Ok here’s a biggy- should you stretch or should you strengthen?
Let’s look at the hamstrings (back of the thigh) for this. Their job is to bend the knee and help take the leg behind you. They commonly get ‘tight’ through activities like running and cycling. When they become too ‘tight’ they can affect the range of motion of the knee when trying to straighten it. They can also lead to back, hip and foot/ankle pain.
So do you stretch the hamstrings or strengthen the opposite muscles – the quadriceps (front of the thigh)? In short, probably both. When a muscle is tight, it is usually short so stretching will help to give it length and allow more movement through that joint. If however the opposing muscles are weaker, then this allows the ‘tight’ muscles to become over-worked and to shorten again, so a constant battle of stretching begins. This is when strengthening the opposite muscles comes into play. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes those ‘tight’ muscles can be weak and short and so a combination of both stretching and strengthening the muscle is needed. The strengthening phase should however be done after mobilisation and lengthening of the muscles to ensure the joint is in the optimal position and the correct muscles are working.
To avoid muscle imbalance we then still need to both stretch, mobilise and strengthen the opposite muscles to ensure balance between the two.
The conclusion is that best practice would be to stretch and mobilise a restricted or ‘tight’ muscle first to ensure the joint can be in the best position possible. Then we can do the strengthening phase, to try and ‘hold’ the joints in that position and aid in joint stability.
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