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ARTICLES

Filtering by Category: By Som Sahay

Scientific Stretching

Somya Sahay

Anyone who is looking to be pain free and have optimal performance needs to consider the importance of a balanced physical body. To the extent that our bodies accumulate excessive amounts of tension, our systems can develop imbalances and dysfunctions. When we understand which tissues are short and tight, we can perform corrective stretching to bring the body back into balance. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of stretching:

Why Should I Stretch?

Stretching can improve posture. Posture is defined as the position from which movement begins and ends. Any dysfunction in posture, therefore, leads to faulty loading mechanics and puts unnecessary stress on the body. Stretching can be used to bring the body back into alignment. Please note that optimal posture requires certain length/tension relationships to exist between muscles; stretching too much of one muscle can make your posture worse. 

Stretching is a stress-reliever. Often times, stress manifests physically in certain areas of our body (most commonly the neck & shoulders). Stretching can help alleviate that tension, making you feel calm and relaxed. 

Stretching reduces the risk of injury. If you push past the threshold for your muscle's ability to extend, you can easily tear it. Stretching improves your range of motion, reducing risk of injury.

Stretching can alleviate pains associated with muscle tightness. When muscles become too tight, they can often lead to debilitating pain/inflammation, such as: plantar fasciitis, knee/elbow pain, headaches, etc. If the pains are related to muscle tightness, stretching will help alleviate them. 

Why Stretching Every Muscle is a BAD Idea

Postural alignment is the balance between your muscles and requires certain lengths/tensions to exist. Having a muscle too tight or too loose will put you out of alignment, setting you up for injury and diminished performance. 

Example: The relationship between your hip flexors/glutes/hamstrings and lower abdominals/low back muscles can make your pelvis either tilt too far forward or too far backward, depending on which group is tighter. Variations outside of the optimal range (I.e. Males 4-7°; females 7-10° anteriorly) can lead to severe injury--most commonly in the low back. 

While stretching is imperative to good health, having too much mobility can destabilize joints. As such, do NOT stretch what does not need to be stretched! If you are having trouble identifying which muscles are out of balance, we advise reaching out to a C.H.E.K. Practitioner (such as one of our Fresh Holistics coaches) or a skilled therapist for a proper length/tension & comparative range of motion assessment. 

How Should I Stretch?

Before starting any stretching routine, make sure your body is warm and hydrated. A cold body increases your chance of injury and reduces the effectiveness of the stretching program. Having said that, there are 3 basic stretching techniques that we find are best used in different circumstances. These are:

  • Static Stretching
  • Contract-Relax
  • Dynamic Stretching

Static stretching is the most commonly prescribed method of stretching. It is defined by holding a stretched position for a prolonged period of time. While this is effective in improving flexibility, it is not ideal before a workout or event requiring at least moderate intensity. If a stretch is held statically for prolonged periods of time the muscle spindle cells cannot communicate effectively with the brain. This creates a discrepancy between what your body can perform and what your brain thinks it can perform. This disconnection can lead to altered movement patterns, motor control loss, and destabilization of joints--greatly increasing your risk of injury. Static stretching is best used for corrective stretching in the evening before bed when your activity level is low. 

Contract-Relax is a much more effective method for pre-event corrective stretching if significant ROM (range of motion) is needed. This is defined by short periods (typically 3-5 sec) of muscle contraction followed by short periods of muscle lengthening. 
    
 Example: Start with the muscle in a slightly stretched position. Taking a deep             diaphragmatic breathe in--hold it. Contract your muscle for 5s. Exhale after the             contraction and immediately go deeper into the stretch (for 5s). Repeat 3-5 times. 

This sudden increase in ROM is due to the autogenic inhibition reflex. The autogenic inhibition reflex is the sudden relaxation of a muscle after contraction under high tension to prevent itself from injury. Use the contract-relax method for corrective stretching before workouts if extensive range of motion is needed. Otherwise, use dynamic stretching for pre-workout mobilization. 

Dynamic stretching is a much better alternative to static stretching for pre-workout mobility. It is performed by repeatedly moving into and out of ranges of motion until muscles loosen up, holding no one position for more than a second. This stretch involves constant motion and feedback to the brain. It is best to mimic the general movement patterns you will be performing for the given task ahead. We recommend always performing a dynamic stretching routine before exercise, whether you are in the corrective phase of your flexibility program or your maintenance phase. 

When Should I Stretch?

There are essentially two circumstances for which stretching is necessary. The first is corrective, stretching to bring the body back into alignment. The second is maintenance, stretching to prevent your body from misalignment once it is already aligned. No matter which phase you are in, stretching pre-workout, post-workout, and in the evening is recommended.  

