Mixed Up Muscles

For me, each season brings a change in the type and intensity of exercise, so different muscles are stressed and my body knows it. As I guessed in the video introducing this blog, my hips and shoulders were sore the next day after snow shoeing for the first time this winter. Soon I will climb on x-country skis for the first time this season, and the next day my lower back and abdominals will be sore. Next spring after I get back on my mountain bike for the first time, my thighs, forearms and hands will take their turn.

In his book "FrameWork," orthopaedic surgeon Nicholas DiNubile says this is due to "delayed-onset muscle soreness" or DOMS. It is caused by tiny tears to muscles, and usually occurs 12 to 24 hours after vigorous exercise. Sometimes there is also a burning sensation caused by metabolic debris like lactic acid accumulating in the stressed muscles. Surprisingly, Dr. DiNubile cautions against popping aspirin and ibuprofen to alleviate the soreness because these drugs can interfere with muscle repair by blocking the production of prostaglandin. Instead, he recommends eating soy and other antioxidants.

Dr. DiNubile also dismisses the rubbing on ointments like Icy Hot or Tiger Balm because they don't cure the muscle damage but just hide it by creating a more intense sensation on the skin. He suggests if there is any benefit, it is from the massaging action of rubbing on the ointment. Of course, any TOJ knows if it is a question of distracting the brain away from the soreness, that can just as easily be accomplished by a Guiness Stout, plus you get the added benefit of some B vitamins.

Dr. DiNubile observes that many negative changes which were once attributed solely to aging, like bone and muscle loss, can usually be traced to physical inactivity. Fortunately physical activity is to a TOJ what flight is to a bird. But love of exercise can easily cause a TOJ to fall into an exercise rut.

We all have physical activities we enjoy and those we don't. The problem with being in an exercise rut is that one set of muscles, and all the blood vessels, nerves a tendons involved with them, may thrive, but many others simultaneously atrophy. Have you ever noticed how some marathoners look emaciated and anorexic? And with too much repetition of one type of exercise your joints take a beating. Dr. DiNubile has seen these ruts cause basic imbalances in the muscle and skeletal systems which lead to long term, chronic injuries.

Body builders have a concept called "muscle confusion." The idea is that any weight routine repeated over and over eventually leads to a plateau where the muscle stops developing altogether. To avoid this they systematically change their lifting routine every few weeks so their muscles develop continuously and faster.

A TOJ can extend the concept to all his or her activities because it is more important than ever to mix up your muscles to maintain your strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. As you age, if you allow yourself to decline in any of these fundamentals of fitness, it will take much more time and effort to restore them, plus you increase the risk of injury.

TOJs exercise mainly outdoors, year around. The change of seasons creates a natural cycle that keeps not just your muscles, but your entire body confused. You adjust to run in mud, snow and ice. You adjust to extremes of heat, cold, and humidity. You balance one way on skis and another on a bike. You propel yourself over ups, downs and flats. You vary time and intensity. You rest, then do it again.

For a TOJ, variety is just what the doctor ordered. Yep, your muscles are often sore, but that's okay. There's always a cold six pack of medicine waiting in the refrigerator.

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