Many people show up in yoga classes because they feel tight. And if you know me well, you already know that if you tell me that you feel tight, I’m probably not going to give you a bunch of stretches to do. But I will suggest yoga, just not the kind you’re probably expecting.
Despite what you may see on Instagram these days, there’s so much more to yoga than stretching. Actually these days, flexibility is so little of what I teach and practice. And still, my students report feeling less tight with regular practice … why is that?
Well, contrary to popular belief, you can be “flexible” and still be “tight”. In fact, your “tightness” probably has less to do with the actual length of your muscles and more to do with a lack of contractile ability in the tissues. In other words, your muscles don’t need to be longer, they need to be stronger so they can do their job better.
Efficient movement largely comes from your muscles’ ability to shorten and lengthen in a smooth and orderly fashion to move your bones. When a muscle isn’t able to generate enough tension to move your bones on its own, your body finds other nearby tissues to do the job so that you can continue to move through your life. Often, the workload falls on the connective tissues and they become strained and overloaded since this isn’t what these tissues were designed for.
So much of the tightness that people experience is actually not tight muscles at all — it’s overloaded connective tissue due to an imbalance somewhere in the body’s tension system.
This is why some people stretch and stretch and stretch but still feel tight. Often, there is a bigger problem in the system that needs to be addressed.
So today, I’m sharing two strategies that I prescribe to my students and clients when dealing with “tight” tissues in their bodies — neither of them involves stretching either. Because let’s face it, if what you’re doing isn’t working then why are you still wasting your time doing it?
(1) Add more strengthening work. Take some pressure off the connective tissues by building more strength and contractile ability in your muscles. I’ve written many posts here and elsewhere about this subject as it relates to hamstrings but it’s applicable everywhere in your body. Tight muscles are often weak or overpowered muscles. Give them some love by helping them out not yanking on them over and over again.
(2) Incorporate myofascial release (MFR). Okay so first things first, MFR is a term used to describe techniques that manipulate muscles and connective tissue (fascia). Traditionally, most people think of this as massage or foam rolling although those are just a few MFR modalities. I find that with self-application of MFR (meaning that you don’t have a bodyworker or massage therapist working on you) for most people it helps to be more precise which is why I teach it using RAD Recovery Rounds and lacrosse balls. While exploration is fine (just avoid anything that creates sharp, radiating or “nervy” pain), it’s more helpful to be intentional about it and have a clear understanding of what you’re doing and why. Look for a trained teacher in your area who can help you create a short daily practice that meets your needs.
Oh and for what it’s worth, I use both these techniques in my online Yoga for Durability classes. And for a limited time, you can get unlimited access to hours of targeted and effective videos for $8 per month with the code InnerCircle20.