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August 8, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

The Most Annoying Part of Exercising

Male pelvis

Image via Wikipedia

You know what annoys me most about exercising?

It isn’t getting up early or making time for it in my day, it isn’t the study and research involved in my job, it isn’t the educational aspect, it isn’t the soreness or the dedication or any of the obvious things.

It’s the increased oxygen flow to the brain that causes me to come up with so many great ideas (future blogs, articles, business ideas, etc) and the sucky thing is that well, I’m exercising and I can’t exactly write them down.  It’s next to impossible to write your ideas down when you’re on a bike or in the middle of a run, and of course, they leave you when you stop.

Now, can you make that work to your advantage?  Of course!  The case obviously can be made that the mild annoyance of not being able to record things as easily in the middle of a workout is far offset by the fact that 1) your brain is getting more oxygen 2) your blood is becoming more oxygenated 3) your lymph system is flowing better 4) your cardiovascular system is improving 5) you are getting stronger physically and mentally and because of all those wonderful things that come with movement 6) you are now getting better ideas than you would have had if you had just been sitting in front of the TV, computer or steering wheel.

A personal update:

Have I mentioned I suck at running?  If you recall my previous post about “Do What You Suck At” you’ll realize that since I said that, there’s a good chance I do it anyway….and you’d be partly correct.  See, I really despise running….mostly because I don’t do it well (isn’t that how it always goes?), however, that’s only part of the reason.  I’ve had problems running ever since I joined the Army.  I started running right before I joined because I thought “I’m going to basic training, and they run constantly, from what I’ve heard, and I don’t want to get injured or not be able to keep up”.  So I started running pretty regularly and actually started to enjoy it.  However, it’s been kind of a love/hate relationship since then.

While at basic training, I suffered a muscle strain in my left hip that left me limping for probably 6 out of the 9 weeks and running was painful.  The most I got was “no running, take ibuprofin and ice it”.  So I got out of running sometimes, though I tell you this, at basic, you run whether you are injured or not because 1) you don’t want to be seen as weak 2) you don’t want to let your comrades down or fall behind and 3) if the Drill Sergeants see you giving it your all if not 110%, they’ll let up on you a little bit, out of respect.  When my platoon had to run, even though I was on a profile, I ran with them, till the drill sergeants yelled at me because I wasn’t supposed to run.  But I refused to just sit there while everyone else had to do things.

I digress….

It wasn’t until later when I had a car accident that I went to a chiropractor who found out the probable cause of my hip pain: my pelvis is twisted….in 3 directions.  Your pelvis is supposed to face forward and be level.  Mine?  It’s tilted forward (top more forward than the bottom), twisted to the left AND one side is higher than the other, making one leg shorter than the other.

This translates, obviously to muscle imbalances: my hip flexors are not carrying equal load, nor are my low back muscles, glutes, piriformis, etc.  The hip complex has a whole host of muscles attached to it, and if things are not as they should be you are begging for problems.

What does this mean for me?  Well, it means that I have had all kinds of major problems from running, even with chiropractic adjustment: bursitis of the IT band, hip strains, calf strains, mysterious pain that originates on the side of the hip, shoots through the knee and down into the ankle and overall, and what ailed me after last year’s PT test, a mysterious hip pain on the right side that ended up being several causes: right side overstretched, left side understretched, a psoas weakness and a possible strain in the illiacus.

Sadly, this is genetic.  My mom has the same condition, so there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
There ARE things I can do to help, with today’s successful running venture a testament.

Combating Muscle Weakness, Pain and Imbalance with Proper Stretching

First of all, I made the foam roller a major friend today.  Knowing the left side is under stretched, I concentrated on foam rolling my TFL (tensor fascia latae) .  The TFL, if you notice, is a little difficult to get to, right on the outside side of the pelvic crest and can be extremely painful, as was my case today.  I concentrated on finding the most tender (aka painful) spot and sat on it, and then rolled around, trying to get it to relax.  From there I foam rolled all the hip flexors in front, especially on the left side, which this morning, were particularly painful.  They’re also a little difficult to get to, but what I noticed was that it was the origin points of the muscle (where they begin and attache to the  pelvis) that was the most painful: the quad origins, TFL, pectineus were all bothering me.  My piriforms muscles were also very tight today.  After rolling these, I made sure to hit my adductors and as I suspected, they also had trigger points and tender spots, most notably towards the knee.  When foam rolling, you will tend to find the most painful spots will be not in the middle of the muscle, but towards the ends: either the origins or the insertion points.  This is where the golgi tendon gets excited and gets “stuck” in contraction, causing the “knot”.  Foam rolling applies pressure to the middle of this knot, causing the golgi tendons to relax and the muscle to better reach its full range of motion.  This is why foam rolling is so important.

