The Truth About Flexibility And Why You Are Likely Wasting Your — Efforts Part 1
By Erik Strouse, MS
Vida Fitness Trainer
Hey VIDA members! Last month I concentrated on Wellness topics specifically pertaining to New Year’s Resolutions and new members to the club. This month I want to expand a little more on the topic of Wellness, but more specific to your quality of life as you age.
Quality of life as you age has multiple influencers, but because we are a health club that concentrates on being more active, I would like to address the physical side of quality of life. To narrow it down even further, I want to address one thing that we have all heard about, yet seem to improperly execute: Flexibility Training. It is common knowledge that stretching is important for proper joint range of motion and movement efficiency. The method that is most commonly used for flexibility improvement is only one of many that is needed to actually change your range of motion. Static Stretching is the most attempted method of flexibility and mobility training that is done. It is your most basic form of stretching where you apply tension to a muscle and hold it there for a specific amount of time.
Static stretching in-of-itself is not very effective in manipulating muscle length long term. In other words, it does not necessarily lead to better range of motion! To understand why this is the case, you will have to understand a little more about anatomy first. I will try to make this as short and easy to understand as possible.
Muscles tighten up for several reasons, but ultimately they do so due to a level of movement dysfunction. Because of our work-force lifestyle, we tend to sit dormant and inactive in the same position for hours on end. Our body is a wondrous thing and adapts to any physical activity, stress, or lack thereof. It opts to be as efficient as possible, and even if it means the body “detrains” and “weakens”, it is doing so because it doesn’t currently need a capacity higher than the current state it is in.
With that being said, muscles tighten up for many reasons, but I want to hone in on two specific reasons that are common amongst almost everyone. It is important to understand these in order to learn how to actually improve your flexibility. The first reason they tighten up is because they are in a shortened position on a consistent basis. A great example of this that affects many people that sit at a desk all day is the well-known tight hamstrings. When the knee and hip are bent, the hamstring shortens in length. Thus, the hamstring starts to permanently stay at the shortened length. The second reason muscles tighten up has to do with the relationships between mobile joints and stable joints. Some joints are meant to have a huge range of motion such as our hip joint. Other joints are meant to provide little movement offering more of a stabilizing effect such as our lower lumbar (lower back) or knees. When muscular dysfunction exists at a joint that is meant to be mobile, the muscles responsible for keeping the mobility under control might not be able to control itself through a full range of motion. Although the joint is a mobile joint, it still needs stability, and the reaction of the body is to start tightening and providing the necessary stabilization to continue to function. An example of a mobile joint becoming stable is the hip joint. Again, because we sit down on all day, our glutes and several other key muscles in hip stability tend to “turn off” becoming relatively inactive. Other muscles that might not have been responsible for the stability before will kick in and tighten up to stabilize. This is a very simplistic way to describe it, but hopefully you get the point.
So, lets get back to the stretching idea. By simply putting tension on that muscle tissue through static stretching, you will cause a temporary increase in length. Over time it would make sense that they would remain lengthened given the body does adapt to any and all stressors or lack thereof. If muscular function were adequate, this principle would be true. However, because the muscular dysfunction in the aforementioned paragraph still exists, the body will continue working to keep those muscles and joints “tight”. In other words, you are working against your efforts for improving flexibility by NOT correcting the muscular imbalances first!
As alluded to in the first few paragraphs, static stretching is only one of many parts to improving your flexibility and range of motion. I will delve further into this process in up and coming posts. Keep your eyes out or email me with any questions at email@example.com.