“Why do I feel constant muscle tightness?”, you may ask yourself. Are you compulsively stretching this way and that, but just never feel any better? There are various reasons for feeling this way:
1) POSTURAL ADAPTATION
Did you know that soft tissue shortens into the direction of the greatest load? Our bodies are trying to support our most frequently held postures by this mechanism. This is why it is so important that we move out of habitually held postures and do some different movements. I.e.: If you are stuck at a desk all day, do this frequently:
1) Stand up and bend backwards to stretch your hips and spine out from the constant forward bend
2)Twist from side to side, to mobilise the mid spine
3) bend from side to side, to lengthen the shortened side body
A big issue with postural adaptation is the time factor. For instance, spinal muscles shorten and tighten within 20 minutes!!!! of not moving. Yes, I know!
Once muscles are adapting to your most commonly held postures, you are likely to develop
2) MUSCLE IMBALANCE
Each joint is surrounded by muscles that work in pairs. One set of muscle shortens and contracts. This means the opposing set of muscles have to lengthen and relax. On a broader level, the muscles that act on the front of your body should be matched in strength and length by the muscles at the back of your body. For example, if you sit all day at a computer your shoulders are likely pulled forward creating a strength imbalance between the front of your body and the back.
It is easy to see, that if we spend large amounts of time in one position, a postural adaptation progresses into a muscle imbalance. Muscles that are weak have no choice but to become tight in order to cope with the excessive pull of the “strong opposition”. The classic scenario in our mostly sedentary lives is of course the seated position:
In the long run, muscle imbalances usually lead us into to pain and injury. Injury is not necessarily brought on by sport or activity, although we are of course more likely to injure ourselves during activities when we have severe muscle imbalances. However most common injuries to joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments are actually repeated strain injuries, or what is now called “occupational overuse”.
SO WHAT CAN THE AVERAGE ADULT WITH LIMITED TIME DO?
- Work out what your most common postures are at work and frequently stand up and move in the opposite direction. (I.e. bending sideways, and to the back, twist your body from side to side)
- If you are using a gym, use predominantly free weights. These will add an element of balance and thus strengthen your core / postural muscles. Stay away from silly “ornamental” exercises such as bicep curls.They are a waste of time unless you want funny Popeye arms.
- Add elements of mobility and balance into everything you do. For instance: Could you add a lateral or backwards leg lift at the end of a squat? Could you add a rotation or a twist to some of your standing exercises?
- Avoid any robotic movements and if an exercise has no relationship to how humans should move, it is likely to be a waste of time
- What are movements that your body can’t do easily? Work out if it is because of:
- Lack of mobility
- Do these a lot and see the progress
- Play around with movement and try new activities. You will make your body more functional AND also have more fun!
Want to read more about muscle imbalances? http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/muscle-imbalances-functional-movement-screen