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The Science of Stretching

uncle%20joe.jpgYou can call me Uncle Joe today, as I'm a movin' kind of slow.

Several weeks ago, we were shopping for inspiration at the London Marathon Store. I picked up a postcard for an introductory session for a 2-hour stretching/massage therapy, then handed it over to Larry, as his trainer says he needs to be more "bendy." Surprisingly, he scheduled an appointment. Unsuprisingly, he cancelled and rescheduled because work got in the way. When he decided to reschedule a second time, I took the slot because I love a good massage and could use a home stretching routine ... an added bonus to the introductory session.

So I met Graeme yesterday, who by all accounts looks like a perfectly reasonable, mild-mannered chap. This was before I realized he's an ultra-long distance runner (he's got a 1,000+ km run scheduled this year). Surely people who run ultra-marathons have a different concept of pain compared to we mere mortals who occasionally hobble through 26.2 miles.

Needless to say, I got much more than I bargained for. The Meridian Flexibility System was not just a series of simple stretches. It was pretty much like going to the gym for a bit of resistance training combined with a fairly rigorous yoga class. Have you ever had a Thai Massage? It's amazing. I liken it to going to yoga, but the therapist does all the work for you. This was like Thai Massage, but I did at least half of the work ... using Graeme as resistance. A pushme-pullyou Thai Massage. We only went through eight of the sixteen stretches (because "you'll be here all day if I teach them all to you"), focusing on hamstrings, quads and glutes.

The subsequent massage, which he called "mashing", wasn't like anything I'd ever had before. Sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, he used the balls, insteps and heels of his feet to literaly mash my muscles, breaking down the fascia (which sounds a bit like fascism to me ... clearly not a good thing) and scar tissue. He promises that as my muscles become more sponge-like and less rubbery, they will not be as painful tender even though he'll be applying more pressure.

I'm a bit dubious about that, but he did promise I'd be a little stiff today, so he seems to be a man of his word. To say I'm crippled might be stretching (see what I did there?) the truth (although I am genetically predispositioned to hyperbole), but walking downstairs out of my flat this morning hearkened memories of the days after really long runs.

I'll definetly go back to see him. He scored me on my flexibility, assessing where my weak points (and strong points, if I actually had any) were and will be sending me a summary along with some "do these at home" exercises. On subsequent visits, we'll be able to see where I'm getting more bendy and where I might need more work. Oh, and there are apparently intermediate and advanced levels of the stretches as well. I'm still at the early beginner stage.

If you're around London and are at all interested in flexibility or holistic therapies, you really should give it a go. Not only will you get a good workout, but you end up with a thorough understanding of what you're doing and why you're doing it. And it's always good to reacquaint yourself with your muscles ... what do you mean I can put that there and hold it in that position? ... think how much more fun you'll be in bed at parties.

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