During my thirty years of being a personal fitness trainer, I have noticed most people fall into three categories of flexibility. These categories are anecdotal observations coupled with my Medical Exercise Specialist training. I am reminded of Goldilocks and the Three Bears whenever I teach this. In the simplest terms, most people are 1) overly flexible, commonly termed hyper-mobile; 2) stiff and/or tight, or 3) just right. Knowing where you fall on the scale will help you to avoid injury so that you can keep moving and have more fun.
The most hyper-mobile people are working for Cirque du Soliel. Picture the circus acrobat. The ligaments and tendons that normally stabilize the joints are not doing their job properly, so they can literally put their foot behind their ear. In more everyday folks, you might simply notice that when you straighten or lock your knees and elbows, they bow backwards. Maybe you have always been able to just flop over and touch your toes with no problem. If you sit on the floor with your legs straight, knees locked and your heels come off the floor, you are probably hyper-mobile.
Hyper-mobile folks are more prone to injury and arthritis. I am hyper-mobile. Things move around easily on my skeleton. What I have noticed through the years, though, is when something goes out, it will go back too. There are lots of self-correcting exercises that I have learned so I can help myself. What I didn’t know years ago when I was an avid weight lifter was that I should never really be lifting heavy weights. The best exercises for me are exercises that force the joints to stabilize, like standing on one leg or doing push-ups on a stability ball.
If you are hyper-mobile, be careful when you stretch. My motto is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you ought to.” Whenever I would try yoga, I would hurt myself. I would always go too far. You have to anchor your own joints before you stretch. That usually entails engaging your abdominal, thigh, glutes, core or shoulder blade muscles and then proceeding with your stretch. For instance, squeeze your shoulder blades back and down and keep them there before you lift your arms over your head. Or squeeze your quad muscles without bowing your knee before you stretch your hamstrings.
“Tight” folks are definitely not working in the circus. Try the “sit and reach” test. Sit on the floor with your legs straight (knees locked) in front of you and reach for your toes. If you cannot touch your toes, you are probably on the tight side of the scale. It is important that you keep your joints moving in the full range of motion. The good news is that your joints are pretty safe if you work on normal stretching. Try a yoga class. Keep your focus on the belly or the middle of the muscle you are stretching. Find a way to build stretching into your everyday activities.
Try sitting up tall on the edge of your chair and straighten your leg, with your heel staying on the floor. You probably feel a stretch in your calf and/or hamstring muscle. Before you lift heavy weights, always make sure that the joints involved have a full range of motion. Tight folks are prone to shoulder injuries from doing incline chest exercises and overhead pressing exercises.
I have had one client for many years who is right in the middle. Her hamstrings are a little short anatomically, but she does not injure easily. A good balance of smart strength training, stability work and stretching has kept her dancing, boxing, and hiking well into her 60s. She also takes great care of herself and gets help right away when she notices a problem.
The bottom line is that a shift in your exercise program to accommodate your degree of flexibility will make you less prone to injury.
Cinder Ernst, Medical Exercise Specialist and Life Coach Extraordinaire, helps reluctant exercisers get moving with safe, effective and fun programs. Her book, “Easy Fitness for the Reluctant Exerciser” (http://cinderernst.com/easy-fitness-book/), is available in paperback and eBook. She specializes in fitness and rehab for plus-size clients, but her stress-free approach is suitable for all. Find out more at http://cinderernst.com
As seen in the San Francisco Bay Times: http://sfbaytimes.com/find-your-flexibility/