If I Stop Training Flexibility, Will I Lose It?
The latest blog series has looked at when it’s beneficial to reduce the load of your flexibility training or even take time off.
When Less is More with Flexibility Training- Part 1- Times of Stress and Uncertainty: Read the blog
When Less is More with Flexibility Training- Part 2- When you are sick: Read the blog
But what happens if you reduce or take a break from flexibility training?
People are often nervous about taking time off their flexibility training because they have worked so hard for it and don’t want to lose their progress. The truth is, because of the nature of improvements in flexibility, this form of fitness is probably the easiest to maintain and often benefits from having a break.
The longer it takes to develop, the longer it takes to lose
How long you can maintain a level of fitness without training depends, in some ways, on how much time and effort is required for adaption to the load to occur in the first place. In simplistic terms, if you have worked hard at it, for a long time, it will be easier to maintain your progress for longer. For example, a child gymnast may retain a lot of their strength and flexibility many years after they stop training.
The longer it takes to develop, the easier it is to maintain
We know that strength is easier to maintain than cardiovascular fitness. When we are healthy (and with the help of gravity), we can maintain strength for at least two weeks with no resistance training and for months at a significant deload. We can start to lose cardiovascular fitness in a week or two. Luckily, this is the easiest and fastest fitness to regain because adaptive changes take less time and load. Building strength takes longer but is easier to maintain and takes more time to deteriorate without training.
So what about flexibility progress?
The easier it is to lose, the easier it is to regain
Probably the biggest contributor to increases in flexibility is increased tolerance to stretching sensation, which occurs in seconds to minutes. If you go into an intense stretch and maintain a range in less than a minute, you find it more tolerable. Your 3rd split of the day will be deeper and more comfortable than the first. Increases intolerance are, in part, neuroplastic adaptions, so they occur quickly and are lost quickly, but they do start to become engrained over time with consistent practice. This is why it takes less and less time to warm up to your max flexibility, and also why regaining a split after many years is more accessible than getting them in the first place.
Changes in beliefs last the longest
A more significant part of increased tolerance to stretch results from changes to your beliefs about yourself and flexibility training. What I call ‘Flexibility beliefs’ are not simply what you think about stretching; they are complex, multifaceted narratives that help you make sense of yourself, others and the world, but in ways related to flexibility training. They are not only the context by which you understand flexibility but also reflect your fundamental understandings, experiences and values related to other aspects of your life. As an example, you may start with the belief that there is something about you or your body that make stretching unsafe for you, but over time, with consistent evidence to the contrary, you may start to believe your body is strong, capable, and able to withstand extreme and variable loads. This kind of shift in beliefs will result in a more permanent and robust increase in tolerance to stretch.
Adaptive tissue changes?
We know that strength, in particular, is an integral part of flexibility training. Therefore, any loss of end range strength may result in reduced flexibility. As previously discussed, improvements in strength take longer to gain but are easier to maintain.
In some people, a small amount of change in flexibility may be due to structural tissue changes in the length of myotendinous units. This probably requires consistent, high load training over many years. Any adaptive changes to tissue that require this amount of loading are likely to last a long time and be easy to maintain, but like all training adaptions, they would be reservable.
What this all means for flexibility training?:
- Flexibility is relatively easy to maintain over time with a little, low-intensity input.
- The harder and longer you have worked for your flexibility, the easier it will be to maintain.
- A break in training will result in some reduced tolerance to stretch, but not a reduction in range (e.g. it will feel harder, but you will achieve the same level).
- Don’t be afraid to reduce the load of your flexibility training or even break completely. It will be much easier to regain any progress that you have lost than it was to gain it in the first place.
- Often, particularly if we are stressed, burned out, sick or fatigued, our flexibility training will be much better for having a break.
- A break of less than two weeks is more likely to do good than harm to consistent, intense flexibility training.
- ‘Everday stretching'; low load, low intensity stretching that takes you through your available range comfortably, a couple of times a week is likely to maintain your flexibility for a long time.
- If your break in training is due to injury or ill health, the effect on your progress may be different.
To book an appointment with a physio that understands flexibility training: Book a physio appointment now