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Flexibility May be Your Problem but Stretching Isn’t Your Solution! It's Time to Strengthen!

Sep 03, 2021

Imagine being back in grade school, you walk into PE and realize it’s “test day”. Test day meaning pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, pacer test, and the sit-and-reach. 

Whatever concoction your school put together to test the physical abilities of you and your classmates, the sit-and-reach was usually a staple. It’s also one that, for most people, was another reminder of how tight your hamstrings were (and probably still are).

Since being a young kiddo there is probably a series of stretches that you can visualize doing when this topic comes up. Bend over to touch your toes, grab your ankle to stretch your quad, step on an incline to stretch your calf, and so on. 

I speak of all of these as a thing of the past because they are just that: a thing of the past.

More and more research is finding that stretching, especially static stretching, has its limitations and most of the time provides minimal and temporary results. To understand why this is the case requires us to take into consideration the reason we think we need to stretch this muscle.

Usually we decide we need to stretch because there is a sensation of tightness in a muscle or we notice that our range of motion (how much we can flex or extend the joint next to said muscle) is limited. Both of these stem from signals being put out by an organ in our muscle called the Golgi tendon organ(GTO).

Crazy name, right?

This little guy is like the manager of your muscle constantly reporting feedback up to your brain regarding the amount of tension in your muscle. When you stretch that muscle, whether statically or in a quick motion like a high kick, it responds by giving you the sensation of tightness and stretching super tight so that you don’t go any further and injure yourself. 

It’s a system that creates safe barriers for us to operate within. There’s two approaches available to take: stretching or strengthening. 

Stretching attempts to push this barrier by pushing into that resistance of the GTO and asking for permission to go farther. It’s a long and grueling process that achieves minimal results that are short-lived and not so functional. 

Strengthening muscle, especially in a lengthened position, is a superior way to increase flexibility and length of the muscle. The majority of the time it lacks flexibility as a result of a strength deficit, it is relatively weak. 

For example, compare your muscle length to a dog leash and your strength is the confidence that your dog will mind and not run off. If you lack confidence in your dog (weakness), you're going to keep that leash really short and not let it get too far away. But with proper training you will let the dog have a longer and longer leash. It’s the same with our muscles, the more strength and confidence we have in the muscle the more range of motion we will allow it to have!

Since we’ve been using the hamstrings as our primary example, I would like to give you a starter package on strengthening this muscle in its lengthened position! 

Before you get started, find out where you are now! Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, knees straight, and back flat reach down towards the ground as far as you can comfortably. The tips of your fingers may reach to mid-shin, your ankles, shoelaces, fingertips to ground, or maybe even palms to ground! Find it and write it down to compare back to.

Without any stretching over the next 2-4 weeks, or at least not adding any new stretching if you already have some as a part of your normal routine, you can add this exercise! Spend maybe 10 minutes a day strengthening your hamstrings 3 times a week! 

Now, there can be other things contributing to muscle tightness or stiffness. I don’t want to go without saying that is a possibility. So, if this doesn’t work for you or it doesn’t sound right up your alley, reach out to us with any questions you have! We are here to help!

It’s exciting seeing change, so please let us know how this helps you!