled out of alignment constantly. Otherwise, you just have to keep adjusting them again and again.
Many times, when we’re working on people, they’ll have adjustments as we move their leg or arm, and that means that the fascia has changed enough for that bone to no longer be pulled out of its natural alignment. In terms of posture, people think, “Oh, I need to sit up straight. Oh, I need to pull my shoulders back.” No. Those thing should already be happening. You shouldn’t have to think about it. We’re busy enough thinking about all the things we need to think about just to live our lives, let alone think about how to move our body, or how to stand up straight, and how to sit, and so on and so forth. Think about an athlete who is really skilled. They’re not having to think about how to rotate their leg as they’re running down the field. That thing just needs to happen. If that’s not happening automatically, then they’re being limited by that leg.
It’s great that people are, especially in the tech world … I do a lot of programming and web development. I sit at my computer a lot. I know it’s not great sitting, it’s not great, and I know people are into standing desks and things like that. I think it’s great that people are reminding themselves to stand up and move around, and do all this stuff. Standing is just as hard on the body as sitting. If you’re never stretching hamstrings, it doesn’t matter if you’re standing or sitting. Both are going to cause damage. It’s the static positions that are the hardest on our body. Instead of just trying to control how you’re sitting, or standing, or pulling your shoulders back, or whatever, it’s much better to just remove that dense fascia from the areas that are causing your shoulders, or whatever it is, to be out of alignment, and then spend an hour or so just stretching, or getting worked on, and then you’ll find yourself already doing the things that you’ve been mentally trying to control.
It’s important to know that if you mentally try to control the body, the body does not like that. The body’s very instinctual, and it wants to move based on what it’s capable of doing. If a person is playing sport, and whenever they throw the ball, they can tell that the way they’re throwing it is not allowing them to strike the person out, in baseball, for example, or whatever it is, or make the basket, or whatever it is. They would think, “Well, maybe I need more training. I need to practice more.” That might be true. Maybe you should shoot more hoops, or run around the track a couple more times, so on and so forth.
Another thing they might say is, “Oh, well, I don’t have the right biomechanics to throw the ball, so I must not be doing it correctly.” They watch someone who’s really good at doing it, and they’re like, “Well, they’re internally rotating their arms. This happens and then, oh. I see now, when they swing the gold club, they’re letting the swing come back this far, and their hip turns.” They’re trying to mimic all of these things. That doesn’t really work. The body doesn’t work that way. Instead, it should be like, “What is the person who is really able to excel at their sport or activity, what kind of ability do they have that I don’t have, and how can I have that natural ability?” It’s not so much about training yourself to learn it. It’s more about removing the things that are preventing you from doing that.
Otherwise, if you keep trying to mentally control the body, the body will end up creating more dense fascia, because you’re usually asking your body to do something it’s not capable of doing. One thing that fascia does is it essentially builds up in certain muscle groups, which prevents you from having range of motion, which will then, ultimately, protect the joint structure. You don’t want the joint structure to be damaged. You don’t want the ligaments, and the tendons, and cartilage to be damaged, because the body can’t really repair those very well. If you start forcing your body to make certain types of movements that you think are correct, the body will start to build up dense fascia, to stop you from interfering with that natural process, and that will actually protect the joints. You should be glad that it happens, but ultimately, like I said, just take the tenseness, take the resistance, take the scar tissue and dense fascia out of the areas that are preventing you from having that natural thrill from sitting posture correctly, and from standing without having to think about it. All those things can happen naturally.
Circling back to the distinction between range of motion and flexibility, could you just real briefly elaborate the difference between the two?
Right. That’s a very good question, and it’s a harder concept for a lot of people to grasp, especially if they’re in the yoga community, or they’re in the dance community, or the gymnast community. Someone might see someone who can pull their head between their legs, and they would say, “Wow, that person’s really flexible. There’s no way I could ever do that.” We would see that person and we would say, “Well, they certainly have a lot of range of motion.” We wouldn’t call them flexible. What Bob Cooley has really, one of the great things I think he’s done is he’s differentiated a lot of these concepts for people, and so this is one of those concepts, the difference between range of motion and flexibility.
Range of motion is simply being able to move your arm or leg through space, to have that ability to position yourself, and to move freely. The problem with just having range of motion is that you need to also have integrity in that movement. What we define flexibility as is having that range of motion. Being flexible means you’re more able, more able in all ways, not just range. All the other ways, too. Being truly flexible, we would say, is having that range of motion, but also having the ability to overcome an outside force with that range of motion, which we refer to as strength. Being able to resist an outside force, as that range of motion occurs. That would be resistance flexibility. That’s what most people are missing. Being able to sustain a contraction throughout any given point, and maintain that isometric resistance.
