The Myth of 'Short Muscles'

This post is about the moment when the human body completely blew my mind away. The moment when I saw physical evidence that something that I had thought was just a fact of life, was demonstrated to simply not be true.

All through my early dance training, and even through my physiotherapy training, I had held the belief that muscles were short and that you had to stretch them to make them longer. Every part of the training that I had received had been along those lines, and it seemed to make sense. In actual fact, I don’t even remember thinking that there could be any other option.

I was never the most flexible when I was young, and while my right side was Ok, I always struggled with the mobility on my left-hand side, and constantly strained and tore my left hamstring in my attempt to get it to be ‘longer’

Then one day, in my final year of physiotherapy training, it all changed. I was watching an operation, an elderly man was having a total hip replacement, in the hospital where I was on placement. I had assessed the patient in the morning, and I could lift his leg to about 45 degrees (with him lying on his back). However, once the man was under a general anesthetic, my previous concept of “flexibility” was shattered when the surgeon casually lifted the 75-year-old man‟s leg, well past this point. When he saw the look of disbelief on my face he grinned, took it even further and said “It‟s amazing what happens when the mind gets out of the way, huh?!.”

I asked how that was possible, that surely his hamstrings were too short. He laughed and informed me that our muscles have complete capability to go to full range, and its our mind that holds them tight.

The myth of short muscles lisa howell flexibility mobility

After being stunned for a few seconds, I quickly realised the possibilities if this were true, and asked him if it would be possible to go under anaesthetic and be cast in second splits (I really struggled with that...!) He laughed again and explained that while he could do it, when I came to I would be in a lot of pain because my brain simply wouldn’t believe it and would try to contract my legs back in... Probably resulting in me tearing my inner thigh muscles... Ow!

I then realized that almost all that I had been taught about muscles, flexibility and stretching was actually quite far from the truth. I decided then and there to try and uncover the truth of true flexibility and teach it to those who really need to know!

It seems that our brains hold a concept of what is a ‘safe’ range for the muscle to be in based on all kinds of things (past experience, physical sensation etc), and when we push it to go further than that, it will contract to protect us from injury. This is a good thing, however when we are involved in a sport or activity that demands higher than normal levels of flexibility, it can become a problem.

Over time there are other things that can occur to reduce your flexibility, such as neural and fascial tension, often caused by poor biomechanics in other areas of your body, but again, most of this is completely reversible once it is identified.

If we want ultimate mobility we need to find ways to not only allow the muscle to release into its full range, but to also to train it in those ranges to be strong and functional. This, in turn, reduces the brain's ‘fear response’ and there will be less protective contraction, and you will be less likely to contract back again overnight.

I have since discovered that there are many other strategies that can be used to help make your body more mobile, that are much easier and safer that having an anesthetic! Understanding how your body is made up and operates is very important to understanding and using these systems. This is why all of our programs are focused on empowering you to learn about your own body.

The Front Splits Fast Flexibility Program helps undo many areas of the body that may be holding you back from your full mobility, and safely work into deeper and deeper stretches in a very safe way.


Flexibility Resources

If you are looking to delve deeper into this topic, check out the following programs:

  • Front Splits Fast Program: This program translates therapeutic techniques for improving Fascial Mobility and Neural Tension into easy to do exercises that can enable instant changes in your flexibility without the risk of damage through over stretching.
  • Level Two Online Flexibility Intensive: If you are a dance teacher, this is the perfect continued education course for you. During this course you will understand the multifactorial nature to flexibility training. You will also explore safe ways of assessing exactly where each individual is restricted in order to create the most effective program.
  • Level Three Online Flexibility Intensive on 'How to Train Extreme Mobility Safely'This workshop will help you assess your students in detail and be able to offer them effective techniques in a logical clear order to get them on the way to achieving THEIR optimal flexibility. It is also for teachers who are concerned at the extreme positions young dancers are wanting to work into, as it gives you safe guidelines on how to guide their development.