STRENGTH TRAINING WILL NOT MAKE YOU “MUSCLE BOUND”
The myth that strength training will make “Stiff” and “Bulky” was the common belief in athletic populations throughout much of the 20th century. This continued to be the belief in sports such as golf and dance until recent years. Although, most athletic communities have accepted that strength training’s benefits far outweigh the thought to cons; with the main con being that strength training will make you muscle bound. However, recent research has shown Strength Training as an effective intervention for improved flexibility.
When compared to traditional flexibility training in stretching.
What effects our flexibility?
- Nervous System
- All of us have a natural level of tone(Tone is the resistance of muscles to passive stretch or elongation, basically the amount of tension a muscle has at rest)
- Other aspects can affect our nervous system and cause increases/decreases in tone. These include…
- Sleep quality/quantity
- Respiratory rate
- Adrenaline levels
- Level of External Excitement(Large vs small crowds)
- Muscle length
- Soft Tissue restrictions
How Does Stretching Improve Our flexibility?
Traditional static stretching goes about improving flexibility by addressing Muscle length and Nervous system factors. In situations in which some has experienced long term positioning a person may experience “muscle shortening”. For most of the population, muscle length is not a contributing factor to their lack of flexibility. For most, the immediate and long term improvements in flexibility can be attributed to changes in the nervous system. Stretching, can inhibit our stretch reflex, and make our body feel more comfortable being in these ranges. This can become dangerous in athletics, as we do not have proper strength in these ranges and can cause injury. (it is also frowned upon because decreased muscle tone has been linked with decreased performance)
Strength Training for Improved Flexibility?
For many years it was thought that resistance training decreased flexibility because it increases the body’s overall tone. We also have the image of ginormous body builders who can not move their arms. However, recent research has shown that Strength training may be as effective as stretching at improving flexibility. A 2021 Systematic Review and Meta Analysis(Highest level of research) found these results to be true throughout multiple populations.
How is this possible for strength train to improve flexibility?
Our bodies are incredibly smart and avoid injuries at all cost! One of the protective mechanisms our body has is we want to stay out of ranges we are weak in. Thus, when we strengthen our muscles with resistance training at these end ranges, our body becomes more and more comfortable. This increased comfortability and decrease in this protective mechanism allows for increased flexibility. I would argue that this increased flexibility is superior to that of the gained flexibility from stretching as we have increased muscle control and strength at end range.