Coach Caleb’s Corner
The Elbow is a Funny Bone
Can you feel it? Fall is in the air! Hockey season is getting back under way, Halloween 2018 is fast approaching and cooler temperatures mean that us hosers (Canadians) can train without the risk of melting. In short, the year is about to get more awesome!
The Fall 2018 Tactical Strength Challenge is also fast approaching and our Breakthrough team members are already deep into their deadlifting cycles and getting serious about their kettlebell ballistics prep. Son of a gun, wouldn’t ya know it, everyone is looking so strong already. This fall will be the 6th TSC we’ve hosted. Not too shabby. With several years of TSC experience behind us, even before we opened Breakthrough Strength & Fitness, Kati, R.T. and I have tackled various challenges associated with participating in the contest. Our experience has taught us how to minimize torn skin on the hands, avoid overtraining, mitigate issues with grip strength etc. In spite of all that, it’s still possible to be tested by a new fiendish enemy to progress. This fall that enemy would seem to be (cue the ominous music) iPhone / Computer elbow!
Medial and lateral epicondylitis, known not-so-affectionately as Golfer’s Elbow and Tennis Elbow, is not a new condition to plague those of us who like to practice a high volume of pull ups, chin ups and flexed arm hangs. What is new, however, is that it is assailing a much higher proportion of our training population, and it is hitting us long before the volume of work could be considered “high.” My personal best result so far in the Pull Up section of the TSC has been 24. When I prepped for that contest, I used the much vaunted Fighter Pull Up Program. At the time, I was spending a lot less time typing at the computer and scrolling on the phone. I practiced pull ups 5 days a week at a volume of 50+ repetitions per day and my elbows didn’t bother me once. These days I spend a lot of time typing programs and such on the computer, reading articles and watching videos on the phone. Now my elbows can get finicky when I practice more than 30 reps in a session and my grip strength fatigues way faster than it ever used to! I’m pretty sure there’s a connection.
Even a few short years ago, we were doing a lot less “infinite scrolling” on our phones. Everything from shopping on Amazon to Facebook, Instagram or even the Kindle app involves some degree of scrolling on a touchscreen. It’s so prevalent now that I’d guess most of us would be shocked to discover the actual number of minutes spent scrolling / device holding that we’re getting up to these days. There’s even an app called “Moment” that tracks our app usage in an effort to minimize time wasted on apps. Imagine that, a thing on the phone we can use to help minimize usage of the phone. There’s probably an emoji to accurately express how that makes me feel.
If you’re reading this on an iPhone right now, humor me and try this. It might not work on all versions, but for many of you it will. Go to your “Settings,” then go to “Battery” and check out the section at the bottom labeled “Battery Usage.” This will show you the percentage of battery power your phone used for various apps in the last 24 hours and the last 7 days. So that’s where all my time goes.
With all this said, the design of our devices and our use of them is not likely to change dramatically any time soon. Thumb strains, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, and epicondylitis are conditions we have to be keenly aware of and we must know how to prevent and fight back against them!
So let’s start with the obvious. The problem might simply boil down to overuse and under-recovery. This is a problem athletes have always struggled with but our modern, tech-heavy lives have added a new twist. Our ligaments, tendons and soft tissuey bits can’t recover from hard gym training because they’re engaged in activities like typing and scrolling. When we return to training, these tired areas are not at all recuperated and yet they’re being vigorously taxed once again with the gripping of bars, barbells and kettlebell handles.
In the hours immediately following a hard training session, what if we could try to minimize repetitive stress activities that keep our tired muscles and connective tissues working? Seems like it might help. Imagine cooking on a gas barbecue at high heat and then instead of turning it off, you just turn the heat down to a low setting and leave it. That barbecue will remain pretty hot and it will run out of gas. Don’t let this happen to your arms! After a training session, try resting. That means no video gaming, typing, scrolling or even watching lots of gym fails.
What if tech use is unavoidable? If you haven’t done so recently, look to your ergonomics. Check your keyboard posture. Are you reaching too far off to the side for that mouse? Are your wrists bent at a jaunty angle while typing? It’s too big a topic to get into here, but you get the idea. Do a little research (using your nefarious devices!) and make sure there isn’t a big no-no in your computer set up. If you have to do a lot of phone or tablet use, invest in some tricks of the trade to make holding and scrolling less cumbersome.
What if it’s hurting, but I don’t want to stop training, what can I do? Consider immediately reducing volume and intensity, at least. Bent arm positions in hangs should become straight arm hangs for a bit, and tone down the cleans and rows until the discomfort drops down a few notches. Instead, use the time saved on reducing those lifts to incorporate corrective exercises into training. “Tyler Twists,” wrist flexion and extension stretches, hand expansions with little rubber bands and stress ball squeezing can all help… As do self-myofascial techniques like rolling with those awesome Yoga Tune Up ® Therapy Balls that we’ve recently been sharing a lot of at Breakthrough.
Turn to the tried and true tricks to reduce inflammation as well; cold therapy (a dixie cup filled with water and frozen in the freezer makes a great anti-inflammatory massage tool), and eating anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, fatty fish, tomatoes, olive oil, almonds and walnuts, etc. while avoiding the inflammatory ones like refined carbs, french fries and sugary soda.
As we charge ahead into our increasingly tech-reliant future, we’ll need to be even more mindful of the repetitive stress effects our activities have on our bodies. Recovery from training is much more than just nutrition and sleep, it’s also massage, anti-infammation, stretching and now what you might call repetitive stress avoidance! Our bodies are incredibly adaptive, but that’s a knife that cuts both ways. The adaptive resources we possess are limited and they will prioritize the activities that we do most often. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can match the number of minutes spent doing pull ups to the number of minutes spent on the computer and phone, so we’ll just have to work on striking a favorable balance. With this in mind, I will stop with the typing, you can stop with the reading and scrolling and move on with your recovery. Then we can all meet up at the gym for more good training!
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