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High Leg Extensions Solution: Strength vs Flexibility Debate: And the – EasyFlexibility
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High Leg Extensions Solution: Strength vs Flexibility Debate: And the winner is…

Posted by Paul Zaichik on

If you want to lift your legs high on your Developpes, Battements, Penche, etc., but your legs refuse to come up as high as you want them, a question arises:

“Are my legs not strong enough or not flexible enough? Which one is it? A strength or flexibility issue?”

I’ve been asked this question many times. The short answer is this: personally, if I want my leg to go up vertically and I have a chance to pick between strength and flexibility, I would choose flexibility every time.

Don’t get all upset now, strength is also important, your teacher is right. If you are going to move the leg around for a long time, doing hundreds of moves you need strength (actually strength-endurance).

However, to be able to point to “12 o’clock” with your leg for each specific technique is more flexibility related. If anything, biomechanically and physiologically the more flexibility you have the less strength you need.

Here’s Why

Biomechanically:

The higher the leg goes up, (providing flexibility is not a restricting factor), the easier the leg extension becomes.

Confused? Pick up a heavy object, and keep your elbow straight. Extend the straight arm parallel to the floor. (Hand on the same level as the shoulder) Difficult to hold, right?
Ok, now bring the arm straight up. (Hand holding the object directly over your shoulder) Much easier, right?

This is because the first position, is mechanically more disadvantageous. Second one is more advantageous.

So, your leg held vertically (again without flexibility restrictions) is easier to hold than to hold it horizontally.

The reason it does not seem this way, with the leg as it does with the arm is because the arm has no flexibility restriction in most people, but the leg does.

Physiologically:

  • A tight muscle inhibits its antagonist.

Do a front attitude with tight hip extensors, and try to hold it. The hip flexors and adductors will be in pain fast. Why? Because they are fighting the inhibition by the muscles that are trying to pull down. The weight of the leg is just a small reason.

Don’t believe me?

  • Measure how high your leg can go. Let’s say 90 degrees.
  • Now add a heavy ankle weight and hold the leg at 45-60 degrees.

You will hold it longer with the ankle weight at 45 or 60, then just the leg at 90 (the end range).

If the weight of the leg (strength requirement) was so important, you could not hold the leg with the ankle weight for so long, but you can.

So, the weakness of your hip flexors and adductors is not coming from the weight of the leg, but from the tight muscles pulling back down.

The Experiment

I do this experiment with my students all the time.

  • I use ZST (Zaichik Streching Technique) to increase their flexibility right there on the spot.
  • We do 5-6 rounds and the end range is no longer 90 degrees, but 120-140.
  • I then ask them to hold their legs at 90 degrees again.

Guess what happens?

All of them are able to comfortably hold their legs there, no struggle, no weird faces, no clenched teeth, no spasms. Did their leg become lighter? Did a student become stronger? No, it is because with increased flexibility, nothing is pulling down!

So now you see, why I would choose flexibility over strength every time if I am trying to get my leg up!

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