As a chronic overtrainer, overachiever, and overdoer, I can tell you first hand that this (over-everything-ing everything) is definitely NOT the way to optimal performance, or a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Oh let me tell you, I really believed that it was better to do more in order to get what I wanted, and I had all kinds of ways I tricked myself into thinking I was doing less, and that I had to keep up and do more in order to get where I wanted to go in my fast running pursuits. If this resonates with you too, then the first question to ponder is WHY? Why must we feel that in order to perform at our best we have to out-do and over-do? It’s usually due to an unconscious pattern or fear of loss of who you take yourself to be. But the great news is that there is another way. And I’ve seen it not only work for myself, but also for countless patients I’ve had the opportunity to help.
If you are like me by nature, or by conditioning (more likely the case), then here is my advice both in life, in training for sport, and in keeping your body healthy and preventing injury. Underdo it. Whenever you think you should “do just one more” because you can. Or “push just a little harder” because you’re totally up for it. Just don’t. Stop. It might take practice or re-training, just like everything. But all of the science says that this is not how it (the body) actually works best. You know that, I'm sure, and heck I was studying all of the science all the time, but my emotional drive still got the better of me.
The risks of overtraining usually lead to illness and injury. And if you like to exercise and work out then you are already getting all those health benefits and endorphins. If you can hold back just a bit more often than not, I guarantee you will perform even better, and stay off the injury bench even longer.
So that covers undertraining (train just a little bit less than you think), and underdoing (do just a little less work, or take on fewer things), so where does stretching come into this? I'm placing stretching in this "under" category because I see countless friends, patients, coaches, and even fitness professionals getting it all wrong. Mainly because we were all taught to do it a certain way.
Stretching was another thing I didn’t do so well once my life got busier. I either skipped it, like my running compadres, or overdid it by “feeling the stretch to the point of mild discomfort” as all of my Exercise Physiology textbooks instructed. But the truth of the matter is that the scientific literature has been confused about stretching for a long time. Further confusing us about static vs dynamic vs PNF, how long to hold it, when to do it, before or after warming up, etc, etc. The real problem lies in the technique itself. You see, the point of stretching itself is to regain resting length of muscle tissue. Otherwise you stiffen up more and more over time. Therefore, you are "overstretching" if you “feel the stretch” because "feeling the stretch" means that you are creating resistance.
Resistance is something that happens when you work a muscle. If you are working a muscle then you are not elongating it, or teaching it how to restore it's natural resting length. And the whole point of stretching and flexibility is to keep your muscles’ ability to relax and lengthen (compared with contracting and shortening, lengthening or staying static-isometric- as with exercise). Furthermore, without it's full length, a muscle cannot perform as optimally. It won't be as strong, and it will break down more easily.
So the key is definitely to stretch, or you’ll stiffen up over time due to static positions and repetitive exercise. And more importantly to stretch properly, by backing off of where you “feel it” so there is no resistance and so that it is comfortable. More intensity is not better here. This is why many people go to yoga to gain flexibility and become injured- because yoga is largely exercise at the level of the muscle tissue.
If you can practice this new way of approaching stretching, you’ll teach your muscles how to lengthen again, prevent chronic pain and injury, improve your musculoskeletal alignment and posture, relax a lot of tension in your body, and get better at sensing what your body actually feels like in subtle ways. All of these qualities will add up to long-term sustained health, improved muscle pliability and function, and increased intrinsic strength. By underdoing, undertraining, and understretching, you just might find yourself more rested, recovered, pliable, and quite possibly over-performing in many areas of your life! Good luck and let me know how it goes!!
Lara Johnson - Go Far Ambassador