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For my first few years as a personal trainer I essentially treated hamstring stretches the same way Oprah treats cars.
Everyone got one.
If you’ve ever set foot in a gym you’ve probably seen this happen. The client lying on their back, whilst the trainer gradually raises one of the clients legs until they feel a stretch start to happen in the back of their thigh.
Sometimes the leg would only come a little way of the ground before the stretch really bit in. It would like trying to stretch the Tin man after he’d been caught in the rain without a brolly.
Whilst with other people, their leg would fly up of the floor and almost go through 180º and still feel like there was zero stretch occurring.
What I found really odd was that some of those super bendy people would complain that they felt really tight and really really wanted to feel a stretch.
How could they feel tight when they were so flexible?
I just didn’t really appreciate at the time the difference between flexibility and stability.
Some people are genetically more flexible than others, or to be a little more precise, they have more laxity in their joints.
They are capable of going through a very large range of movement.
The body makes collagen with a lot more elasticity.
But that extra flexibility is usually present without the ability to stabilise and control the available range of movement.
Certain sports have a very high ratio of hypermobile athletes.
Gymnasts, dancers and swimmers are often hypermobile as their inherent flexibility allows them to achieve the positions and movements demanded by their sport.
This movement is something that this young lady has been born with rather than purposely developed....and it's no surprise to see her in a gymnastics setting.
You may be thinking so what? Big deal?
Here’s the big deal, joint hypermobility affects approximately 20% of the population. That’s quite a few people, and if you’re one of them it will affect the type and choice of exercises that best benefit you.
It is also a very important consideration in staying injury free. If a joint can move through a large range of movement but cannot keep itself stable through that movement then it is very likely to get injured.
I’ve seen two examples of this in the last month.
Both were hypermobile and suffering from knee pain after running as they were unable to stabilise and control their leg sufficiently as it went through it’s gait cycle.
So how how can you tell if you’re hypermobile?
A standard test is the Beighton Scale which you can view below.
As you can see it only takes a second to do and you’re probably fiddling around with your pinky right now to see how far it moves.
If three of these apply to you then you can definitely assume that your hypermobile. Even just two and you’ll have some laxity to consider.
So what do you do if this applies to you?
Be very selective with how you stretch (if at all).
Your joints are not lacking the ability to move so logically you don’t need to stretch them, in fact stretching could be hindering you.
Often there is still the feeling of being”tight”. What you need to realise is that feeling tight muscles are not the same as short muscles.
The issue is actually guarding tension from the nervous system.
The muscles are tight as the body is trying like crazy to get some stability and hold things in place. The hamstrings are probably tight as they are the main thing preventing the pelvis from going into a huge anterior tilt.
The solution is to focus on getting stronger. As the body develops new strength and becomes more stable the muscles will start to relax. The increased stability around the joints will allow the nervous system to start chill a bit.
Be very careful at end ranges of exercises.
Hyperextension at the knee and elbow are very common in hypermobile folks, if you look at the Beighton Scale both are on there.
With one of the hypermobile clients I saw this month she would stand in knee hyperextension when at rest, so the front of the leg looked slightly bowed.
It’s these very excessive end ranges that need to be avoided, especially when under load.
Lunges, squats, leg press and all other variants that involve knee extension under load need to be very carefully controlled. It may feel rather odd for the trainee at first, like they’re stopping a little short or not completing the movement.
The same goes for the upper body and exercise that involve flexion and extension of the elbow. Presses, rows, the start point of a chin up…..avoid letting the elbow go into hyperextension.
To really get the feel for this it may help to slow down the speed of the lift. Avoid any explosive movements (especially things like box jumps), then take 2-3 seconds for the lifting phase of an exercise, to allow full concentration on where the joints are moving too.
Non of this is to put a blanket ban on certain exercises or activities. As always every activity and exercise is dependant on the individual.
What it does mean is that the Beighton Scale is a fantastic assessment you can safely use on yourself to determine if laxity may be an issue.
If it is, do not stretch indiscriminately, yep that means that yoga may not be a very good option for you.
Understand that any “tightness” you may feel in your muscles probably has nothing to do with any actual shortness of the muscle, but is the body trying to hold/keep structures stable.
Using a well designed resistance program will probably be hugely beneficial for keeping you injury free and reducing the feelings of muscular tightness.
Avoid hitting hyperextension of the limbs, especially during exercise. No matter how much the HIIT class instructor yells for more reps or jumps, the focus more than ever needs to be on quality reps rather than quantity.
If you thought this was useful or just a waffle of piffle, leave a comment lemme know.