I have HORRIBLE eyesight.
In complete seriousness, I think I might be legally blind without contacts or glasses. Lucky for me, my terrible eyesight is offset by the fact that I am stunningly handsome. At least thats what my mom says.
Much like beautiful facial features or poor eyesight, congenital laxity or joint looseness, is largely determined by your genetics (or by performing repetitive motions like throwing or swimming over a long period of time). Also known as hypermobility, this laxity in the joints actually affects a decent amount of people who train regularly.
Females and younger individuals (12-16 years old) tend to be more hypermobile than average, however males and older individuals can also be hypermobile. Although when discussing joint laxity, females tend to be the dominant group in the discussion.
Hypermobility can be very advantageous for people who need to display impressive ranges of motion, like gymnasts, but it can also be problematic because it puts these same individuals more at risk for dislocations, subluxations, and sprains.
Hypermobility is actually not too uncommon amongst people who engage in regular training or sports, but not everyone is aware of it. The Beighton score is a simple assessment to see just how Gumby-like you are.
The Beighton score consists of 5 movements that determine if you have an excessive amount of joint laxity. They consist of…
- While keeping your legs straight, being able to put your palms flat to the floor: 1 point
- More than 10 degrees hyperextension of the elbows: 1 point per arm
- More than 10 degrees hyperextension of the legs: 1 point per leg
- Being able to touch your thumb to your forearm: 1 point per arm
- Being able to bend your pinky back past 90 degrees: 1 point per pinky
The higher the score, the more hypermobile you are. But what exactly does this mean? Is it bad? Can you still train?! Is lifting weights bad?! WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOX?!?!
This is probably obvious after reading the last paragraph, but don’t just assume you ARE or AREN’T hypermobile. I’ve worked with clients who thought they were super ‘tight’, only to score fairly high on the Beighton score. Go through the assessment and know for sure. If you score higher than a 5, you’re probably more hypermobile than not. And if you are, here are some things hypermobile individuals should be aware of when training.
STOP STATIC STRETCHING
This is arguably the most important thing all you hypermobile individuals can start doing. Loose joints inherently have some accompanying instability, and because of this, hypermobile individuals can unknowingly rely on passive restraints (ligaments) instead of active restraints (muscles and tendons) to provide their joints with some much needed stability. Over the long run, this isn’t exactly a good thing.
But you’re still gonna run into individuals who score high on the Beighton score and still swear on everything holy that they’re still ‘tight’. Well, they probably are, but not for the reasons they think they are.
When you have a decent amount of joint laxity, surrounding tissues around these joints will need to work extra hard to provide stability. This stability will often present itself in the form of trigger points or ‘knots’ and is known as protective tension. This is caused because your body is literally trying to protect itself by preventing your joints from going through these excessive (and possibly dangerous) ranges of motion because you can’t really control it to begin with. So when you stretch this ‘tightness’, it might feel pretty good in the moment, but you’re really doing yourself a disservice in the long run. It’s like scratching a poison ivy rash. Sweet baby Jesus and cinnamon bits does it feel good to scratch that itch, but it’ll prevent that rash from healing properly, cause more skin irritations, possibly spread the rash, etc.
So for your own sake, stop stretching 🙂
And yogi’s… cover your ears, but yoga might not be the best choice for hypermobile clients as many of the movements performed in yoga are preeeeeetty similar to static stretching. Just saying.
STOP LOCKING OUT YOUR JOINTS
Hypermobile individuals can hyperextend their joints, or take them past normal ranges of motions. When this happens, ligaments and surrounding tissues can become overstretched and ‘overworked’ in a sense. This is no bueno. Over time, this wear and tear will cause these surrounding tissues to become even more loose and this can really put the joints in a precarious situation. So paying close attention to avoid these end ranges of motion is vital to long term health and success for all my hypermobile homies out there.
For example, avoiding locking out your elbows on pushups or locking out your legs on squats would be something to stay highly aware of during training. It’s natural to want to do this to complete a rep, but if you’re hypermobile, you should probably think twice.
