Stretching the Truth

The reason for persistent tightness in tissues could be due to your bodies inherent protective strategy against stretch.

Muscle spindles are a sensory receptor in muscle fibres that sense the length and speed of lengthening. They send excitatory messages to activate muscle and protect against stretch related injuries. This is often an area of perceived threat post injury and can create compensatory change elsewhere.

Many techniques exist to overcome this perceived tightness in tissue but understanding the reasoning as to why the tissue is perpetually tight is when you can create active flexibility, long standing change and improved performance.

Creating active flexibility

This is your ability to utilise the powerful spring effect of the stretch reflex in your tissues (elastic recoil properties of the musculo-tendon complex). Passive stretching deadens the muscle from a neural perspective reducing the peak strength and power. The focus should be on creating dynamic range changes whilst activating torque around antagonist (opposite) muscles. If the force is higher from the antagonist side of contraction then the range can improve but also be not compromised neurally.

Examples at a physiological level include activating the anterior chain (core) whilst performing a straight leg raise to minimise the excitation on the muscle spindles in the posterior chain. There is also the instruction of novel strategies with which there is no associated perception of threat or neural tension (i.e compression bands).

Nate Chambers of Roark San Francisco getting around the single leg DL for active flexibility. Hit them up next time you’re in SF.


This could be adapted from a dynamic performance standpoint working through repetitions of increasing speed of leg lift with anterior chain activation to pattern these joints through a range of motion whilst affecting the stretch reflex of the cycle for a footballer in his follow through from a kick.

Alternatively, a single leg deadlift provides the most bang for buck in regards to creating neural tension whilst undergoing dynamic change.

In summary

  • Stretching passively isn’t the answer
  • Downregulating the neural receptors will improve range of motion and eventually diminish the perception of tightness
  • Use a novel stimulus to override this stimulus (compression band, fire up antagonist)