Will A Month’s Worth Of Lower Body Training Ruin Your Flexibility?
February 19th 2020 marked the end of 12 weeks of using Micha Shulz’s ‘King Of Weighted’ hypertrophy skills calisthenics themed program.
It was a long slog (but a good slog) involving 5 different workouts per week: a pull based upper day, push based upper, 2 different lower days and a mixed upper body session. The volume increased over the weeks and the program was split into 2 phases with a deload at the half way point (week 6).
The prime drive for getting the program initially was to follow a plan I don’t have to write myself. As regular readers will know, I’m not a fan of self programming and would much rather pour all my energy into programming for clientele than myself – plus I find it easier, too.
Rather ironically, when I first skim read the PDF I turned my nose up at the leg days. ‘Way too much pointless volume!’ I scoffed. ‘It will only blow the legs up, make you heavier, and make calisthenics harder!’ was another of my claims. Rather than be a hardcore calisthenics warrior and completely disregard leg training, I decided to go down the minimalist route and only do the compound free weight lifts – namely back squats and Romanian Deadlifts (subbed from conventional deadlifts).
This carried on for the first 6 weeks until during the deload, which conveniently fell over the new year period when I began thinking outside the box and wondering what might happen if I was to go against all preconceived notions and the lower body sessions exactly as written, and in a strict progressive fashion just as I had been with the upper body/calisthenics sessions.
I’m fortunate enough to have a decent group of people to train with so I put my challenge out there: commit to at least one day per week where we follow the plan in its entirety. The only thing I altered was the deadlift for Romanian deadlifts as I think ‘RDLs’ are way less taxing to the system overall. Everything else was to the letter.
(For more on why I’m not a fan of conventional deadlifting read this: The Deadlift REVISITED: Still overrated, or?)
This was an interesting experiment of sorts for a few reasons, one being whether or not dedicated lower body training makes calisthenics suffer and would all this leg work make my recently improved mobility worsen?
Having already covered my findings on leg training’s effects on calisthenics in this article: (Why Even Gymnasts Should Train Their Lower Body) it’s now time to cover the mobility aspect………..
As I’ve shared many times, in 2019 I achieved a flat front split on one side for the first time in my life along with a head to floor pancake, and a toes to mid shin Jefferson curl/forward fold position. All shown below:
Obviously those positions are impressive to the average population but to dancers, gymnasts and circus performers, I’m in need of urgent help. And those positions weren’t possible completely cold which lowers their worth too.
I’ve not directly trained mobility since around the turn of October/November 2019 which is around 3 and a half months ago now – long enough for possible decline/deterioration…….
The present day
First things first, and unsurprisingly, no position has improved from its previous best. The only one that’s declined is the front split as without spending hours and hours loosening the body prior, I can’t hit flat and am missing around 2-3 inches (sad face). ALTHOUGH, I will say the split itself felt easier to sit into in terms of muscular strength so I’d hazard a guess that POSSIBLY, my active mobility here could have improved a tad?
I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon in my ‘side split’; although not anywhere close to flat, I need less assistance to stay low and keep the legs abducted. If you’re unclear on the general differences between active & passive flexibility, the video below will help clarify a few things!
The hamstrings have always been the friendliest responder to the mobility work courtesy of Calisthenic Movement’s Programs and they’re still as mobile as they were but it stands to reason, as Romanian Deadlifts at nearly twice bodyweight for reps will keep the hamstrings plenty strong at length.
All in all I’d say assuming one uses a full (or appreciable) range of motion in their exercises – lunges where the back knee touches down, squats below parallel, RDLs to the floor etc – you shouldn’t see much decline in your general flexibility in the lower body. Obviously if you’ve had to work hard for 12-18 months to obtain a highly specific position such as perfectly squared front splits or flat side splits with an anteriorly tilted pelvis, then maybe some loss of range could be expected.
As always though, this will be highly individual. I’d imagine the more naturally pliable types would hold on to a base for longer and the tighter types may see a faster decline?
Can you have the best of both worlds?
While you usually can’t have your cake and eat it, I think you can in this case (to an extent). A good set up to stay getting stronger/bigger while simultaneously improving mobility would be 1 traditional lower body day per week and a mobility specific lower body day per week. Of course this doesn’t mean you do yin yoga for 2 hours per week and hold deep static stretches, while deeming it ‘mobility work’……….you use contraction based mobility drills (More on that HERE).
Like anything in this life though, the most substantial results will come from the things you do most.
Choose your battles, as a wise man once said.
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JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.
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