Does Weight Training Make You Less Flexible?


Does Weight Training Make You Less Flexible?

How flexible are you? If you’re fairly flexible, you can bend over and touch your toes. Unfortunately, not everyone has the litheness to do this. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t touch your hands to the floor without bending your knees. Factors other than flexibility, such as your body type, make it harder or easier to accomplish this task.

For example, if you have long arms, a long trunk, and short legs, it’s easier for you to touch the floor relative to someone with short arms and long legs. Where it becomes concerning is if your flexibility changes quickly over time. For example, you can almost touch the floor with your hands and 2 years later you’re not even coming close. You need to ask yourself why you’re losing flexibility.

Flexibility also decreases with age. In fact, studies show that you lose about 5% of your flexibility every decade. Genetics and gender are also a factor. Some people have more natural flexibility and women tend to be more flexible than men. It doesn’t help if you sit at a desk most of the day staring at a computer screen. Sitting too much causes your hip flexors to shorten. That’s why it’s important to stand up, stretch, and walk around throughout the day. Flexibility is important for reducing your risk of injury.

Most of the flexibility you have comes from muscle elasticity. Tendons and ligaments aren’t major contributors to flexibility since they don’t move very much. If you’ve had a muscle injury, scar tissue can limit how supple that muscle is. Some joints are also more flexible than others.

Weight Training and Flexibility 

There’s a common belief that working with weights makes you less flexible. Surprisingly, the opposite may be true. Weight training may actually enhance flexibility. In a study carried out at the University of North Dakota, researchers compared the effects of weight training and static stretching on flexibility in adults.

In this study, participants were divided into three groups. One group took part in a 5-week weight training program consisting of full range-of-motion exercises. A second group did 5 weeks of static stretching. A third group did no physical activity. The results showed that gains in flexibility were similar between the weight training group and the group that did static stretches. As expected, the inactive group showed no gains in flexibility.

So, weight training may be comparable to static stretching for improving flexibility. The key is to use full range-of-motion when you train. Partial reps and static holds won’t give you a boost in flexibility. For example, doing full range-of-motion squats helps improve hip flexibility. Greater hip flexibility, in turn, will, in turn, increase your ability to go deep on squats. Partial reps have their benefits but they don’t build flexibility.

The one situation where weight training works against flexibility is if you develop such large muscles that it limits movement of the adjacent joint. If you carry a lot of body fat, it can also restrict movement at a joint. However, you need a significant amount of fat or muscle development for this to have a big impact on flexibility.

Other Ways to Improve Flexibility 

While there is some evidence that being more flexible improves athletic performance and reduces the risk of injury, doing a few stretches before a workout won’t significantly impact your flexibility. To make progress, you need to do regular flexibility training. However, it’s not a good idea to do static stretching before lifting weights since it can reduce strength and power. Save the static stretches for the end of weight training and do a dynamic warm-up beforehand. Doing static stretches after weight training helps relieve any tightness that may have developed during your training session.

A five-minute dynamic warm-up is better than static stretching prior to a training session. The purpose of a dynamic warm-up is to increase your core body temperature and boost blood and oxygen delivery to your muscles. Warm muscles are more flexible and less prone to injury.

What about injury prevention?  In theory, stretching should prevent injuries but not all research supports this idea. Some studies show no decrease in injury in people who stretch regularly. There is evidence that regular stretching after a workout increases power and the ability to generate force. So, regular stretching can improve your athletic performance.

Add Yoga to Your Routine 

Another way to increase flexibility is to do a few yoga sessions each week. Stretches and yoga poses help to keep your joints lubricated. Yoga and stretching boost flexibility in two possible ways. First, some evidence suggests that stretching boosts the elasticity of connective tissue, giving it the ability to lengthen more.

Secondly, there’s a nervous system component of flexibility training. When you stretch consistently, you “teach” your nervous system that it’s okay to relax a bit more when you stretch it. This has to do with the activity of your nervous system as well as peripheral sensors called Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles that sense how much force or stretch is exerted on the muscle. Most evidence suggests that the neural, or nervous system component, is the biggest factor in improving flexibility longer term.

Stay Hydrated 

Drinking more water may enhance flexibility according to the Fascial Stretch to Win Fascial Stretch Therapy website. Your muscles are surrounded by a layer of connective tissue. Ideally, the connective tissue slides easily over the muscle but this doesn’t happen if the fascial connective tissue is dehydrated. Staying adequately hydrated is important for exercise performance AND for keeping your muscles and joints as flexible as possible. You can do everything else right but if you don’t hydrate well enough, your performance will suffer.

The Bottom Line

Weight training, over time, enhances flexibility if you do full, range-of-motion when you train. However, it’s not a replacement for regular stretching. The muscles you strengthen, you should also stretch. After a weight training workout, spend 5 or 10 minutes stretching the muscles you just worked and be consistent about doing this. You won’t improve your flexibility with one stretching session. You’ll temporarily lengthen the muscle but it will be short-lived. As mentioned, stretching will reduce strength and power, so never stretch BEFORE a workout. Do a dynamic warm-up instead.



The Physician and SportsMedicine. Vol. 33. No. 3. March 2005.

Stack. “Improve Flexibility with Hydration”

Fascial Stretch to Win Fascial Stretch Therapy Site.

WebMD. “The Truth about Stretching”


Related Articles By Cathe:

How Flexibility Changes with Age

Does Stretching Actually Lengthen Muscles?

Does Resistance Training Reduce Flexibility?

Full Reps Versus Partial Reps: Should You Do Both?

Flexible or Not? Factors That Affect How Flexible Your Joints Are

How Resistance Training Shapes Tissues Other Than Your Muscles

Stretching is Important


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