Contrary to popular belief, strength training can make you more flexible.
Strength training increases joint range of motion (ROM), allowing for greater mobility and flexibility Plus, those with weaker muscles tend to have lower ROM and flexibility.
In fact, a recent review by Afonso et al, 2021 compared stretching with strength training and found they were equally effective at increasing ROM.
For best results, ensure you’re completing the full ROM of an exercise — in other words, utilize your full movement potential around a joint. For example, lower yourself into a squat as far as you’re able to go without compromising your form.
So what is the difference and how this can benefit you!
Most people think that mobility and flexibility are one and the same, when in fact they are two very different concepts. Knowing the difference between them can help you in your quest to become a better “mover”.
Flexibility is defined as “the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion”, whereas mobility is the “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion”. Many additional structures define how good a person’s mobility is. It is not only the muscles stretching over a joint but also how far the joint moves within the joint capsule. Mobility also takes into account the component of motor control within the nervous system.
Countless scientific studies have failed to prove that stretching is able to be maintained long term. Unless you have the time to sit in a stretch for 24 hours, unfortunately the effect is only temporary. If you are trying to stretch a muscle over a joint that has a mobility restriction you are going to get nowhere fast. The muscle will never be able to lengthen to its full extent as the joint won’t allow it to move far enough. Mobility training is more effective than traditional “stretching” because it is based on movement and motor control. Your central nervous system will limit your mobility based on how much control you have as a way to keep your body safe. You could spend all day stretching to achieve a flat split, but if you can’t actively get into that position, consider your split only temporary. Muscles require strength and stability in order to maintain this newfound range of motion. Performing mobility work is best done before you exercise. Motion is lotion. Movement will lubricate the joints allowing you to achieve greater ranges of motion more easily. Mobility work prior to training also allows you to strengthen your body in your new and improved range of motion and therefore the effects will last. For mobility to last, you will need to do it a lot! It is better to move gently and regularly rather than go full-force every now and then. To increase mobility and maintain gains you will need to practise daily. As physiotherapists we often are asked “but can’t I just foam roll it?” Foam rolling alone is not going to make you more mobile. It might feel nice (or not!) but consider rolling your ITB. You may be oscillating the tissue, but the joints above and below remain immobile.
· Joint range of motion is king – move your joints first
· Move with strength, control and stability to maintain gains
· Use a foam roller only as an adjunct to your mobility program
· Move gently and regularly – if you don’t use it, you lose it