Tuesday, November 20, 2012

zhan zhuang and isometric exercise

Isometric exercise or isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called dynamic/isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion (from Wiki). The benefit of isometric exercise is that it can exercise both the extension and the contraction muscles at the same time, because of the resistance generated. It can do more training within the same time period, workout enthusiasts love it, Bruce Lee being one. The practical problem with this kind of exercise is that your muscles are only worked maximally in part of the movement range. And a second problem, more serious I should say, is that it is boring. You can perhaps search in Youtube for some free demos with left arm working against right arm or vice versa, and make a judgement on your own.

How does zhan zhuang, or more exactly combat stance zhan zhuang, compare with the usual isometric exercise for strength training?

Practitioners of Wang Xiangzai's YiChuen like to do combat stance for training. On the look of it, there is no resistance, a practitioner just stands there, perhaps with some nano movement. Quite unlike Bruce Lee, and quite unlike the Youtube demo guys. Indeed one has to learn to do combat stance with muscles contractions and relaxations in order that one can make one set of your muscles working against the other set instead of pitching your arms together like the Youtube folks did. I shall explain more about the mechanics in some future posts, here I would like to mention other benefits of doing combat stance, in addition to sound and effective muscle training of the isometric type.

Firstly, doing combat stance can open, align and strengthen one's joints, in particular one's shoulder joints. It is actually the two sides of the same coin. In order that one can work isometrically, a practitioner has to align his joints with subtle aligned force; and when one contracts one's muscles isometrically, the aligned joints will become more aligned, more opened and more strengthened.

Secondly, with combat stance, since this is a kind of zhan zhuang [and therefore a kind of chi-kung], chi will be guided to spread evenly around the whole body for both all round physical and mental training.

Last but not least, one can do combat stance with arms set at all possible directions (i.e. not limited to the standard stance, hence solving the practical problem as mentioned above. For example, when doing the Rhino (in 24 styles tai-chi Nei Gung) or Taming the Dragon (the name use in most kung fu systems), one can start with Santi (三体), and stance by stance, extend one's front arm, and finally twisting one's body to a full Dragon. The number of intermediate stance to choose shall depend upon the body condition of each individual practitioner.  This is how I teach my students doing the Rhino.

And doing combat stance is fun!

Bruce Lee doing isometric exercise

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