Fact or Fiction: Lifting Weights will Decrease Your Flexibility

weightsMost people realize that flexibility is an important physical attribute and any good health and fitness program should help you improve or at least maintain your existing level of flexibility. Poor flexibility causes numerous problems including pain and injury, so it is important to avoid doing things that decrease your flexibility. Lifting weights is an activity that is acknowledged to have benefits for virtually everyone, yet some people avoid it, because they don’t want to lose flexibility.

There is still some confusion about whether or not lifting weights causes a decrease in flexibility and unlike my previous fact or fiction posts, this one does not have a definitive fact or fiction response. It is more accurate to say that lifting weights can decrease your flexibility, but it doesn’t have to. It is certainly possible to lift heavy weights as your primary form of exercise and increase your flexibility at the same time. However, another person could follow a similar exercise program and lose flexibility.

There are a number of factors that determine if lifting weights will decrease your flexibility or not, but the most significant one is probably stretching. If you lift weights and consistently follow a good stretching routine, then you will most likely not have any problems with losing flexibility. On the other hand, if you do not stretch at all, there is a good chance you will lose flexibility when lifting weights.

Technically, the act of lifting weights does result in slightly shortened muscles, but this also happens during most other type of exercise as well. When your muscles contract, they end up being a little shorter than before the contraction started, especially when you contract your muscles very strongly, such as when lifting heavy weights. This shortening is only temporary as long as your muscles are stretched back to their normal length after your workout is finished.

If you lift weights or contract your muscles during other activities and do not stretch at all, then your muscles will stay in a partially shortened position. The amount of muscle shortening after each workout is so small that you will not notice anything, but it will become significant over time. After exercising without stretching for an extended period of time, you will have a decrease in flexibility and probably an increase in stiffness or pain as well. To keep things in perspective, this muscle shortening also happens with people who don’t exercise at all, so decreases in flexibility can’t all be blamed on exercise.

One of the most common reasons for muscle shortening and flexibility loss is sitting for extended periods of time. If you sit all day, your hip flexors and other muscles will lose flexibility, because a muscle kept in a shortened position will tend to stay in a shortened position, even if it is not being actively contracted. As a side note, muscle shortening and flexibility losses from sitting are also major causes of low back stiffness and pain. Again, this shortening can be prevented by stretching or even just getting up and moving around at regular intervals.

Muscles kept in a shortened position and muscular contractions can both lead to a loss of flexibility but they are not the only problems. With regards to lifting weights, another factor that affects flexibility is the range of motion of the exercises. Specifically, when people lift weights using short ranges of motion, it makes it more likely for flexibility decreases to occur.

Performing exercises through only a portion of your full range of motion simultaneously keeps the muscle contracted and in a shortened position, so it basically combines the previously discussed issues that decrease flexibility. If you perform a lot of short range of motion exercises and do not stretch, you have a definite recipe for losing flexibility. In addition, constantly exercising a muscle through only a partial range of motion encourages muscle imbalances and/or weakness in the non-exercised range of motion.

On the other hand, performing weight training exercises through a full range of motion can actually improve your flexibility, especially if you currently have poor flexibility. As previously stated, keeping or moving your muscles in ways that do not utilize their full range of motion will eventually lead to losses in flexibility, but the opposite is true as well. Moving or exercising your muscles in ranges of motion greater than what your muscles usually experience, but still within normal limits, encourages muscle lengthening and flexibility increases.

When looking at all of this information together, the issue of whether or not lifting weights will decrease your flexibility becomes clear. From a practical standpoint it is fiction, because you don’t have to worry about lifting weights reducing your flexibility as long as you have good lifting habits, including performing exercises with correct form through their entire range of motion. Finally, and probably most importantly, regardless of whether you lift weights, do other types of exercise, or don’t exercise at all, stretching is essential for maintaining and improving flexibility.

About Ross Harrison 14 Articles

Hi, my name is Ross Harrison and I am a personal trainer in Austin, TX. I have been a certified personal trainer (NSCA) since 1996 and I am also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), nutritional consultant, and I have completed numerous other courses and certifications over the years. I also have a degree in psychology from Grinnell College. Over the course of my career I have been an independent personal trainer working with  clients in their homes or various other locations, as well as a trainer at a large gym. I also have experience working in a privately owned health food store  and a large chain supplement store.

After almost a decade in the health and fitness industry, I became frustrated and discouraged by the way many personal trainers and gyms were so focused on making money, even at the expense of their client’s success. As a result, I decided the only way for me to feel good about being a personal trainer would be to start my own business. That way I could create my own policies and make sure I stayed true to what I believe a personal trainer should  be. Then in 2005, I did just that when I started my personal training business called Precision Health & Fitness.

I chose to name my business Precision Health & Fitness, because it accurately reflects the approach I take as a personal trainer. I believe personal training should be completely focused on the client and since every person is different, every program should be precisely designed to reflect that individual’s specific goals, needs, abilities, and lifestyle. I know many
personal trainers say this, but more and more trainers are just repeating the same programs with numerous clients or using tools, such as computer programs,  to self-generate “custom” workouts or nutritional programs for their clients. In my mind these are examples of mass-produced training programs, not personal training.

I also feel that many conventional personal training practices, such as making clients sign contracts, not allowing refunds for purchased sessions, and even paying by the hour, ultimately take the focus off the client’s needs. Therefore, I made the conscious decision to stay away from any policy or practice that I felt detracted from focusing on my clients, even though other people have told me I am limiting my income or discounting the value of my services too much.

