We’ve all had them, the humans who come into class disclaiming that they are “double jointed” and that they rarely “feel” stretches. They sit in the very front row and easily wrap their leg around their waist and head three times while lightly touching their middle toe to the tip of their nose with a soft smirk on their face.
Who are these special species of humans and why do they have these bendy abilities? Meet Hyperflexible Haley. Haley has low muscle tone and tends to hang on her ligaments and joint capsules. She has no sense in her body of where her end ranges are and therefore has little to no control of her movements (which are usually done extremely fast. She sometimes takes multiple yoga classes in a week because they “feel good, but are not challenging.” Haley often complains of pain or discomfort in her wrist, ankles, knees, neck and shoulders and sometimes suffers from headaches. How in the hell do you deal with Haley? How do you get her out of pain and make her feel the work?
👉🏻 Haley, meet #controlyourself.
I personally have a ton of hyperflexible clients and most of them have pain/discomfort during training and/or life and they always want to stretch but never really feel when, where or how they are supposed to be working. Stretching is a satisfying feeling for them and gives short term relief to any “tightness” or discomfort. Because of this, these stretches turn into a maladaptive habits which can perpetuate the pain cycle. I have had to do quite a bit of research and experimentation via Functional Range Conditioning work and have found a few ways to be effective in increasing lean mass and decreasing pain.
· Maximum Expansive Breathing: I discovered that most of these clients, as most people do, tend to overuse their secondary respiratory muscles. Because their joints and ligaments are so lax, chronic headaches, neck, mid back and shoulder pain can occur from the constant breathing repetitions they are not designed to perform. Teaching them how to breath properly via the diaphragm has proven to substantially decrease pain. It is also a great way to teach intra abdominal pressure which is the necessary first step for teaching them how to maintain tension.
· (Full) CARs: Usually when these guys perform CARs, they put themselves in situations where they are overstretching their connective tissues which circles back to the feeling of needing to constantly stretch. Due to their lack of ability to maintain tension, it can sometimes create more pain. I prefer to use partial CARs or axial rotations as they are a smaller range to work with which helps maintain some sort of end ranges. Using tools like a grip ball or light loads to force them to create tension will slowly build ownership of ROM.
· PAILs, PAILs, PAILs: These clients need way more strength than they do stretch. I find it extremely helpful to put them in positions way outside of max stretch and perform a low level (25-30%) PAIL and just hold it anywhere from 45-60 seconds. The range should be one of stretch, but one that is challenging to control. That being said, they may not even feel a stretch and that’s totally expected and fine. The input from the PAIL is way more important. We are giving them information about what tension and work feels like. The side bonus of the input is that it can be an analgesic for pain.
· Put them into positions where they have to feel the regressive tissue: “Flexy-bendies” are usually going to energy leak in the trunk due to lack of control. Putting them into positions where they have no choice but to work is going to be beneficial. A bench supported hip extension or a straight leg Passive Range Hold with a wall behind them are great examples of no cheat options. I have them hold these for up to 15-60 seconds to build strength and awareness.
· ENG (eccentric neural grooving) with special attention to control all the way to the end: By working the eccentric, we are giving them a set of brakes or control with a side bonus for building mass/resiliency. I use any where from 3-10 counts (starting small of course). Watch as they get close to the end of movements as that’s where things tend to just release and they start to hang out. I use landmarks like a box under their butt in a squat or a block or pad under their chest in a push up to give them movement parameters which is beneficial for educating their CNS on where to actually stop.
Some of this work can be unfulfilling or can feel meaningless in the beginning. After some practice, they will learn how to “find the hard work.” As with anything, if you stick with it, the magic with start to happen. Once Haley starts to have more control, movements will have tension and will actually start to feel more challenging. Then, we can starting loading and she gets better and better.
-All from a former “Haley.”
Soho Strength Lab, New York City