Categories
Exercise Fitness Health Health and Fitness Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Recovery Running Self Isolation Sport Sports Injuries Stress Swimming Trekking Weight Loss Wellness

It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It

The importance of stretching and relaxing your muscles before and after exercise cannot be over emphasized.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

On a rainy, late autumn, day last year I plodded slowly up from sea level out of Dunure Harbour towards the village of Fisherton. The climb was about 300ft, relatively steep and I was going to use the lamp posts in Fisherton as markers for my first hill sprint session in 20 years. I felt freedom and exhilaration as I exploded into my first sprint of the session. A sudden sharp pain at the top of my left leg had me pulling up before the end of the third sprint. I was soon limping back to the car with a pulled hamstring. It would literally be months before I would run pain free again.

For any athlete who takes part in any sport, it is vital to work through the ritual of stretches and warm up before any training session or events. For those of us carrying weight it is even more important to work through those routines. For work on your feet such as running or hiking, the more weight you carry, the more strain you put on the framework of bones and muscles supporting you. Muscles need to be kept supple and the blood needs to be easily circulating to carry the necessary oxygen to them to enable you to keep working.

Pulled muscles, weak or grinding knees or lower back pain have all become everyday obstacles for me to have to overcome through years of physical work whilst being overweight. The thing is the onset of such conditions can be delayed or removed altogether and the effects of them reduced by making stretching and warm up/down a routine part of your exercise.

Focussing on stretches, the exercises below are the ones which I tend to do as I find them most achievable and comfortable for me. It’s worth noting however that there are loads of different stretches that can be done for the different muscles in your body. You should explore these widely and find the best exercises for you. To assist I have added lots of links in the exercises mentioned which open up the wide and varied world of stretching and warm up.

Stretch Exercises

Warning: Care must be taken not to overwork or overstretch muscles during these exercises. Move slowly and gently into all positions described never jerk or swing yourself suddenly into a change of position. If you feel pain at any time, stop immediately and seek qualified medical advice before continuing. It is best to work with a qualified Gym or Sports Coach when first doing stretches.

The video below shows a demonstration of the full exercise routine encompassing all stretches described in this post.

All stretches are shown in this video and described below

Lunging Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches the calf muscles. This is the large muscle that runs along the back of your leg from your heel to the back of the knee.

Lunging Calf Stretch
  • Find a wall and place your hands on the wall
  • Extend one leg behind you
  • To achieve the stretch on the calf muscle on the extended leg, place that entire foot on the floor with the toes pointing forward and bend the non extended knee
  • You should feel the area behind your extended leg, between the heel and the knee, tightening
  • Hold for a count of approx 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Hamstring And Calf Stretch

Here, we stretch both sets of muscles running up the back of the leg. Calf, as previous exercise and hamstring. Your hamstring runs up the back of your leg from your knee to just below your bottom.

Calf and Hamstring stretch
  • Stand, hands on hips, both legs together, toes facing forward.
  • Place one foot in front of the other to prepare for the stretch
  • Keeping your rear foot flat on the ground, raise the toe of your front foot off the ground
  • The stretch is achieved by raising your front foot off the ground and then slowly pushing your bottom back
  • You should feel a general tightness along the back of your extended leg and may be particularly tight behind the knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Extend the other foot forward and repeat

Hamstring Stretch

Another stretch for the hamstring. This one is slightly deeper than the previous stretch and focuses on the hamstring. The stretch is developed over 2 parts.

First part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Stand with your legs shoulder width apart
  • Clasp your hands behind you
  • Slowly lean forward extending your clasped hands above your back
  • You will start to feel the tightness in both hamstrings at the back of your legs above the knee
  • Hold this position for a slow count of five before extending into the second part of the stretch
Second part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Maintaining the forward leaning posture unclasp your hands and stretch your arms down towards the ground
  • Keeping your knees straight, gently push down towards your toes as far as you can go
  • Do not worry if you cannot reach your toes (I can’t) you can still benefit from the stretch by extending as low as you can
  • If you are able to easily reach your toes, you can extend the stretch further by touching the ground out in front of your toes
  • Hold the lowest point of the stretch for a further count of 5 before slowly returning to a standing position

Quad Stretch

This is the final exercise I do for the legs and it covers the Quads. These are the large muscles at the front of your legs above the knee and they work especially hard supporting your hips and your knees during hill descents.

Quad Stretch
  • Lower yourself onto one knee with one knee on the ground, leg extended behind you and one knee out in front with the knee bent and foot flat on the floor.
  • Hands on hips
  • Gently shift your weight forward onto the leg extended in front of you.
  • You should feel the muscles at the top of the leg in front of you tighten.
  • Hold the stretch for about 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat

Lower Back Stretch

This exercise is especially good for opening up the joints at the base of the spine and releasing tension. Hence this exercise can help to relieve lower back pain.

