Balanced Living | November 2015

Friction: How to draw on resistance for strength

By Nate Whitten, November 2015 Issue.

Friction is a force that opposes movement. Friction seems to be everywhere – from social media and traditional news media to politics and religion, and even between the sub-cultures within our own LGBTQ community – you may feel the effects whether or not you intentionally engage in the conflicts.

Some choose to address friction by jumping in and getting involved in some way, and others find it more beneficial to avoid the rub that can be confusing and frustrating.

When it comes to your fitness, just as in life, friction is unavoidable and necessary. Figuring out how to best handle friction will help you better navigate both the metal maze of gym equipment and the bewildering abrasions in your day-to-day.

BalancedLiving_Hands_TugOWarInternal Friction

Kinetically speaking, when your muscles are at work, they are utilizing contractions – positive (muscle shortening by drawing in), isometric (tension without changing the length of the muscle) or negative (muscle lengthening away against weight) contractions. As these muscles contract, two contractile filaments within the myofibrils rub against each other, creating friction. This friction is what helps create your strength, because when you lift 10 pounds, you are not only lifting that weight, but you are working against the friction generated by the parallel filaments sliding past one another in opposite directions. This is a very, very simple description of how your muscles work, but understand, all of this is happening and you don’t even know it.

The ratio between each of the three muscular contractions is about 1:1.4. This means that lifting 10 pounds (positive) is easier than holding (isometric) 10 pounds of tension, which is easier than lowering (negative) 10 pounds. None of the three differing techniques is favorable to the other, as they all work together to create one bicep curl.

Just like internal muscle friction, you may experience internal friction in other ways (negative self-talk or defeating thoughts). All of us struggle internally at different times in our life and sometimes we have internalized friction as we are trying to decide what to draw into our lives, what to hold on to and what to gently release. The friction comes from the worry of what the results will be. But just like the bicep curl you just performed, the benefit is found when you consistently utilize all three contractions and the internal muscle friction. If you are always drawing things or people to you because it’s easier you will have neglected the strengthening effects of sometimes just holding still for a moment, or the powerful gain in lowering or letting go of those things or people when it is time.

External Friction

Friction also comes in the form of external forces. The dog sled is a great example of mechanical friction. With this exercise, you push or pull a weighted contraption along the floor from one side of the room to another. The drag of the sled against the floor along helps to build strength. Or imagine the ease at which you ski down a snowy hill and the difficulty you would have if you tried to ski uphill with the same smooth resistance. Most physical exercise and equipment is designed to utilize internal friction as opposed to mechanical friction because it is easier to handle and less clumsy when trying to manage the effort. It doesn’t mean the mechanical friction is less valuable, it just means it’s more likely to be avoided because no one wants to look foolish when handling this equipment.

Similarly, you have external friction in your daily life. And most of you are really good at trying to avoid the conflicts or the appearance of looking less than capable of handing a conflict. However, just like the machines, once you learn how to utilize the external friction with grace and ease, the benefits are amazing. You may not feel comfortable facing the mountain of the job ahead of you, but the climb will strengthen your muscles as it will strengthen your character. Teetering on the slippery slope of managing relationships may seem daunting, but reducing the friction will give you a smoother glide down that hill.

Friction in your life may cause some pain now and again, but just like muscle soreness caused by exercise, this too will subside, and the end result will not only a stronger body, but a stronger you.


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