Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Sports Massage and the Runner

On April 23rd between 30,000 and 40,000 people lined up at the start of the London Marathon. Around 50% will have finished inside 4 hours. By the time they’ve completed their training and the 26 miles (and the extra few hundred yards) they will probably have gone through at least 4 pairs of trainers. 
Throughout all the training some will have spent time on the treatment table getting regular massages and treatment. So what can massage do for the runner?
Sports massage has a number of physical benefits from improving the permeability of soft tissue to allow for faster delivery of nutrients and faster removal of waste products, to helping increase flexibility in muscles and other soft tissue structures that it turn can help you become a more efficient runner. 
Sports massage also involves a number of techniques that help breakdown scar tissue that arises from muscle injury, improving the tone of muscles. Add to that improving circulation, relieving relief and relaxation, and you have a growing number of reasons why a massage is not just a luxury to be enjoyed once in a while but might actually be a benefit on a more regular basis.
What, when and how often
Everyone is different, but if you’ve been inspired by the marathon, actually running the marathon or just taking up jogging or running, then consider making a regular massage part of your training plan. If you’re just starting out, then a good massage can help identify areas where the muscles are tight or short, or maybe weak and not working as well as they could. If you’re deep into training, then massage can help keep you healthy, reducing the potential for injury.
A massage once a week might be too difficult to work into your diary but once a month or every six weeks can be a good pattern to adopt. A massage in the final week before the marathon is a good idea, and don’t forget to book an appointment for a post-event session too! After running 26 miles your muscles will need a bit of attention!
And if you’re not running the marathon? Well Sports Massage can be of great benefit to everyone whatever exercise you do, and even if you don’t!
Try it and see.
10 odd facts from the London Marathon
The London Marathon is the Guinness World Record's largest annual fundraising event in the world. The event itself holds a Guinness World Record for one-day charity fundraising, a record it has broken each year for the past nine years.
The millionth runner crossed the finish line in 2016.
The London Marathon is shown on television in nearly 200 countries around the world.
The fastest MP to date was Matthew Parris, who ran a crowd-pleasing 2:32:57 in 1985.
The speediest female celebrity was Nell McAndrew, clocking an impressive 2:54:39 in 2012.
The hottest marathon day was in 2007 when temperatures peaked at 21.7°C.
The coldest race day was a chilly 7.6°C in 1994.
The most common occupation for people running the marathon is teaching.
250 tubs of petroleum jelly, 200 bottles of baby oil, 2,000 plasters and 50,000 Lucozade Sport gels were available on the route last year.
At mile 10.5, the route passes within 300 yards of the Mayflower, the pub where the Pilgrim Fathers met for a quick pint before they sailed to America.
How much do you stretch before and after a run?
Go on, be honest now, how much stretching do you actually do? Many of us, even those committed to exercise, probably don’t stretch as much as we need to. It almost feels like time wasted when what we really want to do is getting out there and run or ride the bike or just get through our workout at the gym. We simply don’t have the time to stretch for 15 or 20 minutes before or after our exertions.
But the older we get the more we begin to understand that stretching is vital if we’re going to maintain flexibility and recovery from exercise.
So how do you make the most of your time spent stretching? Well, before exercise it’s best to warm up and do some dynamic stretches. After exercise, a few simple static stretches can help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness and help maintain flexibility.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. For example, a good dynamic warm up stretch that engages large groups of muscles in a single movement would be a lunge with upper body rotation and arm raises. That just about engages every major muscle in your body and doing 10 or 12 of these takes very little time.
After exercise, a few simple static stretches of the muscles that have been most used can help keep them healthy. Hamstrings and calf muscles can be stretched in one move by flexing at the waist, rotating the pelvis forward. You will probably feel a stretch going all the way up the backs of your legs if you perform this move properly.
So, make sure to add some simple stretching to your exercise or training programme. You will definitely feel the benefit.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tight or Toned?

New to the gym or an old hand, eventually you’ll become aware that some muscles might feel a bit “tighter” than they used to. You might be tempted to put this down to getting more toned, but that might not be the whole story.

Muscles are meant to operate at a certain length. In fact they are at their optimum power just short of what is called their normal resting length. When a muscle is overworked it can become shortened and tight. This has a knock-on effect throughout the body. Muscles work in pairs or groups and tight, shortened muscles can stress their partner muscles and are themselves under stress.

