Active Recovery

I’m a Physical Therapist, and This Is What I Want You to Know If You Can’t Unwind Tight Muscles

Rachel Lapidos

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Photo: Getty Images/Ashley Armitage

Like most people, I tend to stretch the tightest muscles in my body (in my case, it’s my quads) as much as humanly possible to find some sort of relief. Before runs, you can find me doing that classic heel-to-butt stretch as a way to lengthen the muscle and get ready for the effort to come. However, it recently came to my attention that soreness isn’t always an indicator that a muscle needs to be stretched. It can also be an indicator that the muscle itself isn’t strong enough.

“A lot of times, chronically tight muscles are tight because they’re weak,” says Meghan King, DPT, a physical therapist with Spear Physical Therapy in New York. “We get people who say that they stretch their hamstrings all the time, and they never get any more flexible, for instance. But that’s often an indication that their hamstrings might be weak and that’s what’s causing the tightness.” My mind is blown, HBU?

This happens, says King, because muscles are commonly tapped to do movements that they don’t fully have the strength required to do. For example, say you’re going up stairs and recruiting your quads and calves to do the work, but mid-way they reach their performance capacity. “If the muscle only has 80 percent of the strength that it needs to do that task, it feels overworked, and the result is some tightness,” says King.

When this happens, it’s easy to go into full-on stretch mode to try to loosen things up and get you ready to perform. Instead, King recommends working with a physical therapist to identify the specific muscles that need to be strengthened, and the proper ways to do this. “Seeing a physical therapist is a great way to get that strengthening going,” she says, noting that a professional can help you to design a fitness program to properly target the correct muscles.

If you’re looking for ways to boost your strength, keep on scrolling for some workout series specific to your legs, arms, core, or full body. Once you’ve wrapped your sweat sesh, then start incorporating stretches into the mix to make sure that the muscles remain loose and mobile.

Core

One our our favorite things about this core workout with yoga instructor Andrea Russell is that it’s a full-body flow that also helps to strengthen the core muscles, while also giving you a nice stretch in the process.

Arms

If you find that your muscles in your arms are frequently tight, and you don’t have free weights handy, reach for a resistance band. This super speedy arm-focused sweat sesh from Sweat with Bec trainer Bec Donlan will get your arms burning and strengthened in no time at all.

Legs

This glutes and leg-heavy workout is perfect for runners (like me!) who are looking to engage their bottom halves ahead of working out to help that heavy-legs feeling following a workout. To strengthen your legs if they feel tight, go through this series led by Nike Master Trainer Traci Copeland.

Full body

Tackle full-body strength with one single 10-minute workout. Body By Simone founder Simone de la Rue will take you through a heart-pumping series that’s meant to help strengthen all the muscles in your body. Run through it once to get a gauge of which muscles need to be strengthened.

BTW, these are five pro-approved exercises that will help fix a glute imbalance and help relieve lower back pain. And here’s what to know about the Theragun Liv percussive therapy device, which can also help with your recovery routine. 

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