Is Flexibility Overrated?
Too much of a good thing, is a bad thing. Isn’t that how the saying goes? While I don’t like inherently labeling certain things as “good” or “bad”, too much of some things, especially as gluttonous of a culture as we are, can be less than a good time: too many burritos, too much cologne too much flexibility, too many spice girls..
Wait..too much flexibility isn’t a good thing?
Too much coke in your rum and your drink gets watered down, right? Same sort of thing happens with our muscles. Too much stretch or “give” in them around our joints, gets ‘em all loosey goosey and diluted – they become inhibited and basically weaker. From my view, most women (and men) can’t afford to get any weaker.
Women who are limber and flexible are often automatically quickly assumed to be “in shape” (what does being in shape even mean?). Well this is just about as whack as most claims and assumptions in the fitness industry. Too much range of motion at a joint can be just as undesirable as not enough range of motion because it decreases the amount of stability at that particular joint. Stability is the ability to resist an undesired movement.
So if you can obtain extreme ranges of motion at a joint, you gosh darn better have the strength in that extreme range of motion to back it up and control it.
Weak, unstable joints break down easier and are at a much higher risk for injury on the field, under the bar, during non-purposeful exercise or just during regular day to day activities. Instability also comes along with nagging aches and pains and a feeling of “tightness” as the body’s way of telling you that joint is hanging on for dear life.
Stability is influenced by both active and passive restraints. Active being your ability to control the surrounding muscles through activation and strength and passive depending on the joint capsule itself and our connective tissue – ligaments, tendons.
Each joint in our bodies requires a certain balance of mobility and stability. Some joints need more mobility at the cost of less stability and others need more stability at the cost of mobility. For example our ankles and thoracic spines need more mobility and our shoulders need more stability. When that balance is pushed too far towards either mobility or stability it can have a big negative impact on how we move and how at risk for injury we are.
For today’s sake, let’s focus on the hips and lumbar spine, because in my experience this is where I’ve seen the most instability and seen it cause the most issues.
A lot of programs such as yoga, pilates, dance and cheerleading encourage a lot of stretching and extension of the lumbar spine and over stretching of the hip flexors.
Anything that encourages range of motion or stretching of the lumbar spine should pretty much be avoided.
Going back to the mobility/stability balance – the lumbar spine is an area that requires more stability than mobility, in order to protect it. When we have too much extension in our lumbar spine, our body starts to rely on the bony approximations of our spine, rather than the muscles of our core, to prevent it from moving. Ouch!
With the desire to do things like this:
- Most women see pictures like this and immediately assume her low body fat % is directly correlated with her extreme flexibility.
Comes excessive stretching of the hip flexors and “loosening” of the stabilizing muscles of the hips..both encouraging the previously mentioned hyper-extended posture, anterior tilted pelvis and weak glutes, which women already have a natural tendency towards.
What can YOU do about this?
First of all, stop anything that causes pain. Any stretch, any yoga pose or movement that doesn’t feel right or hurts – knock it off. Pain is a message from your body that shouldn’t be ignored.
If you do decide to continue with yoga, pilates or similar activities, avoid hitting the end range of each pose or stretch, be mindful about the position of your pelvis and spine and definitely avoid forcing anything. Also, be mindful of whether or not you can breathe properly into your mid-section in your yoga positions. If you can’t, then chances are you don’t have the stability to be in that position.
Second, get strong. The best way to make your body more durable is to start a basic resistance training program. Lifting weights, focusing on strength, motor control, mobility and activation that will create stability among the resultant ranges of motion that you already have is going to make a huge difference. Don’t worry, lifting heavy weights is not going to bulk you up or make you look like a bodybuilder, I promise! From an aesthetic standpoint, strength training is far superior to yoga, pilates or the treadmill for building an awesome looking body. Again if you do continue to do yoga, dance, cheer, pilates, etc. strength training will greatly enhance your practice!
If your main goal is fat loss or improved body composition, improving your strength and stability will allow you to safely exercise at higher intensities with much less of an injury risk and chance of hitting plateaus.
Third, learn how to breathe properly. Breathing into your diaphragm instead of your chest is efficient and will help you truly harness the stability of your core to protect your lower back and transfer force.
Here’s a simple 2x/week routine to get you started.
1a) Front squat 3-5×5
1b) Bent over row 3-5×5
2a) Split squat 3×8-10/side
2b) 1-arm dumb bell chest press 3×8-10/side
3a) Band “no-money” drill 3×8
3b) Wall press abs 3×6-8/side
1a) Trap bar deadlift 3-5×5
1b) Bench press 3-5×5
2a) Single leg romanian deadlift 3×8-10/side
2b) Assisted chin up 3×8-10
3a) Facepull 3×10
3b) 1-arm farmers carry 3×50 yards/arm
Always leave at least 1 day in between each session for recovery and start each day with a proper dynamic warm up including drills to activate your glutes and psoas (glute bridges, side lying clams, wall marches, etc).
Keep in mind, this is a very basic, generic routine and may or may not be suitable for your body or ability level.
Overall, please make sure your weekly exercise routine is purposeful and isn’t doing more harm than good and encourages quality movement and posture for YOU. Be mindful of how every position you take globally effects your entire body and the integrity of your lower back – sitting in a chair, holding a 5 minute hip opening yoga pose, rotating your lumbar spine or standing with your palms flat on the ground.
Stretching, just like exercise selection should be individually prescribed based on the needs of your body. Are your hips really tight or do they just feel tight because they’re unstable?
Need help? Send me an email: Erika@HurstStrength.com