To Stretch or Not to Stretch. That is the Question.

It’s amazing how much controversy surrounds this topic. Here is my humble opinion about what I consider effective “stretching.” Begin by considering the purpose of your stretch. Are you:

  • warming up a muscle for activity?
  • stretching to gain flexibility/mobility?
  • trying to release tension or pain? (really important point)

Each of these objectives may be best served with a different stretching technique. Here, I’m using the word “stretching” very loosely. The following are my experiences.

Stretching as a Warm-up

We’ve all heard it before: “stretch before working out or a run.” But what does that actually mean? As I mentioned in a previous post, dynamic stretching is quite a powerful technique for pushing blood to the muscles and getting them ready for activity.  This minimizes the potential for injury, increases oxygen availability, and improves muscle efficiency. With that said, the operative word is dynamic; as in there should be small movements associated with the stretch. Save the static stretching (holding a position at your flexibility limit) for after the workout… unless your goal is to compromise power output, then static stretch before our work out, but then why are you lifting in the first place? I’m rambling. Do you follow?

OK! So we’re dynamically stretching before a workout. Great! Now STOP. Take inventory of how you’ve been “dynamically” stretching. There’s two ways to look at this. First, is the whole body warm up.  These types of dynamic stretches are great to wake up the nervous system, and increase blood flow and heart rate (for more information and examples, see this article). The other is targeted dynamic stretching where you are isolating one or a group of muscles. Here ask yourself, are you taking small micro bounces at the edge of your flexibility or are you taking a larger range of motion and bigger bounces?

Stretching for Flexibility and Mobility

We’ve already talked about how static stretching should come after your workout. It’s also a great option on your rest days after you’ve warmed up. Holding a posture at the edge of your range of motion (ROM) allows the nervous system, muscle, and connective tissue to “soften” or ease into the posture. This is not as simple as it sounds. To do this, you must (1) be in a “comfortable enough” position to stay in it for a while, and (2) stay long enough for all the parts to relax. What we can all learn from yoga is that pushing harder and harder at the edge of your perceived flexibility will only make your muscles tense up more.  Instead, take slower breaths, relax into the stretch and your nervous system will also relax allowing for greater ROM.

Strapped for time? No problem. Modern sports medicine has your back. If you want to increase ROM quickly, try proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. This type of stretch, contract, release, and stretch model “tricks” the nervous system to letting go a little more each round.  The immediate results are nothing short of wizardry. Here, again, we see just how much of your flexibility is held in the nervous system and the mind. By tricking the system, we can gain some ROM almost immediately, even if the effects are only temporary. However, when used as a routine part of a stretching or rehabilitation regimen, PNF has been known to dramatically improve flexibility.

Stretching to Alleviate Soreness or Pain

First thing first: if you are experiencing persistent and unusual pain that is not muscle soreness, SEE A DOCTOR. You may have injured something in which case stretching won’t do a damn thing for you. In fact, over stretching areas of inflammation will only increase blood flow to that area, thereby exacerbating the problem. Bottom line: no blog (mine or otherwise) can substitute sound medical advice.

If you’re still reading, I’ll assume there is nothing medically wrong with you :-). Good job! Read on.

Say that you got through a gnarly benchmark workout or some grindy MetCon that had you begging for mercy. Phew!  Then the next day comes and you’re in agony. Do you stretch? Do you workout? Do you throw caution to the wind, eat a giant box of cheezits and drink beer? All valid questions. Post-workout muscle soreness actually stems from micro tears in the muscle tissue. Stretching will not do much alleviate the sore sensation.  However, stretching will help the muscle loosen up and return to its natural length and softness. For sore muscles, it’s actually helpful to do a combination of warmup workout, foam rolling and hot spot massages, and then stretching.  This combination is a powerful tool to reduce soreness and speed up recovery.

