Mar 272011

It takes longer to warm-up an older body than a younger body, pure and simple. Sometimes during my workouts, I don’t really feel “good” until after the 20 minute mark. Then I feel ready to kick it up another notch (or two or three). The key to breaking through that barrier is perseverance. Eventually, inertia will be on your side (instead of on the side of your sofa) and you will want to keep going.

Here are some suggestions to help you win that battle that may rage in your head during the early minutes of your workout:

1 – Tell yourself I’m already here, I might as well stick it out.

2 – When you are feeling bad, focus on recalling how good it feels when you are warmed up and in tune with your body.

3 – Focus on thinking about how good you will feel after the workout: expect to have more energy, be more optimistic, relaxed, and have a tendency to be kinder to others.

4 – Focus on goals you have set for yourself (weight loss, better health, fitness walk or event). If you haven’t set any goals yet, please do so!

5 – Start out at low intensity until the muscles begin to respond. As you feel more comfortable, gradually increase intensity. In the beginning when muscles are cold, a high intensity will be perceived as much more difficult than it will be once muscles are warm.

6 – Finish workouts with at least 5 minutes of cool down and 10-15 minutes of stretching. When toxins are released from tissues and muscles are restored to their lengthened state, this will reduce muscle and joint soreness and discomfort and you will be more inclined to want to workout again soon.

Mar 122011

If your pre-race prep consists of leaning over and reaching for your toes, think again. Performing static stretches, which involves lengthening any muscle and holding it, can actually slow your swim.

Research shows that performing static stretches before a workout or sporting event decreases eccentric strength and the rate of force production in the muscles. In a nut shell, your muscles won’t react as quickly or efficiently and optimal performance will be inhibited. However, mobilizing the muscles and joints before a race can be very beneficial. Not only can that improve performance, but it can reduce the potential for injury.

You can warm-up major muscle groups doing dynamic stretches involving movement patterns. Dynamic stretches differ from the “ballistic” stretches that ruled in the 80s, which basically involved bouncing a stretch that should have been static (such as reaching for your toes and then continually bouncing to see if your hand will eventually touch the ground).

Bouncing a stretch near its elastic limit can tear tissues. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, increase body core temperature and improve range of motion. Some examples include lunging side to side, marching with high knees, pulling the heels to the hips and other similar movement patterns that move muscles and joints enough to stretch them and improve their range-of-motion. When you do dynamic stretches, always move in a smooth and fluid manner and avoid moving muscles beyond what you perceive as a comfortable range.

When choosing which dynamic stretches to do pre-race or -workout, it is prudent to think about which muscles and joints will be activated most during your swim. Breaststrokers, for example, will want to prep all muscles in the legs and hips and also perform range-of-motion activities for hips and ankles. All swimmers should perform some complex shoulder movements before their swims (think about doing movements that mimic weight training activities such as internal and external rotation for rotator cuff, chest flies, lateral raises, etc).

Racing or training with well-prepared muscles is always safer than forging forth with ones that are inadequately or inappropriately warmed up. So save the toe-touching for after the race and go for pectoral flies before you step up on the blocks.

Mar 012011

I read a bulletin this morning on rotator cuff injuries by Chris Mallio, the head of sports medicine at Bath Rugby in Queensland, Australia. As a trainer and competitive swimmer, I devour any article on the subject. One of the points he reiterates is that a major contributor to rotator cuff injuries is when a “space problem” occurs in the shoulder girdle. Basically, when your muscles and posture are in balance, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the shoulder are able to move around without brushing up against bony structures as long as there is no inherent abnormality in the shape of the acromonian (or no bone spurs are present). However, most of us have imbalances in posture and musculature. This leads to a shortage of space for fluid movement in the shoulder. When repetitive abrasion occurs, so does inflammation and injury.

A common postural issue in our society of computer users is a forward slump, which leads to a protracted and downwardly rotated scapula. Sitting with a forward lean in front of the computer tightens the chest and weakens the back of the body. If you go to the gym and emphasize chest flies, bench press, and pushups and neglect the back muscles, this will further exacerbate the imbalance. Stretching the chest for 30-60 seconds daily (I prefer laying on the foam roller with arms out to let gravity do the work) and strengthening the rhomboids and upper trapezius can go a long way to remediate this imbalance. Activities such as rows (with a shoulder blade “squeeze” at the back) and scapular retraction are effective exercises to strengthen the back of the body.

Unhealthy “thickening” of connective tissue around the muscles that can inhibit movements may be remediated through regular massage or rolling under tissues with a ball or foam roller. Be sure to have a physical therapist teach you proper technique and to evaluate your condtion to ensure that what you are doing is safe and applicable to your situation.