Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tai chi as isokinetic exercise

Isokinetic exercise is an exercise that provides a variable resistance to a constant limb movement. These kinds of adaptive exercises usually require equipment that can quickly accommodate changes in resistance.  It is superior to isometric exercise because movement allows the muscles to exercise at different lengths while working at maximum (i.e. both extension and contraction muscles work together) at all time.  One example of an isokinetic exercise is a stationary bike that responds to a constant leg movement by the user. The resistance offered by the stationary bike may vary, while the speed of limb motion and subsequent revolutions per minute stays the same.  Simple elastic band is the simplest isokinetic tool.

The slow movement of tai-chi, with proper training, can be executed as an excellent isokinetic exercise, without using any equipment or aid.  In essence, the first step of the training is doing zhan zhuang (in particular combat stance) to develop whole body contraction (muscles as one), which in fitness lingo being isometric exercise that I explained in the last post. The next step is more difficult.  A practitioner has to do slow and mindfully focused movement, often time with silk reeling to further drag the movement.  The criterion of success is that one has the zhan zhuang muscles-as-one feel even in slow movement.   Wang XiangZai's YiChuen explained this process in detail and called it Feeling strength 試力。 Not all tai-chi practitioners consciously train this way, so don't be surprised if your tai-chi coach doesn't make use of this training concept (He might even say: This is not tai-chi...:))

Fair to say it is not easy to train up one's body to be able to perform tai-chi as isokinetic exercise.  For those who prefer instant noodles instead, they may perhaps consider using an elastic band, with the full understanding that they will not be tasting anything near the real thing!

Alert readers may ask: How about pushing hands?  I shall leave it to a future post, stay tuned.

Leg movement with elastic band

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