At the most basic level muscles work in pairs. When one muscle contracts the muscle that performs the opposite motion relaxes so that movement can occur. They need to be balanced in order to work at their most efficient. Any tightness on one side will upset this balance. But it’s not only the opposing muscle that can be affected. That pain you sometimes feel in the back of your shoulder when you’ve been running for a while-well it might just be that it’s related to a problem with the opposite hip, or even the ankle.

Tight muscles on one side can lead to weak muscles on the opposing side. For example, if your job means that you spend a lot of time sitting down, then it’s possible that the muscles that flex the hip can become shortened and tight. This in turn can lead to the muscles that extend the hip becoming weak. Typically in the hip that means the big gluteal muscles become weak and the knock-on effect of that is that your hamstring muscles have to compensate for the the weak gluteal muscles and they in turn become stressed and overworked!

So, what’s the solution? The first thing you need to understand is that there is no point trying to strengthen a weak muscle until you’ve got the shortened muscle back to its proper resting length. In fact strengthening the weak muscle will probably make the problem worse because now you will have tightness on both sides of the joint, reducing flexibility and preventing fluid movement. Manual therapy like massage and manipulation can help relax the stressed muscles and restore length. Simple, regular stretching can help maintain the new length and begin to restore range of motion and flexibility. Left untreated, shortened muscles can lead to tendonitis, a condition that causes inflammation and pain in the tendons.

There are a few simple things you can do to help yourself as you train. Firstly, always make sure you have good posture when you exercise. Shoulder back, round and down, was a phrase my PT always used to repeat as we did various circuits. Don’t just use the mirrors in the gym to admire your biceps, use them to check your posture! You can support your posture too by making sure you include exercises that work the muscles groups you can’t see in the mirror. You could even ask someone to do a simple posture check by looking at the alignment of your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle. Most postural problems lead to a forward head position.

Secondly, make sure you are doing some work on flexibility and that you are stretching regularly. We all know that stretching can be the tedious part of any exercise routine, but we can’t ignore its importance.

Thirdly, build rest and recovery into your training plan. Vary your training load and intensity so that your body gets to recover. And last, but not least, stay hydrated. A 2% fall in hydration can lead to up to 20% loss of function, so keep drinking plenty of water as you train.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Rest & Recovery

This is a short piece I wrote for our summer newsletter at the gym where I run a weekly clinic.

How is your fitness plan going now we’ve landed in the summer holidays? Are you still putting in the miles, hitting PB’s, upping the intensity, or are you taking a break, relaxing, making the most of time away from the treadmill? You might, if you've opted for the latter approach, be feeling a twinge of guilt. You might feel that if you don’t get out and do something you’ll suffer for it when you get started again, or maybe you worry you’ll never get started again.

Perhaps you’ve just joined the gym, having decided it’s time to get fitter, lose some weight or simply get active. You’re hitting the cross-trainer, looking at classes and are all pumped-up about the new you waiting to be revealed!

Whenever you start a new exercise or fitness routine one of the sometimes overlooked aspects of the plan is rest and recovery. Along with all those stretches we’re supposed to do pre- and post- training, but never quite find the time to actually do, taking rest and recovery seriously simmers away on the back burner of our training schedules. Someone somewhere once mentioned periodisation, but we can’t remember what it is and why it’s important. And anyway, we’re too busy training to take time off.

But here’s the thing, over-training can create chronic conditions that can be hard to treat and can even lead to not being able to participate in training the way you want to. Typical over-use injuries include things like tennis elbow, runner’s or jumper’s knee, tendonitis, joint and muscle pain. As their name implies, they come on slowly over a period of time rather than suddenly, although some show up suddenly with an acute pain, the symptoms have probably been developing over weeks and months. Some seem to cure themselves, usually because our technique improves, but others simply persist.

The good news is that if you factor in proper rest and recovery, you can reduce the risk of suffering a chronic injury. Soft tissue therapy can also play an important role in helping keep tissue healthy and helping in rehabilitating injuries when they occur.

Periodisation doesn’t have to be complicated and it isn’t just for competitive athletes. Everyone can develop a simple approach to keep themselves motivated and energised about their training. A simple plan might be set out over three months and broken down into three four-week cycles. Weeks 1-3 might be you’re most intense training patterns and the fourth week would be a light, rest and recovery week. You could even schedule a Sports Massage for week 4!