"My muscles are tight, I have to go stretch"
- Almost every person I know
It seems simple enough. If you have muscle tightness, the remedy is to stretch said muscles.
Simple. Easy. Done deal. Moving on.
Not so fast.
There may be a better way. An approach that, on the surface, seems ludicrous and absurd.
But, put into practice, yields amazing results and corrects the ailment stretching could never fix.
Think of a piece of rope. If you tie the rope into a knot, the ends of the rope move closer together, essentially making the rope shorter.
I do not think anyone would argue this point.
Although not exactly the same, think of tying that same knot in a muscle. Since the ends of the muscle are firmly attached on both ends it cannot shorten.
Instead it lengthens.
Have you ever had a massage or had another person press on your shoulder or upper back and have it feel like you were just stabbed in the back with a shiv?
Or have you ever had the pleasure of some jerk physical therapist pressing on your tight IT bands causing you to see stars followed by a blinding white light?
That tightness/tenderness you feel is that "knot" and keeps the muscle under constant contraction and will not respond to additional stretching. If anything, stretching will make it worse.
So what in the wide world of sports do we do?
Typically, performing some sort of soft tissue mobilization (think massage) to the areas that feel like they are tight. Presence of a trigger point (a tender spot or area) indicates an area that would benefit from some soft tissue work.
Common areas that benefit from this sort of work are the gastrocnemius (especially the lateral part), the IT bands, quads, mid back, upper traps and some neck muscles.
The soft tissue work basically puts some slack back in the muscle so it can rest in more of a neutral position.
Constant pain and tightness at rest usually indicate muscles that are constantly contracted and are in need of some rest and relaxation.
Hold on though. You are not done yet.
Just performing the soft tissue work is a good start but if you do not perform some movement, exercises and/or motor control training after the soft tissue work, you will likely just allow the muscle to tighten back up again.
Since most trainers should not put perform any soft tissue work on their clients, we have to find alternative ways to do so.
Use a foam roller as your trusty assistant.
Assuming it is not contraindicated, lay on your side with the foam roller under the outside part of the thigh. Instruct them to roll along the outside part of the thigh, performing some soft tissue work to the ITB.
Common responses include cursing, sweating, wincing, more cursing and a stink eye that could burn a hole right through someone's chest.
An important point to remember is that the more soft tissue work hurts….the more you need to do it.
This is probably the only time that statement is true. This rule does not apply to other areas of fitness.
Keep in mind that this type of work, especially in the upper back, can refer pain to other areas.
You press in one area and feel some different things in a different area from where the pressure is.
What is this sorcery?
Many people will avoid doing this type of work due to how painful it is. The only way to alleviate the pain is to perform the soft tissue work followed by movement, exercises and/or motor control training.
Performing this once every few days won’t cut it. Try 3-4x/day, every day for about a week. After this, they can move to more of a maintenance phase and perform 1x/day or on workout days.
This doesn’t mean that traditional stretching has no place, but it means that more often than not, muscles that are tight are not shortened at all.
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Until next time,