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Are You Tight or Are You Tight?

A muscle that feels tight is not necessarily short. On the contrary, often long, over-stretched muscles that are weak develop facial tightness as a substitute for real strength. Lengthening these muscles feels good temporarily, but it’s not going to stop the tightness from recurring. It will come back the next day. Strengthening these tight muscles, on the other hand, will give more lasting relief. #Pilatesparadox

On the other hand, some students have shorter than normal tendons and ligaments, often male athletes who have shortened particular muscles, (i.e. hamstrings) repetitively over many hours, several times per week over decades. If he says he’s tight, he probably means his muscles (and connective tissues) are short.

You will know for sure by performing a quick assessment, such as a long sit, which will clearly show you that his low back is rounded, and he can’t sit up on his sit bones.  He, in fact, needs lengthening or stretching of his hamstrings. He won’t like or enjoy it, though.

If you do the same assessment with the previously mentioned student, she will be able to lean forward with a flat lumbar spine, and probably mention “Oh, I’m so tight. That feels good.” While you’re admiring at her hamstring length, enviously.

Obviously, these two students and body types need completely different exercises and cues.

To help me and my students change our awareness of this phenomenon, I decided to change not just my language, but the way I look at things. I completely removed the word “tight” from my vocabulary. I use long and short instead. I educate my student that the sensation of tight does not equal short.

The next time one of your students says she’s tight in a particular area, have her to a simple movement to see her range of motion in that particular joint, such as a long sit position to determine hip flexion or hamstring length. Now that you know if the area is long or short, choose either an exercise that emphasizes range of motion, such as Footwork on the Trapeze Table to lengthen short muscles or one that focuses on strength and control of those muscles, such as Bridging on the Reformer to activate long overstretched muscles.


Note: The exercise links within the text will lead to Youtube. Here are the direct links to the exercises mentioned in this post in the Pilates Encyclopedia:

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