Network Effect (Book Review)

Network Effect by Martha Wells is the fifth installment in the Murderbot Diaries series. It was a bit longer than probably necessary and I wasn’t totally focussed, so it wasn’t as engaging as with the earlier editions.

How to Make Millions with Your Ideas (Book Review)

How to Make Millions with Your Ideas by Dan Kennedy is one of the marketing books that one supposedly should have read. I found it somewhat informative, but mostly because I projected my own experience and ideas on what is being said.

It does a good job of presenting different ideas, but a lot of them are of that time (mail order business). That doesn’t mean that some of the lessons or inspiration isn’t valid.

One good nugget from the book is the lesson that starting with an idea, and making that come to fruition, may be harder than selling something (in a specific area) that is already successful somewhere else.

I’ve made some more notes in Obsidian.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic (Book Review)

This review was first published on Blossom Analysis.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic is a fictional book about starting a psychedelics research project/revolution, written by Ben Sessa.

Is there hope in psychedelic medicine? Can we dream bigger than just numbing patients (and doctors)? That is the underlying question in this fictional book by Dr. Ben Sessa. After reading the book you may take home some hope, some tingling of the possibility that MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics could help people become whole again. But if nothing else, you will get to know two, somewhat broken, men (the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who start a psychedelic revolution.

Review

To fathom hell or soar angelic just take a pinch of psychedelic” – Humphry Osmond

Using a fictional book to describe a brave new world where psychedelics make a new introduction is an unique way of exploring this possibility. The book hovers between the esoteric and science-driven, between dream catchers and psychotherapy.

The world that is sketched could be best positioned at around the turn of the century, a moment in time where very little research had been done on psychedelics (since shutting it all down at the end of the 60’s). The way it’s revived, in a barn and with plenty of reference to The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary et al., was quite interesting.

The book, and the research mentioned, may best be seen as a proof of concept, an introduction to psychedelic therapy (it features several sessions with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin). The double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments are left for a future moment to transpire.

The critique of the ‘normal’ system is evident in Sessa’s description of current psychotherapy. He paints it as a system in which patients come back for years, don’t solve their underlying problems, and get dosed with SSRIs that don’t do much if anything. Oh, and the protagonist is fantasizing about killing his patients (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into Hannibal). The alternative, psychedelic (psycho)therapy, is offered as a way out of this loop.

From my perspective, the alternative is presented without enough evidence and rigor (the double-blind studies that are left for the reader to imagine happening sometime in the future). After seeing positive results, the two psychiatrists are heralded as heroes in a presentation for their colleagues. It’s a fantasy that many in the psychedelics field may have, but unfortunately many have been burned too much before to have that level of hope (although it is likely to be justified in this case).

At the end of the book, things get turned up to 11. The second psychiatrist (Joseph Langley) is dying and in a flurry of science-y sounding words, they run tests and strange things happen. One is left to ponder what this means or why it’s related to psychedelic science, but I was none the wiser.

Other Works by Ben Sessa

Ben Sessa has also written The Psychedelics Renaissance, summarizing where we stand with research and sticking much more to facts this time.

Manifesting Minds (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

Manifesting Minds is an anthology of articles from the MAPS Bulletin and is edited by Rick Doblin and Brad Burge. It contains the highlights of articles written until 2014, which are grouped per theme. The book does a great job of offering different perspectives, but for specific information one can best search on their website itself.

Quick Take

The essays are divided into eight categories. They are the following:

  1. Arts and Creativity
  2. Coming of Age
  3. Science and Medicine
  4. Therapy
  5. Sexuality
  6. Spirituality
  7. Ecology
  8. Technology

The essays range from articles written about the topic, to interviews and recollections of experiences. One learns about doing 2C-B with your children, doing (macro) doses of psychedelics and their relationship to extreme sports, and the connection between meditation and psychedelics.

Amongst the many authors are the luminaries like Ann ShulginRam DassAldous Huxley, but also lesser-known voices and perspectives like that of one of the MDMA trial participants.

As mentioned in the intro, the book provides some insights, but one could also find these by searching the MAPS Bulletin website.

One quote that stood out to me is the following in the interview with Aldous Huxley, speaking about a psychedelic experience:

You remember something extraordinary having happened. And to some extent you can relive the experience, particularly the transformation of the outside world. You get hints of this, you see the world in this transfigured way now and then-not to the same pitch of intensity, but something of the kind. It does help you look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Goh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in.”

Wall of Storms (Book Review)

Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is the second installment in the dandelion trilogy (preceded by The Grace of Kings). It’s another epic story that entices emotions, uncovers plots, and keeps on surprising with the large level of creative innovation.

In this mini-review I wanted to touch upon two aspects. The characters, which are very well done. And the story structure according to the 8 steps of the hero’s journey.

