What?! My tight muscles are making me weak?!
I know. We exercise diligently and push our bodies to the limit in order to be lean, strong, and fit. Today we get up early to work out to beat the heat and then rush home from work to get some much needed family time. Tomorrow we work all day at the office, rush home to prepare dinner, and then leave the family to enjoy it while we attend our Body & Soul evening group fitness class down the street. And to support our exercise work ethic, we choose the “lighter fare” on girls’ night while our friends eat their way through the appetizers menu, saying “it’s my cheat day” (again). Don’t be discouraged, friends. Stand firm on your commitment to toning those muscles and making the wisest choices for yourself, keeping in mind that life is short and movement, rest, and dietary freedom are gifts to us – available for our choosing.
Now, about that weak/tight muscle relationship. Every muscle is opposed by another muscle in the body, usually on alternate sides of the joint. When one muscle is extremely tight, its counterpart often becomes weak and lengthened to accommodate the tight muscle. When we sit a lot, for example, our hip flexors become tight and short, while our gluteals become weak and lengthened. Then we go to the gym right after work and do exercises that keep them tight – like squats and reverse sit ups – and top off our workout with stair-climbing (repeated active hip flexion). Finally we spend 15 seconds stretching before we head home (sitting) to have dinner leftovers with any family member that is willing to join us at the table (sitting).
Am I alone here? I hope not, because this was my story before learning – the hard way – that flexibility requires training just like strengthening requires training. I found myself focused on weight training and strength gains, while giving little thought to the relief my working muscles needed following a power-packed workout. This unbalanced focus eventually sent me seeking answers and pain relief from numerous health and wellness practitioners. I joyfully report that I am more balanced, generally pain-free, and enlightened by what I’ve learned about the muscle balance relationship.
Here’s what’s happening –
- Our hip flexors tighten up from too much sitting and progressive overload during our workouts.
- The tightness of the hip flexors causes the gluteal muscles to lengthen to accommodate.
- Because they are being stretched, the gluteal muscles become weak (from lack of contraction).
So what, you say? Here’s what happens when our gluteals are weak –
- Our hips and lower back are less stable
- Our ability to stand from a seated position is negatively affected
- Our ability to climb stairs and walk uphill is negatively affected
- Our balance is compromised
- Our pelvis is less stable
The solution? Find a fitness program that encourages you to focus on muscle pairs during your strength training and your flexibility training sessions. In other words, for every flexion exercise, perform an extension exercise. Balance your squat routine by adding resisted straight leg raises to the back. The straight leg raises lengthen the hip flexor and contract the gluteals. This approach balances your workout and can be found in a Body & Soul class near you. Body & Soul provides comprehensive, creative, safe workouts in a positive and encouraging environment.
So be encouraged, friends, and keep pushing yourself to new levels of fitness – just remember to keep everything in balance because too much of a good thing might lead to a bad thing. And who wants to live “unbalanced”??