There's a lot of confusion around hypermobility and hyperflexibility. The terms tend to be used interchangeably but they actually mean different things. Understanding these differences helps movement instructors, trainers, and PTs build classes and workouts around their students/clients that are actually effective. In this blog I will answer some common questions I get asked when working with clients and other instructors.
What is hypermobility?
Hypermobility is where the joints of the body have an extreme amount of range due to the ligaments being more lax than average. A person with hypermobility will describe their joints as feeling 'loose' and find themselves able to articulate their joints with little to no muscle recruitment. This is extremely hard to wrap your head around if you yourself are not hypermobile.
What is hyperflexibility?
Hyperflexibility relates to the amount the muscles and tendons can extend. A hyperflexible person is going to have more stable joints than a hypermobile person, be less prone to joint pain, and muscle firing patterns will be as expected.
Can someone be both hypermobile and hyperflexible?
Absolutely. In fact it is quite common for a person to be both which is one of the reasons for the confusion that a lot of people have. Another reason for the confusion is that (just like everything) hypermobility and hyperflexibility exist on a spectrum. This means that a person may have only specific joints and/or muscles with hyper range but the rest of their body may not. Or it could mean that a person has hyper range in every single joint and everything in between.
What are the causes of hypermobility and hyperflexibility?
Hypermobility and hyperflexibility can have a range of causes. From genetics to training to various types of disorders to a combination of all of the above. A particular difference is that hypermobility could be contributed to any of the afore mentioned causes but hyperflexibility is usually contributed to genetics and/or training.
How should you approach training someone with hypermobility or hyperflexibility?
While both hypermobility and hyperflexibility require some form of strength training to improve overall function it can be tricky when working with these types of clients. I need to be very clear with my instructions on the exact range of motion and skeletal placement I would like them to use. For example, if someone has an extreme amount of internal or external rotation of the hip joint I have to specify the degree of rotation I want them to use.
For hypermobility I specifically have to emphasize muscle engagement to facilitate movement. If you recall the hypermobile person is capable of articulating their joints with little to no muscle recruitment. If I don't tell them what to engage first they won't get the benefit of the exercise. For example, say I want a hypermobile person to perform a bridge exercise to strengthen their glutes. This person needs to be told that they must engage their glutes first and then lift their hips while keeping the engagement. I know, it sounds wild but your hypermobile clients will get much better results if you stop assuming their muscle firing patterns will work as normal. I also have to consider joint pain that comes with hypermobility. Strength training can help with joint pain because the stronger the muscles the more stable the joints. However, if I were to add too much weight too quickly it could make the pain worse and that client will not want to continue. You must remember that their ligaments don't hold their joints very well and it is incredibly easy to over stretch them, even when weight training. Always start 10-20% lighter than you would with someone of similar age/fitness level and increase the weight/intensity very gradually.
I hope this helps answer some questions regarding hypermobility and hyperflexibility. I work with a lot of hypermobile and hyperflexibile people and deal with both myself. The Gyrotonic method was the first movement method I found that taught me how to control my crazy range of motion and use it effectively while I was still dancing professionally. If you are struggling with hypermobility and/or hyperflexibility book a private session here. I'd love to help you out.