Happy New Year! Yes, it is that time of year again when we all create our New Year’s resolution. Not surprisingly, getting in shape always seems to be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, by February 1 we feel we have failed then just quit. I used to do the same thing. I had great intentions to lose the weight by going to the gym, but the problem was I felt worse after working out than I did fat. You miss a few training sessions and now you feel it is hopeless.
I remember working in a gym as a trainer and see the same people come in every December, buy a membership for themselves or a partner. They would usually come in with new gym outfits and confident this would be the year to lose that weight. Sadly, by the second week of January, many would no longer come back. Then the next December it would start all over. Why is this so difficult?
It can be hard to believe that we are no longer 22 years old anymore and the in the gym, that is very apparent. Members would come in and try pick up their workouts where they left off in high school or college. Of course that was 20 plus years ago which is a recipe for an injury. So the injury would stop them and leave them feeling like they are too old to work out. Others would come and workout as instructed but would wake up the next day sore and stiff. They would feel hopeless because they had pictured themselves feeling awesome as in the ads for the gym. Sometimes a trainer’s ego can get the best of them and they can work you too hard, too fast. Sadly, few people understand the value of proper stretching. Traditional stretching like you see in most gyms and schools is not correct stretching and may lead to more injuries.
The #1 reason people fail to get fit, STIFFNESS! Yes, the work out will make you stronger, give you more stamina, and it will definitely make you stiff! I am not saying you should not work out, but you must add the stretching into the routine as well. Think of your car. We all know we need gas and oil for the car to keep running, correct? Think of strength training as the gas and stretching as the oil.Leave one out and the car stops, so will you.
Strength training will build strength and improve stamina, but it shortens the muscles which apply pressure to your joints and nerves, including your back. That pressure will stop your body from producing enough lubricate in the joints and discs which allow you to move smoothly. The joints and discs will dry out and create arthritic conditions.
Stretching, on the other hand, can free those joints by creating space between your vertebrae and joints which allow the lubricating fluid to soften and cushion to alleviate pain. Unfortunately, too many people hold their stretches too long and apply too much force which switches the stretching to strength training.
So let’s make plans again this year to get in shape. Begin your workouts as soon as possible, let us teach you how to stretch properly, and visit a nutritionist to learn how to eat a proper diet to achieve your goals. No diet that requires deprivation only will work. It is not about calories in, calories out, but your emotional tie to food. The quality of the food, like the quality of the gas in your car, will determine how well you run.With the proper plan you can achieve your goal. I know this works because I lost 105 lbs. in 1997 and I never re-gained it back by staying on the plan.
Many of my clients come to see me with elbow tendonitis, or golfer’s elbow, or tennis elbow. They are all the same. The clients will usually be wearing some sort of an elbow band or brace thinking it will help their elbow. Some clients have even had injections to relieve the pain. It is very painful as I have had it myself. The problem with this thinking is, we are looking at the wrong place. This is symptom-based mentality when you think the spot of pain is the cause of pain. Unless it is a broken bone or a torn ligament or tendon, it is rarely at the spot of pain. It is best to remember that ligaments attach the bones together and tendons attach muscles to the skin of the bones. Also, tendons are like rubber bands, they can stretch out and go back to their original length. Ligaments are more like taffy, they can stretch out but will not go back to their original length.
There are 24 muscles in your forearm running from your elbow to your fingertips and there are 2 bones in the forearm. The forearm allows you to rotate, grip things, and wave with your hand. If you feel on the outside of your elbow, you will feel a bony knot which is on the end of the bone in your upper arm. Feel underneath, and you will feel another bony knot also on the end of the upper arm bone. These are important because this is where 5 muscles attach on each side that allows you to open and close your hand. It is the opening and closing of your hands that causes the elbow area to hurt. For instance, a golf swing requires you to grip your clubhead. This can cause the inside of the elbow to hurt. A backhand in tennis will cause the outside area of the elbow to hurt. There are many other things that can do the same thing. Something as simple as gripping your steering wheel, opening doors, painting, exercise, and stress if you hold stress in your hands. These muscles will get hard and pally pressure to the outside or inside of the joint. There are muscles in-between the forearm bones that, when hard, can reduce the rotating ability of the hand causing tenderness on the elbow as well.
The question is, how can you get rid of it? It is pretty simple when you think about. Every day I massage my forearms on my way home from the office because I use my hands all day. Now I am not talking about a little rub like you feel in a typical massage therapy session nor am I talking about digging down to the bone as in a deep tissue session. Use the pads of your thumbs and press in different spots on your forearm looking for sore spots, some people call them Trigger points, the bottom line is they are sore spots. Press down just enough for your brain to feel it, then breathe out allowing your brain to relax the muscle. Once it is relaxed, the pain will stop. Then move to another area and continue until the forearm is softer. Now, stand next to a table, place the palm of your hand flat on the table, and make sure the fingers are pointing behind you. Lean back gently while feeling a little pull up the forearm. More is not better so be gentle and breathe to release the muscles. Hold for 2 breaths and release. Holding for long periods of time will make it worse, not better. Next, bend the elbow and make a light fist. use the opposite hand and gently press down your hand feeling the stretch up the forearm and through the wrist. Remember to be gentle and not force the movement. Too much pressure on either stretch and the brain will fight with you and you will be strength training, not stretching. For the average person, doing these 2-3 times per week should be enough. If you use your hands a lot during your week, then I would suggest doing every day and maybe twice a day. This has kept my hands and arms from hurting in my practice.
