Strength x Tension

Tight Muscles Might Actually Be Weak Muscles
There is a common belief that when a muscle is tight, that it needs to be stretched and strengthening that muscle may aggravate the issue. Let’s explore why this isn’t the case and what should be done instead.

What Really Causes Muscle Tightness?
People often think tight muscles mean the muscle is too strong and just needs stretching to loosen up. But sometimes, tightness means the muscle is weak and is trying hard to protect itself and nearby parts—like joints and ligaments—from getting hurt. This protective tightening can happen when there’s a risk of injury, or when an injury has already happened, and the muscle is trying to guard against further harm.

The False Belief: More Stretching, Less Strengthening
There is currently an existing belief that “tight muscle = needs to stretch”, which often leads to neglect in strengthening. While stretching does play a role in maintaining flexibility, it does not address the underlying weakness. Strengthening, on the other hand, teaches the muscle to function correctly through its full range of motion and to tolerate load effectively, which can reduce unnecessary tightness.

Why Strengthening Should Not Be Overlooked
Strengthening weak muscles can:
•⁠  ⁠Improve Muscle Balance: It takes the burden off overly tight muscles, helping them relax naturally.
•⁠  ⁠Enhance Flexibility and Range of Motion: Strong muscles can handle greater stretches and activity, improving overall functionality.
•⁠  ⁠Prevent Injury: Strong muscles support joints and protect the body, reducing the risk of strains, sprains, and other injuries.

Exercises to Consider
Here are a few exercises designed to strengthen muscles through their full range of motion. Remember, the goal is controlled movement, focusing on both strength and flexibility:

•⁠  ⁠Romanian Deadlifts: Excellent for strengthening the entire posterior chain, including hamstrings and lower back.
•⁠  ⁠Squats: Full-depth squats promote strength and mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles.
•⁠  ⁠Lunges: These target multiple muscle groups in the legs and improve hip flexibility.
•⁠  ⁠Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Enhances shoulder stability and range by strengthening through the full movement.
•⁠  ⁠Push Ups: Great for building upper body strength and core stability while engaging multiple muscle groups.

Always Consult a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist:
Before starting any exercise program, especially if you have pain, past injuries, or specific health conditions, it’s important to speak with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. They’ll assess your needs and ensure your exercise plan is safe and tailored to your individual requirements, including disease management if needed. This step helps prevent injuries and maximizes the benefits of exercise for your overall health.

Tight muscles often need more than just stretching; they need to be strengthened as well so that the muscle will get stronger through a larger range of motion. Understanding and addressing muscle weakness can lead to better flexibility, fewer injuries, and improved overall health. Take the first step towards improving your muscle health today by consulting with one of our physiotherapists or exercise physiologist to develop an exercise plan design for your needs.

Kiara Lanphier (Physiotherapist)