Friday, 13 March 2009

Peak fitness without injuries: Can it be that easy?

I've blogged before that achieving your potential in the physical spehre such as sports and activities reliese on your ability to understand and balance you bodies requirements for stimulation, nutrition and relaxation. Each has its place and when one dominates at the expense of the others then injuries and other problems always occur. 

In chatting with a friend I feel I came up with a good way of explaining how this all works. How you can both chase your dreams and train your body to achieve amazing things whilst also preventing injuries or enhance rehabilitation from them.

The concepts I introduce are the kind of thing that I feel should be taught in schools. I feel they're that essential. Mainly because school is about teaching you the things you will need to know through out your life. That's my view any way. Well the knowledge I include here I used all the time. Often every day. It helps me channel my efforts so they take me forward yet help me figure out when I'm pushing too hard and my body will break. So I adjust and focus on other things until my body is ready again. 

the first point is that, our bodies needs regular maintenance but we can't provide that directly. We have to let our internal processes take care of themselves. We can however nudge them along. The maintenace is about maintaining a body that's fit for purpose. All you can do is push it within reasonable limits and effectively say to it that this is the level you expect. As part of adjusting to these levels your body then becomes capable of reaching higher levels. Hence a little progression which reflects a training effect. Do this for long enough and you get a lot of improvement. 

That's the essence of training but it leaves out one thing, well it's implied. Your body needs time to maintain and upgrade itself properly. You can't expect it to work strictly to your schedule do you? If you keep putting it through a lot then it will get the hint and speed up its remodelling work but there are limits. We don't know exactly what they are yet and unless you spend your days working with the healing process like doctors and physicians do then we have to trust our bodies and err on the side of caution. All I'm saying is rest, learn the concepts of active rest, of dialling back your activity in such a way that you can still play sport or whatever while giving your body time to heal. 

Remember, if you get an injury you almost always get a related weakness somewhere. Until you address that weakness there's always a risk of the same or a related injury occurring. If the injury is around a joint like the shoulder there is generally related weakness in both the tendons, their attachment to bone, and the muscle itself. Normally you can fix it. Tt's best done during the healing process, experts know the exact timescales. The healing work done simply ensures the cells and fibres are aligned correctly and that scar tissue is minimised and functional tissue is maximised. Then the training is designed to get the whole joint, muscles etc back up to the strength, speed as before but, very importantly, in the same ratios as before so there is balance in the join. No one muscle pulls out of turn or over or under strength. 

If a joint can't be coordinated like it could before injury it is likely to get injured again. It's kind of as simple as that.To put it another way, most people are unaware that when a joint is used there is as much activity based around slowing the joint down and reducing force as speeding it up and increasing force. The net effect is whether the joint speeds up or slows down. It's very much a tug of war that's very closely coordinated by the nervous system. You've probably seen in tug of war that the whole thing falls apart when just one person from either side loses their footing or lets go of the rope. This happens for many reasons often because the rope is just moving too fast or they themselves can't support the effort their giving. Just one person doing this can affect the whole team as they then have to support that bit more. It often leads to others being pushed too hard and eventually they all let go. Almost instantly the other team who have won also let go of the rope, they generally fall backward but can also hurt themselves because they're pulling so hard but suddenly all that effort throws them backwards and they weren't prepared for this. 

This is in effect what can happen to the muscles, tendons and even bones of your joints. They're all involved in a tug of war. When well coordinated no slips or tears occur anywhere but when something is out of proportion then small tears do happen. Often these go unnoticed but they very slightly weaken the entire joint and so more tears occur more easily. Eventually if the body is unable to do its repairs in time the tears and weakness in the joint will become enough to cause an injury. Either a significant tear or just enough for the nerves to intervene and send pain signals and limit what the muscle is allowed to do. It sounds funny but the nervous system plays more of a role than is oten taught. The lesson being learn how to get your muscles and infrastructure well coordinated and working together well. Take a lesson from the pros. Those who are at the top of their game in any sport are invariably those who can produce the most power, speed and strength with the least effort. This implies their bodies resist the movements less than in other players. Current research indicates this and top coaches have been saying this for years. Let this help you. 

My point here is that joints in the human body are all highly coordinated. The greater the speed and force used across them the greater the coordination required. Thus the greater the need for all elements involved to be appropriately matched for strength, speed, innervation (how readily they accept control signals from the nervous system). Thus rehabilitation must focus on this to ensure further injuries are prevented. Moreover individuals must understand this so they can ensure their sports participation helps rather than hinders their joints and other bodily parts over time. So basically you need to understand this because your technique and approach to sport and particularly tennis is often what causes any injuries. If you want to play big shots you need to build up to them and learn how to know when you're ready or not. So in many ways your chance of injury is entirely under your own control. 

Putting this into practice that's why I'm taking up touch rugby for fitness to allow me to work on technique and patience in tennis. If I try to get really fit through tennis then my game and enjoyment of it suffers because it's difficult to get really fit through tennis. The entire structure of the game just doens't lend itself to developing high level fitness. You have to play 5 a side football or touch rugby to really appreciate this. 

Now tennis for me is just about technnique and strategy. I'm actually enjoying the focus of trying to stay in pretty much the same spot and dictate play. So I'm actually enjoying resting and staying still. My upper body works out but my lower doesn't. It gets a little run around but nothing intense. My intense training is very intense and just once or twice a week in the rugby field. Do you see how there's plenty of time for my body to recover and rebuild while also plenty of stimulus. 

Try it for yourself. Apply what I'm saying and see if you agree. If find it works wonders for me and is derived from people like the legendary Steve Backley. An amazing British Javelin thrower who, if I remember correclty, held the world record and was number one until Jan Zelesny cam eof the scene. They had a fantastic rivalry. I remember steve saying in an interview that he didn't train for maximum strength or power in any one muscle. He trained the whole kinetic chain so everything was in balance. 
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