By Olivia Allnutt
The SledgeHammer Stretching method was developed by myself and Dr Joe Hope in the 2000s. We both had extremely tight calf muscles and ankles, and we could not seem to progress our flexibility in this part of our bodies in spite of all the other techniques we were practising. An interrupt was needed, and SledgeHammer Stretching* proved to be highly effective.
* We originally called this technique pre-exhaustion, a term borrowed from weight training. However, fatiguing the muscle is not desirable – rather, it needs to be quickly 'failed': thus, a better term would be 'pre-fail'. We've gone with SledgeHammer Stretching because it's a very apt descriptor! More below.
If you are an experienced stretcher, and you have a part of the body that just does not want to let go, you need the SledgeHammer.
This is an intermediate–advanced technique. It definitely is *not* for beginners.
You need to have had enough experience with intense contractions – using all of your strength – in stretching exercises to know how far to push your system. And you also need to be able to relax into the forces being applied by you and your partner together –this means you need to be strong enough to control the elongation we are going for.
When we taught this system at the Australian National University in the Monkey Gym, we required the attendees to have had experience with intense resistance training (IOW, strength training) already, so keep that in mind. You really do need to have had experience in this area to get the most out of this (and to be safe).
As well, you need a partner. I mention this to forestall the inevitable "I don't have a partner, how can I do this?" kind of questions! A creative person might be able to duplicate the loading using equipment, but we also know from experience that a partner completely changes the relaxation–elongation part of the technique in an extremely beneficial way. Find a partner.
Part of this technique overloads the central nervous system, and this facilitates an over-riding of the normal protective mechanisms that so often prevent us from going deeper into a desired range of movement. The technique uses a combination of 'going to failure' (well known by anyone who does resistance training), but as rapidly as possible, ideally in a 4–5 rep. range and, further, immediately adds two maximum-effort contractions in the end stretch position to strongly invoke the "post contraction inhibition reflex" (PCIR). This phase mostly works on the neuromuscular system. The final part carefully allows the combined forces to slowly elongate the part we are working, and its main effect is on the fascial system. In sum, whatever tissues need to lengthen (muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and nerves) will lengthen – but do make sure you are in full control of this process, to ensure you do not go too far.
Here is the description
This method of stretching requires high levels of body awareness, good communication skills and an attention to detail. As the resulting stretches are maximal, it is well suited to achieving breakthrough flexibility improvements, particularly if the limits to flexibility are neurological.
This method requires everything to work correctly, or else it feels very similar to ordinary hard stretching. Our plan is to pre-fail the muscles so that they can provide no resistance to a very strong stretch, and then hold that stretch for a very long time (many minutes).
General design points for exercises:
* The failure must occur in the extreme range of movement.
* The stretch should enable a strong stretch that is stable enough to hold for long periods when tired.
* Muscle must fail, not fatigue.
* The failure must be quick, without causing the muscle to "pump".
* Set up the stretching apparatus before pre-failing.
* Begin pre-fail with a very muscle-specific exercise.
* Stretch strongly between repetitions of the pre-fail exercise.
* Only move through a small range of movement – 1–2 cm – near the full-stretched position.
* Use high resistance so that a) you can't move through a range of movement greater than 2 cm, and b) failure is extremely fast – 5 reps maximum.
* Make a speedy transition to the stretch – do not allow the muscle to recover.
* Hold the stretch. We highly recommend using the clock.
* You may also use a couple of short Contract–Relax sequences in the stretching exercise as soon as you feel that the pre-failed muscle is starting to recover, and these can be done before the maximum-contraction 30-second C–R, and the 15-second C–R.
* Try to relax in the new position, and hold it without partner support for a few seconds when coming out.
We have developed exercise sequences for calves, hip flexors, piriformis, outer hamstrings, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Now, in 2021, Kit and I have been playing with two sequences for the adductors (bent and straight legs), too. We will be bringing out the full "SledgeHammer Stretching" Course later this year.
Find a full tutorial and demonstration of the SledgeHammer sequence for calves at https://stretchtherapy.net/sledgehammer-stretching-calf-sequence-full-demonstration/.
Olivia Allnutt is assisted by Kevin Lee (Senior Stretch Therapy Teacher).