Tag Archives: stretching

Joggling 18 miles through central Westchester county

Screenshot from 2013-06-05 17:56:29I hope my fellow jogglers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts are having as much fun as I am having this time of year.

This run took place on Wednesday, June 5th. The magenta line in the middle, from south to north and then back south to Mount Vernon was my journey. I joggled about 98% of the time, except when I had a water break and a very short bathroom break in the woods. It took me 3.5 hours to complete this 18 mile run, and the last hour was pretty rough. The juggling was so much easier than the running. There were many hills along the trail and it was a sunny day, in the low 70s, so I didn’t sweat that much. I did some juggling tricks much of the way.

I followed the Bronx river for much of the run, but then the trail that runs along it terminates in Scarsdale, amidst a lot of construction, so I had to use route 22 to get to White Plains. I’ve been drinking more cherry juice during and after long runs, and this may have helped me recover to the point that I was able to run 3 miles the day after this 18 miler, and 7.75 miles today.

Ordinarily, I just take a day off the day after very long runs. The soreness the day after this was pretty bad, but it is almost completely gone now. Remember, I don’t stretch before or after runs(scientific studies show it is useless, although I do a little back stretching and nothing else), and this may also be a factor in speedier recovery.

No pain no gain

Who hasn’t heard this a billion times? I’m sure many of you reading this have even said this phrase, or repeated it like a mantra to yourself during difficult runs or workouts. It’s such a cliche. But more importantly, is it true?

On this blog, I do my best to avoid making assumptions. I prefer using skepticism when it comes to health and fitness. No idea is beyond question. If this means overturning what is considered “wisdom” by many, due to lack of evidence, then so be it. If it means offending people, then so be it, though offending anyone isn’t the intent. This is why, for example, I almost never do any stretching exercises and do not advocate it. There is no unequivocal scientific evidence in favor of stretching when it comes to preventing injuries or improving performance. See my “You don’t have to stretch!” post for more info.

As for the “no pain no gain” idea, it really is an overly simple dictum, to the point that it’s rather difficult to evaluate in any meaningful sense. And surely, few people actually take it literally. Obviously, beyond a certain pain threshold, few of us can continue exercising.

The subjective nature of pain also renders this saying not particularly meaningful or helpful. Not to mention the fact that we all have unique biochemistries, unique fitness goals, unique history of injuries and illnesses, and unique personalities. And while challenging yourself physically is a worthwhile goal that boosts health in ways that no drug can compete with, we have to know our limits. And to a large extent, even our “limits” can be highly subjective.

Like many people, even I believe a little bit of soreness after an intense run is generally a good thing. Note the “generally”. Sometimes the amount of pain we feel can be misleading; sometimes we don’t feel any pain or soreness until the day after the heavy workout.

All this ultimately boils down to yet another cliche – “listen to your body”. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t very good listeners, and our body, as alluded to before, isn’t always the best communicator. Sure, we know when we feel too exhuasted to go on, but we don’t often deal with extreme exhaustion after exercise; there’s a large grey area, and little objective criteria with which to make proper assessments. There’s a “little” pain, and “too much” pain on opposite sides of a pain continuum with so much grey area in between. This is one of the reasons I don’t use caffeine or other drugs – they cloud our judgement to the degree that they can make it almost impossible to listen to our body’s with any accuracy.

Knowing our Vo2 Max can be helpful to some degree, but it isn’t all that accurate and there are many other measurements. There’s also the “talk test” – if you can’t hold a conversation while doing intense cardio, you “may” be pushing yourself too hard.

So what can we do? Perhaps a more reliable “test” is to pay attention to our heart rate. If it isn’t back to normal after even intense exercise, this is usually a good indicator you are overdoing it. Or you are out of shape. Being fit means your body and your heart should have adapted to your fitness program. If it still beats fast well after(an hour or more) working out on a consistent basis, this may be a useful warning sign.

Besides this, avoid working out if you are in any kind of pain beyond minor soreness. If your legs hurt, exercise your arms and vice versa. Try to avoid becoming addicted to exercise and don’t try pushing yourself to your limits every time you exercise. Do this maybe once a week or a few times a month. Question every bit of fitness advice you receive and go ahead and make your fitness routine uniquely you; don’t try to be someone else, just because your friend benefitted from some new fitness program, doesn’t mean you will too. It seems everyone is an “expert” when it comes to fitness. Be careful who you get advice from, consider their credentials and experience. Unfortunately, even some people with multiple degrees and certification will spout pseudo-science.

