Muscles can relax and contract, when a muscle contracts it gets shorter.

But you can clench your muscles without any movement/contraction.

For context I happen to have a motor neurone condition which affects my walk.

Recently a Chinese friend asked me how I feel when I'm walking.

When you move muscles are relaxing and contracting all in sync and perfectly timed to work together. For me some muscles are still clenched when they should be relaxed which causes my walk to be awkward looking and effortful. Anyway how would I express "clench" in this context? Again, I don't mean contraction.

One other exercise I like to give people to give a feeling of my experience is:

Pick up a pen, now clench your abs, clench your biceps, clench your hamstrings, clench your forearm muscles and hand muscles, go from your toes up your head in your mind and clench every muscle you can think of, now with every muscle clenched write your name on some paper. That's how walking feels for me :) Muscles are clenched that should be relaxed.

I suppose "activated" would also convey "clenched" here but what are peoples' thoughts?

I found the word 攥 zuàn in my dictionary Pleco.

People seem confused with my use of the word clench. Other terms that mean the same thing would be to tense/tighten/flex/activate your muscles.

  • By clench do you mean inability to relax? Is there is medical term for these conditions? This sounds similar to Parkinson's disease. Hope you get better soon btw :)
    – trisct
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 1:52
  • I am not sure what you meant by "clench," at least not in the way you use it. Clench usually refers to closing your hand and tightening into a ball. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 2:42
  • 5
    For muscles, we can use 收紧 or 绷紧.
    – ElpieKay
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 3:27

1 Answer 1


clench: to grasp firmly, to close tightly: clench one's teeth; clenched my fists in anger.

If you use 'clench' to mean 'tighten' then try to translate, you will have trouble. That's an idiomatic use of 'clench', because the muscles are in no sense closed.

Tighten your stomach muscles.

  • 2
    "Clenching" to describe engaging muscles, regardless of whether anything is getting grasped, seems totally fine to me. "Tensing" is probably the most common way to express this idea, but they both work. "Tighten" seems a bit odd to me, fwiw. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 18:07

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