Should I Strengthen or Stretch for Muscle Tightness?
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Often our answer is to stretch when we feel “tight”, but is this the best thing to do?
“Tightness” or “stiffness” are often signs of muscle weakness rather than reduced flexibility. Although stretching will give short term relief from this “tightness”, it will not prevent it from coming back again.
When we exercise, our muscles go through a process of breaking down (micro tearing). Strength adaptations happen when these micro tears are repaired. Although this is an anabolic process, (a process which leads to growth) technically there is damage to the area for a short window of time. This is why we experience a feeling of pain or “tightness” after we exercise. This phenomenon is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and happens when we engage in new or tough exercise. To reduce the symptoms of DOMS we must engage in regular resistance training as this will allow our muscles to get used to micro damage and in turn dampen its pain response to it occurring.
Another mechanism for “tightness” is muscle fatigue. For any desk workers reading this, how often have you felt your back and neck being tight during the day? This is due to the demand placed on our spine and neck muscles during sitting for long periods. These muscles are constantly active trying to maintain this static posture for hours. When this happens they fatigue and their function reduces and this is where “tightness”’ stems from. This is why it’s vital office workers or desk workers engage in regular movement and strengthening exercises for their neck and back in particular to help increase the endurance capacity of these muscles.
Take Home Message
Strengthening our muscles regularly is far more beneficial than stretching our muscles as it tackles the mechanisms for muscle stiffness and tightness directly. Stretching is a good way to reduce feelings of tightness in the immediate short-term but will not help prevent this feeling from coming back.