Tag Archives: stretching

Recovery 101: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a must do each and every day for any athlete who’s looking to recover from a workout as quickly, efficiently and fully as possible.  In addition to the compression socks covered in the previous Recovery 101 post, foam rolling can help your body bounce back from a foam rollingtough session in many ways.

Foam rolling is a type of self myofascial release or self massage.  It works by breaking up adhesions created in the muscles during periods of hard work.  These adhesions form between muscle fibers to cause stiffness and soreness while simultaneously preventing blood, oxygen and other important nutrients from reaching the very muscles they’re needed to help repair.  Think of them like the hooks on Velcro.  When they’re smushed together nothing can move very easily.  Break them apart and everything slides around much better.

Foam rolling before a workout will help get tissues loose, improve circulation and get muscles ready to work by increasing the range of motion around a joint.  With the ability to foam roll any muscle group from your feet to your shoulders, it’s a warm-up that works for every workout you ever do.  After a workout, foam rolling can help prevent soreness and stiffness by limiting foam rollingthe formation of adhesions.  Muscle that’s repairing itself starts right away and working over it with a roller can help that new muscle lay down the right way.

No matter when you’re rocking out with the foam roller, make sure you keep it slow and work the entire length of the tissue group.  Start with a soft roller and as you get used to the activity, step up to firmer and differently shaped rollers.  One with grooves or bumps will reach deeper into muscles while ball sized rollers can fit into small pockets at the feet, hips and shoulders.

Check out this video to learn a few valuable foam rolling techniques and be sure to include them after each and every workout.

Coach Meredith

Should You Be A Flexible Runner?

Being a flexible runner can be useful.  It can also make you less efficient.  People most commonly stretch to relieve the muscle tightness and soreness that are a product of hard training.  As this article from Competitor mentions, there’s no good reason our bodies would adapt in a way that didn’t benefit us, so do we get tight after a tough workout?  Our muscles shorten because increased flexibility can actually have a negative effect on performance.  Here’s how being a too flexible runner can change the way your body performs for the worse.

Think of your muscles as rubber bands.  There’s something to be said for tightly pulled rubber bands.  Tight bands are loaded with energy, waiting to explode.  Loose bands aren’t quite as ready to propel your body in one direction or another.  Static stretching, or loosening up, takes our tightly pulled rubber band muscles and makes them slack.  The relaxed muscles of a very flexible runner aren’t holding as much energy or as ready to perform as the tighter muscles of less flexible runner.

Stiffer muscles are also better springs.  They are better than stretched muscles at responding to impact with the ground, absorbing that energy and using it to move us forward with each step.  Being good at translating energy from the ground into forward movement is necessary for efficient running.  One study found that a group of runners who did static stretches before running had to make a bigger effort and had less efficiency at the start than those who had not, though the groups’ efforts eventually evened out.  Increasing running efficiency is the key to faster finish times and staying injury free.

While touching your toes might not be the most powerful indicator of running performance, it is still important to be a flexible runner.  Having appropriate ranges of motion around the hips and ankles will help prevent injuries, and some of the world’s best runners have been shown to have bigger ranges of motion around their hips than the rest of us.  Most of us also spend a lot more time sitting, which shortens the hamstrings, and wearing shoes, which shortens the Achilles and calf muscles.  Stretching these muscle groups to restore normal mobility should be part of your daily routine.

If a little stretch before or after your run feels good, keep it up.  Just be sure to hold for a short time and consider using a foam roller to make those muscles feel better instead.

Coach Meredith

Say Yes to Post Run Stretching

Post run stretching can seem like a drag.  You’ve just finished working out, it’s time to give your body the protein and hydration it needs to recover.  But wait!  It needs stretching to recover, too.  Giving the muscles that just did hard work a chance to relax and get blood moving through them stimulates recovery because it helps bring more oxygen and muscles repairing tools to where they’re needed.