To see videos of these and other stretches, go to my YouTube channel, The Muscle Repair Shop. You can leave comments there and on my Facebook and LinkedIn sites as well. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply within 24 hours.
Many of my clients are golfers and I usually hear how their low back pain affects their golf game. I used to play golf and I remember from my golf lessons that when you are swinging the club, you want to keep your back straight and rotate using your legs to bring the clubhead around your body. Watch a pro golfer when they swing. The club head is usually around their back to the other side of their body. This gives them more range to increase clubhead speed as it approaches the ball. When we see an amateur golfer we see the clubhead go to about the middle of their back which limits the range of building the clubhead speed. We know they are older and not as flexible, but can they improve their flexibility?
As I watch golfers swing a club, I see that their inner and outer thighs along with their inner and outer calves is what allows them to have the maximum amount of clubhead range. When I see golfers workout and stretch, I rarely see any golfer work on these two areas of their body. On the local courses, I see golfers forcing their backs to do the work. The inner thighs and outer thigh control the pelvis and when they are short, the pelvis is tilted forward which cause the low back to tighten. The calves are what allows your weight to shift on your feet. Without this flexibility, the chances of damaging your knees are pretty high. There is a way to help you improve your flexibility for golf. I have started putting videos on my YouTube channel at, The Muscle Repair Shop, to help you. Currently, the calf stretches are there and if you follow the video, you can reduce your risk of knee injuries. We will soon have the thigh and inner thigh stretches uploaded. You can visit my website at www.musclerepairshop.com and contact me for additional videos to help your golf game.
I love when my golfing clients tell me they have reduced their scores by 4-5 strokes. The stretching will help you with distance and control. More importantly, you can play without pain.
Stretching is so misunderstood. If I were King, I would change the word to releasing. Stretching is about letting go of the tension in your muscles. This tension can come from thoughts throughout your day or physical activity. A Neurosurgeon once said to me, ” Ever seen a stressed guy look relaxed?” He’s correct when we are stressed we tighten every muscle in our body. When having a bad day you may hold more tension in your shoulders, hips, hands, or feet, but it is also throughout your body. This tension will cause compression on your bones, nerves, and blood vessels. The compression on your spine can lead to bulging discs, herniated discs, tingling down an extremity. An example would be bike riding. As a biker is hunched over the handlebar, the compression on his/her spine is increased as they are holding up their head. The muscles of the chest begin to contract as they steering their bike, again increasing compression. As the compression increases in the cervical spine (neck), it pinches the nerves going down to the hands causing tingling and numbness. By releasing the chest muscles and the muscles on the front of the neck, the pressure on the neck will release. Increasing the strength of your back muscles will only make it worse.
The compression on your joints will cause your joints to wear out leading to joint replacement and surgeries to treat the pain. Every joint have muscles crossing over them. As the muscles harden from working out, it reduces the spacing in the joints which will squeeze out the synovial fluid, a lubricant the body naturally puts in your joint. Left untreated, this compression can cause bursitis, which is telling you your joint is too close together, and later damage to the cartilage. By learning to stretch properly, you can relieve the pressure on your joints as well as the nerves and blood vessels. You don’t need to know the names of all your muscles, but understand how you work mechanically will reduce your risk of injury.
The biggest issue that people have when stretching is understanding how much of stretching is more mental than physical. If you pull your muscles too hard, massage too hard, or try to force the muscle to release, your brain will fight back in fear of you hurting yourself. Your brain will not let you hurt yourself unless you force it, which is crazy! Listen to your body and when you stretch, feel the stretch from start to finish. If you are tight, only hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Holding a stretch for a long period of time is fone if you are flexible, but if you are not, then stretching is about re-training your brain to believe you can actually do the stretch. Be safe and free your body!
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We were all taught in grade school through high school about stretching. Some coaches even tried to teach us by many were too stiff to actually do the stretches. If you think about, they were the worst people to teach anything about stretching. Typically we have been told to hold a stretch for more than 20 seconds and try to stretch as many muscles at once as possible. That is recipe for disaster, or as in most cases, nothing happens. Sadly many professionals use this same tactic to teach stretching today and some organizations will tell you to never hold a stretch for less than 20 seconds. I recently wrote a paper at the University of South Florida comparing strength training to stretching and I was shocked at what I found. There are hundreds of studies about strength training and how to build muscle. There were very few studies about the benefits of stretching. I was shocked!
Stretching is about reducing your risk of injuries and reducing the wear and tear of aging on the joints. Your joints are held together with ligaments which are like taffy. When you overstretch the the ligaments they do not bounce back into shape. This is why highly flexible young people may experience joint issues as they age becuase the joint is too loose. The tendons connect the muscles to the bones and they are like rubber bands. You can stretch them and they will retract back to their original form. Keep in mind that mosat muscles cross over a joint. For instance, the lower muscles attahc above the knee and the upper leg muscles attach below the knee. When the muscle get tight and start to shorten over time, you will loose spacing in the knee between the upper leg bone (femur) and lower leg bones (Tibia and Fibula). Without the proper stretching, you can experience bursitis which is a sac that tells you the joint is too close together, arthritis, which is really the drying of the joint, or wrose yet breaking of the cartilage leading to knee replacement. When the bones are too close together, the bones squeeze out the synovial fluid(lubricant) that the body naturally injects into the joint to provide lubrication and cushioning. When this is squeezed out, the joint dires and leads to arthritis. All of this can be avoided by simply learnign how to stretch and doing it consistently every day. Think about your dog or cat, they stretch every day without anyone telling them to do so. Guess who’s smarter!
How do you stretch? Do you hold for long periods of time? Do you have a chronic injury?