The rather technical description is as follows: Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle. (Gossman MR, Sahrman SA, Rose SJ: Review of Length-Associated Changes in Muscle: Experimental Evidence and Clinical Implications. Phys. Ther. 62:1799–1808. 1982

The Stretches

Before attempting my jog this morning, I made sure to notice which muscles felt tight.  I already knew my hip flexors would need adequate stretching, glutes and hamstrings would need activation, but I moved around and noticed that my calves were rather tight as well.  So, this was my warm-up:

  • Static Ankle Stretch
  • Wall Ankle Mobility active stretches
  • Active TFL stretch (crossover toe touch)
  • External hip rotator stretch (put leg bent at 90 degree angle on railing and bent forward, then to side, letting hip musculature relax, then squeezing buttocks)
  • Standing warrior stretch (also known as active psoas stretch – stretches hip flexors, activates glutes)
  • Leg swings
  • Standing hip outside swings (like doing fire hydrants standing up)

I then set out walking, making sure to notice how my body felt: was I tight anywhere still?  Not noticing anything excessively tight, I leaned forward and began an easy jog.  I felt good!  I kept up this self-observation as I went, sometimes walking, sometimes jogging – not pushing myself too hard, being more focused on how my body felt and was reacting.  Normally when I stop jogging to walk, going back to jogging triggers pain, and being aware of this I kept in mind “I’m just getting back to this.  There is a time and a place to push yourself, right now is not it, you can build speed and endurance, today you will just observe and be proud”.  And I was.  There was no pain after I resumed running each time and I noticed that my cardiovascular endurance was much improved (most likely due to my boot camp class where I am constantly out of breath – and my regular cycling that has me huffing and puffing; no machine for me!), so it was hugely encouraging for me 1) to know that my lungs were ready to run and my cardiovascular system had improved, even without regular running and 2) mentally, I was there  and 3) that my body was starting to cooperate.

When I finished I cooled down by walking and repeating the above stretches with more focus on static stretching.  I feel good now, but will definitely foam roll a little later and make that a regular part of my routine while getting back into running.

But Back to Being Annoying

Even though I’m proud of myself for running (ok jogging) and not being in pain….I still don’t like it.  I won’t like it till it’s easy.  In face, I am considering taking up triathalon training for that very reason: because while I like cycling, I’ve got a long way to go and I’m not very good at the other two disciplines – so why not give them a go?  No idea how well I swim, but if it keeps me in shape well enough to pass my PT test every year without wearing myself out and making my muscle imbalances worse, then why not?

Speaking of muscle imbalances, if your hips or low back give you problems, I highly recommend checking out this article put out by Critical Bench: Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Imbalances.  He does an excellent job of explaining muscle imbalances and giving stretches to counter-act them.  What I REALLY like about this article is that he breaks the benefits of those stretches and corrected muscle imbalances down into disciplines.  Meaning, that if you’re a cyclist, power lifter or just a regular adult, you will have specific benefits from doing these exercises.  To quote him:

Benefits:

Runners (all levels – beginner to marathoner):

    • Improved mobility at the hip allows for better gait and stride efficiency
    • Decreased braking during transition of foot strike to push off
    • Increased stability at the ankle, knee, and hip
  • Decreased rate of injury throughout lower body

Cyclists

    • Improved activation of gluteus muscles providing for increased strength in pushing
    • Decrease in lower back pain or discomfort
  • Helps prevent chronic hip pain associated with high mileage over years of cycling

Adults (especially those with young kids):

    • Fewer aches and pains from picking up and putting down children
    • Improved lifting mechanics
  • Decreased chance of “throwing out your back”

Keying in on your Goals

Incorporating these stretches and resistance exercises into your fitness program will provide better movement through the hip complex with increased gluteus muscle activation, reduce the risk of injury, and help to decrease the amount of anterior pelvic tilt you may be experiencing.

This improved posture will allow you to come closer to all of your fitness goals, whether they be muscle endurance, size, strength, or power; injury prevention or rehabilitation; or decreases in lower back and hip discomfort.

I hope this article has been helpful for you – I would love to hear your comments!

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