Stretching and foam rolling. It seems to be the answer for everything these days. You start to deal with some ache, pain, or tightness so you do what anyone would do to solve a problem, myself included: You search online, ask your friends, or ask an expert. Regardless of what the issue is, the answer is often to stretch more.
But is the stretching really solving your problem? Sure, you may get some temporary relief and loosening up, but my guess is the pain and tightness return a short while later. Am I right?
Or you may fall into the group of people who are constantly tight in the hamstrings or calves. Is the daily stretching or foam rolling reducing that? My guess is no.
Stretching and foam rolling does not solve your problems. I cannot say necessarily that you are prolonging your issues (even though you likely are), but you definitely are not helping the situation any.
Let’s dive into why…
The thing to remember with any discomfort or tightness you feel is that it is a symptom. It is simply information your body is telling you that needs to be deciphered and decoded. You can treat the symptoms all day, but it will not do you any good if you are looking for long term results. Until you figure out the why for the discomfort and/or tightness and treat that why, your problems will not go away.
Many times when we experience discomfort and tightness it means the body is not moving and/or supporting itself well. If mechanics are poor or an area is not moving well, the muscles will work harder to move the body to achieve your movement goal. Eventually the muscles fatigue, which results in tightness or an injury. If an area is not stable or is lacking control, the muscles that help protect the joint will tighten up because that is the only way the body knows how to protect it. If you do not fix the root cause of your tightness and/or discomfort, it will not go away. Your body is smarter than you and knows it needs to protect itself!
To build on that, when you stretch and loosen things up, the body does not know what to do with it. Let me clarify. Your muscle is used to being a certain length to function and the joint(s) it moves is used to moving a certain range. That is what you have taught it based on your movement habits. When you stretch, you lengthen the muscle which in theory will allow the joint to move more. Except you did not take the time to also teach the muscle how to actually work in that longer range. You did not teach the body how to stabilize that joint through the greater range. You did not tell your body it is safe to be there. Therefore, the body goes right back to where it knows it can safely function and that is in its shortened position.
So if stretching isn’t the answer, what is?
Step #1 is to figure out why the tightness is there. What areas could learn how to move better? What areas need some better stability and control? What movement patterns could use some work?
Step #2 is to address that issue appropriately, without passive stretching. That can be a number of things depending on what area is the issue, but it is normally a combination of stability exercises, proper mobility exercises (not what you typically think of as mobility exercises), and movement re-training. All things that can be boring to do and are not ‘social media sexy’, but can give you a crazy good workout when done right.
Do those two steps and you can finally stop spending all your extra time stretching and rolling just to function.
Do you know you need to change something with your training, but not sure what? Schedule a free call with Dr. Brianne Showman to discuss your problems and find a solution.
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