Stiff vs Short vs Tight; What’s Going on With Your Muscles?

Your muscles aren’t actually tight.“Tightness” is a sensation!
By SOAR Health & Performance
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March 19, 2023
Stiff vs Short vs Tight; What’s Going on With Your Muscles?

Here are two scenarios we get a lot with new clients:

1) Client: “I’m really tight”

After we assess them, we discover that they actually have full range of motion, so they FEEL tight which is very likely an indicator of weak muscles, in which case continuing to stretch already weak muscles isn’t going to benefit one much.


2) Client: “I’m not very flexible so every morning a stretch a bit, but I haven’t seen much change”

Your muscles aren’t actually tight.

“Tightness” is a sensation. Although your muscles can feel tight, you might actually have full range of motion, so continuing to stretch them might be a waste of your time. 

Give this a try: Take your index finger and pull it back as far as it can go (don’t hurt yourself!). Does it feel tight at the end range? We’re going to assume the answer is ‘yes’. The same goes for any of the muscles in your body. They will feel tight when you get to the end range of the muscle.

Muscles can be short. If muscles are short, that means the range of motion is shorter and the tissues need to be lengthened. How do you lengthen tissues? Resistance training or prolonged stretching in the ranges you want to lengthen! 

Sometimes, muscle length cannot change due to a physical structure like the shape of a bone.

Muscles can be stiff. Stiff muscles are in this state temporarily because our nervous system is protecting the tissues it deems vulnerable. This could be a result of muscle soreness after a bout of activity or an injury.

Increasing blood flow, movement, and breath work are all various ways to address stiff muscles

Stiff vs short; how can you tell the difference? Assess and reassess!

If your range of motion increases after you warm up or as muscle soreness goes away, those muscles are stiff. If range of motion does change, either the muscles or short or that’s your full range of motion (due to a structural block).

If you’re lacking range of motion, what’s most important is we need to understand WHY. Are your muscles short or stiff? Are you in a heightened state? Is there an injury? Does it get better as you get warm?

Likely we need to use some external load to lengthen the tissue (like resistance training) if the tissue is short.

Should you stretch your muscles? There’s nothing wrong with stretching! It’s a tool to have in your tool box. If it feels good and you enjoy it, do it! However, make sure you’re using the right tool for the job!

It may seem nuanced but these details matter, especially when it comes to your time and energy working towards a goal!

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