Part 1 identified that hypermobility is only helpful in some very select sports, so what about being hypomobile or ‘tight’. As Del boy said in Only Fools and Horses “he is so tight he buys bake beans on a Tuesday to have a bubble bath on a Wednesday”, minimal relevance to the blog but it makes me laugh.
We need to understand what ‘tight’ or ‘tightness’ is. Its not the vision massage therapists deliver of a muscle being knotted, or a lump. Think of the muscles as the hardware, in relation to your phone the muscles would be the case and glass. Then think of your brain as the software, this is the information on the chip that allows the hardware to function. Though both are fundamental to movement, the brain is the decider and that makes it the first in the chain and in real terms the most significant.
This information allows the us to understand that the brain decides how long a muscle can lengthen to. Your brain decides what lengths it allows the muscle to length, it creates safe parameters (length) with a percentage in reserve, but also allows some movement because we must move to evolve/survive. Note: It can also be surprised and go wrong, hence muscle/tendon tears. So, what can create short muscles:
- Previous pain/injury: your brain has an automatic response to shorten a muscle to aid recovery. It also changes your movement pattern to prevent use (think limping). Unfortunately, when your issue is resolved the brain doesn’t go back to pre-injury length but remains shorter.
- Ligament length/thickness: as with hypermobility there is also the opposite of short(er) ligaments. The positive with this is that we can still stretch the muscle itself and along with strengthening, convince the brain to allow more length with repeated practice.
- Low strength: if you had some fragile laces to tie your trainers prior to a world championship race or some strong ones…which would you use, and which would you trust stressing more? Simple analogy but one that shows the theory behind why a strong muscle will lengthen more than a weak one. Your brain measures trust through the levels of strength. Stronger equals more capacity for length (but it still needs to be trained to lengthen).
From experience the same principle applies to the person being attracted to a sport that needs tightness to do well, but is even more specific, often being down to a position in a sport. A recent example is a prop in rugby. When screening the athlete across strength, power, flexibility and mobility the resounding success was strength and the fail was the level of flexibility. But the position doesn’t need much movement range nor efficiency (sorry Theo).
The outcome of short muscles for runners, agility sports and fine skill sports are listed below:
you will be limiting the efficiency of your technique. Fighting tight muscles to reach a better angle of the knee, ankle, hip, mid back or shoulders is you bleeding speed.
Agility sports (tennis, netball, rugby, football etc):
Same limits as the runners but now add the absolute in ability to get to changing angles needed to get to the ball and perform an unrestricted skill. Great example is a forehand in tennis where the ball is low and lands to the side of the right foot. The depth of the squat is low and if you can’t do that without reacting the brains limits you will fail the needed position, and without reviewing it, blame it incorrectly on a skill issue.
Fine skill sports (cricket, golf, table tennis):
Same as above but the disruption to the millimetre precision need is amplified. Often the reduced movement of let’s say the shoulder is compensated by a different joint that is ‘better’. This can lead to injuries in areas that are hard to explain initially but after screening can become a little clearer.
We must remember the brain can do what ever it wants for a reason we may never know, so be sceptical of therapist that say something with 100% confidence, and please make sure they assess joint specific flexibility before they make a judgement on your flexibility!