True or False? 1. Needles are sharp and pointy objects.
True or False? 2. All needles hurt.
Now that I have your attention, let’s have a crash course on how acupuncture helps your muscles recover.
Exercise–whether it be an outdoor jog, walk in the park, indoor cycling class, or an intense weight lifting session–puts stress on your muscles. They literally contract, get tight, and sometimes experience tiny micro tears. Remember the last time you had a good workout and felt sore the next day? That’s what I’m talking about! The fancy term for this is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), more specifically, it’s lactic acid build up in your muscles. Muscle soreness is completely normal and healthy.
Before I move on and share some of the amazing benefits of acupuncture, I want to give you another example about when your muscles get stressed. It’s not what you may be thinking.
So, you know the cell phone you may be using right now? Or the computer you’re reading or typing on this very second? Or the car you drive every day? (This list could go on forever and ever…) Well, every single repetitive movement we integrate into our daily lives creates muscle imbalances. Think about it. Better yet, do it right now if it’s safe. Hold your phone and text someone. Now, type something on your computer keyboard. Now pretend you’re grabbing a steering wheel. Notice a common theme? Your arms are in front of you, your shoulders may be rounded forward, your back may be slouched, and your chin may be slightly down. These repetitive movements can cause your chest to get tight, neck tense up, and your lower back to ache. Pain, pain, and more pain…or discomfort and stress in your body. (sigh)
Now let’s talk about a few benefits of acupuncture as it relates to muscle recovery.
- Decreases lactic acid, heart rate max, and maximal oxygen intake (Lin, et. al., 2009)
- Decreases pain associated with arthritis and chronic pain; more effective used in with other pain management modalities (Chou, 2018 )
- Can decrease myofascial pain and muscle irritability (Wang, 2017)
In less researchy language,
- Decreases muscle soreness and makes you more efficient using oxygen during exercise
- Helps you move better with a little less pain; more effective with things like stretching, foam rolling, chiropractic care, cupping, rest, etc…
- Ease DOMS and achy muscles
What else can acupuncture treat? A question with a shorter list of answers is what does it NOT treat. 😉 Check out this comprehensive list of what acupuncture CAN treat for you.
I regularly go to a community acupuncture clinic locally in Sacramento. It’s called the Sacramento Acupuncture Project. SAP is a part of a larger collective of acupuncture clinics called People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture. One of the best things POCA clinics offer is a SLIDING scale for its patients. Can we say, “cha-ching!”
This makes a highly valuable service such as acupuncture way more affordable to most people. If you haven’t tried acupuncture before, I highly encourage you to give it a go. Get over your fears and walk through the door. Voice your initial concerns and questions to your acupuncturist. The staff will definitely take good care of you. Tell them Candice sent you. 😉
This is an age old question that has gone back and forth over the years. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (2014) integrates static, active, and dynamic stretching into the warm-up and cool-down components of the Optimum Performance Training programming model. More specifically, in your warm-up, you should focus on stretching your most overactive (overworked and tight) muscles identified in your fitness assessments. In your cool-down, you can re-target your most overactive muscles and focus on muscles worked during your exercise program.
“[Individuals] without adequate levels of flexibility and joint motion may be at increased risk of injury, and may not be able to achieve their personal fitness goals until these deficits are corrected.” (NASM, 2014, p. 162)
Stretching helps trigger autogenic inhibition, a process where neural impulses sensing tension in your muscles override the impulses causing your muscles to contract, or stay tight. Ultimately, this leads to:
- correcting muscle imbalances
- increasing joint range of motion
- decreasing the excessive tension of muscles
- relieving joint stress
- maintaining normal functional length of all muscles
- improving function
Poor flexibility can lead to [dys]functional movement patterns and result in injury. (NASM, 2014)
NASM (2014) concluded,
- “Acute static stretching, held for more than 30 seconds, may decrease strength and power” (p. 180)
- “Static stretching may be used to correct muscle imbalances and increase joint range of motion before activity” (p. 180)
- “Active and dynamic stretching may be used without risking a loss of strength and power.” (p.180)
The moral of the story is to integrate stretching into your daily routine and before and after your workouts. Learn more about your muscle imbalances by scheduling an appointment to conduct your fitness assessments. This will help you identify the overactive and underactive muscles in your body.
