As a child, you and everyone else had to earn their right to stand up and walk.
You suffered many times for trying. You fell countless times. You probably even hit your head on the corner of a coffee table. But, you got up and tried again – you earned your right to be upright.
Back then, all you had was mobility. Mobility always comes before stability. Your mobility doesn’t have to be perfect, but, it should allow your soft tissues to move and elongate with comfortable ease. It shouldn’t be a chore to tie your shoe laces or get out of bed each morning.
Let’s examine whether your body desires or needs Mobility or Stability.
So, you have tight hamstrings? Tight pecs? Is that really a problem?
Stability = “tight”
Mobility = “flexible”
What does that mean? All too often, we inherently or instinctively have a desire to make tight muscles “un-tight” – we try to give them mobility, when clearly, our bodies have decided that they should have stability. Is this merely another socio-media driven physical manifestation of body image? Is it really undesirable to be stiff, tight, taut, or inflexible – is it that bad?
People often (sheepishly), almost ashamedly, confess to “knowing” that they should be doing more stretches for their wretched, inflexible, stiff muscles. But, I’m not so sure they should be stretching ANYTHING until they know exactly what purpose the tightness (stability) is serving.
Well, let me propose that you need to be thankful for your tight, stiff, inflexible muscles. Praise those stiff balls of protein!
Your tight hamstrings or your tight pecs or your tight whatevers are providing your body with stability. Would you prefer to have less stability in your body and take away the tightness that your body has decided that it needs? Your tight and stiff muscles are actually protecting a vulnerability that you have in your body; this is usually related to the one, two or more muscles that attach centrally to your spine, oft called the CORE, ie., diaphragm, quadratus lumborum, lats, psoas, int-ext obliques, and the ever-so-trendy T.A., to name but a few.
You will be forcing mobility at your own peril! Those muscles that feel tight are often tight for a very good reason. We have a very specific example further down…
But first, an Off-topic Rant: I’m not talking about your CORE here either. Your CORE is a function of muscles and connective tissues that run from your big toes, all the way to the top of your head – you cannot separate lines of force through the body. Your body doesn’t work like that, it works in functional lines of load and strain, from tip-to-toe …. forget “your CORE” …. think in Movements. Your whole body is involved in everything you do, from every single breathe that you take, through to sitting while you’re driving, through to sprinting, to kicking a goal.
The energy generated to kick the ball, in the image above, is created from the tip of the finger tips, to the tip of the toes and requires the coordination of every fibre of the body. The CORE is the entire body. To attempt to isolate the trunk from the arms and legs is like trying to fix your car’s engine by inflating it’s tyres: As with the apple core. Where does the apple finish, and where does the core begin ?
Now… where were we…?
If you take away that stiffness (now, also known as stability), what is left to support those muscles that feel unsupported or that may be inhibited and unable to contract to the best of their ability? Who’s looking out for them?
You are robbing Peter, to pay Paul….. Stealing stability, to gain mobility.
Stiffness is like training wheels on a bicycle. When you remove that stiffness you become vulnerable.
Stiffness keeps you out of a range of motion that your body (or brain) believes will compromise your wellbeing.
Precision and quality are more important than the number of repetitions or the distance you travel.
If you choose to destabilise a joint by giving it more mobility, you must make darn sure that you have a plan to bolster the joint with stability from somewhere.
By engaging in a stretching regime you are trying to create mobility, where mobility may not be desirable. You are potentially taking away the only good, safe management strategy that this area of your body has. If your main muscles are not playing the game, and doing their job, other muscles inevitably take over and do the work for them.
Haven’t we all worked in an office, or played on a team where there have been people who do not pull their weight – you know, “the slackers”? The ones that slacken off and don’t really chip-in as much as everyone else? Then, what happens over time? Do these people all of a sudden, one day, start doing their job or playing their role or are they more inclined to leave you (and everyone else) to pick up their slack? That’s right, they get worse as time goes on. They begin to rely on you to do their work.
Let me tell you right now – muscles are exactly the same as these slackers in your office! If they get a chance to go on a vacation – they will. And, don’t expect them to come back online anytime soon – they enjoy the vacation.
So, these are the types of muscles that your “tight” muscles are covering for. If your glute max isn’t functioning properly, your hamstrings must do something – you must have muscular control of your hip joint – and that is what the glute max is supposed to do. The fact is, if the glute max doesn’t provide the stability for the hip joint, the hamstrings are the next best choice. But, the issue is that now the hamstrings have their own work, and the glute max’s work to do – and they get tight, stiff and annoyed. They were helping the glute max, and the glute max takes advantage of the hamstrings.
Now, if you have a lazy glute max (as a result of gluteal amnesia – more about this later!) and you stretch the hamstrings and lengthening the hamstrings, you’re taking away the only stability that the hip joint is getting.
Get assessed! If you have stiffness or tightness – it is there for a reason. Indiscriminate stretching is an attempt to remove the in-built safety features that our bodies have. Think about this too. If someone is unable to do a squat or sit-and-reach, without their heel coming off the ground, does that not suggest stiffness or tightness in the calf musculature? Then why on Earth would you trick the ankle joint with a heel lift, so you can perform an exercise that your body is trying to prevent you from doing?
Get assessed. Find out exactly what your body is telling you. Loosening muscles and joints randomly causes instability. Instability causes injuries.