Quadriceps Stretch – Standing on one leg, bring your other heel towards your glutes, it’s OK to use a wall, railing or anything for support if you need it.  Grasp your ankle with your same side post run stretchinghand and bring your heel in toward your glutes without compressing your knee joint.  Be sure to keep your knees next to each other, you are trying to make the quadriceps muscle long, and allowing the knees to separate prevents that from happening.  Feel a stretch through the front of your thigh and hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Standing Hamstring Stretch – Standing on both feet, place one foot slightly in front of you.  Rest on your heel, with your ankle flexed gently, then bring your shoulders towards your legs with your abs engaged, hands on your hips and a slight bend in the opposite knee.  Hold for 15-20 seconds then slowly return to the starting position and repeat with your other leg.

Calf Stretch – Standing with your hands on a wall, shoulder width apart, lean forward, extending the leg to be stretched back with one foot closer to the wall.  Put the heel of your post run stretchingback foot on the ground and lean forward, into the wall, until you feel a slight stretch through the back of your lower leg.  Hold for 15-20 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

IT Band Stretch (Figure 4) – To stretch your IT Band, begin by standing straight then crossing your right ankle just above your left knee, forming the number ‘4’ from your hips down.  Using a wall, railing or whatever is available for support, slowly sink your hips down and back into a seated position until you feel a stretch.  Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds, the slowly rise, regain balance standing straight and switch sides.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – Begin in a lunge position on the ground.  With your right knee bent in front of you, and the left knee on the ground, push your hips forward until you feel a gentle pull through your hip and quad.  To get an even greater stretch, reach your arms high over your head.  Hold for 15-20 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Be sure to check out our YouTube video here for demonstrations of post run stretching.

Have questions about your post run stretching routine?  Want to mix it up?  Ask Team FitNice!  Email Info@FitNicePT.com or fill out the box below.

Flexibility Isn’t Everything

The Sit-and-Reach test for flexibility.  There isn’t anyone who missed out on it in grade school.  Put your feet in the metal box, push the bar as far as you can without lifting yourflexibility knees off the ground and voila, your flexibility is precisely and accurately measured.  Unfortunately, flexibility might not be all it’s cracked up to be.  While incredibly important to gymnasts and dancers, stretching might not be beneficial to all types of athletes.

Recently, researchers have been exploring the exact benefits of stretching before playing a sport and how it can improve, or be a detriment, to athletic performance.  Most of the research is based on the fact that muscle fibers are like rubber bands, they stretch and recoil in proportion to their tightness.  You would much rather be snapped with a loose rubber band than a tight one, and your muscles are just the same.  The tighter a muscle is, the more force it can produce at a moment’s notice.  So why would anyone want to loosen their muscles up before participating in a sport?

The short answer is that it depends what you’re doing.  Flexibility is a measure of range of flexibilitymotion (ROM), or the range through which a joint can move freely through extension and flexion.  Normal ROMs around the hips, ankles and knees are integral for moving a joint in almost any athletic movement, and increased ROM can reduce muscle stiffness and risk of muscle strain injury.  Larger than normal ROMs are necessary for specialty athletes like gymnasts, hockey goalies and dancers who perform movements such as splits.

Unfortunately, performing a few minutes of static stretching immediately before heading to the floor exercise won’t improve your ROM.  A 2004 study in the September/October issue of Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that to derive benefits from static stretching, it needs to be done regularly.  Gymnasts, goalies and dancers spend years working on their flexibility and practice stretching every day.  The gym regular who does some static stretching in close proximity to exercising doesn’t require the same kind of dedication.  That exact kind of stretching was discounted again in a 2012 study done by The University of Northampton (UK).  After reviewing earlier studies, researchers found holding static stretches for a minute, or to the point of discomfort, right before exercising was a detriment to performance, while stretches held for 30 seconds were not.  The stretches used in these studies were designed to stretch muscles like the hamstring and quadriceps, not to increase ROM around a joint and the difference is distinct.  It doesn’t matter how much force your muscle can produce if it isn’t able to move through the required ROM to perform the activity correctly.  What’s the lesson?