#RogueYogi #Yoga #Crossfit #Mobility #Stretching #Fitness #LoveYourBody

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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before CrossFit

It feels like everyone has a list of 10 things they wish someone had told them before joining CrossFit, or wish to share with people now that they started. Since every experience is unique, I figured why not. Here are the 10 things I didn’t expect about CrossFit:

  1. You will see immediate results because your body is so unfamiliar with this type of workout that all the things that get activated will result in some quick changes. For me it was stamina. I’m still never going to run a marathon but the dreaded metcons have become less and less… dreadful. Dare I say even enjoyable.
  2. But you will also hit some plateaus which are expected and completely fine. I had to learn to let my body rest so that it can rebuild and break through these plateaus. Taking a page from climbing, it was also important for me to remind myself that tendons and ligaments develop four times SLOWER than muscles. Your whole body has to function has one machine to do CrossFit, so be patient and all will come in time.
  3. Everything else in life will seem a little easier. The mental toughness that you build each time you push yourself through another grueling WOD permeates through every aspect of life. Perhaps it’s a form of resilience?  When you get used to repeating mantras to yourself like “3 more seconds,” “1 more rep,” and “just don’t stop! Don’t stop moving,” suddenly everything seems a little more doable.
  4. You will be calmer which I know sounds counter-intuitive. The stigma associated with CrossFit is that the athletes  are all super intense. This is not entirely wrong; CrossFit is an intense workout so  you have to bring your intensity in order to conquer it. But then a sort of zen sets it. I figured it may have something to do with the conditioning that slows our resting heart rate, but whatever it is, I can definitely feel the difference in my meditation. In general, things just don’t bother me as much.
  5. Humility is more important than the results because while there will always be someone better, faster, stronger than you, that’s not the point. Here’s where I find another intersection between Yoga and CrossFit: santosha. Santosha is the yogic philosophy of being content with one’s best effort. It requires us to try our best no matter the result, and definitely not the result as compared to others. In this way, I find CrossFit very humbling.
  6. You will amaze yourself. Sure you will like the physical results but that’s not even the best part. The more subtle things amazed me more; I never thought I’d come to love the barbell, become a stickler for technique, or take scraped shins as a point of pride. And like everyone else, I am also amazed with how much more my body is able to do than I previously thought possible.
  7. Others will be worried about your physical and mental wellbeing, and that’s ok.  You will be the worst sales pitch for CrossFit for at least a few months as you walk around sore, bruised, and maybe a little grumpy on days you didn’t feed your body right. Which leads me to my next point.
  8. Being sore and in pain actually feels good! In fact, you will miss it when you don’t feel it. I wear the pain like a badge of honor. The sore muscles serve as a reminder of what I conquered, and also keeps the rest of my life in line. Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat poorly or make bad decisions after working so hard!
  9. You will talk about it constantly, for a little while, but you will get over it. As with anything new and exciting, the novelty effect will keep CrossFit on your mind. I found myself talking/thinking about it pretty much whenever I had a moment free. It may get a little annoying to people who don’t care about CrossFit, but take a moment and relish in how good it feels to have that child-like enthusiasm again. It’s exciting.
  10. Not all gyms are created equal/Community is EVERYTHING. I’ve tried several CrossFit gyms and each has a different culture. While everyone will give you a great workout, I decided to stay with CrossFit Praxis for the community.  The coaches are nothing short of amazing. The athletes treat one another like family. The programming is intelligent. All egos are checked at the door. My gym also uses the Wodify platform where we log our performance so that nerds like me can run analytics on our past results. Other athletes can also “like” or comment on your posted results. The supportive environment and warm personalities is what keeps me going day after day. There are so many factors that go into your choice of a gym so figure out what’s important to you (e.g., big gym with huge membership base, location, Olympic lifting centric, etc).

‘On’ and ‘Off’ Days

The day has finally come!  My friend Angela and I had planned months ago to take a yoga retreat at Yogaville in Buckingham, VA (this is awesome. I’ll say  more about this retreat in the next post). Knowing that I would be away from my gym for three days, I had a thought: instead of three days on and one day off, what if I went seven days consecutively and then took the three days off all at once?! Hey, I never claimed to be smart.

