Ruin. RUIN I say!
Sorry, just experimenting with those shocking headlines to get more notice. *shrug*
But for realz, people, tight muscles aren’t just uncomfortable. They can be downright hazardous to your health. And THAT’S that truth. I’m going to tell you how tight muscles will
ruin your life hold you back, but first, a story.
It begins like this – I started up my daily morning yoga again! I’m one day in!
:::pats self on back:::
Did I ever tell you about my daily morning yoga challenge? In December of 2012, I challenged myself to do 10 sun salutations first thing every morning. First thing. In my pajamas, before coffee, before brushing teeth (ew gross!), before I could begin fretting over my to-do list, before email….
It was a brilliant way to start my day and I quickly became hooked. I thrive well under deadlines and pressure and competition (in case, cough, you hadn’t noticed), so committing to every day ensured I did it. I marked it on my calendar. I liked checking off little boxes marked “complete” because
I’m super nerdy I need the visual affirmation and reminder. I even found myself a handful of times doing my 10 sun salutations just before midnight because I’d forgotten, or otherwise hadn’t gotten to it that day. God forbid I missed a day! That was unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE!
Take a breath, Laura.
Well, I began falling off the wagon in May, which is, incidentally, when I launched This is Fit Workouts.
June was pretty spotty.
In July, we hosted a huge Superman Man of Steel movie premiere party and had house guests for almost 3 weeks straight – up to 23 at one point! – and needless to say I didn’t only stop doing my daily morning yoga, I forgot all about it.
It’s weird to think you can forget something you’d done every single day without fail for over six months. So much for “it takes 21 days to form a new habit.”
I tried several times to get back to my daily morning yoga, but I was unsuccessful. It wasn’t just the same old excuses like “I don’t have time.” I’d already proven that to be untrue. It was that, for some reason, I didn’t WANT to do it. I really didn’t. I really REALLY didn’t. And I thought that was strange, because I had enjoyed it So Much during those 6 months, and the benefits had far exceded my expectations.
And, slowly, I began to feel the physical & mental benefits of a daily yoga practice disappear. I felt less mobile, my joints felt tighter, and I lost some strength. I’d worked up to doing 50 tricep push-ups – on toes! – during every yoga session (5 per sun salutation) and 50 static lunges too.
Surprising how a daily regimen like that will keep one strong! (Uh, not surprising.)
And, I went from starting my mornings feeling awake and warm and ready to “bring it” post-yoga, to starting my mornings sluggish and slumped at my desk checking email and sighing over my to-do list.
So I knew I needed to get back to it, but I still didn’t feel like it. And then it hit me. I’d done more or less the same sequence every morning. Every morning for over six months.
I didn’t burn out on yoga. I burned out on the sequence I was doing.
Oh, I had variety, mind you. I didn’t just do straight sun salutations. I incorporated all the warrior poses, triangle pose, puppy pose, side angle bend, and many other poses into my sun salutations, but always in the same order. A good order, of course! A progressive one, which got more challenging with each salutation because with each one I was warmer, more awake, more flexible, more INTO it.
But still… the same. Sometimes I can be really dim-witted.
So today, I began again. Yesterday I was feeling especially tight, and rather than begin on Monday – everyone’s typical start day – I figured starting on Sunday would be nice because I’m not pressured to be anywhere. (We’re home-bound, dealing with the Influenza here – first my son, and now hubby is getting it. Nooooooo…….!)
And I did a completely different sequence. I didn’t do a sequence at all, actually. I did 4 salutations to get warmed up, and then I did stretches and poses I need. I think my new challenge to myself will be to do 4 salutations, and then do 10-20 minutes of whatever I want. On my strong & awake days I’ll work on the harder poses I’d like to master. On my weak and whiny days, I’ll do restful poses, and poses that address my nagging tightness and injuries.
Yay! Woohoo! Yeeehaw! And OMmmmmmmm, y’all!
BUT! There’s always a but….. all that is ALSO to say that I was shocked at how inflexible I was this morning! I had progressed to being quite flexible during my daily practice, but I didn’t expect to lose as much as I did. I mean, I exercise almost every day! I stretch after every workout! I stretch off and on throughout every day! EVERY DAY. And still, I’d lost so much.
We Gain what we Train.
I stretch, but not as mindfully as when I’m doing yoga. It’s more of a “I worked out; I should stretch” focus. When I make stretching THE focus of a session, it’s so much more valuable, flexibility-wise.
So there it is. If you want to touch your toes, you need to work at touching your toes. Daily. Several times a day. With the goal being to focus on, and loosen up, those muscles and joints that are inhibiting your ability to do that.
