We’ve always been told to make sure we stretch to avoid injuries, but have you ever constantly stretched a tight muscle, whether it’s your hamstrings or low back, and not seen any improvement? If it were truly a muscular stiffness issue you would see improvement from stretching.
Often times the solution is strengthening, not stretching. You may feel tight in certain areas because the body creates protective tension to prevent injury. This is often the case in the most hypermobile athletes.
I’ll use the upper traps as an example since this affects many baseball players. Our lats are a big powerful muscle that we use to generate force every time we throw. Since most of us have been throwing our whole lives we end up with short, tight, and gritty lats. This overuse of our lats can pull our shoulders into downward rotation and depression.
What this leaves us with is a lengthened and weak upper trap muscle. Our bodies reaction is to tighten the trap to prevent our shoulder from going lower. By stretching and massaging the muscle we’re feeding into the issue.
The best way to fix upper trap tightness is to strengthen all the trap muscles that aid in upward rotation and elevation, the serratus, and to stretch the lats. When the upward rotators are strengthened and the lats are lengthened the upper trap tends to calm down.
Another good example of protective tension is the hamstrings. It’s seems almost every athlete complains of tight hamstrings, stretches them all the time, and they never get better. This is because most athletes posture sits in anterior pelvic tilt.
In this posture the pelvis is rotated forward putting the back in an arched position and lengthening the hamstrings. Your hamstrings will tighten to try to provide stability for the low back and posterior tilt of the pelvis. For an athlete that sprints a lot this tends to be why hamstring pulls happen.
By stretching an already lengthened and tight hamstring you’re feeding into the problem again. Instead of stretching, strengthening the hamstrings and glutes would be a great place start. Also, Core exercises and positional breathing drills that create a more neutral spine and posterior tilt of the pelvis such as dead bugs, take a lot of stress off the hamstrings.
With stronger core musles, glutes/hamstrings, and better posture the feeling of “tight” hamstrings will go away without ever having to stretch.