Strength experiment, part 4: Self-care outside the gym

If you want to lift hard, you need to learn to take care of your body outside the gym.

In previous posts, we’ve gone over several workout plans designed around the four main strength movements: the press, the pull, the squat and the hip-hinge. None of these workouts are terribly time consuming, taking anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes apiece. But they have been challenging and fruitful.

But there are important things that support these workouts that have nothing to do with lifting. What I’m talking about is self-care.

If you’re lifting hard, there is a good chance your body will accumulate fatigue, painful tweaks and even injuries. That’s a fact of life. But you can stave off serious problems if you do the right things outside the weight room. That’s what this post is all about. I’m going to lay out what I did, and tell you why it’s important when trying to build strength and stave off injuries.

Take your rest day: I believe wholeheartedly that one day a week should be reserved for rest. You pick the day, but on your rest day, the most active things you should do are peaceful walks outside, or an easy bike ride. No lifting, no rigorous conditioning, nothing that taxes your body. If you’re not sure where that line is, then plant your butt on the couch and binge-watch a show on Netflix, catch a ballgame on TV or read a book. Rest is critical.

Get your sleep: The prime time for recovering from hard workouts is when you’re flat on your back catching some Z’s. People’s sleep needs vary, but I’d advise getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Become friends with a foam roller: The foam roller is an excellent tool for getting ready for a workout, or recovering afterwards. I use it a lot on my back. It’s like my little tubular chiropractor. But I also use it to work on the fascia tissues in my legs, hips, back, shoulders and elsewhere. Healthy fascia means more mobility , and more mobility means better athletic training and performance.

Eat right: I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t eat crap. Just because you burn calories working out doesn’t give you license to eat junk that piles on bad calories. Better food is better fuel, and promotes athletic performance and muscle-building. This means getting an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. On the protein front, I’d advise consuming at least .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. One gram per pound of body weight is even better. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done. Short-changing yourself on protein will make strength gains difficult to achieve, if not impossible.

Do the deload week: There should be one week every four to six weeks where you do a “deload,” where you back off the intensity. There are a lot of ways to do this, but generally speaking, take down the amount of weight you use for a week and allow your body to catch its breath, so to speak. Focus on form, get your lifts, but be a little more chill. I always bounced back from a deload ready to take the next leap forward.

Work on your postural alignment: When most people think about the term “posture,” they think about standing or sitting up straight. Ut goes way beyond that and is far more clinical than avoiding the slouch. The biggest part of this post is going to go over this subject.

Postural alignment deals with the proper positioning of the spine, shoulders and hips. Good postural alignment in these areas means your body will move fluidly, efficiently and correctly. A posturally aligned body will be less likely to suffer from overuse injuries and joint problems.

Conversely, a posturally imbalanced body will be far more likely to injure muscles and joints, and be more prone to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries often happen in sports as well as in training exercises like running. It’s been said that continued physical exertion in a posturally imbalanced state is like hammering a bent nail: You only reinforce the existing problems while never achieving the desired goal.

So how do you fix your postural alignment? There are a number of relatively passive exercises developed by Pete Egoscue that are designed to do this. Having used them, I can tell you they work.

With some guidance, I put together a battery of exercises I like to do in the mornings that help my particular imbalances. My hips are slightly off, as are my shoulders. I have some kyphosis in my back. All of this will affect my strength training, running and overall athletic performance negatively. The more I can resolve these issues, the better prepared I’ll be to tackle new physical challenges.

My exercises:

Static back.

Static back: This uses gravity and positioning to help my back become straighter and less curved. 3-5 minutes.

Static extension.

Static extension position: This fights rotation in your hips and shoulders and straightens the back. 1-2 minutes.

Wall drop.

Wall drop: While also helping straighten the back, it also helps loosen the musculature in the entire posterior chain: calves, hamstrings, glutes and the back. This also combats anterior pelvic tilt, which can severely impede overall mobility. Lastly, it assists in getting your head in a more neutral, less forward-tilted position. 3-5 minutes.

Upper spinal floor twist.

Upper spinal floor twist: This targets the upper to mid back, opening it up and pulling the body out of a rounded state and pulling the shoulders back. This will help prevent shoulder injuries, open up the chest, and thus enhance air intake and lung capacity. 1 minute each side.

Counter stretch.

Counter stretch: This helps pull your spine out of excessive curvature in your lower back and mid/upper back, repositions should shoulders and properly realigns your pelvis. Again, key components of proper mobility. 1-2 minutes.

There are postural alignment specialists scattered all over the country who are certified through Pete Egoscue’s system. Google “Egoscue” and your city and find them (I happen to know a good one in Tulsa 😊). A properly aligned spine improves your core stability and capacity to take on bigger loads in weight training.

Additionally, proper alignment will help your cardiovascular performance. I can tell you from experience that these exercises have helped me breathe better in races.

That’s my take on self-care during a strength cycle. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own results, as well as break down what I did right – and what I did wrong.

Bob Doucette

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