Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving...now go run! (and then stretch)


I’m typing this blog entry the day before Thanksgiving, and I’ll be running the Gobble Jog 5K with my Crossfit on the Square friends tomorrow.  I’m dreading it. Well, I’m dreading how my calves are going to feel, I should say.  They are already hurting me, so getting them loosened up is going to be a challenge, but getting them to recover without hobbling me will probably prove to be the real challenge.  My calves have a tendency to cramp up, and develop taut bands.  It’s a chronic, and constant struggle for me, and I thought that with a couple runs around the Atlanta area tomorrow, there must be more runs elsewhere, too.  With all that running, I’m bound to have more company in this calf cramp camp, so, what better time to address it, than now? 

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s terribly important to stretch.  Stretch, and do a little dynamic warmup before your run, or workout (I know, I’m going to post this a little too late to help in pre-race prep for folks tomorrow morning).  But after your run, and a little cool-down, you should be doing some stretching. For that entire run, you were telling your calves to “contract, contract, contract” (yes, I’m just going to assume that everyone has the same issue as me, and focusing solely on the calves).  You were never telling them that it was OK to rest, and even lengthen.  So you finish the run, and they keep contracting, thinking that’s what you want of them.  If you’re unlucky, they will contract hard and fast, and go into a spasm, which can be really painful.  But it can also be broken by stretches, much of the time (and you probably already know this, intuitively and from experience even as a kid), so that’s cool.  If you are lucky, the muscles will just go into a lighter, steady contracting, holding on to some degree of contraction, shortening the resting length of the muscle.  This is troublesome because it just makes us feel stiff, but also a little sore.  Some of that soreness can also come from build up of lactic acid which can’t be flushed out because your muscle is holding onto a contraction, and impeding circulation.   Luckily stretching can also help break this type of resting contraction, and help restore some circulation to the muscles, this speeding your recovery time.

When you are stretching your calves, be sure to do some stretches with your knee straight, and some with your knee bent.  You may notice a difference, with one giving you a “better” stretch than the other.  This is because some muscles cross the knee and the ankle joints, so bending the knee will take them out of the stretch, and put the focus on the ones that only cross the ankle.

If you are truly in my boat, then you are dealing with trigger points, and stretching may not fully do the trick for you (for me, it’s a trigger point in soleus – the muscle that stretches more with a bent knee).  This is where I was going to define a trigger point, but I’m keeping the Turkey-day entry short, so I’ll address them in a couple weeks.  If you suspect you’re having trigger point issues, and would like to get to the bottom of it, definitely let me know.  We can figure out if it’s trigger points, and I can help you work them out.

So, I hope you’ve had your run, that you’re recovering well, and that you’re about to go have seconds or thirds of your delicious thanksgiving meal!