Could I Do More Harm Than Good by Stretching The Wrong Muscles?
This is a common question and one that deserves more attention.
In reality, a short bout of stretching once or twice per week likely isn’t increasing muscle length.
Your stretching routine is actually reducing muscle tension, also referred to as muscle tone. Most of us feel “tight” in certain regions. Our sensation of tightness is not actually a reliable measure of muscle shortness. Confused yet? Simply, don’t correlate the feeling of tightness or stiffness with muscle length.
You can actually have muscles that are “stuck” or stiff in a:
- Shortened Position
- Lengthened Position
So How Do You Know What Is What?
The easy answer would be to see a skilled medical provider that can help you with this, such as physical therapist, chiropractor or osteopathic physician. This can usually give some peace of mind.
If you want to dive into some self assessment refer to the pictures below.
Keep in mind that one pelvic bone can be rotated forward or backward relative to the other pelvic bone.
Assessment TIP: By no means is this thorough… BUT more often than not, if you are feeling a bony block at on hip during your squat, that pelvic bone is likely rotated forward. It could be an alignment issue, but it could also be a technique or strength issue that is causing the pelvis to tip forward in your squat.
How Do We Start Making Corrections?
This is where being more strategic with your mobility program can come in handy.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt (tilted forward)
What is stuck “Short”: Hip Flexors and Quadricep Muscles
What is stuck “Long”: Gluteal Muscles and Hamstring
- Hip Flexor Stretch + Side bend Away
- The hip flexor and the lower back muscles on the same side both create an anterior tilt of the pelvis. The quadratus lumborum (back muscle) and iliopsoas (hip flexor) can often get entangled together around the pelvis. Hit both of them with this stretch.
2. Posterior Pelvic Tilt Bridges
- Raise your hips inline with your trunk while pretending you are cracking an acorn between your glutes.
- Feel as if your tail bone is tucking between your legs into your belly button (weird visual, sorry).
3. Foam Roll: Drop (Lengthen) The Front Side (refer to video)
- Start at the hip flexor and work down the quadriceps toward the knee (top down approach).
4. Foam Roll: Raise (Shorten) The Back Side (refer to video)
- Start at the hamstring and roll up toward the gluteals (bottom up approach).
*When thinking about lengthening (drop) or shortening (raise) the muscles. Think about the position of the femur relative to the pelvis. An anteriorly rotated pelvis is technically a flexed hip. A posteriorly rotated pelvis is technically an extended hip (see video).
Posterior Pelvic Tilt (tilted backward)
What is stuck “Short”: Glutes and Hamstring
What is stuck “Long”: Hip Flexors and Quadricep Muscles
1. Figure Four Glute Stretch (neutral spine alignment)
2. Seated Knee Extension
- Lengthening The Hamstring While Shortening The Hip Flexor and Quadriceps
3. Foam Roll: Raise (shorten) the Front side (see video)
- Rolling the foam roller primarily in an upward fashion from above the knee into the hip flexor (bottom up approach).
4. Foam Roll: Lower (lengthen) the Back side (see video)
- Rolling the foam roller from the gluteals into the hamstrings (top down approach).
So to answer your question, “Can I do more harm than good by stretching the wrong muscles?” The answer is…. yes. However, periodic stretching during the week is very unlikely to cause any notable effect in actual muscle length. It will likely feel great because you are creating motion… which is lotion! Meaning that you are keeping that muscle from being “stuck” or stiff, whether short or long. Nonetheless, we can be more targeted with our muscle and joint mobilization to produce more optimal alignment or balance in the body.