5 Simple Tips for Happy Muscles

Friday 5

Listen to the whispers or soon you will be listening to the screams.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert

When I heard that last Sunday in the wake of an epic hamstring fail all I could think was “I wish I’d listened to my body when it was whispering!”  With both Ginger and me on the injured list I figured now is a great time to talk about prevention methods.

And no, I’m not going to shake my finger at you for not stretching enough, you already know you’re supposed to be doing that! Instead let’s discuss how to coax your beautiful muscles into becoming the strong athletic machine they were meant to be.

Pumping Iron
Not THAT kind of iron, silly. (img via RottenTomatoes.com)

1. Get Enough Iron.

Do you get 18 mg of iron from your diet?  Yeah, me neither.  As a woman with a distaste for meat and dairy I’ve really got to work on this one, but iron has long been known to be an important part of fortifying your muscles with oxygen and growing new cells everywhere in your body.  A recent Cornell study showed that humans and animals with low iron had “reduced endurance and energetic efficiency” even before anemia set in.  The best sources of iron are the meatiest of meats (chicken livers! Ack!) but if you’re a non-meat eater like me you’re not totally screwed.  Soybeans, lentils, beans and spinach are also great ways to get your iron in, and lots of cereal comes fortified as well. Check out this post by HealthAmbition.com, 8 Ways to Increase Your Iron Levels; it’s got some good tips to pump you up, with sources cited.

Want to learn more? The National Institute of Health has a great fact sheet about iron here.


2. Two words, Amiga.  Easy. Run.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: easy runs are good for your body. Next time you kill it at a speed workout or tempo run, instead of killing it again at the park the next day, try chilling out and taking it slow. Offer your legs a chance to rebuild and repair from yesterday’s hard work because that’s when they’re going to get stronger. Working them too hard will only result in injury (I would know). Check out Salty’s article What is Easy? for detailed information on how to calculate your easy pace.


3. Use a Foam Roller or other Self Massage Technique

We’ve all got our preference here, whether it’s a tennis ball under the butt, a rolling pin on the quads, or (my favorite), a frozen water bottle on the Plantar fascia. And of course, there’s always the ubiquitous foam roller.

There are a million resources on how to use foam rollers but the simple basic truth is if it feels good (or so bad that it’s good), just roll on it. And oh boy does it feel good on my sore hamstrings! Models range from super basic white open-cell foam tubes to sleek, plastic-coated decor-friendly versions to the bumpy-textured trigger point devices to ultra-textured devices that look like they came from Medieval dungeons (I want one!).



You can foam roll to the deepest of depths in these legginz.

4. Get a Serious Massage!

I knew my body would benefit from a great massage but was overwhelmed by the idea of finding someone who would give me a serious deep tissue workover.  I’ve tried deep tissue before and it felt great … but that was the problem.  I needed more than great, I needed effective.  After listening to this great interview with a massage therapist though, I felt confident I knew what to look for in a therapist and how to ask for what I wanted.

With some research I contacted a local massage clinic with a buy-one-get-one-free offer that was too good to pass up, and let me tell you, this was no day at the spa. My therapist worked so hard on my hamstrings I had to whimper and grit my teeth to get through it. Afterward though, I felt a world of difference in my legs.

To find a therapist in your area, try using the American Massage Therapy Association’s directory. While you may have great success with a therapist at a spa, try looking up someone who works with a clinic or physical therapist, or even just out of his or her home. But most importantly, call ahead to discuss your expectations. Make sure your therapist knows you’re a runner, that you need deep tissue work, and to focus on your legs!


5. Proper Hydration

If you already know then why aren’t you doing it? “Do or do not, there is no try!” Water is the single best thing we can do to promote good health, and it’s important that we get enough. Expert opinions have changed from the old 8 glasses a day rule, especially where distance running is concerned. The USATF has a wealth of information on proper hydration, but as a general guideline, drink when you’re thirsty and maintain hydration after long periods of exercise with some electrolytes.


What’s the best thing you’ve done for your muscles lately?

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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