Archive for December 14th, 2009


The Stretching Angle

on December 14, 2009 in Misc 1 Comment »

Woman stretching

Here’s a quickie test.

Think about the fighting style of most male action heroes from James Bond to Bruce Willis to Matt Damon and so on.

Now think about the fighting style of all their modern female counterparts.  Add in the villainesses who physically fight both women and men.  Besides drop-dead gorgeous bodies, what do they have in common?

The women can all stretch like rubber bands.

Think about it.  Do you ever see James Bond kicking his leg over his head to hammer the bad guy in the kisser?  Does Will Smith whip off back handsprings to smash an attacker?  Indiana Jones certainly never fell into a splits while taking down a truck full of Nazis.

But that’s how the women fight.  They can splay their legs like their bodies are splitting in half.  Bend their backs like their spines are buttery goo.  Whirl like windmills, dive like swans, spin kick attackers into a demolition dream.

Women Fighters

Obviously there are men like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and their Western versions who  share this loose-limbed fighting style.  What they have in common with the ladies is martial arts.  They’re lethal because they’re  limber, use an opponent’s attacks and momentum against him or her, and move with devastating speed.  And all these reasons explain why women can rely on martial arts to even the playing field for them.  Years ago when I took intensive Tae Kwan Do for about six months, I learned how easy it was to break boards with my kicks and deflect an attacker’s moves.  I didn’t have bulky muscles and didn’t need them.

But back to the rubber band phenomenon.  In this category, how does my body measure up?

It depends on what direction you’re talking about.  The splits I can do – right or left leg.  Thus I can kick over my head.  I used to do a decent back bend, but years ago I got out of the habit of regularly doing a few a week and now my shoulders and back have stiffened up and I can no longer get into a decent one.  So a couple months ago I added back and shoulder stretches to my workout routines and the effort is making a difference.  I’m still only practicing halfway-down backbends against walls or the high back of an old armchair, but I’m making progress.

My chronic problem area is the side splits.  You know what I mean – when you’re facing forward and your legs are out at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.  When I try to stretch into one, I can only start at a 90 degree angle and work out to maybe a 110 degree one.  And this isn’t a recent development.  For years I’ve stretched away, and while the rest of my body loosened up I’ve still – to my enormous frustration — always remained tight down in that part of the pelvis and upper thighs.  What I’ve long wanted to be like is Leslie Caron in An American in Paris when in one dance routine she effortlessly moves from splits to side splits to splits in the other direction as if she’s simply shifting her perspective.

This one area of tightness  may sound like no big deal, but I’ve found that it really has impeded some of my movements.  In parkour when I had to clamber around in quadrapedal movements, my side-stepping was limited and I sometimes felt uncomfortable twinges in the wrong places.  In Tae Kwan Do the tightness constricted my side kicks.  And I know that when I start climbing walls or whatever my inability to spread my legs loosely (and I mean that in the cleanest possible way) is again going to hamper me.

You’d think that the years of ballet I’d had when young with its emphasis on “turnout” would have unraveled the rock-hard knots that tie me up down there.  But nope.  Not a bit of it.  I can do pliés in second position till the cows come home but I still can’t do no 180 degrees – hell, I’d be ecstatic with 160 – side splits.

Per usual I must ask if Layla can do the side splits.  I didn’t really think about it when I was creating her, but the answer obviously has to be that she comes damn close to it.  If she can climb around buildings and get into forbidden places, she must have a body that can do what she commands of it.  From scaling walls to parkour-style escapes, she’s got the chops.

And that means I gotta go for the side splits.

So for the next few weeks I’m going to swallow my frustration and experiment like crazy with stretches.  I found a couple old articles and a book on the subject and they should help.  I’ll switch back and forth from static to dynamic stretching.  I’ll try stretching two or three times a day, and I’ll avoid injuries by going at it gently.  Then, if at the end of it all I’ve finally, genuinely loosened myself up by 20 or 30 degrees, I’ll consider my efforts a success.

Here ’s hoping for the best.