The Characters

The main protagonist is Kuni Garu, you get to know him as a kid in the first book, and experience him as Emperor Ragin (people get new names sometimes, which is somewhat confusing) in the second book.

The great thing is that the characters all have their own personality, shaped by the earlier history in the book. Their strengths also show their weaknesses and most of them are strategic thinkers with great theory of mind. They think about what others think about them (many times over).

This not only includes thinking about what the person directly in front of you thinks, but also what the others there think, or what the general population will think (in the long term).

The book is highly political, but then more in a Game of Thrones-way then in a left/right party politics way. All I can say is that I was really captured by the considerations that all the characters had, the flaws that you got to see, and outcomes of their actions on the world.

Story arch

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
    1. Kuni Garu and the gang are in peace, they rule the country
    2. Luan Zyu is a noble without titles
  2. But they want something.
    1. Succession needs to be planned far ahead / want to keep the piece
    2. Wants to do the most interesting thing
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
    1. Intrigues, world outside of Wall of Storms
    2. Teaches Zomi and/or ventures outside the Wall of Storms
  4. Adapt to it,
    1. Squash rebellion? And/or teaching kids to grow up
    2. Survives, is at other island
  5. Get what they wanted,
    1. Things are in balance/united
    2. Finds new people
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
    1. Has to give own life in the end, deaths/temporary peace from others
    2. Dead, guides other people to Dara
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
    1. But family wins partly, people are united, daughter is (temporarily) empress
    2. Student had learned much (Komi, could also do her arch someday!)
  8. Having changed.
    1. New situation with other people, learned to innovate quickly
    2. Zomi is more wise now

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Book Review)

First published on Blossom Analysis.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman offers his account of a large scale study on the effects of DMT on the human brain and psyche. The book gives a detailed account of the research, how it came to be, the difficulties in getting it started, and the outcomes. Strassman puts an emphasis on the experiences of the participants and tries to fit them into categories and explanations. Although he makes several disclaimers that he ‘takes the experience at face value only as a thought experiment’ he often shines through that the second part of that sentence had been dropped.

Quick Take

From my perspective, the book is a great resource if one wants to understand what is involved with doing psychedelic research. Without a doubt, he has been responsible for restarting our interest in psychedelic research and paved a path through the regulatory jungle. The latter chapters where he decides not to further pursue research with psilocybin and LSD can be seen as a delay in developing the field, or possibly a blessing because of the non-optimal circumstances of room 531 where they were doing their research.

The experience described by the participants ranges from feelings of euphoria to episodes of terror. They see fractals, beautiful colors, and alien figures. As mentioned in the introduction, I think Strassman went too far in characterizing these experiences as ‘real’, or as being on another plane/place/universe that DMT lets us tap into. Is there not a better explanation to be found in the brain functions that get changed by adding a substantial amount of DMT.

By analogy, if we add caffeine, a lot of us become more alert and focused. If you add MDMA, many feel a warm embrace and safe. How things work in the brain specifically is currently being studied. But that doesn’t preclude one from stating that there are brain structures that let us identify faces, others that let us instinctively respond to patterns that seem dangerous (e.g. the shape and/or movement of a spider). What if DMT activates or brings to consciousness these parts of our brain. And, maybe even more plausibly, what if DMT evokes a dream state (many volunteers showed rapid eye movements (REM), like that in our most dream-prone sleep phase).

All that being said, it’s a great book to read and learn about what DMT does and how it has been studied in the 1990s. Much more research has been done since and the author of this post is less familiar with that. One could say that in general, the psychedelics-as-medicine framing has become much stronger (with very positive trials for psilocybin and MDMA in Phase 2 and Phase 3 of FDA approval). Who knows if DMT will have a significant role to play here too.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (Book Review)

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout is a great book that I thought I had already summarized here, but apparently not.

It lays the groundwork of what marketing is, positioning. Find a space in the market, nee, in the mind of the consumer.

There are ways to modify this, but only a few ways. You can’t be better and hope/believe that you’re going to win the market. You have to position yourself as the challenger brand, make a new submarket, and some other variations are possible.

But even the same product, in a different market (cars and beers are often used as examples) don’t fair well when introduced somewhere else.

The curse of line extension is one that I think I/Queal should be most wary of, be good at doing one thing, but don’t try and broaden it too much. The consumer will only remember you for doing one thing (quick drinkable meals vs providing all quick meals?)

Ok, enough rambling. I will, one day, do a more structured summary. Probably when I have crystallized my ideas around the new business enough that I can say I’ve followed the guidelines here.

How The Mind Works (Book Review)

How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker presents his enlightening views on how the mind works. Even though the book dates back to 1997, the ideas are still relevant as ever and most science is still relevant.

If going by my own memory, the book argues that we learn from combining smaller pieces into larger structures. At least, that is what works on the computational/neuron level. But, the same also goes for learning bigger concepts and also how smaller modules led us learn/enjoy other (more complex) things (like music).