It’s not ‘stop stretching and you’ll be faster, stronger and jump higher than ever’.   The lesson from this research is if you like stretching, keep at it, although you’re better off waiting until after you’ve exercised to do it and if you don’t like stretching, that’s OK, too.  A flexibility routine that ensures proper ROM around the hips, ankles, shoulders and knees is an important part of any fitness program, but being able to do a split or reach past your toes isn’t.  The type and duration of your stretching needs to be based on the kinds of activities you engage in on a regular basis and what your goals are.  There is no one size fits all flexibility routine that works for everyone, so take some of what you learned here and find what’s best for your body.

Want help developing a flexibility routine?  Ask us!  Email Info@FitNicePT.com today.

Strong Core, Strong Body

Having a strong core means more than being able to show off your abs on the beach, and powerful muscles connecting your upper and lower halves have lots of benefits beyond attracting the opposite sex.  Core muscles are the link between upper and lower body muscles, bones and joints.  Because all movement starts at one end of the body and moves through every inch of it, weak core muscles can go so far as to impede proper movement in the arms and legs.  Balance and stability also come from having strong muscles in your trunk and that means fewer falls and injuries.

Everything you do on a daily basis uses your core muscles.  Whether you’re standing up, sitting down, bending over or playing a sport, the basis for each movement is in your middle.  The major core muscles are the transverse abdominis working to stabilize the spine, the internal and external obliques rotating the trunk, gluteus maximus, medius and minimus stabilizing the hips, and the pelvic floor muscles that support organs and control urination.  Other groups of core muscles include the rotator cuff helping the shoulder joint, shoulder blade and clavicle work together and the erector spinae which run up the spine on both sides to keep you upright and assist the obliques and transverse abdominals.

Giving your spine and shoulders the support they need means better posture, making you look slimmer and breathe easier.  All this sitting up straight also eases the chronic low back pain many people suffer with.  Any sport that involves upper body movement is improved by providing increased flexibility and more power to rotate your trunk around your spine.  As you work to strengthen your core, you are not only gaining flexibility and decreasing low back pain, you are implementing a completely well rounded fitness program that will ultimately help you reach any fitness goal you set.

There are hundreds of exercises you can practice to increase the strength of your abs, obliques and lower back, and you don’t need a single piece of equipment for most of them.  Add a swiss or medicine ball to your fitness equipment stash and open up the door to many more choices.

Want help adding core training to your program or developing a brand new core strength training routine?  Ask us!  Info@FitNicePT.com

Dealing with Soreness

Everyone has workouts they know are going to slow them down the next day.  Being sore comes with involvement in any fitness activity, and can really dampen your enthusiasm.  If you’ve taken some time off or are starting something new, it’s a good idea to plan for the stiff, sore body you’ll be stuck in for the next few days, and best way to deal with muscle soreness is to prepare for it.  Leave time in your day for stretching or schedule a massage when you know you are going to push the limits of your muscles.

The most important thing to know is that if you’re sore, it means you are getting stronger!  During your workout, you strained those aching muscles by putting tiny little tears in them.  The effort of your body to repair these small rips causes the inflammation that leads to muscle soreness.  It’s also nice to know that it won’t last forever because each activity you do will lead to less and less muscle damage as your body adjusts to the new demands you place on it.  Keeping your routine mixed up is a great way to keep muscles working and stop them from being achy and sore.

When you are achy and sore, most people head straight to the medicine cabinet.  While taking ibuprofen or aspirin might ease pain and reduce swelling, it also slows the healing process.  Your favorite pain reliever does this by impeding the ability of bones, ligaments, and tendons to heal and, if taken frequently, can also cause stomach and liver problems.  If you try taking one of these medications before a workout to prevent soreness, you’re actually hurting yourself more than helping.  The response of your body to training will lessen and, since taking these types of drugs has been shown to cause an increase in inflammation, you can end up in a more painful situation than you intended.

