Flexibility for Function

Nov 25th, 2013

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Category: Human Movement

Flexibility for Function

ROM and Transference to Function

One definition of Flexibility is “the range of movement (ROM) of a joint or series of joints”. So one would assume that if one increases that ROM you’ll be more flexible to let’s say – ‘throw that head kick for a first round knock-out’ or ‘turn and accelerate around the opposition to score and to win the game’ – you get the picture – but that’s not the case and just increasing your ROM doesn’t mean it will transfer to active movement patterns.


It’s about HOW you’ve developed that ROM and if you can use it in a way that matters!


There are many ways and methods that can increase ROM -but if the goal is the performance of a specific movement in which the neuromyofascial and skeletal systems are being recruited dynamically with the entire KiKinetic Chain than HOW you increase your ROM is the most important aspect to consider and not necessarily just focusing on the joint capsule or specific muscle tissue itself.i.e. Increasing the ROM of the hamstrings by performing  a classic lying supine (face up) passive (holding your extended leg) stretch at a point of mild tension for a specific duration. While this can increase the ROM of the hamstrings…..


Whenever do you lengthen your hamstrings passively in function without neural input and the reaction/contraction of other muscles???


Here’s a great research article from the renowned Prof. Stuart McGill and Janice Moreside that puts another ‘nail in the coffin of ‘passive stretching‘ as well as ‘core stability‘ training in the hope of it alone improving function: http://romanoroberts.com.mx/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Improvements_in_Hip_Flexibility_Do_Not_Transfer_to.1.pdf


Here’s a summary


In the words of the researchers, the study wanted to identify if improvements in passive hip ROM would result in changes to hip and spine motion during functional movements - the question at the heart of the study was to find out whether any increases in ROM obtained from a stretching program could be used in real life.


Although a small number of participants (24), both flexibility and core endurance was improved significantly over a 6 week interventionhowever there was minimal evidence that these changes resulted in changes to functional movement patterns.  

‘The large improvements in passive hip extension and rotation did not result in greater use of this newfound range during functional activities that were specifically chosen to challenge these motions.’

It is one of the first studies suggesting that increasing the ROM of a joint may not translate into function or change a default movement pattern.

Applying this Knowledge

The complexity of motor patterns and learned behaviour is certainly beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say the complex does not have to be ‘complicated’ when it comes to the application of ‘Flexibility for Function’ as there are some fundamental principles that can help guide our strategies:

  • Principle of SPECIFICITY - How you train is how you adapt

In the case above hip ext ROM was measured during a forward lunge (rear leg kept straight) and an active standing hip extension (maintaining an upright trunk). But a static passive stretch was applied to increase hip ext ROM. Either kneeling/standing hip flexor lunge type stretch or a modified Thomas Test statically held for 30secs etc.

  • Principles of Gravity/Ground Reaction Force/Mass and Momentum - Fundamental Sciences that need to be replicated in a Program

It seems so obvious that had the exercises mimicked the objective movement i.e. driving standing hip extension either with a posterior or anterior step dynamically would of had the desired transference of motion improvements. Also adding an overhead to posterior double arm reach would also add a top down driver as well as the step driving hip motion from the bottom up. This would then replicate the fundamental sciences more closely as above and which relate directly to how hip ROM was being measured.

  • Principle of being Neurological Driven - Ensure the Proprioceptors are firing the way they should

If you are stretching with traditional passive methods to increase ROM in positions that don’t mimic the posture and position and motion of your KiKinetic Chain during your movement patterns or in other words that don’t mimic how your joints/proprioceptors ‘feel and feedback’ to the neuromuscular system to perform the right type of muscular reactions then maybe you should think again! It’s all about the ‘motor patterns’ and replicating them!

Ask yourself do the exercises/movements/stretches you prescribe mimic the actual movement patterns during the performance of your client’s objectives?

Do they look similar?

If they do great – that’s the complex not being complicated!

Improvements in hip flexibility do not transfer to mobility in functional movement patterns
Moreside JM, McGill SM. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Oct

Gary Gray, Dr David Tiberio, Doug Gray Gray Institute

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