He ends the book with something I don’t fully grog yet, that we are not made to understand consciousness. That from our perspective we can’t really. I do get this if we are talking about an intuitive psychologist (just you and me), but we also get/compute prime numbers into the millions. So couldn’t we also figure this out by writing stuff down and learning from the work of others? Time will tell.

Chapter 1-3 Basic brain structures

Chapter 4 Abstract mental processes

Chapter 5 Ideas (see, going up each time)

Chapter 6-7 Emotions, reasoning, friendship

Chapter 8 Art, music, humour

Ecstasy (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis.

Ecstasy: The Complete Guide edited by Julie Holland gives a solid and near-complete overview of the scientific and therapeutic knowledge about Ecstasy (MDMA, XTC, Adam, Molly). Although the book dates back to 2001, it’s more complete than one would expect, as much was then already known about Ecstasy. Next to chapters by Julie Holland herself, other contributors are from Ralph Metzner, Andrew Weil, Rick Doblin (MAPS), Sasha & Ann Shulgin, and David Nichols.

Summary

Introduction: Medicine for a New Millennium (Julie Holland, M.D.)

The book starts with an overview of the recreational and widespread use of MDMA, the punishing laws, and the lack of (therapeutic) research that was possible in the decades leading up to 2001. “This book is about the importance of bringing MDMA back into the fold of medicine.” Julie wants MDMA to be researched again, and to become available to the people who need it the most.

Part I: Let X = MDMA

Chapter 1 – The History of MDMA (Julie Holland, M.D.)

  • MDMA was first synthesized somewhere before 1912 by Merck (pharma company)
  • The mention of MDMA was only as a intermediary chemical
  • MDA (more psychedelic-like experience) became popular before MDMA
    • Later on, it’s learned that (bad) research on this substance was used (in part) to ban MDMA
  • Sasha Shulgin didn’t invent MDMA but did synthesize it in 1976
  • In 1985 it was discussed that the therapeutic use of MDMA exceeded 1000 sessions
  • Only in the 1980s did the recreational use of MDMA take off
  • After some legal back-and-forth, MDMA was banned on July 1st, 1985 (and finally again on March 23rd, 1988)
    • Therapists argued that it should be in Schedule III (with medical uses approved), but it was placed in Schedule I, next to cocaine and heroin)
  • The consequent crackdown on MDMA, of course, made it more popular than ever before
  • Currently, based on self-reported data on drug use, 33% of participants used MDMA in the last year (GDS, 2019)

Chapter 2 – What Does MDMA Feel Like? (Gary Bravo, M.D.)

Although MDMA’s effects are dependent on the set and setting, there are distinct features of the experience:

  • Reduces or eliminates the neurophysiological fear response to a perceived threat to one’s emotional integrity
  • Loving and forgiving awareness
  • Powerful empathy towards others (feelings of closeness)
  • Insight into personal patterns or problems (improved self-examination)
  • Jaw tension, teeth clenching, insomnia, fatigue, decreased appetite
  • Elevated blood pressure, pulse rate, and pupillary dilatation

The chapter lists more effects from different surveys and studies. It also notes that multiple doses (2-3 hours later) lead to less desired outcomes (less empathy, more amphetamine-like side effects). The same is true for repeated use over multiple occasions.

Chapter 3 – How MDMA Works in the Brain (Jessica Malberg, Ph.D., and Katherine R. Bonson, Ph.D.)

MDMA acts in the brain through three main neurochemical mechanisms: blockade of serotonin reuptake, induction of serotonin release, and induction of dopamine release... MDMA can directly interact with receptors in a variety of neurotransmitter systems and can act as a monoamine (MAO) inhibitor.

The rest of the chapter explains the exact mechanisms behind these processes (and that the combination of them is needed to create the distinct MDMA effects). It also notes the interaction with other drugs. SSRIs may (completely or partially) block the effects of MDMA. Dextromethorphan (DXM) and MDMA together may lead to serotonin syndrome. The combination with MAO-A inhibitors is dangerous. The combination with hallucinogens (e.g. LSD) may lead to combination effects that can be positively perceived.

Chapter 4 – The Chemistry of MDMA (David Nichols, Ph.D.)

This chapter explains the chemistry of MDMA in layman terms. It explains how MDMA is an organic base (versus acid), and looks very similar to MDA (but with a methyl group added). MDMA is derived from safrole, which comes from sassafras root. You can have two types/mirror images of MDMA, (+)-MDMA and (-)-MDMA, and if your mix consists of both in the same quantities, you have a racemate or racemic mixture. Because MDMA is more lipd (fat) soluble (than MDA), the onset is quicker and the duration is shorter. The added methyl group also mean MDMA doesn’t fit in the 5-HT2a receptor, which produces LSD-like effects. The (-)-MDMA is thus not ‘active’.