Well, just don’t sit there. STRETCH!
woman stretching – aboutendurancerunning.com
lion stretching – tarirose.com
Good news! We have partnered with Nava’s Dance and Wellness Studio to offer a foam rolling workshop next month in Dumfries, Virginia.
Since I routinely integrate foam rolling into my clients’ fitness programs, I decided to offer a workshop specifically targeting foam rolling. You may have seen a foam roller somewhere at the gym and didn’t know what it was or the purpose of using it. This workshop is a great way to learn more about the what it is, why do it, and how to foam roll.
Make sure you register by September 14 if you need me to order you one.
Get driving directions!
Have you ever wondered what that black tubey looking thing is sitting over in the corner at the gym? Have you watched someone use it and wondered, “what in the world is the point of doing that? What muscle does it work out?”
Admittedly, the foam roller entered my life right before I started studying for my personal training certification. And trust me, there’s been no looking back.
To get started, let’s talk about the geometry of a foam roller. It’s a cylindrical tube made out of ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, foam. I’m not a chemist, so you will have to research the safety of this material on your own. I don’t think EVA is made from carcinogenic substances, but a few articles I found online recommend infants and young children to NOT come in contact with products made from EVA. EVA is a durable, semi-soft material that is highly conducive to long-term usage. It can withstand repeated use over an extended amount of time.
Next up, foam roll sizes. Foam rollers come in multiple sizes, colors, and density. A good rule of thumb is the darker the color the harder the density. I personally own a 3 ft black foam roller, but for traveling purposes it may be better to also purchase a smaller foam roller (I’ve seen some as small as 5″ x 5″!). There are several brands to choose from. I don’t endorse any particular brand, but I purchased mine from a small business fitness equipment company. Feel free to email me if you’re interested in receiving the company’s information. There are also foam rollers that help target various trigger points, or knots within muscles, on the body.
Next, let’s chat about a physiological concept called, “self myofascial release,” or SMR, for short. Self myofascial release helps correct muscle imbalances, overactive muscles, and helps alleviate knots within muscles. Foam rolling is a way of performing self myofascial release. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends SMR to be conducted prior to stretching and physical activity. You can also do SMR after exercise.
You may be wondering, why should I do SMR before stretching and exercise? SMR helps break up any muscle adhesions and knots PRIOR to activity; thus, it helps elongate your muscles. Lengthening your muscles plays a significant role in static and active stretching, let alone subsequent physical activity. Lengthened muscles allows you to get a deeper stretch and increased flexibility helps increase overall neuromuscular efficiency, or your body’s ability to efficiently utilize muscles in all planes of motion, within your workout.
So, what exactly happens when you do SMR? SMR focuses on both the neural and fascia systems in our bodies. When we apply gentle and steady pressure to the knots within our muscles, we help flatten and realign muscle spindle fibers. Our muscles’ tendency is to contract, but thankfully, our Golgi tendon organs help our muscles relax and trigger a process called, autogenic inhibition. In order for autogenic inhibition to occur and for us to truly maximize SMR, we must hold pressure on the knots within our muscles for a minimum of 30 seconds. It’s important to relax and hold steady pressure on knots. It may take longer for some of us to relax and allow autogenic inhibition to kick in. Be patient and ease into the slight discomfort of steady pressure on your muscles.
Let’s start foam rolling!
The best way to tell you is to show you how to do SMR. Please review the following video that provides a comprehensive overview of SMR. Enjoy!
Do you have questions or comments about SMR? Comment below!
Additional reading about foam rolling and self myofascial release:
Penney, S. (2013). Foam rolling-applying the technique of self myofascial release. Retrieved from http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/
MacDonald, G.Z., Penney, M.D.H., Mullaley, M.E., Cuconato, A.L., Drake C.D.J., Behm, D.G., & Button, D.C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.