Focusing on just working out is so…passé. Much to our bodies’ benefits, however, stretching and flexibility have become equal focuses in our wellness routines—and it seems that these days, everyone’s on a quest to make themselves nimble. That’s all fine and dandy—but just as you can go too hard with working out, I wondered if it was also possible to go too hard with flexibility. The answer? Well, sort of.
There are two groups of people: Those who have a normal anatomy, and those who have more lax ligaments. “You have the sort of people with a normal anatomy, who just stretch a lot and can be flexible, but they have normal muscles, tendons, ligaments, and collagen,” says David Geier, DO, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. “Then there are those who are naturally what we call ligamentously lax. It’s what we used to call double-jointed, even though that’s not technically correct.”
Being extra stretchy seems like it would be a good thing, but it can also lead to injuries if you’re not too careful. “Joint dislocations can happen with very little effort,” he says, adding that it’s not too much to worry about because you probably have an idea if you’re hypermobile. “People with this can do things like touch the tip of their thumb to their forearm, hyperextend their elbows, and things like that,” he says. “It’s more common in females than in males, and probably effects one to two percent of the population.” It’s not from stretching though—it’s just a genetic disposition, which means that people who are hypermobile still need to stretch.
“Many people who are flexible are not actually hypermobile, and many who are hypermobile are not truly flexible,” says Clifford Stark, DO, physician, orthopedic surgeon, and medical director of Sports Medicine at Chelsea. “Many people who are hypermobile will lack flexibility and complain of feeling tight, which I often attribute to the fact that their body’s using muscle spasm in an effort to protect from instability and laxity in the joints.” So it’s always good to stretch.
“Being overly flexible is not as much of a problem as it is to not have proper strength to match your flexibility levels.” —Austin Martinez, MS
If you’re not dealing with hypermobility, though—which is most of us—you, for the most part, can’t be too flexible. “In general, most people don’t have optimal amounts of flexibility,” says Austin Martinez, MS, director of education for StretchLab. “Being overly flexible is not as much of a problem as it is to not have proper strength to match your flexibility levels.” He explains that our body’s joints need the right amount of flexibility, mobility, and strength, so issues can arise when you have too much of one without equal levels of the other, which “creates an imbalance within the joint, predisposing you to injury.”
This is why it’s key to balance your strength and stretching routines—Martinez points out that you need an equal ratio between your flexibility and strength. “There’s no use having high levels of strength if you lack the mobility and flexibility to move optimally,” he says. “It can be hindering to be as flexible as a pretzel if you don’t have the strength to protect your joints and support your body through movement.” It’s like Mary Kate and Ashley: You can’t have one (strength) without the other (flexibility). So rep it out then stretch it out in equal measure, for the sake of your bod.