Do more strength training to get rid of chronic pain?
Is it weakness or overcompensation?
I regularly hear that clients would like to do strength training because they experience pain. There is a feeling that they are ‘weak’ in an area. And getting stronger then sounds like a good idea. Now it could be that this is indeed the case and that strength training helps.
It could also be that the side that is weak is constantly resisting the opposite side. This side is constantly tightening, so there is no weakness but more ‘no strength left’. The muscles are exhausted and numb. That constant bracing and having to resist can cause pain. It is quite possible that this is an unconscious constant tightening, which means you can’t just let go.
When there is tension in the chest area, for example, because of sitting hunched over in front of the computer, the muscles between the shoulder blades may have to constantly resist this tension. This can then cause neck and shoulder problems, as well as headaches or even back pain. So it is not necessarily the case that the place where you feel pain is also where the problem is.
Your body and movement will have to be felt first.
The body consists of a great balance where if something is tightened on one side something has to be released on the opposite side for the movement to happen. And that can be very black and white, but also, like when standing and walking, a constant play between creating the right balance. In this way, the movement can be made smooth and fluid. Ultimately and ideally, these are activations of different muscles that happen when needed, so not chronic tightening. Or compensatory tightening when a certain area has no role at all in that movement but still activates.
Letting go of tension is the key to less pain.
This also explains why, for example, if your shoulders are always raised, it makes no sense to actively lower them and ‘want to relax’ them there. Or doing strength training right there. Or when you have back pain start exercising your abdominal muscles to reduce the pain. It may provide relief. But often it is only temporary because you are trying to resolve tension and pain with even more tension. Movement needs to be invited, so you can start feeling again.
The challenge lies in releasing tension in the outer “power muscle layers” of your body, so that the deeper smaller postural and support muscles can start doing their job again. Once that balance returns more, the pain will be able to dissolve and your body will be able to move more smoothly and powerfully. You no longer have to compensate your compensations with strength. From that pure movement, you can then start adding resistance or weight to get stronger, without getting stuck. A more holistic way of strength training.
How to let go of tension?
But how do you do that, release tension? It’s not something you can do. Instead, it is a not doing, or doing it differently, so that the letting go happens.
With yoga therapy, we use functional movements to do this. Simple basic movements where the focus is on moving your bones in their joints and relationships between them. The idea behind this is to get out of the muscle world and focus on the deeper layer. Ultimately, we want to move our skeleton. With a focus on muscles, there is often a control we want to exert. ‘This muscle has to do this job’. But how do we know if that is actually happening?
When we focus on the bones and joints, it becomes a lot clearer to see what is moving and what is not. When you can see and feel that, you can also see and feel what else is happening. The compensation patterns you have developed. The areas in your body that tighten when they shouldn’t. We can then work with these to build up support, strength or just relaxation, so you can move more optimally.
Once there is awareness, your body can start letting go.
So with yoga therapy, we work on your awareness of your body and movement. And understanding how movement works. Being able to move the individual parts, the joints, of your body purely so that the whole can too. The better you feel your body and are aware of your movement, the better you can start helping yourself. So that eventually you will no longer need me to guide you when you feel pain or discomfort.
Curious about what yoga therapy can do for you? Then contact me for a free consultation to look at the possibilities for your situation.