Weak & Tight

Why Your Muscles May Not Be Performing Their Best

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Foam Rolling
Photo: Trigger Point Therapy

If you are training and exercising and feel that your muscles are weak, you may need to ask yourself some important questions about what you are experiencing.

Weakness is a relative term. Sometimes it seems that the more you exercise, the weaker your muscles become. But let’s make sense of it by finding out why this happens. Muscles become weak because of a process in the body called inhibition. There are two primary reasons for muscle inhibition: muscle strain and nerve compression. Once we understand the nature of the weakness, then we can correct the cause.

Strenuous activity combined with a challenging load causes strain on the muscles. In the case of excessive strain, a muscle can become inhibited due to a protective reflex in the neuromuscular wirings of the muscle. This inhibition would produce weakness.

Muscles have a tendency to become excessively tight with working out and training. Excessively tight muscles commonly compress on nerves. This is known as nerve entrapment. The degree of muscle tightness will dictate the level of compression on the nerve and in turn, the level of compression will dictate the loss of function of the muscles to which the nerves connect. This loss of function will present as weakness.

Muscle strain and nerve compression cause muscle inhibitions. It works like a dimmer switch on a light. A light at full brightness is the equivalent of a muscle activating at 100 per cent. When the dimmer switch is dialed down, the light becomes dimmer, just as your muscles may not respond with full efficiency. This inhibition produces impairment in a muscle’s function. It can cause plateaus in training and predisposes an athlete to injury.

We often try to eliminate muscle tightness with methods like stretching, rolling and massage without considering that muscles are tight for a reason. Often that reason is stability. If inhibition causes muscles to become weak, muscles will increase the tension needed to maintain stability in the body. Simply put, the less strong or functional a muscle is, the tighter it has to be.

Once we understand the nature of the problem, we can create better solutions. If we discover the problem is related to an inhibitory process of the muscle then we need to address this before we can be completely successful at a strengthening program or achieve the full benefits of a training program.

Keep in mind that one or more of the inhibition mechanisms may be involved, which typically leads to injury.

Addressing Strain and Nerve Entrapments

  • Muscle release strategies such as massage and Active Release Techniques (ART) can address muscle strain to remove an inhibition or release compressed nerves.
  • Proper foam rolling (shown below) is effective to release excessively tight muscles that are compressing the nerves.
  • Avoid rolling directly on a compressed nerve.
  • For chronically tight muscles, complement release work with a stretching program and yoga.

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