Gaining muscle should NOT come at the expense of losing flexibility. Despite what you may have heard or even experienced with your own training. I am here to assure you that strength training, if performed correctly should not hinder flexibility or mobility, but improve it.
Many carry the belief that more muscle means less flexibility. This is due to the toxic body building style approach that has been mainstream for too long. It is also due to the lack of training knowledge and education around how to ACTUALLY improve flexibility and mobility. Most bodybuilders or athletes who train with a bodybuilding approach focus on time under tension and mind, muscle connection. This is not a bad thing, but it can be if lifts are being performed within a limited or partial range of motion.
Every lift you perform should be through your joints full range of motion and the emphasis, in order to improve flexibility and maximize strength should be on the eccentric (lengthening portion) of your lift. For example, when you perform a chest fly, you should focus on the lowering(lengthening) portion of the lift and ensure you are working through YOUR full range of motion. This is one of the most ideal exercises to improve pectoral flexibility. I also want to clarify your range of motion will be different from others. YOUR range of motion is the motion that YOU have full stability and control over. This is why we should focus more on mobility than flexibility, though most don't know the difference.
Click link to view exercise tutorial:
Flexibility is the range of motion your joint has access to. Mobility is the range of motion that YOU have strength, stability and control over.
Any range of motion you have in a joint but lack control and stability over is an injury waiting to happen. So your focus should be more on improving your mobility vs flexibility.
Gaining control and stability over a range of motion occurs through slow eccentric lifting. Most rush through this portion of the lift. You often see this with people who perform the concentric(shortening) range of a deadlift but drop the weight at the top and completely neglect the lowering portion of the lift. You miss so much opportunity for strength and mobility when lifts are performed like this.
Most of our flexibility and mobility training occurs through strength training mindfully. Our athletes in the Path 2 Self Movement Academy gain strength and mobility with very limited static stretching. Our athletes are always surprised when mobility gains are made without traditional stretching. This is due to old beliefs that flexibility comes from static stretching. Yes, static stretching may improve flexibility, but it completely neglects control and stability through the range. This is what often leads to injuries. Its most frustrating for people because they believe they are doing the right thing by stretching before and after workouts. The missing link is eccentric strengthening to actually gain control and stability over that newly increased range of motion (through passive stretching).
In summary, if you long to improve your flexibility and enjoy passive stretching, then you should perform your passive stretches to increase joint range of motion and follow up those stretches with full range eccentric strengthening to that same muscle.
For example, perform a static hamstring stretch and follow it up with slow eccentric Romanian deadlift (RDL's) to improve the strength and control over that new range. This will not only improve your strength, flexibility but also minimize your risk of injury.
For those who of you who still fear that strength training will hinder your flexibility, I challenge you to try this style of training for 3 months. Perform every one of your lifts with full range of motion and focus on feeling the stretch as you perform the lowering phase of your lift. Don't focus on how much weight you are moving. Focus on proper body mechanics and slow control over your range. Strength and mobility gains WILL be made.
Train smarter, not harder.
Move intentionally, not habitually.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are not to be considered as medical advice, only opinions through one's own lived experiences.