Those are three different types of functionality that we would define true flexibility as, but it’s also the health of the tissue, as you move through the range of motion. What’s happening in the tendons, what’s happening in the ligaments. Is there blood circulation? What’s going on with lymphatic flow? Are the person’s bones aligned correctly? Are they substituting the joint structures? Is the posture too abducted to one side? All these different things. That’s what we define as true flexibility, and it’s a really important distinction. What happens in the dancing community, and the gymnast community is that they want that range of motion so that they can do amazing things with their bodies to self express, but if they don’t have the ability to, let’s say, resist an outside force when they’re in that extended position, there might be one of those days when they get pulled too far in a move. Since they don’t have the ability to contract the muscle and resist, they get overstretched, which then can lead to a pull of a muscle, to destruction of a joint structure. It’s very chronic in those types of communities, and it’s not necessary.
What we do is, we train people first to have functional movement. As they start to have healthier and healthier tissue, because we train people in the starting position. We don’t try to take them really far on the stretch. We only stay within the range where they have access to that resistance and that tension. As the muscle continues to get more developed, it can slowly start to go further and further in range, while still having that tension and resistance. That’s what we would define as true flexibility, and that’s what protects you from overstretching. It protects you from becoming hypermobile in the joint structures. It’s what prevents you from having low back pain.
For example, we’ll see some dancers who come in and they’re like, “I have low back pain,” but then they can do a complete forward bend and bring their head through their legs, and I’m like, “If you were truly flexible, there is no way your back would hurt with that much flexibility.” What that means is that they’re hypermobile in their joints, and that’s what’s creating a lack of engagement of the tissues necessary to support their lumbar, spine, or whatever it is. Does that makes sense?
Yeah. In essence here, if you’re not getting the balance right, in terms of strength and resisting, as well as when you’re utilizing that muscle in the other direction, you can end up with a sports injury, whether you’re a dancer, you’re a gymnast, or a football player, whatever, because it’s unbalanced, and you haven’t deal with your fascia. You’re just trying to get that range of motion that you’re after, without it being sustainable. Is that a good summary?
Yeah, absolutely, and it brings up another audience that we work with. We don’t just work with people who have problems. We work with people who are already healthy, who are interested in developing parts of themselves that they would like to be developed. Let’s say they are interested in being more emotionally available, or whatever. They don’t consider it a problem, but they can see other people behaving in ways that they would like to learn about. We work with people like that, and we also target areas of potential injury. Even if a person doesn’t necessarily have a symptom of a problem yet, when they come in, we start working on their body, and we’re like, “Wow. If this fascia doesn’t come out of the central hamstrings, you might end up having knee problems or, if this fascia in the lateral hamstrings doesn’t come out, you might end up having low back problems.”
We identify what’s happening to the person, because everyone has areas of potential injury, so we just go into the body and we find where those are at, and we make the movements necessary to change those parts of the person. It’s a very preventative technique, as well as a rehabilitative technique, as well as a developmental technique. We can use it for all three purposes that way.
You had briefly mentioned that this technology can even be used for weight loss. Could you elaborate just a little bit about that?
The Chinese discovered through Chinese medicine that each of the organs in the body is associated with an energy channel, and if there is a lack of flow in any of those challenges, then that would create problems in the organ. They’ve also figured out that each of the organs would not just have a physiological response to that lack of flow, but there could also be a problem with the systems associated with it. There’s also high and low traits associated with the functioning of the organ as well, in terms of the person’s behavior. We have a similar understanding of the body, in that if there’s a person who’s really trying to lose weight, there is something going on with one of their digestive organs that isn’t allowing them to digest food properly. We would identify which muscle groups in the body have too much resistance, and we would change those muscle groups.
Often times, those muscle groups that are associated with digestive organs are the ones that are the target area. If you remove the dense fascia from certain muscle groups, it can allow the physiological function of the organ to improve, which might mean the ability of a person to digest the proteins, or the ability of a person to have regular bowel movements, or the functioning of the pancreas and its control of the blood sugar and energy in regulation of the body, or the amount of time that the food is staying the stomach, which would relate to metabolism of a person, or the breakdown of fats in the body, which would be associated with the gall bladder.
All of those different organ functions are affected. If you have dense fascia or if you have a muscle group that is not able to function, that is … We have a more physical basis for understanding this, instead of just an energetic basis, but it’s similar in terms of Chinese medicine. There’s a physical effect on the other parts of the body that are contiguous with that muscle groups. There’s a problem at the lateral quad, could mean that the person’s stomach is staying too contracted, because that muscle group continues up into the obliques, the lateral quad goes up to the obliques, and then it goes to the chest, and so on and so forth, around the mouth.
There’s a physical congruency between these muscle groups, and the functioning of the organ. If the lateral hamstrings can’t contract and shorten, then the pelvis can’t really be fully extended, which is going to put pressure on organs in the torso. A lot of this was figured out by Bob Cooley. After he got hit by the car, he was suffering from a lot of internal organ damage, and was trying to figure out how to get his flexibility back, but then in the process, he discovered that his behavior was changing. Also, internal organ damage that he had suffered from the accident started to be not as much of an issue, in that the organs started to improve in their functioning. He talks about this, of course, in his book, The Genius of Flexibility.
