By Joan Hannant, Founder & CEO of The Soma Institute
There is a new wave of excitement in the air these days. In the Midwest, summer weather has a way of doing that. We’ve made it through the long, cold winter, and one look outside shows you how excited people are to get out and get moving. It’s an annual right of spring here in Chicago, and it certainly feels like it’s carrying even more importance this year. The one-two punch of winter weather and the pandemic had most of us cooped up in a way we’ve never experienced. Now, as people excitedly sprint into summer, we’re seeing another phenomenon — injuries. So I’m enlisting the help of Soma clinical massage therapy instructor and chiropractor Dr. Luis Ramirez for a few helpful tips you can embrace to ensure an injury doesn’t derail your summer fun and workout plans.
BEFORE YOU WORKOUT
Ease into it
If you take only one thing away from this blog, Dr. Ramirez says the most simple advice is the most important — don’t try to go from zero to 100 in a day. You don’t want your workout to do more harm than good. Ease into it, especially if you’ve been inside and haven’t been very active during the past few months. One good way to do that is to slow down and be mindful of your form in any workout. Don’t jump right into strenuous activity. Take running for example — it may seem counterintuitive in a way, but it is recommended to first perform resistance training before taking up running. A lot of running injuries occur when people go from not running at all to running a lot. Start slowly, and work up to the level of activity you’d like to sustain. “The most common injuries we see this time of year are aching muscles and ligament sprains. Little soft tissue tears are very common as well,” says Dr. Ramirez. “Whether you are an elite athlete like the pros or a mere mortal like most of us, your body is predisposed to these little tears. So start slowly to reduce injury risk.”
Studies have shown static stretching is not the best way to get ready for activity. You don’t want to be tugging on cold muscles, and some muscles are already overstretched. That repetitive stress can lead to the tearing of already weekend muscles. Instead, prepare for your workout or activity with a dynamic warmup. Examples include heel kicks, knee-to-chest exercises, skipping and arm circles. If you ever get to a sporting event early enough, you’ll see pro athletes have embraced this idea as well. It’s all about slowly getting the body warmed up.
Drink and eat
You’ve been hearing about staying hydrated since you were a kid, but that’s because it’s good advice! Dr. Ramirez says you have an increased risk of injury any time you begin to get dehydrated. He says, “Staying hydrated helps your muscles work optimally. It keeps the body cool and helps with your heart and circulatory system. There is a misconception that you should drink only when you are thirsty. But sometimes the best time to drink is when you are not thirsty so you stay hydrated.” Anyone who has had a muscle cramp knows how unpleasant it can be. Staying hydrated will help you avoid this.
It’s also important to eat! If you’re going to be exercising outside, nutrition is important. You need enough food and nutrients to keep you moving. People often become singularly focused on the idea of working out to become thin, so they workout without eating enough. Don’t let your body run on empty. Your body needs fuel to move optimally.
Change it up
Minor aches and pains are warning signs. “Pain is telling you something needs to change,” says Dr. Ramirez. “If the pain is minor, stay active, but change up your routine every now and then. If you’re a runner, go for a bike ride.” You can stay active. You don’t always have to stop. But switch up your activities if you are experiencing minor aches. It’s also important to know the difference between minor aches and pains and something more serious. If you have major or consistent pain, it’s important to be seen by a professional.
You know we couldn’t go through this entire process without talking about the amazing benefits of massage! When your body is sore, it’s best to be proactive. Massage is a very effective treatment because there are minimal side effects, and it promotes faster recovery. Massage helps increase blood flow, and that blood carries nutrients to the body. Part of what we train clinical massage therapists to do is warm up the area of the person’s body that has experienced the little tears or micro-traumas. Our trained Soma therapists do that by warming up the superficial muscles first, allowing them to bring in more blood. There are also several massage techniques that can help push or draw blood from other parts of the body to the site of your soreness.
Breathe with your belly
Another recovery tip Dr. Ramirez is passionate about is diaphragmatic breathing, or breathing with your core. This helps during activity and afterward during recovery. Dr. Ramirez says the idea is not to breathe with your chest. “When you inhale, your chest should not rise,” he says. “Your belly should come out when you inhale. Think of it like a balloon. Your abdomen should inflate on all sides, not just in the front. That shows you are using your diaphragm to breathe.” Conversely, Dr. Ramirez says, when you breathe out, your belly should be like a balloon deflating, moving inward toward your spine. A lot of people become chest breathers when they are working out, and that uses muscles that aren’t typically primary breathing muscles. They’re helper muscles. When we use those secondary muscles to breathe, they can become overused and shortened. Nearby nerves that run down the legs or into our hands can get irritated. And it's all enhanced by improper breathing!
At Soma, health and wellness is what we’re all about. So, we encourage you to embrace the excitement of a changing season and take advantage of this wonderful weather by getting outside and getting active. Become the best version of yourself! Just do it smartly, so you don’t run straight into an injury that slows you down at the worst possible time