Are you constantly dealing with pain when you run or workout?
This is a question that I get on a daily basis. If you find yourself in that grouping, one whom is always dealing with pain as a result of your workout or maybe even just from your daily activities this could be a great read for you.
As many of you know, our new studio sits right on the Upper Tampa Bay Trail in a beautiful part of Citrus Park. I have a window that looks out onto one of the public access points for the trail. Day in and day out I see the same faces around the same times doing the same warm up and cool down routines.
When I most recently joined a few exercise enthusiast on the trail I got the chance to ask a few questions of them about their warm up and cool down routines that I had watched them doing everyday.
Here are the questions I asked them about their warm up and cool down routines:
- Why do you stretch?
- Why do you have to stretch before working out?
- Does stretching warm up your muscles?
- Does stretching prevent injury?
I was blown away with the answers I received. Most of the answers I received from those fitness enthusiast had NO scientific grounding. The most common answer was,
"Everyone does and stretching is the best way to avoid getting hurt and to warm up your muscles!"
Unfortunately a false statement, and possibly even to the contrary. Needless to say I was surprised at the overwhelming notion that stretching is good, or even worse that stretching is a must! I was even surprised given that roughly 50% of my clients seek out my services because of pain that got worse when they followed "DR.Orders" to stretch more.
Stretching vs Muscle Activation
Hats off to everyone comes to the trail looking excited and eager to start their fitness activity for the day. Unfortunately as weeks fly by, I would notice some of those same faces started to look different. There were some that would start to move slower, or they would start to limp and then in an almost predictable fashion, they would either go missing in action or show up to their next fitness bout with a brace on. Then in a few weeks go missing in action. In about 2 weeks time they return with renewed vigor and a what appeared to be from my view of the trail a deepen focus on stretching harder and longer before they took off.
Unfortunately, many repeat the same cycle over again and some again but most just stop coming out at all.
Is stretching causing your issues during your physical activities?
For someone that specializes in the muscle system and the biomechanics associated with human movement, I was drawn to figure out WHY so many people continue to except this cycle as normal, or part of getting older, or even more interesting to me is why most of them will blame it on themselves for not stretching more!
I was interested to learn what it was that had few people continue with their fitness activities while most succumb to injury.
- Was there something they had in common?
- Was it the rollerbladers or the runners more than the bikers?
- Was it a certain age group?
- Was it their warm up?
I started to notice a correlation (which doesn’t mean causation) that the people who took the time to do some “deep” stretching were the ones who ended up seeming like they were injured – either limping, compensating or wearing a brace of some sort.
There were some predictable stretches I would see over and over again in those that ultimately turned up injured.
- Grabbing your ankle and pulling the lower leg up towards your bottom.
- Rotating your upper body as far as you could to one side and then the other.
- The good old toes up on a curb to stretch the lower leg.
- Deep leaning forward to pull on those hamstrings in the back of the upper leg.
- Pull of the arm across the chest with your other arm.
Thats just to list a few.
How is stretching leaving you vulnerable?
I think that the fitness industry can do a better job educating people on how to properly prepare and recover their bodies for physical activities. I don’t believe that anyone has any ill-intent. I know that I never tell someone to do something that I think would cause harm. However, just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t make it appropriate for you.
I’ll use two simple analogies to wrap it up.
Stretching before your workout activity is the equivalent of a knight in shining armor taking off all of their armor and getting off their horse to go battle a dragon. You leave yourself exposed and vulnerable.
Stretching tells your nervous system to take a little time off, to shut down, to become less active and this leaves you exposed and weak. Yes you may feel looser after stretching BUT that loose feeling is a lack of tension in your muscles and it is that tension that the nervous system uses to paint a picture in your brain about the current activities that are taking place with your joints and muscles.
Think of it this way, lets say you are not a big fan of driving down mountain roads due to the hight and shear drop off that would surely be the end of you if you drove off.
Simple!! Just put goggles on that blocked your vision and drive down.......Yes the view is gone, BUT the danger is still there!!! Yes the tension in your body is gone but chances are the guardrail you are now slamming into, ie your joints, is going to give out, and when it does give out and the protective measures are gone!! Game over, vehicle over edge, joint destroyed!
How would you know if stretching is causing you problems?
- Recurring pain when running or other physical activities
- You can not seem to stretch enough to get rid of the tightness
- You get tingling in the legs when you stretch
- Your pain travels around your body
- Your tightness comes back
- You are always in pain
Muscle Activation Techniques vs Stretching
What if instead of taking your armor off before battling the dragon you super charged your nervous system so that you increased your bodies ability to respond to external and often unexpected forces. This is were MAT come into the picture. Muscle Activation before your workout activity is the equivalent of that same knight upgrading their armor all the way down to their undergarments and then putting armor on their horse! You add lays of protection.
Activation excites your nervous system increasing the communication between all of your moving parts and upgrading your internal protective mechanisms!
Muscle Activation is the key to getting back to and enjoying more each everything you do that involves movement!
So instead of taking on an activity like running or slaying a dragon, both of which are extremely neurologically demanding, with your muscles in a sleep state and not working to their fullest potential - you can instead activate them and supercharge the protective mechanisms in your body!