Post Wolf Run Recovery - you know you need it!
Part 1 – stretching, mobilizing and trigger point release
By KT at MKT Outdoor Fitness Ltd
So there you are – sopping wet, mud in places where the sun don’t shine, exhausted but deliriously happy… it’s the end of your Wolf Run. You made it! So what now? Goodie bag – check, official photo – check, hug all my clean and spotless supporters to spread the dirtee love - check… and errr I guess I’ll wipe myself down and go get a well earned beer right?
I’m just going to stop you before you get to the wipe down and beer part because there is something that your body will thank you for the next day if you give it 10 mins. A warmdown.
Yep that annoying thing you know you should do but you generally skip in favour of getting the comfort stuff quicker. For those of you who are Wolf Run veterans I am sure you have felt the ill effects of your efforts the next day – sore tushy? Heavy legs? Stiff all over?
A warmdown can help relieve the next day discomfort and stiffness and it’s a great way to calm your body down from the excitement and adrenalin of your Wolf Run experience. In part 1 of the MKT post-race recovery series we look at the importance of stretching, fascia and trigger point release and why it is important to address each of these after your race so you can return to normal function with no worries at all!
Ok ok I’m listening – so why is it important?
When you race or even just run for fun you take your body beyond how it functions normally. Your heart rate elevates as does your temperature and adrenalin level. Your muscles work harder, oxidative stress occurs, you use up energy, electrolytes and hydration. These are all normal responses but if you just stop your workout and return to normality like the flick of a switch you may experience stiffness, heavy muscles as well as feel tired and sluggish both mentally and physically then following day.
Post-exercise soreness occurs from damage to muscle tissues beyond what they are able to deal with or are trained for. It is thought that this occurs from minute tears in muscle fibres and contractile components, acute inflammation, fluid retention in tissue from osmotic pressure changes, altered calcium regulation in muscles cells (McArdle, Katch and Katch, 2007). In The Wolf Run this may occur from running a race with more pace than usual thus putting the muscles under more force with each stride or from clambering over an obstacle that you have not come across before.
Bursts of Wolf Power
In the Wolf Run you also have one off obstacles to contend with which require short bursts of much higher power output and the use of your upper body and core. You can prepare for this with strength training and running conditioning but on the day your muscles will have to do what they need to get you up, over, under, around and through which will likely come as a surprise to your muscles and they’ll have to work a little more than anticipated. This will undoubtedly result in some localized muscle damage, which happens as part of all strength and power training. The body is so clever that it repairs itself in anticipation that you’ll do another Wolf Run in a few days – ha your muscles should be so lucky! Stretching helps to kick start the recovery of this damage and we’ll explain how below.
Length Tension – it’s a love hate relationship
Muscles have stretch and contraction capabilities. Too much of one of these components will take a muscles out of balance and will then lead to a knock on effect for the rest of the body. Stretching a muscle means lengthening it and increasing the range in which your joint can move. It is an important part of injury prevention as it helps to maintain a balance between the length and tension of a muscle (Chek, 2003). Muscles pull on bones to create movement (Basic Biomechanics, 2004). If there is too much tension in a muscle, force for movement is absorbed over a reduced range instead of the whole optimum range of a muscle. This leads to overwork in certain areas of a muscle, which leads to injury. Also if the muscles of the arms and legs are tight it can place more stress on proximal joints such as the spine.
When you exercise your muscles experience heightened contracting and stretching beyond every day motion. During the Wolf Run you will contract your muscles in a similar fashion over and over, which produces the motion of running. The longer you continue to repeat those same contractions the tighter your muscles get because you are working in a set range of motion – lets call it your running range. So in order to rebalance the body after repetitive limited range contractions you need to stretch.
Working on your flexibility over time will improve your athletic capabilities. If you have a greater joint range with which to use and build strength in you will be able to jump, throw and kick higher, harder and faster (Bompa, 2004).
Fascia – what’s that then?
Myofascia is a very thin and very strong coating around muscles. All fascia in your body is connected – it’s one giant spiderman-like web of connective tissue (Myers, 2001). If muscles have stretchy elastic properties then fascia has hard plastic properties. It might be thin – think cling film thin, but it is mighty tough, think Teflon tough. So tough that if your fascia is tight then the muscles within in will not stretch. Before long, you become a screwed up little ball of tightness and it starts to affect everything you do and over time can lead to injury.
Muscle Knots or Trigger Points
Trigger points are the official term for muscle knots. They were first identified by Janet Travell in 1942 and are defined as a small nodule or band of muscle or fascia that is painful to palpate and often radiates pain or discomfort out away from the area. These points are unique in that they are not caused by inflammation, infection, trauma or degeneration. Sometimes palpating a trigger point elicits muscle twitching in the area. Trigger points can pull on the rest of the muscle and even ligaments and tendons, thus affecting the normal function of a muscle affecting other areas of your body. In addition, trigger points restrict toxins elimination and nutrient entry to the area, which makes it feel tight (Travell, 1992). You need to get these little monsters before they wreak havoc everywhere!
It’s important to note that when you are warm you might not feel tight or stiff or like your muscles are full of toxic by-products or have been damaged. But if you leave your body to cool down without rebalancing your muscle length-tension will be all out of whack and that’s why you get sore and stiff the next day. It will most certainly lead to muscle knots and areas of discomfort, which could lead to potential injury. Being outside you are particularly vulnerable to an accelerated drop of body temperature so you want to warmdown gradually and effectively to prevent excess soreness and other more potential serious issues.
So what should I do?
Well we recommend you do a nifty little 10 minute warm down that incorporates stretching the muscles, rolling out the fascia and releasing those pesky little trigger points.