Chapter 5 – MDMA Myths and Rumors Dispelled (Julie Holland, M.D.)

There are many crazy myths about MDMA and this short chapter dispels them.

Chapter 6 – The Godparents of MDMA: An Interview with Ann and Sasha Shulgin (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Some quotes from the interview with two legends of the psychedelic world:

  • It is an insight drug. That’s its main use. The effect of MDMA, for most people, is that it allows insight without fear.”
  • MDMA is also great for marital therapy. It enables two people to step out of the negative patterns that they might set up between themselves so that they can’t communicate openly anymore.”
  • “[MDMA] is the kind of drug that cannot be used frequently.”
  • The Shulgins note the positive effect of MDMA on rave culture and even football culture

Part II: Risks of MDMA Use

Introduction

The table at the end of the introduction does a good job of grounding the next few chapters:

tobacco400.000
alcohol110.000
prescription drugs100.000
aspirin and over-the-counter-painkillers7.600
MDMA9
Estimated U.S. Deaths in 1998 attributed to

Chapter 7 – Medical Risks Associated with MDMA Use (John Henry, M.D., and Joe Rella, M.D.)

It’s difficult to say how many deaths have been caused by MDMA as in many cases users did other drugs two, were dancing all night, and pills might have contained adulterants. Without saying it, the introduction might also have said that prohibition is the most likely killer when it comes to MDMA.

Hyperthermia is an effect that has been shown to occur occasionally in recreational (club/rave) use, but hasn’t been found in therapeutic settings. Hyponatremia (low plasma sodium level) has also been seen, and is caused by dilution of the blood by drinking too much water. The serotonin syndrome is again mentioned, as are cardiac conditions and liber abnormalities. One interesting fact about the latter is a genetic difference (polymorphism) where the specific enzyme that breaks down MDMA (CPY2D6) is inactive in 5-10% of the Caucasian population. This is, however, only a theory as to this being the reason why some first time users at reasonable dosages have adverse events.

Neurologically MDMA may have negative effects. Studying that with animal models has led to some results, but also highlights that it’s very difficult to make a direct link between e.g. rats and humans (very different (drug) metabolism).

The chapter ends with the following precautions:

  • Do not take more than one pill
  • Avoid dancing for prolonged periods of time
  • Drink electrolyte-rich fluids (sports water), but don’t overdo it, and only drink more if you’re dancing
  • Wear light loose clothes (to dissipate heat)
  • Seek medical help early

Chapter 8 – Mental Health Problems Associated with MDMA Use (Karl L. R. Jansen, M.D., Ph.D.)

This chapter also highlights the trouble with researching the negative effects of MDMA use. Adverse psychological effects discussed are psychosis, anxiety disorders and panic attacks, depersonalization and derealization, depression and mania, cognitive deficits, the Pandora’s Box Syndrome, flashbacks and PTSD, and sleep disturbance. Each with limited to no widespread occurance.

The rest of the chapter discussed the ways of treating people with acute or long-term problems resulting from MDMA use. Discussed are psychotherapy, medication, meditation and other calming activities, and antioxidants and food supplements (sources of tryptophan – e.g. banana, chocolate, milk, turkey).

Chapter 9 – Does MDMA Cause Brain Damage? (Matthew Baggot and John Mendelson, M.D.)

There have been limited findings of neurotoxicity in behavioral and animal studies. But for the user who does MDMA a handful of times per year, one should not expect any adverse effects. The chapter mentions the serotonergic changes, and oxidative stress resulting from MDMA use and studies that compare MDMA and non-MDMA users. What is most notable is that in 2001, much more research was needed to establish the specific effects MDMA has (especially long-term) on the brain.

Chapter 10 – The Legal Status of MDMA around the World (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Alas, this chapter is not as outdated as one would hope in 2020. MDMA is still illegal in most countries and only some countries don’t have penalties if someone is caught with an amount for personal use.

See for the latest, the MDMA wikipedia page.

Chapter 11 – Minimizing Risks in the Dance Community: An Interview with Emanuel Sferios (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Emanuel Sferios is the founder and executive director of DanceSafe, a drug abuse prevention program/organization. The organization does pill testing and other harm reduction services (e.g. chill-out areas), mostly related to clubbing/festivals. The interview talks about this work and the causes of deaths related to MDMA (adulterants, hyperthermia).

The good thing is that the focus is on harm reduction and not the prevention of drug use (‘just say no’) and DanceSafe seems to be giving honest and reasonable advice that helps save lives.

Part III: MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy

Introduction

MDMA acts as a catalyst to the psychotherapeutic process in four ways:

  • Connection: it enhances the therapeutic alliance (doctor-patient relationship)
  • Recall: lowering barriers to remembering childhood or traumatizing events
  • Insight: able to draw conclusions and make decisions (partially based on the recall)
  • Acceptance: able to develop compassion and forgiveness for others and self

Chapter 12 – Using MDMA in Healing, Psychotherapy, and Spiritual Practice (Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., and Sophia Adamson)

It is the primary thesis of this chapter that the empathogenic substances induce an experience that has the potential for dissolving the defensive intrapsychic separation between spirit, mind, and body and that therefore physical healing, psychological problem solving, and spiritual awareness can, and usually do, occur at the same time in the same experience.”

