The importance of being flexible and the role flexibility plays in achieving optimal performance has been communicated to us in many forms over the years.

We have been told that a long and flexible muscle outperforms short and tight musculature, and we have gone on our merry way, stretching and trying to improve our often very limited range of motion.

Enter 2 studies that looked at the relationship between Flexibility and Running Economy.

The findings left many of us a little perplexed to say the least.

The findings showed an inverse relationship between Flexibility and Economy.

For those of you not 100% sure what Running economy is, here is a simple analogy.

You have a Hummer and Prius parked next to each other. They pull off and start their 50 mile journey, both traveling along at 50mph.

Both vehicles are able to cover the same distance at the same speed, but the Hummer gets 14 miles per gallon and the Prius gets around 50 miles per gallon.

The Prius is more economical in its energy utilization at 50mph VS the Hummer.

We are the same. A Kenyan runner would expend way less energy over 10 miles than I would running at 7 minutes per mile.

Back to the study...

Participants in one study were Elite level, distance runners, and the second study used intermediate level, distance runners.

The research studies looked at various measures of Flexibility, including the good old Sit-and-Reach test which assesses Hamstring and Lumbar flexibility.

Participants then ran at various speeds on a treadmill, while having their Oxygen Uptake measured (to determine their running economy).

The "obvious conclusion" or expected conclusion, was that those with the better flexibility would perform better than those who had "poorer" flexibility.

The actually result proved to be opposite. Those with the limited flexibility showed better running economy at all speeds.

Pretty mind blowing!

Although speculative, these results suggest that inflexibility in certain areas of the musculoskeletal system may enhance running economy by increasing the storage and return of elastic energy, stored in the muscles and minimizing the need for muscle-stabilizing activity around the joint.

Great news for those of us (me included) who are not winning a Bikrams competition any time soon.

But take it with a pinch of salt.

Do not give up on your stretching routine. It still forms and essential part of your training program, and will ensure you remain injury free and continue to be functionally mobile into old age.

It also plays a very important role in assisting the body to recovery from training sessions and avoid DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

Keep working on maintaining the flexibility you have got i.e. do not try purposefully try to reduce your flexibility.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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