It’s a really interesting story, because he essentially rediscovered Chinese medicine, and rediscovered yoga and all these ancient principles, but then wasn’t restricting himself to what had already been discovered, was instead trying to figure out how to apply it to his own situation, and what made sense, and what didn’t. What he thought was the right idea, and what was a little off base. That’s how all this was discovered, and it wasn’t just on his own. He started working with a lot of other people, who were having similar experiences. Whatever was common between the thousands of people he’s worked with, has been what’s been built into the database of this body of work.
That just is mind blowing, that somebody could be working on just eating fewer calories, instead of dealing with the structural issues that are causing their digestive system to malfunction, because of fascia being too dense in certain areas, or what have you. We’re all interconnected inside, as well as out in the world. For those of who you are struggling with weight loss, you might want to look into this technology as well. We need to wrap, because this has been like an hour of drinking from a fire hose. It’s been awesome. I want to be respectful of your time, and our listeners, too. Quickly, how would somebody work with you, how would they reach out to you to schedule a private session, or to do the training program, or certification program? I know that you mentioned thegeniusofflexibility.com, but how would somebody take the next step, and contact you, and work with you or what have you?
I’m very much interested in this being available to people around the world. The best way to get started is to go to thegeniusofflexibility.com, and there’s a few different ways you can go from there. If you want to just get started immediately, you can subscribe to the training archive. There’s a link on the front page. That has hundreds of videos on there. There is interactive muscular graphics, so you can just click on the muscle and figure out what stretch works for that muscle. There’s a quiz you can take to figure out what stretches you think you need. You can do classes. We have a few classes on there. You just press play, and do the class online. There is support forums, so on and so forth. That’s how you can get started immediately. There’s self-stretching and assisted stretching on there.
You could also get Bob’s book. It’s called The Genius of Flexibility. It’s available on Amazon. It’s a great introduction to how Bob figured all this out. It also has self-stretches outlined in the book, and assisted stretches, and a lot of the principles and philosophy. Some people find it hard to learn from static pictures. That’s why I created the online training archive, but that’s a really good resource to read, just so you can learn more about this work. We also have classes happening in Santa Barbara, California and Boston, Massachusetts. We have private sessions happening in both of those places. Some people fly in for a few days. They get a couple sessions a day, or one session a day. They take classes while they’re there. They create their own retreat, so to speak. That’s certainly an option, so people do that on a regular basis if they don’t have people near them.
We also do weekend certification courses, and that’s open to people of all abilities and all interests. Some people take the certification course who want to learn how to be a trainer, and others just want to personally develop. If you go to our website, there’s a list of events there that will tell you when that’s happening, and you can read more about how to get involved with that as well. Those are the basic ways to get involved. We have a contact page, so if I missed something, or forgot to say something, just send us an email. Just go to thegeniusofflexibility.com, send me an email, and I’ll get back to you with more information.
All right. This has been fantastic. An hour of drinking from the fire hose, getting incredible information, and potentially transformation, if you put this information into action. For our listeners, I encourage you to go check out thegeniusofflexibility.com, and just start putting this into action, and to your life. I think you’ll find it to be pretty transformative. Again, thank you Luther for just being so sharing and giving to our listeners, and thank you listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode.
Thanks Stephan. Had a great time.
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
☑ Get a massage for relaxation purposes, but understand that it isn’t going to remove that buildup of fascial tissue that is giving you the root of your trouble.
☑ Understand that you aren’t an “inflexible” person, you are simply being stopped by an impeded biomechanical structure right now.
☑ Recognize the difference between true “flexibility” and range of motion. Just because you have a large range of motion, doesn’t mean you aren’t protecting yourself from strain.
☑ Have you been in an instance of trauma? Think about getting your fascia checked by a professional – it is likely you have some accumulation of dense fascia.
☑ Anxiety problems? Do some fascia exercises that counter the resistance created by fascia, as Luther often has seen it help anxiety and low moods.
☑ Having trouble losing weight? Consider having an expert work with the fascia that works with your digestive system.
☑ Try a simple bicep curl while resisting that shortening with the elongation of your other arm.
☑ Find a resistance flexibility expert in your area. It is a relatively new area of study, but there are professionals throughout the country.
☑ Check out Bob’s book, The Genius of Flexibility, for great stretches,and to learn more about the philosophy of resistance flexibility.
☑ Go to thegeniusolexibility.com to learn to do your own stretch work wherever you are and start feeling relief from your pain immediately!
About Luther Cowden
Luther Cowden is a certified Resistance Flexibility trainer based in Los Angeles, CA who travels internationally to offer Resistance Stretching classes, workshops, private assisted stretching, couples stretching, workplace stretching, and online training. He was originally trained by the founder, Bob Cooley.