Muscular flexibility or strength is a question that comes up often in the fitness industry and truly the correct answer is a loaded one that is still under review. Can you have both muscular flexibility or strength ? The answer is a resounding yes! But to those who believe that 90 minutes of daily Yoga, or 90 minutes of traditional strength training is the recipe for fitness success, you will be really disappointed. Muscle strength can be developed in numerous ways. Doing heavy squats with building beefy powerful quadriceps can look awesome, but will they be flexible and responsive to quick movements or endurance activities. Will you have the proper range of motion and speed to perform injury free? A lot depends on the sport your participating in, however the risk of injury is very high.
Conversely speaking participating in a 90 minute Yoga class daily will surely create a soft and pliable muscle fiber worthy of envy, but will this level of flexibility without a real strength component allow you to scale the sheer granite wall of El Capitan or cycle up the highest mountains in the Pyrenees? Doubtful. There is a definite strength endurance component involved with these two activity. So which is better muscle flexibility or strength? You can have both, but adapting fibers through the two extremes of bodybuilding or Yoga is not the complete answer. How do you create a balance of muscle flexibility or strength?
I recently read an interview in GQ magazine with New England Patriot super star quarterback Tom Brady. In the article the interviewer discusses Tom Brady’s solution to health and fitness without injury developing into your late 30s. Brady is now 39 years old and has exceeded the playing career of most NFL Quarterbacks. Brady’s reputation lies in his 15 year injury free NFL career, which is something to be recognized when you like at likes of his quarterback competitors. Payton Manning, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Ben Rothlisberger and Andrew Luck. They have all been sideline for majority of the 2015 NFL season due to major injuries.
Brady’s approach to optimal health is multifaceted. Nutritional balance is one key component in his great health. What may seem a bit orthodox to the average person is well thought of to educated health and fitness professionals. Clean Nutrition and really good hydration principles are keys to staying injury free according to Brady. Nutritionists also concur that eating good clean food has healing and restorative properties.
Brady is also a sound advocate of proper sleep habits for optimal health. Brady retires to bed at 9:00PM ever night and wakes at 5:30AM every morning due to his busy schedule. This sleep behavior gives Brady 8.5 hours of restorative sleep. Sleep has a huge rehabilitative effect on the body. It is during sleep that the body repairs itself and growth hormones are produced. This is a well-known fact to sleep study researchers, however most Americans barely get the minimal amount of sleep required to restore the body. As a result Americans are getting fatter and therefore sicker.
Are there beneficial and non beneficial strength training exercises? Yes of course. I believe that muscle need proper balance in order to be synergistic and avoid altered overload on other muscles. Unnecessary overload will always translate into soft tissue rupture, tendonitis and orthopedic problems. It’s so common to see the exerciser doing the same routines in the 40s that they did at age 18. They body changes during each decade of life and demands a higher level of flexibility to work properly. I commonly see a loss of flexibility when people hit there 30s. I don’t believe there is a place for strength hypertrophy training in people over the age of 40. I’m not saying it’s not visually appealing. Its simply not corrective or functional in the later stages of life.
In the same GQ Magazine interview Tom Brady says, “The biggest issue that he sees with his team mates is muscle pliability” ” Muscle pliability keeps your muscle long and soft” “We do so many exercises in the gym through all our strength training that makes our muscle short and dense”. “Too much strength training teaches your muscle to stay contracted”. “Many of my teammates in the off-season suffer ankle/knee injuries, plantar fasciitis, hip and back problems as a result of improper training”. “It’s difficult for me not to step in and help them”
I completely concur with Brady! If you are an aspiring athlete or looking to be more functional in ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), it is important to perform hybrid exercises that are both corrective and functional. Most traditional strength training programs are designed to be performed in the saggital plane and don’t encourage movements in the other very important planes of movement. Moreover they don’t incorporate a full range of motion, balance, speed work or real endurance outside the usual repetition schemes. There for the answer to the age old question which is better for long term health, Muscular flexibility or strength is a functional balance between the two according to Tom Brady.
I believe that every action with your training program can have unfortunate consequence. Strength training may be good for building strength, but I doubt it will make you healthier. There are other things that you can do to strengthen your body that are more beneficial to complementing flexibility and won’t put undue stress on the joints of your body that don’t need to be there. Improper eating and drug abuse to look good will also have unfortunate consequences. Clean food is your fuel to proper muscle activation, repair and hydration. Improper sleep also has consequences. strained muscle fibers will never heal properly. Scar formation occurs and muscle fibers shorten. The end result is muscle atrophy and secondary myositis which is the opposite effect of what you’re looking for. Flexibility is always a necessary part of any fitness program, but too much will have adverse consequences on joint stability. To date the number of research papers that have proved the detriments of too much flexibility training outweigh the number of research papers that discuss the benefits of flexibility training 10-1. According to The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) the key to proper flexibility is consistency and 30-45 seconds of active of dynamic stretching to per body part daily. Much less time involved than a 90 minute Yoga class. So, Muscular flexibility or strength is contingent on what you are trying to accomplish within a given sport or if you desire pure functionality or just aesthetic appeal to your body. In my opinion functionality will always be paramount to aesthetics. If you ask any pro bodybuilder what they prefer Muscular Flexibility or strength, they will answer with regret, “flexibility”, based on the fact that so many bodybuilder suffer joint problems and spine issues due to poor muscle flexibility issues. Bigger is not always better!
Rivak Hoffman is the president of Every Bit Fit Arizona. he is an avid writer and master personal trainer who has 18 years working in the fitness industry.