Does Being Flexible Really Help Your Lifts? by Jared Bachmeier for CriticalBench.com
While it's true that you don't have to be really flexible to hit big lifts, it does help. Most important, being flexible helps you get in the perfect position you need to be in for all three main lifts-the squat, the bench and the deadlift. If you start a lift or get in the wrong position, it will be more difficult to finish the lift and end in the right position. When I started training seriously for benching and a full three-lift meet I was the most un-flexible person on the planet. But, when I started working on my flexibility-taking it seriously and putting in the time to stretch 4-5 times a week-my lifts got easier and I was able to maintain a better position. I was able to get my arms and legs in better position to handle the heavier weights, making it easier to hit the big lifts and put less strain on the joints.
All three of the main lifts require you to be in optimal position in order to put up all the weight you are capable of lifting. Let's start with the squat. Most guys use a really wide stance to squat. This helps you to gain leverage and shortens the distance you need to travel. The wide stance also recruits your hamstrings, hips, back and glute muscles more so than a narrow stance. If you're not flexible in your groin and hips, you will have a hard time hitting the parallel position. And if you can't get down that far you will be out of position and your knees will dip in and you will lose a lot of leverage and put a lot of stress on your knees. Even now, I have to really focus to keep my knees out through out the whole lift.
Flexibility is also important for maintaining the proper bar position on your back-especially when you get to the higher weights. You want make sure you lock that bar under your traps and have a good hold of the bar and squeeze as tight as you can. I was having flexibility problems and would have a hard time getting my hands back to grab the bar properly and was unable to hold it tightly on my back. It wasn't really a problem until I started lifting heavier weights and I couldn't hold it tight and the bar wanted to roll down my back. By improving my flexibility I am now able to get my hands in the proper position and hold the bar in place no matter the weight on my back.
The bench press is one lift where many people overlook their legs-they don't think they need them so they don't put much effort into making sure they are in the right place. The proper position is important for stability and to provide maximum leg drive. Groin flexibility isn't really that important provided your feet are tucked underneath you. However, flexibility the hip flexors and quads is important to get as high of an arch possible while tucking the legs all the way under. For those of us that set our feet wide and out in front, flexibility through the groin area and hip flexors is important.
Gaining a lot more flexibility has made me a lot more stable on the bench and when you have 700-800 pounds in your hands-stability is a must. That means you don't have to spend time or waste energy on trying to stay tight and not rock back and forth or lean towards one side or the other. And being that wide helps when you hear the press command to drive off your feet-it also helps you get the most leg drive possible while keeping your butt on the bench.
My knees were really starting to bother me from pushing off of my feet so hard and my groin and hips were not flexible enough so my knees were dipping in and my feet were still out wide putting a lot of stress on my knees. Now that I am a lot more flexible, I can keep my legs out, in line with my knees-which are also in line with my feet-so I get maximum stability, leg drive, and a lot less stress on my joints. Being more flexible and allowing you to get into a good position with your legs and feet and setting yourself up so you can get more leg drive is only going to improve your max. Everyone is different and will prefer a different foot location to get the most out of their legs. It takes time and a lot of practice to find the best combo for you. The important thing to remember is to not overlook using your legs while you are benching.
When I deadlift I pull sumo. If you pull conventional you won't have to deal with any of the problems I'm talking about. If you are not flexible when pulling sumo you will start in the wrong position and when starting wrong it's very hard to finish properly. You need your knees to be wide-as far out and behind your feet as possible. When you pull you want to sit your butt back and down and pull back while you are pulling up. If your knees dip in and over your feet you will have to pull the weight up and out around your knees, pushing the bar away from your body, causing you to lean forward and lose leverage, which makes it much harder to get up to lockout.
If your knees are out, you can pull straight up and not lose any leverage by being forward and keeping the most speed possible on the way up. Any extra movement or anything that makes you lose your leverage can cause you to miss the lift. By using a wide stance, with your knees out and behind your feet, it puts you in the best position to pull and makes the distance you have to pull the weight shorter-which everyone wants when pulling a max weight.
For me my hamstrings and groin area were extremely tight, making it very difficult to get in the right position in any of the three lifts. So I started working on worked on stretching a ton. I did lots or stretching with my legs out in front of me trying to get as close as possible to doing the splits while sitting. I worked on each leg individually too and worked on being able to lean forward with my legs as wide as I can get them and touch the floor as far from me as I could. I would also do normal groin stretching exercises like kneeling down and forcing my knees out with my arms or my elbows.
What I have found that works well is to get in the position I would be in during a squat being down close to parallel and I will push out on my knees with my elbows for 10-15 seconds at a time. You have to really push on them-it's not going to feel good. You don't want it to cause pain either so you'll want to find a point in the middle of the two. I've found that this has really helped loosen my groin area, helping me to get in better position in all three lifts.
Hip flexors are also a big problem area for a lot of guys. I will use a lunge kind of stretch and really lean forwards until I really feel it in my hips. If your hips are not flexible it's going to be hard to get your arch big and that will most likely limit you from getting your arch in the bench to where it could be. If you know that you have a particular spot that you feel you are not flexible enough to stay in the right position or you feel that it hinders one or more of your lifts in certain areas, then you know you need to work on it.
I train with Chad Aichs. He is one of the most flexible persons I have ever seen. He can darn near do the splits. His hamstrings and hips are extremely flexible. And if Chad at 375 pounds with 35-36" quads can be very flexible that tells me that pretty much anyone can be more flexible. He has a 1173 squat in the books, has benched over 800, and can pull right around 800. You don't get to those kinds of weights without being in the perfect position and having near perfect form. You can never be too flexible, and it can never hurt being more flexible. You will only see gains and it will make it easier for you to perform your lifts with better form-meaning bigger weights. I still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be but I am already seeing great benefits from gaining flexibility. It's making it easier and helping me to hit the bigger weights I want to achieve.