Does Resistance Training Decrease Mobility? Myth Bust Monday

“Lifting makes you tight”

“Stretch to get loose”

“If you don’t stretch you’ll get stiff”

These are just a few common statements I hear regularly. I train at a commercial gym at the moment and at least once a week I’ll hear people telling these kinds of statements to each other. In clinical practice I’ve heard therapists telling patients these kinds of narratives and used them to support their clinical reasoning for interventions.

It seems these statements have been around for a long time and been perpetuated by the concept that bodybuilders, which is what most people come envision the moment you say resistance training, some bodybuilders can appear to have lost range of motion.

However, this is not such a clear cut case as people believe. Just using bodybuilders as our sample, it's easy to find a ton of examples where this is blatantly not true.

If we start to look past bodybuilders and examine other sports where resistance training is very dominant, this is exemplified even more.

Can someone let this guy know that he’s tight and to stretch a bit more before he tries that again?

Now this is just a bunch of random sampling of people and not really all that useful for decision making. What does the evidence tell us?

People may laugh at this, but I truly did start off with googling the topic. I had numerous references from prior projects and articles, but I like to see what would show up if someone who wasn’t into research would find. Surprisingly this article was the top option -

Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance training vs static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(12):3391-3398.

This article is a great start into the topic as it looked to provide a cursory review of the evidence on the topic and to examine this exact question. The study methodology is limited, but given the consistency of the results with the rest of the body of literature on the topic (as we will address) it’s good to go forward with it.

The design of the study was very straight forward - 1 control group, 1 stretching group, and 1 resistance training group. The control group performed no exercise for the 5 week study. The static stretching group performed 1-3 sets of 20-30 sec stretches across 13 stretches 3 days a week. The resistance training group performed a total body program three days a week consisting of various types of squats/lunges, pull ups, bench press/push ups, and some accessory movements for 4 sets each.

Credit -

At the start and end of the study the groups were measured for “hamstring flexibility,” hip flexion ROM, hip extension ROM, and shoulder extension ROM.

The two intervention groups demonstrated greater improvements in all measures of flexibility over the control other than shoulder flexibility which was relatively maintained by all groups.

This study helps to start laying the foundation that resistance training does not cause “tightness” and that stretching is needed to “fix it.”

When we start to look further at this though, we see more studies accumulating that challenge this notion. An interesting paper is Swank, AM, Funk, DC, Durham, MP, and Roberts, S. Adding weights to stretching exercise increases passive range of motion for healthy elderly. J Strength Cond Res 17: 374–378, 2003 where the authors simply had load added to the stretches and saw an increase in varying measures of passive range of motion.

Image Credit -

Reviewing more literature we see eccentric resistance training exercises consistently pop up as having benefit. One study by Nelson and Bandy implemented a 6 week program where individuals were randomized to a control group, static stretching, or eccentric group. Similar to prior studies, we see that resistance training was able to have as much of an increase in range of motion as the static stretching group.

Well all of these studies looked at longer term interventions, perhaps stretching is much better in the short term? Nope

Nelson RT looked at this in an athletic training setting for pre-game warm up and examined comparing nothing, static stretching, and an eccentric hamstring exercise through full range and compared it to a 90/90 hamstring test. He found a statistically significant increase in ROM for the static stretch, but nearly double the increase for the eccentric hamstring exercise!

Well the last two studies looked at this topic on the hamstrings, perhaps it doesn’t apply beyond the hamstrings? Nope

O’Sullivan et al. completed a systematic review and found consistent results that eccentric training can improve lower limb flexibility (or joint ROM) across multiple sites.


Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance training vs static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(12):3391-3398.

Swank AM, Funk DC, Durham MP, Roberts S. Adding weights to stretching exercise increases passive range of motion for healthy elderly. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(2):374-378.

Nelson RT, Bandy WD. Eccentric training and static stretching improve hamstring flexibility of high school males. J Athl Train. 2004;39(3):254-258.

Nelson RT. A comparison of the immediate effects of eccentric training vs static stretch on hamstring flexibility in high school and college athletes. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2006;1(2):56-61.

O’Sullivan K, McAuliffe S, Deburca N. The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46(12):838-845.

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