The power of the word FLEX is undeniable ...but add the “ibility” to the end of it and we all of a sudden have different ideas of what that word can mean. So, what is flexibility and why should it be of the utmost importance to you as a bodybuilder or trainer? Aside from making sure you can bend over and pick your weights up off the floor without pulling a hamstring, flexibility - along with fluidity, confidence, and a happy face - makes for a bodybuilding champion.
What Really is “Flexibility”?
Without getting too technical or boring, in the fitness world, “flexibility” could be defined as “the range of motion of your joints or the ability of your joints to move freely”. Without lowering the tone, think of those lucky folks who can easily fold in half both directions depending on which way they fall of out bed, or other fancy party tricks that wow, like touching your thumbs to the inside of the wrists. These natural bendy types are structurally born for maximum joint flexibility. Many people think this type of flexibility is an indication of their physical fitness or health when in fact it is a structural gift of genes. This is commonly referred to as hyperflexibility or hypermobility.
However, “flexibility” also refers to the mobility of your muscles or tendons, which allows for more movement around the joint. This second type of flexibility is more an indication of physical fitness and health than joint mobility because it is difficult and requires dedicated training to build muscle and mass at the same time you retain healthy mobility of the muscles and tendons. If Arnie could pull off an “Eka Pada Sirsasana” (Foot over the Back of the Head Pose) we’d all be well impressed. Well, because this is where FLEX (your muscle and not your joint) becomes essential to your practice and your ability to excel in bodybuilding.
Flex and The important Kind of Flexibility
If i were to define flexibility; I would say it is more the ability of the mind to activate the muscle whilst sustaining a contraction through a range of movement. now ask yourself this. Speaking from experience as a pro bikini competitor and formally UK Body Fitness champion; resistance training reduces range of movement significantly, this is because whilst the muscle fibres are being damaged through training; they repair to they become stronger and thicker as the body wants to protect further damage. When the fibres become thicker and stronger they lose their elasticity and become tighter and shorter which not only impacts on posture (which isn't a great look on stage) but it can also means that the capacity of the muscle is not able to be fully presented. Gaining muscle mass therefore decreases flexibility.
Could flexibility be used therefore to gain muscle mass? Improving muscle range whilst being able to sustain its contraction will not only realign those damaged muscle fibres, improve circulation and but it will improve the contractibility of the muscle as more fibres are activated therefore it is inevitable that the muscle that is recruiting more fibres is going to become stronger. Needless to say the training programme should not be over killed with flexibility however it is a component of fitness not to be overlooked. Take a look at an elite gymnast; they have incredible muscle definition, movement and strength they don't spend hours in a gym with only with split body part routines, they have power, strength, flexibility, core control and aesthetically their physiques are amazing. If you combined some of their methods with bodybuilding then maybe there would be an incredible physique.
Flexibility affects Stage Performance and Overall Bodybuilding Performance.
If I want to look my best and be able to get into my best poses then I need to have fluidity of movement so I need to be flexible. We have all watched at some point good old “pumping iron’ and in this Arnie himself says about opening out the poses to make you expand on stage, in order to be able to do this you need to be flexible. Lets look specifically at bikini athlete. In the gym; for her glutes and lats to be activated the hip flexors and shoulders need to be nice and lose. The physique of a female competitor requires good development in the shoulders and lats ‘the wings’ as well as good posture. On stage she needs her glutes to pop, her lats to spread therefore she will need to be able to contract and control the glutes automatically whilst tilting the pelvis in a rear pose.
A frequently common problem when coaching posing for many bikini girls is the lack of hip movement in a front pose to enable the body to be positioned to show the best shape and angles to the body. When it comes to a side pose good rotation of the lower back is required whilst being able to contract the core to twist and hold the stomach flat. There is much more to posing than meets the eye from watching so when a competitor asks when should I start posing, my response is ‘the day you start prepping’. I love to see the development of girls posing from when they first come to me either the UKBFF official posing workshops or the one to ones, its all part of the transformation journey.
How to Get Beyond Your Toes - help Strike Your Pose
A good hip opening exercise. Holding a lunge position whilst sitting into the hip and contract the glute at the same time will force that hip flexor to loosen. Hold this for around 60 seconds each leg and do this at the beginning of your session as part of your warm up.
Another great lower back opener is to sit on the floor with the feet wide apart whilst sitting up straight, when the hips relax take the feet wider. Again spending 5 minutes a day on this will really help improve your flexibility and try to contract and relax the leg muscles during this stretch to begin to feel muscle control.
To open up the shoulders and chest; holding a towel or an exercise band take the arms above the head and slowly take the arms over the back of head, whilst doing this contract the lats and really feel the lats engaging.