Stretch First, Split Later

Dear Reader,

I strained a muscle, and now I am seeing the world differently. Hopefully, dear Reader, you have not injured yourself recently (or like ever), however, when you do, it can really change things both physically and mentally.

Not too long ago, I posted about hitting 100 barre fitness classes (more here). Along with building muscle, I have also achieved greater flexibility with these classes. One feat that I am particularly proud of was my ability to do a full front split. Yes, I did use the past tense “was,” because after a careless injury, my front split abilities are sadly non-existent.

One day, on the set of a short video shoot (I’m an actress on the side, more here and here) that took place in a gym, the other actors and I were messing around with the equipment. Some were hanging from the pull-up bars, while others were literally doing handstands with the rings (what a sight!). One woman impressed us all by throwing herself down into a front split. Wanting to join in (and capture a fun picture moment), I attempted to do the same. Riiip. I didn’t hear a sound, but in my head, the moment that I achieved the front split, I felt a tear and wanted to gasp. It was immediately obvious that I went too fast and too hard. The woman by my side raised her hands and smiled happily for the photo and I tried to conceal the fact that I was cringing inside.

After an eternity (like seven seconds), we were done taking photos and I gingerly pushed myself up off the floor. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could I be so stupid?! While sliding into a split is easy for me in my barre classes (you know, after plenty of warmups and other stretches), I should have known at this point in my fitness journey that splits should be eased into and only done with warm muscles. In short, this was an injury that I deserved.

I walked with a limp for the rest of the day. When I got home, wanting to alleviate the dull pain, I drew upon my wilderness first aid training (more here). For overstretched muscles (or strains), one should “RICE”: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. For me, rest and elevation were the most significant relievers of the ache. I’m also not the best patient, and I didn’t “RICE” for long. The next morning, I did not feel that much better, however, I was wondering to myself whether I could still attend my fitness classes and just skip the legwork that would aggravate the pain (because some of the lower-body exercises would not even touch the affected muscles). However, after some internal debate, I shut down the idea of going to the exercise class (like, did I even want to recover!? RICE, I must RICE!). Regardless, I still decided to go about my normal routine (minus the exercise class) — the difference was like night and day.

I normally walk on the fast side, snaking between large parties and picking up the pace to cross an intersection before the pedestrian signal turns from a blinking hand to a fixed one. However, on this day, I could not help but take it slow — so slow, that the Google Maps walking-time estimates were on the fast side for me (boy, was I lagging!). Additionally, I was walking with a limp that I could not shake. On some level, I thought limps were voluntary. Literally, I thought people with limps were actively favoring one leg to mitigate pain. I thought that if they endeavored to walk “normally,” they could, albeit with pain. (I mean, if you can imitate a limp, can’t you also imitate even steps?) However, when I tried to affect an even-keeled gait, I found it frankly impossible — mind blown.

I chose the escalator instead of the stairs as I was leaving the subway. The man in front of me also walked with a limp (we were both favoring the same leg). He took his time getting onto the escalator and I followed behind him involuntarily in step. A woman with a backpack scurried past us on the left and dashed off when we emerged onto the street level — on so many other days, I was this woman. I felt compassion for the man and wondered whether he thought about his limp (probably not).

American People Series #20: Die, (1967) by Faith Ringgold

According to Wiktionary, the word compassion comes from the roots com– meaning “together” and pati, meaning “to suffer.” Was there ever a word more apt to describe my imagined fellowship with the limping man in front of me? As I continued down the street, trying not to sway too much with each step, I noticed a worse-for-wear man on a bench. He was holding a cardboard sign and was droning “help… help…help.” The call was plaintive and without any trace of urgency. I suffer nothing at all in relation to this man and I thought about that as I hobbled away. His suffering is so visible that it seemingly makes people uncomfortable (heads turned away, paces quickened, an air of general disregard)….

Miraculously, within 24 hours, my leg felt 50% better. Just over 48 hours later, I decided to return to my fitness class (so much for RICE!). Four days after the incident, things are 90% better for me — I have zero pain and I can walk quickly again, however, I have lost all the flexibility I had gained in my right hamstring and then some. I cannot even come close to mimicking any sort of position that resembles a split. Also, just lifting my leg onto the bar (which was a thoughtless action for me before) is now a challenge! I can’t believe how quickly I went from full front split to can’t even lift my leg up — yikes! I’m sure that with more time things will get better, however, in the meantime, allow me to be your cautionary tale, dear Reader. Be kind to your body and to your muscles. Take things slowly, rest when you need it, and never ever (ever!) jump into a split without stretching (even if all the young, limber kids are doing it).



3 thoughts on “Stretch First, Split Later

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  1. I used to jump into class without much stretching, and that proved to be very bad for my plantar fasciitis. I have pulled muscles in my leg before, but that rarely happens now since I have realized the importance of stretching and warming up. Also I can’t split like that ever lol

    Liked by 1 person

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