As you take part in various exercises and activities, different muscles will reach fatigue before others. Once the first muscle group has fatigued, it is extremely important to stop what you are doing and wait for that muscle group to return to baseline. This allows it to rest and allows fresh blood to pump into it so that it can do more work. Far too often we continue to push ourselves in physical activities until the large muscles groups fatigue and we can no longer perform the work. When we do this, some of the smaller muscle groups go into deep fatigue where they can be damaged. When we ignore the weakest links and force them to keep exerting they become chronically strained, and enter a weakened metabolic state that causes them to atrophy. This also leaves them extremely susceptible to injury. Many people find it annoying to have to interrupt a workout, but it usually only takes 5 to 30 seconds for these muscles to regain their strength and blood supply. We all keep walking, ignoring the fatigue in our feet and knees. We keep dancing, ignoring the pain in our ankles. We keep lifting weights ignoring the pain in our shoulders. We keep sawing, driving nails, or carrying loads ignoring the pain in our wrists and elbows. We keep sitting ignoring the pain in our lower back. We keep typing ignoring the pain in our neck. Even in the yoga studio there are many muscles that remain tight throughout multiple postures. This is why I take regular breaks. While doing yoga I try to ignore what everyone else is doing, and lie down for a minute or two at least twice per session in order to reinvigorate the overused muscles in my neck and back.
In the past, I would go all day without resting my neck. I guess I didn’t realize how fatigued it would get. Today I lie down for 1 to 3 minutes every time I feel any kind of strain in my neck. I believe that most everyone accumulates neck strain from failing to give their neck any respite over the duration of their waking life. As you toil all day, the flexibility in the neck, and the blood flow to the muscles diminishes, compounding the strain. Today I try to rest my head at least 3 times a day, even if I have to lie down on the floor. I lie down, wiggle my hips and my shoulders a little and concentrate on letting every muscle go limp.
In fact, the muscles surrounding our entire spine take on a stubborn inflexible contour that doesn’t shift much throughout the day. Then when we finally lie down to sleep, this contour doesn’t match the contour of our bed and the muscles remain stiff all night. I recommend that you have a roommate, family member, or spouse press down on the back right before bed. A good masseuse will do this to begin a massage. Have them use two hands, and press down firmly in at least 5 different locations between the neck and the lower back. It will feel very tight at first in certain places, but you will notice the muscles loosen up.
In order to get the muscles to relax, sometimes you have to stimulate them in a different way. After a workout, I always go for a walk, holding my arms straight up in the air for several minutes at a time and also swinging them around in order to engage all of the deep muscles and tissues in my upper torso. I try to work the little muscles in the shoulder girdle to exhaustion, and then give them equal time for complete relaxation. This helps to both exercise and relax the collateral, and stabilizing muscles that were not targeted directly by the work out. My shoulders used to remain fixed in a permanently raised position. Now I make sure to walk several minutes every day with my shoulders, back, arms and chest limp and drooping. You can actually let your shoulders go limp while still retaining good posture by standing straight, keeping your head up, and rolling your chin toward your chest. It is important to practice walking while completely relaxed in this way because this is how you want to sleep so that your muscles can recover overnight.
I used to have bad elbow pain from doing bench press and swimming. I did not know how to get rid of the problem. If you look it up online, you find out that it is called tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, or epicondylitis. The disease is supposed to be chronic, degenerative (enthesopathy), and idiopathic, meaning no one knows what causes it. Worse yet, most of these painful conditions that involve the muscle, tendon, and bone have a poor prognosis and no real treatments besides rest, pain relievers, and surgery. The problem is often easy to fix, you just have to work on relaxing the muscles. When I first tried massaging the muscles around my elbow, I realized that they were constantly sore and painful, regardless of whether I exercised them or not. I used to leave the swimming pool after doing laps in an extremely tense state, without even realizing it. I would even go to bed like that. I wondered why my elbows hurt so much in the morning, and I naively attributed it to aging. Now, when I swim or lift weights, I stop completely every few minutes. I take a full minute to monitor the accumulating tension in my arms, focus on going limp, and allow the tightness the mental attention it needs to subside. Afterwards, I will squeeze and compress these muscles to reduce the tension. My elbow pain was bad, yet now I haven’t had any elbow pain in years.