The best way to prevent soreness is to stretch out when you’re finished with your session.  Five minutes spent lengthening those hard working muscles can ward off a day spent stiff and sore.  After stretching, you also need to make sure your body has all the tools it needs to repair the damaged muscles, so get your protein and rehydrate within 30 minutes of working out.  You can also use heat, ice and massage as a way to ward off some post workout suffering.  Using heat will increase blood and oxygen flow to the damaged area and help clean out any chemicals stuck in there.  Massage breaks up the adhesions created during a tough session and, like heat, allows increased blood flow and nutrients to get where they need so your muscles are repaired.  Ice can ease pain and will decrease swelling, so ice for twenty minutes four times a day to aid in healing.

Have questions?  Need a stretching routine?  Ask us!  Info@FitNicePT.com

Fitness Benefits of Yoga

Everyone has heard of yoga, and most people have a sense of what it is.  Whether you’re a yoga fanatic or someone who hasn’t ever thought about giving it a try, this type of workout can be a great compliment to your current routine.  Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years, and with the ultimate goal of uniting body, mind and spirit, it’s a great addition for runners, golfers and anyone else who spends a little time getting fit.

Yoga improves flexibility by working through a series of poses to safely stretch muscles and soft tissues.  Better flexibility decreases lower back pain and prevents post workout stiffness.  Flexibility will also give your body more power through a larger range of motion, generating more power in a golf swing and more fluid hip movement for runners.  The muscle balance demanded by yoga will also lead to improved club control for golfers, and for runners, yoga helps maintain body alignment and reduce the risk of injury.

Yoga requires deep, controlled, mindful breathing, and in turn creates a relaxation response from the body.  This relaxing effect has been shown to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with depression, help insomniacs fall asleep faster and improve mood states.  Improved breath control gives golfers a better swing rhythm, and benefits are seen when pregnant women practice prenatal yoga because it helps with breath control and pain management during labor and delivery.  Practicing power yoga in a heated room can, in itself, be a tough aerobic workout for any one.

It’s important to be aware of the risks of yoga as well.  Though it may sound nice and easy, it is possible to hurt yourself by overstretching and straining to reach that next pose.  People with severe osteoporosis, who are pregnant or have spinal problems should be aware of this increased risk and discuss their yoga training with a physician.  Warming up, staying hydrated, dressing properly and listening to your body are just as important when doing yoga as they are when going for a run or any kind of weight lifting workout, so take it seriously!

The best way to learn about yoga is to get out there and try a class!  You might not fall in love with the first style you try, so give each type a shot.  Find a studio near you, make sure you have a qualified instructor and take a friend.  For help finding and instructor or studio near you, contact us at Info@FitNicePT.com.

Good for You Foam Rolling

Most everyone has seen the chopped up pool noodles propped up on the wall by the stretching and ab work areas at the gym.  Even though they look like pool toys, foam rollers are a staple for many athletes, fitness enthusiasts and runners.  Foam rolling relaxes and treats sore muscles in a form of self-massage, improving circulation and increasing flexibility.  Cheaper than massages, this budget conscious option can be executed in as little as ten minutes.

Foam rolling works muscles by using a technique called myofascial release.  Fascia are the soft tissues that give muscles support and protection.  When these become restricted or inflamed from inactivity, overuse, or training, the resulting adhesions, occurring between the fascia and the muscle they protect, causes pain, tightness and a decrease in blood flow.  Rolling these tight muscles relieves this strain by pressing on and stretching the fascia to relax the adhesive tissues.  Helping to keep muscles loose, myofascial release is a key part of injury prevention.

Foam rolling helps prevent injury when used as part of a workout, and can be done as part of both warm-up and cool down.  During warm-up, a short rolling session will help increase circulation to the desired muscles, preparing them for some hard work.  After your workout, rolling stretches, massages and relaxes those same muscles after they were shortened and tightened by exercise.  Avoiding any torn muscles, you can roll and relax most major muscle groups, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, lats and traps.  Most runners swear by the foam roller for helping them avoid IT Band syndrome and aiding in recovery from a developing injury with deep tissue massage at very low cost.  Smaller muscles, like the chest and psoas, are better reached with lacrosse, tennis or other dense, weighted ball.

