So yesterday I had a new client that I was assessing, lay on her back and raise one leg straight up toward the ceiling. I wasn’t looking at hamstring flexibility, I was looking for asymmetry between her two sides. Asymmetry puts people at greater risk for injury and means that there are some imbalances that need to be taken care of.
When I had her raise her leg, she said to me, “Oh I’m not very flexible.”
I told her it was ok…that I wasn’t looking at flexibility.
She said, “Ok, but still…it is embarrassing!”
I smiled and thought…It’s crazy that people worry so much about their flexibility, especially when there are really bigger fish to fry!
How important is being flexible really? I mean is it really important that you are able to touch your toes?
Honestly, being able to touch your toes really isn’t that important, BUT that doesn’t mean you should be locked up and immobile.
Mobility is WAY more important than flexibility. Mobility means how well we are able to MOVE..to squat, jump, push, pull.
Being able to touch the ground with your head while standing with straight legs doesn’t mean you are going to be able to move well. In fact, it could mean that you have potential imbalances that are actually inhibiting you from moving well.
So while being able to do the splits is cool and something that you may decide you want to master, being that flexible really isn’t essential to being able to move well.
What is essential to being able to move well is mobility of the joints.
And to have mobile joints means much more than having crazy flexibility. Flexibility can mean different things for different people.
You are flexible enough to be mobile if you take care of all shortened and tight muscles. So if you sit a lot, you need to make sure that your hips, which have been tightened and shortened by sitting all day, have been stretched and loosened so that proper length-tension relationships have been developed between all muscles around your hip.
And on top of needing good length-tension relationship between all the muscles around a joint, to be mobile you must also make sure that all the correct muscles are activated. That means that if you expect to have good hip mobility, you can’t have shortened and tight hip flexors and UNDER ACTIVE glutes.
So you must make sure that on top of making sure tight muscles are loosened and lengthened that overactive muscles are relaxed and under active muscles are ACTIVATED.
If you want to be mobile, stretching or flexibility is just a piece of the puzzle. You also need to do SMR (self-myofascial release aka foam rolling) and activation exercises.
While stretching is GOOD it isn’t near as important as most people make it out to be. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes….It may be something you want to do, but it isn’t necessary.
And even when people do spend a lot of time stretching, they usually stretch muscles they LIKE to stretch, not the muscles that are necessarily tight from sitting or doing repetitive movements day in and day out.
So instead of spending a ton of time stretching each day, focus on only stretching the tight muscles and use the rest of that time to do SMR and activation exercises! You will become more mobile and therefore GET MORE OUT OF YOUR WORKOUTS!
If you want to be super strong, you must also be super flexible.
Just look at the best Olympic and powerlifters, they are all super flexible.
That, right there, is flexibility.
Go ahead. Try a squat that deep. Keep your chest up while you do it and your heels on the ground throughout the entire movement.
While you may be able to do it, squatting like that isn’t easy, or even doable for most people.
But if you want to lift heavy weight, you need to work on it.
If you aren’t flexible, you risk injury when you add weight. The weight of a heavily loaded barbell forces your range of motion to increase.
If you can’t perform a full range of motion on a squat with just your body weight, your body isn’t ready to handle the additional weight of a barbell because the extra weight will force your body to complete a fuller range of motion than it is ready to handle.
This “weight-assisted stretching” isn’t good for you! If you push it too far, you will end up injured!
So start mobility and flexibility training! You don’t have to be Gumby, but if you want to lift heavy, you need to have great flexibility in your shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and ribcage!
I cuddle with my foam roller…maybe you should too!