Stretching your muscles
There are classic stretches that everyone knows but really you should invest a little time in learning stretches that are truly beneficial and work for you. You might have super flexible quadriceps but very tight hamstrings. This is a common imbalance that very easily leads to back problems. Most people think stretching is holding your leg up in the air for a bit and grinning and bearing the pain. In fact, there is an art to stretching and allowing your muscles to release. Learning to relax and use your breathing helps and in actuality you should feel your muscles release over the time you stretch.
Exception to the rule – there’s always one!
What if I’m already a bendy doll? Well if you are a bendy doll like me then you’ll need a little stretching but probably more localized foam roller mobilizations. Definitely pay a visit to the MKT Race Recovery Tent at The Wolf Run for a chat with us about your individual needs.
How do I stretch fascia?
Well truth be told, because of it’s stubborn nature fascia can’t be stretched. But it can be ironed or rolled out like cookie dough! You may have seen some super serious triathletes and runners after their races rolling up and down on foam rollers or trigger point grids, their faces all contorted in anguish - they are rolling out their fascia. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a pleasant experience – fascial breakdown is uncomfortable. However, the benefits far outweigh the pain and I highly advocate that you start a meaningful albeit fiery relationship with your fascia.
Trigger point release
After you’ve done your beneficial stretches, and rolled out your fascia you may have found some trigger points – small nodules or bumps in your muscles that are tender to touch. You’ll need to get these sorted too. So I recommend the spiky ball or a trigger point ball, which is small enough to get right in there and release that angry little area.
One for you to get acquainted with
The classic foam roller mobilization is for the iliotibial band (ITB) on the outside of your thigh. It’s very useful for runners, particularly women.
When you run the main joints that take a pounding are your ankles, knees and hips. The ITB attaches at outside of the hip and spans all the way down the side of the leg to the knee. Everyone thinks it’s like a cable but it’s part of the fascia that encases the thigh muscles. The ‘band’ on the outside is where the fascia is thickest and tightest. If you have any weaknesses in your hip stabilizer muscles the ITB jumps to the rescue and holds on tight for dear life so that you don’t injure yourself. It’s not supposed to do that if you are balanced and all your hip stabilizers are happy workers but the body adapts in every way for your survival and to protect you so the ITB kicks in. Rolling out the ITB helps prevent a build up of tightness that can lead to chronic issues and injury. However, I’d be lying if I said it was all about rolling out. If your ITBs are tight then it’s likely that a muscle or two is underperforming – you’ll need to address the weakness.
How to roll out your ITB
Place the outside of your thigh on the foam roller and use your arms and other leg to support and roll your thigh over the roller. It is important to relax the area being rolled and this can take some concentration when it is uncomfortable. Roll from the hip bone all the way to just above the knee to begin. You may find only certain areas are tight or uncomfortable and if this is the case then focus on these areas. Roll an inch above and an inch below smaller areas that are tight. I recommend rolling for 1-2 minutes ideally 3 times a day. At the beginning you may not be able to tolerate even 20 seconds so build up slowly. When rolling out muscles I would not advise going above a 7/10 with intensity of discomfort. If you are in too much discomfort the tissue will not release at all.
In my ten years of working with clients on foam roller ITB release – it takes an average of just fourteen days of consistent daily rolling to release painful tight ITBs. If your pain is consistent and does not diminish over fourteen days of consistent rolling then seek physiotherapy treatment. Fourteen days of a little ‘ouch’ is nothing compared to a lifetime of Wolf Runs right?
Cruel to be kind
We recommend that you visit a sport massage therapist or a physiotherapist if you think you need some work done before your Wolf Run. We’ll be teaching you trigger point release technique that you can do yourself at the MKT Post Race Recovery tent after your Wolf Run. So pay us a visit to learn how to manage your own post-race recovery for the future!
MKT to the rescue
I know the last thing you’ll want to do is think about what needs stretching and mobilizing when all you really want is to unclog your ears and get into a fresh pair of undies. But that’s ok because you won’t have to think about it.
MEGA TREATS FOR YOU - MKT Fitness are the official post Race Recovery Service to the Wolf Run in September. The MKT team of experts will be just past the finish line with foam rollers, spiky balls and a specially designed Wolf Run stretch routine.
We’ll teach you how to really stretch effectively, how to roll out your fascia and we’ll also take you through trigger point release technique so you can go wipe down and fuel up in the knowledge that you are a warmed down and balanced little happy human being! We’ll also be there to answer any questions you have about post race recovery.
So swing by whether you are solo or with your pack of fellow wolves and tell us all about your Wolf Run experience. We’ll even throw in a goodie bag of race recovery treats! Really? Another goodie bag? Well MKT loves giving gifts! ;D
Part 2 of the Post Race Recovery Series in August looks at how to refuel and repair your body optimally with post-race nutrition and hydration.
KT is the founder of MKT Outdoor Fitness an outdoor training company in London that specializes in helping people make a health turnaround and supporting recreational sports enthusiasts such as runners improve their performance and decrease their risk of injury.
To find out more about us go to: www.mktfitness.co.uk
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McArdle, Katch and Katch, (2007) Esentials of Exercise Physiology 3rd Edition, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, USA
Chek, P., (2003) Scientific Back Conditioning Correspondence Course Manual, Chek Institute, USA
Bompa, T. O. (2004) Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training 4th Edition. Human Kinetics, USA.
Hall, S. J. (2004) Basic Biomechanics 4th Edition, McGraw Hill, USA.
Myers, T.W., (2007) Anatomy Trains. Churchill Livingstone, UK.
Travell, J., and D. G. Simons (1992) Myofascial pain and dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual The Lower Extremities. Williams and Wilkins, USA.