Should You Stretch Tight Muscles? No.
Well, probably not. Most of the time, the muscles we perceived as tight are already stretched too long. Stretching the tight muscle is most likely not the solution to long-term relief
You may be doing more harm than good by arbitrarily stretching things. Good thing is the body is very resilient and can improve quickly once you figure out what to stretch and what to strengthen.
Many times what seems to be tight isn’t the problem, it’s just the recipient of a few joints being out of proper position. You can stretch that muscle for the rest of your life but it probably won’t get any better, at least in the long run. Temporarily you may feel a slight relief but it usually isn’t a good long-term fix.
Here are 4 Stretches I would probably stop doing
1. Hip Flexors
Many feel that their Hip Flexors are tight and have seen stretches that help to lengthen them. The problem isn’t that the hip flexors are tight it’s most likely that your core/rib cage/pelvis is in a bad position. You can keep stretching but you’re probably doing way more harm than good.
If you have made this mistake, well join the club. Until about a year ago I believed this was helping, but turns out, the more I know, the more I realize I was a dumbass. The problem with stretching hip flexors is that you’re not really stretching hip flexors as much as you’re stretching the precious ligaments in the front of your hip capsule. This can lead to more problems than just having tight hip flexors.
These ligaments are especially important when your pelvis is out of place, so STOP STRETCHING THEM PLEASE!
If you can’t tell from the above picture, the guy with the beard is sitting on the bald dude’s femur in an attempt to stretch his “tight” hip flexors. Most likely he’s just driving his femur out of the front of the socket.
Instead of having someone sit on your femur or you over extending the hip you can do something called 1/2 kneeling. 1/2 kneeling is great because you get a good amount of stretch on the muscles in the front of the leg and hips but without over stretching.
Do this instead
You can also get the benefits of hip stability when you set your feet fairly narrow while in 1/2 kneeling. You want to stack your hips directly over the knee on the floor or possibly only a SLIGHT shift forward with the hip to really stretch your leg muscles. You can increase the stretch by trying to lift the back foot off the floor by either blocking it up on something or using your hamstring to actively lift your foot off (be ready for a major hamstring cramp!!!).
One more thing you want to be aware of in 1/2 kneeling is the position of your upper body. I cue my clients to stay tall and exhale to reduce any extension in the back and rib flare. Being in the correct position, with some abz on can really help pull that pelvis into an optimal position.
Learn to control a good 1/2 kneeling position, like the one in the above video and you will probably never need to stretch your tight Hip Flexors again.
I’ve met many people that can’t touch their toes or even sit on the floor with legs straight without discomfort. All of them blame their tight hamstrings. They’re most likely tight but they’re tight for a reason… they’re keeping you from falling on your face.
Further up the kinetic chain of your body something is out of position which has led to your hamstrings being tight. Stretch hamstrings all you want but they won’t get any better and in fact can take away some of that stability which could lead to some nagging back pain or maybe even achy knees.
Once again I’ve made this mistake before. Tried stretching those suckers by any means possible only to be left with next to no progress as far as mobility goes. What I was missing was that the pelvis was in a poor position causing one or both hamstrings to feel tight.
Watch the video below and give this a try to see for yourself how much the position of the pelvis plays a role in mobility.
If you’re like most people you should STOP STRETCHING the hamstrings. Especially stop stretching your left hamstring, because often times your left hamstring is already stretched and weak due to normal, human anatomy.
Instead of stretching your hamstrings, let’s focus on what is most likely the issue, the core/pelvis. I would use these two “exercises” below to see if it helps you get back into a better position and gives you some relief.
Do this instead
With this, you would want to do use your hamstring to pull your tailbone slightly off the floor (but keep low back on floor and abs relaxed) and reach your opposite hand towards opposite foot. Breath in through the nose, into the abdomen and chest. Exhale fully through the mouth like you’re sighing (you know, like when your husband disappoints you with a shitty Valentines Day gift?!). You may notice that Lance is squeezing a ball (you can use a foam roller, towel, anything about 5″ in diameter) between his knees to fire his Adductors. Do 5 breath cycles and then repeat on the other side. You would want to do this drill several times as often as possible.
I don’t really need to explain this one too much since Lance did a great job already. Both of these videos came from lancegoyke.com and this is where I suggest you go if you want to find out more about this kind of stuff.
The last one that is probably most over used is the front and back of the shoulder stretch. I see a lot of people crossing their arms across their bodies to stretch the back of the shoulder. Then they go to a wall and twist so they feel a stretch in the front of the shoulder.
The Glenohumeral joint (GH) is a fairly delicate joint so if you don’t know what you’re stretching you may be not doing anything helpful. The GH joint is where your arm bone meets your shoulder blade. Usually what the GH joint needs is more stability, not flexibility. The shoulder blade needs more stability and mobility (different than flexibility) which in turn helps keep your GH joint in a better position. Also, the shoulder blade needs to be in a good position on the rib cage to work optimally. This means you need to breathe well and have a strong core (see videos above)
Instead of stretching the shoulder in a bad position, let’s work on increasing their stability and mobility with a couple exercises (although there are many exercises depending on your particular situation. Using these three exercises will target many of the common deficiencies (rotator cuff function, T-spine rotation, external rotation, scapular upward rotation, lower trap and serratus strength).
Do this instead
If you’re going to stretch your shoulders, this is one that I really like.
Instead of stretching the pecs and muscles of the rotator cuff, you may be better off getting a good stretch on the bigger muscles that pull your shoulders forward while extending your back… your Lats. This stretch is great because it reverses the heavy extension posture that we so often see in people with poor breathing patterns and weak core control.
Being in this posture is a great way to end a workout. It helps to relax you and the muscles in your back that have excessive muscle tone. I would suggest you set aside a few minutes to “shut down” with this one.
The Reach-Roll-Lift exercise is awesome because it addresses so many common shoulder issues all at once. This can be used before a workout to prime some of the shoulders movement and muscles. It should also be used throughout the day to keep that shoulder working well.
Often muscles that feel tight are just the recipients of a joint being in a poor position. Hamstrings, Hip Flexors and Shoulders are not tight because the muscles have become short, they are short because they have been pulled long and tight. Those “tight” muscles are the thing that is helping you from falling further into that bad position. Usually when you start getting the core working better everything starts to fall into place and muscles don’t feel tight, your mobility improves and you perform better than ever before.
- Learn stability and position at the pelvis while being able to move and control the upper body
- Learn stability and position in the upper body (core) while being able to freely move and control lower body
- Get core into a better position by activating hamstrings rather than trying to make them longer
- Better core control will usually help give you more “flexibility”
- Go easy on your shoulders. Stretching those tight muscles may be the worst thing you can do to make them feel better
- Breathe better to naturally stretch the muscles that pull us into a bad position