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The Use of the Pilates principle of reciprocal enervation for stretching muscles
By Ivon Dahl

The “Golden Tendon Reflex” or; the stretch reflex is the operation of the neurological system to keep a person from injuring himself by moving in too large a range of movement. However, the stretch reflex also keeps one from getting maximal stretch. Activation of the stretch reflex causes contraction of the muscle one is trying to stretch. If the muscle is contracted, it is far more difficult and painful to stretch the connective tissue of that muscle.

Bouncing stretches continually activate the stretch reflex. Therefore, the individual is trying to stretch the connective tissue, but at the same time he is getting a contraction of the muscle fibers, resulting in an inefficient method of stretching connective tissue.

The long sustained stretch with no bouncing is more effective than a bouncing stretch. However, the stretch reflex is still activated, but to a lesser degree, and this prevents maximal stretch.

The body provides us with a method by which we can block the activation of the stretch reflex called reciprocal innervation. In accordance with this physiological principle, when a muscle contracts, its antagonist automatically relaxes. An antagonist is a muscle which causes the opposite movement from that of the agonist, the muscle acting as mover. Thus in a movement of flexion, the flexors are the movers and the extensors are the antagonists. The principle of reciprocal innervation can be employed to attain maximal stretch, when the antagonist mass of the antagonist is not equal to the muscle mass of the agonist, the most effective method of stretching is the long sustained stretch.

Maximal contraction is the best choice for stretching when there is static contraction, that is, the subject blocks the action he wishes to perform by some external force and then contracts against it. In other words, maximal contraction of the antagonist blocks stretch reflex. This method of stretching is called PNF.

Working an elongated muscle is a unique stretch methodology used in Pilates, dance and martial arts. This method will systematically increase muscle flexibility and muscle strength simultaneously by 20 > 30 % plus enhance muscle control, coordination and physiologic functional efficiency.

Steps necessary to stretch a muscle with reciprocal innervation
1. Determine the antagonist of the muscle that you with to contract.
2. Contract the antagonist maximally in the mid-range position of movement for 20 to 60 seconds.
3. Stretch the connective tissue of the muscle by a long sustained stretch. Sustain at least 60 seconds, DO NOT BOUNCE

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