Sometimes you can speed up your recovery with some uncommon sense:
a. Ice: Treat the area that hurts with an ice pack. Apply the pack 3 times a day for no more than 15 minutes. Ice allows less blood into the area, reducing swelling, and slows the pain signal as travels up towards your brain.
b. Apply heat as this can draw oxygenated blood into the painful area, allowing faster repair, and enjoy briefly the ability of heat to disrupt the sensory pain signal. Inflammatory conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), do not respond well to heat. Use common sense and consider if the hurt area is already hot.
Heat needs to penetrate the injured area, so if you have deeply strained your Hamstrings and rub the hot gel into the skin, the heat will maximally sink no more than 2mm. Other methods are needed to heat the deep tissues.
Some of our tissues respond well to the application of heat. Tendons, ligaments, and cartilage are all avascular which means they have little blood supply and as such are not designed to need repair. Heat will draw blood out of the arteries and into where the damage is.
Tissue temperature needs to be raised by 3-4 degrees centigrade for genuine physiological effects to occur, i.e. angiogenesis and appropriate scar tissue formation.
“In the initial 3 weeks post-injury ice is the best approach, after that heat works best”. Use heat after week 3. Prof Tim Watson of Hertfordshire University.
c. Lengthen (Stretch)after sport. This helps limit muscle fibers sticking together (adhesions/ knots) and the permanent shortening of over contracted tissues. Gently warm-up before sport and stretch at the end of your warm down. Would you drive your car hard on a cold morning just after starting it? Your body needs the same care. Gentle warm up. Train. Warm down and static mindful stretching. Avoid stretching before strength as our muscles are weakened for up to 2 hours after stretching, see Scand J 2012 Research
d. If you decide that weightlifting is for you, then consider slowing down the lift in the
positive (shortening/ concentric), and in the negative (lengthening / eccentric) phases, this reduces the stress on the muscle and tendon, while not reducing the intensity of the lift as slowing the movement means you control the weight for longer.
Consider broadening the methods of training, add variety to stimulate your body even more and allow extra recovery in-between workouts.
Contemporary training methods use whole body or functional training approaches, where you train for movements that you do in your sport or life, like squatting, bending and twisting, which are whole-body activities, rather than isolated single joint lifting like Biceps curling. If you want massive guns then lift a tonne of weight. If you want to be agile and strong then train how you move and use body weight methods! Practice:
- Rock climbing
- Par Kaur (free running),
- Postural yoga
e. Every weightlifter that we treat swears that they, “use strict form while lifting“. This may be true however too many lifters hold their breath, bulge their eyes and do anything to squeeze out that extra rep. Many weightlifters work towards rep failure where anything is recruited to get the extra rep.
Instead, work up to the point of form/ technique failure and stop. This is where you cannot do another rep using correct form. Reduce the weight and do another few reps, reduce the weight again, each time demanding perfect form. Use super-sets and reduce recovery in-between sets rather than allow your form to degrade. If you use rep failure you will do anything to squeeze out the extra rep, for instance, while bench pressing, you will bounce the bar off your Sternum and overarch your back.
Beginners or people with muscle imbalances should work to notice or feel the target muscles as they work, This aids motor recruitment and pre-warns for muscle injuries.
What you are looking to do is shock your muscles into growth, for this they require greater intensities, not necessarily just more weight. Alternatives to weight inflation include:
- Reducing inter-set recovery time.
- Slowing down the movement in the negative phase in the first 5 weeks of training.
- Constantly altering your choice of exercises. If we do the same exercise every week our bodies get used to it and we don’t progress as quickly.
- Train in a pair or three for motivation.
- Train slowly at first to tune into how the muscle feels under load.
- Avoid the same sport, mix up how you train, step out of your comfort zone.
- Consider increasing the volume of training by training more often. Some resistance training requires you overload the muscles
Weight training specifics:
- feel the muscle contraction throughout the movement. Observe how the muscle feels as it shortening, (positive or concentric) and lengthening (negatives or eccentric) phases. This will enhance how your motor nerves work.
- teach large muscle groups to contract more efficiently by using isolation exercises, do dumbbell pullovers before or after bench press.
- use higher repetitions as a beginner to learn the movement faster, weeks 1 to 5.
- use pre-exhaustion to build up weak muscles. Here you do an isolation exercise before a compound exercise. Leg extension before squats.
- use post exhaustion if you feel isolation exercises spoil your compound lifts, here you do heavy bench followed by cable crossovers.
- increase intensity by:
- adding more sets
- use more difficult exercises
- alternate heavy days with lighter days
- alternate between traumatic and non-traumatic techniques (TNT), which helps avoid overtraining. Traumatic techniques use higher sets, greater range of motion and target larger muscles. Non-traumatic techniques include looking for the ‘pump’ (felt when using higher repetitions, )where the body pumps extra blood into the muscle rather than Lactic ‘burn’.
