Login | March 18, 2019

Balance matters

Pete’s World

Published: March 5, 2018

Last week I discussed the incorporation of weight-bearing activities into one’s fitness regime to help prevent the malady of osteoporosis. In today’s column I’d like to hash over an affliction of similar ilk, though it definitely doesn’t rank up there with a disease as pernicious as osteoporosis.

Nonetheless, this is an affliction that can have consequences for the fitness buff and the competitive athlete alike. And unfortunately, this is a condition I came to know all too well…because of my inattentiveness and laziness. I’m talking about muscular imbalances.

Sounds pretty nondescript doesn’t it? But let me tell you, it’s been the bane of my existence for years. Now before I chronicle my experiences, I’d like to briefly define just what it is we’re talking about. And to do that I’ll begin with a non-scientific definition of the term. Muscular balance is the normal amounts of opposing forces between muscles that’s necessary to keep bones centered in joints during movement.

Obviously then, a muscular imbalance would be abnormal amounts of opposing forces between muscles that do not keep bones centered in joints during movement. And these deviant forces could be the result of tightnesses and/or weaknesses. For instance, if certain muscles in a joint are too tight and/or too strong, then that joint would tend to move in the direction of the tighter/stronger muscles. Only figures then that movement would be limited in the opposite direction - which is precisely because the joint chooses the path of least resistance.

But it’s more than just that. As a consequence of those tighter/stronger muscles, the opposing muscles tend to get looser and weaker. Over time the stronger muscles will pull that area of the body out of its optimum position and the whole body ends up making adjustments to compensate. Well, that’s just the mess I found myself in.

But I wasn’t always that mess. Actually, during the many years of racing and training I was absolutely zealous with respect to being balanced. And by balanced I’m talking about a program that incorporated not just the cardiovascular component, but also the proper mix of sports specific resistance exercises to address strength imbalances, and the sport specific stretches to address any potential muscular tightnesses and laxities.

Now honestly, I wasn’t doing all that extra stuff with general health and well being in mind. Quite the contrary, I was doing it because I believed (and still do) that balance is the proper way to achieve endurance sports success.

Unfortunately, that philosophy changed the day I stepped away from competition…and suddenly I didn’t have the time for all that extraneous stuff. I enjoyed many years of carefree transcontinental cycling adventures, but doing nothing other than thousands of cycling miles began to put my musculoskeletal system in a compromised state.

Gradually, my hamstring flexibility waned as my gluteal and quadriceps muscles got strong as steel, my hips began to get tight and achy, my posture changed to a head forward, flat backed position, and my lumbar region began displaying unusual burning sensations that went form intermittent to chronic.

And despite having an inkling as to what was happening, I continued to ignore the obvious as I criss-crossed the country. Finally got to such a poor state that I raised the surrender flag. A sports PT eventually told me what I’d presumed: those years of cycle-centric living had changed my body - for the worse.

That was in February of 2016. To get my body back to balance state has been slow. I still force myself to walk upright instead of hunched forward. I now stretch and strengthen my poor low back, hamstrings and hip flexors just like I did when I was competing. And more than anything, I’ve had to take time away from those things I like the most to do the things I like the least.

Funny, isn’t it, how my job as a coach is to develop safe and thoughtful training programs for my athletes, yet that’s exactly what I neglected to do when I no longer considered myself an athlete?

So take it form a guy who found out the hard way: Noncompetitive folks like me need balance just as much as serious athletes do. Don’t cut corners, because in the end…it all comes down to balance.