So while “no pain, no gain” may have some truth to it, don’t take it as a commandment. It may even be harmful to follow it too literally. Whatever the case may be, now that it is spring, take advantage of the outside weather and get back into shape! You don’t need a gym membership. A park or the woods is way better.

You don’t have to stretch!

It was, for a very long time one of the biggest sacred cows in all of fitness: You have to stretch before and after exercise to improve performance and prevent injuries. This idea has been drilled into our brains for years, as children in gym class, and now as adults at gyms and fitness classes. “You have to stretch” – It is often stated as a religious mantra. Just about all of us believed this, myself included. The only people opposed to stretching were considered heretics, or more likely just lazy or idiotic.

Luckily, there are no sacred cows in science. If an idea doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, if there is no evidence to support it, it gets slaughtered. Thanks to many scientific studies done on stretching, we now know it doesn’t improve athletic performance or prevent most injuries. Don’t believe me? Here it is:

The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature.

RESULTS:
Stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries (OR = 0.93, CI 0.78-1.11) and similar findings were seen in the subgroup analyses.

Don't worry, you won't become as stiff as these guys if you don't stretch.

Don’t worry, you won’t become as stiff as these guys if you don’t stretch.


Wow! In spite of this, telling people they don’t need to stretch is considered a radical or even harmful idea even by some personal trainers. So many people continue to advocate this practice, even though the science isn’t there to support them. Next time someone tells you you have to stretch, politely show them the evidence that demonstrates there are no benefits from regular stretching. Now this is just about stretching when it comes to general exercise, I don’t think this applies to physical therapy. And “warming up” isn’t the same thing as stretching; warming up does improve performance and may prevent injuries, especially if the temperature is cold. Don’t worry, if you don’t stretch you won’t become as stiff as a statue.

Stretching may even be harmful if done before some types of exercise, since it may lead to overpronation and injury. It is important to note that Running economy is negatively related to sit-and-reach test performance in international-standard distance runners.

Because of the weight of the evidence, I almost never stretch and I do not advocate it. All the juggling and joggling I do is made possible through a fitness regimen that excludes stretching. For similar reasons, I don’t do yoga, which I consider overrated(relative to the hype), although I don’t doubt it helps many people because just about any exercise is better than no exercise. I’m not saying yoga is inherently bad, just that it doesn’t have much to offer me. If you enjoy it and you benefit from it, I have no argument with you. If you don’t like juggling, that’s fine too.

Whatever you do, a fitness program based on fact, and science is going to be better than a fitness program based on pseudoscience.

Photo source – C.P the Wild Juggler

Lactic acid is not your enemy

The idea that lactic acid causes muscle fatigue and stiffness during exercise is a stubborn one. It has been discredited by scientific research, but many fitness enthusiasts still see lactic acid as an enemy that interferes with performance.

Not only does lactic acid(which in the body is in the form called “lactate”) not cause muscle fatigue, it is actually used as an important fuel during vigorous exercise.

This myth goes back to the early 20th century, but it was fully discredited only recently.

All this begs the question: What is causing the fatigue and stiffness that was once blamed on lactate? According to researchers at Columbia University, it may be caused by overworked muscles leaking calcium, among many other factors. And acidity in general in fatigued muscles may play a role in stiffness and fatigue, it’s just not the lactate causing most of it.

So what’s the solution? The idea of calcium leakage partially causing muscle fatigue doesn’t mean most people should consume less calcium, as this is a vital mineral(it is possible to get too much, and it can cause problems but this is rare). However, and I am just speculating here, maybe ensuring adequate vitamin K consumption can help prevent this a little, since it helps with calcium metabolism, along with making sure you get enough magnesium. Calcium helps muscles contract, magnesium helps them contract as well as relax; if you have too much calcium in your body relative to the amount of magnesium, this can be problematic(in fact, not getting enough magnesium may be detrimental to your heart).

It is relatively east to get enough magnesium if you eat like a rabbit – lots of leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains. Fermented vegetables are an especially good source of vitamin K. If you are taking calcium supplements, it may be a good idea to take supplements that combine magnesium with the calcium, to counteract the potentially negative effects of calcium. Try discussing this with your doctor or pharmacist.

Proper hydration and making sure you are getting the right amount of electrolytes helps too. I don’t think stretching would help, since just because a muscle is stiff doesn’t mean it needs to be stretched. Increasingly, science is showing that stretching is practically useless for most people.