Gary's new website

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Should we let our bodies adapt to soreness and tightness without interference by stretching and massage?

"Hi Gary

 What interests me about running and muscle tightness and soreness is why does our body not adapt to that without us having to make a special effort to stretch more and to regularly have a deep tissue massage? You would imagine that muscle tightness is the bodies way of adapting to us running and that we should in time not have to do anything special if we run regularly? Could it not be that it’s the bodies way of holding vulnerable joints together more securely and adaptation of muscles to give less than without conditioning ie: to deal with the rigors of say running down hill?

If one were to consider animals in the wild that run a lot do they stretch a lot more than animals that don’t? Do animals that run a lot and over long distances have ankle and knee and IT band problems like us frail humans seem to? Or should we let our bodies adapt without interference ie; by not excessively stretching?"

Duncan McLean: The Tartan Flash
World Champion sprinter at 92yrs
Thanks for the thought-provoking email, Roger.

The loss of flexibility and the hardening of muscles are natural but undesirable adaptations of vigorous physical activity and ageing that also happen to be preventable and reversible.

Athletes never retire - They just slowly grind to a painful halt.  

At which point they quietly disappear into anonymity, or announce their retirement, then are forgotten!

By about 40 years or so, I was a burned out athlete (No - That's not me in the photo). I was physically fit, or so I thought I was. I could run okay but was inconsistent, never quite being sure if I would run up to standard. Bad days became the norm. I recall one of my last cross country races. It was a veterans team relay race at Trentham in Lower Hutt. Our team, Victoria University, was the favourite. We were in the lead by the time it came to my leg. I blew! Despite doing everything right leading up to the day, warming well and not taking off too fast I was quickly reduced to little more than a fast walk. I let the team down badly, but there was nothing I could do. My heart and muscles just could not do any better that day.

I now understand what was happening: I was grinding to a halt. My body systems had had enough punishment and were shutting down. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if my heart was in fibrillation during that cross country race. It was time to retire and I did quietly slip away from the competitive cycling and running scenes. My heart was not in these frenetic past times any more. In the meantime, some of my more talented running and cycling associates dropped dead by their early 50's. Plenty of others are sporting worn joints and muscles so sore they can barely be touched.

These are the natural consequence of vigorous living. We should have no illusions of the adverse health consequences of extreme sport. If we leave Nature to run her course.

After all the first person to run the marathon, Pheidippides, dropped dead at the finish!

Until just the last 100 years or so, few people lived longer than 30-40 years of age. Pre-European Maori seldom lived longer than 30 years, for example. Wearing their teeth out chewing on foods like fern roots, saw to that. Life was harsh for most people worldwide. During my Grandfather's time over 50% of people were dead by 50 or 60 years of age - World wars, industrial accidents, infections and childbirth saw to that. Heavy physical activity, such as tilling the fields, was mostly the responsibility of "young" people. Those who lived to "old age" went for the rocking chair and not the racing bike!

Our biology is such that all of us have a good ten to twenty years of being able to sustain heavy physical activity as adults. Any longer than that and the muscles and joints begin to object; but the odds were, until recently, that we would be dead by then. If you look at animals, few live longer than 10 years and those that do tend to take life at a slow pace. While there may be periods of extreme exertion these are generally brief and seldom frequent. Biologically speaking, if our muscles, joints, tendons and heart manage to serve us for a good ten years then they have done their job. Mother Nature has endowed us with this length of time as high performance machines because that is all that has been needed for as long as Humans have been around for survival of the species.

If we look at phenomenal oldies like Duncan McLean, the Tartan Flash, his daily exercise was not exhausting. I interviewed Duncan in 1978. His exercise routine consisted of light calisthenics and walking - not daily running. If we look at 40yrs+ marathon champion, John Campbell, he gave up running as a junior to work on the fishing boats and returned to running in his late 30's. John still had ten good years left in his legs but not much longer. An earlier running sensation, Jack Foster, similarly left his run very late. Few athletes that train and compete as teenagers are still going strong at thirty. The vast majority are burned out by then.

Of course, there are exceptions, the most obvious to me is my sister, Lorraine, who competed at international level from 16 years old through to about 42 which I think is some kind of longevity record.

It is only in the last 50 years or so that "old" people are expecting to remain physically active beyond retirement. For as long as Human Beings have been around, there has never been any need for muscles and tendons to remain in pristine working order for 60, 70 or even 100 years. We simply never lasted that long! It wasn't that long ago that athletes were expected to retire by 30 years to become administrators or coaches.

If we are to continue to be physically active into very old age, biologically speaking, then we need a whole new set of strategies for physical conditioning and maintenance of health that do not necessarily apply hard and fast to youngsters.

For example: A twenty year old athlete can have a high carbohydrate, low nutrient diet and still perform very well for several years. A 50 year old athlete will almost immediately be getting into trouble if on a similar diet. The muscles and joints of a 20 year old can be smashed and bashed and recover quickly; but the damage is cumulative and will be paid for later on in life. This applies not just to gross damage, such as a torn tendon, but also to the repeated micro damage that is often referred to as "delayed onset muscle soreness" (DOMS). Repeated DOMS causes a gradual hardening and scarring of the muscle belly as the years pass, along with a gradual reduction in performance.

