Flexibility training has been a hot-button issue lately. People often refer to flexibility, stretching, or mobility training injury prevention. Of course preventing injury decreases your recovery time and increases your training longevity. But can it directly improve your strength and muscle mass?
I found proper flexibility training to be one of the best muscle building secrets. But flexibility training must be done properly in order to produce measurable gains in strength and hypertrophy. The key here is to make sure that your flexibility training is made-up almost entirely of active flexibility training.
You see, there are two broad categories of flexibility training: active and passive flexibility. Active flexibility is determined by the flexibility of the muscles and tendons when they are generating force. Passive flexibility is determined by the flexibility of the muscles and tendons when they are not producing force. Let’s look at an example of each.
Active flexibility is demonstrated in the classic dumbbell fly motion. The pectorals are generating force throughout the movement. Your level of active flexibility is determined by how deep into the fly you can go.
Passive flexibility is demonstrated in the doorway pectoral stretch. This is where you grab onto the side of a doorframe and turn away from it so that your chest gets a good stretch. Since the pectoral muscles are relaxed and not generating force (or at least the force is minimal) during this stretch, this is known as passive flexibility.
As mentioned before, I have found active flexibility work to be much more productive than passive flexibility work. So much so that I have eliminated all passive flexibility work from the programs of my athletes, except under special circumstances. This has lead not only to faster recovery and a lower rate of injury, but also to faster strength and muscle gains.
Active flexibility training is one of the best muscle building secrets when applied correctly. For more information on active flexibility training and how it should be incorporated into your program, refer to the “Super Stretch” e-book or to my chapter in Christian Thibaudeau’s “Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods.”
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