This can even extend to regular every day type activities. Your body will always try to take the path of least resistance, and resting or hanging out in these end ranges falls right into that category. Think about standing with a hip shift to one side and one leg locked out, or even both legs locked out. These postures are quite common, but rarely does anyone think of them as a bad thing. It might not be as extreme as locking out your knees under a loaded movement like a squat, but it’s still locking out regardless. The strain from these daily ‘natural’ and comfortable postures can add up overtime and slowly but surely cause you to run into joint issues.
Friends are awesome. They make training fun! The more the better!
Music is pretty cool. Helps keep the motivation high!
TV’s are so awesome too! The coolest thing since sliced bread!
Yeah, you hypermobile folks need to knock it off with these things during your training sessions.
OK, that statement is a bit extreme. You can still listen to music and train with friends… But you do need to limit distractions during your training and REALLY focus on ‘feeling’ exercises in the right places as opposed to just doing exercises just for the sake of getting them done. Folks with lax joints are going to be likely to hyperextend and take joints into borderline dangerous positions if they don’t pay attention. When you add an external load on top of these hyperextended ranges, that’s a recipe for achey joints.
Learn to brace, squeeze, or tighten the proper muscles when lifting. Ask yourself, “am I feeling this in my joints or in my muscles when I perform ____? Being super aware of how you’re performing a lift and where you’re feeling a lift can really help improve motor control, or how your brain coordinates and recruits muscles to perform a task. This will be huge in terms of staying healthy and getting the most bang for your buck out of training.
In reality, training correctly for hypermobile folks might feel kinda unnatural at times just because they’re so used to living in these overextended positions, relying on passive modalities for stability, etc. They’re just gonna have to fight the urge to revert to their natural postures and tendencies and focus just a bit more during lifts than non hypermobile folks.
AVOID TRAINING WHEN YOU’RE FATIGUED
When you’re fatigued, form and technique are usually gonna be the first things that deteriorate. Muscles are going to stop working as effectively as they should, which means the much needed stability being provided by these muscles is going suffer. Now these loose joints have an increased risk of going through dangerous ranges of motion which puts you at risk for suffering an ouchie (actual medical term, trust me I train a doctor and several nurses).
Plus, fatigue makes it exponentially more difficult to truly learn how to perform and ‘feel’ movements, as well as potentially negatively affect motor control.
Here’s an accurate depiction of how I feel watching hypermobile folks do an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workout… workouts that are notorious for creating tons of muscular fatigue all for the sake of chasing a PR, or personal record.
Volume on for maximal comedic effect.
Now I might just be a horrible person, but hooooly crap this video makes me laugh every time.
This doesn’t mean you can’t end a workout with some sort of finisher that burns your glutes like a mother f*ker, it just means you have to take just a little but more caution when doing so.
This point could go hand in hand with ‘Be Aware’, but its just an easy way to do so. When you tinker with the tempo of your lifts, you force yourself to slow down and really own the movement you are performing. Slow eccentrics require a ton of muscular tension throughout the body to maintain proper form, as do pauses. This extra tension is awesome to help learn where you should ‘feel’ a lift, as well as groove some solid motor control for a given movement.
BUILD TENSION THROUGHOUT LIFTS
I just ended the last point with this one, so I won’t say much about it. Tension keeps the stress of a lift on your muscles and helps keep you out of end ranges. This is good.
A good example of this would be to cue clients to brace their abs hard before, during and after squat variations as they’ll likely fall into lumbar hyperextension (overarch their low back) during this movement without even realizing it. They might even complain of low back tightness or discomfort during lifts (and possibly in daily living) just from chronically living in that position. Cue these clients to exhale through pursed lips until they feel their abs brace before a lift. This will engage their abdominals, pull the ribs down, and help posteriorly tilt the pelvis, taking them out of lumber hyperextension. Constantly cue them to maintain this position throughout, and voila, you’ve created good tension.
But when all is said and done, if you’ve got a ton of excess mobility, you’re gonna need a ton of additional stability to offset it. If left unchecked, you’re putting yourself at risk for a future of potential achey joints and subpar training sessions. Don’t be subpar. Be friggin’ awesome.