Don't Get Mad , GET EVEN!!!

By Dave DiFabio

My last article, "Stop Acting Like an Adult", was a call to break the monotony of "traditional" exercise modalities. I hope that you have found some ways to add some physical activity to your daily schedule and found ways to add variety to that schedule. Without variety it won't stick.

Once you do get rolling you want to make sure you're workouts are "even" otherwise you'll end up lopsided. I think the public is finally coming around to the fact that workouts need to include a dynamic warm-up, some type of cardiorespiratory training, resistance training, and flexibility training. Flexibility training is still the most neglected aspect of fitness but that is starting to change. Just look at the abundance of Pilates and Yoga classes on the group exercise schedule at your local gym. By the way, notice how I listed flexibility as the last element of a daily routine. That's not to imply that it's the least important element. It IS to suggest that static stretching should be done at the end of the workout and not at the beginning (except for special cases). Maybe we'll broach that subject in more detail in a future newsletter. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand...."Even" Workouts....

As I was saying, most people realize that they need to work on flexibility, stamina, strength, and so on. So most routines are balanced in that way, but are they balanced top to bottom? Probably not! You know who you are with the barrel chest, Ron Burgundy guns, and Foghorn Leghorn legs. But hey, I'm not here to judge ;-) Are your workouts balanced from left to right? Maybe, but no one is perfectly symmetrical. How many of us have one limb that is weaker or tighter than the other? Before you say, "Not me!", remember this: All of us have a dominant side. In a healthy, non-injured person, that side is stronger and more flexible than the other side. So are you doing unilateral movements to get the other side to "catch up"? Finally, is your workout balanced from front to back? For every pushing movement, do you do a pulling movement? Are the number of sets equal? Are the angles of movement directly opposing pairs? OK, so only those that have been lifting for a while might understand that last point. Let me ask a question everyone will understand. How many of us are sitting down right now? Do you know what sitting does to the muscles that cross the front of your hip vs the muscles that run across the back of the hip?

Let me give you a quick lesson....while you're seated, your hip flexors (front of upper thigh) are shortened. Your hip flexors actually originate from your lower spine/top of hip. Therefore, prolonged sitting and poorly designed "ab" exercises such as leg raises (Unless you're a gymnast...STOP IT!) can shorten your hip flexors. This results in a pulling force on your low back, which can put undue strain on your discs (those of us with L4/L5 problems know what I'm talking about). If your hip flexors are shortened, the top of your hips will tilt forward, which will then pull on your hamstrings. Makes sense right?....Think of it this way, when you bend forward to touch your toes, the top of your hip has to tilt forward to allow the movement. When you bend forward, where do you start to feel a stretch? The answer is Hamstrings..down the back of your legs. Do your hamstrings feel tight? Are you stretching them regularly? Yes? Do they feel less tight over time? No? Maybe they're already stretched. Maybe they're overstretched by shortened (truly tight) hip flexors and that's why they "feel" tight. Stretching the hamstrings even more won't do the trick but getting the hip flexors to "easy off" a little might. The theme is that shortened (truly tight) hip flexors will pull on your low back and pull on the hamstrings. That extra pull can overstretch your hamstrings making them "feel" tight and making them functionally weaker. Think about what I just said....Overstretched & Tight & Weak.....If you overstretch something shouldn't it "feel" loose?. If your hip flexors are constantly "pulling" because of being seated all the time or from doing the wrong "ab" exercises, then your hamstrings are going to "feel" tight. And when a muscle group is in an overstretched state, it's ability to contract forcefully is reduced, thus making it weaker.

Speaking of pain, are you having low back pain? Have you suspected that the main culprit for that pain is the "tight feeling" running down the back of your legs (hamstrings)? Maybe the pain has very little to do with the hamstrings. Maybe the culprit is somewhere else and you didn't realize it. Remember the old song?...the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone, etc....This is the essence of muscle balance from top to bottom, left to right, & front to back. The hip flexors need to be in balance not only with the hamstrings but also with the glutes. The hamstrings need to be in balance not only with the hip flexors but also with the quads and they need to work synergistically with the glutes. I could keep going but I promise I won't. There are two take home messages here:

Tightened, overworked, over-trained muscles on one side of the body can cause overstretched and weak muscles on the other side. RESULT: Pain, weakness, reduced range of motion, impaired function, etc.

Because all your parts are connected, pain felt in the upper body might be caused by an imbalance in the lower body and pain on the right might be caused by a problem on the left.

Some final questions that I hope will stimulate some changes in your routine.... What are you doing during your workouts to undo all the bad stuff you did to your body at work? Have you noticed weakness in your back and strengthening exercises for your back hasn't done the trick? Maybe it's because your back is being held back by your front. Have you noticed a plateau in your Bench Press and more Benching hasn't helped? Maybe its time to invest some time in OPPOSING movements. For all the athletes in the crowd... what are you doing during your workouts to balance out all the repetitive stress you put on your dominant arm/leg during practice while kicking, pitching, throwing, or serving over and over again to perfect your technique? Not sure what needs to be done? Have you been frustrated with past results or lack thereof? Then don't get mad, GET EVEN! You know how to get a hold of me.


Dave DiFabio MA, CSCS, USAW

Owner/Strength & Conditioning Coach - Team Speed Fitness LLC