Updated: Jun 13, 2021
This is a common pattern..."I used to run, now I ride a bike." or "I used to ride a bike, now I swim." "I used to swim, now I just float." There are plenty of activities and sports considered to be too much impact. The ground is too hard. The racket is too heavy. Do your workouts on grass not cement. We need more shock absorbers. We need more cushion in our shoes...etc. The premise of this type of thinking relies on the belief that our bodies are too fragile to handle the wear and tear of everyday activities, or in some cases, the pounding. Some go so far as to say that we are weak, and are not designed for the movements we put ourselves through.
I once had a golf pro tell me that there is absolutely nothing natural about a golf swing. In fact, he went on to say, that if I continued to play golf, I was destined to have back problems. Well, he was wrong. It's true that there is a lot of bending and rotational movement in a golf swing. But not all golfers have back problems. I kept playing, and 35 years later, I still don’t have back problems. Many golfers might have back pain. Some of the most famous golf pros in history have epic stories involving their back issues, while others have very little problems, if any. What is never mentioned, is that the best golfers in history also hit thousands of balls a week for years and years and years. The recreational golfer will never hit that many balls, and will thus not have the same level of stress placed on their bodies. The truth is, our bodies are able to handle a golf swing without creating a back problem, or tennis without creating a knee problem, or pickle ball without creating a pickle problem… :) Our design is incredibly versatile and strong. If we are in balance, it can handle any activity for as long as we would like to enjoy it, for our entire lives, if we are lucky enough to have a long life. When we develop a problem related to an activity, it’s because we are out of balance while performing the activity. Stay in balance, stay pain free.
You wanna know something else that’s pretty cool? Our design is built to adapt to activities from the first moment we attempt them. And if we perform an activity enough, our bodies will even change shape to perform the activity better and better. You ever notice that elite athletes (typically an athlete who dedicates a tremendous amount of time to a sport) actually start to look like other athletes in the same sport over time? As a result of the continuous training, they morph into an athlete that looks “like a swimmer” or “like a golfer” or “like a cyclist”. Elite swimmers have legs with knocked-knees (knees that are almost touching each other at the knee, also called valgus stress), and wide spread backs with barrel shaped chests, broad shoulders, with no butts. These swimmer bodies allow for long, strong strokes and powerful kicks, while taking in large volumes of air and holding their breath for long periods.
Elite tennis players develop knees that have a bow legged appearance with long tapered calves, powerful thighs, and narrow shoulders. This position of the leg actually improves the ability of the person to move laterally, and to do it quickly. Hmmmm, interesting, kinda like the movements that happen in tennis.
Cyclists, road bikers, have underdeveloped gluteal muscles. Basically, they have no butt. Sitting for long periods puts the pelvis in a position where the but muscles have a tough time developing size. The back becomes rounded, with forward head positions, which absolutely resembles the position they spend their time peddling, and peddling, and peddling. By contrast, mountain bikers don’t spend as much time peddling in a crouched position, and therefore aren’t susceptible to the same adaptations.
I don’t mean to pick on swimmers, or bicyclists, or tennis players. They, like others, are tremendous athletes. And just like someone who sits at a desk for too long, athletes can develop imbalances that lead to long term pains. It’s not the activitity's fault that the athlete hurts, its the presence of imbalance while working for long periods. There are no bad movements, or bad sports, or movements that are inherently wrong making pain inevitable.
The good news…By adding a little variety of movement athlete and non athlete alike, can offset the imbalances created by the excessive training. Time on task matters. The longer you have engaged in an activity, the more adaptation you will experience. But remember, we are a machine that adapts, and we adapt quickly. By adding in a routine of corrective exercise, your body will start adding the positive stimulus immediately. Heck, you might even have to buy new clothes as your body changes its shape. Get ready to show off that new backside. It's time to make your body ready for impact.