Early last month I went up to Boston for my college fraternity reunion weekend. As one can imagine, the events of the weekend featured a constant and continuous cycle of eating and drinking really bad things over 48 sleep-deprived hours, but in the midst of all the fun my alumni friends and I managed to fit in a game of tackle football against the fraternity undergrads. It was a 7-on-7 game, replete with full on blocking and tackling (no pads), dry, fast conditions, sunny skies, a myriad of bumps, bruises, grunts and moans and one unlucky 20-year-old with a mild concussion who also ended up needing stitches. When the game was over I had managed to use and pull muscles I didn't even know I had, and no amount of Advil or Heineken I consumed that night did much to dull the shooting pains and soreness in my hips and shoulders. But, all in good fun, and a small price to pay for victory (which we managed quite handily, naturally).
The problem with the fraternity football game was that it was only two weeks prior to my annual Turkey Bowl football game with my friends in Cleveland on the day after Thanksgiving. This game was also full on tackle (no pads), 8-on-8, played under cold, grey skies on a very muddy and wet field. So just as I was getting over my aches and pains from the fraternity game, I went and did it again. And just as in Boston, it was well worth it because my team won, but I ended this one by wrenching a muscle in my calf and tweaking my already sore lower back. That night I went to my Boston-like prescription of Advil and Cocktails to numb the aches, but the next morning was truly not fun as I struggled to get out of bed. No pain no gain, right? Well, I suppose, but I certainly have a newfound respect for NFL players and I have no idea how they do that to themselves every week for 6 months. But I digress.
After my football marathon ended, I came to a few conclusions: A) My lower back and right calf are really sore, still ... B) I'm never playing two football games in three weeks ever again and C) even though I am relatively young and in pretty good shape, I have to work just as hard as anyone when it comes to taking care of my body and dealing with aches, pains and muscle issues that come and go over time. As I sit here right now writing this post, I'm still dealing with a tight lower back (partially caused by an exercise I did prior to both football games) and the occasional muscle spasm in my right calf. Not fun at all, but that hasn't prevented me from attacking these issues in the gym every day and doing whatever I can get my body feeling better. With that said, here are a few things that I do to take care of myself beyond my actual workout, and things that I urge all my clients to do on a daily or weekly basis:
- Stretch. And then stretch some more -- No matter how young or old you are or how little time you have in the gym, stretching before and after your workout should be part of your routine. Every. Day. And if you have 10 minutes in the morning before or after you get out of the shower or 10 minutes before you go to bed, stretch out your body and you'll reap the benefits.
- Foam Roll -- Also called Self Myofascial Release (SMR), Foam Rolling is a great way to release tense muscles, relieve tension in "knots" throughout the body and massage your muscles before and after your workout. I started doing this about 4 years ago and now I'm hooked. Whenever I pull something, it's my first go-to to try and fix it.
- Get warm, be warm, stay warm -- One of my biggest pet peeves at the gym is seeing someone come in cold off the street and head straight to a machine to start lifting weights. Your body should be properly warmed up and loose before and during your workout. Always. And please, don't just wear a t-shirt and shorts to and from the gym in the middle of Winter.
- Get away from the cardio machines -- The more time your spend pumping and shuffling on an Elliptical or the like, the more likely you are to put increased and unwanted tension on your bones and joints. Plus, you are less likely to burn off fat. But if you just can't quit them, try some intervals for a solid change of pace.
- Swim -- I wrote about my newfound love of Swimming a few months ago, but if you are sick of the gym and still want to get a fantastic workout, the pool is the place to be.
- A hot shower, a sauna or a hot tub goes a long way -- Whenever I have a chance (mainly when I am done swimming), I head into the sauna for about 10 minutes to keep myself loose and fresh. When you are in any of the above, locate your sore spots and stretch the heck out of them.
Taking care of aches and pains only gets harder as you get older. That's why starting now is the best idea of them all.