The chapter recounts how MDMA is able to open the heart center/chakra and offers guidelins for sacramental use of empathogenic substances (MDMA being one of them). One key point of individual sessions is the recalling (see introduction), for group sessions there are two possibilities where there is (ritualized) communication or none (inward journey) during the session.

Chapter 13 – Experience with the Interpersonal Psychedelics (Claudio Naranjo, M.D.)

This chapter recounts Claudio Naranjo’s extensive experience with MDA, MMDA, and MDMA and their use in therapy.

Chapter 14 – Clinical Experience with MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy: An Interview with George Greer, M.D. (Julie Holland, M.D.)

George Greer used psychedelics in his private practice when this was still legal and this chapter recounts his experience. He is also involved with the Heffter Institute as a medical director, secretary, and treasurer.

Part IV: Potential Clinical Uses for MDMA

Introduction

MDMA is a unique medication … that works in an hour to enhance feelings of happiness and relaxation…”

There are many possible clinical uses of MDMA and as of now (2020) some of the uses are going through FDA approval (e.g. PTSD, Phase 3). But it is believed by many that MDMA could be used for most mental disorders. Some of these are laid out in the next few chapters.

Chapter 15 – Using MDMA in the Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (José Carlos Bouso)

José Carlos Bouso was one of the first to do research (again) with MDMA, but after the first six patients, the program was shut down again (this took place right after the book was published). The chapter itself talks about the characteristics of PTSD, how it could be treated, and how MDMA could help. Both recall and acceptance are two very important points for people suffering from PTSD.

Chapter 16 – Using MDMA in the Treatment of Depression (June Riedlinger, R.Ph., Pharm. D., and Michael Montagne, Ph.D.)

Depression is very prevalent in the population (between 10-25% and 5-12% for women and men respectively, lifetime prevalence). The underlying (biological) problems of depression may be changed by MDMA (as a serotogenic agent), but most of the research for depression with psychedelics is focused on psilocybin and ketamine.

Chapter 17 – Using MDMA in the Treatment of Schizophrenia (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Schizophrenia and MDMA use has not been rigorously studied, but this chapter does recount some anecdotal findings. Most of the chapter is dedicated to explaining schizophrenia and the two sides (active/passive) that possibly indicate the imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Chapter 18 – Using MDMA in Alternative Medicine: An Interview with Andrew Weil, M.D. (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Julie Holland interviews Andrew Weil, an author and alternative medicine proponent. It offer some insight in how MDMA is viewed from his perspective and how it could match with (other) alternative healing protocols.

Part IV: MDMA Research

Chapter 19 – Clinical Research with MDMA: A Worldwide Review (Andrew Kleiman, M.D., and Julie Holland, M.D.)

Chapter 20 – Giving MDMA to Human Volunteers in Switzerland (Alex Gamma, Ph.D., Matthias E. Liechti, M.D., and Franz X. Vollenweider, M.D.)

Chapter 21 – Giving MDMA to Human Volunteers in the United States: An Interview with Charles Grob, M.D. (Julie Holland, M.D.)

These three chapters about the research ongoing with MDMA are a good snapshot of what was known at the turn of the century.

For an overview of the MDMA research one could best go to the MAPS website.

Some common findings from the research at that time are:

  • Increase in certain cardiac parameters (blood pressure, heart rate)
  • Subjective effects are caused by an enhancement of serotonergic neurotransmission through an interaction with the presynaptic 5-HT uptake site
  • Women show a bigger response to MDMA
    • This is in correlation with bigger mood disorders prevalence in women, implicating the same 5-HT system

Part V: MDMA and Society

Chapter 22 – Ecstasy: Prescription for Cultural Renaissance (Douglas Rushkoff, Ph.D.)

Douglas Rushkoff offers his esoteric view on how MDMA is leading/can be used as a catalyst for a cultural renaissance.

Chapter 23 – MDMA and Spirituality: An Interview with Rabbi Zalman Schachter (Julie Holland, M.D.)

Rabbi Zalham Schachter offers his perspective on MDMA as a rabbi and as someone who has used MDMA and other psychedelics.

Chapter 24 – MDMA’s Promise as a Prescription Medicine: An Interview with Rick Doblin, Ph.D. (Julie Holland, M.D.)

The book ends where the rest of the last two decades have remained, with an interview with Rick Doblin. He recounts his personal history with MDMA research and advocacy and the uphill battle that is still being fought. He recounts how he (and the community at large) wasn’t surprised when it got put in Class I, but of course still deeply saddened by it. And how he, with MAPS, is hoping to have MDMA available as a therapeutic agent as soon as humanely possible.

