Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guest Blog Post: Relax, reduce injuries and boost performance

Today I bring you a guest blog post from Alexandra Merisoiu.  Alexandra, The Body Engineer, is the Founder of The Merisoiu Technique - Institute Of Health And Human Movement and Dracula’s Retreat. She is also a qualified Low Back Pain Management and Prevention Exercise and REPS registered instructor.

A distance runner herself since 2007, Alexandra specializes in working with runners, beginners and advanced, who want to run faster, further, with less effort and fewer injuries. This is done through natural movement fitness and running technique and mechanics.

Since 1995 she has explored how the body and mind works. She has done this through using many different sporting techniques and working with a wide variety of highly respected coaches. She is a  3rd Dan Black Belt in Karate Shotokan, WMO Martial Arts British National Champion, has been ranked 1st in the WMO BRITISH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, 2nd and 3rd at WORLD KARATE CHAMPIONSHIP, 2 times NATIONAL KARATE CHAMPION, WORLD CUP CHAMPION. She still competes at an international level. Her Martial Arts, Pose Method and natural running practice inspires and shapes the running style she teaches.

Injury is the natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force – Tai Chi Philosophy

Being a lifelong practitioner of Martial Arts, particularly Shotokan Karate, as well as a runner this phrase always makes me wonder why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we use strength? Why do we push, pull and use force in almost everything we do?

This is generally how we move, run, walk, lift and use our bodies daily in today’s society: using force and strength.

Think about it:

1) When you lift a grocery bag (heavy or not), do you jerk it up to lift it? Or do you lift it slowly and smoothly positioning yourself into a good squat, lifting with your legs and core muscles? Have you actually thought about that? 

2) When you run up a hill do you force yourself to step as far forward as possible just to get those extra centimeters and get up that hill as soon as possible?

3) When you sprint do you push against the ground to leap forward and take big steps/strides attempting to cover as much distance as possible? Or do you use your body weight and gravity to effortlessly negotiate that steep hill?

4) When you stand from a sitting position is it a smooth transition or a fast, sudden movement?

5) When you walk up a flight of stairs do you push yourself using your back leg? Or do you transfer your body weight onto your front leg and then just lift the back leg rather than pushing off?)

That doesn’t mean you have to monitor all your movements from now on, although you could. What I’m trying to point is the fact that, throughout our daily routines, most of the time, we are tensed, closed up, using power, strength and jerky movements. Yes or no? Leave a comment below.

Internal Martial Arts, such as Tai Chi, focus on strong core in a soft wrapping. Much like a sword – the core strength, wrapped in cotton – the exterior of your body which should be relaxed. Your power doesn’t come from your arms and legs, from pushing and over striding. Your power comes from your core....that’s why it’s called a “core”.

Another metaphor would be hitting a rock with another rock. One of the rocks will break, or chip, if not immediately, it will over time. If you hit the rock with a napkin, the napkin will just smoothly wrap around the rock, it will not break. When you run and hit the ground with a stiff, solid body, I guarantee it’s not the ground that’ll chip and break, it’s your joints and bones!

As runners, repeating the same movement, over and over again, this concept is critical. Why? Because injury happens when brute force – your muscle power, pounding and jerky movements, meets brute force – the ground, which is a solid surface. Doing that hundreds of thousands of times over several years, if you are a regular runner, is a great recipe for structural injury.

Furthermore, when you pound against the ground with force the ground will respond with an equal and opposite (as in direction) reaction - force. Newton’s 3rd law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The reverse is also true. Relax your body, allow it to absorb the impact through your body’s natural suspensions (muscles, joints, ligaments), meet the ground with softness and the ground will respond with an equal reaction.

Thus by using tension and muscle power:

- You meet the solid ground with a solid body – injury

- The solid ground will respond with an equal and opposite reaction to your action; the questions is “what type of action will YOU send out?”

- You muscles will burn out sooner – not achieving your speed or distance goals

- Muscles are tensed and will not allow Oxygen to seep through and feed your muscles with new energy. Danny Dreyer (Chi Running) compares this with pouring syrup over pancakes vs a bagel. In the first case the syrup easily seeps through the spongy pancakes. In the second case it’s more difficult as the density of the bagel is higher and less permeable. When your body is tensed you are a bagel, when it’s relaxed you are spongy like pancakes, and the syrup (oxygen) can reach the deep fibres of your muscles.

- You restrict your breathing. It is very common to curl forward and close up our chest, especially when running uphill. We somehow think that will get us up that hill easier. It’s quite the contrary. You close up your chest, your lungs, you tense the muscles around your chest, you restrict your breathing and oxygen intake, then things just get more and more difficult, don’t they?

- You will slow down. Tension will slow you down.

When you relax:

- You meet the solid ground with a soft body, using your natural suspensions to absorb the impact – reduce risk of injuries

- The ground will respond with the same level of reduced tension. 

- It will take longer for your muscles to fatigue because...
....you allow the oxygen to reach the muscles fibres

- You can keep your posture and body alignment and so you can breathe correctly and ensure a good supply of oxygen, which is the food for your muscles. Nutrition as well of course, but without oxygen you won’t get anywhere.

- You will speed up

- You will be able to keep your pace for longer)

If you practiced martial arts and you were taught how to fall, you know that you never break your fall by placing your leg under the body, or landing on your hand or elbow. Do that on hard surface and you break your leg, wrist or elbow. Instead you allow your body to relax and curl into a ball, smoothly rolling around without pain, even on solid pavement. Once you understand the movement, you can roll painlessly on any surface, that’s the point of educated falling after all.  

As with a martial arts roll practice is key. Practice relaxation throughout your daily activities and throughout your training and, in time, you will get better and better at it.

Thus, if you want to reduce the risk of injuries, speed up and run for longer, first you need to learn to relax. Both Chi Running and Pose Method have this in common. So does any form of Martial Art, although the principle of relaxation is not being taught everywhere and by every instructor.

When you relax, your structure, with all its elements, can do its job better because there is less restriction. I’m not saying you will never get tired, but it will take longer to get tired.

Once I understood this concept, my running (and my Martial Arts) performance changed, for the better. I can now run up steep hills while relaxing my legs. Whenever running gets difficult, I look at my posture and start to reduce tension in the muscles, starting with my shoulders. Then I go back to a more relaxed running and make it up the hill easier.

I’m putting together a running technique course, based on Pose Method and Chi Running elements, with drills what’ll help you get a better understanding and practice of relaxation, among other running drills and elements, to improve your performance and reduce injuries. Just email support@themtechnique.com and I will send you the link.

The ideas that Alexandra shares in her blog post are expressed by many of the top run coaches across the world.  The idea of letting your legs act like shock absorbers can make a huge difference in your running.  Please take a second to follow Alexandra on social media and at her website if you get a chance.   

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