04 Nov Flexibility, What is it Good For?
Flexibility, What is it Good For?
We’ve all been taught that stretching is an important part of training. More stretching means increased flexibility which means increased range of motion – meaning you can finally impress your girlfriend by putting your leg behind your head.
Nothing screams “I am a man that built the Egyptian pyramids” as this does. Am I right?
If we’re tight and injury prone, we’re told to back off the weights to work on flexibility. After that, we can use this new base of flexibility to increase performance (i.e. build more muscles , get stronger and be more athletic).
Well, like a lot of classic training principles you learn, there is a lack of real research to back this one up. My Kinesiology department brethren may already be writing me off here. All the textbooks go on and on about how important stretching is to prevent injury.
Flexibility is important but the idea has been oversimplified.
A Different Idea
Let me ask this question- Is the ability to pull your leg up to your head and hold it motionless mean you can use that range of motion while moving?
Can that same person do a jumping split to the same degree? Some would argue no. There are a lot more factors including muscular strength and metabolic functions that will limit this person from using that same range of motion while moving (Siff, 1993).
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying passive flexibility has no place. There are sports and other activities that benefit from increased static (motionless) range of motion . Using the same range of motion dynamically (in motion) is a different story though.
The body functions as a unit when moving. Squatting down to pick something up involves muscular strength, coordination, stamina and stability as much as it does flexibility and mobility. (Siff, 1998).
Trying to separate flexibility into its own category without taking into account how these other factors affect the ability to exhibit range of motion in movement is a mistake.
I’ll give you an example. As a strength trainer I’ve worked with clients who could not perform a deep squat. You know the kind you see a baby perform perfectly when he drops his pacifier.
Any educated strength coach would assume this is a flexibility or mobility issue. Only problem is when you have them lay down on their backs and check there hip/hamstring and ankle mobility- they have incredible range of motion.
The issue is that they don’t have the muscular coordination and strength to descend into a deep squat so their bodies basically stop themselves to keep from falling over.
A different approach
So where do we go from here? Do we throw stretching out of the window ? If you want increased ranges of motion, absolutely not. Will static stretching necessarily prevent injury though and “loosen” you up the way it is said to?
I think the jury is still out.
Meanwhile, we still need to learn to use flexibility dynamically. That’s where dynamic stretching with resistance or loaded stretching comes into play. This is a principle that was experimented on
This can be done a few different ways but I’ll briefly explain a hip flexor stretch that I’ve seen to be most beneficial for athletes and average clientele alike.
First get a resistance band. Then tie it around your legs right below your knees. Get into a really deep lunge position so that the band is stretched and you have to actively work keep that position.
Drop your back knee down and push your hips forward. Refer to the picture above to get the idea of the position.
The band teaches you to stabilize and involve muscular force while stretching.
Check back soon for a post with video demonstrations of a lot more resistance stretching.
Got something to say about flexibility? Leave it in the comments.
Siff Mel C. (1993) Exercise and the soft tissues. Fitness Sports Rev Int, 28 (1), 32
Siff Mel C. (1998) Facts and Fallacies of Fitness, Mel Siff, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,