Pre-workout:
Stretching should always be performed prior to exercise. Your phase of stretching (corrective/maintenance) will determine how you stretch. If you are in the corrective phase, perform the required contract-relax stretches and follow that with dynamic stretching. If you are simply maintaining, dynamic stretching is sufficient. 

Post-Workout:
Stretching post-workout is necessary for optimal recovery as it not only restores the circulation to optimal levels but also relaxes the body, having a more anabolic (repair & recovery) effect on the body. Static stretching is a great for post-workout. 


Before bed:
Daily stretching is absolutely necessary for corrective purposes. We recommend performing your stretching routine shortly before bed, when activity levels are low. Whether you exercise or not, daily activities, especially long periods of sitting, puts a lot of tension on your musculature. For that reason, we recommend doing your maintenance stretches in the evening. The difference between your corrective stretches and your maintenance stretches will be the duration for which the stretch is performed and the muscles you will be stretching. Static stretching is best performed at this time. 

While stretching isn't the most exciting of activities, it is one that should be practiced daily if you are looking to be pain-free and perform optimally. 

 

References:

1. Chek, Paul. The Golf Biomechanic's Manual: Whole in One Golf Conditioning. 3rd ed. Encinitas, CA: C.H.E.K. Institute, 2001. Print. 

Water: A Refreshing School of Thought

Somya Sahay

Water is a highly undervalued nutrient. In a world of powerful pharmaceutical drugs, workout-enhancing supplements, miracle herbs, and super foods, water gets the cold shoulder. After all, there aren’t many who would financially benefit from you spending a few cents on a glass of water—it just isn’t that profitable. Unfortunately, this is why it isn’t marketed very well or studied for that matter. 

So, why is water THAT important? What happens when you don’t drink enough? To start off, our bodies are made up of ~75% water! Even more impressive, our brain tissues are estimated to be ~85% water!1 It is a major life-giving and sustaining molecule and should never be under-looked. 

Primary Roles of Water:

-Aids in the regulation of body temperature

-Lubricates joints (i.e. synovial fluid, articular cartilage)

-Provides structural support (Cells, intervertebral discs, etc.)

-Water is a transport medium to send chemical messages.

-Acts as a shock absorber (i.e. Intervertebral discs, synovial fluid)

-Creates hydroelectric energy through energy-generating pumps

-Plays an essential role in metabolism

Water plays a role in every system of our body, whether directly or indirectly. A lack of water, therefore, can lead to anything from weight gain, to alzheimer’s, to arthritis, to hypertension, to hormone imbalances, etc.

While discussing all the possible diseases in detail is equally important, I will only mention the most common ones that need to be addressed, with a fresher school of thought. The three I will be discussing are: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Dyspepsia, and Hypertension. 

**Note: All examples are discussed from a dehydration standpoint only—conditions can be caused from a combination of other health & lifestyle factors.** 

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS/JOINT PAIN

According to Dr. Batmanghelidj, in his book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, “50 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis, 30 million people suffer from low back pain,…and 200,000 children are affected by the juvenile form of arthritis.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints. In order to understand the role of water in joint health, we must have a basic understanding of joint structure first. 

All Synovial (highly moveable) Joints have the following components:

  • Articular capsule
  • Articular cartilage
  • Synovial membrane
  • Joint cavity (which contains Synovial Fluid)
  • Sensory nerves and blood vessels
  • Accessory structures

Articular (Joint) Capsule-Made up of dense fibrous connective tissue, the articular capsule surrounds the joint cavity, providing a protective seal. It also functions as an active/passive stability mechanism.

Articular Cartilage-Articular cartilage is a matrix of cartilage cells that covers the bony surfaces of joints, protecting it from damage.

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Synovial Membrane-Lining the inside of the joint (except for the articular cartilage), the synovial membrane produces synovial fluid, which fills the joint cavity.

Synovial Fluid-Synovial fluid provides lubrication for joint movement, acts as a shock absorber, and is a medium for both nourishing the cartilage cells (Chondrocytes) and disposing of waste. The circulation of synovial fluid in and out of the articular cartilage is driven by joint movement. 

Accessory Structures-Structures that support the integrity and function of the joint. These include, but are not limited to, ligaments, tendons, and bursae. (Will not be discussed in this article)

When in a dehydrated state, your body triggers a rationing system because it cannot keep all systems functioning optimally. To compensate for a reduction in fluids, the body closes capillaries that supply blood/nutrients to various tissues based on a priority system. This redirects water to the more vital organs (i.e. brain, heart, liver, etc.). Unfortunately for joints, the rationing system puts them low on the priority list. People can survive with a frozen shoulder or an inflamed knee, but good luck trying to survive without your brain!

