I have a health and fitness career that spans almost 3 decades now. Yes, I’m old. But we’ll refer to it as well seasoned please! Besides, I started coaching at 18 months old. What can I say? I was a prodigy.
During those almost 30 years, I have heard the same thing in a million different iterations: “I’m tight”, “I’m not flexible”, “I can’t touch my toes”, “I’ve been stretching my hammies for years and they still feel so tight!”
Is this you? Have you been stretching a tight body area for what seems like forever and making ZERO progress? Do you stretch out those hamstrings and they feel pretty ok for the rest of the day and then you wake up tomorrow and BOOM, they feel magical? Or more likely, you wake up tomorrow and they feel the exact same way they’ve felt for decades. So, you follow your same stretching routine to make them tolerable for the day, right?
I have two questions: Why aren’t you making progress and why do you keep doing the same thing thinking you’re going to get a different result? Go ahead and ponder, I’ll wait!
Let’s drill down on hamstrings, but this information applies to any area of the body where you have perceived tightness. Why do your hamstrings feel tight? Is your tightness positional? For example, are you unable to touch your toes while standing, but if you lay down on your back, you can raise your legs up to 90 degrees and touch your toes? Or perhaps you can almost get to your toes while seated and with just a tiny push from a partner, your hands slide onto those toes quite easily?
Friends, in that case, it’s not a hardware problem, (hamstrings) but rather a software problem (nervous system). Your brain and nervous system aren’t allowing you to reach your toes while standing due to a perceived threat. You can touch your toes in other regressed positions because it feels safer to your body. News flash: your nervous system’s job is to keep you alive, not keep you comfortable. If the nervous system allowed you to touch your toes while it perceives a threat and you subsequently tore your hamstring and can’t run away from a predator, your nervous system did a shitty job because now you’re DEAD.
News flash: your nervous system’s job is to keep you alive, not keep you comfortable.
What could this possible threat be? Who knows!!! But everything is connected. Maybe you have very poor lumbar stability and your hamstrings lock down to keep your lumbar spine safe? Perhaps you have a lazy booty and your hamstrings are doing the work of the glutes? I don’t know and I can’t tell you without assessing you and seeing you move. (hint: this should always be the answer. If you ask a true professional for a ‘best exercise’ or a ‘why is this happening?’ and they give you a definitive answer without seeing you at least virtually, RUN!!!!)
Another common cause of perceived tightness is WEAKNESS. Try this little test: Lay down on the floor with your legs extended. Raise one leg up as high and straight as you can. Now have a partner gently help you take it as high as you comfortably can. That difference in between what you can do yourself (active range of motion) and what the partner can help you add (passive range of motion) encompasses two things: the area where you’re weak and don’t control your range of motion and the area where you’re very apt to get injured.
Let’s use an example that’s a little easier to conceptualize. Can you raise your arms into shoulder flexion and get them perfectly straight and have your biceps end up behind your ears (without jutting your neck forward)? No? But yet you’re snatching and wondering why your shoulders/elbows/neck/upper back etc. are killing you? You don’t own that range of motion required to snatch yet you’re forcing your body into it LOADED. So, your nervous system locks down your neck (or other body part) to create stability to make up for your poor decision to load into an area you lack mobility.
Confused? That’s ok. Professionals can help! But you need to accept that what you’ve been doing for decades isn’t working because…it’s not the right answer likely because you’re answering the wrong question!
1) Stretching isn’t the answer if you’ve been doing it five-ever without results
2) Lack of ownership of your requested ranges of motion is a problem
3) Get assessed
Hit me up if you have questions.