Flexible movement

Summer is on its way and for many of us this is a signal for putting on our running shoes, going to the gym or resuming our favourite outdoor sport. Sport is healthy – no doubt about it – but we still have to consider a few “do’s and don’ts”.

“Be wise, think twice”

During the summer season, full of enthusiasm, we rush into our favourite hobby. The winter kilos will and must be dealt with. This is a super attitude, which can only be encouraged, but don’t bite off more than you can chew…


When you have to build yourself up again after the winter season, it is important to bear in mind a few important points:


Quantity: you need to adapt the frequency of your weekly activity to how active you have been during the winter season. Build up gently and listen to your body. Of course, during the first 6 weeks you need to plan for some periods of complete rest between the different sessions in order to avoid an overload. And so, it is not the first day after your activity, but 2 days later that is the most difficult for your muscles. So, planning in 2 rest days after heavy activity is nothing to be ashamed of.


The surface on which you do your activity: Think about the surface on which you are carrying out your activity, whether you go running outside or play basketball or football on concrete it is much more stressful than running on a Finnish soft-jogging track, or carrying out sport on a grass field. At the beginning of your training season just try to keep the physical stress as low as possible, and choose a softer surface.


Intensity: During the beginning of the training season, it is important that you keep to a low intensity and plan for longer training periods. You need to do this in order to get your basic fitness up to scratch. Later on in the season you can choose whether to plan in some interval training or set the intensity at a higher level. Make sure that you cut down on endurance training when you are increasing the intensity.

“Put your best foot forward”

Athletic legs depend on sturdy, healthy joints. Maybe at the outset we should briefly describe just what a joint consists of. A joint can be described as two ends of bone body parts that move against one another. Of course, Mother Nature has ensured that these sections of bone more or less fit into one another and that different structures are present, so that the joint can function properly. Just think of the joint capsule, ligaments, muscles,…


In the places where 2 (or more) bone components contact one another, we have a layer of cartilage positioned over the bone. This cartilage is extremely important for maintaining the joint’s strength and for allowing the bone components to slide smoothly over one another. Also, cartilage takes care of shock absorption and prevents wear between the bone structures.


You can compare the function of cartilage with the function of a sponge. Whenever a sponge is empty, it absorbs liquids. When you wring it out, the liquids leave it again so that it can once again absorb fresh liquids. This is also what the cartilage does. It fills itself up with liquids and expels them again when it is put into compression.

We can develop this through the example of the knee joint, such as , during cycling. At the start of the bike ride, the cartilage will have filled itself with liquid. At particular times while you are pushing on the pedals, the cartilage will be subject to compression so that any waste products will be expelled out of the cartilage. When the pressure reduces again, the cartilage ensures that it absorbs a fresh supply of liquids. This dynamic compression ensures that waste products are expelled and new nutrients are taken up by the cartilage. This is how our cartilage is nourished and remains firm and can cope with the loads.


In fact, we can consider that the cartilage must be “nourished” in order to remain healthy. In this case I am thinking mainly of people with osteoarthritis, where the cartilage has degenerated to a considerable extent. Thus, above all, you should keep your cartilages active and effective in order to maintain strong and healthy joints.


Of course, it is always possible that something can go wrong inside a joint. We often hear the term “inflammation” It is a word that is easy to say and a problem which has been minimised by our society. Inflammation is often diagnosed after the person in question has experienced some symptoms. In our society, various “miracle cures”. (such as anti-inflammatories) are on offer in order to suppress the symptoms or cause them to disappear. However, this is precisely the problem with this situation.


At this point in time, the symptoms are being addressed because we often do not know the cause, or let it pass us by.


Hence, our pain may be caused by, for example, overuse, lack of balance between particular groups of muscles, mobility problems,…

When we have to cope with inflammation, it can influence our whole body. Through the inflammation, our joints become weaker and less able to take loads. Therefore, this is something we always need to avoid.


A better solution than taking strong medications is to work with natural products. And in combination with a good screening for your body in a suitable functional program. In this way you can help your body to combat the cause without subjecting it to extra stress from strong medications.


Nutrients such as omega-3 and Curcuma have already been shown to support your body in combating inflammation factors and helping to maintain, for example, healthy joints.


Curcuma itself is said to have a positive effect against rheumatic complaints and to promote the functions of the brain. In this way you are supporting your body in a natural way to fight inflammation or degenerative conditions.


