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How Flexibility Can Make You a More Powerful Athlete

Are you an athlete? Does your sport require you to have explosive power from your legs? If you answered yes to these questions, then keep reading!

As a doctor of physical therapy and certified orthopedic specialist, I have come to appreciate the importance of both strength and flexibility. However, what is often unspoken in athletics is how strength and flexibility compliment each other. Being flexible in the right areas can actually make you quicker, faster, and ultimately a more powerful athlete.

At one point or another throughout our athletics, we have done some type of stretching, whether it is prolonged static stretching or ballistic warm-up stretching. For the lower extremity, those muscles typically involve the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf. But have you stretched your iliopsoas recently? “My what?,” you ask? Your iliopsoas is an incredibly important hip flexor muscle complex that provides strength to the hip. However, due to training habits and daily behaviors, this muscle group becomes adaptively shortened in the majority of athletes.

So how does muscle tightness affect performance?

Let’s dive into the biomechanics of the lower extremity. The hip flexors, when tight, limit the ability of the hip to fully extend when running. Why is this important? If the hip is unable to fully extend when running, then the stride length is reduced. Thus, the amount of power the hip and knee extensors are able to produce is limited by the distance the leg is able to travel into extension (remember: power = (force + distance) / time). If hip extension is limited, then power is limited.

Consider the analogy of a sprinter in full stride...

Sprinter with full hip extension ROM

Looking at the above picture, we can appreciate full hip extension of the back leg allowing this runner, Usain Bolt, to distribute muscular force throughout a large range of motion, propelling him forward in optimum fashion.

Now, look at the photo below. How much hip extension do you see? Do you think this runner is going to be as explosive or as powerful as Usain Bolt?