What are the benefits of flexibility training for weightlifting and fitness?
Building muscle and strength require time and dedication. To be successful, you’ll need to pay your dues in the gym, pushing your body to its limits. You’ll also need to pay attention to what you eat and make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep too. After all, you have to put back into your body what hard training takes out.
But there is another factor you need to consider if you want to get the most from your workouts – flexibility training. Flexibility is the range of motion at a joint or group of joints and is sometimes referred to as suppleness.
Not as fun or as glamorous as busting out a heavy squat, deadlift, or bench press, flexibility training is no less beneficial.
And yet, this is something that many lifters fail to do enough of and may even neglect altogether.
The top 8 benefits of flexibility training
1. Increased range of motion
Do you struggle to get into a deep squat? Does your back tend to round at the bottom of a deadlift? Newsflash – your muscles are short and tight, and the main culprits are probably your hamstrings.
Improving your flexibility will allow you to squat deeper and get into a lower, more solid deadlift lift-off position without rounding your lower back. Other flexibility benefits include deeper lunges, a bigger range of motion in Romanian deadlifts, and the ability to do full-range overhead presses and lat pulldowns.
2. Reduced risk of injury (a)
Injuries happen for a host of reasons, including overexertion and using poor exercise technique. Another common cause is over-stretching a muscle. For example, when doing Romanian deadlifts, leaning over too far. Greater flexibility means you are less likely to extend your muscles to the point they become damaged.
3. Reduced risk of injury (b)
There is another way that a lack of flexibility can cause injuries. Tight muscles may mean you cannot do some exercises correctly, and that will throw stress onto other parts of your body.
For example, if your lats and pecs are very tight, overhead presses are much more difficult. You’ll probably need to lean back to get the weight up to arms’ length. This puts extra strain on your shoulders and your lower back. Good flexibility will ensure you can do your exercises with optimal technique, making them safer in the long run.
4. More productive workouts
Whether you want to build bigger muscles or get stronger, your range of motion matters. For example, if you are so tight that you can’t squat down to at least parallel or lower the bar to your chest during bench presses, your workouts won’t be as beneficial as they could be. Tight muscles could mean that you end up “half-repping” some of the exercises in your workouts. Short-range reps are not good for building muscle size or strength.
5. Decreased muscle soreness
Tight muscles are more prone to feeling sore and stiff after intense exercise. In addition, flexibility training (i.e., stretching) is a good way to alleviate the muscle soreness that typically accompanies a tough workout.
For this reason, most lifters should stretch daily, paying extra attention to the muscles they’ve most recently trained.
6. Increased performance
Tight muscles can hinder your performance. For example, if you are a runner as well as a lifter, tight muscles would reduce the length of your strides, potentially limiting your running performance. Tight upper body muscles would have the same effect for swimming.
If you want to perform at your best, you need to be able to move your joints through their natural range of motion, and that means your muscles need to be elastic enough to allow this. If they aren’t, you could be inadvertently making your chosen activity harder than it needs to be.
7. Less tension and stress
Tight muscles can be a source of discomfort and stress. A tight muscle is partly contracted, which reduces blood flow and can even be a source of pain as tension and even lactic acid start to accumulate in the affected area. Stretching is relaxing, both physically and mentally, and that can help alleviate tension and stress.
8. Better posture
A lot of people look like they are sat down, even when they are standing up. Prolonged sitting makes the muscles on the front of your body shorten, leading to a hunched upper back, rounded shoulders, and a forward head position.
Flexibility training can target these areas of tightness, so you can sit or stand more upright. Good posture takes stress off your joints, makes you look and feel younger, and can even make you look slimmer. After all, sitting or standing up straight instantly flattens your stomach!
How and when to stretch for better flexibility
One of the reasons that a lot of lifters don’t do enough flexibility training is that they don’t know how to do it properly. The good news is it’s actually a very straightforward process that won’t take much extra energy.
Follow these steps to get the most from any stretch.
1. Get warm!
Muscles are easier to stretch when they’re warmer. A few minutes of light cardio will suffice. Consider putting on a tracksuit to keep your muscles warm while you stretch.
2. Get comfortable!
A good stretch can last a minute or more. Make sure you are in a comfortable position before you start. If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be able to relax, and that will reduce the effectiveness of your stretch.
Holding your breath will cause your muscles to contract and tighten, which is the exact opposite if what you are trying to achieve.
Whatever stretch you are doing, monitor your entire body for tension. For example, if you are stretching your hamstrings, make sure your neck and shoulders are also relaxed. Tension in one area has a tendency to drain into other parts of your body.
Try to maintain good posture during all of your stretches. Do not round your lower back, lean excessively to the side, or allow your hips or shoulders to twist. This may mean you can’t stretch as far, but it will be better for you in the long run.
5. Take it Easy!
Ease into your chosen stretch and stop when you feel resistance. Hold this position for 30 seconds, until you feel your muscles start to relax.
When you feel the tension begin to dissipate, gently stretch a little further.
Repeat this sequence 2-3 times.
6. Ease off!
Ease off if your muscles start to shake or burn.
This means you’ve stretched too far. Stretching can be mildly uncomfortable, but it should never be painful.
