You’re exercising and feeling good. Your body is thrilled at the chance to perform well, the heart is pumping, the muscles are jumping, and the mind is flowing with the body’s movements.
But the next day! Those good feelings are just a fading memory. Your immediate concern is trying to get out of bed. Your whole body seems to have contracted into a tight ball of aches and pains, muscles are stiff and sore, and every movement difficult.
What went wrong? The answer’s simple — you put more strain on your body than it could cope with, and you damaged parts of your body.
Most people get into exercise with the idea of putting a lot of stress on their energy systems, but forget to take into account the strain on the rest of their body.
The strain doesn’t just happen with exercise. Every time you ask your body to perform more work than usual, you will cause damage. The person who gets a two-ton load of wood delivered and decides to move it out of the driveway in one afternoon after work, and then spends a week in bed because the muscles in their back are broken.
Or the person who goes to the coast for a holiday and heads on for a long walk along the beach, and then finds they can’t walk at all the next day as their calf muscles have gone into a painful seizure.
Or the person who decides to help a friend move house, and spends six months visiting the physiotherapist as they have damaged the ligaments supporting the shoulder joint.
Or the person who pulls a muscle in their side just reaching up to get a saucepan from a high shelf in the kitchen.
Let’s face it — life is hard once you get out of your chair and try and actually do something. It takes time for your body to adapt to what we call the strain of living.
The strain is the effect of exercise or work on all the connective tissues of your body. Connective tissue flows from around the cells within the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, and through your entire body right up to the dermis layer of the skin. There are two types of connective fibers each made up of a different protein.
The white collagen fibers are very strong and inelastic, and the and yellow elastin fibers are long, thin, and elastic. This connective tissue has two main functions — to hold your body together and to connect the muscles to the bones to allow movement.
Every time you move your body, there is a strain on this connective tissue. If you are careful with your body and regularly apply a tiny bit more strain than your body is used to, then this connective tissue will get thicker and tougher.
It will only toughen up along the specific line of force applied to the body. This means that if a runner decides to take up power walking, they will have a fit energy system able to keep them moving without fatigue, but they will also have sore shins if they walk too far in their first session, because the mechanics of walking put a different strain on the connective tissues of the lower leg!
Every time you try something different, you must take it easy for five or six sessions to allow your body to adjust to the strains associated with that new activity. No matter how fit your energy systems are, your connective tissue will always need time to adapt.
The body will only adapt to the specific strains placed on it. A squash player who has a game of tennis may have a sore forearm the next day, as the shape of the tennis racket is different from the shape of a squash racket, and puts a different strain on the connective tissues of the forearm!
Or a person who does lots of bench presses in the weights gym will have lots of strength in the anterior deltoid, triceps and pectoral muscles, but they may have sore muscles the next day if they get into a press-up competition. The stresses are similar, but the strain is different.
How do you prevent the fatigue, aches, and pains associated with overdoing the strain of exercise? The answer is simple. If you are doing a new activity or exercise, take it easy for the first couple of sessions.
Your body is a remarkable, adaptable soft machine, but it can’t adapt instantly. Give it time to get the connective tissue stronger.
You need to be involved in lots of different activities to adapt your body to strain. The more variety in the ways you use your body, the more adaptations it will make and the more structurally stronger it will get.
The secret of a structurally strong body is to subject your body to lots of different activities and to change the activities regularly. Add in some “soft” exercises such as slow movements (Tai Chi, Yoga), stretching exercises, or balance and coordination work, and you’ve put together a mixture that will give you a structurally strong and resilient body.
Prevent pain and suffering. Listen to your body, get your energy systems fit, and allow your connective tissue to adapt to the strain of new activities, and you’ll leap out of bed every morning filled with vim and vitality.
Overdo the strain, and your body will break, and you’ll be stiff and sore with residual muscle soreness, or even worse a traumatic injury such as a sprained ligament or tendon or a strained muscle.