The benefits of this adjustability is immense due to it potentially taking a stronger loading to get us into a position, and to then perform an isometric contraction against the partners weight. Once we have finished the contraction then the force required to maintain the position is significantly less in most cases and the partner can reduce the loading so the stretchee can spend more time in the position, digesting the new sensation and positioning.
The partner can also apply the force in a more beneficial and tailored direction than just straight downwards like a fixed resistance. The partner applied resistance can be a combined vector that is applying a directionality to the stretch. A simple example could be in a seated pancake the partner can press straight down and also forwards to help drive the hip rolling over action of the stretch. They can apply an uneven force side to side of the spine so as to correct an asymmetry in the position.
Being an intelligent dumbbell requires skill, it is something that needs to be taught in person to a large degree. Learning to feel and move someone’s body will teach you a huge amount about your own body as well. And receiving a partner stretch from skilled hands can get you safely into deeper positions than you would be able to achieve yourself.
The levels of touch
When using a partner to apply resistance to a stretch I think there’s three levels of contact with a person and a hidden fourth level.
At the skin level we sink into the surface of the skin and make contact with the tissue underneath. From here the goal is to apply a glide and a vector for the person to complete the stretch or task themselves. The goal is also to bring awareness to places that might not be moving in the right direction. At my own level the tension in the hands and fingers is so light that the listening ability is still there and with practice you can feel the lines of resistance inside someone’s body and guide them in the right direction.
At the muscle level the pressure has increased and we get into the idea of contract relax stretching with varying durations of contractions. The pressure becomes something for the person to work against and with. The idea of guiding and listening is still present. This is the home of variable resistance, and altering this based on how much the person wants or does not want.
At the bone level the pressure has increased to a degree that you are now moving the body for the person and they are a participant and not the main driver. This is the home of the scary gymnastics coach. While it has its uses it should not be the first destination and can be very effective in the right hands but a risk when haphazardly applied.
The 4th Level – Peripersonal Space
Being the stretching partner, the hidden first touch occurs when you enter into that person’s peripersonal space. Here you will see interesting reactions depending on the person, their comfort towards you and their projections of how the stretch might be felt. Here you will see two main reactions; the person will sink and deepen the stretch or the person will tense up and brace against the initial contact. This reaction to the projection of how the touch might be will give you vital information on how well the person will digest the stretch and what sort of pressure they will need.
The partner as a guide
When aiming to increase our range of motion beyond what we have normally available we are entering a zone where our interpretation of the sense data from the positions or movements can be deceptive and not aligned with what is actually happening.
Here the partner can help us correct alignments and mis-alignments. The range of interactions here are rich, ranging from auditory cueing to tactile cueing.
In auditory cueing we are explaining to the person what they are doing or reinforcing the correct points of the stretch. It can be common for the stretchee to focus on one or two points of a position but neglect the others, so here the partner can bring back the focus.
Tactile cueing is one of the biggest advantages in partner facilitated stretching. Here, by simple touch, we can directly bring focus to body parts that might need to be adjusted. This level of coaching interaction is one of the main keys of getting the stretchee into their body and getting the awareness to the dark parts of the body. A simple example would be in back bending, if the person is not accessing their spine, a simple touch at the level not bending to the same degree as the rest of that spine segment can direct the person’s sensory awareness to this blindspot and then give tangible awareness to the area to move.