Everybody loves muscles. They look good, feel nice, and help you move heavy things. Unfortunately, as we age muscle is harder to maintain. This may lead to more vigorous strength training, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but can sometimes cause us to under train in other, equally important areas.
When you use muscles, whether it’s during a workout, standing up from a chair, playing golf, or just walking to the refrigerator, they contract. The fibers in each muscle slide to an overlapping position to create the strength needed to perform whatever task you are demanding of them. Every single time you move a muscle, it literally gets shorter. This is why after muscular exertion you feel tighter. You are.
Strength training alone makes for short, tight muscles. Tight muscles decrease mobility and the range of motion in your joints. This is the path to injury. It’s also the reason why flexibility training is essential. When you stretch, those tight muscles slide into a more elongated position. This position doesn’t have as much power, but it has much more mobility. This is why you feel open after a good stretch. You are eliminating the muscle compression.
As we get older our tendons, ligaments, and muscles aren’t quite as elastic as they used to be; more effort is needed to maintain flexibility. Chronic muscle tension ensues, and with it stiffness and poor range of motion. This will not only prohibit you from maximizing strength gains, but is the reason why injuries increase with age.
Flexibility training alone on a consistent basis causes connective tissues to stretch, which in turn makes them lengthen, and become less taut. When the muscle’s connective tissue is weak, it is more likely to become damaged due to over stretching, or sudden, powerful muscular contractions. Your long and loose muscles lack the strength to support your body. Increased flexibility without a corresponding increase in strength can result in joint instability, and you guessed it: injury.
It’s important to recognize that strength and flexibility have to be balanced within a your body to maintain posture, efficiency and health. Too much flexibility without strength and you put your body and joints at risk from instability and strain. Too much strength without flexibility and your body will become like a compact, rigid block inhibiting healthy movement and causing unnecessary wear and tear in the joints.
Balance your body by stretching muscles after performing strength exercises, and performing strength exercises for every muscle you stretch. This will help prevent injury, promote mobility, and preserve your range of motion. Strength and flexibility go hand in hand. Our bodies need to be strong and flexible to best serve us. You need not sacrifice one for the other. Cultivate both and create a more stable, mobile, resilient you.