If you are active and exercise regularly, chances are you have experienced muscle tightness. Muscle tightness after exercise is generally common. However, when muscle tightness is chronic–meaning that it doesn’t go away, there could be underlying issues. A common misconception is that tight muscles, equate to strong muscles. To use the legs as an example, chronic muscular tightness in the hamstrings is common and usually means you are under using them due to weakness and overuse of corresponding muscles. The over-recruitment of muscles is unconscious, but over time becomes something the body relies on out of habit. In the end you end up with overdeveloped Quadriceps and underused, tight Hamstrings that are shortened in length and weak overall. This is a prescription for injury, especially if you are a runner.
It is our responsibility to teach our muscles how to work properly as they often take the path of least resistance. Sticking with the upper leg as an example, the Quadriceps or front (anterior) thigh is the workhorse of the body. Because it’s such a large muscle group, the Quadriceps will do everything if you let them, and the other muscles that should be working with them to create balance will go unused. This imbalance doesn’t just affect the Quads and Hamstrings, but other muscles in the body as well.
Balance-Whenever you work a muscle, you need to work the corresponding muscle to create balance. For example, strengthen the biceps as much as you strengthen your triceps. If you have chronic tightness in a muscle, you need to address that first in order to foster correct balance.
Be Educated-Have some knowledge about how your muscles should work together. If you don’t go to a gym where you can speak with a trainer, there are plenty of resources on the Internet.
Stretch-I’ve written articles on the importance of stretching and I cannot stress enough how important it is for a healthy body. But, be careful when you stretch. Do not stretch when you are ‘cold’-meaning right out of bed or as your first activity. Walk around a bit, run in place, swing the arms or take a warm shower first. In general, you want some circulation going on first.
Myofascial Therapy- In really extreme cases of chronic tightness, some sort of myofascial or trigger point therapy is needed to help release some of the tightness so the muscle can be strengthened and stretched. This can be extremely painful for some, but its benefits far outweigh the temporary discomfort.
One of the key principles of Pilates, which I teach, is balance. This is not just important in Pilates but with any exercise method and in life in general…Balanced muscles protect you from injury, joint stress and contribute to a more effective workout overall!
Jessica Kuiken is a Los Angeles based Certified Pilates Instructor.