Why Catherine’s working on flexibility (but not doing the splits challenge)

28 day split challenge poster

Is it just me, or are the social media fitspo promoters much more concerned about our flexibility than they used to be? I’m getting blammed with ads from people like this guy:

Don’t get me wrong– I’m all for increased flexibility. Well, sort of. But signing on to a 21-day hip opening challenge strikes me as:

But wait– isn’t flexibility supposed to be good for us? I’m sure I read somewhere that it’s supposed to help us (women especially). Oh, wait, maybe that was one of those Facebook ads. Like this one:

Ads mentioning “hyperbolic” and “revolutionary” and “pelvic floor” raise my suspicions.

In a recent article in Outside magazine, author Alex Hutchinson looks at studies on the effects of static stretching on sport performance. It’s worth taking a look. Here’s what he says, though, in general, about flexibility:

So what does being flexible do for you? … greater flexibility as measured by the sit-and-reach test isn’t associated with longer life—unlike the ACSM’s other four “major components” of physical fitness. It also doesn’t predict more successful aging (like avoiding falls), except in ways that are better predicted by muscle strength.

Contrary to a half-century of locker-room wisdom, being flexible doesn’t seem to protect you from injury either. This topic is the focus of hundreds of studies, and there are admittedly a few that do find benefits. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a few that find that being too flexible is also associated with injury. But overall, it just doesn’t seem to make much difference. It’s also not associated with non-sports-related problems like low-back pain.

Does that mean that we needn’t work on flexibility, and not worry about stretching? No, I’m not saying that, either. So what am I saying?

Flexibility matters for range of motion and also general physical comfort and ease. When I sit too long– and who isn’t in these era of all-Zoom-all-the-time?– I get creaky. For some people it’s their back. For me, it’s my hips. I’ve lately been doing some of these yoga poses in between Zoom meetings, or at intervals during my work-at-home day. It’s amazing what a little supine twist and and gate pose will do for you.

Gate pose: woman kneeling and stretching. This one feels good, no matter what your range of motion.

As we say often (or maybe it’s just me, but anyway): with movement, a little often goes a long way. And a lot doesn’t always go as far past a little as we think. Well, you know what I mean (I hope).

Readers: what kinds of flexibility exercises do you do in your movement lives? Do you yearn for splits? Do you spurn stretching? I’d love to hear from you.

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