As it turns out, on and off days (or rest days) are designed to be spaced out. In retrospect, this sounds so logical and simple that I now feel myself growing sillier as I write this post. I should have know better! HAHA. So what happens when you go hard at CrossFit for seven straight days and try to clump together all your rest days into one weekend? Here’s my experience:

  • Days 1-3 (Thursday-Saturday): CrossFit – feeling pretty good with the usual soreness but nothing out of the ordinary. Also climbed on Thursday night.
  • Day 4 (Sunday): CrossFit – Open Gym – did a bunch of squats to work on form and climbed in the afternoon. I could feel my muscles reaching fatigue faster than usual and my body using its mobility to compensate.
  • Day 5-6 (Monday-Tuesday): CrossFit – Not bad. I felt surprisingly spry so went hard at the workout. Even climbed Tuesday night.
  • Day 7 (Wednesday): CrossFit – BRING ON THE PAIN! Every inch of my body screamed, but it was single-leg deadlifts day (my jam) so I couldn’t resist. That was a mistake.

By Thursday, my body started to twitch and ache in ways that just did not feel right. My glutes hurt in just about every position, calves are cramping in both directions and shoulders are starting to roll forward because I didn’t give my chest a chance to rest. And I was HUNGRY. Like insatiably ravenous, all day. It was explained to me later in the day that your metabolism does not simply slow down on off days.  The workouts have amped up my metabolism which stays that way regardless of whether I worked out. By now my body is so torn down that it’s crying out for food to replenish and rebuild. I ended up eating poorly on Thursday and Friday because of these cravings.

Lessons I learned from this experience are:

  1. You cannot bundle workout days and rest days. The body doesn’t work that way. Regularly spaced rest days are very important for the body to repair itself, which in turn impacts performance.
  2. Diet is very closely tied to physical activities. Overworking the body will only aggravate the precarious balance between nutrition and training.

What is OM WOD?

OM := Om is a sacred sound, a spiritual icon, and a mantra in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It refers to Atman (soul, self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality, entirety of the universe, truth, divine, supreme spirit, cosmic principles, knowledge)

WOD :=  The CrossFit term for “workout of the the day” which has become (for me) a mantra in itself. WODs are undoubtedly the hardest part of my physical day. It challenges me to be physically better, faster, and stronger which translates into discipline, confidence, and fearlessness in all aspects of life.

Together, OM WOD is my mantra for life; of the inner self and the physical being.

On the more applicable and pragmatic side…

OM WOD refers to my passion and goal of marrying Yoga and CrossFit because they so naturally benefit the other. A good friend of mine and local CrossFit coach sent me a link that talked about CrossFit’s standards for “fitness” (CrossFit Journal, Oct 2002, p.4).  The list surprised me.  Did you know these ten dimensions?

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

It surprised me to see that Yoga directly impacts seven of the 10 dimensions (respiratory endurance, strength, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy), and plays a critical supportive role for the remaining three (stamina, power, and speed). It’s no wonder why so many CrossFit (and other) athletes have turned to yoga to maximize performance, enhance recovery and prevent injury.

Given the elongation and relaxation associated with the practice of yoga, it’s important to introduce it at the right time in your routine. I found a great article about this in Sweat RX Magazine which basically recommended yoga on your active rest days, and NOT before a workout.  This is because your muscles will be so stretched out that you will not be able to maximize power or strength performance immediately after yoga. Personally, I think a quick, targeted  30-minute yoga session immediately after a WOD can be tremendously helpful since you are more than sufficiently “warmed up” (understatement of the year). You would also know from your WOD the areas of your body that felt particularly icky (technical term), tight or sore.

Something to think about.  Next installments will include dynamic vs. static stretching, when to massage vs. stretch, good pain vs. bad pain, and much more.  There’s so much material!

Disclaimer: Before I get ahead of myself, you should know that while I’ve been practicing yoga for more than a decade, I am BRAND NEW to CrossFit. Like, one-month-in-can’t-squat-to-save-my-life new. I still think burpees are a form of corporal punishments and I’m pretty certain I wasn’t born with the synapses required to do a strict pull up. These posts are just the musings of your average girl with a yoga addiction who decided to see just how healthy/athletic/strong she can be. This is in part why I wanted to document and share my experiences on this daunting but exciting journey. I went to a free class at CrossFit Praxis and was instantly hooked.  Signed up for membership that same day, and my life hasn’t been the same since. A month later and I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary. I’m saying things like AMRAP, Metcon, cleans, jerks, snatches, oh my! Suddenly, it’s not a gym, it’s a box! I don’t do exercises, I do a WOD! Game over.