Before we get too far along, there was HUGE news today. Like summer blockbuster big. Zack Snyder unveiled not only the Batmobile, but the Bat suit (HOLY OMG WOW BATMAN!!). Now we all have to wait two years to see it in action, but after today, I’m defnitely on board with the release of “Batman vs Superman!” Click here to see the newest incarnation of the most famous set of wheels to ever grace the silver screen and the man who will sit in the driver’s seat.
Ok, not that we’ve got that out of the way (and yes, it had to be mentioned!), let’s get you the keys to better flexibility. The first one you do roughly 20,000 times a day, the next one can dictate how well your muscles do it and the last one can be taken care of by staying on top of repetitive stress movements.
Talk to anyone with tight muscles, and more times than not they’ve been told they need to stretch to loosen them up. Its a pretty common suggestion. Unfortunately, there as many ways to stretch as there are ways to stretch.
So what’s the best one? What will help improve your flexibility the most? Ultimately, a greater range of motion and improved length tension relationships (resting length of a muscle, and the tension the muscle can produce at that length) of the muscles is what you should be after.
Instead of asking how to loosen up tight muscles, I think a better question is why do our muscles get tight in the first place? Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I’m thinking we should start here.
The Science of Tight Muscles
Before we get too far along, we need to touch on why our muscles actually get tight in the first place. There are several reason why this happens.
Breathing incorrectly, mental stress, sitting all day behind a desk, repetitive stress activities (cycling, running, swimming, swinging a golf club, tennis racket, etc), prior injuries and a weak core are just a few reasons why we can lose range of motion (ROM) in our joints. Keeping in mind muscles getting tighter is a protective mechanism in the body makes this a little easier to understand. But what causes the body to go on muscular lockdown?
If I had to rank the reasons why, it would have to look like this:
- Breathing incorrectly, THIS IS HUGE
- Weak core leading to muscle imbalances and joint stability issues
- Repetitive stress activities in a single plane of motion
Stay on top of these, and life is easier. Don’t, and well, life can get pretty “fun” real quick.
So let’s break this down a little bit and get the long and the short of tight muscles.
Keeping in mind we do this over 20,000 times a day, and its easy to see how this can be the ultimate repetitive stress activity. Here’s what is supposed to happen when we breath (1):
- The abdomen/core fills (this includes the diaphragm depressing into the abdominal cavity and a lowering of the pelvic floor)
- The lower ribs expand
- The upper ribs (apical section) fills.
Our bodies are an amazing system of systems, muscles and bones that work together to allow us to function. And that’s one of the problems.
As far as the geography of breathing, the muscles that allow us to inhale and exhale include the diaphragm (where you want to breath, daily), transverse abdominus (deep abdominal wall) and internal obliques. These muscles are covered in fascia (the connective tissue surrounding your muscles), and it connects to other parts of your body such as the spine, hip flexors, muscles of the hips, upper legs, superficial abs and your shoulders.
Since there are muscles that are involved with breathing that either attach directly to the spine or are in pretty close proximity, this is pretty important. You should also know that the fascia of the diaphragm connects to each muscle of the core which means they work together, or they get out of balance and dysfunction together (2).
- Produce movement
- Provide stability
- Protect a joint as it moves
- An example of this is when the hips get tight as it tries to bring some stability to a different area of the body that doesn’t have it allowing you to produce movement.
|Short Muscle||Lengthened Muscle||Altered Mechanics||Potential Injury|
|Calves||Anterior Tibialis||Knee Adduction||Plantar Fascitis|
|Hip Flexors||Glute Max||Increased Lumbar Extension||Low Back Pain|
|Adductors||Glute Med/Max||Excessive Pronation||Patellar Tendonitis|
|Upper Traps||Deep Cervical Flexors||Increased Cervical Extension||Headaches|
|Lats||Lower Traps||Decreased Shoulder Extension||Rotator Cuff Issues|
- Move from a stable base of two legs and two arms moving together to a single leg and one arm moving requiring the core to stabilize you.
Want to work your core in an incredibly challenging way? This will do it!
Then once you learn these progressions, perfect crawling in every way possible. I’ve been using this a ton lately, and thanks to Tim Anderson’s “Original Strength” training method, my “X-Patterns” are getting stronger and I’m moving better.
Any time we negatively affect the way we move, we perpetuate faulty movement patterns as well as movement quality. The good news is that this results in the altering of the activation sequence or firing order of the muscles involved, wreaking havoc with movement patterns and reducing neuromuscular efficiency.
If your kinetic chain (human movement system) has a weak link from repetitive stress movements, you run the risk of patterns of tissue overload and movement dysfunction which causes decreased neuromuscular control and eventually sends you on a ride on the “cumulative injury cycle.” The long and the short of one of these rides looks like this (8):
- Tissue trauma (acute injury from a fall, etc as well as repetitive stress activities that cause tissue stress)
- Increased neuromuscular tension
- Protective muscle spasms
- Myofacial adhesions (think the the joy of someone digging into your IT band with elbows and knuckles)
- Altered neuromuscular control
- Basically form falling apart leading to negative function
This is why you need a core stabilization training program that (9):
- improves dynamic postural control
- ensures appropriate muscular balance and joint arthrokinematics (joint surface movement) around the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex
- allows for the expression of dynamic functional strength
- improves neuromuscular efficiency throughout the entire kinetic chain
This makes nailing your form that much more important at the basics BEFORE you go into the complex. Form over function my friends, its the key to moving better that will always be your foundation for feeling better.
There you have it a few words to tell you: breathe correctly, do your core work and limit your exposure/undo the effects of repetitive stress movements. And that my friends, is one to grow on!
If you got down this far, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, it is very much appreciated!
1) “The Breath-Stress-Relationship,” Mike Robertson
2) “Diaphragmatic Breathing Through Pulling Versus Through Pushing,” Dean Somerset
3) “4 Things We Are Doing Wrong with Rehab,” Mike Reinold
4) “Stretching Doesn’t Work,” Dean Somerset
5) “NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise,” Clark, Lucet
6) “Some Reasons Why You Should Stop Stretching Your Hip Flexors,” Dean Somerset
7) “Movement That Matters,” Paul Check
8) “National Academy of Sports Medicine: A Scientific Approach to Understanding Kinetic Chain Dysfunction,” Michael A. Clark, MS, PT, PES, CES
9) “Essentials of Integrated Training Part 5,” Michael A. Clark, MS, PT, PES, CES
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THE COMMON SENSE FINE PRINT!
Never attempt any new exercises mentioned in the VelowReviews blog without a thorough evaluation from a physician, personal trainer, strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist or sports chiropractor.