June 6, 2012

No longer trapped, just trap(ezius)ed out

I think it’s kind of funny that this week I’ve been complaining about feeling trapped – and now my traps are incredibly sore from the workout I did to relieve that stress. Sorry, I’m a word geek like that.

After my Monday meltdown, I spent yesterday getting back on track – and that included going back to Rachel Cosgrove’s Female Body Breakthrough. I talked a big game yesterday about how maybe I was too advanced to do the Base Phase again – while I haven’t been doing the Cosgrove program lately, I’ve still considered lifting to be a good substitute, and figured I’d be way too strong for Base Phase again. Boy, how wrong on that I was! I am incredibly sore today, from my head to my toes (okay, shoulders to my calves – my head and toes are actually fine). This routine is going to kick my butt, and I am so pumped for it!

Seeing how sore I got, though, made me think of my most recent article for Greatist, How to Stay Strong and Prevent Muscle Loss. I wrote this a few weeks ago, but then went MIA with training and Memorial Day, so I actually barely even noticed when the post I had worked so hard on went live! However, this post was incredibly interesting to research – and I learned a ton from writing it.

While I wasn’t totally surprised to find out that muscle stops building 48 hours after working out, I was shocked to learn that sarcopenia (muscle loss due to aging) sets in at age 20. That means if I do nothing, I’m already wasting away! (Okay, tiny amounts, but still). I also found it interesting that eating fewer calories can help you build muscle. I feel like I’ve always heard that you have to make sure to add some extra calories in the form of protein if you want to build muscle (hence the whole protein shake trend that Cosgrove recommends), but I actually discovered that calorie restriction can help increase muscle size. Just another reason for me to be careful what I eat!

However, some of the most interesting stuff I learned was around how your muscles change when you stop working out. I’ve written before about Wilmore and Costill’s research on the dimensions of strength and how detraining affects them, but this time around, I also found something to cheer about: even after prolonged inactivity, the effects of previous strength training can be long-lived. In short, your muscles kind of “remember” what they were able to do before, and how they were able to do it – so even when they weaken over time, you’ll find it easier to get stronger again. One study found that after a year of inactivity, muscles still maintained 55% of their original strength! Not bad at all.

As far as my workout? I think I did a bit better than that – indicating that the workouts I’ve been doing since leaving off the Cosgrove plan haven’t been so specific as to not be translatable to other things. In fact, for my stepups (stand in front of a knee-high block while holding dumbbells, and step up, then come back down and repeat all 10 reps on one leg before switching to the other), I actually managed to add an extra 10 lbs from the last time I did this exercise about 10 months ago.

But the weak spot? Those darn traps. Base Phase A calls for a bent-over reverse fly, and I stupidly decided to attempt the same amount of weight I used to do (15lb dumbbells). Yikes! I could tell pretty quickly that my form was suffering (I was turning it into more of a bent-over double row than a reverse fly) and knocked it down to 10lb dumbbells, but it was still tough – and today, my shoulders are killing me. I couldn’t help but think of Lee’s awesome post from a few weeks ago on how it’s important to start with light weights and work your way up so that you can make sure your form isn’t suffering. I am definitely learning my lesson the hard way on that one!

That said, I have often found my trapezius muscles to be pretty weak, even when I specifically try to go light on weights. Reverse flys always give me some trouble, and the day after I work them, I always feel like I slept with my shoulders shrugged up to my ear. The next day, I’m desperate for either a massage (which I usually don’t have time for), or some really heavy weights to hold in order to try to ease the tension using gravity (does that even make sense, or am I just crazy for thinking it would help?). Usually I get neither, so I just hurt till a few days later when they calm down – until I do reverse flys again and go through the same thing all over.

Anyone have any tips for alternate exercises to build trapezius strength? Or if reverse flys really are best, just a good way to loosen them up the day after a workout?


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