Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Dangers of Flexibility

Everyone wants us to be flexible.

“It’s good for you,” they say. “You don’t want to be rigid, which can cause you to break, collapse under pressure, or get injured.”

It is better to be flexible than stiff, but stretching comes with its own set of dangers. I’ve seen plenty of people hurt by stretching incorrectly, or too much, or at the expense of other activity.

Many people are flexible to the breaking point, stretched too thin. Even though we were all taught to “go for the burn” and “to stretch until you can’t stretch any more,” all health professionals now agree that pushing that hard creates injury. You want to feel a slight pull and, with just the right amount of tension, you will feel the muscle relax. Here’s a great article:

By the way, I think the best book on this subject is Bob Anderson’s Stretching ( I also learned a lot about stretching from Sharon Butler’s Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, (

Remember, at some point a pulled rubber band will break. You don’t want that to happen to your muscles or tendons, becuase not only will it hurt, but the tear will be repaired with inflexible scar tissue.

When flexibility is put first in fitness priority, it can be counterproductive. The old adage of stretching as warm up isn’t as effective as stretching after the tissues are warmed up. Not only is the possibility of a muscle pull lower, putting tension on the muscles after activity helps the muscle and connective fibers line up so the next time you exercise, you’ll be ready sooner and have less chance of a connective tissue micro-tear.

Strength and flexibility go hand and hand. Tissues need to be strong to lengthen and in order to add strength, they need to be elastic. I’ve always had difficulty stretching my hamstrings and deep hip flexors. I started making progress with my hamstrings when my quadriceps (the opposing mucles) became stronger, and realized that my deep hip flexors, that’s the psoas and iliacus, couldn’t stretch until the opposing deep hip extensors were strong enough to put my pelvis in the correct position.

While warming up with aerobics, lifting weights, and then stretching is a well-rounded workout, it’s also possible to include activities where all three components of fitness are combined. Martial arts, dancing, volleyball, yoga, Nia, and undulation all come to mind.

It’s good to be adaptable, equally strong and flexible; to be able to bend when necessary—and, at other times, stand firm so others have the chance to be flexible, too.

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