Lower Back Stretch
  • Lie face down on the floor with your hands close to your shoulders, hands flat on the floor
  • Straighten your arms and lift the top half of your body up off the floor whilst leaving your legs flat on the floor
  • Once your arms are straight and your upper body is arched, move fully into the stretch by clenching your buttocks and gently pushing your hips into the floor
  • You should feel the stretch across your lower back
  • Hold for approx 3 sec, lower upper body back down and repeat
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Figure 4 Stretch

The Sacroiliac (SI) Joint is where your hip bones (Ilium) join to the centre of your back below the spine (Sacrum). Inflammation in these joints can cause ongoing and debilitating pain in the lower back which can radiate down through the Sciatic Nerve to the buttocks and the top of your legs. The pain is called Sciatica and you can find out much more about it and the SI Joint here.

This exercise stretches the Piriformis Muscle which, when tight, can aggravate the SI Joint. I was introduced to this stretch when I visited my Physio with Sciatica and I have found it was great for relieving the pain. Note this stretch can also be done sitting.

Figure 4 Stretch (Lying)
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side and legs flat on the floor
  • Lift one foot and bend your knee to place that foot on the top of the opposite knee and relax
  • The weight of your bent knee hanging down should initiate the stretch of the Piriformis Muscle on that side
  • You can deepen the stretch by gently pushing down on the bent knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change over and repeat with the other leg

Bridges

This is more of a very gentle stretching exercise to strengthen your core rather than a stretch.

Bridge
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Gently and slowly raise your bottom off the floor until you have created a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders
  • Relax
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Deltoid Stretch

Deltoids are muscles behind your shoulders which get extensively used during lots of activities. They are extensively used in any swimming stroke, when carrying a pack or using walking poles on a trek and scrambling. Even holding your arms up during a long run requires use of the deltoids. This stretch keeps them supple.

Deltoid Stretch
  • Stand facing front, hands by your sides.
  • Raise one arm and extend it across the front of your body
  • Bring the other arm up to touch the elbow of the extended arm
  • Gently push the elbow of the extending arm in towards your body achieving the stretch
  • You should feel tightness at the back of the shoulder of the extended arm
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change arms and repeat the stretch

Hula Hoop

Now we are getting into a little fun and flexibility to finish off. The idea of this and the next exercise is just to loosen off a bit and increase flexibility around the hips. You can use a Hoola Hoop to get the most out of this. I just do the hip movements.

Rotating hips Hoola Hoop style
  • Stand hands on hips.
  • Gently rotate your hips as if you were rotating a Hoola Hoop
  • Do 3 rotations in one direction and then change direction
  • Repeat until you have done five rotations in each direction

Twists

Another exercise to move the hips and shoulders.

Twist Starting Position
  • Stand facing front with your hands flat in front of your chin
Twist extended
  • Extend one arm
  • Keeping your legs facing forward, swivel round on your hips to bring the extended arm behind you
  • Gently increase the stretch to bring the extended arm towards the other side of your body
  • Relax until your extended arm is pointing straight back
  • Repeat the extension for another 2 reps
  • Bring your arm round to the front and repeat by extending the other arm
  • Continue switching arms until you have extended 5 times on each side

Loosening Off and Warming Down

After any exercise session it is always good to just gently relax and shake off all of your muscles. This can be done by gently bouncing on your feet whilst shaking off your arms, rotating your head and anything which instinctively feels like you are relaxing and shaking off your muscles.

If it makes it any easier or fun, just picture yourself as a boxer dancing around the ring ahead of the fight.

Jab n move

Read about the muscles I’ve pulled during training and how I’ve managed to keep moving and recover from them in my next post here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

Like, Share and Subscribe

Please support this page by hitting the Like and re-blogging or sharing through Social Media using the buttons below. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can also leave a comment and subscribe to the blog to receive automatic updates whenever I post.

Categories
Adventure Exercise Fitness Health Health and Fitness Life and Wellbeing Mountaineering Running Sport Sports Injuries Stress Swimming Travel Trekking Wellness

9 Ways To Get Moving Again After a Muscle Strain

As an overweight person who trains regularly, I’ve pulled a lot of muscles over the years. Here are the ones I’ve encountered and what I did to keep moving.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different as is everyone’s treatment for, and recovery from, an injury. If you experience an injury during a sports activity, please seek professional medical advice before proceeding to treatment or commencing training. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

I was in the middle of the road, crossing it on the walk back to my work after the lunchtime Gym Session when I collapsed. A sudden sharp pain burned across my lower back and I suddenly couldn’t stand up. I lurched towards a nearby lamp post and hugged it in an attempt to stay upright until someone from a delivery van stopped to help.

