These days we're more stressed than ever, yet also more sedentary than ever. Regrettably, your 30-60 minute workout only counts a little. What are you doing for the other 15-18 waking hours? Most of us are sitting. The combination of stress and lack of movement is what is most likely tightening you up like a screw.
Sitting has gotten a bad rap, though, hasn't it? Not everyone who sits a lot is tight, right? If you work in an office and take a poll of who's tight, lots of hands will go up. But, if I were to come around and assess everyone for actual tightness, a decent percentage wouldn't be considered overly tight.
I think, though, that many people do feel tight. Which is different than actually being so tight that you fall below 'industry standard' and increase your risk of injury.
The problem with sitting isn't so much the sitting; rather, it's the fact that you aren't climbing, swimming, paddling, rolling, running, dancing, or crawling.
The Number Three Cause of Tight Muscles Is...
The fact that our “movement diet” is so restricted and limited.
Use It or Lose It Strikes Again
When we don't engage in a variety of movements, our movement ability atrophies. Oh, sure, we can still “get around”, but it's how we get around that is compromised. The quality of our movement begins to slip.
You'll never notice it, either. Well, until you go to try and do something different. Something you “should” be able to do with ease - like, say, getting up from the floor without touching anything for support or putting on your pants while standing up.
You'll develop running injuries and blame your tightness.
“That damn IT Band is just sooooo tight! I roll it everyday and it never loosens up!”
So what makes up your movement diet? Sleep, walk, sit, run? That's just not gonna cut it.
Engage in a variety of movements. Challenge yourself to experience something new. My wife and I are planning on going to a local climbing gym (where she'll likely embarrass me thoroughly) soon and I'm excited to try something I haven't done in at least 10 years.
For (especially) my older readers or people who have been locked up for a long time:
Get down on the floor and roll around, creep, and crawl. Play with your pet on the floor. Practice the kettlebell “armbar” exercise. Here's a nice instructional video.
I think returning to how we developed the ability to walk in the first place can be extremely effective and that the simple, childlike act of rolling and crawling can have amazing restorative effects on our bodies. When we were just learning how to move, this is how we explored our world and gained enough competence to stand and eventually walk.
So there you have it. My top 3 causes of muscle tightness are: stress, neurologic (in other words, compensatory) tightness, and a lack of movement variety. So what does that tell you?
To address your tight muscles, you may not have to spend hours and hours stretching away in the corner of your gym! Here's a quick summary of my last few posts:
- Learn to breathe properly to relax and move without restriction. When you are moving, but not lifting something heavy, pay attention to whether you're holding your breath.
- Learn to stabilize properly by restoring function to your core and deep stabilizers rather than relying on your prime movers for stabilization.
- Engage in a wide variety of movements as frequently as possible. I mean really engage - no iPod, TV, Facebook...
I firmly believe that how you look and feel is a reflection of how you live. To spend excessive amounts time stretching is kind of like treating the symptom, don't ya think?
If you're a runner, what other forms of movement might be a good compliment to your running addiction? (not many wrong answers here, fire away!)