24 Jul How To Ease “Muscle Tightness” Without Foam Rolling Or Stretching 24/7
Keep Reading If You’re Tired Of Foam Rolling Or Stretching Those Tight Hip Flexors Or Hamstrings Repeatedly Just To Have That Muscle “Tightness” Slowly Creep Back In…
This is a question I get quite frequently and one that I thought I’d address here. Normally, it goes something like “Mat, what can I do for these tight calves/hamstrings/hip flexors? I foam roll, stretch, and foam roll some more but that ‘tightness’ keeps coming back…” Kinda like this cute guy below (cue the “aaaawww”)
Now, don’t get me wrong there is always a time to utilize foam rolling and stretching but if you have a constant feeling of muscle “tightness” there is normally an underlying issue. But first things first…
What Is “Muscle Tightness”?
You may have noticed throughout this blog I have put the word “tightness” inside of quotation marks signifying that a constant sensation of tightness is normally just that….a feeling not TRUE muscle tightness. When patients tell me their hamstrings feel tight I can ask them to bend over and most of the time they can touch their toes without any difficulty.
Yet, there are PLENTY of people that don’t have the sensation of “tightness” in their hamstrings and can barely reach past their knees when they bend over (yes, I’m in this category too).
Then I’ll have a patient lay on the table and as I feel the hamstrings/hip flexors/calves/low back I get the response “Can you feel how tight that is?” Yet, when I feel the muscles, they feel completely normal. Leading to this reaction when I tell people they don’t have TRUE muscle tightness…
This leads to your next question…
If The Muscles Are NOT ACTUALLY Tight…What Is Happening?
This sensation of constant “tightness” that doesn’t improve with stretching or foam rolling is usually a signal from your nervous system that there is an underlying problem. The group of “tight” muscles feels this way because they are working too hard or are being asked to do something they are not designed to do. It’s normally not a hamstring or hip flexor or calf issue at all, it’s another group of muscles not doing their job properly.
For example, let’s say you’re an avid runner that gets “tight hamstrings” after running for 10 minutes (a very common problem). In addition to looking at your running form, I would make an educated guess that your glutes are not working like they should during the push-off phase of running.
During the push-off phase, the hamstrings are working harder than they should while your glutes are taking a vacation leading to the feeling of “hamstring tightness,” and can lead to you pulling a hamstring. Not fun!
The same goes for “tight hip flexors,” it is generally not the hip flexors that are the problem. Many times, it’s your core muscles not being activated properly causing the hip flexors to tighten up.
What Can Be Done To Solve This Problem?
This is where things get a bit tricky because there is not a one-size-fits-all solution because everyone’s body is a little bit different. Meanwhile, turning on your glutes and core may sound easy in theory, but can take time to do it properly without the help of a trained professional.
Luckily, I’m here to lead you in the right direction with these 4 quick and easy steps!
Step 1: Stop Endlessly Foam Rolling and Stretching
Albert Einstein has one of my all-time favorite quotes that applies perfectly here “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If you’re foam rolling and stretching daily and still have the feeling of constant “tightness” at the calves, hamstrings, or hip flexors then go ahead and stop. Although you may feel better temporarily…in the long term you aren’t solving your problem and wasting your time.
Step 2: Warm Up Properly
Shockingly, I still see many people either not warming up at all or still doing old school bend over and touch your toes stretching prior to doing high-intensity exercises. This can be a recipe for disaster. Your warm-up shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes and should include a brisk run or jog, some dynamic stretching (stretching with movement), and targeted muscle activation.
Side Note: If you’d like me to write a blog on a proper warm-up….comment below!
Step 3: Speaking of Muscle Activation…Wake Up Your Glutes And Core!!
I can write an entire blog on this topic but will make this short and sweet. Here are a few videos on how to do this the right way!
In my (humble) opinion, the video below is the key to doing any exercise safely. If you can perform a proper abdominal brace you significantly decrease your chances of injury.
After you’ve figured out the abdominal brace here is the perfect exercise to add to your warm-up. The Bird Dog. It’s a great exercise to get the core and limbs working in unison.
And finally, my all-time favorite glute activation exercise. The Clam!
Step 4: If Steps 1-3 Don’t Work….Go See A Physical Therapist!
This is definitely the best suggestions I can give you. If you’ve attempted the above and still are having that “muscle tightness” feeling…then contact your local physical therapist ASAP. We are trained to properly assess these symptoms and develop a customized plan just for you in order to get back to the activities you love doing!
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