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Strength Exercises and Flexibility
This past year, many of you wrote in with thought-provoking questions that got me thinking. Here’s one of my favorites from 2009:
On December 29th, Lucy wrote in that:
“I was doing the Barre Method every day for about 4 weeks and my hips started bothering me. They are now really tight€¦.”
What gave me pause when I read this question was that Lucy’s experience is pretty much in sync with how muscles respond to strength exercise. On a cellular level, strength-work causes microscopic tears in muscle fibers. Our muscles then repair themselves by generating more fibers than the original number. These new and more numerous fibers then knit themselves more tightly around our bones in an effort to stabilize the stressed area.
This muscle-tightening phenomenon will cause people who do only strength-work and no stretching to develop shorter and shorter muscles until they’re muscle bound, an unpleasant condition you probably want to avoid.
The good news is that stretching not only counteracts this tightening process. It can make you more flexible than you were in the first place. The reason is that your joints can detect how supported – or not – they are by the muscles around them. The stronger your muscles, the more stability they give to their underlying joints. (Just ask your physical therapist if you have one). Joints will allow muscles to elongate when those muscles can adequately maintain control over an increased range of motion. Conversely, joints will not allow weak muscles to elongate because those muscles would lose control if allowed an increased range. Strengthening your muscles, therefore, gives you a chance to also increase your flexibility.
How does all this, you ask, relate to Lucy’s experience? The answer is that muscles take longer to become flexible than they do to get strong. Bar Method students typically take class for several months before they feel more flexible. Many students actually get temporarily tighter before the stretching kicks in. Lucy therefore is likely to begin to feel more flexible in her hip-flexors after around three months of classes.