Do you know what muscle tightness says about the state of your muscles?
Tightness is a sensation, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether a muscle needs more length, aka flexibility.
Do a quick experiment for me, grab your index finger and pull it back toward your wrist.
How did it feel?
Once you reached the end of your range of motion, it felt tight, right?
In this case, tightness lets you know you’re near the end of your safe range of motion.
What does tightness tell us when you’re not hitting the end of your range of motion?
What we’ve found after working with over 14,000 clients is that tightness almost always means the muscle is relatively weak.
Why would a weak muscle feel tight?
Your nervous system is constantly monitoring your body to keep it safe. It does this whether you’re sitting on the couch eating Doritos or running the Boston Marathon.
When your nervous system notices something is vulnerable, it tells you. In the case of muscles that are weak relative either to the muscles near it OR the demands they’re being placed under, they feel tight.
Your tight muscles aren’t asking to be stretched; they’re asking to be strengthened.
Does that mean you can’t stretch to relieve the discomfort?
Not necessarily, but there are some caveats.
If you decrease symptoms with stretching, that doesn’t mean the problem is solved; it means your nervous system was distracted enough by the movement to stop pinging you.
Adding flexibility when strength is already lacking can increase your likelihood of injury. Whenever you gain more flexibility, you need enough strength to control it. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for more issues in the future.
If stretching isn’t the answer, how do you build strength to relieve chronic tightness?
Get strong through your full range of motion.
What if you don’t have the full range of motion? Won’t that end up leading to limited flexibility?
Surprisingly enough, the answer is no.
Studies have shown that building strength through your full available range of motion increases flexibility as efficiently as stretching and stretching combined with resistance training.
How can that be?
If your nervous system doesn’t feel vulnerable because you’ve improved your strength, it gives you more access to build even more strength in greater ranges of motion.
Your chronically tight muscles don’t have to stay that way, and you don’t have to stretch multiple times just to survive the day. Get strong, stay strong, and solve the problem for good.