Many of my clients complain about feeling like they are slowing down. They can’t believe they feel discomfort from standing too long, sitting too long, and frustrated that even though they are working out, they feel like they are hurting more. Many have stopped participating in fitness training, playing sports, and even walking long distances. Before you give up on all that, let me explain why you are hurting and how you can improve how you feel.
First of all, you are not too old to workout, play sports, even go for a long walk.
I have clients in their late eighties and even nineties, that are playing tennis, biking, and walking long distances without the pains and stiffness. Second, it is not your fitness program or sport either. It is the way your body reacts to any movement. Any movement like going to the refrigerator, driving, or even opening a door will cause your muscles to tighten over time. The more you move the quicker it happens, but the truth of the matter is if you stop moving your body will stiffen up as well. This is just how you work.
Many of my clients have tried yoga, stretch classes at the gym, and even stretching from physical therapists. Each has said they feel better when they do it, but it doesn’t last and once the class or therapy sessions stop, they get stiff again. This is very frustrating!
There are common mistakes made when we try to stretch and many were taught to all of us at a young age. When stretching, many hold the stretch too long believing that the longer they hold the more the muscle will stretch out. Next, the more pressure used, the more the muscle will give up and stretch. Finally, the more muscles involved in the stretch, the better the stretch.
The problem here is simple, we forget about the role the brain plays in our body. The brain was designed to keep you alive and out of pain as much as possible. This is called the “fight or flight syndrome.” When danger approaches, the brain decides whether to run or fight. Pain has the same effect. The longer you hold the stretch, the more the brain is trying to stop the pain by contracting the opposing muscles. This would be similar to strength training.
The more pressure applied to the muscle, the more pain increases. The brain contracts the opposing muscle to stop the pain.
Finally, the more muscles you stretch at once, the more brain doesn’t know which muscle to release. When the pain ensues, the brain contracts the opposing muscle to stop the pain. You get the picture I hope.
I learned this reality 20 years ago when I suffered from severe low back pain to the point that I would crawl out of my car on my hands then pull myself up by the door handle. In search of a way to stop the pain, because I could not believe that at 40 I could have this much pain, I got a degree in massage therapy, then certified in Active Isolated Stretching, and finally, studied with a doctor who studied the brain. When I combined all three modalities, I could not believe how quickly I was able to do things without the pain. It is no miracle. It requires me to stretch every day for the rest of my life.
What I learned was to not hold the stretch for more than 5 seconds. Gently stretch one part of my body at a time. Then breathe out to allow my brain the opportunity to learn that my muscles can move that way. Once I did that, the brain relaxed the muscle and my joints felt freer. Muscle memory is actually what your brain thinks you can do. If you knew you could do a split, your brain would be relaxed as you did it. If it does not know you can do a split, it will be screaming at just the thought. Your brain will not let you hurt yourself unless you decide to override the fear, then injury usually follow. I have done that many times in my past.