These muscles become more like inflexible leather straps than spongy, resilient muscle. Blood flow through them is reduced, blood pressure rises, the heart works harder, even at rest.

My sister, Lorraine, was always fussing over what she ate, she took dietary supplements daily and was constantly getting work done on her legs by various therapists. I used to think she was a bit of a crackpot, especially with regards to her diet and supplements. How things have changed! I was so wrong. She proved me to be very wrong. Her performances speak for themselves. I am now following down the same path and now have a second chance as an athlete. My performances over the last few years are testament of this. I am getting faster as I am getting older.

The stop watch does not lie!

If we want an athlete to perform well, without limiting aches, pains and fatigue, or risk of dropping dead, beyond thirty years of age, then we need to have a whole new set of rules in place beginning with:
  • First do not injure or hurt (including DOMS).
  • Balance exertion with rest and recovery.
  • Allow time for a young athlete to mature physically and emotionally before subjecting them to extremes of training and competition.
  • Do not inject, cut or medicate an injury unless absolutely necessary.  "Body - Heal Thyself".
  • Ensure a nutrient rich diet, including targeted supplementation (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis).
  • Stretch daily
  • Massage, massage and even more massage!
It is an interesting observation of sports teams, such as at the Commonwealth Games that the most in demand service is massage. Every athlete wants a daily massage. Its an almost instinctive urge.  So much is massage in demand, that the physios and even the team doctors may have to help out. I would never go with a team as a massage therapist because I would never get to see anything day or night other than the inside of a bland treatment room. Talk about a "Bus Driver's holiday!" Massage, when done well, really does work, Not only does massage relax and soothe, it improves athletic performance. Especially when combined with targeted nutrition.

Massage and nutrition work by countering and even reversing many of the negative effects of vigorous activity combined with getting older. Every active person will benefit from a weekly deep tissue massage and a scientifically formulated nutrition plan.

Slowing down and seizing up is not entirely due to the process of "Ageing". Nutritional imbalances and the scarring of muscles are not "Ageing". If you opt to leave it all up to Mother Nature, be resigned to the inevitability that you will be old before your time.

About this website
The advice in these articles is given freely without promise or obligation.  Its all about giving you and your family the tools and information to take control of your health and fitness.  Please give me your support by subscribing to my free email updates. Please shop at my Online Store. Please encourage your family and friends to do the same. While we may not always be able to compete with the big operators on price, we aim to more than compensate through personal service!

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz
Do you have a question?  Email Gary: Include any relevant background information to your question.  Please be patient and be aware that I may not be able to answer every inquiry in detail, depending on workloads (My paying clients take precedence!). I will either reply by email or, most likely, by way of an article (Personal identifying details will be removed before publication).


Doug Baumber said...


Excellent article and totally agree. I abused my body when young pushing it to the limit.Thought I was invincible. At age 38 could still kick butt and would pace the Aussie road team in sprint training and beat them the first 5-6 sprints. At age 42 riddled with arthritis and with a 54 inch waist. By supplementation a change in diet I fixed my arthritis and now at 54 I do not compete but get lots of pleasure from being able to keep myself in top form,ride 150 k effortlessly, have abs,and actually look considerably younger than I did at 35 pushing my body hard with no supplementation and following an AIS type diet.low nutrition lots of carbs.

Phillip Gary Smith said...

Thanks, Gary, for these insights.
I twittered and Linked-in the article, too.
This is truly helpful stuff, period.
I am fortunate to have discovered your materials now;
I'm glad no further years escaped without them.

I was happy to meet and talk with your sister, Lorraine, when she attended the Ron Daws 25 km in Hopkins, Minnesota (a Minneapolis suburb) for its 30th year three years ago. I generally write the article for the Minnesota Distance Racing Aassociation and Snowshoe Magazine regarding the event. Prior to me, no one covered it. My view is, I don't understand how one can't.

Phillip Gary Smith
HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life

KingArthurUSA said...

A great article. Rest in between training is important but is often overlooked. Train smart not hard if you want longevity. Unfortunately coaches and managers want short term success from their athletes. It is not surprising that a sportsman can be 'burnt out before they have reached maturity both mentally and physically

Rod McGregor Mann said...

Hmm, don't know how I missed this one. Duncan "Tartan Flash" was my grandfather and the only tip he let on was "never eat anything that comes out of a frying pan!" And as far as I know, he never did. His daughter, Ailsa (my Mum) has just turned 85 and walks at least 6-8kms every morning and is showing no signs of slowing up; and she has a fried breakfast every day! Oh well.

Gary Moller said...

Rod, thanks so much for commenting!

I was hosted by Dr Atle Worhm during the World Masters Athletics Champs in Gothenberg, Sweden, 1977.

When Duncan sprinted the 100m, the entire stadium came to a standill. It was an amazing experience.

A few months later I went to an international athletics meet at Crystal Palace, London. NZ athletes were starring. Would you believe it, Duncan was an usher!

How's that for a guy in his 90's.

I hoped to catch up with him again in Christchurch where he was to be one of the star attractions. Sadly he passed away just before those games.

I have a couple of photos I took of Duncan with Dr Worhm going over his cardiac test in which he got a clean bill of health. I must find them, scan them and place them online for you and others.

You must be very proud of him!