Have you ever played “Would You Rather” where you have to choose between two options? It can be frustrating when you really want to choose both, but you aren’t allowed to. “Would You Rather” is just a fun game that usually ends up in laughter, but the real world is also full of false choices: Low cost or high quality products? Strict or compassionate parenting? Structure or creativity? Book sense or street sense? Smart or beautiful? The fitness world is not an exception. One false choice I often encounter: Which is more important in a workout - strength or flexibility?
Exercise that is primarily strength-focused with little priority given to stretching can result in compressed joints, reduced range of motion, lack of mobility, chronic pain, and often the need for joint replacements. Exercise that focuses on stretching without strengthening can lead to overstretched ligaments and loose, unstable joints, increased risk of tears and dislocated joints. Neither sounds like an ideal choice.
Many in the fitness industry consider stretching to be of secondary importance to strengthening. This may be true with static stretching, where a limited number of major muscles are stretched and held for 30 to 60 seconds. Studies about the benefits of static stretching are inconclusive. Some indicate that static stretching is not effective in preventing injury and increasing flexibility; some show that static stretching prior to sprinting can actually worsen performance; and others advocate static stretching only after an intense workout in order to get the knots out. This limited view of stretching causes many to view stretching and strengthening as polar opposites. However creator of Essentrics® Miranda Esmonde-White believes that they go hand in hand:
“If strengthening were the masculine side of fitness, then stretching would be the feminine; they would be the alpha and omega of each other. As the two most basic forces in nature, one cannot exist without the other.”
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in their book Built to Last, reject the "Tyranny of the OR" and embrace the "Genius of the AND" for business, and we should do the same for fitness. Our bodies are built to last a lifetime, and we too must reject the false choices “OR” presents and embrace the freedom and power of “AND”. True fitness requires both strength and flexibility.
Essentrics® is an exercise program where the muscles are simultaneously lengthened and strengthened. This dynamic stretching decompresses tight joints and challenges the muscles in this lengthened position for a strong “AND” flexible body that offers the benefits of pain relief and injury prevention.
The next time someone asks me which is more important – strength or flexibility, I’ll just say “yes”!