Flexibility is an attribute that is extremely beneficial in virtually every sport. Most people believe that increasing one’s flexibility is simply about stretching. Contrary to popular belief, increasing flexibility is not solely about stretching a muscle. In order to properly increase flexibility, a proper balance must be established between that muscle and all muscles around and opposite to it.
This article is not stating that stretching is not beneficial. It is stating that random stretching is not beneficial and can be detrimental. Stretches specific to a person’s body, in addition to other exercises that establishes muscular balance is needed to have true functional flexibility. Random stretching does not establish this balance, which, consequently, results in one or more of the following:
- Temporary flexibility. A person may feel more flexible in certain areas after random stretching, however, the muscle will tighten right back up after a few hours or days. This is why many people often have the feeling that they never seem to get more flexible no matter how much they stretch.
- Flexibility, but no strength. A person may become more flexible in certain areas, however, there is no strength in that increased range of motion. Especially which is comes to sports performance; it is pointless to have flexibility without strength.
- Overstretching ligaments rather than the muscle. Many muscles often remain tight and lack flexibility due to the fact that the muscle is doing a job that it is not supposed to be doing. As a result, when attempting to stretch a muscle that cannot or will not release due to imbalances, people may end up over stretching their ligaments. This can cause major problems to joints and increase the chance of injury.
- Worsening of postural dysfunctions. Random stretching can increase a person’s postural dysfunctions such as hyperextension or hyperflexion in certain joints, rounding of the spine or shoulders, increasing the pelvic angle, foot supination or pronation, etc…. For example, when attempting to stretch the hamstrings, some people’s knees will go into hyperextension. In this situation, the appearance of flexibility is actually a postural dysfunction and not truly flexibility. The muscle is not being stretched, but rather the knee joint is going into a direction it was not designed to bend. So a person with hyperextension in their knees is only making his or her problem worse continuously stretching their hamstrings.
Stretching and having flexibility is often associated with injury prevention, however, that idea is completely untrue. My yoga instructor (who has been doing yoga for almost 40 years) has flexibility that seems almost inhuman, therefore, if stretching and having flexibility did prevent injuries, she should be pain and injury free. However, this is not the case as she has chronic wrist pain and a groin muscle injury that has not healed in over 10 years.
Having flexibility that is functional means that every joint is capable of moving within its natural full range of motion without compensation from any part of the body. It means that person has strength along with their flexibility. It means that both sides of the body are equally flexible. Most people who appear to be flexible do not possess all these qualities due to muscular imbalances and that is why they are no less susceptible to injury and suffer from with chronic problems and pain despite their flexibility.