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Side Stitches

How to avoid cramps when working out

Often resulting in a premature end to an energetic workout, a "stitch" can be a painful experience. If it comes in combination with feeling sick, it can take days before you are ready to intensely exert yourself again.

What causes these unwanted reactions? Can they be avoided? Are they just a part of the processes your body goes through during continued exertion?  They may be a very direct message from your body to say: "Slow down! You are pushing me too hard"

What is a stitch?
A stitch is a form of cramp, normally experienced in the diaphragm near the right side of the rib cage. It usually indicates that you are pushing yourself too hard.

In some cases it can happen quickly, striking without warning and causing excruciating pain. In other cases it can come on gradually, starting as a slightly uncomfortable tightness or tense feeling. Most people try to work their way through this type of discomfort taking it as a normal reaction to the exercise they are doing. But as they continue the pain increases - to the point where the cramp sets in, causing the same excruciating pain as experienced in the sudden attack.

This type of stitch is felt on the right hand side of the chest as a direct result of a cramp in the diaphragm. If you experience a cramp on the left hand side of the chest this is normally caused by eating too close to your workout period.

The more common right hand stitch, caused by cramping of the diaphragm, is usually the most painful of the two. It is caused by not warming up properly, or it can also be caused by changing the pace of your activity or workout too quickly.  Both of these initiate the same reaction in your diaphragm area. There is a demand placed upon the muscles of the diaphragm to move through a greater range of deflections at a higher pace than it is prepared for.

In the case of changing the pace of your workout, suffering a stitch does not necessarily mean that you are pushing yourself too hard. It is merely an indication that you are pushing yourself in excess of what your body is prepared for at that particular point in your workout routine. It may  also indicate your diaphragm is slowly constricting and should be worked on directly by releasing pressure  that is causing it to constrict in the first place.

If you eat too close to your workout period, the small intestine will still be full of food that it needs to digest. Digestion  requires a significant rate of blood flow. If you then start your workout, the muscles you are using will also demand an increase in blood flow to supply enough nutrition for the energy output demanded from them. The muscles take precedence, resulting in a lack of blood flow to the small intestine to digest the food. This results in the small intestine cramping. You experience a cramp on the left-hand side of your upper stomach area in the region of the lower area of the rib cage, as this is where the small intestine is located. 

You might help this situation by talking some non hydrochloric acid digestive enzymes an hour before the exercise activity. No food, just the enzymes.

What to do?

First, do not panic. If it is your diaphragm that is cramping, treat it as you would any other form of cramp. Reduce the demand on the muscle by reducing the pace of your exercise. This will also help even out your breathing, which reduces demands on the diaphragm.

Bend into the stitch and apply gentle massaging pressure to the area experiencing the cramping to relieve and disperse the tension. If this does not relieve the stitch then it is time to stop exercising and take more direct action.

First, take in some deep breaths and quiet number count while side bending a few times. This will stabilize any rapid movements of the diaphragm.  If this doesn't remove the cramp then it is time to call it quits for the day. Do a gentle cool down to prevent further adverse muscle reactions from other muscle areas and do some strap work in the Fundamentals video #176.

If you try and force yourself through a stitch you may cause the cramp to linger for days and negative influence on the diaphragm without the breathing kit to fall back on to linger for years.  I always do the Side to Side in the 176 video in between exercises and never get a stitch.

Feeling sick?
Nausea during a workout usually means one thing - you are pushing yourself way, way too hard. Unless of course you are doing an early morning workout and have just gotten pregnant! Cold or flu symptoms could also create this effect or, in the simplest of cases, it could just be something you ate.

But all things being equal, if you have started your exercise and then experience a nauseating feeling and get the impression that you are going to vomit, do not stop suddenly. You will need to bring yourself down gradually due to what is happening within your body.

Nausea is a common reaction in unfit people when they first start a fitness program. Breathe longer, slower and deeper. If you are an experienced fitness person then you are working yourself too hard. Breathe longer, slower and deeper, by slowing down the pace a little and let your body catch up.

If you stop as soon as you experience this feeling, the excessive level of lactic acid being released into your system will probably make you sick. Therefore, the worst thing you can do is stop immediately and lay down. This will also cause your muscles to seize up and your breathing to go shallow. 

It is important to keep moving gently doing the Squeeze and Breathe for at least five to ten minutes. The movement will help to disperse the lactic acid from the bloodstream. Fresh blood supplied to the muscles will prevent them from seizing up by flushing lactic acid from the muscle tissue.  

This may be a difficult thing to do as you will be feeling sick but it will be less of an unpleasant experience than the agony of muscles seizing up throughout your body. Some of these muscles are accessory breathing muscles and they will cause you grief in the breathing arena for years to come. 

TIPS recapped
Wait at least two hours after eating before continuous exertion.  This will give your small intestine sufficient time to digest your food and the increased blood flow required by the muscles will not starve other areas of the body. 

Take some non acid digestive enzymes

Warm up gradually over a period of at least 10 minutes. You should treat this part of your beginning phase just as seriously as you do the intense aspects. It sets the foundation for your activity and can avoid an unexpected early termination due to overexertion or a stitch or nausea.

Try some extra magnesium. I went on a carrot juice fast and woke up at 3 am with cramping in almost every muscle in my body. Pretty scary. I immediately took 1500 mgs of magnesium and the cramps vanished in 30 minutes.

To ensure that the lower abdominal area is relaxed for your workout make sure you go to the toilet first.

During non exertion times you can stretch the diaphragm by doing the Squeeze and Breathe and Side to Side and sound exercise.

By following these few simple points you should enjoy a comfortable, stitch-free activity. Ensure you follow your workout with a gentle cool down and replace those lost fluids by re-hydrating after you have finished.  
Developing breathing for weight training, running, swimming and sports performance   

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