The importance of variability in anything we do is not rocket science. Look at runners who only run…….injury over time. And this doesn’t just go for running, but any other training that only focuses on one direction, or the same movements over and over again (like some CrossFit programming or Tennis). Our body needs variability with the exercise we chose and as well as daily adventures. If we sit the same way all day, move the same way (thinking typing) and then do the same exercise every day something is bound to wear out. I took a phenomenal course a few weeks ago (Functional Soft Tissue Transformation) taught by Lenny Parracino CMT, FAFS of Functional Therapy. Among the many new ideas I learned from him, I was able to take away some better terms to help explain what I’ve been trying to say in a way that I feel can be understood more clearly. First, I would like to define a few terms he used during the course in relation to the human body (summarized in my owns words):
Congestion: a build up of connective tissue and surrounding structures, missing adequate mobility, elasticity, blood flow, nutrients, and hydration. Congestion in the body is like hanging out in a dirty bath tub (per Lenny)……gross right? Congestion is bad and we want to work the congestion out to “clean out our bath water.” Lenny relates congestion to causing injury and disease because the toxins build up and tissue looses nutrients. If you lose nutrients you will soon dry out and die, even quicker without movement. The same goes for your tissues and cells.
Repetitive movement: doing either the same movement over and over again (like people who run, or sit and type all day) or working the same plane of movement all the time. A plane of movement is a direction the body moves in space. Running is in the saggital plane, side lunges are in the frontal (aka coronal) plane, and twisting is in the transverse plane. Any activity can include one or multiple combinations of these planes. Repetitive movement is spending a majority of your time in one of the planes. For example, CrossFit programming usually focuses on the saggital plane.
When repetitive movements occur, the body starts to respond by adapting to the environment it’s placed in. Just like how we evolved as humans in our ever changing environment. So you’re body gets really good at the repetitive movement that it’s doing. This doesn’t sound bad (and it’s not always bad) until you understand the next term….
As the body starts to adapt to the repetitive movements, it’s lays down more tissue creating dense tissue. Here’s a great example of why this happens in relationship to Wolff’s Law: “Our skeletons are constantly changing. Every time stress is applied to our bones, they remodel themselves to adapt to the stress. For example, the bones in a tennis player’s dominant arm may be up to 20% thicker than the bones in their non-dominant arm. This effect is called Wolff’s Law. It states that our bones become thicker and stronger over time to resist forces placed upon them and thinner and weaker if there are no forces to act against.” – SportFit PT. This applies to bones and the other tissue in our body, creating a density. Some areas we want to be to have more density than others, but repetitive movement causes too much density. The muscles tear and repair in the same areas over and over again. And this is usually what you feel when you roll over a “knot” or tight area in your body.
Putting all the terms together creates a clear flow chart to explain what happens in your body. Congestion is created, leading to stiffness, unhealthy tissues, disease, injury, pain….the list goes on. The goal is to manage the congestion by decreasing tissue density (which will happen whether you have the perfect exercise regimen or not, it just varies on the level of density), control adaption, and reduce repetitive movements where we can. And what I mean by where we can, is that we may not be able to change the sport of tennis, but we can cross train that athlete with different activities to gain movements in different areas. The same goes for running and sports like CrossFit. I like to use running as an example because most people can relate to it, or at least understand the movements of it. I also like to use CrossFit because that is the majority of athletes who I work with and frequently see programming that doesn’t include enough variability.
**On a side note: the term CrossFit DOES NOT encompass every CrossFit gym and their programming. Most gyms out there have different programming from various sources. I have experience working with many different gyms and have not seen one the same (unless they follow the main site WOD). So when I coin CrossFit in this post, understand that some do have great variability. I’m just talking about those who don’t. And when people say CrossFit is dangerous, the same thing goes! You can’t say every CrossFit gym is dangerous because none of them are the same! Man it felt good to say that.
Another important factor about variability in training is helping to prepare someone for the unknown. Let’s use the clean and jerk as an example, with a video below if you want to review the details of this movement. Yes this is a sagittal plane movement, but while doing a movement like this people are testing higher weights all of the time. Which means the possibility of failing the lift. Failing doesn’t always include a change in the foot position, but sometimes an athlete will step out to the side with one foot to try to stabilize more and finish the lift. Not the goal, but it changes the plan of movement to the frontal plane. IF THE ATHLETE HAS NEVER MOVED IN THIS DIRECTION, this could be a recipe for disaster. Especially with the heavy weight he’s moving. His body would be way more prepared for the unknown if he trained that frontal plane a little so his body can withstand that little tweak in form.
Here’s how to break the cycle and manage congestion
- Vary your movements. If you’re a runner, yes you need to run. If you do CrossFit and want to improve, yes you need to do CrossFit. But add in variability! I’ve been most successful with this in 2 ways, without disrupting the programming. I add in other sports, like yoga, swimming, running, etc. This can still be done with even the elite athletes and adds in stress to the tissues of the body from different angles. The other option is to add different movement planes into your warm-up. Things like side lunges with a twist, body weight squatting with various foot positions, different hand positions on the bar with pull-ups. This will stress your tissue from different angles so that it’s not always stressing the same tissues in the same direction all the time. THIS WILL NOT STOP TISSUES FROM BECOMING DENSE, but it will decrease the density and make it easier to manage.
- Manage your tissue density. This is where self-care comes into play. If you squat all the time, you better believe you should be working on the density of your quads, hamstring and butt. You should not stop strengthening them because they are more dense, just learn to work out the density to get rid of congestion to that your tissue are nutrient rich and elastic. Elastic tissue (ability to respond to stress) is was creates efficient muscles. If you’re tissues are not elastic, they will not be efficient! Leading you to become less strong, more prone to injury, and fatigue more quickly. Everything I teach in Mobility class, and everything you’ve learned from MobilityWOD or YogaTuneUp, is teaching you how to decrease the density of your tissue. You have the power and resources to do this stuff on your own. If you don’t like to do it on your own, get bodywork done by a PT, chiro, manual therapist, etc. Stiffness (aka extremely dense tissue) is already creating inefficient movement because muscles are not working properly, and will eventually lead to injury. That’s just the reality.
- Follow-up tissue work with movement in various directions. This will allow the “supple” tissue to work for you in the new ranges that you have opened up, which will carry over into your sport of choice. Those muscles may not have worked in those directions in a long time, so they need some retraining. Remember, multiple directions! Have fun with it.
- Get your sleep, stress, nutrition, environment and hydration under control. These will vary from time to time, which is normal life. But in general you should be able to manage a healthy lifestyle if you want healthy tissue. If you don’t sleep enough and/or you’re stressed, your blood sugar and hormone levels with be off causing disruption of your healing abilities and normal day-to-day tasks. Also, people are starting to see the affects of nutrition on their body function (not just the way it looks) and ability to heal. Eating clean is important and there are some things you can add into your diet to strengthen your tissues even more. Your environment also affects your internal environment. So what you breathe and what you put on your body is very important. And last but not least, hydration is super important. Drinking water gets the water into the environment around your cells. Force on the tissue (through massage, foam roller, exercise) gets water into the cells. Which is where we want it! But if you mobilize without enough water you’re not being as effective as you can because there’s no water to draw into the cell. And if you’re trying to heal from an injury (exercise is small injury to the muscles!) there’s no way you will recover properly without hydration. * This last paragraph has a hodge podge of links because I could write a whole blog on just this area of tissue health but it would have made this too long. It’s a mix of research and blogs from the internet…..I’m working on more reputable resources before I write something about it, but I’ve learned all of it from reputable sources!