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  • Writer's pictureRise Pilates Santa Fe

My case against stretching (it's making you tight)

What is flexibility?

First we should distinguish between mobility and flexibility. I spoke in other posts about hyper mobility, really meaning ligamentous laxity. Tendons and ligaments are longer than they should be because of your genetic makeup, injuries, or years of "working on your flexibility", bad habits, bad posture, end range training.


Cue the ballet dancers, gymnasts, yogis... Ligaments stabilize joints, tendons connect muscles to bones. Both are made of collagen and have a very small range of movement. They should be taught, as a matter of fact. These long ligaments allow you to extend your elbows or knees beyond the "safer" range of motion. After all being gumby does not have many advantages. Too much ROM or mobility creates issues for stability and force production. Let's say you play tennis for 20 years with your hyperextended elbow. Every time you hit the ball, the force of the impact will most likely not be absorbed by your body, but guess what, your.... elbow.


How can we stop this?

First of all, know if you're hyper mobile. If you straighten your elbow and your forearm (way) behind your upper arm, or your knees are (way) behind your hip when you stand up straight, if your knees can touch the floor when you sit in an L-sit coupled with your heels lifting off, you ARE.


Now it takes a considerable amount of awareness to know if and when you are hyperextended, especially while you're exercising. Now add the usual "faster, faster, faster" of the Cross fitter generation on top of it and you are not in control anymore. You're throwing your bones around and your muscles are going along for the ride, until something tears. That would be the worst case scenario, but what about a steady stretching practice? I've met so many yogis, for example, over the past years that always complain about their tightness and how they have to "go to yoga" because they are "so tight". Well, after 10 years of Bikram yoga, when do you see an improvement? I don't mean to pick on yoga, it's just such an easy example.


I've seen countless people stretching their hamstrings and quads before they go on a run, lungeing the sh*t out of their hip flexors and expect to run well. The worst thing are the foam roller fanatics, that stretch their IT-band in the hopes for better hips and knees.

Funny how many people know their IT-band and have never heard of their iliacus. Get to know your iliacus... deeply, intimately and your life will change profoundly.


Just a little side note: Your IT-band is a tendon, not a muscle and should never be stretched. All you're rolling around on, is your vastus lateralis, one of your quad muscles, its painful; to do, painful to watch. It doesn't change a thing. It makes things worse. Stop it. NOW!


Tight people do pilates, flexible people do yoga

I am teasing... Don't we all pick what we like, especially if we spend our precious free time with it. If you are tight, chances are very high, that you don't seek out the yoga class that puts your body for 1.5hrs through hell. At least not for a long time. Bendy people love to do bendy things... Tight people... run... Or are they tight because they run...?

Anyway, back to the subject. How do we stop abusing our joints, cause muscles to be tight and unresponsive. A tight muscle (the feeling of tightness) is your muscle holding for dear life.


Cue: The nervous system

I also call it Mission Control (MC). You don't f**k with it. It governs you, it keeps you out of trouble and does so by evaluating "am I safe, or should I run?" 24-7. Also called fight, flight or freeze. If all is well, we don't have to tighten muscles, we are ready for anything that gets thrown our way. Another thing MC hates, is: guess what, too much mobility. Ever sprained an ankle? That's a long ligament at its best. Not super functional. Now stretching your joints mindlessly will most likely result in some form of muscle elongation but also elongate tendons and ligaments. Unlike muscles the latter don't recoil. Stretch too much and they tear. That's why you most likely sprain the same ankle over the course of your life. The support is compromised and if your muscles are not strong and at the ready to support your joint, the next sprain is bound to happen. If you ever had surgery, let's say MCL/ ACL... chances are your hamstrings are creating a beautiful bandage to help stabilize the knee, at least until you got stronger around the joint and Mission Control gives the green light. Muscles are tight for a reason, not because you are inferior.


Now really, how can we stop this?

  1. Awareness.

  2. Better work. Becoming more mindful and responsive with our body work.

  3. Dial back the intensity.

  4. Stop stretching. Stop the non functional stretch, elongate and tone with strength in mind.

  5. Work SMARTER, engage the stretch, focus in lengthening with load and engagement



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