On that occasion the Doctor concluded that I had overworked my upper body in the gym which had weakened my stomach muscles. This put extra strain on my back trying to keep me upright and the muscles in the lower back pulled up. With minor pain killers and rest I was up and about again in a week. Over the years I’ve had to deal with pulled calves and hamstrings, steadily weakening knees and, yes, lots of other episodes of lower back pain.

The root cause is often the same. Training whilst being overweight. I’ve learnt to accept these as a hazard of my passion. What the Doctors and Physio’s have taught me over several visits is how to overcome these and get moving again.

Know your limits and work within them

As they say, prevention is better than the cure and the best way to prevent pulled muscles and strains is as follows:

  • Stretch and warm up before exercise
  • Know your limits and train within them
  • Stretch and warm down after exercise

The occasion of my first pulling the muscles in my lower back came after a year of inactivity and a job overseas which involved lots of restaurant food and alcoholic drinks. I had gained a significant amount of weight and my fitness had almost completely disappeared. On my return to training, a sense of guilt and unease about my declining fitness had me trying to train at the fitness level I had been at 12 months previous. This was way beyond the capabilities of my new body.

My alternative to training was a job with restaurant foot and beer

I now find it’s best to cover some light exercise to gauge the level I am at any time I start a new training program. It’s ok to be less fit than you used to be. The fact that you have started training again should be enough to encourage you.

Warm Up/Down

My last post entitled It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It gives a detailed description of the daily routine I use to get my muscles ready for exercise. This is one of two aspects of the warm up. The next is to raise the heart rate a wee bit and get the circulation going. This can be done simply by a small very gentle jog for 100m or so, or doing the warm up exercises the big events tend to organize before the start of big road races.

A good Warm Up:

  • Loosens the muscles
  • Kick starts the circulation which will keep muscles supplied with oxygen during your activity
  • Helps reduce the strain associated with the rise from Resting to Working Heart Rate by initiating this before the activity begins

Warming down is normally a much gentler repeat of the warm up exercises. This helps the muscles relax from the strain of the activity. I also find a bath and some deep breathing helps a lot.

Regulate your heart and lungs during activities

During the activity try to work below your Max Heart Rate (See my post entitled Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams). Try and regulate your breathing. Slow deep breaths are better than quick shallow breaths for feeding the muscles with oxygen.

Try to work below Max Heart Rate

In addition, slow deep breaths have a tendency to slow your heart rate giving you more of a margin to work in between your current heart rate and Max Heart Rate.

Never work through pain

Never push through the pain. Learn to recognize the normal discomfort of pushing yourself physically and stop if you feel any pain beyond that.

If you are training hard, there will be a certain amount of acceptable and manageable discomfort. Your heart may be pounding, lungs bursting as you draw in heavy, deep breaths and muscles may ache slightly as lactic acid starts to build in them as a result of your exertion. You can find out a bit more about Lactic acid here. These are all feelings you will already be, or will become, familiar with as your training progresses.

Occasionally however, muscles can suddenly pull. You will normally then feel a sharp pain which could be accompanied by a lack of free movement or even a loss of support in the affected area. This is likely an indication that a muscle group has gone beyond the rigours of physical activity and has become damaged in some way. Pushing on through the pain will only increase the damage.

Remember also that your heart is a muscle which gets put under strain with the rest of your muscles when you train. You would be well advised to be familiar with the symptoms of heart distress such as chest pains, excessive breathlessness or dizziness. The British Heart Foundation has some more detailed advice on symptoms of heart problems and what to do if you encounter them. You can read their advice here.

Apply Hot/Cold Treatment

Whenever I start jogging again after resting for a while, I tend to pull the muscles at the back of my legs. My calves (at the bottom of my legs) are the most common to go but I have also pulled a hamstring (at the top) especially if opening my stride or sprinting.

As with any pulled muscles, rest is essential until the pain has completely subsided. Hot and cold treatment is another method I find helpful. Apply some heat pad or cream (I use a cream called Deep Relief but most people are familiar with Deep Heat) over the inflamed muscle. A few hours later, apply an ice pack. This can be a bag of frozen veg (Remember to ask Mum first 🙂 )

Frozen Mojitos were a great Ice Pack for me when I pulled my hamstring
  • Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin. Keep either a layer of clothing or a towel between the two.
  • Apply for about 20 minutes.

