Train, Don’t Strain

Train, Don’t Strain

Earlier today I received an e-mail from a man stating, “John, I’m 62 years old. I love your books, but I’m wondering what you think is the best method for stretching. And how important do you think stretching is? You spend a lot of time covering joint mobility but not much on stretching? Is there a reason for this?” My response was as follows:

Hey, Julian, as far as I’m concerned, the best advice ever written or given for those who seek to improve their performance or physical condition is: “Train, Don’t Strain.” This is because improvements in foundational strength and fitness come so fast once you have committed yourself to daily workouts (not every other day, or twice a week. but daily) that there is no need to push it. This is especially true for those who have not exercised in years; their improvement, relative to their condition, will be the most dramatic and inspiring of all—and without exerting as much effort as the person who is in better shape to begin with or is several decades younger. Benefits are as relative to age as they are to physical condition; for example, the average untrained 35-year-old will be able to stretch more than the average untrained 62-year-old, but the untrained 62-year-old will reap greater relative benefit from less stretching.

Here’s the deal, stretching should be approached conservatively at any age. In addition to learning what not to do, you’ll want to remember how not to do it. In two simple words: Don’t bounce.

What you’re stretching is the capsular tissue of muscle—(the skin of the hot dog); anatomically speaking, the fibers of tissue have been shown to do much better when they are stretched in a sustained manner. The objective that we are trying to achieve is to get the nerve controls of the muscles to relax electrically and chemically in order to enhance the supply of NERVE FORCE to the muscles. Slow, sustained, and reasonable non-forced elongation does just that. Bouncing, on the other hand, triggers a reflex mechanism that causes the muscles to contract, which is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

Hence, my recommendation to one and all: When you exercise, be your own best personal trainer. Consider that pain is an indication that something is being moved or abused in a manner that it shouldn’t be. Granted, a champion caliber athlete works out to that point because it gives him a signal that he has strained to his maximum. When the time comes for him to compete and extend himself to gain first place instead of second or third, he’ll be familiar with the sensations of straining to his limit. But that’s for elite athletes.

In your case, if there is a momentary sense of discomfort associated with a movement, but no residual pain once the movement is stopped, you’re really not hurting yourself. But any lasting pain means that a special substance called prostaglandin has been secreted into your soft tissue, irritating and producing the sensation that you are feeling. The young athlete needs to accustom himself to such sensations; but all anyone is doing after the age of 35 that pushes it that far is increasing the risk of injury. At that point, you’re on the threshold. If you feel any pain as you proceed, do yourself a favor: either stop altogether or pull back at the very least.

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