While searching for Martial Arts training methods I came across some very interesting videos about flexibility, methods of stretching and the scientific explanation and reasoning behind them. Being impressed by these videos and the knowledge they presented I contacted the author Paul Zaichik and invited him to write for our moosin online magazine. Paul accepted my invitation and since then his articles have become one of the most popular, reaching up to 45K readers per article. Based on this popularity I invited Paul to do an interview where he could explain his work and the methods he has developed.
Paul’s interest in Martial Arts dates back to his early childhood. During his Martial Art training Paul realized that many advanced students could barely kick at head level. He had begun to experiment in this area. As a result Paul transformed many Eastern European Stretching and Gymnastic techniques to meet the needs of modern martial artists. More and more students were utilising Paul’s techniques, acquiring great strength and flexibility in return. As a certified Exercise and Nutrition instructor Paul has been able to develop many effective techniques over the years that has become known as ElasticSteel. I believe that this interview will clarify some matters related to stretching and will benefit our readers who have a particular interest in this area.
Dr Zibby Kruk
Editor-in-chief Moosin online magazine
Zibby Kruk: So Paul tell us a little bit about Kinesiological Stretching Techniques.
Paul Zaichik: KST (Kinesiological Stretching Techniques) is a method of stretching the muscles. There are many differences from standard stretching techniques. KST is different from Dynamic, Static, PNF, etc is that one muscle is targeted at a time. This is opposed to many muscles targeted together.
Zibby Kruk: What are the advantages of targeting one muscle at a time?
Paul Zaichik: Well for example let’s say we are working on a “hip flexors” stretch. Most people assume that a deep lunge targets the “hip flexor(s)”. Some people use other positions that extend the hip joint (bring the leg behind the line of the body), such as Pigeon or Modified Dancer’s pose. In reality there are 10 muscles that flex the hip (prevent the hip extension). The 6 hip flexors and 4 adductors. Anyone of them can prevent the extension of the hip. Targeting them separately allows to focus on the problematic one(s). At the same time, not all skills require the muscles to be equality stretched. What we do in EasyFlexibility and ElasticSteel is break the skills down into muscles and target those that need stretching for fastest results.
Zibby Kruk: How do you isolate the muscles?
Paul Zaichik: The muscles can be isolated because each one does something else. Each muscle is unique. For example if we can come back to the hip flexors for a second to demonstrate the point. All hip flexors flex the hip. However some favor medial rotation and some favor lateral rotation. Some prefer flexion with abduction and some with adduction. Some cross the knee and some don’t. Those who cross the knee may flex it or extend it. So for example Sartorius. It flexes the hip, laterally rotates and assist in hip abduction. The only muscle that does the same is Rectus Femoris. Also a hip flexor, assists in hip lateral rotation and abduction. However former flexes and medially rotates the knee and later extends the knee. The position of the knee would different between which of the two muscles we are targeting. Providing that we extend, adduct and medially rotate the hip.
Zibby Kruk: How would you stretch the hamstrings for example with your technique?
Paul Zaichik: Hamstrings is 4 heads. We isolate the lateral and medial heads, since they do different things. Do you mean how we target the muscle specifically or how do we get a person to bend forward at the hip, like in sitting sit and reach?
Zibby Kruk: What about both?
Paul Zaichik: The two are actually different things, because a person who wants to touch his chest to his knee(s) with a straight leg, is stretching more than hamstrings. Other muscles must be stretched first. So gluteus maximus, piriformis, ischial head of adductor magnus, and in some cases adductor longus (it becomes an extensor past 70 degrees), posterior fibers of gluteus medius, and calve. Of course ankle position and hip position will dictate if some of the names muscles need stretching.
If we are targeting hamstrings muscle specifically, we can work it as an extensor of the hip vs the flexor of the knee. If it’s lateral hamstrings for example (which is very tight in most people), we can use horizontal adduction and medial rotation as one of the action, usually as leverage.
Zibby Kruk: The concept of Target and Leverage is unique to Kinesiological Stretching techniques. Can you talk about that?
Paul Zaichik: Yes, in basic terms a target is the direction where we want to stretch the muscle. For example in a sitting straddle (Side Split), we want the legs to come apart to 180 degrees. That is our target. So by moving the legs away from each other we are moving them into the direction of the target.