Stretching Scientifically (Book Review)

Stretching Scientifically by Thomas Kurz is, according to some (including Jujimufu from Legendary Flexibility), the definitive book on stretching. Here are my notes from the book:

Introduction

  • The goal is strength and flexibility (together)
    • I like this approach versus something like yoga wherein much of it you only work on flexibility without strength
  • The goal is also to be able to do a full stretch without warm-up (e.g. splits)

Chapter 1 – Flexibility in Sports

There are six kinds of flexibility

  1. Dynamic active flexibility (only using muscles of the moving body part)
    • e.g. kicking high, moving arms around
  2. Dynamic passive flexibility below pain threshold (with external assistance)
  3. Dynamic passive flexibility over the main threshold (max limit with external assistance)
  4. Static active flexibility (only using muscles of stretched body part to hold a stretched position)
    • e.g. raise one leg, stretch arms behind back
  5. Static passive flexibility below pain threshold (with external assistance)
    • e.g. hold leg when raised, press arm against wall
  6. Static passive flexibility over the main threshold (max limit with external assistance)

But in training you normally only practice the bold ones.

There is a difference between the passive (more) and active (less) flexibility, this is called the ‘flexibility reserve’.

You want to do stretches specific for your sports. So for me that is weightlifting (and somewhat powerlifting) in which I will mostly need dynamic active flexibility, e.g. having flexiblity and strength in a snatch or squat.

Too much flexibility (without strength) is detrimental to your sports performance. Luckily I won’t have this problem for some time, but good to keep in mind. Olympic weightlifting is mentioned on page 8, again not an issue I currently have (being too flexible).

There is no clear connection between flexibility and injury. This really differs between sports and athlete.

An imbalance in muscle strength is not good for injury risk. So also do stretches in the opposite/non-used direction to keep balance.

Do stretches after sports, besides some warm-up (before). Do stretches a few hours after sports if you went hard (you don’t want to compound the damage you’re doing to your muscles).

Chapter 2 – How to Stretch

The goal is to do stretches at full length without warming up, but don’t abuse that.

It should be easy to do (stretch, gain flexibilty), but common mistakes are:

  • wrong warm-up: static stretching doesn’t warm you up enough!
  • wrong training load: don’t overdo it!
  • wrong sequence of efforts: (explained in other book…)
  • wrong methods: again overtraining

Methods of stretching:

  • Dynamic stretching: moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both
    • E.g. leg raises, arm swings
    • Sets of 8-12 reps
    • If tired after few sets, stop! (fatigue is bad – decrease in the amplitude of your movements)
    • Do only number of reps that you can do without diminishing range of motion
    • If you reach the maximum range you have, do only a few more reps (so stop before the range becomes smaller again)
    • Don’t stop at end of range (that is static active stretches), move in&out
    • Goal/outcome: increase dynamic active flexibility
    • Ballistic stretching, with momentum (and weight) is counterproductive
    • Control the movement, even when going fast
  • Static active stretching: moving your body into a stretch and holding it there through the tension of the muscle-agonist (the muscles under stretch) in this movement.
    • 15 second is good
  • Relaxed stretching for static passive flexibility: best for increasing static passive range
    • Can be good against cramped muscles, but should be used sparingly (will damage them further)
  • Isometric stretching for static passive flexibility: same as above, plus strong tensions of stretched muscles (cause postcontractive relaxations)
    • tense the antagonist (muscle oppose to it)
    • Contract-relax (like videos from BodyweightWarrior)
    • Isometric stretching is best for increasing passive range of motion
    • Don’t overdo the training, don’t be very sore afterward (loss of strength and range of motion)

Do isometric stretching on day of strength workout (e.g. few hours after, or end of workout), static relaxed stretches on other days. Total days 3-5!

To develop passive mobility up to 90% of what is anatomically possible, for ankle and knee joints it usually takes up to 30 days, spine 60, hip 60-120. Wow! that is quick!

  • Passive stretches increase passive range, and also active range (but at same percentage, e.g. 80%)
  • Strength exercises close this gap
  • Doing both is best of course

How to do strength exercises for flexibility:

  • Weight that stretches, but isn’t too heavy
  • Start at stretched position, stop there for 3-5 seconds
  • Range of motion should be higher each rep

Early morning stretching

  • Make it part of your routine if you need flexibility (so do it)
  • Before breakfast
  • Few sets of dynamic movements
  • But first do non-maximum-stretch warm-up (e.g. jumping jacks/squats – or others for other bodyparts)
  • No isometric stretches in morning if you do strength later on
  • 30 minutes max for beginners, few minutes if already flexible
  • You shouldn’t get tired (no fatigue)
  • Goal: reset nervous regulation of the length of your muscles for the rest of the day

