Muscle Tightness Comes from Muscle Weakness

To a large extent muscle tightness comes from muscle weakness. Muscles become tight to protect the body from injury. When the body identifies a weakness or instability in and around a joint the body will tighten up to prevent injury.

This raises the following question. Should you stretch went you’re tight or should you strengthen the body? Most people think you should stretch a muscle if it is tight, but why is a muscle tight in the first place? Stretching it will make it temporarily more flexible but now you have flexibility without strength or stability. Moving into positions that you have no strength in doesn’t sound like a good idea but that is exactly what most people do.

The main reason why people lose flexibility when they get older is because they are getting weaker.  The weakness is what is making them tighten up. I would rather start someone out in a strength training program to increase their flexibility as opposed to a stretching program.  I have seen it first hand; as soon as someone gets stronger they move better, have more balance and are definitely more flexible.

When you’re performing strength training movements you’re increasing your flexibility at the same time as building strength.  For example, if you’re doing an arm curl (bicep curl), you are contracting and shortening your biceps but at the same time you are lengthening the antagonistic muscle of your triceps or there would be no movement. When curling a weight you’re making your biceps stronger while making your triceps more flexible.  If you just stretch your triceps to make them more flexible without the strong biceps that are suppose to come along with the increase in flexibility you could be risking an elbow injury by allowing your arm to flex into a position of instability.

What I want you to take away from this article is flexibility without stability is dangerous. Any position you put your body into should be strong and stable. If you are tight, try to figure out where you are weak and strengthen that area. In addition, there are also safe ways to stretch like active stretching which is actually strength training. Check out this video I did on Safe Stretching.

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Best – Mike Cola

Helping People Build Healthy Bodies

About Mike Cola

Mike Cola has well over 50,000 hours of hands-on personal training experience. He started his own personal training studio in1989, Mike Cola Fitness, which is located in New York.Connect with Mike @ Google+

13 Responses to “Muscle Tightness Comes from Muscle Weakness”

  1. Mike,

    Just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and videos. Reading this article today made me finally understand what is going on with my body. I hope you plan to keep up the videos on active stretching and strengthening. I have been plagued by left side pain from my hip downward (especially hamstring)for the last three years. For a long while I tried passive stretching but gave it up because it seemed to be doing more harm than good.

    My goal is to just get stronger and more flexible. I appreciate your approach of not over-doing it–which in the end only serves to discourage rather than encourage the exercise.

    I am 54, probably 5 lbs overweight, and yes, I have the damnable pooch. Guess I need to get started on the situps.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. Thanks for the comments Kathy. I plan on releasing more videos this summer. Let me know what topics you would like me to discuss.

    Best- Mike

  3. This does not make any sense to me. If this is true then tell me why most (if not all) of my muscles are really tight when I’ve been strength training for over 10 years. I am definitely not weak by any means, for example I can squat over 200 lbs, bench about 150 lbs, and curl just over 100 lbs and I am female. As a matter-of-fact my doc has referred me to physical therapy because right now my lower back & hamstrings are so tight that they are causing me problems and pain. So yeah, unless I’m misunderstanding this, I’m not buying it unless you can clarify?

  4. Its sounds like you are strong but muscles have different receptors in them that constantly communicate with your central nerves system regulating how a muscle contracts and relaxes.

    When a muscle contracts some of the receptors like muscle spindles can go under slack. When muscle spindles have slack in them this will limit its ability to communicate with your central nervice system. You might be strong in 95% of your range of motion but when you fully try to shorten or contract a muscle your body might be sensing some weakness or instability and tightening up.

    For example, let’s use the 100 pound curl. When you curl up the weight you are contracting your biceps so your muscle receptors in your biceps are sending a signal to your central nervice system to inhibit or relax your triceps so you can curl the weight. But if you are close to the end range of your concentric biceps curl (the exact point where your triceps could be fully stretched) and your biceps sense some weakness or instability, it will send a signal to tighten up your triceps.

    What you can do to increase your flexibility is active stretching and/or isometrics. When you fully contract a muscle and hold it, it gives your muscle receptors more time to communicate with your brain (central nervice system) and relax the antagonist muscle. What you are doing by stretching this way is making the muscle stronger at the end point of your range of motion when the antagonist muscle is under maximum stretch.

