Day by day the light grows longer. Here at 47o North latitude the temperature lags behind this remarkable build-up of light. We have to push ourselves mentally to alter the lethargy which comes from winter’s veil of cold darkness, as our world tips towards the sun’s vital energy. This mental push requires a releasing through the physical sequences that I wrote of last posting. The sequence begins with a consistent pattern of deep breathing exercises (balloon therapy) and continues with the involvement of the other physical systems.
In the spring we take inventory of how the winter season has affected us physically. A goal from this inventorying is the planning of exercises and the time it takes to complete them. Initially we address the functioning of the lungs for their responsibility to provide adequate oxygen uptake nourishment. Our bodies crave oxygen. The movement of exercise creates increased demand for oxygen.
This movement requires the musculoskeletal system to engage in repetitive motion of a specific nature, i.e. walking, hiking, biking, swimming, rowing and running. It involves creating exercise stress. Training increases the ability to tolerate exercise stress (overload) without failing due to injury of the muscles and bones being set in repetitive motion. So, the next sequence of inventory is the condition of these muscles and the joints they mobilize.
Muscles function in two ways. They both stabilize and mobilize structures of bone. Muscles do this through three different types of muscular contractions which are changes in muscle tone. Static tone is an isometric contraction. Changing length tones are either a lengthening muscle (eccentric contraction) or a shortening muscle (concentric contraction). To assist in the evaluation of the muscle’s condition for our spring inventory we engage the muscles in a system of stretches that is a flexibility routine.
Stretching is a routine that uses the soft tissue of our muscle, to place the hard tissue of our bone in an orientation that stresses the relative length of the muscle, for that position of the skeleton. It is an efficient method to assess the condition of the muscles for articulating their respective joints without involving any repetitive stress to the muscle or bone. The tighter a muscle is, when in a stretched position, the more it stimulates a pressure sensitive receptor of the nervous system in the muscle. This increased pressure is often referred to as pain because the sensory cortex of our brain does not have a region for pressure changes. The increased firing rate is due to pressure increase and not because of injury pain.
Sounds great doesn’t it? The important part of the stretching routine is the information we develop about what we can expect from our bodies in motion. If I stretch my Achilles tendon muscles on the calf and they are tight, tight, tight I can expect that my walking, hiking, running activity will put my ankle and/or feet at risk. If my hamstring group is tight I can believe that my knees or back are going to have increased risk during increased exercise. And so it goes. The rule of thumb is that a short muscle is a weak muscle; neither lengthening nor shortening effectively, so its strength is impaired. It likely puts too much stress on the load bearing surfaces of the joints it articulates.
Before getting too fired up by that giant ball-o-fire in the sky and running wild in Missoula, it is prudent to have a routine of flexibility for the inventorying of muscles and joints that are to be used.