Working out has many positive effects on your body. Besides keeping it in good shape, your body’s chemistry will see benefits. After a while you may even decide to help your body out by eating better.
In the midst of progress there are little things that like to creep up and curtail your best efforts. I’m not talking about junk-food-laden gatherings or a gym buddy low on motivation. I’m talking about tight muscles. Generally speaking, they may slowly tighten over time as you train. You may notice that your strength hits a plateau or even decreases. One of the telltale signs of tight muscles is early fatigue. If they start to “burn” early, then put the weights down; they might need some different conditioning.
Stretching is just as necessary as resistance training. A little stretching can go a long way in keeping a muscle primed for movement. First, it contributes to range of motion. Tight leg muscles could lead to a limited squat depth or not being able to get into a good dead lift position. Second, you can have a great deal of your strength locked up in tight muscles, decreasing your performance.
If a guy has trouble breaking a maximum lift plateau, one of the first things I do is stretch the muscles involved. It seems like a simple fix, but why move onto something more complex if the easy stuff hasn’t been ruled out?
The severity of the tightness can also play into how fast the muscle fatigues. The tighter the muscle, the faster the fatigue. By the time you suspect a tight muscle as your body waves the red flag of fatigue, it may be very tight. Extra time may be required to “loosen up.” Be careful and take your time with stretches.
Should I stretch before working out or after? That is a common question I’m asked. It is safe to stretch before and/or after a workout. I recommend combining it as part of a warm-up or cool-down. Personally, I stretch before my workouts. I find it primes me for moving. If I have an area that is more tight than normal, I may spend time on it during my cool-down as well.
Today’s stretches are for the triceps (behind the arms) and the quadriceps (front of the thighs). Quads can become tight from a variety of movements. Running, hiking, squatting, lunging and using the leg press machine all make use of your quads. If your quad is tight you may feel it right in the middle of your thigh, sometimes even above the knee or closer to the front of the hip.
The quad stretch has some progression for getting a deeper stretch. See the video online at www.lvrj.com/trainer and watch trainer Laura Salcedo go through the progressions. Start with the easy one and work up from there. Overstretching may lead to pulled muscles. Take it easy before working up to the ninja stretches.
Tight triceps can be caused by pressing motions or anything that straightens the elbow. This includes chest presses, shoulder presses and triceps extensions of any kind. Tight triceps can be felt close to the elbow or high on the arm, behind the shoulder. If they feel like they “pinch” when the arm is fully extended, that is also a sign they are getting tight.
Other things can contribute to tight muscles. Past injuries are notorious for making that area prone to tightness. Use the tools you learned in rehabilitation to help stay limber. Certain illnesses and medications can cause a person to tighten up. Follow your doctor’s recommendations in those cases. He/she may have you decrease exercise or take extra caution.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.