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Should you stretch or massage a muscle strain?

FEB 1, 2023

Minute 1: Can you shock your way to strength?

Crafting and executing the perfect training regime can be like catching lightning in a bottle. It involves research, luck and maybe even a little bit of danger. Thanks to new technological advances, electrical charges are more than just metaphors to modern athletes. Electrical muscle stimulation, or EMS, can turbocharge gains when you are actively working out in a gym or even when you are barely moving. The technique involves wearing specialized electrical stimulus points that fire your muscles. The WSJ just ran a piece examining how the technique has moved past rehab applications to workouts: “Would You Zap Yourself With Electricity to Get Into Shape?” Proponents of EMS claim that one 20-minute session offers the same benefits as two and half hours of conventional strength training. Are there any downsides? Well, regulators warn the equipment has the potential to cause burns or muscular damage, so it’s certainly not a flawless method. In supervised settings like rehab centers or alongside a personal trainer, users have been impressed with the results. Some recommend using them at the lowest setting that still causes muscle contraction to reduce any risk of injury, and you can read about that and other tips in “Is Electrical Muscle Stimulation Really the Magical Workout It's Hyped Up to Be?” It’s also worth noting that if you have a pacemaker or are pregnant, you should probably steer clear of these devices until further testing by regulatory bodies.

Minute 2: What kind of recovery method suits your condition?

When our energy levels wane late in the afternoon, we often find ourselves waffling between a sweet or a salty snack. That decision seems like a key part of hitting an editorial deadline, but probably not as critical as the age-old choice between heat or ice following an injury. Or the more recent debate over when to stretch vs. massage a muscle tweak. Thanks in part to new generations of vibrating foam rollers, that decision can be complicated. You may find some answers in this new story: “If You Have an Achy Muscle, Is It Better To Massage It or Stretch It?” One of the best indicators of the method you should use is whether the soreness is widespread, or localized to specific areas. General soreness is best treated with stretching, says chiropractor Dr. Jeffrey Klein. Trigger point soreness, on the other hand, is typically addressed with massage or foam rolling. For more guidelines on stretching tweaked muscles, check out: “Dos and Don’ts When Stretching after an Injury.” Key takeaway according to the article: Don’t stretch until inflammation has subsided. In Minute 2 of this issue, we covered a bunch of stretches that can be done mostly equipment free, but if you want to take things up a notch, you can look into “The Best Stretching Equipment to Boost Your Flexibility in 2023.” Straps and yoga blocks can help you get into otherwise tricky positions to address a broad range of muscle groups. As for self massage, consider picking up one of the “10 Best Self-Massage Tools for Athletes (to Crank Up Recovery and Boost Performance).”

Minute 3: An avocado a day can improve your health

Sales of avocados have quadrupled since 2000, and that’s not just because they pair well with a Casamigos margarita. They have become a respected superfood because of their high nutritional value, great taste, and flexibility with most kinds of diets. They are one of the few members of the fruit family that are high in healthy unsaturated fats. If you’re curious to learn more, check out: “What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Avocado Every Day.” To start off, avocados deliver gut health benefits thanks to their high fiber content which fuels the good bacteria of your microbiome. Their combination of fiber and monounsaturated fats are also useful for managing weight, since they provide a feeling of satiation and long-lasting energy. They also reduce your risk for heart disease due to a combination of nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin E. Speaking of, you should take a look at these “3 Unique Health Benefits of Vitamin E.” The antioxidative effects of vitamin E come from its ability to fight off free radicals, which are associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disease, cataracts and cancer. Additionally, one study found that supplementing vitamin E had a positive effect on blood pressure, causing a 24% lower risk of death by a cardiac event. Vitamin E is fat-soluble, meaning our bodies can store it for long periods of time. That’s why you should aim for about 15 mg a day, since excess amounts can result in a number of side effects like fatigue, headaches, nausea, and more.

Minute 4: What to expect from a gap in your training

Heading into a frigid week across much of the U.S., we secretly think it may be a good time to fake an injury. We say that with all due respect to folks training for a spring race who experience an actual injury. Nothing worse than losing valuable training time during an important training block. According to a new story, taking time off to nurse a minor injury is no reason to panic. With the right approach, you can get you back on track with minimal setbacks, according to: “How Much Will a Gap in Training Hurt Your Race?” The first thing to note is that among marathon runners, a layoff of about 7 days is fairly common. More than half of runners fell into this category according to one data set from Strava. What was the impact? Runners who missed 7 to 13 days of training saw a 4.25% decrease in race performance. Runners with a 2-week gap faced a 6% reduction. That’s not ideal, but far from a deal breaker when it comes to your goal of completing the race. If you’re facing an injury, it could be in your best interest to take 3 days off and see how things improve. The data shows it should have a minimal impact on your performance, and that’s often enough time for minor injuries to subside. Any interruption in training can throw off your momentum, and the truth is, healthy habits take a long time to form and a lot of effort to maintain. If you’re struggling to maintain consistency in your routine, you should learn “How to Form Healthy Habits Using the ‘66 Day Rule’.”

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • As we saw in Minute 1 of this issue, pregnancy (obviously) does not mark the end of a runner’s career. In fact, many athletes go on to run their fastest times ever after having a child. A huge shout-out to the Boston Athletic Association for a new policy that further supports moms who run. Starting this year, pregnant runners can defer their qualification for the Boston Marathon to another year: “BAA: Pregnant runners qualified for Boston Marathon, other races can now defer participation.”

  • A jogger from San Francisco was on his usual outing to a jetty when he heard a strange noise coming from the rocks. Brian Glover heard a bark, but didn’t see any dogs around. He pressed on, then hesitated, and decided to double back for a closer look. That’s when he discovered Gwen, the one-year-old springer spaniel who was trapped between some rocks. That was a small miracle, as the tides were rising. Brian managed to free Gwen with the help of animal control just in time. Read about this heartwarming story in: “A dog was trapped in rocks at S.F.’s Ocean Beach at low tide. Then a jogger heard a muffled bark.”

  • Melatonin is well researched and commonly used, meaning most people see little risk in supplementing it. Well, some researchers are casting doubt on that assessment, especially in the case of long term usage or high doses. If you want to learn what might constitute unhealthy use, check out “Research Calls The Safety Of Melatonin Into Question (Especially When Taken Nightly).”

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

If you face a serious and unexpected setback mid-race, there’s a natural temptation to ease up or give up. After all, your goal is toast, a PR is out of the question and maybe it makes sense to preserve resources for another day’s race. Well don’t tell that to the University of Michigan women’s 4x400 team. In a video that’s gone viral, you can watch as Sophie Isom tripped on the first leg of the race, sending her baton and her body bouncing on the track. This Wolverine made like a honey badger, however, and jumped back into the race despite trailing the arch rival OSU women by a large margin. From there, the momentum carried over to her teammates who defied the odds and entered the last leg in first place where they were able to secure a somewhat miraculous victory. Check out all the craziness which starts at 1:40 in the video clip below.


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