Man vs. Machine

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Van Zandt, Oct 7, 2008.

  1. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    For many years there has been a debate between exercise physiologists over whether or not athletes should incorporate the use of machines in their flexibility development programmes.

    In this article I will highlight the pros and cons of both sides of the debate, as well as reveal aspects that appear to have been left out. My aim in publishing this piece on MAP is that it will help you, the general reader, find some clarity in the often confusing and much-debated world of stretching.

    First I will address the arguments against the inclusion of machines in a stretching programme. Some of the world’s most respected authors (such as Thomas Kurz and Pavel Tsatsouline) state the following:

    1. Stretching machines do not develop strength in the stretched position. (Note: it is a fact that the stronger a muscle is, the less activation is required to support it. In other words, the stronger it is at a full range of motion, the more flexible it is.)
    2. Any stretches that can be done with the machine can also be done without it, as is the case of Eastern Bloc Olympians who have never used stretching machines.

    The methods of Kurz and Tsatsouline advocate the use of isometric stretching (performing short, strong tensions in the stretched position) to achieve two aims: 1) to override the stretch reflex and bring about further gains in range of motion, and 2) to develop strength in the stretched position.

    They also state an athlete will maximise flexibility gains by supplementing isometric stretching with relaxed stretching (assuming a position and waiting for the tension in the target muscles to subside, then moving into a greater range of motion; essentially waiting out the tension and picking up the slack).

    However, through my own research I have come to several conclusions and I offer the following benefits for the inclusion of machines in a stretching programme:

    1. Isometric stretches can be performed in a stretching machine (apply pressure against the contact points), albeit the tensions may not be as strong as done off the machine. However, in my research I found that while tensions performed with the machine were not as strong as tensions performed without the machine, they were still strong and effective enough to bring about further gains in range of motion.
    2. Eastern Bloc physical training establishments such as the Uniwersytet Warszawski (University of Warsaw) Physical Education Department advocate the use of partner stretches such as the one highlighted in the image below:


    The effects of this stretch are achieved without a partner through the use of a stretching machine as seen in the image below:


    Therefore although the Eastern Bloc athletes are not using a stretching machine, they are still using the same stretching methodology as utilised with a stretching machine.

    3. Kurz, Tsatsouline and others state that the key to inducing further gains in range of motion is to relax as much as possible. However, Kurz (who appears to be the strongest opponent against stretching machines) offers the following position as the primary relaxed stretch for achieving side splits:


    Although the model in the picture is resting her bodyweight on her arms (as instructed in Kurz’s method), a certain amount of weight is still being placed on the adductors. It is a physiological impossibility for a muscle to relax if even the smallest degree of pressure is applied. Therefore the above position is not as effective at relaxed stretching (i.e. waiting out the tension, and picking up the slack) as the following:


    The weight is placed on the hamstrings and not the adductors; therefore the adductors are totally relaxed and isolated, which are two key ingredients in effective stretching. When they are relaxed they offer the least resistance, and when they are isolated other muscles cannot be recruited into resisting against the stretch. Therefore the maximum stretch possible can be achieved.

    4. Performing side splits can place injure the hip and knee joints. Look at the image below of the “toes forward” side split:


    Notice the awkward angle of the knee joint. As the athlete’s lower legs slide out to the side, his thighs continue downwards. This places excessive pressure on the medial collateral ligament of the knee. If he keeps going the MCL will snap, or worse, the bottom head of his femur could ram through his knee joint and strike the top heads of the tibia and fibula.

    Also in the “toes forward” side split the athlete must take care to ensure the pelvis is properly rotated. If not, the top head of the femur will jam into the acetabulum (hip socket). Every time this happens cartilage is worn away, which is difficult to regenerate.

    In the “toes up” side split (as in the photos of the stretching machines above) the pelvis is already sufficiently rotated and so there is sufficient room for the femur to manoeuvre.

    The methods of Kurz and Tsatsouline fail to mention this aspect (damage to the knee and hip) when selling their products.


    Stretching machines can offer great benefits to an athlete’s flexibility development programme. An athlete can achieve high levels of ROM without one, but it is my opinion that a stretching machine (in conjunction with other methods such as dynamic, isometric and active stretching) will enable an athlete to achieve his or her maximum flexibility potential without damaging the hip and knee joints.