    I hope this explanation helps. I did a video that discusses a little bit about this that you might want to check out. –

    Best – Mike

  5. That picture at the top is crazy! I would love to be that flexible!

    Stretching is so important! Thanks for the article.

  6. Hey Mike I love this article and I am a big fan of your work. I am 18 years old and I am a serious baseball player (playing D1 ball in college next year). This fall I strained my groin by jump roping then doing sprints after a weight training workout. I did about ten weeks of physical therapy to heal the muscle but unfortunately in the process I neglected a lot of the muscles in my legs. Then when spring came around and training was getting intense, I strained my gluteus medius swinging. (My hips have been giving me problems for a while). I took about ten weeks off and the pain was gone but I was left with some serious tightness and I couldn’t understand why because I stretched it religiously. About three weeks ago I started a physical therapy program to strengthen it, which has been doing me some good but the lateral rotation of my hips is still severely restricted. I don’t think my diet is the source of the issue because I eat pretty healthy. What else can I do to increase the flexibility in my hips? Why is it taking so long to strengthen? Are there any exercises/stretches you recommend for me? Playoffs have started and my team needs me now but I can not contribute to the squad if I can’t rotate my hips. Please respond as soon as you can. Thank you for your time Mike, I am a strong believer in your studies and I will take your word to heart.

  7. There are a couple of things I think you should do. I’m assuming when you say that you are severely restricted in lateral rotation you mean external rotation of your hip.

    1st – Try to strengthen all the muscle that bring your hip into external rotation. I would use isometrics to give your body more time to recognizes the position of weakness (tightness) and strengthen it. Work on your Glut Maximus, psoas, Ilacus, Pirformis, Satorius, Quadratus Fermoris, Gemellus, Gluteus Medius & Minimus, Pectineus and so on…. Try to isolate these muscles with bands, weight what ever you have and hold the positions for 5 to 10 seconds for a few reps…When the external rotators get stronger your internal rotators of your hip will let go (become more flexible) because they no longer have to be tight to protect your hip.

    Sometimes you have to isolate before you integrate to fix positions of weakness and compensation patterns. Keep in mind that muscle tightness is secondary to muscle weakness in many cases.

    2nd – I would also do mobility movement exercise for you hip and whole body. Read this post and video I did about hip mobility –

    Easy mobility movement is very important…It not only nourishes the joints but also tells your brain (Central nerves system) that it is Ok to move your body into these positions. Sometimes when an injury has heeled you brain still thinks it is there. So you have to prove to your CNS that it is better. Mobility movement exercise can do that for you.

    I hope this helps…

    Best – Mike

  8. why is that muscles( like the quads, hamstrings etc) tend to tighten much quickly than usual after one has recovered from example of knee injury?

  9. When you have a knee injury your entire muscular system will compensate to protect your knee… The hamstrings and quads can tighten up….

    Hopefully when the knee gets better the hamstrings and quads will loosen up…

  10. I am 56 year old overweight female. I am noticing that my joints and muscles are not flexible like they use to be. Ten years ago I was very active. But over the past 10 years gained approx 50 lbs and not very active. Will I ever be able to gain flexibility and strength back and what do you recommend?

  11. Hi Teresa,

    Sorry to hear about the weight gain and loss of flexibility… what you really have to do is strengthen your whole body and lose some weight.

    When you get stronger…. the flexibility will come back. Start a resistant training program and go on an all natural low-calorie healthy diet.

    Keep in touch…

    Best -Mike

  12. Hi Mike

    I wonder if you could give me a few pointers. I suffer from cervical spondylitis in my c5/6. I experience a lot of muscle tightness in my shoulders and arms. I understand your reasoning for muscle tightness but is there anything I can do to safely stretch and strengthen these tight muscles. I desperately need to strengthen both arms. Any advice you could give would be most welcome.

  13. Hey Mike, so for my thoracic syndrome (which I have been stretching out for over a year) what I really should do is strengthen the pec minor along with stretching that way it is strong and won’t tighten back up? I think it got tight after a shoulder surgery and being in a sling. Plus poor posture.