Stop Before You Stretch: Why it isn’t Always the Solution for Tight Muscles
How often does a tight muscle bother you? Once a day? Twice a day? More?
And how often is your very next thought, I guess I just need to stretch more?
And you’re right. You do need to stretch more.
But, what if I told you that stretching doesn’t fix everything…
I know, I know. This makes no sense. 2 + 2 = Fish, up is down, and left is Oklahoma. But just appease me for a second and pretend that you don’t need to stretch every time you feel the sensation of muscle tightness.
Before you stretch:
- Identify: Tight muscles happen for a variety of reasons. The best thing you can do is stop and think. If it’s a chronic issue, there is most likely an underlying problem with your postural alignment. We all have muscular deficiencies and one we start to load our skeletal system with squats, deadlifts, and presses, we exasperate these dysfunctions. A 30 second hold doesn’t “lengthen” your muscle or address why you are experiencing chronic discomfort in the first place.
- Develop a plan of attack. So now you’ve identified there is a problem that needs more than a stretch. Don’t oversimplify your dysfunction and hope time heals all wounds (it doesn’t). What you need is a combination of flexibility, mobility, targeted strength training, and a dynamic integration of movement. If this isn’t an area of expertise, I recommend consulting an expert. There are no quick fixes for flexibility problems.
- Execute the plan: Once you and your coach have developed a plan that addresses the issues with your postural alignment, you need to stick to it. This sounds obvious, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think I had to. Often during execution stages, people begin to feel good after a few weeks. I call this the “band-aid phase” when everything starts to feel right and nothing can go wrong. You decide to go back to your normal routine at the gym doing all the shit you were doing before. Problem is, your “tightness” now returns and you feel just as bad as you did when you started, if not worse.
I can’t address all the misconceptions about stretching in one article but the first step is to dispel the myth that stretching is a cure-all for sensations of tightness.
So why isn’t stretching a cure-all?
For one, there can be a significant difference between one’s flexibility and mobility. While these concepts are similar, flexibility is the range of motion available for a specific movement or joint and mobility is your body’s usable range of motion.
In other words, just because you can stretch a joint in a certain manner, doesn’t mean it is a healthy functional movement for your body.
Next, there is a difference between active and passive range of motion. Active motion is under your control, passive is with the assistance of outside force.
A sound flexibility and mobility plan will utilize both to develop range of motion incrementally. Otherwise, you run the risk of worsening your injury or alignment with untrained movements.
Aimlessly stretching and mobilizing tissue that may or may not require it is stupid and negligent.
Do your research and educate yourself before jumping into some nonsense you overheard at your local globo-gym. Saying you should just “stretch it out” is not only an oversimplification but it’s straight up nonsensical. Ask for help, develop a plan, and execute the plan. At the end of the day, it is YOUR body. If you injure yourself as a result of ignorance you are the only one who has to deal with the repercussions.
Stretching is important, but best as part of a plan that addresses your deficiencies, not as a holistic solution.
If you’d like to learn more about this, physiologist Dean Somerset wrote an informative guest post on Eric Cressey’s strength and conditioning blog. They are both intelligent trainers whose work I highly recommend.
Need help developing your flexibility and mobility? Work with one of our knowledgeable trainers to develop a plan that is right for your body.