When Limber Becomes too Loose

By Hilary Achauer

In Coaching, ExPhysiology

July 28, 2016

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Theresa Larson explains when and how to stretch—and why some people shouldn’t stretch at all.

Theresa Larson’s physical-therapy patients come to her with a variety of ailments, but back pain is one of the most common complaints.

Recently, a woman who does CrossFit and yoga came to Larson complaining of low-back pain that radiated down her leg.

“What stretches should I be doing?” she asked.

Before answering, Larson asked the woman to bend at the waist with her legs straight and touch the ground.

“She flopped over and put her elbows on the ground,” Larson said. “I asked her if she felt any tension—any hamstring stretch at all—and she said no.”

Larson, a physical therapist specializing in movement and rehabilitation for athletes and adaptive athletes, told the woman she could help, but the treatment wouldn’t involve any stretching. The woman was too flexible. She lacked stability in her joints, and that was contributing to her low-back pain.

Stretching is something we all feel we should be doing, but according to Larson, not everyone needs to stretch. People with too much mobility frequently lack stability.

“When you bend over and touch your toes, you should be able to feel tension in your hamstrings and butt. If you don’t, you need more stability. So stretching more isn’t going to get you that. It’s going to hinder you,” Larson said.

If you can’t touch your toes, you could benefit from increased flexibility, but research shows traditional static stretching—holding a stretch for a few seconds to a few minutes—is better after the workout. This doesn’t mean you should jump into a workout cold, however. Movement-specific dynamic stretching is an essential part of any athletic pursuit, and proprioceptive-neuromuscular-facilitation (PNF) stretching is also a valuable tool for athletes.

Stretching is simply not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Before you join your friend for an epic mobility session, assess your flexibility, stability and the type of activity ahead.

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2 Comments on “When Limber Becomes too Loose”

1

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I love reading the blogs on this site, thanks!

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2

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I really enjoy most of the articles in Crossfit Journal and have learned much in reading this site, but I believe that this article is way off-base for a number of reasons. First, it seems to suggest that those who are flexible, almost by definition, lack sufficient stability. Nothing could be further from the truth. You need only think about gymnasts, dancers, and many martial artists (among others) who combine high degrees of flexibility and stability. Bottom line is that you can (and I believe should) develop both. I mean Greg Glassman himself has said that every Crossfitter should be able to do the splits, as well as lift substantial amounts of iron. Of course, there some rag-doll-like individuals who have substantial flexibility and lack stability, but these people are exceedingly rare in my experience. And while this rare breed may need to shift focus to stability, for the vast, vast majority of people this is a non-issue. Yet, the article seems to suggest that there may be equal numbers of people who need to back-off stretching as those who need to emphasize it more. In my view, the danger of suggesting that some people might want to avoid stretching is that most people will seize on any excuse to avoid flexibility work because it demands consistency, time, and often involves some degree of discomfort. Also, even those who invest some time in flexibility work often don't know how to stretch for optimal results, which has more to do with an understanding of alignment principles than the crude categories of static versus ballistic stretching. Poor technique in stretching is the real problem in terms of flexibility, but not one which the article addresses. I could go on, but I think you catch my drift.

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