By Andrew Heffernan |
Now that summer has come to an end, and three carefree months on our bikes, at the lake and on the trails are in the rearview mirror, many of us are experiencing a bit of a fitness hangover. It’s a culmination of the little aches and pains (not to mention mild fatigue) that come after drinking up plenty of fun in the sun.
Which is why, now that we’re back to our regular routines at work, home and school, taking some time off from exercise sounds pretty tempting.
Complete rest is an option, of course, and really listening to your body is always wise. In many cases, though, your system will likely recover more quickly, and you’ll come back even stronger, if you spend some of your downtime on what is commonly referred to as “recovery workouts.”
The term might sound like an oxymoron, but when you’re stiff, sore or injured, explains Brian Bradley, vice president of Egoscue in San Diego, your body naturally compensates to avoid pain. The problem is that those postural adjustments often cause problems away from the original stress or injury. For example, he says, “if you injure your Achilles’ tendon, you start to compensate in the ankle and hip on the same side and the shoulder on the opposite side.”
Smart recovery workouts minimize these compensations by improving stability, opening up stiff areas, and improving head-to-toe posture and alignment, a process that helps avoid compounding minor injuries and hiccups in the healing process.
Recovery workouts, done correctly, can also safeguard against new injuries. Sports-related discomfort often results when your joints are subtly misaligned due to habit, past injuries, and hours spent sitting in front of computers and televisions. The harder and more frequently you stress these poorly aligned joints, the more achy and out-of-whack they become. So even if you’re pain-free, improving your posture and alignment will sharpen your form and help avoid needless stresses to the body, regardless of your athletic endeavors or leisure-time activities.
The following recovery workout uses exercises drawn from the Egoscue Method — a system of corrective movements designed to address common misalignments, improve posture and relieve chronic pain. It doesn’t take long to execute (20 minutes at most), but you’ll sit, stand and move more comfortably when you’re done. “Getting your head and your feet in the right position helps the joints in the middle do their jobs better so the whole body functions as a well-oiled, efficient machine,” Bradley says.
Do the moves for a month, once a day if possible, and you will likely start to notice substantial changes in other areas as well. In addition to having better posture, students who have participated in the Egoscue program long term report improvements in sleep habits, digestion and immune function.
The workout below doesn’t require equipment and probably won’t even make you sweat, so it’s perfect after a period of intense exercise, on an off day or anytime you need a break from extra-rigorous movement. In the gym, you can use the moves as a warm-up or a cooldown, or as filler exercises between sets of more challenging exercises. It’s almost impossible to overdo it on these moves, so feel free to do some of them whenever the impulse strikes. Perform the exercises in a slow and focused manner. At most, you should feel a gentle, pleasant stretch, never an intense pulling or straining.
1. Standing Elbow Curls
- Reverse the movement, spreading your elbows wide again, and touching the wall if you can. That’s one rep.
Keep your elbows at shoulder height throughout; don’t let them drop toward the floor.
Teaches proper alignment of ankles, hips and spine while the upper back flexes and extends; mobilizes upper spine.
2. Sitting Cats and Dogs
- Slowly roll the tops of your hips forward, arching your lower back and allowing your head to tip backward so you can look at the ceiling. That’s one rep.
Draw your shoulders downward, away from your ears, while you perform the movement, and focus on the movement in the hip joints.
Teaches proper forward- and backward-bending mechanics throughout the entire spine and pelvis.
Hold dropped position at least three minutes.Keep your weight back over your heels for the entire three minutes. When you do this move correctly, you’ll feel like you’re going to fall backward unless you hold on to something for support. Make sure to wear shoes with traction.Encourages proper “stacking” of the largest joints in the body: ankles, knees, hips, spine and neck, while stretching and extending the calf muscles.One minute on each side.Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed on the floor, and don’t allow your hips to shift toward either side when performing the movement. If your sacrum comes up off the floor during the stretch, slide away from the wall slightly.Improves stability in the hips. One minute on each side. Keep the knee of your resting foot vertical throughout the exercise.Improves your ability to rotate through the hips and spine while keeping your shoulder blades engaged.
10 Once you have mastered the movement, inhale as you move into the arched-back position (dog, or sometimes called “cow pose” in yoga), and exhale as you move into the rounded-back position (cat). Encourages freedom of movement in the spine while your hips and shoulders are working.Watch the video from Egoscue for visual instruction.