We all get a little bit tight from time to time.
There are different reasons for muscle tightness, so if simply stretching isn’t working it might help to try another option.
Here are 4 things that can help your muscles relax and stretch a little easier:
Muscle cramping, tension and tightness can be due to some level of dehydration.
Your muscles and joints need to be adequately hydrated in order to keep the fascia layers and muscle tissue supple and joints lubricated.
I find that my clients often don’t think of hydration as much in winter as they do in the summer. But dry indoor heating conditions, low humidity with colder temperatures and not feeling the urge to drink in colder temps can result in getting dehydrated.
I am always cold in the winter, so my favorite way to stay hydrated is to drink hot water with a squeeze of lemon plus 2 drops of lemon essential oil with a teaspoon of honey.
The lemon oil is antioxidant as well as cleansing and tastes delicious! I do this first thing in the morning, before my first delicious cup of coffee. Then I keep some in a thermos and sip it throughout the day. I also ask for this in restaurants, because I’m more likely to drink it. A tall glass of ice water usually just sits there because it is so cold I cant drink it. When your goal is to hydrate, be sure to get a good amount of pure water as opposed to soft drinks, juices, soda or sports drinks. In addition to your flexible muscles, you will also notice a huge difference in your energy, alertness, skin, digestion and sleep quality.
2. Warm Bath
If you are lucky enough to have a bathtub, a warm bath does wonders for your muscles!
(It’s really something you need to do rather than sit there reading about it.)
Here’s my favorite “muscle relaxation” bath combination:
- 1 cup Epsom salt
- 1 cup baking soda
- 3 drops Lavender essential oil (great for releasing anxiety, stress, and creating calm, relaxation, unwinding)
- 3 drops Eucalyptus essential oil (great for clearing sinuses and encouraging full breathing)
While the water is filling up, toss in the Epsom salt and baking soda and drop the essential oils under the running water so the oils break up and diffuse into the water and the air. Soak for 10-20 minutes.
The epsom salt has many benefits. It detoxifies and relaxes the body, eases stress, helps you sleep better, relieves constipation and improves muscle and nerve function.
Even if you can’t always take a bath, a shower beforehand can help. I know most people shower after they work out, but I always find stretching/working out is much easier after a warm shower or bath. It just seems to warm the body up and relax the muscles so you can move more freely.
3. Gentle Active stretching
Active stretching means using the opposite side of a joint to stretch a muscle.
By actively contracting a muscle, you relax the muscles that perform the opposite movement, and this helps them stretch better and at a rate that is appropriate for the strength of the active muscle.
I’ll use hamstrings as an example since many people have tight hamstrings and know what that feels like.
If you lay down on your back and raise your right leg up to the celling, and straighten your knee all the way using your quads, (front of the thigh) you are actively stretching your hamstrings (as opposed to passively stretching them by not using the quads, like with using a strap). I prefer a dynamic active stretch, which is a way of stretching which involves bending and stretching the leg a few times into that stretch. The quad may become a little tired but the hamstrings get a great stretch and the entire leg gets a nice warmup.
This way, you don’t pull the muscles past where they need to go (you are not asking the body to go past any threshold, it’s only what the joint can handle since it’s moving itself with no outside force). This can be done on any muscle or joint in the body using the same concept.
By the way, most of Pilates uses this concept. In Pilates we are always strengthening and stretching at the same time, using the actions of some muscles to stretch opposing muscles.
Massage can also help tight muscles because sometimes stretching just isn’t going to cut it.
Sometimes we feel tight, and what our body needs is to release muscle tension, not stretch. Release is when there is tension (picture a rubber band being pulled apart). What is needed in that case is for the two ends of the band to be brought closer together, to release the band. This is different from stretching, which would pull the two ends farther apart.
Massage can be great for releasing knots, trigger points and adhesions in the muscle tissue and fascia. You can get a massage from a pro but using foam rollers, massage balls and other tools can be useful too.
I hope this gets you to connect to your body and go easy on your muscles!
Till next time!