Flexibility is a hot topic now, as is natural movement and increasingly clever ways of working out that lead to strong, flexible and capable bodies. If you are someone who is naturally flexible, this may be a question you do not think much about, but on the other hand if you are more like a plank than a person, you may be wondering what you have been doing wrong all these years, and really miss being able to touch your toes. Generally speaking there are two main poles: Naturally Strong and Naturally Flexible, with most people being much closer to one than the other.
This in itself is not a massive problem, because if you are naturally strong you can stretch and work on maintaining your mobility and if you are very flexible you can strengthen yourself to keep your body in balance. Unfortunately, as you have probably often seen, strong people love to lift weights and bendy people love to stretch and do yoga classes, when these two groups of people should really be swapping their training routines, at least part of the time. However it often feels like our natural instincts are telling us to stick to the things we’re good at – the challenges we enjoy.
Even within those two main groups there are further causes of physical imbalance. For example; naturally strong people may still be weak in some areas and be avoiding them unconsciously or consciously and naturally flexible people may have tight areas that they avoid by going around them, without even thinking about it. Part of the reason for this is that the body is very sensible, so it will always make a movement in the way that requires the least effort. Also, bodies always expect to be healthy so they do not focus on difficulties so much as make substitutions to get around those problems and continue to work as best as they can.
However, it is very important to know that strength and flexibility have to be balanced within a person’s body to maintain their posture, efficiency and health. Too much flexibility and you put your body and joints at risk from instability and increased risk of strain. Too much strength without flexibility and the body will become like a self-compacting pressure-cooker without a way to release itself, preventing healthy movement and causing unnecessary wear and tear in the joints.
In order to make sustainable increases in flexibility we need to be strong all the way through the range of motion we are opening up, or we will lose access to it again. Partly because we keep that pathway open through strength work and partly because the body does not see the point in going to the end of a range of motion if we lack the strength to do anything or bring ourselves back when we get there. It is a liability rather than a gain without strength to stabilise it.
On the other hand if we want to get stronger, we need space for our muscles to grow if they need to, we need our bodies to be able to move freely, or risk performing each strengthening movement with incorrect alignment, over time increasingly pulling ourselves off-centre and tightening up even more. To create a solid foundation of strength, therefore, we need to be flexible enough to maintain good posture, alignment and be able to perform natural, healthy movements, unhindered. I think it is important to say that it is best not to stretch right before lifting weights, but afterwards. This is because in the short term stretching can make you less stable and this effect may last around 30 mins, so it is better to work on stretching either straight after a workout or later in the day.
I hope this has given you some food for thought and a reason to fight your natural instincts (aka overcome your resistance) and do your least favourite exercise; strength workouts or stretching! Just so you know, doing Moving Stretch resistance stretching strengthens and stretches you at the same time, so you can kill two birds with one stone!!