7. Release slowly out of your stretch.
Keep your movements slow and smooth to avoid undoing the benefits of flexibility training.
To get the most from flexibility training, you need to do it often enough for it to have a lasting effect on your muscles. Good times to stretch include:
Between sets of strength training –
Don’t stretch the muscles you are training as this will cause them to relax, reducing strength and power. Instead, stretch the muscles you aren’t using. For example, stretch your pecs and lats while you are training your legs or your hamstrings and hips between sets of bench press.
At the end of your workout –
This is not the best time to stretch because you’ll probably be tired, and your muscles will be very tight and tense. They’re simply not receptive to stretching at this time. That said, a few minutes of stretching at the end of your workout may help reduce muscle soreness. Focus on the muscles you’ve just trained.
On your rest days –
A rest day is one of the best times for flexibility training. Stretching on rest days will speed up recovery, and you’ll have plenty of time and energy to dedicate to your chosen exercises. Spend a few minutes warming up to ensure your muscles are pliable and ready to stretch, even if it’s just a quick walk or a few minutes of jumping rope.
After long periods of sitting –
Sitting down is one of the worst things you can do for your flexibility. Believe it or not, scientists have coined this modern problem as Sitting Disease!
Fix this problem by stretching your hips and hamstrings every hour or so. Set an alarm on your watch to remind you to get up and move. There are several stretches you can do without leaving your desk.
While you watch TV –
Most people watch at least a couple of hours of TV per day. This is the ideal time to sneak in some flexibility training. Sit on the floor and stretch or foam roll while relaxing in front of your favorite TV show. Alternatively, you can use commercial breaks as your trigger to move and stretch.
Before going to bed –
Stretching before bed can be relaxing and help you sleep better. It may mean you need to start getting ready for bed 15-30 minutes earlier than usual, but that’s a small price to pay for making the time for some extra flexibility training.
Anytime you have a spare minute or two –
Most people have a muscle group that’s very tight. Typically, for weightlifters, it’s the hamstrings, hip flexors, or pecs. Instead (or as well as) your full flexibility training sessions, make a point of stretching your flexibility nemesis anytime you have a spare minute or two.
This could add up to 15-20 minutes of stretching during a day, and that will have a significant impact on your range of motion. For example, stretch your pecs every time you walk through a doorway. The doorway stretch is an excellent exercise for lifters.
You don’t need a lot of equipment to enjoy the benefits of flexibility training, but there are a few things you can use that will make stretching more comfortable and rewarding. That’s especially true if you train at home.
1. Stretching Strap
- Includes one original OPTP Stretch Out Strap, made in the USA, and one...
- 6'4" woven nylon stretch strap with 10 individual loops: Authentic...
- Supreme versatility: Highly effective for warmup, exercise, and...
A stretch out strap makes stretching much more comfortable and effective. They’re especially useful for working on your hamstring flexibility, which is something that most lifters need more of.
2. Yoga mat
- Protect your knees and joints: At 6mm our TPE yoga mat is extra thick...
- More space for your practice: Our mat provides you with a larger than...
- Use at home or take to class: Our lightweight mat is only 2lbs making...
A lot of stretches are best done while lying on the floor. You can relax and won’t have to worry about losing your balance. Make lying on the floor more comfortable with a non-slip yoga mat.
3. 1,500 Stretches: The Complete Guide to Flexibility and Movement
- Hardcover Book
- Liebman, Hollis (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
There are often dozens of different ways to stretch a particular muscle group. This 1,500 Stretches book is a veritable library of stretches, so you can choose the right one for your needs. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced stretches so you can gradually increase your flexibility over the coming weeks and months.
4. Foam roller
- An Amazon Brand
- High-density foam roller with molded edges
- Ideal for balance, strengthening, flexibility, and rehab exercises
Foam rolling and stretching have a similar effect on your flexibility, although foam rolling is more like having a deep tissue massage. If you are serious about improving your flexibility, foam rolling can really help and is the perfect addition to your flexibility training regimen.
Benefits of Flexibility – Final Thoughts
There is no use being fit and strong if you don’t have the flexibility to bend over and tie your lifting shoes! In fact, lack of flexibility could be holding you back, whether you want to build muscle or strength. It could also increase your risk of injury – both acute and chronic.
The good news is that flexibility doesn’t take a huge amount of energy, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. A few minutes per day is all you really need. That said, you DO need to do it consistently. Otherwise, your muscles will soon start to shorten and tighten again.
So, don’t delay and start today – the sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits of flexibility training.
Now that you know the many benefits of flexibility for strength and functional fitness, you might wonder if there is a tool to help you uncover your biggest problem areas, i.e., your tight and weak muscles.
Fortunately, there is and it is known as the Overhead Squat Assessment also known as the OSA.
The OSA is a dynamic postural assessment recommended by NASM, the National Academy of Sports Medicine. This one evaluation will take you all of a few minutes to perform, and you will immediately know which tight muscle groups you need to stretch.
Use the Overhead Squat Assessment to determine which of your muscles are overactive and underactive. This article also includes a bonus section that will teach you how to memorize the OSA solutions table for the NASM CPT Exam!
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