During my 18 years of coaching the biggest revelation I can share with you is that people excel at a sport/activity that there body does with relative ease. Some will struggle, but often find it hard to improve and are injury prone. I first came across this at a National swim team that I screened as part of a sport performance review. The revelation was that all 15 had hypermobile shoulder, 100%, 15 out of 15. At this point I realised that to be able to swim efficiently, you must be able to swing your arm around without any limiting resistance from local muscles. Lots of mobility is great then? Well yes and no.
A hypermobile joint is defined as ‘a condition in which someone is able to move and bend their joints beyond a recommended range’. It happens due to a genetic condition that allows the cells with the ligament to change their structure from a round cell to an oval one, resulting in a longer length. Unfortunately, it can’t be shortened (apart from surgery) and every time you stretch you will load/stretch the ligament and not the muscle/tendon, which makes stretching a negative.
Why can hypermobility benefit performance?
- Hypermobility allows angles to be achieved that creates efficient movement. Efficient movement means a low level of energy use, and a low level of energy use means you can carry on for longer.
- For sports such a ballet, dance, gymnastics and martial arts the ability to achieve unusual joint angles helps the body achieve aesthetically please angles or in martial arts, the oppositions face.
- Sports that don not involve impacting a solid surface such as swimming and silks, the loss of stiffness doesn’t have an effect on performance.
- You look like a Yoga/Pilates God or Goddess.
I remember once walking up stairs to a Pilates class in Nuffield Health gym near London Bridge, and as I walked up, I saw several vertical legs above the window line. Realizing I was about to be the worst in the class (stupid thing to think, we all start somewhere), I then spun around and lifted some weights instead. 99% of people that go to a Pilates class were very flexible before starting but didn’t realise it because they don’t know how bad other people are!
Why can hypermobility limit performance?
- Having lots of flexibility results in lower muscles force as the joint goes beyond the recommended range.
- Hip and knee Hypermobility will reduce the stiffness that is needed to run well. Rather than the muscles contracting and stabilising the pelvis when you hit the floor, they absorb the effort and slow your speed.
- There is an association (so its not everyone) that hyper mobility can cause increase joint issues in the areas affected.
- Higher risk of dislocations both in non-contact and contact sports.
Do not train to be hypermobile, I see lots of females (some males) trying to be able to do a vertical spine cobra or be able to get their palms to the floor. If you do find you have a hypermobile joint, stop stretching that joint, literally, you are doing more harm than good. Even though your muscles ‘feel’ tight you must not stretch them, all you will do it stretch the ligaments, and it’s the one-time I promote foam rolling the muscle instead.
If you’d like more information and the tests to see if you have any hyper-mobile joints, click here to see the tests.