You go to the gym regularly, log those miles on the treadmill, hoist those weights, workout at least 3 times a week just like everyone tells you to, so why aren’t you feeling good? Why do things hurt?
Take a good hard look at the rest of your day, the time when you’re not exercising. What are your movement patterns like? What are the movements you do most repetitively, and are you doing them right? Because some of those repetitive movements could be hurting you.
Sitting: How many hours do you sit in a day? How often do you get up and move or stretch to counteract all of that time spent in the same posture? What is your posture like when you are sitting? Are you sitting upright with your shoulders back and down, your stomach drawn in and your glute muscles squeezing? Or are you slumped over a computer or phone that is causing those hips and shoulders to tighten up? Tightness in the hips and middle back can cause low back pain, among other problems. A 2015 CNN article (“Sitting Will Kill You, Even If You Exercise” April, 2015) says you should stand and move around 1-3 minutes for every half hour of sitting. Get a standing desk, take a walk down the hall to get a glass of water, or run up and down some stairs every half hour. Lay on a tennis ball an inch away from your belly button on each side and then kneel and put your other foot up on a wall and rock forward while squeezing your glutes on the kneeling side to loosen up those hip flexors. For those tight shoulders, sit tall with your elbows behind your head and twist as far as you can left and right without tilting your chin a few times in each direction, then bring the shoulders back and down, squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for a second or two. Ten reps of those two or three times a day will help a lot.
Standing? Do you stand for long periods as part of your job? What is your posture like? Are you a dental hygienist or hairdresser who spends hours bent over with your shoulders slumped forward and your back rounding? Or are you arching your back and tilting your hips forward? Take a few breaks throughout the day to walk forward, backward and sideways, do those shoulder squeezes and hip stretches I mentioned and squeeze your glutes ten times as hard as you can and hold for a few seconds.
Smartphone usage: Bad phone posture often results in neck, shoulder and hand pain. Frequent texting can give you tendinitis in your thumbs. Try to hold the phone so your thumbs and wrists come in from the side at a 45-degree angle to decrease joint irritation. Holding the phone by your ear or keeping your arm bent while you use the phone can damage the nerves in the elbow or wrist by compressing them for too long. A simple solution: switch to earbuds and keep moving the phone to different angles during use.
Walking or running is great exercise but can cause some chronic issues if your posture and gait are compromised. Again, take a look at your posture: Are your shoulders rotated forward, causing your head to drop and your shoulders and back to round? You need to do the scapular squeezes I outlined above. Where is your foot striking the ground? Do you strike first with your heel? Are you driving through the mid-foot up and up through the toes or are you using the outside of your foot more, pushing off without using the big toe? Some simple big toe and ankle mobility drills before and after running can help a lot. Faulty movement patterns repeated time and time again, run after run, eventually cause some muscles to be tight and weak. Runners need mobility through the ankles, hips and shoulders to have an optimum running gait, as well as stability in the core muscles.
Sleeping: sleeping on your side or back is considered the best position for most people. If you are waking up with leg cramps or low back pain you will want to take a look at your sleeping position and make sure it is the best one for you.
If you have chronic tightness or pain in certain areas of your body, take a good hard look at how you move (or your lack of movement) throughout the day and night, and then take the steps to change. Find a good massage therapist who can help loosen up those tight muscles and give you feedback on what areas are tight so you can do the detective work to figure out why this is happening. Your health is your most precious asset, and some minor changes in your daily movement patterns can keep you feeling good and moving well in the years to come!