Strength training for flexibility and injury reduction? Why your stretching routine isn't working.
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
You noticed that your hamstrings are feeling tighter than usual. You've been working from home and can't go to the gym as much as you normally do. Exercises are harded and you just feel stiffer everywhere.
You decide you want to improve your flexibility and dedicate time to stretch every day. After a few weeks of stretching you notice you're not any more flexible than when you first started.
You ask yourself, " WHY?!? I've stretched every single day and I've made no progress at all!"
Don't worry... you're not alone.
How do I increase my flexibility?
Most of us including myself have been guilty of holding a stretch for 30 seconds and calling it a day. The reason we usually don't hold them for longer is because a) they hurt and b) we're lazy. We feel a bit looser after the stretch and think that's all we need to do to improve our flexiblity and to help reduce any injuries. But is that really enough?
To acquire sustained improvements in flexibility with stretching, the stretch must be held for a while (I'm talking 3+ minutes) and must be done consistently (that means almost everyday) otherwise the benefits of increased flexibility from that stretch only lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Whilst a stretching routine performed regularly (over a few weeks) can result in meaningful improvements of range of motion, they don't reduce the risk of injury.
Research around flexibiliy and different training methods have found that ECCENTRIC EXERCISES has the ability to improve flexibility, performance, power output, and reduced pain and disability
What is an eccentric exercise?
Eccentric exercises are exercises that strengthen the muscles as they lengthen e.g. romanian deadlifts, calf raises on a step, rear foot elevated split squats etc. They combine both the "stretching" component as well as the "strengthening" component of an exercise and results in the addition of sarcomeres which both improves the muscles length as well as helps the muscle handle the forces and loads that are placed on it.
Considering a high number of strains are in the eccentric phase of movement (changing direction while sprinting, kicking a ball etc) it would make sense to add these types of exercises to help strengthen the muscles in these positions to reduce injury risk.
What should I do?
If you're purely looking to improve flexibility and that's all you care about, try adding in stretches when you're watching TV. One episode usually runs for 30 minutes and it's a great way to multi task and you can get those bendy hips and shoulders that you've been looking for.
If you're looking to improve power, flexibility, strength and reduce injury risks then I suggest you try adding eccentric exercises into your workouts. They don't have to take up your entire workout but one or two exercises for multiple sets and reps is usually sufficient to get all the benefits you're looking for.
A few examples of eccentrics exercises you can do for hamstrings tightness include the Romanian deadlift (otherwise know as straight leg deadlift), as well as 2 up 1 down lying hamstring curls. If you have tight quads try the reverse nordic curl.
Don't forget though... (if you read our last blog about DOMS then you should already know) eccentric exercises can lead to increased muscle soreness after a workout so be wary of how hard you push yourself.
For more information on how to perform these exercises or to have your own personalised program book in with one of our practitioners today.
Nelson R. T. (2006). A Comparison of the Immediate Effects of Eccentric Training vs Static Stretch on Hamstring Flexibility in High School and College Athletes. North American journal of sports physical therapy : NAJSPT, 1(2), 56–61.
O'Sullivan K, McAuliffe S, Deburca N. The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46(12):838-845. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090835