Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Calf Muscle Rehabilitation and Soccer

It has been just over one year since my last calf muscle injury. The blog post I made on the subject is the #1 post for my humble blog, as it pops up as a search result thanks to Google. As regular readers (I have at least 2) may know, I surf quite a bit - working 5 minutes away from the beach lets me use my lunch hour to get some water time in.

While I love surfing, it doesn't do much to stretch out or strengthen my lower body (however, it is very good for the upper body). So, I decided to look around for an adult soccer league to join that would be good exercise for my legs. Luckily, I found a men's over-35 team in Carlsbad that needed a few players, so I signed up.

About 2 weeks ago, I suited up in shin guards and cleats, and went down to a local field to try and get my feet on the ball a bit. I have coached youth soccer for the last 4 years, and look forward to actually playing again.

You can probably guess what happened next... After a workout on Tuesday, my right lower calf muscle felt a little tweaked, but not too bad - just a bit uncomfortable. On Thursday, I laced up and went to jog across the field and back to warm up a bit before stretching, and on the return leg the tweak cranked up a lot, and I had to stop and limp back.

It didn't feel like my previous two incidents, so I think that I did not tear the muscle - maybe just strained it or something like that. I limped for about 24 hours, and then started looking at how to stretch out the calf muscles to try and prevent this in the future.

I have stretched in the past, but I have never focused on the calf muscles. Instead, I'd work the quads, hammys, and groin. I realized that I had been neglecting my calves - pretty stupid of me (especially after two injuries).

Maybe neglecting is the wrong word... I have never been shown how to stretch out the calf, in all the sports I have played and gym classes taken through school and even in college. So, with the theory of "knowing your enemy" in mind, I first did some reading up on the calf muscle, which is actually a pair of muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus. The article even mentions torn calf muscles, the 'pop' that so many of us feel, and the conditions that triggered it in my cases: sudden acceleration and changes in direction.

Next, I did a search on stretches focusing on the pair of calf muscles, and found these: gastrocnemius stretch and soleus stretch. Since I found these videos, I've been doing both stretches for 90 seconds on each leg, and I do believe that my lower legs are feeling better. I'm not back to 100% yet, but I can make my way around the pitch if I take care to avoid sudden acceleration and changes in direction. I hope to be back up to 95% before the first game of our season, which starts on September 5th.

If you have hurt your calf, please be careful to not stretch it out prematurely. A bad tear can take a long time to heal, so when you start trying to stretch, let common sense be your guide. Stretch slowly and gently, avoiding bouncing. Any pain should be a sign that you are doing too much too fast.

To keep the rest of your lower body in shape, I found that biking was fairly low impact for my most recent injury, so long as I didn't stand up and pedal (pushing on the front portion of the foot as you do to begin a sprint).

If you know of any other good stretches, or want to talk about your calf injury, please feel free to comment below!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trip to Italy - Part 3

The final destination of our grand Italian vacation was the beautiful city of Venice. They say that the farther you go North in Italy, the more expensive it gets. From our limited experience (from Naples in the southern portion of the country, to Rome in the middle, and then Venice in the North), I can indeed confirm this piece of folk wisdom.

Venice's Grand Canal

Venice is a tourist destination for a large number of people from Europe and Asia. The city seemed much more ritzy-touristy than Rome, which had many historical sites. Venice, on the other hand, features a large number of ways to separate you from your money via high-end shops and restaurants.

Dining al Fresco

The municipal coat of arms for Venice features a winged lion, and you see this symbol throughout Venice. I can hardly think of a better mascot, short of Trogdor the Burninator.

We walked through the open air market near the Rialto Bridge one morning, and saw some of the local produce and seafood, which is boated in daily.

Local Produce

Fresh Seafood

The architecture of Venice fascinated me the most. It is a city with almost no land unused. The alleyways twist and wind through the buildings, occasionally meeting in a small plaza or crossing a canal. The lesser traveled walkways (sometimes only 3 or 4 people wide) can be eerily quiet even in the middle of the day, and it is always interesting to see what shops are found on these lesser traveled routes.

Horse - the other red meat!

After three days in Venice and 10 days in Italy, we had to make our way back home. It was a great vacation with the family, and something I think we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Trip to Italy - Part 2

While we stayed in Rome for the week, we made two day trips during those 7 days. Our first day trip (by way of a very comfortable high speed train) was to Florence. We had reservations to the Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno to see Michelangelo's David and several other works of art (sorry, no cameras allowed!).

Fountain in Florence

We then walked about the city, taking in the sights and sounds. A bus tour sped us through the highlights of the locale, and we visited the Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge"). The Ponte Vecchio was first constructed by the Romans, and was the only bridge not destroyed by the German forces during their withdrawl from Italy in 1944, allegedly because of an express order by Hitler.

Our second day trip took us South of Rome, to Naples. From Naples we caught a local train to Pompeii. What can I say about Pompeii, other than it was truly an amazing experience? It boggles my mind how complete a city it was, nearly 2000 years ago!

Pompeii Baking Area

The city is so well preserved that some of the artwork (mostly frescos) is still visible, and quite beautiful.

Fresco on the wall of a Pompeii house

We spent a good 5 hours walking around Pompeii, and could have easily extended that to a full day if we had the time. Herculaneum is Pompeii's lesser known sister city, which faced a similar fate. That archeological site would have needed another day in and of itself as well.

Vesuvius and Family

We then made our way back to Naples, and had pizza Margherita at pizzeria “Da Michele” - supposedly the place which originated this style of pizza. I can't say too much positive about the city of Naples itself (other than the pizza), as it was still recovering from a trash workers strike. We had to be extra careful of pick-pockets and others, and that extra vigilance can take a toll on your ability to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds.

My next post will cover our three days in Venice!