However the legs may and usually refuse to move past certain point. To keep them moving, we use leverage. The leverage are short movement, that target the same muscle groups. However unlike our targeted direction, which is usually a specific skill (Side Split), the leverage moves the joint to target the same muscle in it’s other actions. For example, adductors are medial rotators. Doing the opposite (Laterally Rotating the hip, stretches the muscles further)
The main point to understand is that if we perform outward rotation we get the flexibility in the muscles that we don’t need, at least not in the way we have it. So we stretch the inner thighs through rotation, but we don’t care about the hip rotation at the moment, we want the legs to go further apart. Well, when that rotational stretch is let go, there is “space”. This means few more degrees to space the legs out, with decreased resistance.
Zibby Kruk: So what is the advantage of using target and leverage over regular stretches like done in yoga?
Paul Zaichik: The advantage is speed of flexibility progress. If we stay with the Side Split, let’s say. One would either sit with legs apart and nothing happens. Just sitting there and no progress. Either that or one would somehow force the legs out, like with a “torture stretching device”, against pain and resistance. With KST you move into leverage, come back out of it and all of the suddenly, you are more flexible.
Zibby Kruk: Can someone just keep doing KST until a full split is mastered, if there is a small gain with each Target/Leverage movement?
Paul Zaichik: In one workout, you mean?
Zibby Kruk: Yes
Paul Zaichik: Significant flexibility can be gained in one workout, but we don’t recommend getting greedy. However we know of the possible progress one can quickly make, because people did get gluttonous in the past. In EasyFlexibility we prefer to make progress, secure it and move on.
Zibby Kruk: I want to ask you about EasyFlexibility in a second. Can you expand on “make progress, secure it and move on” bit?
Paul Zaichik: So one EasyFlexibility/ElasticSteel developments was an ability to keep the progress received from Kinesiological Stretching Techniques. People got pretty flexible in their training session, using KST. Let’s say they could barely touch toes at the start of the session and would be palming the toes at end of the session. Then the next workout comes and they are at square one again. Barely touching toes. So exercises were developed to keep what was gained. So that at the next session, they would start more flexible.
Zibby Kruk: So next time they would be contacting their palms to their toes?
Paul Zaichik: No, they would not be as flexible as they ended up last time, but more flexible than they started. So they would not palm the toes, but they would be touching with finger tips, while before they could not. So the point is to start a little deeper and end a little deeper each time. After some training, what was the deepest flexibility, becomes the starting flexibility.
Zibby Kruk: I see and what kind of exercises allow one to keep flexibility?
Paul Zaichik: Various strength and movement exercises. Their aim is to make the newly developed flexibility range accepted by the body as normal and comfortable.
Zibby Kruk: How did you come up with KST?
Paul Zaichik: One of my friends was stretching his shoulders for swimming. He wanted to develop good medial rotation. He was on the floor on the side, trying to push his hand closer to the floor. It was not really going. Then he turned in such a way that he created a horizontal flexion in the shoulder. So basically he did the leverage. As he came back, his arm went deeper. So he did the target. I noticed that. When I saw it, I realized based on my experience in Kinesiology that both of those actions, targeted the same muscle group. (Posterior Deltoid, Teres Minor and Infraspinatus) Long story short, I did the stretch myself and it worked. Next I did the same for all the muscles and it worked as well. And Kinesiological Stretching was born.
Zibby Kruk: Named after Kinesiology?
Paul Zaichik: Yes, exactly.
Zibby Kruk: People often confuse EasyFlexibility, ElasticSteel and Kinesiological Stretching techniques are they often used interchangeably. What is the difference between them?
Paul Zaichik: ElasticSteel Method of Athletic Conditioning is a company I founded to share my knowledge, experience and research in various fields. Flexibility Training, Strength Training, BodyWeight Training, Martial Arts.
EasyFlexibility is a brand under ElasticSteel umbrella. Martial Artists who practice the method often call it ElasticSteel, while dancers, yogis, cheerleaders, gymnasts and other athletes call it EasyFlexibility.
EasyFlexibility is also a brand signifying the “Elastic” part of ElasticSteel focusing on Stretching. Several brands signified the strength component of EasyFlexibility, with ZejaX being the leading one right now.
Kinesiological Stretching Techniques is the way of muscle elongation in ES and EF programs. However, as I said before, it’s only a part of the EF and ES. It’s completed by other techniques.
Zibby Kruk: So in short, ElasticSteel is for martial artists EasyFlexibility is for different athletes and Kinesiological Stretching are stretching techniques for everyone?
Paul Zaichik: Yes.
Zibby Kruk: So what is next for Elasticsteel?
Paul Zaichik: Still looking for ways to improve the system. Trying to find ways to develop flexibility faster, but still keep it safe and sustainable. As soon as we discover and test something, we make it available for everyone.
Zibby Kruk: Thank you Paul, it was great chatting with you.
Paul Zaichik: Thank you as well