    As with all types of physical activity every athlete should perform any exercise in moderation and if in doubt, he or she should consult a qualified physician.
  2. potlucky10

    potlucky10 Valued Member

    I would have to agree that while a machine only stretching program is a bit one dimensional when used in conjunction with other forms of stretching as well can be very positive.
  3. Sensei Wolf

    Sensei Wolf Valued Member

  4. Kenpo_Amnesiac

    Kenpo_Amnesiac Valued Member


    stretching machines are just "OK" in my eye. I have used them and they do make stretching a little easier. While you are sitting relaxed and are letting the machine do the stretching for you you can do other things like study your material for your sets and/or forms. When you do use one you need to make sure there are no bozos who will pin your arms behind your back while his buddy cranks the handle as a "joke" and tears your leg muscles. If your dojo has one make sure that they have a rule regarding who uses them and that when people do use them that they are not to be disturbed.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2009
  5. Xaq

    Xaq New Member

    I got a score of 250 (Superhuman) @ the Man vs. Machine game @ the Planetarium in Chicago.
  6. asher987

    asher987 Valued Member

    To stretch or not to stretch

    There seems to be some controversy in the health and fitness community about the benefits of stretching. I understand that recent research shows that stretching is not that important prior to a work out but that warming up is essential. Has anyone come across this research?
  7. Satchoki

    Satchoki Valued Member

    I figure stretching machines are fine as long as you know how to use them and use them right. But of course, nothing will substitute your working on it hard and getting to the point of flexibility and strength that you desire.

    I think that machines- operated by the individual using them would be fine. What is difficult when you have a person stretching you. One of my coaches caused one of my worst muscle-tear injuries because of the stretching she'd do on us. She'd basically do force stretching. We'd lie down and someone else would hold down our opposite leg while she'd stretch and force our legs down until our feet would touch the floor by our heads. While it was fine for those who were already naturally flexible, for people like me who are just average- some days it was fine, but on that particular day, my muscles were tired, we hadn't had a proper warm up, and bam- that was it.
  8. SMMA

    SMMA Mind-Body-Sprit

    It really depends, some people love these machines other hate them. I think they can be usefull but are not a must.
  9. IMA

    IMA New Member

    I dont think you need these things, you can damage yourself.

    You can obtain the flexibility to you need without any contraptions.
  10. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    A normal, healthy person can. But stretching aids are necessary for some of the population.
  11. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Sure hope you paid for that advertising :rolleyes:
  12. Jumanji

    Jumanji Valued Member

    Looks interesting, though I don't know if I'd trust one of those machices...
  13. Commander Nitro

    Commander Nitro Valued Member

    Heard a news a couple of days ago that stretching before exercise is bad for the body - at that's what the latest research says.
  14. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Not so much the latest research bud. Static stretching can reduce athletic performance by inhibiting an individual's ability to display maximum strength for up to an hour afterwards. At least that's been the "word on the street" for about 20 years now.
  15. tyciol

    tyciol Valued Member

    It'd be neat if someone tech savvy could hook up pressure sensor pads to go on the innerthigh/knee area which you would press against during an isometric stretch. Not only could you use this to chart your relaxation as it approaches 0, but you could use it to test your isometric strength in the extended position. A biofeedback mechanism like that would be very useful, and you could compare it to the amount of pressure generated by your weight and pinching the ground during the standing side split stretch.

    I guess they don't have a machine like this for the front split, do they?
    Or television? =) Or listen to music and meditate... one thing I do like about these is if the dial has some kind of number (like telling you the number of degrees in your obtuse angle) so you can numerically chart your progress.

    A good precaution for any kind of stretching, since people can push down your shoulders when you are trying to do a safe split (or worse, jump on your thighs, as they seem to do in some extreme gyms in the Orient)
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2010
  16. Moi

    Moi Warriors live forever x

    Man -v- Machine? Win, win for you that isn't it?
  17. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Stretching machines are mere modern devices sold to those who desire to no longer practice normal stretch routines without. I have performed stretching before machines/ devices were marketed and have used such devices in the past. I have come to a near conclusion that stretching maybe a tad overated in the sense of necessity. Especially in anything within the scope of a normal life
  18. AnxietyCoachJoh

    AnxietyCoachJoh Valued Member

    Sounds interesting. But I don't think that would be necessary.
  19. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Never had. I was left to my own devices
  20. Legattacks

    Legattacks New Member

    I think a mixture of machines and non machine stretches are the best, but if you a getting the result you desire from one or the other, so be it!!!!

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