Releasing 'tight' Muscles - and the Real Reason to Care

The funny thing about research - you might actually find what you are looking for. There is this machine that I've been trying to find - and the question has been from the beginning, "why, is it here?" and "how is it being used?" Then I met a coach who has been helping sprinters with training. He introduced me to the Charlie Francis Training System.

MUSCLE TIGHTNESS IS NOT NORMAL

It is not normal or desirable to have sore and tight muscles, especially 'hamstrings' 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I am not talking about bodybuilding, cross-fit, training to have an instagram rear end, power lifting or anything other 'sport' specific training. He was speaking about speed training - as in sprinting and literally kicking out across the finish line often, Charlie Francis was the Canadian National Sprint Coach with 9 Gold Medal Olympians under his care and feeding. If sprinters can’t walk from tightness and soreness of the hamstrings, or if you are always feeling post-workout soreness, he assumed that…. the speed and training workouts suffered. In the worst case you could get injured, for the simple reasons that tight muscles have to work harder, and don't have the full Range of Motion available.

In other ways this shows up in the impact to other muscle groups - that get tight to 'protect' the overuse or unavailable space in your Hamstrings (or Hip Flexors, lower back, etc). Although Charlie was specifically interested in the Hamstrings, ALL muscles should be naturally able to reach their full Range of Motion - this is called flexibility, pliability, elasticity. It means that no one muscle need pick-up the slack for the under performing and abnormal tightness. Here I will focus on the Lateral Leg Anatomy chain and the Spiral Anatomy chain, because when I'm working on people who run fast, and a lot, there needs to be balance between Hamstring, Quadriceps, Adductors, Glutes and Hip Flexors.

"Speed training is different than anything else, when it comes to sports training," and it’ has unique way to progress to ultimately gain speed consistently," or continue progressive improvements over the long term training plan. So Charlie Francis maintained in his coaching program - but he was also careful to do regular assessments of his athletes in between workouts, and used Manual Therapy or Massage as part of their recovery process.

 Sure almost anyone can get faster, or stronger, by making simple routine improvements in the warm up as an example, but to max out consistently operate at max speed, top weight, top distance/time, athletes need to call upon 'more muscle performance,' on a regular basis. Athletes, and by extension Massage Therapists (or Regeneration Specialists!), will need to pay attention to each variable below in order to perform optimally over the long term. These often get overlooked in sports.

Muscle tightness and soreness can be managed, and these 'factors' need to be managed to be fast, strong and limber and/or flexible. Some people refer to this as 'elasticity,' or the ability for muscles to return to normal and neutral Range of Motion with the MOST amount of flexibility and pliability possible. To get faster, stay fast and become faster these characteristics need to be available at every workout. This applies to strength and endurance muscles as well - they just have a different composition (we'll talk about that next blow)!

Some soreness of the hamstrings will be natural when doing speed work or high volumes (increasing volumes may also create Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - DOMS) of work. Whether it is predominately speed work or the strength development to help develop speed - is important, but not the only thing. Chronic tightness will never end well at ANY AGE. I deal with younger athletes who believe that tightness is a thing related to age - yes, maybe - because the recovery time takes longer after say 40-ish, but anyone can be overly tight. Pay Attention to what your body is telling you.

When you have a balanced training program, the muscle loading and recovery needs to become faster. This means you will need to learn to manage soreness and tightness proactively. This will help athletes manage the speed at which they 'feel full recovery.' This will be key to helping with injury prevention. Coaches, soft-tissue experts (read therapeutic massage), and athletes need to learn the factors effecting hamstring health - for sprinters, Quadriceps for Cyclists, Hip Flexors and lower back for power lifters. When these factors are addressed they create an ideal environment for training. 

FACTORS TO BE ADDRESSED TO PREVENT TIGHTNESS.

All the factors discussed her are part of Charlie Francis' training structure - I'm just modifying the impact of his recovery program that it can be leveraged and use what he recommends for planning and supporting methodical work outs for ANY Type ofTraining that include:

If you wish to be competitive, have a plan to improve your muscle development and it will be your job to know which methods of training and recovery you respond to best. Repeating successful methods will be the most efficient way to make the most of your annual training-recovery-regeneration plan. 

