I hear this all of the time “my chest feels tight, I feel like I need to stretch” or “my hammies are tight, I should stretch”. Maybe you’ve said something along those lines. It’s a natural response. When something feels tight, you stretch it.
Unfortunately, stretching may be the last thing you should do, here’s why.
Often times, the people saying they need to stretch are the last people who should be stretching. They show how ‘tight’ their muscles are by moving their arm or leg around. Yet, when I see their range of motion, they’re on the verge of having too much! They’re typically the hypermobile people.
I know, this may seem odd but the issue isn’t muscle tightness, its weakness.
When muscles are weak or they’re asked to do too much too often, they get cranky. This crankiness starts out as tightness and seems to go away when you stretch. So, you stretch. The only issue is that when you come the next day you find yourself saying the same thing “[insert muscle] feels tight, I need to stretch”.
If this is you, stretching is not the answer.
The underlying reason why that muscle feels tight is that your brain has made it feel that way. Your brain knows when a muscle is weak and struggling to keep up. So, it increases activity in that muscle to help it cope.
That is the tightness feeling you experience.
Why does stretching make things feel better? Stretching is a way of making muscles relax, calm down. Stretching is a way of communicating with your brain to say “Hey! Everything is all good here, no need to worry.” When you stretch, you’re able to get things to back off a bit.
Unfortunately, stretching is only a short-term fix. Why? Because the underlying problem isn’t muscle tightness, its muscle weakness. Until you do something to strengthen that muscle, you’ll continue with this cycle. “[insert muscle] feels tight, I need to stretch”.
Here’s my challenge for you: Next time you’re thinking of how tight something feels and how much you need to stretch, do an exercise that targets that muscle instead.
If your hamstrings are tight, try Romanian deadlifts or the glute/ham machine. If your chest feels tight, try some plate raises or dumbbell bench.
One of the most commonly “tight” muscles are the hip flexors. If you find yourself wanting to stretch them, try the banded hip flexor exercise instead.
When you replace stretching with strengthing you’ll not only find that you feel less tight, but you’re actively working towards addressing the underlying issue: weakness.