For example, my clients pay session prices instead of an hourly rate. This may not sound like a big difference, but it means I can spend more time with my clients when they need it. Many of the people I work with are just starting to exercise or have never been taught proper exercise technique. By having a set time limit on my sessions, I can take the extra time to ensure my clients learning to perform exercises correctly. This not only ensures their safety, but also leads to more effective workouts and better long-term results. Of course, if a client has a set schedule or a limited amount of time, then I will make sure the workouts I create fit those time constraints.

Another benefit of not having timed sessions is it gives clients the opportunity to talk or ask questions about health and fitness or their workout routine. I have never been a big fan of trainers who take the “do it because I said so” approach to health and fitness. I encourage clients to ask questions and I believe that becoming more educated about exercise and nutrition and
learning how your actions affect your results is an important component of health and fitness programs. By making a link between your actions and your results, it will help motivate you to stick to your  program.

This is just one example of how I my business is focused my clients, but there are also other ways Precision Health & Fitness stands out from other trainers and gyms. For instance, I do not have clients sign contracts and they are free to discontinue their training program at any time. I even let my clients determine their own payment plan, which they can change at any time.
Some clients pay for a number of sessions in advance, some pay after each session, and some pay after they have completed a number of sessions. It is all about trying to make things as easy and convenient for my clients as  possible.

That is not to say the workouts themselves are easy, because every workout is designed to be challenging, so it will create a stimulus for improvement. At the same time, I never design workouts that are designed to make  people stiff and sore for a week or have trouble walking up stairs. I know some  people like those workouts because they think the harder they work, the better  their results will be, but that is only true up to a point. It is definitely  possible to exercise too hard or too much and excessively challenging workouts  are almost always counterproductive over the long-run.

When you really think about it, shouldn’t long-term health and fitness improvements be the goal of a personal training program? I believe that it certainly is, although I know there are people who would disagree with me. However, for the people who just want to push themselves as hard as possible regardless of the long-term consequences, there is not shortage of personal trainers who are willing to do just that. My background and personal experiences  have made me believe that long-term health and success should never be sacrificed for short-term gain and that is the philosophy I apply to my personal  training programs.

Speaking of my background and personal experiences, exercise and nutrition have both been very important parts of my life since I was young. When  I was seven, I developed a serious hip infection that destroyed the femur head  (ball that connects to the hip) in my right leg and left me with a fused right  hip. At the time I was told there was almost no chance that I would ever
walk again, but by working hard and keeping up with my exercises, I was able to regain the ability to walk and eventually allowed to play most sports and participate in almost any other activity I wanted.

However, even with continued exercise, I still experienced hip pain that increased over the years. Then when I was 30 I was finally old enough to get a total hip replacement, which resulted in an almost complete reduction in my pain, but I was also left with a new set of restrictions. Since hip replacements  wear out over time, it means the more stress I put on my hip by doing things  like playing sports or running, the sooner I will need a new hip replacement.  Needless to say, my activities have drastically changed since my hip replacement  and I no longer play sports, but I still exercise regularly to remain healthy  and stay in shape.

As for nutrition, it has played an equally important role in my life. When I was younger, I had very unhealthy eating habits, was overweight (or husky  as my clothes were called), constantly felt run down, and got sick frequently.  By the time I was 18 I was trying to eat healthier, but I had already caused my  body and immune system enough distress to be hospitalized for
pneumonia and I  developed a bad case of ulcerative colitis, which is an incurable intestinal  condition where treatment involves just trying to keep it in remission. Simply  put, I had a lot of health issues for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, I became more educated about nutrition and I made eating healthier a priority in my life. My improvements were not immediate, but over time my energy level increased and my immune system improved to the point where I rarely ever get sick anymore. Also I have been able to keep my ulcerative issues to a minimum just by eating healthy (it is generally kept in remission through medication) and by working on managing my stress level. Due to  my improved nutritional habits, I can easily say that I am far healthier and feel much better in my mid 30’s than I ever did as a teenager.

The reason I included all this information is because it explains what motivates me as a trainer and why I care so much about health and fitness. My personal history has also shaped my training philosophy and it is the reason why I always focus on the long-term outcome of a training program, instead just thinking about short-term improvement. It is also why I try to get people to shift their priority from what they can do to look better and think more about what they can do to make their body feel better throughout their lifetime.

If you eat healthy, exercise properly, and do other things that make your body feel better, you will be doing the same things you need to make your body look better. On the other hand, if your sole focus is on making your body look better, it does guarantee that your training program will make your body feel better years down the road. Workout programs that cause you to perform
exercises incorrectly, use poor posture, or develop muscle imbalances can still result in you looking better, but they can also lead to premature muscle and joint aches and pains years later.

It is completely natural to be focus on the present and the immediate future, but people frequently do not think enough about how they want their body  to feel in 20 or 30 years down the road, at least not until they start developing some health related problems. Personal training success is often measured my how much weight is lost or how much muscle is gained, but I believe that is not the best way to think about success. Even if you lose fat, if you are frequently sore or in pain, I would not consider that to be successful, except maybe if you are a competitive athlete or someone who is required to push  your body to the limit.

Personal training and health and fitness in general, should be about creating a better overall quality of life and not only about looking better. Of course, looking better is almost always a primary goal, but it should not the only focus of a program. I know from first hand experience how much of a positive impact a well-designed exercise and nutrition program can have on virtually every aspect of your life. All too often, people accept aches and pains as normal consequences of aging, but in most cases you can make a significant improvement in how you feel.

I want to leave you with a final thought, regardless of your current situation, you are capable of improvement and you probably capable of achieving much more than you might think. I wish you success in all your health and  fitness endeavors and please contact me at ross@precisionhealth-fitness.com  or (512) 537-3377 if you have any comments or questions.

29 Comments

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