Passive strength (part 1): A question of technique

When I was just beginning martial arts, my teacher would tell me to relax, but I could never understand how to generate strength at the same time. It was only years later, that I realised that this ability (also known as having “good technique”) did not come from actively contracting muscles, but from the ability to engage the passive strength of connective tissue.

Passive strength is the strength inherent to the materials from which your body is made. Active strength comes from your ability to contract muscles.  Passive strength can be considerable, but also deceptive. For example, a rope can support a heavy weight passively and does not have to be told to contract (like your muscles are by your brain).

I often hear it said that having a job where you are stuck at a desk is inherently “bad for you”, but there is nothing inherent about it. Many people have really bad technique when it comes to sitting. You can have good or bad technique when it comes to anything! By this I don’t mean a specific position to sit in, with arms at right angles etc.  Bad technique means not engaging the passive strength of connective tissue, so muscles overwork to compensate, and this can cause tight, achy muscles.

The good news is that if you can have poor technique, you can also have good technique, and this is something that can be taught and learned, meaning that many “bad for you” activities don’t actually have to be an be “bad for you”. However, this involves learning how to go beyond merely surviving in your body – you actually have to start learning how to become alive while you are in it. This can take some work, but the rewards are considerable.

In a nutshell, it means you can have your cake and eat it.

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