We’ve established that a “tight” muscle is not a short or contracted muscle and that “tight” is a subjective sensation of the nervous system. If you missed that blog you can catch up here.
So let’s continue and do away with another popular myth that states, “Strength training will contract your muscles and make their resting lengths shorter and therefore should be accompanied by stretching to lengthen them back out.”
The previous blog described how stretching doesn’t make the resting position of our muscles longer (and that increased flexibility in response to stretching stems from increasing the nervous system’s ability to tolerate the stretch not from increasing resting muscle length). So if stretching doesn’t make our muscles longer, then it should follow that strength-training does not make our muscles shorter.
There is a theory that in order for a muscle to stretch it must be relaxed. This is the theory behind the thought that using a process called reciprocal inhibition (where you contract the opposing muscle group in order to relax the muscle group you are targeting with the stretch) to improve range of motion.
Research, however, has repeatedly demonstrated that not only is it not necessary to relax muscle activity to improve range of motion (Ref, Ref), but that the stretching methods demonstrating the greatest gains in range of motion were actually those that showed the greatest amount of muscle activity! (Ref, Ref) Maybe time to reconsider contracting your quads to stretch your hamstrings.
With all this in mind we might consider including strength training and muscle contractions in our yoga practice. We may see more positive gains in controllable range of motion while at the same time providing a protective effect against injury.
If you are interested in a yoga class with an updated approach to stretching and strengthening, check out my Upcoming Events to find one that works for you!