We have all experienced muscle tightness. Whether this be from training, sitting down at the desk for too long or getting up in the morning feeling stiff as a board.
Muscle tightness can be frustrating and can really limit our movements the next day.
We can get muscle tightness from three major reasons; during exercise, after exercise and from prolonged periods of inactivity.
When we sit at a desk for a prolonged period of time some muscles can get tight due to restricted movement. When we are seated, our hips are bent / in a flexed position, which puts our hip flexors in a shortened position. Range is restricted which can contribute to that feeling of “tight hips”. Conversely this can lengthen the muscle in our glutes. We bend and often reach forward which can shorten our chest muscles making them tight and conversely lengthen those on our upper back too.
Over time we can see this resulting in muscle imbalances from this shortening and lengthening relationship.
In order to help this, we have to look to release those shortened muscles to make them longer and conversely strengthen lengthened muscles to make them stronger. This is an important concept for anyone who trains to understand and respect. Continuing to train and lift heavier with major muscle imbalances can have consequences downstream.
We can also get muscle tightness when we exercise. This can be commonly known as muscle cramps. If this is happening constantly this can be an indication that these muscle tissues need to have more work placed through it in order to withstand the applied load. It may also indicate that you may need to address your hydration levels and nutrition components.
We can also get muscle tightness after exercise, often referred to as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). After exercise muscles can tighten up. When we train and apply a resistance to our bodies we are inducing tiny micro tears in our muscles. With adequate recovery, these tears repair and new muscle fibres can be built.
So what can we do to help reduce muscle tightness in the short and long term?
Prolonged period of inactivity
Look to include regular times to get up and give your body access to full range of motions. Standing up straight, leaning back slightly, arms above your head in big circles. Get out of that restricted position regularly and move through full ranges of movement for every joint.
If you sit all day, you can also look at the position in which you are sitting. If you are leaning forward adjust your position. Sit on your “sit bones”, back straight, shoulders back.
You can also look to stretch and release shortened muscles regularly with a simple stretch and release sequence. Chest and hip flexors will need a lot of TLC if you sit most of your day.
Tightness during exercise
Prior to training ensure that you allow your muscles to lengthen by accessing more range with stretching. Also ensure you release tight muscles by foam rolling, trigger release work and activation drills. Ensure you are hydrated and nourished. If this continues to happen we can look to plug in some additional work for those muscles to help them come to the party for ongoing sessions.
Tightness after exercise
We want to lengthen these tight shortened muscles. Start with big stretches that you can ease and work into as you loosen up. Scorpions, downward dog into cobra, walking hamstring toe touches, open books. Blood flow aids with recovery, including some active rest work like walking to help. It will feel tight at the start but as you keep moving it will improve. Start gently and move through.
Continue to spend time releasing usual culprits depending on your lifestyle demands. Even if it is a rest day and you’ve sat all day at work, your muscles have still shortened from inactivity. Treat this the same as a training day.
Look to build strength in those lengthened muscles like your glutes and upper back regularly.
Remember movement helps tight muscles! It might feel better to do nothing, but your muscles will thank you for it x
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