But why? Why should we stretch? Who cares if you’re not flexible?
You should care. Here’s why:
1) Tight muscles impede your range of motion. Tight muscles alter movement patterns, which in turn puts strain on your joints. Each joint has its movement patterns, and tight muscles can pull the joint from the proper pattern and cause shearing stress. And, during exercise, other body parts will compensate for tight muscles by taking on more movement and more workload. If you have tight hamstrings, for example, reaching for your toes might cause you to flex your lumbar spine more to reach further. If your back isn’t strong or flexible enough to do this, you are now increasing your risk of lower back strain.
2) Tight muscles pull your body out of alignment which frequently leads to back and neck pain.
Shall we sing? La-La-La-Do-Re-Mi-La-Laaaaaaa*cough*sputter*…..
The foot bone’s connected to the (clap) leg bone,
The leg bone’s connected to the (stomp) knee bone,
The knee bone’s connected to the (jump) thigh bone,
Now hear the word of the Lord…. (It’s a spiritual!)
Everything is connected in your body. An injured foot can also manifest as pain in your neck or upper back. Why? Because you baby that foot by limping, which means you lurch side to side when you walk.
Hop up right now, walk with an exaggerated limp, and notice what’s happening in your spine. Yeah, that.
In a similar way, your tight muscles pull your body out of alignment, and that builds imbalance and weakness. Over time, this causes pain.
3) Tight muscles have impaired blood flow to muscle fibers.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Impaired blood flow? EGADS.
During movement, our muscles become infused with blood and oxygen. But tight muscles are chronically in the ‘preparatory’ phase. They’re contracted, ready for movement – movement that doesn’t come. The point of contracting a muscle is to prepare for work or movement. But if that work or movement doesn’t occur, our muscles are suffering never-ending isometric contraction. And they’re straining for no reason. Sitting at a desk all day long, giving in to, and causing more, muscle tightness is akin to the runner who is poised but never leaves the starting block, the diver who never leaves the board, the loaded slingshot that never gets to fling a rock. And it’s during the run, the dive, and the fling that the blood and oxygen flow and the muscles do what they’re primed to do!
Hahaha I said fling.
Oh, and if blood and oxygen can’t get to the muscles efficiently, they can’t shuttle out waste properly either. Um, EW.
Not that kind of waste, Laura.
4) Tight muscles affect performance and recovery.
Chronically tight muscles can’t perform well, and they also can’t relax properly either. Lack of a quality flexibility program means all the exercise you do more than likely reinforces your muscle tightness, and compounds the effects over time. Effects like fatigue, chronic tension, pain, and inability to progress performance.
5) Tight muscles make us more susceptible to injury, and less able to recover.
These points are all peaking into one big moment of “Oh Shit.” When asked to work or perform, tight muscles are more apt to tear than stretch. Even though these tears might be small, and be mistaken for soreness, the consequences are compounded. Lack of blood flow to the muscles means impaired recovery and waste management; tight muscles inhibit your ability to maintain proper posture and joint movement patterns that would aid in recovery; and once a muscle is injured, the surrounding muscles stiffen to protect it, making those muscles now prone to suffering the same risks.
A hamstring injury causes some (wince) back pain,
A back injury causes a (wince) neck injury,
A neck injury causes a (wince) shoulder strain,
Now heed the word of the trainer…. (That’s me!)
Aren’t I just a bundle of good cheer?
But now you see that it was only a slight exaggeration to say tight muscles will ruin your life. Anyone who deals with pain of any sort knows just how much it colors everything you do, every moment of every day.
So if we can prevent some of that?….
The good news – We gain what we train.
Chronically tight muscles aren’t something we must suffer. We can address inflexibility with a combination of appropriate – and compensatory – exercise, stretching, massage, stretching, good posture, stretching, frequent breaks from sitting or whatever repetitive movement (or lack of) we do, STRETCHING, and stress management. And don’t forget to stretch.
And It’s So Worth It.
You make time for the other zillion things you do; make time for this.
Challenge yourself to stretch for 5 minutes, three times a day, and mark it on your scheduler.
If you think about just five minutes, that’s 5 stretches! For one minute each! Or 10 stretches for 30 seconds each!
You can really make a difference in just 5 minutes.
And one more thing.
Definitely incorporate the stretches that you most like and need, but especially include stretches you need but don’t like, so long as you can do them safely. Often we don’t like certain stretches because they challenge the very thing we need most.
If you need ideas for how to stretch tight muscles, this website has a fabulous list, categorized by muscle! Also a quick search for “full body stretches” will yield more results than you can shake a stick at!
To Health & Stretchiness!
Now go have a Quickie.