The first thing to do is simply identify if you have tight muscles in certain parts of your body. A person can have normal static flexibility in one part of the body and be inflexible or even hypermobile in another. Prior injury, overuse, poor posture, poor running technique, and poor shoes can all cause a lack of flexibility. Is there a symmetry problem, right compared to left (right hamstrings to left hamstrings), front compared to back (right quadriceps to right hamstrings), top compared to bottom (shoulder girdle compared to hip girdle)?
The next thing to do is to determine the reason for the tightness. Is it your joints (arthritis, cartilage tears) or your muscles? A skilled health care professional or trainer can help you determine this. Look for someone who performs the Functional Movement Screen. This series of movements will tell the skilled practitioner where your problems are and the type of problem you have, i.e. mobility, stability, balance. By identifying these tight and asymmetrical areas, a proper mobility program can then be developed.
As for stretching’s part in a warm-up, Dr. Duane Knudson, professor of exercise science at California State University, Chico states, "light to moderate muscle actions of gradually increasing intensity are more appropriate than stretching as warm-up activities for most sports." Resource
"Given that the lowest injury rates seem to correspond to normal flexibility and higher injury rates with the extremes in flexibility (inflexible and hypermobile), maintenance of normal or moderate amounts of static flexibility should be the goal for most people. ... Most athletes with normal flexibility should perform their stretching routines after practice or competition." Resource
So, what is the cause of these issues?
There are two areas rarely discussed or considered when looking at stretching: a tissue called fascia and something called passive muscle elasticity.
The “biological fabric that holds us together” is called fascia. Resource.
Fascia is like gooey glue that surrounds muscles, tendons, ligaments and your internal organs. Fascia is also interconnected, meaning it is one large network coursing through your entire body. You are literally connected from the top of your head all the way down to your toes.
This connection has significant ramifications for the way we move because fascia “directs the traffic of forces around the body” and may “function as a whole body communications system, which influences the function of all other physiological systems.”
Age, stress, injuries, poor exercise technique, and poor postural habits, causes tightness and restriction in the fascia which can result in pain and loss of function throughout the body. Watch this fascinating video featuring professor Gil Hedley called “The Fuzz.” Click here.
“A new form of mechanical memory that adjusts the elasticity of muscles to their history of stretching has been discovered…. This finding changes our understanding of how muscles respond to stretching and may lead to new treatments of muscle disorders.”
A protein in muscle called Titan has been discovered and acts like a “mechanical computer that provides the right elastic output to every single muscle in our body, including the heart.” Titan is like a rope with hundreds of knots. If these knots are never untangled, then the body gets tighter and tighter. Stretching in many different directions helps “unknot” the titan molecules. Click here for more on titan.
See Part 4 for a primer on the different stretching methods and how to perform them safely and effectively.