Have a muscle that just won’t seem to loosen up no matter how often you stretch it? (Queue in Hamstring, Hip Flexors, etc). After all, we’ve all been told that the only way to loosen a muscle is to stretch it, right? Well, not necessarily. The answer is, it depends on WHY that muscle is tight in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, muscle tension is rarely due to a lack of stretching – there’s often an underlying cause; and until you figure that out, you will continue to experience tension in that muscle.
Often, muscles tighten up for two reasons. Either the muscle itself is too weak, or it’s compensating for another area of the kinetic chain. In the second scenario, the muscle has to work overtime to compensate for the lack of ___________ (insert here – mobility, stability, strength, control) of another region.
The tension in a muscle reflects the quality of balance in the system around it. Our entire body works in a kinetic chain, which means fallacies at one point of the chain will cause issues above and below. A great example of this is tightening of the IT Band due to lack of hip external rotation mobility and control. Another example is tightening of the hamstrings due to lack of hip extension strength from the Gluteus Maximus.
Whatever the reason, the end-result is muscle tightness; and simply stretching it does nothing to alleviate the root cause of the tightness. No matter how many hip flexor stretches you do; until you’re able to correct hip rotational mobility, core motor control or whatever the underlying issue is.
Here’s a real-life example. You are currently hiring new employees for your business to cover a 16-hour day. You hire 2 individuals; a 16-year old teenager who works because his parents told him to, who spends 4 of his 8 hours at work on Instagram. The second individual, is a 40-year old who needs to work to feed their family, and is doing 12 hours of work in his 8-hour day. Who is going to complaint to you? The second individual – this is your hip flexor. But you’re never going to hear from the first individual because they aren’t doing anything – this is your hip mobility and/or core control.
We’ve been conditioned to think tightness IS the problem – but the reality of most cases is tightness is a RESULT of the problem