Question: Is it possible to be too flexible?
Answer: By Katy Jercich, Head Health Coach
Maintaining flexibility is important to overall health and performance, but yes, there is a point where too much flexibility compromises joint stability opening us up for injuries.
In general, the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your joints should be both stable and flexible. When we stretch these soft tissues and the tissues effectively lengthen, it translates to flexibility. What leads to injury is when joints become so excessively flexible that they become unstable. Tall Redwood trees can survive earthquakes and high wind speeds because they’re flexible enough to move with the elements, and stable enough to move as one unit without snapping under pressure. Ideally, our bodies should operate with the same balance of structural strength and flexibility as Redwoods.
Things to watch for:
Is your range of motion excessive?
Range of motion refers to the degree a joint can move between a flexed position and an extended position. Every person’s range of motion is unique for each joint. Exercises like deep knee bends may increase your range of motion- you’ll get deeper into your squat- but an excessive level of flexibility might mean the muscles surrounding your joints need to be strengthened first to add stability.
Are your joints hypermobile?
Hypermobility is a term used to describe joints that stretch further than they should. If you can bend your thumb backwards or put your leg behind your head, chances are you have at least some hypermobile joints. While great for entertaining and party tricks, hypermobile joints need extra attention during workouts to avoid injury. The extra flexibility can almost always lead to a lack of stability. While both flexibility and mobility are associated with the range of motion around a joint and elasticity of soft tissues, understanding the difference between the two is where the importance lies. Mobility refers to the range of motion around a joint under “specific” circumstance, like a barbell squat where your joints are weight bearing and under a load. Flexibility refers to the range of motion of a joint “non-specifically” or non-weight bearing, similar to a grade school sit and reach. Mobility has an additional component of stability, unlike flexibility. In other words, with mobility we want things to move that should, and we don’t want things to move that shouldn’t. Determining how and when to use certain exercises to develop strength for stability and also flexibility are critical to your workout regime.
Are you recruiting the right muscles?
Stability and strength create the foundation needed to safely increase flexibility. Our joints guide us into position, but our muscles hold us there. Activating the right muscles allows for proper alignment and less joint stress. For example, when maintaining a hip bridge, make sure you squeeze your glutes (butt) and your hamstrings (back of the thighs). If you feel pain in your lower back, it could mean you’re putting unneeded pressure on the joints in your spine. Focus on activating your muscles while holding position to gain stability and strength.
It’s possible you might be too flexible altogether or just in certain muscles. Whether we know it or not, most of us have a wealth of knowledge/intuition in how our bodies should and shouldn’t be moving. If a motion doesn’t feel right, we usually know it. If something hurts or feels uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to talk to a health coach or another healthcare professional. It’s important not to work through pain; moving well means moving safely and protecting your body.
When push comes to shove, don’t skip your stretch session just yet. Check with a coach for individual recommendations, and incorporate resistance training a few times per week for a well-rounded program. At Studiomix you can opt for classes such as Strength + Conditioning or Build accompanied by Yoga or Stretch + Lengthen for optimal results. It’s great to be bendy, but strength and stability come first to avoid injury.