The question: I have been told I am hypermobile. I love stretching and doing yoga, but my massage therapist and physio say stretching is not good for me because of my hypermobility. Is that true? What should I do? It makes me really unhappy not to stretch!
The answer: I am glad you have been warned to be careful! A common misconception is that when it comes to stretching, more is always better, when really too much mobility can be detrimental. Think ankle sprains and dislocated shoulders.
That said, too much stiffness at a joint, also referred to as hypomobility, can also be problematic. For example, if your hip joint doesn't have adequate range, your body will compensate, often by overrotating through the lower back.
Optimal bio-mechanics require a balance of strength and flexibility.
Thus, the best type of exercise program is individually tailored to fix weak links. For some, this might mean prioritizing cardiovascular exercise, others might need more stretching.
For you, unfortunately, this probably means more strength training! I am not saying you can't stretch and do yoga. Since you have been lucky enough to find an activity you love, we need to find ways you can do it safely!
First, use the foam roller. The roll will massage you, giving you a relaxed and limber feeling similar to stretching, but without negatively affecting your hypermobile joints. Second, consider doing yoga on your own rather than in a group setting, so you can work on your individual strength and flexibility needs. Find a qualified yoga instructor and have them develop an appropriate routine. Make sure your muscles are active in every pose. Don't push yourself to stretch further into poses, and don't aim to increase your flexibility.
Lastly, and most importantly, prioritize your strength workouts. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of strength to flexibility activities.
Trainer's tip: Aim to develop a conditioning program that restores balance to your body. Flexibility and strength levels usually differ from muscle to muscle and side to side. Focus on stretching the tight parts of your body. Also, keep in mind that since we often dislike what we are not good at, fixing weak links may mean prioritizing your least favourite types of physical activity.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.