As athletes, flexibility affects almost every aspect of your training. From flexibility in the shoulders to the hamstrings to the ankles, the range of motion in the joints and muscles is pivotal for every sportsperson’s performance. However, some individuals are noted to be nimbler than others — could flexibility be determined by genetics?
For starters, there are two main factors that influence flexibility — native physical makeup and the way in which the athlete trains. Physical factors include components such as age, sex, body and bulk, and bone size and structure, while training factors include muscular balance and general level of physical activity.
Intuitively speaking, the older an athlete is, the less flexible he will be. Younger individuals tend to display more flexibility, but this ability wanes as they grow older. This explains why master weightlifters might have to do less with the full-squat method of catching their lifts and incorporate high-catch power snatches and cleans into their training programmes as they age. Aside from age, the sex of an individual also frequently determines flexibility. Women are generally said to display greater flexibility than men, especially in the shoulders and hip joints. However, women also tend to have tighter hips, quads, ankles, hamstrings and glutes due to lifestyle factors, which means that stretching those areas is particularly necessary.
Aside from this, body bulk also influences flexibility. A larger body — be it because of muscle or fat — makes it more difficult to get into flexible positions. In fact, lifters who perform lots of squats will realise that their range of motion decreases, as the size of their legs grows leading to the upper and lower parts of the limbs only being able to be compressed to a certain extent. One’s natural bone size and structure also affects flexibility. Individuals who have lighter bones generally possess greater flexibility, though they may face greater difficulty gaining the muscle required for weightlifting.
But physical composition is not the only main factor that determines flexibility — the way in which you train also plays a role. An equilibrium in strength in all of the muscles is necessary to ensure that imbalances in strength or muscular development is prevented, which averts the corollary development of inflexibility. In addition to this, an individual’s overall level of physical activity also affects flexibility. A simple example would be the observation of squatting in Asia. In Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, the act of squatting is a common practice. Because Asians squat on a customary basis, they never lose that area of flexibility. Conversely, most Westerners opt to sit in chairs in place of squatting, which results in greater inflexibility in the legs and hips over time.
All of these factors reveal that while we may be born with flexibility, a multitude of other factors influence our ability to retain said flexibility as we grow older. While we may not be able to control our native physical composition, we can change the way in which we train to improve overall flexibility. So be sure to do your stretches and mobility routines diligently — you wouldn’t want to becomes as stiff as a board!