We’ve all been there. A series of heavy workouts and practices adding up over the days and weeks has led to this “tight” feeling in your hamstrings, calves, or maybe your mid back. It’s not exactly soreness, you can sense that it could become detrimental if left unattended.
So what do you do? You stretch it, duh!
What if I told you there was something else you could do to:
- Make that sensation go away in the immediate
- Improve the part of your body that is undergoing that discomfort
Well, let’s take a look
The reason you like to stretch is that it’s temporarily relieving. It can blunt the sensation in the muscle by increasing relaxation.
When a muscle is “tight” that usually means one of the following is occurring:
- The soft tissue is overstretched at rest, contributing to a tense feeling & maybe a feeling that it’s not “on”
- The muscle is weak and it’s weakness is showing as tension
- There is some level of a spasm or cramp. This should be stretched & heated to relax but also is extremely uncomfortable and probably not what you’d simply call tight
The tight I’m referring to is not the “I just woke up and my joints are stiff” tightness. This is the tightness that can prelude a muscle or tendon strain. You start running and your groin muscle feels “tight”.
Strength exercises are actually a great way to relieve these feelings of tightness. Especially eccentric or isometric exercises tempos where you either move slowly into a movement or hold a posture - often the angle that is causing the tight feeling.
For the first scenario, this allows for better alignment of the muscle fibers to keep their optimal length. This also can increase your awareness of that muscle. In warming up to move, this can create an acute response to make the tense feeling go away for your training or competitive session. I find that doing a light isometric or eccentric exercise helps tremendously with making most or all of the tight feelings go away so long as it is not full on “injury”.
In the second scenario, being able to strengthen that weak spot allows for the discomfort to go away as the muscle gets stronger. Often, that muscle (and nearby affected joint) is too weak to handle the workload being put on it. That sensation is the tightness and can go away once the muscle/joint is strong enough to handle the workload. This is the more likely scenario of a “nagging injury” that you are training to get rid of.
Now, this is not to suggest you should never stretch, though I have occasionally been told by a PT not to stretch something. Static stretching can be beneficial, it’s just worth noting that it can further irritate an already overstretched muscle or a weak one.
In my experience, static stretching should rarely be done only in a sport session without an accompanying strength exercise.
In many cases, I have found this to be an ideal set up to get started with training, and generally what we do at GHP:
- Dynamic stretches for moving joints
- Activation exercises for increasing awareness, warmth, and tuning up muscle contractions (the main point of this article)
- Speed/Technical/Power training
- Strength training
- Static stretching
Here are some examples of exercises that you can do for common muscles that get tight when running.
- Eccentric or isometric calf raises for a tight calf
- Resisted hip flexor raises for a tight hip flexor. Often these do feel good after a static hip flexor stretch. All of the constant sitting makes this a particular joint worth often stretching
- Glute bridges, RDLs to work through hamstring tightness. I was at a track meet just on Tuesday and had a sprinter of mine do these after his 100m race which helped him feel much better getting ready for his 4x100m relay that his group won injury free.
- For those quads: Deep squat holds, sled drags, running backwards uphill, split squat holds, the list goes on and on. Pretty much anytime your knee gets irritated you’ll need to work on your quad, even if they weren’t the culprit. Refer to my article about how quad muscles are like moms. Specifically, discomfort in the front or top of your knee can (not will) be greatly assisted by quad work.
Have you tried these in dealing with injuries before? Shoot me a message and let me know of your experience with it. If you have questions about further exercises or want to meet and get you squared away to get out of “tightness” drop a line on the site and let’s get it handled!