Foam Roller Massage

It is also helpful to deliver some form of deep massage to the affected area. A great way to do this for calves and hamstrings is with the use of a Foam Roller. A Foam Roller is a tubular device about 4ft long normally with some form of dimples or indentations on the outer surface to help massage muscles.

Foam Roller. Great for a deep massage of calf or hamstrings
  • Place the Foam Roller on the ground and sit with your legs over it.
  • Cross your good leg over your bad leg with the bad leg resting on top of the Foam Roller.
  • Position yourself so that the Foam Roller is sitting below the bottom of the affected muscle.
  • With your hands out behind you raise your bottom off the ground so that your weight is being supported by the Foam Roller.
  • Push yourself forward over the Foam Roller.
  • Your affected muscle will now be pushed into and rolling over the Foam Roller which will deliver a deep massage to that muscle.

Use Elasticated Supports

Before leaving calves and hamstrings, it’s worth discussing support as you ease back into training. There are lots of different types of elasticated support for the different parts of the legs like the ones shown below.

Elasticated knee supports

For overall support of all the muscles in the legs, you can get a set of Support Leggings. These are tight fitting leggings with a slightly elasticated material and they provide some support over both your legs. I am wearing support leggings in the stretch video below.

As far as my knees are concerned, there has been a steady decline in the strength of them over a number of years. On the final day of the Everest Base Camp Trek in 2016 I needed one elasticated support on one of my knees. Now, if I’m going for a jog or onto the hills, I need 2 quite heavy neoprene Knee Supports like the ones shown below. I need one on each leg. It’s not so much that my knees are particularly sore, just that they are getting steadily weaker which means it is very hard to balance on rough terrain or steep descents.

Heavier Knee Supports with metal side braces as well as elasticated support

Again, if your knees become sore or swollen, hot and cold treatment as described for the calves and hamstrings can bring down the swelling and ease the pain.

Regularly stretch your back and hips

Lower Back Pain has been something of an ongoing problem for me. This is normally due to an inflammation of the muscles in the Sacro-Iliac Joints in my hips and the most effective pain relief I have come across is through stretching exercises that my Physio worked with me. They are described in the Lower Back and Figure 4 Sections of the post It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It. You can also see a demo in the video below.

Stretches to get ready for exercise

It is worth noting that back pain can radiate down into your legs and actually be the source of pulled hamstrings or calves. When my physio introduced me to the Back Stretches I have discussed, these exercises ended an ongoing spate of pulled calves and hamstrings I had been experiencing throughout the summer.

Use Trekking Poles

If you are trekking as opposed to jogging, a set of Trekking Poles will help support your back and your knees. Adjustable is better so that they can be shortened for ascents and lengthened for descents and folded away when not in use.

Trekking Poles shortened and stowed on my backpack

A couple of things I have come across when using trekking poles:

  • My personal experience with trekking poles with built in springs to absorb impacts has been dire. They just fall apart on me and I don’t find any benefit in the shock absorbing action
  • Never attempt to scramble with Trekking Poles. Always pack them away until you are able to walk on the trail again (Sounds obvious but it is an issue I have come across)
  • Always remember to still use your legs, especially on a descent. I had a tendency at one time just to lean on my poles and then step down. All this does is decrease your natural ability to balance.
  • If your lifestyle is such that you are mostly sitting down at work or rest, try and do a few short walks during the week without trekking poles. For a few years my only walking was on the hills with trekking poles. The rest of the time I was sitting down. Over time I started to find that I could not walk very far unsupported.
  • Remember trekking poles are not walking sticks. That is to say they are designed to help someone with healthy legs and upper body in rough terrain. If you find you need them just to stay upright, it’s time to take a rest if you can or, if this is a longer term problem, seek medical advice.
Walking with Trekking Poles above the Baranco Wall, Kilimanjaro, Sept 2017

So there you have the extent of my own aches, pulls and sprains and what I have done or used to keep moving. I hope you don’t suffer nearly as many as I have but also hope this has been useful if you have done.

It’s not easy taking on difficult physical activities when you’re overweight. You need to keep convincing yourself that you can do it through injury and bad training days and especially when those around you aren’t so sure. On the event you need to ignore the surprised and concerned looks from other participants and believe in yourself even when you have problems. I experienced all of this on my way to Everest Base Camp. Read about the barriers to self belief and how I overcame them in my next post here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

Like, Share and Subscribe

Please support this page by hitting the Like and re-blogging or sharing through Social Media using the buttons below. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can also leave a comment and subscribe to the blog to receive automatic updates whenever I post.