Should you strengthen a tight muscle?
I have gotten this question many times during treatments. Should I be strengthening my tight muscle?
Short answer. Yes.
Long answer, well let’s get into it.
First, let’s get into the word “tight”. All throughout my massage therapy classes, my teachers banned us from using the word tight when describing a muscle. A few word muscles can be described as are: “high toned” “short” or ” long”. Which is a great piece of information for us practitioners to use when palpating and assessing muscles, but clients are still going to refer to a muscle as being tight, which is fine! This helps the RMT narrow down which muscle is the problem and from there, find out if it’s too long, short, or if there are trigger points causing problems.
First, let’s use the hamstrings as the main example. MANY people complain that they have tight hamstrings, myself included, back in the day. Now, from here, let’s look at the common posture people have these days. It typically looks like an overly curved low back, causing the tilting of the pelvis. This means that the glutes and hamstrings become inhibited or weak.
Okay, great, the hamstrings are weak. However, because they are weak, they may also be lengthening and not the good stretch lengthening either. It’s more of the hamstrings being unable to activate themselves and don’t know what to do, so they get longer. AND because they are getting longer, the muscles themselves are thinking ” This doesn’t seem right” and they start trying to repair what’s going on by creating muscle knots – or trigger points. This can lead to the muscle feeling tight, when in fact, it’s weak! Dun, dun, dunnnn
This is a VERY simplified version of how I think of the muscles and what’s going on. There is much more science behind it, but you know what they say: Keep it simple, stupid.
So now we know a muscle can be tight and weak, so YES you can strengthen those weak muscles and one day, they won’t feel so tight. The day I stopped stretching my hamstrings and started strengthening them, was life changing. Okay, that’s dramatic but it was a big improvement.
So, what about those muscles that are over-active and are short and tight?? Like the hip flexors from example. Essentially the same thing is going on, trigger points/ muscle knots are starting to form to protect the muscle. So, your body needs to know when it’s appropriate to activate them. Majority of people are sitting all day, this is causing the hip flexors to shorten, but it’s not increasing their strength, they’re still most likely weak! Go ahead an strengthen them, but also, stretch them, because they are shorten than they should be. No harm will come out of that.
Here is a very general guide on which muscles to strengthen and stretch, and which muscles to just strengthen. It’s important to note, you should try to move your joints through all their ranges of motions to keep them mobile. Remember, you use it or lose it.
MUSCLES TO STRENGTHEN:
- Abdominal muscles
- Middle traps
- Lower traps
- Deep neck flexors
MUSCLES TO STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH
- Back extensors
- Hip flexors
- Upper traps
- Levator Scap
Want to know what exercises to do? Visit my exercise inspiration page for… inspiration.
Now go get those muscles strong and be the best human you can be!