Long and Strong

Posted: October 12, 2012 in Baseball, Functional Mobility and Flexibility, General Health
Tags: ,

“Bro, when you tack on mass, you sacrifice flexibility. That’s just a straight up fact.” -Mac, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the show, and one of the bigger myths in the fitness industry today. I also thought it was appropriate after the Strength for Athleticism series that hopefully gave you a better idea of what I mean when I talk about functional strength.

We’ve all seen guys in the gym or pictures of Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzenegger that are huge and basically waddle when they walk. While they might be strong in the sense of the numbers they can put up in the gym, but I don’t see them being able to do much in any athletic setting.

Unfortunately, many athletes train in a similar fashion to body builders. They want to see how much weight they can put on a bar and sacrifice technique and range of motion (ROM) to do so. In this case, Mac would probably be right. You would add mass at the cost of your flexibility. This causes the muscle to shorten over time, which would put you at greater risk for injury.

When performing a high-speed movement, think of your muscle as a car. You want to speed the car up to go as fast as possible, but at some point the car has to slow down. Your ROM is the distance the car has to slow down. If you have a greater ROM, then you have a greater distance to decelerate the muscle. If the muscle is short, you have to slam on the brakes, putting more stress on the muscle fibers during an eccentric motion. Chuck Wolf mentions this in part 3 when he is talking about a pitcher’s biceps. The biceps contribute to the deceleration of the arm after release of the baseball. If the biceps is shortened, the window for slowing the arm down becomes smaller and the chance of an injury (probably biceps tendonitis) increases. The same idea applies to the legs for running or jumping. Long and strong is much preferred over short and tight.

So how do you lift weights and not decrease flexibility?

There are several answers to this question, but I believe the most important factor is concentrating on going through the full ROM while completing your lift. This might require you to lower the weight. No one is impressed with your 400 lb quarter squat anyways, or half biceps curls. Get your butt down to parallel so you are working your hamstrings and glutes instead of just your quads, and try extending the elbows all the way instead of keeping them at 90 degrees and swinging your shoulders.

Another suggestion would be modifying exercises to create a larger possible ROM. An example of this would be to take a reverse lunge and turn it into an elevated reverse lunge. Start by standing on a stable, elevated surface (only needs to be a 3-6 inches high) and proceed to step backwards in a lunge while your front foot remains on the box. Your knee will have a further distance to travel which will increase the difficulty and should get a better stretch in the hip flexor/ quad of the leg stepping back. Make sure to keep your chest tall or that stretch will be negated.

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Whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, train in a manner that will give you the best results and keep you healthy. Try out these tips and let me know what you think.

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