The weather in the Washington, DC area fluctuates drastically at times. A couple of weeks ago it was 75 degrees and sunny. This week there was snow which became icy overnight.
Road conditions were not problematic for long however many sidewalks and walkways remained slippery.
Imagine walking on an icy sidewalk. Reflexively the body becomes very stiff and rigid. Movement looks robotic as to prevent you from slipping and falling.
There is contraction of muscles surrounding the weight bearing joints. One example of this co-contraction is the hamstrings and quads at the knee. Rigidity of a joint, in this case the knee, is increased when muscles on opposite sides of a joint are contracting at the same time. This limits the joint’s freedom of movement.
In the situation of an icy sidewalk, this decrease in freedom of movement is a smart strategy as that provides less for the body to have to control to keep from falling.
You may have also felt the body using this strategy of maximal control when performing an activity such as weight training for the first time.
Lets imagine someone performing a back squat for the very first time. It may look like the individual is walking on ice when first lifting the barbell off of the rack. The body moves very robotic and rigid as the person attempts to learn the movement. However, the movement becomes much more fluid and efficient after practice through repetitions and training sessions. The body is more comfortable and the “reward” is more freedom of movement.
The body will also similarly protect us by limiting freedom of movement as if we are on ice. Muscles will be made stiff and joint motion will become limited if our bodies are perceiving something as threatening.
This is one reason that you may “carry your stress in your neck.” Perhaps you have stiff hamstrings, ankles or shoulders. Regardless of the source of your discomfort or stiffness, the body will attempt to become rigid to better handle the current stressors. These stressors include overtraining, poor sleep, poor nutrition, excessive time spent in front of a computer/phone, and a variety of factors that affect emotional health.
So the next time that you feel that a muscle is “tight” or your mobility is limited, ask yourself, “Is my body trying not to slip and fall?”
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