Martial arts standbys
Date/Time 2005-07-13 17:15:35
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Traditional martial arts typically put a great deal of stock in ligament and tendon strength, often more so than muscular strength. So they would have students hold postures, like the horse stance, for long periods of time, to strengthen the ligaments and tendons. It doesn't build much muscle. In fact it overtrains muscle. But it does seem to work for ligaments and tendons, and that's why it's been done that way for thousands of years. It does enable you to move in and out of difficult positions using a minimum of muscular effort, and with minimal danger to the tissues.
Here are three that I've had the particular displeasure -- er, I mean challenge! -- of doing for long periods of time.
The horse stance -- basically a squat with a straight back and thighs parallel to the ground. Feet should point straight ahead, but it's not as important as just maintaining the squat if you're not training for a particular martial art. A little pointing outward is okay. But pointing the feet straight ahead actually does make the squat easier to maintain once you build up the ankle flexibility, and puts less stress on the inside of your knee.
Shoulder extension the first -- hold your arms out to your sides, back straight, head up, at shoulder level. Elbows should be locked, palms flat and facing away from the body, fingers locked and pointing up at the sky. This becomes very hard, but try your best. After a while your shoulders will start to droop or twist, and your arms will start to sag, without your even knowing it. Alternatively, you might compensate by raising your arms high, so some of the weight drops back into your body, lessening the strain on your shoulders. Watch for it, correct it, and keep on keeping on. Perfect form is always what you want the most, but simply being able to stick it out does wonders to train willpower and, eventually, work up physical strength and even control internal energy.
Shoulder extension the second. Hold your arms straight out in front of you , elbows locked, palms down. Fingers point straight out, but can be relaxed and don't have to lock. Elbows can have their normal orientation.
Hold for as long as you can. At first even five minutes may be very uncomfortable for the horse stance for most people, and five minutes with good form is an impossibility for the average untrained person on the shoulder exercises, and not even all that likely for a strong person. Build up as you can. Typically, a student "sits" in the horse with either his fists pulled up at the side of his chest, or waist, or the horse is combined with arm positions like the shoulder extensions mentioned above. Combining two of these holds is a tremendous exercise of endurance and willpower.
These postures are often combined with various types of meditation, either relaxing or fiercely energizing. Pick one. Besides strengthening the ligaments and tendons, holding these stances is so difficult that it puts you directly in contact with your body's limits and how your mind can help to make things worse or help overcome your limitations. In doing so, you become more aware of kinks in your posture and imbalances in your strength and energy flow. Practicing holding these postures can bring much improved concentration and willpower, an awareness of the "weak links" in your body's structure, and a more integrated awareness and control of your own energy and its flow or sticking points.
You may well build up a huge pool of sweat beneath you doing this, and that's fine. After some serious time spent training, if you have kept a real concentrated attention about you while practicing, you may find yourself using less and less brutish, unfocussed muscular effort and more refined, economical effort to hold your limbs in place. It sure won't hurt that you'll have become a bit stronger, either, but it's the ability to control and relax your muscles while still holding your limbs in disadvantaged positions that's the main thing driving your progress. This seems like a purely muscular effort, but it isn't.
This kind of progress comes by slow, painful degrees for everybody, I would guess. Eventually you will be able to stand in these positions without too much effort for at least several minutes, and extend the time doing it longer and longer. That will again propel you to further levels of discovery of your willpower, muscular "feel," simple strength, proper structure, and, if your mind has been alert and concentrated, further discovery of your own energy.
You may find yourself shaking while doing this, sometimes quite hard. Sometimes you'll shake without even knowing it. Sometimes it will be from muscle fatigue, as doing these stances really can feel like torture. Sometimes, if you pay attention, you'll feel energy flowing through your limbs, straightening them out for you. Experiment with that feeling; strengthening(though not in weightlifter's terms necessarily) and willpower are vital in the martial arts, but the hidden agenda in these stances is actually the discovery, development, and control of internal energy.
You can build very defined shoulders this way, by the way, as well as very good traps. But they are not exercises really designed to put on muscle, and if pure muscle is what you're after, these exercises are probably not for you. But they are quite a challenge even for athletes. And they will build the connective tissue strength the OP was asking about.
An archive of helpful advice compiled by IGer's.
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