- super-slow repetitions.
- experienced and conditioned athletes can use explosive movements. This does not mean go hell-for-leather.
- speed-up the negative phase of the movement as the body as using the same weight in the negative phase is easier for the body. Some lifters press down for example on the barbell as the lifter lowers the weight, in the negative phase.
f. Squatting is an amazing exercise used in so many sports and health systems. It is one of the first movements learned by toddlers as they climb to their feet. Squatting is a real-life movement which we do in the gym, and every day at home and at work. Squat slowly, firmly press the big toe and little toe sides of your feet into the floor, maintain a straight back, (to activate the Paraspinal muscles and keep the back from rounding to limit the load on the discs). Ensure your knee tracks in-line with your second toe, use a little-held breath to create a pressure core, (do not hold your breath so much as to allow your eyes to bulge out, this puts your intervertebral discs under further pressure), and try to squat all-the-way-down to your heels.
Debate rages around full ROM squatting. If you are competitive lifting, play by the rules, whereas if you are squatting to benefit your health then practice moving your body in as great a range of motion as safely possible. Avoid a forward pelvic tilt as you reach the bottom of the squat. If it hurts stop.
g. ) Push-ups and Planks! These whole body exercises we use in our everyday lives and if performed mindfully can work every muscle, but especially the stability and therefore strength of your shoulder girdle. Do push-ups in the same way you would do planks. The plank is a key core stability exercise and needs to be done with perfect form. Why?
Dead straight planks risk excess lumbar spine curvature and anterior pelvic tilt. A slight lift at the waist activates the hip flexors without too much bending. Press your heels away and push your hands out to 11 and 1 o’clock rather than straight ahead, this tightens your shoulder capsule and increases stability. Press up and down slowly with your hands directly underneath your shoulders! Subtly lift the sternum forwards and lengthen the neck. The icing-on-the-cake is to move the tailbone towards the heels but not tuck the tailbone as this switches the 8 pack on and turns the core off.
h.) Consider the use of strengthening antagonist’s muscles. These are the opposing muscles and can help with rehab as when you use the opposing muscle the injured muscle, (which may be in spasm, hypertonic, inhibited etc), is switched off / inhibited, so as to allow the agonist to do its job. This switching off can relax and allow the injured muscle to return to its normal healthy state.
i.) Slow down your exercise. It is easier to train through pain if you lift or power through the repetition. Imagine peeling a plaster off your forearm slowly. Slower movements allow you to feel more of the sensations as they are happening, allowing you to connect with the movements that cause the pain. Maybe you need to make small adjustments to foot position or lengthen your neck away from your shoulders. Lifting slowly does not reduce the intensity of the lift, but does reduce the micro-traumas and thus reduce post work out stress.
j. Use a tennis or cricket ball or foam roller to place on the aching muscle and apply as much body weight as you can. Leave until the ache lifts. Here we interrupt the repeating pain signal with a new sensation, then we remove the newer sensation and Hey Presto the original ache has lessened!
k. Take your GP prescribed medication. Often some of us take our medication intermittently which can confuse our bodies as often the drug mimics real hormones.
i. Dr. Stuart McGill, author of the Back Mechanic, 2017. A bang-up to date back basics book founded upon his research and clinical practice. P. 102 discusses the “Big 3” non-negotiable exercises. The assumption here is that you are in acute or long-term unremitting back pain. The order works to strengthen the spinal stabilizers before mobilizing joints.
- Modified curl-up (elbows up, neck in neutral)
- The side bridge (upper hip raised)
- The Bird/dog (pelvis level)
m. Consider changing how often you exercise. Where you can increase the volume of exercise over a week by training more often your recovery will be faster. This theory assumes you do not train as intensively but rather increase volume to stimulate the body. Certain types of training will not respond to this philosophy, i.e. competitive bodybuilding requires a degree of overtraining to stimulate elite hypertrophy.
n. Dr. Emily Splichal Podiatrist has written extensively on the role of the foot in locomotion and how the skin on the bottom of the foot has mechanoreceptor cells that detect vibration from the floor as we walk, run and jump. This energy passes up to our inner core through the hips and if delayed even by a few milliseconds can predispose us to injuries including Plantar Fasciatus, shin splints, stress fractures, and ACL tears. This energy that we generate by foot striking passes up a piece of connective tissue called the Deep Front Line that links the foot to the Pelvic Floor and core. As the body detects these vibrations we contract our muscles Isometrically (without movement). Where the foot fails to fully detect the vibrations due to the wearing of shoes or overuse of orthotics the nervous system is delayed in receiving the vibrational information and we can become fatigued or clumsy.