Does Lifting Weights Affect Your Flexibility

Conventional wisdom suggests that weightlifting and resistance training decrease flexibility. The logic follows that increasing muscle mass without efficiently incorporating stretching exercises will decrease flexibility. Lifting weights conjures images in the mind of bulky bodybuilders unable to wrap their arms around their chests.

Recent research, however, has challenged this conventional narrative and alternatively proposes that full-body resistance training may be even more effective at increasing range of motion and flexibility than simply stretching. This finding means that flexibility benefits may be added on to the existing strength and muscle benefits of resistance training. You may soon want to trade in those extra static stretching exercises for full-range resistance training on your next trip to the gym.

Resistance Training & Strength Training

What is Resistance Training?

Resistance training is a category of physical strength-training exercises that uses weights or resistance to induce muscular contraction that builds muscle strength and mass. People commonly use body weight, weighted objects, or other resistance equipment including:

  • Barbells
  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance bands
  • Kettlebells
  • Machines
  • Medicines balls

in their resistance training at home or at the gym. It is a common notion that stretching before and after resistance training is necessary to properly warm up and stimulate muscles, or to induce recovery following a workout, but the benefits may not extend past these features. Contrary to popular belief, stretching may not actually contribute to flexibility as much as the core resistance component of exercising.

Does Resistance Training Increase Flexibility?

It may come as a surprise to learn that recent research has suggested that the common techniques of resistance training listed above may be just as effective, if not more effective, than the average static stretching regimen at improving flexibility. An extensive review of the scientific literature failed to produce evidence that the strength and muscle-building features of resistance training negatively impacted flexibility.

Instead, researchers conducted a study that compared the flexibility effects from a group of college-aged volunteers split into two groups. The first group was randomly assigned a traditional static stretching exercise program while the second group was assigned to a strength training regimen for a total of five weeks. The study also incorporated a control group that did no exercises over the study period. The exercises in each group focused on the muscles and associated joints of the hamstring, hip, shoulder, and knee.

Strength and Flexibility of The Muscles

The researchers tested both strength and flexibility of the targeted muscles and joints at the conclusion of the study. The results of the final test revealed the following:

  • Stretching and strength training increased hamstring flexibility equally better than those who did not exercise.
  • The effects of stretching on hip flexibility was indistinguishable from the no exercise control group, but the resistance training group performed exceedingly well compared to the other two.
  • The resistance training group measured improved performance at building knee strength.
  • No difference was detected between the three groups with regard to shoulder extension flexibility.

The results of this study demonstrate that resistance and strength training not only improved strength in participants, the explicit goal of resistance training, but it also improved flexibility. There were even circumstances when the flexibility benefits of strength-training exceeded the effects of the stretching regimen. This does not mean that stretching is not important in exercise programs, but its contribution to increasing flexibility may be overstated.

How Do You Increase Flexibility Through Resistance Training?

The important thing to note about this study is that the results measured multiple muscle and joint groups throughout the body from the shoulders to the hips, to the knees. It goes without saying that resistance training that focuses on one muscle group like the chest or arms will not benefit most other muscles or joints in the body like in the knees and hip.

In order for resistance training to be effective in improving flexibility, it should incorporate full-body strength exercises to accumulate the greatest benefits. A well-balanced routine will contribute to greater strength and flexibility evenly distribute throughout the body, which aids the body at performing at its most efficient level.

Take Olympic weightlifters as an example, whether professional or recreational. Olympic weightlifting requires full-body compound movements that coordinate the knees and legs through the arms and shoulders in a single movement. Olympic weightlifting helps build muscle and strength in all these groups, but it also requires flexibility at each stage of the lift. Performing the lifts allows the weighted and resistance components to contribute to a greater range of motion throughout the joints involved in the movement.

Increase Flexibility

Olympic weightlifting might not appeal to many people, but a simpler routine can achieve similar benefits. A full-body workout maneuver weighted through a diverse range of motions. The full range of motion necessary to perform kettlebell movements targets many of the same muscles and joints mentioned already, and sometimes even more.

The article “Kettlebell Guide” from Kettlebell Krusher explains that those who only train with kettlebells outperform those who do more traditional exercises like pull-ups, running, or push-ups. This routines work the full body while building strength and flexibility and shredding through calories.

More research is necessary to explore the potential for flexibility effects from full-body resistance training, but these early results confirm the known strength- and muscle-building benefits of a proper strength training program. They even suggest that the benefits of resistance training even extend into the domain of flexibility. This does not mean that stretching should be dropped from your exercise routine or regimen. Stretching still serves an important function in preparing your muscles for exercise and properly recovering after a tough workout.

However, it just might be best not to expect stretching to dramatically improve your flexibility. It seems as though resistance training is better at accomplishing these goals in addition to their core function of increasing strength and muscle mass. It also contributes to an overall balanced fitness level when pursued throughout the body’s full range of motion. Next time you hit the gym, you may want to trade those extra stretching exercises for a few full-body resistance training workouts.

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