  • Think about running more reps at any speed, and this will bring success to becoming a higher performing athlete.

  • Monitor quality and rest intervals of training for key performance.

  • Successful methods of training might create muscle tightness and soreness but managing active regeneration will be key to continuing workouts without injury.

  • Diverging from what might be written down for training in response to how individual sessions play out will help you keep your body healthy and prevent injury.

1- The Annual Plan:

To create one of the best workouts on the planet, look at people like the athletes coached by Charlie who eventually broke the world record and won the gold medal at the Olympics in a record breaking time.

Note: Annual plans need to be customized for individuals. Beginners will have a more generalized plan, and the increased for 'non-competition' increases needs to be no more than 10-15% to prepare all athletes in sport. 

2-Continual Improvement of Personal Nutrition: 

Eating well has never been as important for athletes due to increased processed foods devoid of nutrients. Environmental stress depletes our food chain due to damaged soil and pollution.  Athletes proactively managing their diets will be rewarded with more consistent training gains and improved recovery so adding work becomes seamless. Muscle recovery requires protein - because this is the building blocks of muscle tissue. As muscles work, the proper nutritional base needs to be available.

3-Practicing Rest and Active Recovery:

Learning to be good at doing nothing, not 'resting' with no activity was how I first observed the essence Active Recovery. In Charlie's philosophy regarding rest and recovery, the trick is to add varied methods of 'active rest and recovery,' including soft-tissue treatments into your training cycle. You need to place the 'post' workout activity the same way you routinely practice other training variables. The rewards are more effective training, injury prevention - any as you will experience once you are prepared to put in the time and work.

4- Massages Don’t Have to Be 1 Hour:

One of the most innovative aspects behind Charlie Francis’s training methods was born out of the idea of his own experience, when he had to quit sport prematurely because he was suffering constant hamstring injuries due to tightness and soreness Finding ways to keep muscles loose with short and consistently preformed massages, as well as Regeneration Assessments - between workouts (most Neuromuscular Therapists can do this) is key. Any therapists with orthopedic or neuromuscular training has received the same training at Physical Therapists and Orthopedic Therapists - we just don't have a medical degree. We also don't create THAT much pain. We are interested in working under the level of the Parasympathetic Nervous System - where muscle tension develops.

Simple Things First and Consistently

Tight muscles means circulation of blood flow has been compromised, and that muscle by-products like glycogen and lactic acid are being replaced by the healthy proteins and minerals (Na, K) needed for rebuilding muscle efficiently. Creating circulation can happen manually with massage or contrast baths or perform low intensity exercises - or a sequence of all of these. Promoting blood flow, teaching muscles to stop working after workouts, will reduce tension. Continued tightness restricts motion and prevents routine high performance within daily workouts.

A Diary:

Log raining habits to record patterns that will impact training goals. Identify when 'pain, tenderness and soreness' show up - including when (post-workout, before bed, in the morning on getting out of bed, etc) and where. It helps to identify which muscles are reacting first.

Water Consumption:

Fatigue can be one of the first signs of dehydration. Muscles that aren't properly hydrated become less flexible - as the circulation decrease inhibits the protein, sodium and water are not available when the muscles need to 'rebuild.' It’s easy to be lazy about drinking water but it is not a difficult thing to make sure you are drinking enough water before, during and after training. Include this as part of your daily routine.

Make a List of Your Routine Self-Care (Regenerative) Habits:

As you begin to understand what helps you recovery 'faster,' and how to encourage muscles to relax after work or workouts, create a list, and then check them off or list them in your diary once you have completed each action.

Stretching: 

This should be in capital letters - but let's just say that stretching before and after intense workouts, and regularly as part of your Annual Plan will do as much to propel your workout to the next level as anything else. Counteracting the movements and activities in your workout may look like - Hip Flexors stretches, Glute work with a trigger point ball after hill workouts. There are any number of stretching activities - what you should be doing is anything that 'doesn't activate' the Myostatic Stretch reflex, which is the protective tightening of the muscles.

