In my experience, stretching is often something that is neglected or, at the very least, given a cursory place in our workouts. It’s almost as if people don’t think it is very important. And yet, it is! Ever notice that pro football players are out there before a game getting limber by warming up and stretching? Ditto baseball, soccer, golf, lacrosse, hockey, and on and on.
OK, most of us are not professional athletes. But, in our lives, being flexible is key. Think about reaching overhead to get something from a cabinet, putting on your clothes, or being able to look to the side while driving.
Older adults are notorious for getting less and less flexible. Some of that is from aging of our tissues, but much of it comes from becoming less active. However, we need our flexibility for all of the things I just mentioned, plus being able to walk with a good gait, bend, twist, and generally move well.
And yet, the beat goes on. Sometimes getting people to stretch is like pulling teeth. This in spite of the fact that it feels great!
Anyway, back to the question at the top. Suppose you do some cardiovascular and strength training regularly. Can you get or keep your flexibility just from that? Do you really HAVE to stretch?
Surprisingly, over the years there has been very little good quality research on this to help shed light on the question. But, if we look at recent stabs at this, it would appear that the answer is that you CAN get more flexible through strength training, and perhaps a bit from cardiovascular training.
To keep it simple, I am going to combine findings from three different studies and give you the skinny on what it means for you, then give you some basic exercises that should give you the biggest bang for your flexibility buck.
It turns out that strength training can make you more flexible, and is most effective for increasing shoulder flexibility. This is true for old or young, sedentary or not, male or female. You can also get improvements in lower body flexibility with strength training and by walking, but the results were not as definitive.
A couple of other things about shoulder flexibility in the studies:
- In some cases, strength training was just as good as static stretching at getting improvements in range of motion of the joint.
- BUT, flexibility comes only in the directions of the specific movements that are trained. Meaning, if you press up, you get more flexible with pressing up. If you bring your arm to the front, you get more flexible bringing your arm to the front.
- This speaks to something that you may not think about much. Muscles move joints. That’s how your body is designed. Muscles attach to bones and have specific ways they pull on them to create movement. When you strength train, your tendons, ligaments, and the muscles get better at pulling on joints in those specific motions, and this can lead to better movement in that direction. This also brings about better circulation and joint lubrication that comes with moving your joints.
Does this mean you don’t have to stretch? NO! It’s all good. And, as noted, the shoulder is the star when it comes to becoming more flexible by strength training. There are plenty of other joints in your body that need attention, and some movements are difficult to strength train (for example, bringing your arm across your chest to reach to the opposite side).
Here are a few exercises that can help! I have chosen a couple of motions that are probably not done very much in day-to-day life. For both of these exercises, use a weight that you can lift to the maximum of your range of motion. If too heavy, you will not get it there. P.S. These exercises can also be done in the gym using a cable (shoulder extension) or machine (chest press).
- Shoulder press-back (extension). Stand tall. Use dumbbells held in your hands with palms facing back. Activate your abdominals to prevent your back from moving as you do this exercise. Keep your arms straight and do not curl your wrists. Keep your shoulder blades down and back. Press the weights to the back and up as far as you can. Hold at the top for a few seconds, and return them to your sides. Repeat 10 times. Repeat if you want to do another set.
- Shoulder press. Stand tall. Start with dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing forward. Press the weights straight up, extending your arms as far as possible. Bring the weights back to your shoulders, and repeat 10 times. Repeat if you want to do another set.
Use these exercises to get you thinking about other moves that you can use to train for flexibility and strength.
Feel free to drop me an email with any questions or comments! Thanks.
Shoulder Press-Back 1
Shoulder Back-Press 2
Shoulder Press 1
Shoulder Press 2
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