Flex­i­bil­ity alone is an ar­bi­trary goal. To lift your game in the gym, you need to add metal

Men's Health (UK) - - In This Issue -

Our ex­pert ar­gues that you should ap­proach your stretch­ing pro­to­col from a new di­rec­tion

Mo­bil­ity is a trend, not a sci­ence. The hash­tag may have been used on In­sta­gram 1.7 mil­lion times, along­side im­ages of peo­ple in pi­geon poses and loaded Jef­fer­son curls, but the term “mo­bil­ity” con­ven­tion­ally has a far sim­pler def­i­ni­tion: am­bu­la­tion, or mov­ing. Its use in ref­er­ence to mus­cle flex­i­bil­ity is a new thing – and just be­cause it’s trending, it doesn’t make it right.

When you’re train­ing to be­come a bet­ter ath­lete, the laws of speci­ficity reign supreme. What I mean is that do­ing any ac­tiv­ity most di­rectly ben­e­fits your abil­ity to do that par­tic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity, but this has di­min­ish­ing re­turns when ap­plied to any­thing else. If your goal is to mas­ter a suc­cess­ful snatch, you need a cer­tain open­ness in your up­per body to achieve that po­si­tion. But be­ing flex­i­ble enough to lick your own el­bow won’t trans­late to an in­creased ca­pac­ity to catch a weight over­head 1 .

Rolling around on padded gym floors in search of elu­sive stretch­i­ness is never the best way to im­prove mo­bil­ity. If you want an in­creased range of mo­tion (ROM) in the long term, you need to add re­sis­tance. Load­ing an ex­er­cise is not just about build­ing mus­cle: it means stress­ing the tis­sues un­til they’re forced to adapt, be that by in­creas­ing bulk or elas­tic­ity. So, a weighted split squat is a more di­rect way to in­crease hip flex­i­bil­ity than any va­ri­ety of hip flexor stretches.

Stretch­ing pre-work­out will in­crease your ROM, but it’s short-lived. Ac­cord­ing to re­search in Clin­i­cal Biome­chan­ics, a static stretch­ing pro­gramme has no last­ing ef­fect on mus­cle struc­ture 2 . Stretch un­der a load, how­ever (warm­ing up for back squats with paused gob­let squats, for ex­am­ple), and you’ll in­crease your range for good. Even­tu­ally, you’ll be able to do any ex­er­cise to the cor­rect ROM with no warm-up stretch­ing at all.

Too much flex­i­bil­ity can even be a hin­drance. If you’re com­fort­able in a range of mo­tion with­out weights (when you’re in a deep squat, say) and try to repli­cate that po­si­tion with a bar­bell on your back, you will cause ex­actly the kind of stress that can re­sult in an in­jury 3 . You may have been try­ing to bul­let­proof your­self against strains, but hy­per­mo­bil­ity can make you more sus­cep­ti­ble in­stead.

I’ve seen ath­letes who could do the splits but couldn’t squat be­low par­al­lel with an un­loaded bar­bell on their back. That’s not be­cause they lacked the mo­bil­ity – it’s be­cause they lacked the strength. Let’s not make a false di­chotomy. Per­for­mance is a com­bi­na­tion. The most ef­fec­tive way to boost both is to use an empty bar. Many er­ro­neously as­sume that this is a sign of weak­ness. Those us­ing bands to open up their joints may look cooler, but don’t be fooled. Check your ego at the door and do reps us­ing just the bar. Those 20kg are far bet­ter at cre­at­ing the stretch you need to de­velop a ROM that works for you.

If you’re at the gym just for dou­ble taps, stick to the stretch­ing. But if you want to progress and save your­self hours of point­lessly try­ing to touch your nose to your knee, re­assess your strate­gies. My ad­vice: head straight for the weights.

“Be­ing able to lick your own el­bow won’t help you catch a weight over­head”


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