Article on 'Resistance Stretching'


Article by Daphne Gordon,

Living Reporter for The Toronto Star newspaper.
First published on July 16, 2008.


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Routine goes swimmingly
U.S. freestyler, 41, credits resistance stretching program for her record-breaking performances


She's 41, the mother of two and an Olympic medal contender.

So how does swimming superwoman Dara Torres do it? She says her secret weapon is not chemical, as some have speculated, but rather the intense stretching routine she performs daily.

When Torres, a Californian, won the 50-metre freestyle event at the Olympic trials this month, the U.S. swimmer clinched her spot as the oldest female swimmer to compete at the Olympics.

Beijing will mark her fifth Olympic appearance. She has won nine medals, and four of them are gold.

While her younger teammates swim more laps, she's on the pool deck with personal stretchers Anne Tierney and Steve Sierra, who twist her this way and that using an approach called resistance stretching.

"The most important thing is it allows her to recover from hard workouts in the pool and the gym," says Sierra on the phone from California, where he and Tierney are poolside with Torres.

The trainers say the main difference between resistance stretching, based on the ideas of U.S. stretching expert and author Bob Cooley, and more traditional methods of stretching, is that muscles are stretched when they are contracted, not relaxed. This creates a more elastic, more stable muscle, and prevents overstretching.

By asking Torres to resist the pressure as they push her leg into a hamstring stretch, for example, Sierra and Tierney say they're helping her perform better.

"Elongating the muscle makes it more powerful, makes it more able to contract and produce power," says Sierra, a 36-year-old former gym owner who became devoted to resistance training when it improved his own chronic joint pain and helped him drop 30 pounds.

Tierney got involved when she met Sierra at the gym and he stretched her out. A college basketball player, she joined a pickup game later that day and turned in a peak performance.

"I felt so light on my feet. I could run so fast. I could jump so high. ... Nothing had ever made me feel that way before."

Now the pair makes a career of teaching and applying Cooley's resistance stretching techniques, pointing out that flexibility is an oft-neglected aspect of fitness.

"Existing stretching programs are outdated," says Tierney. "People neglect it because they're not getting the results that they want."

But while resistance stretching may be having its 15 minutes of fame thanks to Torres, Cooley's stretching theory is not totally new, says yoga teacher Ante Pavlovic.

"What Cooley is touching on has been touched on before," says Pavlovic of Yoga Therapy Toronto, "but he's presenting it in a new way."

Resistance stretching is similar to PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, a method of stretching that's been around since the 1940s, Pavlovic explains. And the ideas echo the techniques of some forms of yoga.

Still, after hearing about Torres, Pavlovic is interested in integrating Cooley's ideas into his work, noting that the concept of contracting while stretching can improve flexibility, while more passive stretches, while they have their place, don't create lasting change.

Toronto Star


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