Why do muscles sometimes feel stiff and tight? We’ve all experienced soreness in muscles or joints after sitting for a long period of time but what is muscle “tightness” referring to? We can either have passively or actively “tight”’ muscles. Passively, muscles can be adaptively shortened due to scarring or from maintaining prolonged positions; and actively, muscles can be shortened due to spasms or from contraction. Whether the cause is passive or active, you may be experiencing limited range of motion which can lead to muscle imbalances.
Choosing the right technique to stretch can make a big difference depending on the result you want to achieve. There are three types of stretches you can perform: Static, Dynamic and Pre-Contraction. Each of these different stretches can improve different aspects of your daily life or your sports performance.
Static stretching, or sustaining a hold at end range, has been shown to be very effective at lengthening the tissue with a recommended 3-4 sets of 30 seconds holds. While static stretching is effective to improve muscle and tendon length, it can have a negative impact on sports performance prior to activities. Static stretching can lower the maximal strength (for a short period of time) that the muscle can generate, as well as lower performance in running and jumping before and during a sporting event! The rate of perceived exertion can also increase that a runner has while performing the run.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is also highly effective at improving overall range of motion and improving muscle and tendon length. But unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching has been shown to improve muscle performance, as well as running and jumping before and during sports.
Pre-contraction stretching is the third type of stretching. This is not as common but it gives the most immediate improvement. A pre-contraction stretch is similar to a static stretch, but is not a sustained hold for 30 seconds. The stretch is broken up into a contraction phase of the opposite muscle being stretched and a short static stretch of the tight muscle. For example, if I wanted to stretch my hamstring I would activate the quadricep and then stretch the hamstring. There is an alternation between contracting the opposite muscle and stretching the tight muscle in 3 phases of 10-20 sec contractions. (5 sec contraction + 5 sec relaxation and stretch + repeated 2 more times).
The big takeaway is this:
Static Stretches are a great way to improve and maintain muscle length over a long period of time. Perform these after a sporting event or workout.
Dynamic Stretches are recommended for warm up prior to working out / exercising to maximize strength and performance. These stretches also “prime” the muscles to run faster, jump farther and contract stronger.
Pre-contraction Stretches are most helpful to see immediate or acute changes which can then be transitioned to a static stretch over time.
Now, time to give it a shot! Below are a few static and dynamic stretches to help and improve your performance.
Static Hip Stretches
Perform 2-3 sets for each, holding for 30 seconds.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Where You’ll Feel It: Thigh and Hip Flexor
Stand on your right leg, grab your ankle and pull your foot towards your buttock. Make sure that your knee is underneath or behind your hip and not in front of it. Don’t let your back arch.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Where You’ll Feel It: Hamstrings
Prop your foot on a chair or a step. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch behind your thigh. Bend through your hips, not your back.
Where You’ll Feel It: Calves
Stand with both hands against the wall. Place one leg in front and your other leg straight behind you with your toes pointed slightly inward. Press into the wall and drive your heel into the ground.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Where You’ll Feel It: Hip Flexors and Quadriceps
Begin in a half kneeling position. While maintaining an upright position, perform a posterior pelvic tilt (tuck your tailbone underneath) to engage your core. Shift your hips slightly forward until you feel a stretch. Slightly shift your pelvis/hip forward until increased stretch is felt.
Where You’ll Feel It: Gluts and Inner Thigh
Start lying down with one leg bent and your foot flat on the floor. Cross the other leg over your knee. Gently push the knee of the crossed leg forward. For a greater stretch, grasp the thigh of the bent leg and pull towards the chest.
Dynamic Hip Stretches
High Knee Running
Engage your core by lightly bringing your belly button closer to the spine. Drive your knee upward as high as possible.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Kick your leg backward, concentrate on driving the heel toward the buttocks and back to the ground as fast as possible. Maintain a quick, yet steady tempo.
Hip Internal Rotation
Move your knee up and outward to the side, slowly rotate your hip inward and back down.
Hip External Rotation
Life your knee up towards waistline, slowly rotate your hips outward and back down.
Lunge with Trunk Rotation
Step forward into a lunge and then rotate your arms and trunk to the forward foot side.
Kick one leg to the opposite hand, try to keep both knees straight.