Stretching in your workout

  • Dynamic stretches at beginning of workout (as part of warm-up routine)
  • Static stretches in cooldown (isometric I would guess is best)
  • 10 minutes dynamic stretching in warm-up
  • Resemble the movement you will do in the workout
  • Start with warm-up of limbs (joint rotations – start in fingers, then hand, then arm)
    • End at toes (or other way around)
  • Then 5 minutes of jogging (in place) with some twists, leans, arm swings, skips, etc
  • Then dynamic stretches
    • leg raises (10-12 reps) to the front, sides and back
    • Arm swings (5-8 reps)
    • As many sets as to reach maximum range (30+ reps at least, or less if really trained)
  • Don’t do static stretches in warm-up!
  • Then do very specific stretches (e.g. pass-through, barbell on knee stretch, overhead squats)
    • Warm up for each exercise that needs stretching
  • After exercises, do the isometric or relaxed stretching
    • Caution: pick only one isometric stretch per muscle group and repeat 2-5 times, go to max of mobility
    • Then relaxed stretching
  • Then walk for a few minutes to help the neural regulation of your muscles to return to normal

Much less work is required to maintain flexibility, than to get it.

Don’t use partners in stretching, this is dangerous!

(parts about kids and elderly)

Note: one of each type of stretch for a given group of muscles is usually enough. So, in a workout you would do one dynamic, one isometric, and one relaxed stretch for e.g. hamstring.

Chapter 3 – Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic flexibility, is best made through dynamic stretching. It depends on the ability to combine relaxing the extended muscles with contracting the moving muscles.

Don’t do dynamic stretching when muscles are tired.

It’s most effective if you do it daily, two or more times a day! (30 reps).

You can reach your potential in 8-10 weeks, after that change is slow (not muscles but ligaments/bones).

Dynamic stretching is done in sets, increasing in range, 5-15 reps per set.

The bigger the muscle, the more reps/sets are needed. But stop at fatigue.

Do it in the morning and before sports (i.e. that way I can do it two times most days).

Start slow, then increase range. Lead/lift the limbs instead of throwing them. Control throughout the full range.

Breathe as you stretch (in and out timed to back/forth). Breathe out when flexing your spine/compressing rib cage.

Examples of dynamics stretches (bold what could be useful):

  • Neck: nothing special besides warm-up (joint rotations)
  • Arms:
    • Arm rotations (circles)
    • from hug-self to arms in back, face palms up for extra stretch
    • min 10 reps per set, 30-40 reps total
  • Legs: many sets needed in beginning, eventually only one
    • Kick them up high
    • Or to the side
    • Or kick back, body leaning forward and supported (e.g. hands on chair)
    • support can also be used for first two
    • min 15 reps per set, 30-40 reps total
  • Trunk: best sitting down, rotate trunk
    • Rotate sideways
    • Side-bends
    • Forward bends (back rounded)
    • Bends on the back (lay on stomach, hands ground)
    • min 30 reps (total?), 40-70 recommended

Chapter 4 – Static Active Stretching

Static active stretching refers to stretches where you are actively supporting the body part with that muscle/body part itself but trying to go to the maximum stretch possible, you can move back and forth a bit.

Think of it like the last chapter, but try and hold at the extended position.

I think this applies somewhat to holding the positions of weightlifting, but maybe also that these can be best done during weightlifting itself.

Not sure really if I need this.

Chapter 5 – Isometric Stretching

Static stretching (this chapter and the next) are concerned with lengthening the maximum flexibility (and the active ones to make the gap smaller).

Static stretching may increase when your muscles are somewhat fatigued. This is why you should do static stretching at the end of a workout.

Isometric stretching is the fastest method of developing static passive flexibility. It also improves active flexibility as well as strength in concentric, isometric, and eccentric actions. There are indications that it causes longitudinal growth of muscle fibers.

It’s not for kids. And not if muscles are weak. And not if doing it with too much force/weight.

Pick one isometric stretch per muscle group and repeat it 3-5 times. Using as many tensions per repetition as it takes to reach the limit of mobility that you now have.

  • 4x per week
  • 10-15 minutes per day
  • tensions of 5-6 seconds (x3-5 reps)
  • increase tension per second (max at 3-4 seconds to end)
  • longer tension if progressing
  • if plateau, then focus on strength, flexibility will follow again
  • if overstretched, do only relaxed stretching (next chapter)
  • don’t do if you feel sore

Weekly training tips. Do speed/technical session day before strength/endurance (heavy) day.

