The term Flexible is defined as “capable of being bent, usually without breaking.”

It’s the  “usually without breaking” part that can be problematic and painful!

Sports Medicine Docors today are treating Yoga injuries more regularly than ever before, especially for the knees and lower back.  Hot Yoga and Power Yoga classes are growing in popularity while the students are getting injured more and more often as they push the limits of their bodies with little, if any, regard to safety.

Some Yoga practices today require extreme bending of the knees and folding of the body into positions you will never utilize in daily life.  Some Physical Therapists question the value of this excessive joint flexibility citing some Yoga postures as most likely to cause tears in knee cartilage and produce back injuries. This naturally raises the question of the safety of extreme flexibility as performed in some, but not all, Yoga classes.

It sounds as though I am not a fan of Yoga – this is not true.  I understand it is a thousands of years old practice that is based on improving your physical, mental and spiritual self through postures, controlled breathing and meditation.

Doesn’t sound so bad, right? But Yoga has morphed into a vast array of practices that seem to go well beyond the spectrum of the original practice, while too many classes are too often being taught by self appointed experts.

What is the very best workout you can do from the seemingly thousands now available?

Answer: The one that you will do!

I have attempted many times in the past to incorporate a Yoga day into my weekly functional fitness schedule. Yoga day was always the day I would skip. Eventually I had to accept that I was just not that into Yoga.  I decided that I needed to become better informed so I completed the Ace Mind Body Specialist course to better understand Yoga as a practice along with proper forms and progressions.

Yoga can be an excellent fitness tool as part of your total functional fitness plan.

If Yoga motivates you to do something to stay physically fit, then you should keep doing it.

Any exercise is better than no exercise AND the best workout is the one you will do.

I have always incorporated Yoga moves along with mostly dynamic stretching into both my Warm-ups and Cool-downs which I perform every exercise day.

Plus I am once again attempting to include a Yoga day into my total fitness plan.

Still you need to be careful jumping into a Yoga practice by yourself or with a self appointed teacher – Ask yourself this: Do you really need to be able to tie your body into the shape of a pretzel in order to improve your fitness?

YogaWhich brings me back to the question of:

How Flexible do you need to be?

You only need to be as flexible as You need to be!

If you are not a dancer, gymnast or martial artist then you do not need to be so flexible that you are able to place your head between your knees and look up at your ass.

How important is that view anyway? If that view is important to you, might I suggest a mirror or a camera – much easier!

A certain degree of Flexibility, along with stability, is important to maintain a healthy you! That degree of stretchiness is really up to you.

Flexibility deteriorates with age. Without adequate flexibility, simple daily activities can become more difficult like getting out of a chair or off a toilet, lifting grandchildren or basic housekeeping.

A functional exercise program that includes regular flexibility, along with stability and resistance routines, will ensure independence as we age. Yoga can be a very important piece of your fitness.

When performed appropriately, flexibility training allows one to become more in tune with one’s body which can improve relaxation, mental and physical recovery from exercise and relief from stress.

Flexibility training usually refers to the lengthening of muscles. 

Joints are held together by ligaments and are further stabilized by muscles and tendons. Flexibility in joints is different than flexibility in muscles.

NOTE: There are people who suffer from joint hypermobility syndrome –  a condition wherein a joint easily moves beyond the normal range of motion expected for a particular joint. Though it may look cool to be so bendy, those who suffer with hypermobility syndrome often experience pain in the knees, fingers, hips, and elbows. These people should not be attempting to be more flexible, in fact just the opposite. Subject for another post.

Ligaments hold joints in alignment while allowing for normal range of motion. If you over-stretch a ligament it is no longer able to stabilize the joint which becomes more vulnerable to injury. The body can repair ligaments to a certain degree but they seldom return to their original state. Care should be given during Yoga or any stretching activity to never stretch the ligaments.

Tendons are at the ends of the muscles connecting them to the bones. Tendons are strong like ligaments with very limited elasticity, stretching only so far before injury.

Muscle exhibits elasticity and is meant to be both strong and flexible.

Flexibility training should be used only to increase the range of motion of weak or tight muscles but not to cause injury to tendons, ligaments and joints.

Stretching should never be painful! The goal should be to bring the muscle to the point of slight tension but not to push it so far beyond that you cause an injury or tear in muscle, tendon, or ligament.

Can you be too flexible?

As already answered above, yes for those who suffer from hypermobility syndrome.

Also yes if you do not include strength training along with flexibility training. Programs that produce overly flexible muscles without strength, i.e. only doing stretching routines without balancing them with resistance work, can lead to injury of the joints.

So how flexible do you need to be?

That depends on you. If you are healthy and able to get out of bed and perform daily activities with relative ease, then being able to tie yourself in a knot or look up from between your knees at your ass are probably unnecessary goals.

Your fitness program should include Core strength and stability, flexibility and resistance exercises – in balance.

You only need to be as flexible as you need to be!