You can pick up a basic foam roller for about twenty dollars anywhere that sells fitness equipment, Dick’s and Target both carry them.  There are lots of different flavors of foam rollers available, including your choice of color to fancy trigger point styles, so you should try each kind and find what you like best.  Different densities exist as well, with white foam rollers typically being softer than blue or black rollers, so know that the harder the roller is, the more intense the stretch is going to be.

With all the benefits of foam rolling, you have no excuse for not giving it a shot!

The Importance of Stretching

Stretching prevents injury and soreness, improves range of motion and circulation, and gives you time to cool down from your workout.  Any one, of any age, can see big benefits from adding a stretching routine to their workouts.

One of the biggest benefits of regular stretching is an increase in flexibility, and without good flexibility, movements can be slowed and less fluid.  Improved range of motion makes everything from tying shoes to lifting groceries easier, and also helps prevent muscle strains or tears, damage to ligaments and other soft issue injuries.  The bigger ranges of motion that result from increased flexibility around joints will also improve coordination and balance, which is incredibly important when trying to prevent falls, especially in older populations.  Stretching also improves circulation by increasing blood flow to the working muscle, helping them receive needed nutrients and remove waste, like lactic acid.  Better posture and stress relief are more of the wonderful benefits you can get from regular stretching.  Tight muscles are the enemy of good posture, so stretching out can help you sit up straight and limit aches and pains.  When you’re feeling stressed, a few minutes of stretching will help tense muscles relax.

You can stretch a little bit before you workout as part of a solid warm-up and after your session as a cool down.  When you stretch for a warm-up, make sure you’ve done something to get your blood flowing already, such as five minutes on an elliptical.  Stretching cold muscles makes them prone to pulling or straining, which is exactly what you’re trying to prevent!  After you’ve loosened and warmed your muscles, you can give them a nice stretch before you hit the hard stuff, then you can be sure those working muscles are getting enough oxygen.  A light stretch before the tough stuff will also raise your heart rate slowly and safely.  Be careful not to stretch too much prior to your workout, as there is evidence suggesting that long, static stretching before a workout can lower strength gains by straining, and therefore weakening the muscle before you train.

Stretching properly is the key to seeing benefits, so here are some tips on how to do it the right way.  Take deep breaths and hold each stretch three times for 30 seconds, making sure to stretch both sides evenly.  Long, steady stretches are the way to, with no tugging or bouncing.  You should feel a stretch, not a pain or pull, if you do, stop immediately.  Make sure to stretch all over!  Quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, calves and lower back are some of the most important areas, especially when you’ve put your legs through the grinder with some hard cardio or a long run.  Lower back pain is often caused by tightness in hamstrings, lower back and hips, so stretching these areas can be a huge help.

For questions about, or help developing, a stretching program, send us an email!

Benefits of Stretching

There are three major components that measure fitness: cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility.  Flexibility is often the most overlooked and undervalued.  It is defined as the range of motion in a joint and the length of the muscles that cross the given joint.  While it varies greatly from person to person, the importance of including stretching in your fitness routine is undeniable.  Stretching should be done after your body is warm in order to prevent injury to cold muscles, and for the same reason, bouncing stretches should be avoided.  Add a little stretching at the beginning of a workout, a few minutes after, and you’ll see improvement in several fitness related areas.  Here are three great reasons to take the last five minutes of your workout to stretch:

1)  Stretching increases flexibility and better flexibility makes you less susceptible to strains, sprains, tears and pulls.

2)  Stretching increases blood flow to the muscle.  More blood and nutrients getting to the muscles aides with repair and cleaning out of any lactic acid build-up, which helps prevent soreness, and that’s always good news.

3)  Improve balance and posture by relieving tension in back muscles and releasing stress.  Having a larger range of motion allows your body to maintain its natural and proper alignment with less effort, helping to prevent falls and keep you sitting up straight.

So, whether you can touch your toes or not, give it a try.  Hold each stretch steady for 30 seconds, and remember not to bounce.  Stretch each and every time you work out to have fewer injuries, less soreness and better posture before you know it.