Many incorrectly believe there’s no way that you will be flexible if you lift moderate to heavy weights. I can understand the perception. When lifting weights we shorten and lengthen the muscle while overcoming an external load - so the idea of keeping a healthy range of motion seems contradictory when lifting weights feels like you are tightening muscles.
Both muscle contraction and flexibility are affected by many factors. Connective tissue – tendons, ligaments, joint capsules – all affect both directly. Muscles fibers blend with the connective tissue to exert force, while flexibility relies on the elasticity and plasticity (ability to assume a greater length after stretching) of the connective tissue to improve a joint’s mobility.
When you do bicep curls, for instance, the muscle length is key in the force exertion. In fact, you'll have the most mechanical advantage when the muscle is at its resting length – so to strengthen the muscles and get the most out of your workout, keeping the full range of motion is crucial. And doesn’t flexibility impose full range of motion as well?
Could it be possible, then, that by lifting weights someone can get the same benefits in flexibility as doing a stretching program? So far, new studies say you can.
For those who have trouble squeezing a 30-minute workout into their hectic day, it’s no wonder many people leave out stretching exercises and feel as if they’ve missed out on something instead of simply congratulating themselves for getting a sweat in.
Is this your case?
A recent study “Resistance Training Vs. Static Stretching: Effects on Flexibility and Strength” published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared two groups on their flexibility and strength gains after one group did a full-range-of-motion strength training workout and the other group performed static stretches. Both groups proved equally flexible while the strength training group also got stronger.
The results: full range of motion resistance training improved flexibility the same way that static stretching did with the added value that – as expected – the group that lifted weights increased strength better than the other team.
What was the secret? The key point as the authors say is that resistance training should be done throughout full range of motion to get the benefits on flexibility.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that stretching is something that people can disregard. Stretching is still an important component to maintain body alignment and flexibility. Less supported is the notion that stretching prevents muscle soreness or injuries. However, there's certainly no harm in doing it. Experts say stretching may have a psychological effect on the recovery process. Make sure you reserve the static stretching for after working out rather than before. Static stretching done before working out can decrease performance.
A strength and flexibility workout
- Do this full workout routine as super-set – two exercises performed one after another without rest. I recommend super-sets on different muscles to keep the joints load balanced.
- Do 1-2 super sets if you are a beginner and 2-3 if you are advanced.
- Perform 12-15 reps of each exercise. Make sure the last two reps are a challenge to complete.
- Rest up to 90 seconds after each super set.
- Do this routine two-three times a week leaving one day in between.
Note: Don’t forget to keep FULL range of motion in every exercise. Otherwise, you won’t get the flexibility improvements. Exercises can be performed with tubing or on a pulley machine.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.