Dealing with pain. Strengthen or Stretch
Updated: May 16
For anyone who works out regularly, or even if you are sedentary, we all struggle with some aches and pains. And the first thing we nearly all when we get these pains is stretch.
Sometimes, this is the right thing to do. But it’s not what you should do all the time.
How many times have you seen or heard someone complain about a pain somewhere and then they start to try and stretch it out? I’ve seen this countless times and have to admit I’m a bit guilty of this myself.
Now firstly I want to say, I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. If you do have some serious joint pain please see a medical professional. This is aimed at simple niggles and aches we get that aren’t dealt with correctly that will either not help or make things worse.
So when and why should you stretch?
Well thing about what stretching is. You are lengthening the muscles. You are trying to get the origin and insertion parts of the muscles are far away from each other as you can.
So if the muscle is tight, say you went for a run and your calves are tight, then this is the way to go.
But when you get these niggles and aches, have you thought that it might not be because they’re tight?
Could they be weak?
If they are weak this would explain the pain and no amount of stretching is going to fix that.
Weak muscles are usually the cause of any of these pains. Yet we never seem to strengthen them, we stretch them instead.
Now you can imagine that if the muscle is weak and tight, that trying to pull it has long as it will go will probably not help it.
Now when I say weak muscles, I don’t mean gym weak. If you have weak hamstrings, that doesn’t mean that you can’t deadlift or squat much. It could mean they’re the weak link hold you back.
Or they could have a limited range of motion and are weak at the end range.
Hip flexors are possibly the best example. Especially because how many of us spend some much time sitting which, yes can make them tight. But it can make them weak too.
So when people complain about getting tight hips they always stretch it out. How many times have you seen someone try to strengthen their hip? Not often at all.
Lets stick with the hip flexors as an example. So instead of stretching, lets try to make them stronger so you won’t be crippled with weak hips giving you pain.
And a lot of the time the exercises are very simple. Instead of stretching the muscles, contract the muscle.
So obviously there’s lot of ways to do this so there might be a bit of trial and error to see what works for you.
But something simple like contracting the hip flexor but lifting the knee up like you are march and holding. This is building isometric strength. You could make this harder by put a resistance band around your leg so the band is wanting to pull your leg down so you have to fight to flex your hip.
You could also go into a hip flexor stretch and try to isometrically contract your hip. This is great for building strength at the end range as you are contracting the muscles while they are fully lengthened.
Another way is to flex the hip while in a flexed position. So go into a kneeling lunge position. The leg that is out to the front will be in hip flexion. From there, try to flex more to lift your foot off the ground as much as you can.
This way you are building strength while the hip is already in a flexed position, like when you are sitting.
Now I’m not saying this is going to fix all your hip problems. But the reason that the hip flexors are such a good example is because this is very common issue, and no one ever thinks about strengthening them.
Now if they are giving you problems because there was a lot of hip flexion in your training, then stretching may be the answer. It could also mean that they are weak and the training was exposing that.
This is what I have found works best for myself and my clients. I’m not saying don’t stretch now. But maybe do a mix of both and see if one helps more than the other. I just wanted to highlight that someone that we all struggle with at some point is nearly all the time dealt with the wrong way.