There are three methods of doing isometric stretches:

  1. Stretch the muscle, wait for the body to adjust, x3, do short strong tensions, and quick relaxations, x3-5, then hold last tension 30 sec
  2. Stretch as far as you can, hold tension until muscle spasms, decrease stretch, repeat and hold up till 5 min (wtf XD)
  3. (this one is recommended) Stretch but not to maximum, tense for 3-5 sec, then within 1-5 sec, stretch again, tense again, repeat until can’t stretch further
    • (works better because tension can be higher when not maximally stretched)
    • For the greatest effect during a stretch tense the muscles opposing the stretched ones
    • Increase time of last tension to 30 seconds (over time)
    • Rest at least 1 minute, repeat set (3-5 sets total)

Breathing

  • Breathe normally, abdominal
  • Inhale prior to tension
  • Exhale or hold when tensing
  • Exhale during the last (long) tension

Selecting stretches depends on which muscle you feel first when trying to do a movement. E.g. when trying to hold a barbell/stick overhead in a squat (narrow grip), what is holding you back first/most? (ankles)

The stretches (ones that are somewhat applicable)

  • Hands: hold back or forth, tense against the other hand holding it
  • Arms, shoulders, chest: hold stick overhead, tense all stretched muscles, make grip more narrow, repeat (hold 30 sec)
  • Arms, shoulders, chest: hold stick behind back, one arm up, one arm down, do on both sides, without stick eventually
  • Inner thigh: sumo squat (for side splits), toes forward, chest up, buttocks at same level as knees, tense inside of tighs (relax, go wider, repeat)
    • Other version: with chair/surface on one side, raise higher
    • Or do a full side split: tense side of thighs again.
  • Outer thigh: to balance the last one, outer thigh and hip stretches – lay on back, stretch one leg across, tense and stretch further (use yellow band to stretch)
  • Front/back thigh: for front-splits, see page 76 (sit on knee and bend forwards, or grab leg behind you standing or same sitting position)
  • Calf: grab foot, pull towards you, resist with foot, relax (pull toes closer), repeat, last tension 30 sec
  • Calf: can also do deep squats and lunges for this!
  • Hamstrings: legs and chest closer to each other either standing (one leg raised on chair/platform), sitting (bend upper body forward), or laying down (pull leg towards you)
    • Keep back straight
    • Again, tense, relax, deeper, repeat
    • Tip: do good mornings for hamstring flexibility and strength
  • Trunk: side bends (standing or sitting), move only to the side (not forward/backward/twist)
  • Lower back/hamstrings: sit or stand and grab back of legs, tense against them (standing one leg, or both, or sitting both)
  • Abdomen stretch: lay face down, push up with arms, tense abdomen and relax, repeat
    • Make more intense by grabbing feet (counter spasms in back with counter-stretch)

You need enough rest between isometric stretches, and supplement them with the dynamic stretches.

Chapter 6 – Relaxed Stretching

Relaxed stretches are less effective than isometric stretches. But, they can be done when you’re tired. Alas you don’t develop strength with relaxed stretches, and take a long time to develop flexibility.

Do relaxed stretches at the end of the workout (after isometric, before walking a few minutes). You can also do them whenever without warm-up.

Relaxed stretches decrease strength for 5 minutes and contractile force up to 60 minutes.

Instead of tension on the muscles (isometric stretches), find positions where you can fully relax them (e.g. in splits, support your body weight).

If you’ve found the fully stretched position, staying in it for 30 seconds is optimal. Can repeat after 60 seconds.

See page 87 (pdf, 77 of book) for the relaxed stretches.

Chapter 7 – Sample Workout Plans

The order of stretches is: dynamic, static active, isometric, relaxed. You don’t always need to do all of them (e.g. static active probably not so much).

The rest of the chapter is examples of one workout (the stretches before and after) for different sports.

Chapter 8 – All the Whys of Stretching

strong opinion

The chapter lists more reasons why you should want flexibility (e.g. longer range of movement is stronger movement, lower injury risk).

Warm-up needs to be specific for the muscles you will use (e.g. jogging is good for ankles, not for trunk).

“Flexibility improves from day to day, strength from week to week, speed from month to month, endurance from year to year”

Flexibility is not inborn, but requires (and works by) training.

Static stretching (isometric, relaxed) stretching after a workout helps because it allows more blood flow and relieves muscle cramps.

Muscles can typically stretch between 70-130% of resting length. By stretching you increase the amount of sarcomeres (thus lengthening the muscles).

The chapter also includes two tests to see if your ligaments can support front- and side splits.

Your muscles are probably already long enough, it’s just the mind-body connection that you need to work on (and that is why dynamic stretches are good at working on closing that gap).

Chapter 9 – Q&A on Stretching

Some Q&A.

One note: do relaxed stretching after endurance (burpees?) workout, not isometric.

No rest needed between dynamic exercises (i.e. go back and forth between legs).

After doing 3-5 sets per muscle(group) of isometric stretches (after workout), do about 1-2 minutes of relaxed stretching.

Preferably only do static stretches at the end of a workout (with warm muscles).

Again note on training schedule (more in other book), first technical/speed, then strength, then endurance.

Stretches (really hard) are not good in between sets of strength exercises.