Without adequate nutrition and hydration, the articular cartilage deteriorates to the point where the bony surfaces of the joint are exposed. The grinding of these surfaces are too much for the body to handle. The rate at which bone cells are being sandpapered away is much greater than the body’s ability to replace them. As a result, the joint becomes chronically inflamed, also known as Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

DYSPEPSIA (Abdominal Pain)

Dyspeptic pain is all too common these days—to the point where antacids have become a common household item. Dyspeptic pain is related to the upper abdominal area, typically occurring after eating. It is generally known to be caused by gastritis or other similar diagnoses. It can be extremely painful and last for hours. It may come about once in a while, or every time you eat a meal. How many of you currently have, have had, or know people who have had dyspeptic pain (stomach pain)? Before you run off to the doctor’s office and come back with a prescription of antacids, let’s take a look at this from a dehydration standpoint. 

 Let’s start off with a simplified overview of the stomach. The inner lining of the stomach is covered with what are called mucous cells. This is known as the mucosal layer. These cells secrete a protective mucus to guard the deeper layers of the stomach from gastric juices. This cover of mucus is made up of ~98% water.1

In a well hydrated state, the mucus protects the stomach lining by neutralizing gastric juices with the help of sodium bicarbonate (which is released from the cells below). In order to prevent a build up of too much salt (the reaction of stomach acid—HCL—and sodium bicarbonate creates salt), the stomach relies on a constant supply of water to wash out the salt. A buildup of salt compromises the structural integrity of the mucus.

You can imagine that with a lack of hydration, the production of mucus is reduced, thinning the stomach’s primary and strongest defense mechanism. Without water to drive out excess salt, the mucous composition becomes less sticky, allowing stomach acid to tear through the protective layer and come into direct contact with the mucosal layer (cell lining). This is why pain occurs. The corrosive quality of HCL damages the stomach lining, causing pain, inflammation, and potentially ulcers. 

While antacids also neutralize HCL, it merely acts as a bandaid. It does not heal the stomach lining. The best solution is giving the body what it needs, WATER!

HYPERTENSION

I feel pretty bad for salt these days. Salt has gotten a bad reputation—especially from those with high blood pressure (not their fault though). Of course, it doesn’t help that most of the population buys cheap, bleached, and highly processed salt (white table salt) rather than naturally occurring and minimally processed salt (i.e. Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt), but that’s an article for a different day. We’ll look at sodium’s role in hypertension shortly.

The question is: how does water (or rather a lack thereof) affect high blood pressure? 

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When talking about Rheumatoid Arthritis, I mentioned a rationing system your body activates when it does not have enough water supply. This is essentially you body saying “What systems  do I NEED to survive, and what can I live without?” Much like you would question if you were financially broke. “Well, I have to pay rent and I have to eat food, but I can skip the movies for the week and not go out to the bars to save some money.” Your body has a very intricate version of this.

When you are dehydrated, the blood volume will decrease and gas pockets will start to open up in the blood vessels, unless the volume of blood is adjusted. This is extremely dangerous! In order to prevent that from happening, the lumen (inner gap of blood vessel) shrinks. This feature adjusts the blood vessel for the available amount of fluid. Your body also starts to close capillaries to areas of less importance (i.e. joints, muscle, etc.) in order to adequately supply the more vital organs (i.e. brain, heart, liver, lungs, etc.). In areas of low circulation due to closing of the lumen/capillaries, increased blood pressure is needed to push the blood into the capillaries, causing high blood pressure. 

Now, the body has a shortage of water and therefore needs to get it from somewhere. If not the diet, where can it get if from? “In water shortage and body drought, 66 percent is taken from the water volume normally held inside the cells, 26 percent is taken from the volume held outside the cells, and 8 percent is taken from blood volume”1. It is for this reason our bodies retain sodium and hold on to it for dear life. Sodium is the main mechanism to attract water, indirectly supplying it to cells. Therefore, if you are dehydrated and have high blood pressure—trying to rid yourself of salt is a poor idea, because it is your body’s last resort for trying to retain water. 

HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD I DRINK?

We generally recommend 1/2 your bodyweight in oz of water, consumed gradually throughout the day. For those that live in hot conditions and/or are very active, 60% is more ideal. Juices and other drinks like tea and coffee do NOT count! 

It is easy to get lost in all the advertisements and ‘miracle supplements’ out there. However, sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective, no matter how complicated the problem. While water is not the most exciting beverage to drink, the depth at which it affects us is nothing short of marveling. 

References

1. Batmanghelidj, Fereydoon. Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty Don’t Treat Thirst With Medication. 3rd ed. United States of America: Global Health Solutions, 2008

2. Martini, Frederic H., et al. Human Anatomy. 5th ed. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings—Pearson Education, 2006