Through a detailed screening of your body, you can check accurately how things stand with your mobility, flexibility and stability. After this screening, some weak links will come to light, which you can subsequently train in order to prevent or eliminate any imbalance in your body.

“Stretch to get your potential”

Everyone who has been involved in sport has probably carried out stretching exercises. Often we miss the main point about “stretching”. It is really a question of creating mobility, increasing manoeuvrability.


What exactly is “mobility” and why is it so necessary? Good mobility ensures that the joints and muscles work together as efficiently as possible, without overloading any of the structures. From the moment that a single muscle or joint does not possess the necessary mobility, the whole of the body may get out of balance, and we then adopt particular compensation strategies that can lead to injuries and/or strains.


In principle, your mobility can be divided into two parts: active structures, including muscles and passive structures, including the joints, tendons and ligaments.

So, now to get back to stretching exercises. We often stretch in order to ensure that both the active and the passive structures have sufficient mobility to carry out our sports activities as well as possible. Just as we do strengthening exercises to make muscles stronger, we do mobility exercises to achieve mobility in the places where we need it.


We can divide stretching exercises into two types: static and dynamic. For sports activities, we prefer to choose the dynamic type, since static stretch exercises can have a negative effect on our “performance”.


We can ensure in a dynamic manner that we get the necessary mobility in our muscles and joints. Specifically, we go to the limit of our movement without holding it, and then we go back to the original position for the joint or our body.


The static form is the one best-known and most usually carried out. By holding a particular movement, we stretch muscles and/or joints. This is often done after a sports activity “in order to avoid stiffness”.


So is this in line with the physiology of the muscle? After intensive sports activities, small microscopic tears appear in our muscles. If we hold a static stretch pose, we can theoretically induce them to a greater extent, so will this avoid stiffness? How likely does that look?


The microscopically small tears combined with a build-up of lactate (lactic acid) in the muscles cause the feeling of stiffness after activity. You can best combat this after your activities through a gentle dynamic stretching exercise in order to promote the circulation in the muscles/joints, combined with a gentle activity such as cycling or cooling down by walking.


A good example of this would be, if after an intensive work-out on the treadmill you do a few minutes of non-aggressive, dynamic mobility exercises combined with ten minutes or so cooling down on an exercise bike. In this way we promote the recovery of the muscles and ensure that our blood circulation is stimulated. This in turn will ensure that the lactic acid is transferred more quickly into our bloodstream.

“If you rest, you rust”

If, nevertheless, you start your season too enthusiastically and have to fight off an injury, don’t give up, but use this opportunity to return more powerful than before. You often hear it said that, “if you rest, you rust.” So, there might just be something in that.


“Resting” absolutely does not mean that you can or should do nothing. Resting means above all that you must avoid using the affected area in combination with the strain that caused it. The term “relative rest” is much more appropriate in this case. We give the affected area a certain amount of rest because we deal with the causes, and make the affected area stronger. You might just pop in to see your (sports) physiotherapist to get your body screened in a suitable manner. He will give you individual exercise therapy based on your weak points, so that you can come back stronger than before your injury. Think of it as an opportunity to strengthen your body and to get to know it better. The body works holistically, and it is essential to deal with all the structures involved in your injury.

In principle, you could take a complete rest and would notice that your symptoms indeed decrease systematically. But the big problem here is that you have not solved the problem, only the symptoms, which often means just reducing the pain. Not only have you not solved the problem, but your body is weaker than before.


We can describe it in terms of “loading” as against “load capacity.” Your “load capacity”, the load that your body can cope with at a given moment, is very low after the winter. The load on your body increases when you add your chosen sport to your other daily activities. It is important that you give your body enough time to systematically increase its ability to cope with the load.


The instant that the load you’re putting on is too much for your ability to take it, you will be near to overstraining your body, and so an injury can arise. This behaviour can also be the problem if you take a complete rest when injured. Your ability to deal with the load decreases even further, because your body does not get any more challenging activity.


Therefore, it is very important that during an injury, we subject our body to the right amount of loading so that the affected structures can repair themselves and the body develops a greater ability to withstand stress.


In this way you will immediately be able to resume your favourite sport at a good level after your injury without the risk of relapse.

Olivier Meul