A Gift and a Curse: Hypermobility in a Nutshell

Hello there.  My name is Alex and I'd like to share a secret with you: I'm hypermobile.

Surprised? That's because our usual stereotype of guys - especially those that like to lift heavy things - is being so tight and bound up that they'd make the Tin Man seem like a supple leopard.  My hypermobility has made me a bit of an anomaly in that regard, and it's also what made me so good at throwing a baseball.

 Vassar vs. Skidmore, circa 2008.  Not pictured: the gaggle of hipsters in left field.

Vassar vs. Skidmore, circa 2008. 
Not pictured: the gaggle of hipsters in left field.

Wait a second, who am I kidding?  By "good" I really mean, "halfway decent."  After all, I played baseball at Vassar - where half the males of the entire school made up the baseball team.  The other 23 guys wore skinny jeans, rode fixed gear bikes, spoke about bands that didn't exist, and argued the merits of the prison abolition movement while drinking PBR.

True story.

Anyway, if I'm totally honest, my hypermobility has been both a gift and a curse.  While it's allowed me to do pretty well in certain aspects of lifting, it's also been responsible for several problems - dislocating my kneecap when I was a teenager, neck pains with heavy overhead pressing, as well as chronic back pain when I was younger.

And while we always want decent mobility, too much can also be a very bad thing. (Kinda like listening to Taylor Swift, AMIRITE?)  If you can palm the floor with straight legs, or hyperextend your knees or elbows, then we don't know what's moving or what's being sacrificed in order to get that unusual range of motion.  And if you're a client of mine, I'd immediately find your Beighton hypermobility score. 

What is the Beighton hypermobility score?  I'm glad you asked!  Essentially, it's a way to see how "loosey goosey" (scientific term) someone is around a specific joint, or in general.  It consists of 5 tests, and if you can pass all of them you may actually be a rubber band.

 1. Hyperextend your elbows; 2. Passively touch your thumb to your forearm; 3. Passively hyperextend your fingers; 4. Hyperextend your knees; 5. Palm the floor.

1. Hyperextend your elbows; 2. Passively touch your thumb to your forearm; 3. Passively hyperextend your fingers; 4. Hyperextend your knees; 5. Palm the floor.

If you're testing yourself and you can only pass 1 of the tests above, then you're "normal."  However, if you can pass 2 or more then I'd like to say "Welcome to the club!"......while gently shaking your hand with oven mitts.

OK, so I'm hypermobile, you might be too, and I have a few clients that are as well.  But, so what?  Why does this issue deserve an entire blog post? 

Frankly, because individualization matters in a properly executed exercise program.  Cookie cutter programs may work for some, but throwing someone that's hypermobile into a program like Insanity or Crossfit is a recipe for disaster.  Will their arms rip clean off their body?  Most likely no.  But it can be a big deal.

For that reason, we're actually going to want to limit someone's range of motion if they're hypermobile.  In fact, I'm going to treat them just like I would with someone that's on the other end of the spectrum -  the Tin Man.  Through no fault of their own, those that are hypermobile often have trouble understanding joint position because they have so much joint laxity.  Often times this problem can rear its ugly head in a simple row, or when someone hyperextends their elbows during a Turkish Get Up.

 That bottom elbow - yikes!

That bottom elbow - yikes!

On that same token, it can be hard for these individuals to feel what's supposed to be working in a given exercise (i.e. feeling their hamstrings in a deadlift).  By limiting the range of motion - elevating deadlifts; doing floor presses instead of bench presses; and yes, sometimes even half squats - it eliminates a lot of these variables.

Lastly, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always the biggest  fan of Yoga.  I know, you're shocked right? Here's my reasoning: those that are attracted to Yoga most likely already have some degree of joint laxity or hypermobility, and don't need more stretching.  With someone that's hypermobile some stretching may be OK, but we definitely want to avoid end ranges of motion by locking out joints or trying to palm the floor.

Long story short, if you're hypermobile, then you have even more reason to love lifting heavy things.  A well-designed and well executed strength training plan is going to help you feel better and give you the stability you need.  Plus, it'll help make you even more badass.....and when isn't that a goal!?