When Less is More with Flexibility Training- Part 3- When Performance is Your Priority

Hard work doesn’t always pay off. Learn when a less is more approach is best when it comes to flexibility training.
Ashleigh Flanagan
October 7, 2021

When Less is More with Flexibility Training- Part 3- When Performance is Your Priority

There is a pervasive cultural narrative that if we work hard, good things will come to us (‘we get out, what we put in), and of course, this isn’t a universal truth. So much of our fortune is out of our control, and there are many times when less is more. This series will explore these times.

In the first blog of this series, we considered how times of threat and uncertainty increased our sensitivity to pain, affecting our flexibility training, and what we could do to increase our tolerance at these times.  If you missed it, read the blog here.

The last blog looked at the link between pain sensitivity and our immune system and discussed the best ways to train flexibility (or not) when we are sick. If you missed it, read the blog here.

Part 3- When Performance is Your Priority

Flexibility training can be hard work. Depending on the contents of your training, the load could be physically equivalent to a heavy resistance training session, mentally challenging and emotionally demanding. Therefore, it’s important to recognise this load’s impact on your system and adjust your training according to your performance priorities.

Flexibility training and Performance

While it’s rubbish that being strong makes you less flexible or that flexible people are weaker, it’s probably unhelpful to train flexibility before needing to generating power or maximal strength, especially using the same muscle groups. This is due to the significant energy demands of flexibility training and short term changes in the length-tension relationship of muscles. For example, think about how your legs feel after a heavy splits training session and then imagine running 100m sprints or doing max weighted squats. Your short term athletic performance will be worse than if you came into these exercises fresh and well-rested. 

This doesn’t mean power and strength athletes should avoid flexibility training because, in the long-term, it can improve performance. Anecdotally, When we look at some of the best power athletes in the world, we see that they have great range of movement in the joints they use to generate power. It makes sense. Force over a larger range will result in more power. For these athletes, their flexibility is performance-enhancing and gives them the edge over other competitors.

If your athletic performance requires strength, power, and flexibility to participate in (ie gymnastics, ballet or martial arts), then stretching prior to your activity is beneficial and probably necessary. How you warm-up for performance will be different to how you train to increase your flexibility. Rather than being intense and heavy, think functional and low stress. You may need to reduce the overall load of your flexibility training for days before a significant athletic event, depending on the intensity of your regular flexibility training and how long it takes your body to recover. It’s worth considering periodising or blocking your flexibility training if you have competition seasons or show runs, where you will require consistent elevated performance.

You are more likely to see the benefits of your flexibility training on your performance if you are doing less in preparation. As discussed in previous blogs, we tend to maintain flexibility well (read the blog here), so your time, energy, and attention are better spent in other ways. Keeping a heavy load of flexibility training plus increasing performance requirements may result in overload overuse injuries, primarily due to inadequate recovery or leave you more tired, sore and stiff than you need to be.

Key tips for flexibility training When performance is your priority

-When warming up for an event or performance don’t aim to increase your range of movement unless it’s specifically required.

-Do as little as you can to warm up to the range you require. For example, try sub-max strength through range, neural dynamic exercises (flossing, tensioning, wushu), ballistic stretches and short hold supported stretching, rather than more aggressive, and energy-intense techniques such as long supported holds, PNF (passive neuromuscular facilitation), max strength holds or eccentric loading.

-Learn how long it takes to recover fully from your regular flexibility training sessions and factor this into your training program.

-Don’t put pressure on yourself to increase your flexibility prior to a competition or performance. This puts you at much greater risk of overload overuse injuries.

-Adapt your training during show runs or competition seasons to maintain rather than progress your flexibility.

To book an appointment with a physio that understands flexibility training: Book a physio appointment now

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