Flex-Ability: The Ability to Flex

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Flex-Ability: The Ability to Flex

To summarize flexibility, and this post:

  • Stretching (static, passive) is not the “end all be all” of flexibility.  In fact, it’s not even the best method to improve flexibility.
  • The best method is to use full range of motion strength training movements, or a strength through length philosophy.
  • Never Train through pain, and always regress to less load or range of motion as needed, and work where your body will let you.
  • You do not need to stretch every day.  Same principles apply:  Stimulate, recover, adapt, repeat.  This process takes time, especially recovery.

As the title suggests, flexibility is, simply put, the ability to flex your joints.  It is an elusive quality that can be hard to understand how to train for it.  We wanted to share our point of view first since that is the one we know best, and then offer some other examples of the complete opposite case in one of our clients.

We have strong and muscular builds (relatively speaking) and never really trained for flexibility until we had to due to recurring injury, aches and pains.  This is more common in men, since weight lifting and muscle building is typically a priority, but women are not immune from this by any means, and not all men are tight either!  After trying several stretch routines, foam rolling techniques, massages, you name it, we have found that the MOST effective way to improve flexibility is to work at it the same we we did to get stronger.  Sets, reps, and even weights, hit it a couple times per week and then rest/recover to allow adaptation to occur.  The weight helps stretch you further, you build strength at the end range of motion, and it is intense, signaling greater adaptation to occur.

This approach also works for those who are already flexible but not that strong.  We work with two women that are extremely bendy in the stretching routines, but do not display impeccable squat or split squat mobility.  So using the same principle of strength through length, they can bring up the strength in their already large range of motion, which is the ideal quality to possess.

An example of strength through length exercise is the deep split squat.  Using a full range of motion, you effectively stretch and strengthen the entire lower body.  On the front leg, that is deep knee, hip, and ankle bending.  On the back leg, you’ll hit the hip flexor in the stretched position, plantar fascia/feet, and also the groin.  So all and all, it’s extremely time efficient, intense, and only needs to be done once per week.  Can be done without any weight on off days if you’d like to move around a bit.

The Pulley System of Each Movement

Every move you make is a display of your flexibility.  And with every move comes two actions:

  1. The lengthening of the antagonist
  2. The shortening of the agonist

If you sit on the floor with your feet forward and reach to touch your toes for example, you must shorten or flex the hips and lengthen the hamstrings.  If you only focus on lengthening the hamstring and lower back, you’re only working on half of the battle.  You MUST engage the abs and hip flexors and quads as well to build strength in the shortened range so you can flex further.  That is what improves flexibility and that is one of the major pillars of the Strength through Length philosophy.

How Much Flexibility Work Per Week is Ideal?

The more intense movements you use, the less often you need to do them.  You could make great progress doing intense strength through length exercises once per week.  You could also do a less intense but more frequent hip flexibility routine to supplement your other training.  But that is where the coaching comes into play.  Every person truly has personalized needs.  No two people are the same, including us even though we are identical twins!!  That said, here is one approach you can try:

Do One strength through length focused flexibility session per week, and then don’t worry about flexibility again until the next week. You’ll probably make an improvement the next time you try it.  And that is the secret.  Do something that is intense enough to stimulate your body to adapt, rest and sleep so that you can repair, and then do it again week after week after week.  Unfortunately, working TOO hard at it will have the opposite effect as what you intend and increase the chances of injury.  So train smarter, not harder, and reap the rewards.

If you would like a guidance of how to start and a routine focused on the strength through length philosophy, check out the front page to read how our service works and feel free to book a call or send us a message over instagram, @oneforall_fitness, to chat more about your goals and background.