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I do not believe in static stretching.

In one of Pavels books he mentions that while most people can not perform a full split, they can still bend one leg 90 degrees sideways. In another question: Instantly increasing flexibility by becoming angry as a result of pain I mention some indications that adrenaline make you both stronger (hysterical strength) and more flexible. It seems to do this by "taking the brakes off". I am also influenced by this: https://www.jtsstrength.com/what-is-tightness-and-why-stretching-isnt-the-answer/?v=c2f3f489a005. I therefore believe that static stretching do not cause any structural changes in the muscles or tendons. Instead it is a purely neurological effect. By doing a stretch repeatedly you are instructing your nervous system that this position is safe. I believe that the nervous system have an estimate of the strength of the muscles and tendons. It measures the tension via the Golgi tendon organ. If it exceeds safe value it disallows movement. By stretching you are instructing it to be less careful. This can potentially be harmful.

So when one stretch one is telling the nervous system that it is safe to allow a larger range of motion (ROM). This has to be repeated daily over months for the nervous system to take notice.

But is it safe to allow a larger ROM? I for instance can only do about a 90 degrees split as opposed to a full 180 degrees split. And with good reason; I am heavy and the deeper I go down the stronger the forces on my groin musculature becomes. My nervous system protects me from muscle tears by restricting my ROM.

So I believe that lack of flexibility is in fact really always a lack of strength. If I had really strong groin musculature my nervous system would allow me to do a full split.

More specifically I believe that the problem is lack of strength in lengthened state. Take a look at strength as a function of muscle length:

enter image description here

The problem here is the steep downhill on the right side. As an example say that my 90 degrees split is halfway down this hill. My nervous system will not let me lengthen my muscles any more than this because I am too weak in that position.

Bodybuilders sometimes work on their biceps peak by doing restricted ROM curls. This tells us that it is possible to change the shape of this curve (to some extent at least).

This figure from "Altering the Length-Tension Relationship with Eccentric Exercise" shows how eccentric exercise can shift the strength length curve: Eccentric exercise have been found to shift the strength length curve

So I think that in order to become more flexible one should work on strength in lengthened state.

Am I wrong?

If not: how do one best do that?

This article: Eccentric Training for Flexibility provides some scientific references that seems to back up my assumptions and suggest that eccentric training may be the solution.

But how do I perform eccentric training in practice? Since I will be working in the lengthened state where the muscles are weak I conclude that I must use light resistance. I would also think that the exercises should be performed slowly.

Some exercises like the cossack squat seems to be a mix of light strength training and stretching. I would think such exercises are the solution since they strengthen the muscles trough a full range of motion?

Mark Rippetoe seems to hold the position that the solution for better mobility for squatting is, drumrolls, more squatting. In his response to "Squat Depth Issues - The Chicken Or The Egg?" he recommends to "let the weight provide the stretch" which sounds like eccentric excercise to me.

References

Why stretching is a waste of time!

Quite a Stretch

Stretching Doesn't Work

Altering the Length-Tension Relationship with Eccentric Exercise

Squat Depth Issues - The Chicken Or The Egg?

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    Have you read Pavel's book, Relax into Stretch? – Michael C. Mar 10 '19 at 21:06
  • I promise you a thorough answer to this question soon, but first, why do you say that you “do not believe in” static stretches? – POD Jun 14 '20 at 6:25
  • @POD: static stretching do not change the structure of the muscles or tendons. It only "tricks" the nervous system into thinking something is safe. It sounds more productive and safer to instead make this thing actually safe by acquiring stronger muscles and tendons trough some form of strength training. – Andy Jun 25 '20 at 13:25
  • On what basis do you believe that, @Andy? What exactly are you referring to when you say that stretching ‘tricks’ the nervous system? – POD Jun 25 '20 at 21:49
  • @POD: I have added a paragraph about this. – Andy Jun 26 '20 at 12:07
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Yes You can! I would recommend checking out precision movement, they introduce mobility: Range of motion produced by muscles when going to end range. This in addition to your concept of flexibility. They have a lot of theory and a very clear curriculum for increasing both flexibility and mobility. There is also some free material on Youtube as well as courses (15 to 50 USD) that target different areas of your body.

