Flexibility is an entirely individual motor quality. It is also joint specific, which means some joints can have greater-than-average flexibility while other joints in the same person can have less-than-average flexibility. Factors affecting flexibility include the shape of joint surfaces, the length and pliability of ligaments and joint capsules, the length and compliance of muscles associated with the joint, emotional state, body temperature, time of day, previous training history, type and sequence of exercises in the warm-up, initial position of the exercises, and rhythm of movements. Flexibility can vary wildly from one person to the next because of one or many of these factors.
Except in cases of neuromusculoskeletal pathologies, exceptional flexibility is not an inborn quality and requires work to develop it and subsequently maintain it. Some people may have an easier time maintaining their flexibility due to training in activities such as dance, gymnastics or martial arts during childhood – i.e., before the age of 11, before the angulation of the neck of the femur becomes stable and before the ligaments become stronger and tighter.
Flexibility is like strength and endurance in that it can be brought to high levels by anybody at any time in a person’s life if the joint surfaces permit normal mobility. Such interventions as foam rolling and soft-tissue release will address mobility factors not directly related to muscle fiber extensibility (e.g., muscle tone and trigger points). Short and tight muscles can be resolved by passive and isometric stretches, and activities such as running, swimming and weightlifting, if your limbs go through the full range of motion. While genetics can contribute to being hypermobile/double jointed, there is no genetic reason to be inflexible, short of a connective tissue disorder, and if you had one, you’d probably know about it by now.
When your muscles tighten up this suggests that you are not properly using them,especially postural muscles while sitting and standing. this causes some muscles to be overworked because they’re picking up the slack from other muscles, and these overworked ones are going to tighten up again the moment you slip back into bad posture. if you can’t identify the source of your muscle imbalances yourself, consider going to an experienced personal trainer or physical therapist who will be able to assess your posture and movement.
To start gaining more flexibility, strengthen the weak/underactive muscles and stretch the tight ones for a couple minutes several times throughout the day. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t seem to make any progress for a few weeks–you’ve spent years and years reinforcing your current movement/posture habits, so it’s going to take some time to learn new habits.
Factors of Flexibility
Some people are more flexible than others when they start. What are the factors that determine these differences in flexibility among various people?
Flexibility is determined mainly from two sources – native physical makeup and how a person trains. The most obvious factors in flexibility involve your physical makeup. The individual generally has little control over their physical make-up, yet it is very important in determining your potential. Let’s look at what the physical factors are:
The older you are, the less flexibility you will display. This is especially true if we lived a very sedentary lifestyle. As kids, we start out being extremely flexible and the tendency is to lose that bit by bit as we grow older.
Women tend to display more flexibility than men. It is rare that female lifters need any flexibility work. This is especially true in the joints that are important in lifting, such as the shoulders and squatting joints.
Bone size and structure
Lighter-boned people generally have better flexibility but will conversely have more trouble gaining the required muscle for weightlifting. This is yet another example of the eternal compromise. No one ever seems to have the perfect body for lifting. Everything is a mixed bag.
This is especially important in weightlifting due to its effect on your potential squatting. All other things held constant, the longer your thighbone the deeper you can get in your squat. Those with short thigh bones can only squat down so far. It will be geometrically impossible.
The degree of elasticity of the tendons and ligaments is a critical factor when training flexibility. Those who are physically active naturally have more of this flexibility. Conversely, those with inelastic connective tissue are going to be a lot stiffer.
The bigger your body is, the harder it is to get into super flexible positions. This is true whether that extra size comes from muscle or fat. Both muscle and fat act as a fulcrum preventing a full range of motion.This is true even if actual joint flexibility is sufficient. You just don’t have enough room when your arms or legs get bigger.
We’ve all seen lifters with biceps so big that they cannot bend their arms enough to rest the barbell on their shoulders. And those who do a lot of squats will find that their range of motion goes down as their legs grow. That is inevitable because the upper and lower parts out of the limbs have nowhere else to go except to slam into one another and can only be compressed so far.
Training factors that Effect Flexibility
That is about it for the physical factors. Regardless of your physical makeup, the way you train can still have great influence on your level of flexibility. The good news is that you have a greater degree of control over your destiny regarding the training factors.
The more active a person is, then the more likely he or she will be more flexible. A common observation here applies to that of squatting in Asia versus the Western world. The Asians still squat a lot in their daily activities and so never lose their flexibility. Conversely, in the western world we tend to sit a lot so we have no need to go much better than parallel when we sit down, often far less. The end result is great inflexibility in the legs and, thus, shortened hip flexors and hamstring muscles.
Weight trainers of all persuasions are constantly told to do their exercises through a full range of motion. Those that cut their lifts short will find that their associated joint flexibility will be cut short as well. For every muscle of the body there is an agonist and an antagonist. Muscles are attached to bones by tendons. Muscles contract to move our bones by pulling on them. In an antagonistic muscle pair as one muscle contracts the other muscle relaxes or lengthens. The muscle that is contracting is called the agonist and the muscle that lengthens are called the antagonist.
If one muscle is responsible for flexing a joint, its antagonist will be responsible for extending that joint, or vice versa. It then follows that each of these muscles should be exercised equally to ensure that there is not an imbalance in strength or hypertrophy and that subsequently, inflexibility does not develop.