Today I will be writing about muscles (from a sometimes scientific, sometimes logical, and an almost always correct point of view.) I feel like there are some common misconceptions and flat out ignorance regarding how your muscles work, and I am hoping that this blog will help shed some light on a few of these facts and ideas.
The first is the concept of recovery. I know that I have mentioned this before, but your muscles only get stronger during the recovery process. Your muscle fibers are broken down during the process of working out, and it is only as your body repairs and replenishes that muscle growth occurs. So take a rest sometimes, and let your body repair so that you can grow stronger. That is why sometimes it is smarter to only work out once a day instead of twice a day if you are looking to see gains in muscle mass. You might shrivel up if you work out too much! (But, to be sure, you’ll be one toned SOB!)
Next, let’s talk about some things that your muscles do. They contract. They stretch. They are broken down, and they are built back up. They also form knots, lengthen too much (strain), and sometimes even lengthen to the point of snapping (tears). There are a few things that you can do to minimize strains and tears so that you don’t have to quit working out and lose your gains. First – you work your muscles through contraction – flexing your muscles; making them bigger. You do an exercise until failure. This can be done through weight training, push-ups, or standing poses in yoga. Second, you stretch your muscles. Yoga is awesome because it simultaneously stretches and contracts your muscles through a system of poses and counterposes. You can also just do some stretching after you do cardio or weight training, but I would spend an equal amount of time on stretching and lengthening your muscles. It only makes sense that your body should do both things an equal amount of time so that your muscles stay balanced. Third, your muscles form knots. There are a number reasons for this happening. You can push yourself too much. You can be dehydrated and have cramps. You can forget to stretch. Whatever the cause, you need to make sure to take care of it, or you effectively restrict the use of that part of your muscle that is now in a knot. It is like having only 4 people show up to work for a 5 person job. Yes, you can probably get the job done, but the 4 people who did show up to work will probably be strained to complete their task, and eventually they will burn out. Use a foam roller or a lacrosse ball to target the knotted muscle, and remove the knot so that you can get your muscle back to 100% efficiency as soon as possible. It is going to hurt, and generally the more it hurts when you are foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball to knead out the knot, the more that knot needs it! Check out my video on foam rolling here for some tips on how to properly foam roll.
You also need to remember that everybody is different, and that group classes are not tailored to the individual. Participating in group classes is probably not enough to help you achieve your optimal fitness level. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and these weaknesses need to be targeted. If you have weak shoulders, spend 10-15 minutes a day on your own working on your shoulders. If you have poor hamstring flexibility, do some pyramid poses or triangle to work on those issues. Professional athletes and people with above average fitness levels do not just coast through physical fitness with no problems. In fact, I would argue that those people have even more problems! Right now, for example, I am dealing with a sprained ankle, a tweaked back, rotator cuff issues, and tight shoulders. I spend about 30 minutes a day targeting all of these issues, because if I did not then I would probably be in the intensive care unit! Figure out what your body needs work on, and spend a few minutes a day (it might even only take 15 minutes) working on those weaknesses so that you can continue to be active. Surgery is expensive.
Last, the importance of proper nutrition to help your muscles recover. Protein. You need protein. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you probably know enough about diet to find your protein in foods other than meat. If you need some help on good protein sources, check out my guest blog from a couple weeks ago regarding diet. You should try to eat about 30 minutes after your workout, and definitely eat within 1 hour afterwards. After foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball to help massage your muscles or get knots out, you should also consider taking in some protein, but more importantly make sure that you get fluids in your body. Drink a couple glasses of water so you don’t end up feeling sore the next day.
My point with this article is that the workout is only so much of properly taking care of your muscles. You need to ensure that you are both contracting and lengthening your muscles in order to keep them healthy, which means that you should be doing a nice blend of power yoga and restorative yoga. You also need to make sure that you are massaging your muscles and getting the knots, either through foam rolling and targeted massage by using a lacrosse ball, or getting deep tissue massage. Third, everyone has weaknesses. Figure out what yours are and address them, instead of avoiding them. Lastly, make sure you are eating and drinking properly. So take care of your muscles, now that you know how. 🙂