You could check out the following link as a starting point: https://www.precisionmovement.coach/front-splits-mobility-technique/

I have gone from a very stiff left hip to a much more flexible and mobile state. At the moment i am doing the Lower Limb Control and Hip flexibility Solution and feel very hopeful after 8 weeks of studying with them.

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inflexibility is caused by weak muscles. Such as not being able to touch one's toes or finding it hard to hold an L-Sit is the cause if hip flexor weakness in comparison to hip extensors.

And hip flexors are rarely trained, often completely excluded from strength programs, and every exercise that trains the hip flexors is deemed demonic.

The same thing happens with shoulder flexibility and therefore lack of it is not caused by pectorals being too strong as commonly believed but by rear Delta being too weak and under-trained.

Lack of flexibility in exercises like dips or deep cambered bar bench pressing is often the result of an underdeveloped sub-scapularis.

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It has been a while since I asked this question and meanwhile my views on this has become somewhat more nuanced (or so I like to think).

I now believe that foamrolling and static stretching opens up a 30 minutes window of opportunity for gaining a larger range of motion (ROM). This new larger ROM has to be solidified by acquiring strength in end range of motion. However it is also as much a matter of reprogramming the motor programs. When a full ROM was not possible, compensatory movement patterns took place. The central nervous system now have to relearn to use the full ROM to do the movement in the correct way. (1)

Another gripe I had with static stretching was that it seemed unnatural. I would read about balletdancers who would watch tv sitting in a split position, and this just seemed wrong. However 10 000 years ago people did not have chairs so they would spend a lot of time sitting on the ground. Some of it maybe in a butterfly pose and some maybe in a 90/90 stretch position. So in fact they were static stretching :-).

(1) Gray Cook How to improve hip mobility?

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I do not believe in static stretching.

So I believe that lack of flexibility is in fact really always a lack of strength. If I had really strong groin musculature my nervous system would allow me to do a full split.

I mean, I'm not saying that static stretching is the only thing, but I've known several contortionists, and some of them were surprisingly strong, and some of them just were not. They stretched and they were able to do things that hurt to just look at. And then there were a couple who just didn't stretch, exercise, anything, they could just bend.

Also, most of the people that I've heard complain about static stretching are fighting a strawman extreme position and oversimplification that no one actually thinks is true. Yoga for instance has been getting people to exert their muscles in a stretched state for at least 120 years now (probably much more, but I can't read Sanskrit).

Re: "Am I wrong?" Well, your first two references are mostly about how stretching isn't helpful in injury prevention (which is itself somewhat oversimplified), not about how stretching doesn't help you bend further. The second one even says "(re: stretching) it does actually increase flexibility. Even just plain old “static” stretching, and not even that much of it.".

Your third reference says what you're saying, the fourth one seems (aside from the abstract & graphs it's behind a paywall) to be about what happens once your muscle has gotten longer, and Rippetoe, aside from just generally being Rippetoe, seems to be advocating one way to get force delivered to a set of muscles in order to stretch them. Kinda vaguely to your point?

As to your title question "Can I increase flexibility by strengthening muscles?" possibly yes. You can also decrease flexibility by strengthening muscles. Doing things in a stretched state usually makes a body get used to that, and usually lets it stretch further next time. Exercising a muscle in that state will generally make it stretch faster than simply sitting in that stretched state, but does increase the risk of injury.

I'd be careful of words like "always", "everyone",... Try things, see what works for you right now, do more of that until it stops helping.

Good luck and stay safe.

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  • I think that you will find that most contortionists have underlying physiological conditions that allow that level of flexibility. Some achieve it through training (And those are likely the stronger ones) but the ones that (as you say) "just are" have a genetic reason for it. – JohnP Mar 3 at 14:16

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