You know by now that I'm a big fan of moving better and for most of us that means being more mobile. To be more mobile, we generally have to move through fuller ranges and move and stay around end ranges.
For all it's good, it can also be detrimental.
Those of you interested in performing well in your sport, listen up.
You need good mobility but training through full ranges with all your joints can have NEGATIVE effects on your performance.
Let us take the squat as an example; one of the staple exercises used for athletic development.
Ever since I can remember, there has been an emphasis on "ass to grass" styles squats where the squatter gets their backside as close to the ground as possible.
Most people lack the mobility in their hips and/or ankles to be able to do this type of squat properly anyway. It doesn't stop them. In their quest for ass-to-grass, they will round their backs horribly to cheat their bum closer to the floor. Cheating doesn't make it any better but I'm going a little off-topic.
Even if you can ATG squat, should you?
It is good for the hips, knees and ankles to be strong through their full range but to know whether squatting like this is really good for you, I need to know which sport you play.
If you are a weightlifter, you need a deep squat for sure. You deep squat as part of your competitive event.
Many other sports involve zero squatting. A quick look at the popular team sports - football, rugby, cricket, basketball - and you will realise that a full squat never happens. In rugby, the joints and muscles may use parallel squat positions in scrummaging. In cricket, the wicket keeper squats down but doesn't need to produce vast forces in that position. The lower limbs in most sports most frequently assume half squat and quarter positions.
It has been shown that these variations of the squat are most advantageous to the sports where they primarily occur. Running and jumping use similar joint angles after all.
For more advanced athletes, it is actually known that training full range movements for sports that only require use of partial ranges can actually be detrimental to performance.
It consolidates motor patterns unuseful to the competitive event. I saw an example of this just the other day in a video where a world class weightlifter performed a vertical jump. It is known that weightlifters are extremely powerful and yet this guy's jump was quite unimpressive given his physiological capabilities all because he squatted way too deep into his countermovement. My guess is that this was a result of his familiarity with squatting over jumping.
The title of this piece is "How flexible do you need to be?" and I haven't explicitly got to that yet.
First, I said that full range movements are required for good mobility and joint health.
Then I said that moving through full ranges can be detrimental to sports performance depending on your sport of choice.
Performance and health can quite easily contradict one another and my suggestion is that while you're competitive at a sport, they should at least a little.
Don't abandon full range training for performance.
Don't abandon partial range training for health.
You can still train your joints through their full ranges even through competitive times. They need to be capable of full ranges. Just monitor how frequently and intensely you go about it. Use off-season training to do more full range training.
If you're training for general health and fitness, feel free to throw partial range training into the mix. It can help make you stronger and more flexible if used correctly.
Be as flexible as possible while still able to progress performance even if it is a juggle of somewhat contradictory qualities from time to time.
Arton "Partial to a full range movement" Baleci
Float Sting - Injury Rehab + Athletic Performance, Manchester