Today we are going to talk about muscle tightness. When to stretch and when not to. To get to the point, muscle shortness is when muscle sarcomeres or muscle fibers change their structure … it is an issue that takes place with an injury or after surgery or a joint stuck in one position for a long time. Those are the situations we need to stretch in terms of lengthening muscle structure. I gotta tell ya that takes a long time. To lengthen a muscle takes a lot longer than one would realize. Protocols seen out there that prescribe 20-30s to stretch a muscle really isn’t going to accomplish the desired effect.
The Question Is Tightness.
Shortness does not equal tightness. Tightness is dictated by the neuromuscular system. It is very nervous system oriented. People mistake tightness for shortness on a daily basis for years.. They think the muscular system has shortened (we will talk hamstrings in a sec) but really its their nervous system sending a signal to the muscle to increase tension or tone. So, if the hams always feel tight and you’ve been stretching them everyday but still feel tight or you can bend over and touch your toes or lie on your back and lift your leg up to 90 degrees, lets say, then there is nothing wrong with your muscle structure. It’s a message from your nervous system telling the hammies to increase tone or tightness.
Why Is That?
The reason is often times because people lack stability somewhere else. What does that mean? Let’s look at the glutes. If they are under active, the pelvic floor or abs are not holding the trunk in right position then the hams are going to be asked to hold on for dear life because to the brain it’s the only place to find stability. Even though one may accrue stability even possibly through the adductors it is not the most efficient pattern to do so.
I hope this all makes sense…we’ve had this notion of always stretching the hamstrings and most of the time I would not do this. We’ve gotta start trying to look at other things going on before we just stretch a way.
Next we will be discussing some strategies to address muscle tightness and how position can make instant changes to the tone your hamstrings are holding.
Nikki Rouillard, CSCS