One of the common myths around weight training is that it reduces flexibility in the person. The stereotype of a muscle-bound weight-trainer who is stiff and inflexible is very popular. Elders in the family, peers and friends often warn weight-training enthusiasts about the risk of becoming inflexible.
However, in recent years, this myth has been busted convincingly. Research conducted by various Institutions such as the University of North Dakota has shown that strength/resistance/weighttraining (WT) does not reduce flexibility. On the contrary, weight training is found to be more effective than static stretching (SS) in improving flexibility. Research has also shown that static stretching when overdone can reduce flexibility and affect a sportsperson’s performance.
So what are the reasons behind the myth that weight-training reduces flexibility?
1. Weak core: Not everyone is blessed with a strong core. That is why;a fitness trainer will insist that you first strengthen your core before lifting heavy weights. There are various exercises to strengthen your core and the trainer will choose the right ones for you.
2. Use of steroids: The use and abuse of growth-inducing drugs is fairly common among weight-training enthusiasts. Since each person’s body is unique, the use of steroids can do a lot of harm to the person. The damage to internal organs from the use of steroids is well-documented. In some people, the use of steroids can cause stiffness or inflexibility in the person.
3. Improper training: Often, people who frequent gyms do not engage a trainer, and prefer to learn on the go. They are not aware of the right way to hold or lift weights, the right number of repetitions, the right exercises for a particular muscle group, etc. This can make the exercise routine ineffective, cause injuries, and make the person inflexible.
4. Poor understanding of anatomy: There is a false notion that the bigger a muscle gets, the more inflexible it becomes. But, there is no biological basis for this belief. Muscles do not grow in isolation. As muscles grow, the ligaments, tendons, and bone joints that support a muscle group also grow or strengthen in tandem. The net effect of this is to increase flexibility in the person. This is the reason; weight training has become very popular with dancers, sportspersons, military/paramilitary personnel and martial arts enthusiasts, in recent years.
5. Not exercising the full range: Every exercise that targets a particular muscle-group must be performed to its full range of motion, and for as many repetitions as recommended by the trainer. But most people do not complete the full range of motion or the required number of reps, either due to laziness or inflexibility. As a result, they become more inflexible with time.
The role of a Trainer
Weight-training is the best thing you can do to improve flexibility. But you need a qualified and experienced trainer to guide you at every step.
1. Evaluation: To begin with, the trainer will evaluate various aspects such as your age, profession, body type, family health, personal health, history of injuries, sprains and fractures, history of joints-related ailments if any, and finally how flexible/inflexible you are.
2. Customized program: Subsequently, the trainer will create an exercise-routine that is specific to you, and the goals you want to achieve. He/she will include exercises that ensure a full range of motion in the joint; ensure every muscle group is worked equally, and vary your exercise routine.
3. Monitoring your progress: Finally, the trainer will supervise you to ensure you have the required discipline to complete the routines as prescribed. He/she will also train you in such a way that you will be able to do those exercises you have difficulty with.
All these efforts will improve your flexibility over time. Depending on your real-life goals, you could move to the next level and begin a more intense weight-training program. Or you could continue with the existing routine to sustain your flexibility. Either way, work closely with your personal trainer for best results.