Stay Off Your Feet: 

Part of managing fatigue and energy as an athlete is building in a routine where you are not always on your feet or active. Find ways to get things done while resting at the same time and prioritize all things that effect your performance.

Are You an Sleeping?  

Sleep is the best and most natural way to heal and keep your body recovered. Muscle recovery and release of workout tension happens in REM sleep - there are different levels of sleep, but this is the deepest and is actually where 'subconscious' release and local twitch responses let go of tension acquired during the day.

Also learn about eating foods to regulate and optimize your hormones, and reduce blue lights from electronics and phones before bed, and understand how blood sugar management (think adrenal impact and cortisol impact) is one of the most important ways in the prevention of food cravings as well as eliminating energy drain which deprives consistent training goals achievement.

Low-Key Active Workouts

Low Intensity workouts to alleviate, treat and prevent constant muscle tightness and soreness from HIT training ( low intensity is performing work at 75 percent or less your maximum effort or speed, and body weight only)

Bike/Row Tempo:

You don’t need to have resistance on the bike and/or rowing machine to get the blood flowing. Creating tension on the bike or rowing maching (ergometer) may have adverse effects to promoting needed circulation to tight muscles. 

Grass Tempo:

Performing recovery runs or tempo at 70 to 75% your max effort on grass in flats will promote cardio vascular fitness and provide a flush of your tight muscles. Finish the last runs at the same speed you began. 

Water Tempo: 

Using an interval of 45 seconds of running in deep end preferably with floatation belt. Start with 1 set of 10 reps of 45 seconds with 15 seconds of rest and build up to 2 sets of 45 seconds over time. Aquatherapy is an excellent way to remove muscle compensation and balance and develop muscles that have weakened over time. Balance is key to increase overall muscle strength.

Alternating high intensity training with low or very low intensity: 

Elite sprinters are able to handle 2 or 3 high intensity speed sessions per week, (HI is defined as 95% - 100 percent of your best time), this is less than 10% of the population. Most other fitness athletes and sprinters, need to focus on 1-2. Beginners or people building up should start at 1x week, and then increase length of HI workouts quarterly to be able to meet this 1-2x week by end of the Annual Training calendar.

To optimize speed work allow alternation of high and low intensity work, (low intensity work defined as 75 % of best time or slower). The muscles that are the 'prime mover' - like hamstrings - as well as the central nervous system need 48 to 72 hours recovery in order to repeat speed work. This time is the best application of low intensity or cross-training efforts.

Stuff - Before You Start

Wear Layers: 

Make a habit of wearing layers to begin training especially keeping your muscles warm - especially those impacted by outdoor weather (wind, rain). Hamstring and glutes need to be warm before starting intense workouts. Extra layers can be taken off once training begins.

Wrap With Heat and Plastic Wrap: 

Apply heat and or anti inflammatory creams depending on severity of tightness and soreness. Wrap with plastic food wrap and tensor bandages (compression garments AFTER workout only) and covered by tights loose fitting sweat pants to bed). Do not wear anything that restricts circulation for more than a couple of hours (especially NOT to bed) Repeat in the morning for training sessions. We used to do this routinely for hamstrings, glutes, calves and low back.

Use of organic 'icy-hot' therapeutic lotions can be used to topically induce the vasoconstriction and vasodilation.

Epson Salt Baths Are Awesome: 

After training Epson can minimize the increase of salt levels in the epidermis and top layers of muscles. This will increase the circulation of water into the areas where lactic acid develops after workouts - the idea is to replace the nutrients and water with the lactic acid in your muscles. Keep baths away from competition prep.

Use Water To Bounce Back: 

Swim in it, drink it, and use it to heat you up in a bath or cool you down to contrast showers and baths. Water can promotes circulation by submerging yourself in it, exercising in or drinking it because it accelerates the removal of waste products in your system.

Actively keeping your muscle healthy and loose, and this will save you a great deal of time and heart ache due to injury and discomfort from overuse. It will allow you to train successfully and consistently. Your hamstrings, quads, glutes are the largest muscles in your body and when you have a problem your legs it will creates other issues that ultimately prevent you from sprinting your best.

Bottom Line: Plan Your Recovery like you Plan Your Workouts.