Why you are tight, the secrets to flexibility.
Over the years that I have been training I have realized what is important to me and what I want when it comes to training and fitness. I love lifting heavy, I love pole and I love pushing my body to its limits however ultimately I want to be long and strong, I want to be able to twist and turn with speed and power, I want to always be a good mover and be ready for whatever physical challenge life throws at me.
For instance, If tomorrow I had to enter an obstacle race I can, If I wanted to learn a new skill my body is prepared and ready, If I had to get ready to compete in something my body can adapt quickly because it has the foundations and if I were to be stuck up a mountain in extreme conditions then I would like to believe that I did all that I can to be ready for it 😂 In order to do this I need my body to function and move the way it was designed to. Whether it's sitting in a deep squat position at ease, touching my hands on the floor with my legs straight, being able to rotate my torso with ease etc.
So before we go ahead with this blog, let's start by understanding what tightness is.
WHAT IS TIGHTNESS?
"Tightness is a muscle guarding phenomena. This means that it is a natural response to a stretch in the muscles. In our muscles are Muscle Spindles that tells the body the distance a muscle has stretched. Once it reaches a certain point the Golgi Tendon Organ (the stretch reflex is what I like to call it) tells the brain to STOP the muscle from stretching. (This is when you feel that discomfort and pain when you are stretching) This response forces the muscle to contract (The point when you feel like you want to get out of that stretch). The contraction is the “tightness” we feel. Typically the contraction isn’t a strong one if the movement is within our normal range of motion (ROM), but on occasion, if we go past the typical ROM the contraction can be very intense and can even cause injury."
So really, everyone can feel "tight". In my opinion anything that is limiting your range of movement or effecting your health can be seen as a tightness.
However, this all comes down to your expectations and what your goal is. If you are comparing yourself to someone who is doing the splits then of course you are going to feel tight, If your goal is to do a backwards walkover and you are yet to do a bridge then you are going to feel tight. So remember, just because you can't do the splits, have your head touching your ass in a deep backbend, or contort into weird positions doesn't mean that you are tight!
On the other hand if you are suffering from chronic pain and aches, chances are your body is screaming for help and you should probably listen to it and try to understand why or what is causing the pain.
So, I guess you could now ask yourself what are you wanting to achieve? What was your expectation?
WHY YOU ARE TIGHT?
There may be a few reasons as to why you might be tight and If you can understand why then that means you know what you can do to improve.
Number 1 being the most obvious, you don't stretch nor do you work on your flexibility.
You are not working at full range when you are training.
You are constantly doing the same movement patterns over and over again and neglecting other parts of your body. (This generally tends to be people who participate in one sport and not condition or incorporate other things into their training program, so in the long run their bodies tend to get good at only doing that one thing, resulting in tightnesses in other areas)
You sit at a desk all day and don't move.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO IMPROVE YOURSELF?
Let's take the points from above and go through them one by one.
Not doing anything about your tightness. I think it's pretty obvious to say that if you are complaining that you feel tight and not doing anything about it then you should start by doing something. If you don't move it, you will loose it. Surprisingly, that doesn't have to mean that stretching is your only option. Why not find other ways to work on the area that you want to make more flexible. If you know what area is tight why not work on improving it whilst you are training? Let's say you struggle to lift your arms up straight by your ears and it's limiting you in your shoulder press, you could incorporate dead hangs into your sets, or start your workout with some PVC pipe rotations. If you are not sure what area is tight and have neglected your flexibility, I would say that the chances are you are most likely going to be a little tight everywhere, so why not make things a little fun and attend a class that will help you get more mobile in the long run, something like adult gymnastics, yoga or pilates. The progress may be a little slower than targeting the issue straight on but at least it's fun! You will sustain anything that you enjoy doing.
Not training at full range. When we are not moving our levers at full range of motion overtime our muscles will become short and tight. This can restrict any movement that we have in our joints due to poor form through training, or it can also be from increased muscle mass and neglect. Depending on how severe the problem is, it can make it impossible for our bodies to move in the way it was designed to. When we end up not working at full range we end up restricting the synovial fluid that helps circulate and coats the joints surface. Without this fluid the joints will feel stiff and deteriorate. Just like a motor, imagine we use oil to lubricate engine parts to reduce friction and protect engine parts from corrosion and wear and tear. The synovial fluid in our joints protect us. If we don't move it, we loose it. This doesn't mean that you have to compensate by starting a yoga class an hour a week to try and solve the problem, it won't. It has to start by you correcting what you are currently doing when training. Believe it or not, when done correctly weightlifting can improve your flexibility without you even having to stretch. You will become a stronger and better mover. If you think about it for a second why not increase your range through movements that will be transferable, strengthen your joints, and benefit your body more in the long term, such as step ups or squats, deficit deadlifts, kettlebell windmills, the list could go on, Rather than sit in a static stretch and stretch your body Into a range it Is already unfamiliar with which can increase your chance of injury.
You are doing the same movement over and over again. This could apply to anyone who is constantly in the same position on a daily basis, from a coach potato to anyone who participates in a sport and does not do anything to compliment their training to balance out their body. If we were to look at society today, technology and modern amenities have made our lives easier; however, they have decreased our mobility and physical activity particularly in the posterior chain. The posterior chain is a networked group of major muscles and connective tissue on the posterior (back) part of the body. This collective group of muscles is so important to us because It provides the body with strength, power, endurance and stability whilst helping decrease common aches and pains such a headaches, lower back pain, and nerve impingements. Sitting in your daily commute with poor posture, looking at computer screens, and slouching at desks have all contributed to the vast majority’s lack of development within the posterior chain. Now, let's say someone who has a desk job has recently got into cycling, they have gone from sitting in the same hunched position all day long to being in the exact same position on a bike as part of their exercise regime to get fit and healthy. Without realizing it they are already doing more damage and harm to their bod than good so of course they are going to suffer from aches and pains and have severe tightness. You could now ask yourself, what do you do day in and day out? Do you play a sport? Do you know what areas may become tighter from participating in that sport? What do you do in the gym, is it the same thing?
My aim with this blog is not to provide you with a step by step guide that's going to get rid of your tightnesses, there is no one size that fits all solution here, everyone is unique and individual. Nor am I going to copy and paste the benefits of stretching from google and share them with you, you can do that yourself.
Yet my blog is to help you become more aware as to why you may be tight and what you can do to improve. Remember that everyone has tightnesses, including myself, and just because you cannot perform certain flexible movements or positions doesn't mean that you are tight.
Always remember if you Focus on one thing you're only going to be good at that one thing.