Pushing your body in to the limit, whether in the gym, on the field, or on the court is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting continued results. Most people who begin an exercise routine will overdo it at some point and encounter injuries or nagging pain. It can be a minor set back or a major roadblock that takes just as much time and effort to get back to feeling healthy and performing like you once did. However, there are a few guidelines and quick exercises you can add to your active lifestyle today to decrease pain, increase longevity and ultimately live a pain free lifestyle.
I’m sure we have all heard that our bodies grow when we rest. Rest/off days become more and more important the harder you push yourself in the gym or in sport. The grey area of how much is too much is often person dependent so you should always listen to your body first. Some people can push harder than others based on genetics, training experience and other life requirements. Almost everyone can benefit from having at least 1 or 2 days off in each week to allow your body to fully recover and come back stronger for the next workouts. By resting, you can reduce the chances of nagging injuries flaring up or big injuries occurring. If you find yourself recovering more slowly, feeling lethargic during workouts, or having a hard time getting to sleep at night you may overdoing it. Take a day or two off and allow your body to rest and get back on track.
Aside from the occasional planned rest/off days, there are some quick additions that you can add to the beginning and/or end of your workout routines to ensure you are being proactive in avoiding nagging or lasting injuries. Among the three explained in this article, all have various research backing there effectiveness. I hope this article will show you how to correctly perform three quick additions to your workout to avoid and/or cure any nagging or chronic injuries to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle.
Pronated Straight,Relaxed Arm Hang
The relaxed, straight arm hang was first heavily investigated by John M. Kirsch, M.D., where he found that this simple shoulder exercise was a very effective tool at both prevention and rehabilitation. Over the course of 25 years, he examined the effect of this modality at preventing rotator cuff tears, impingement syndrome, and “frozen shoulder”. He even claimed that it was a more effective method of getting people out of pain then performing surgery on the problem area. Pretty amazing claim for someone who spent a majority of his career performing those surgeries! So how do you personally get the maximal benefit from this addition to your routine?
First, you have to assess your current condition. The exercise intensity and duration will change depending on whether you are currently in pain or are just wishing to prevent future pain or problems. Be cautious when beginning if you are currently in pain. Try standing on a plyo box or step and only using 50% of your bodyweight with straight arms as a starting point. The duration of the hold will mostly depend on your grip strength, but shooting for 60 seconds, multiple times a day is a solid start. As you progress (or if you are not in pain to begin with), straighten your upper and lower body out and completely relax. This allows both lengthening and decompression of the shoulders and spine. Reduced or avoiding pain, increased range of motion, and increased duration of the hanging are all good signs that you are progressing.
McKenzie Pushup (modified)
A common area of pain for both athletes and the general health and fitness enthusiast is lower back pain. Whether it’s tightness, soreness, aching, or full blown pain, there are ways to decrease the likelihood of it ever occurring. Without question the best way to ensure not having pain is to perform exercises correctly. Too many times a competitive environment or an unrealistic timeframe to accomplish goals leads to form getting thrown away and weights and intensity being the primary focus. Admittedly, this was an issue for me as a young athlete.
The McKenzie Method has shown positive results in many research studies. Among the most promising were individuals who suffered from lower back pain for an average of 10.4 years and had seen an average of 2.5 heath care providers before taking part in the study. Among the subjects, 52% reported reduced back pain in the very first week! Most astonishingly, after 9 months of continuing to incorporate the McKenzie Method, 82% had less back pain and 60% were completely free of pain….95% of subjects said the method was responsible for their results!
It has been shown that both bulging and herniated discs can actually be reduced in size. I personally believe in order to cure a structural issue, you have to take the time to allow the body to make structural changes. In a way, you must think to work backwards (cure the structural issue, relearn correct movement patters, learn ideal support to prevent potential issues). That being said, if you have any sort of disc issue, this method has shown to be a great tool to add to your arsenal. Because most issue comes from lack of core support/intra abdominal pressure with additional lumbar flexion (lower back rounding), the McKenzie Method focus on creating the opposite movement to counteract the movement when injury may have occurred. The trick is to relax as much as possible through your glutes and lower back…easier said then done when you are in pain or experience recurring issues. As with the shoulder hangs, if you are in pain you need to progress slowly. A good way to track your progress is to notice that movement of the pained area. If, when you first start, the pain is widespread or even shooting down one side, but later is becomes more localized that is a great sign! Your results will depend on your frequency and ability to relax. It has been recommended to do ~ 10 repetitions 6-10 times a day.
Important: Many will need to progress very slowly, initially beginning with simply lying face down (palms flat under forehad) and practicing slow, belly breathing. You only progress if/when pain subsides and additional elevation does not increase pain. Dr. Stuart McGill studied the McKenzie Method in his lab, showing that nearly all the benefits of disc size reduction occur with little to no increase spinal extension (not pressing) while avoiding the negative impact on the facet joints that may occur when going to end ranges. For that reason... start slow - know that increase extension may not be necessary - use your body's feedback as your guide.
Many times pain in a certain area is due to lack of proper functioning in a different area of the body. The hips, specifically the inability to hinge through the hips, are often a limited area in terms of range of motion and proper movement mechanics. When someone can’t move properly through their hips, the have to compensate elsewhere in the body to get the desired result. Take, for example, two people trying to touch their toes. They may both touch them easily but look completely different. One may properly hinge/flex through the hips, allowing them to push their hips backward and lengthen their hamstrings while keep a neutral spine…this is the correct way. However, many times you see the range of motion in the hips lacking and when flexion stops, flexion of the lumbar spine (rounding of the lower back) begins…this is incorrect.
The 90/90 is a great way to improve overall hip function including hip flexion and external rotation. By “opening up” the hips, you will likely notice a decrease in lower back pain as well as hip pain. The setup is the most important part and the routine can and should vary. By creating the “90/90” angles of the legs and keep a neutral spine with upright posture, you will force yourself to move more effectively through the hips to create movement. As shown in the picture above, you should only go as far as you can keep a neutral spine. Be sure to keep the lead leg flat against the ground especially the knee. Although this may look easy, you will definitely feel the glute and upper hamstring being stretched. As you get more comfortable and progress properly you can increase range of motion, change the angle (over the knee or over the foot rather than straight forward) and add a dynamic component by speeding up the movement rather than holding as a static stretch.
Shoulder Pain? The Solution & Prevention, Revised & Expanded 4th ed. Edition by John M. Kirsch M.D.
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Dr. Kelly Starrett with Glen Cordoza
Treat Your Own Back by Robin A. McKenzie