I’m an avid semi-competitive-worker-outer. At almost 38 years old, I can say I’m the fittest over all I have ever been in my life and there are is still lots of room for improvement.
One of the things I see repeatedly at the gym is people constantly stretching, smashing, and rolling the chronically tight muscles. I’m not one to offer advice unless asked. That’s why I write these posts. You will come across it when you’re looking for information that pertains the post’s topic.
When someone does finally approach me, I make sure to get one point across.
The Body Never Does Stupid Stuff!
If you have a chronically tight muscle, it’s happening for a reason. If you have high blood pressure, it’s happening for a reason. If you have cancer, it’s happening for a reason. The reason isn’t because the body is stupid. It’s because the body has been trying to adapt to all the stupid stuff we put it through to keep us going. At some point, those silent adaptations becomes a screaming alarm to stop and slow down.
Tight muscles are no different.
Context is Everything
When you walk on an icy sidewalk, you instinctively activate muscles and ‘tighten’ them to make sure you walk more carefully and avoid falling. But have you ever walked on an icy sidewalk and when you’re inside, you stop and stretch out? Not at all.
What’s the difference if you’re a 50 mile per week runner with chronically tight hamstrings? There isn’t. Your hamstrings are clamping down to provide increase strength and stability so you avoid injury. But we assess those tight hamstrings as ‘bad’ and start the daily process of lengthening the muscles and doing everything we can do to literally weaken them. But who cares, they feel better, right? Until the next day.
I challenge you to NOT stretch a tight muscle but instead to take that chronic cue as your body’s intelligent signal for you to add strength. Since I’m picking on runners, this is often that IT band. You know you’ve tortured yourself by trying to take a rolling pin the side of your leg, all in the name of relieving knee pain.
Did you know that 80% of your IT band is influenced by your booty? So stop chasing the pain that you probably feel in your knee. This leads to more triage assessment of your joint complexes.
Mobility vs. Stability
This is a very simplistic explanation but for more detailed explanations, make Dr. Perry Nickelston’s site a regular resource, especially for you semi-competitive-worker-outers like me.
Your major joints either have a primary function of stability or primary function of mobility. If we’re looking head to toe, the following are mobility focused joint complexes: Big toe, ankle, hip, and T-spine (midback). If we’re looking head to toe, the following are stability focused joint complexes: Foot arch, knee, low back, and neck.
What areas do most people get injured or have chronic pain? The stability areas: Foot arch, knee, low back, and neck. Is it because you just have bad knees or a bad back? Or is it because you have poor mobility and strength in your ankle, booty, and/or midback and your low back and knees are finally done bailing out your rigid, weak derrière?
This is where people associate deep squats or running as ‘bad for their knees or back.’ These movements aren’t bad, these movements done bad are bad.
Many times, it’s a double whammy of both poor mobility and poor strength. A common region this occurs in is the glutes. It’s both de-conditioned and rigid. For runners, if this is the case, you then recruit the big toe to dig into your running surface to add propulsion forward in your running gait. Do this over enough miles and that big toe flexor that runs along the plantar fascia is going to get irritated. Or experience the IT band trying to add stability for the work your glutes should be doing. Hello chronic knee pain.
If you’re a squatter but constantly add load before adding quality and depth of squat, just watch your knees collapse as you try and get out of the bottom of that squat. Whether running or squatting, you have to slow the movements down. We use speed to cheat.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
A simple movement to assess those lower body mobility points is to get into a deep squat, like how a kid plays. A child rarely bends over at the waist but will sit back, to the point their booty is touching their achilles and play…comfortably and sustainably.
The feedback from your body you will probably receive is you can’t open your hips wide enough for your torso to rest between your thighs. Are these tight muscles you need to stretch? These are muscles you need to strengthen, in that full range of motion.
You may notice you can’t stay flat on your feet. Hello ankle mobility issues.
When you do get into that bottom squat position, are you able to lift your big toe off the ground or is it gripping the floor like a grappling?
Lastly, when you stand back up, do it slowly while trying to push your knees out. Can you do this or does one or both of your knees collapse in the middle?
Almost 15 years ago, I blew out my ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus playing basketball. I was 23 years old and i was playing 2 on 2 driveway basketball. The next youngest person was in their mid 50’s. The oldest in his 70’s. And I’m the the one writhing in pain on the pavement. I was an avid runner (diligently making sure my heels hit first), avoided legs at the gym, had a history of repeated ankle sprains, and was religious about stretching my hamstrings.
As I look back, I wonder how I didn’t blow it out earlier in life. I could use the excuse today that I have a ‘bad’ knee to avoid running and deep squats. But because I realized the body never does stupid stuff, I do, I have worked and continually work to correct mobility issues at the ankles, big toe, and hip while concentrating on strengthening the glutes. Therefore, I can maintain a highly active lifestyle while recovering well and fast enough to do it again the next day…with barely stretching anything.
With 3 small boys, I want to make sure I can keep up with their increasingly athletic activities, which shouldn’t be that difficult, especially since they got 1/2 of it from me. Any athletic excellence will all be attributed to my wife. Performance and recovery is what takes place in between training and action. This isn’t just a physical aspect but biochemical as well. Need help? You know how to find me.