Strength Training continues to grow in popularity, now more than ever. Considering the many benefits – an increase in muscle size and strength, the ability to help maintain a lower body fat percentage, stress management, and, of course, the aesthetics we see in the mirror – strength training has been regarded as one of the most effective ways to stay in shape.
The few minutes you may (or may not) spend stretching after a workout are not substantial enough to give you the benefits you need to keep you progressing at the gym, and keep your risk of injury to a minimum. One to two hours per week of proper, purposeful stretching will help keep you right on schedule at your gym or fitness studio. Stretching on your own, or with the assistance of a LYMBR stretch therapist, will help keep your body performing and recovering to the best of its ability.
An avid weight-lifter, who focuses primarily on upper body exercises, came into LYMBR and expressed concern with lower back pain. A postural assessment was performed and it was identified that his shoulders were rounding forward. This posture imbalance caused the front-side of his upper body to become overactive, and the back-side of his upper body to become underactive.
Over time, the client’s training regimen caused his body to become conditioned to a misaligned posture. Strength training shortens the muscles and creates microtears on the tissue during a workout. These microtears are caused by the tension placed on the muscle from using weights. Through this process, the length of the muscles is shortened, and over time, the more these fibers remain shortened, the more prone you become to injury and compromised posture.
The physiology of the body tends to seek equilibrium, or homeostasis. The body will always seek a balance in which the body creates a stable internal environment. But in our client’s case, this new stable environment came at a cost. The rounding of his shoulders created an imbalance within the mid-line of his body, which led to certain muscles to over-compensate through this poor posture. And thanks to gravity, the weight-bearing lumbar spine had to support more weight due to the slight protruding head that comes with rounded shoulders, resulting in lower back pain.
Stretching the muscles in the front-side of his upper body helped him regain better posture by lengthening the appropriate muscles. As the muscles lengthened, the rounding in his shoulders decreased. As his body found its new, more efficient equilibrium and his posture improved, the pain resolved as the pressure was taken off his lower back area (primarily the quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi muscles).
We are often asked, “what is the best set of stretches for strength training?” The answer – there is no specific stretch regimen. It all depends on each person’s body blueprint, and what they need according to their overall assessment. Whether you’re a beginner, moderate or frequent gym member, the stretch protocol followed is based on the needs of the client.
Our sessions helped him to better understand how his body works and how to be conscious of when his body is in need of a stretch. With LYMBR as a part of his wellness routine, the client’s workouts are more effective, his movements are more efficient, his training can progress, and he will reduce the risk of further pain or injury.
Over the last year and a half, stationary bike demand has skyrocketed, with an increase in sales of nearly 200%. When so many gyms closed for quarantine, many people hopped on bikes made by companies like Peloton, Soulcycle, and NordicTrack to stay active on their own schedule and from the comfort of their own home. Cycling, whether indoor or out, is not only a great form of low impact cardio, it also provides a strength workout for the lower body, with larger muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings, and calves driving your ride. Cycling is a great choice for staying fit, but when done without proper stretching it comes at a price: tightness in the muscles in the lower body as well as the shoulders, two areas which can increase risk of more long term discomfort or injury.
In today’s remote-work environment, there is less built-in opportunity for movement (goodbye mid-day runs to grab coffee!) so people are sitting more than ever. While we are seated, our hip flexors stay in a flexed position, tightening the muscles around our hips. We then get on our stationary bike or road bike, and hold the exact same position for most of the workout, further reducing hip flexor mobilit. This encourages the body to compensate by using other more mobile joints in the body such as the vertebrae of the lumbar spine (low back). You don’t want low back pain to keep you off your bike!
To counteract this, it is important to pay special attention to the hip flexor complex in your warm up and cool down stretching routine in order to decrease your risk of lower back pain. Though it may seem like cycling is purely a lower body activity, the cycling posture, coupled with an increase in time spent seated during the day, can give your shoulders serious issues. Think of your posture as you sit reading this: while in seated position, whether it be on a bike or at a desk, our shoulders tend to roll forward, putting strain on the thoracic spine (mid back) and shortening key muscles in the chest, including the pec major and biceps.
Just like any new activity you add to your fitness regime, you want to ensure your body is prepared to perform it safely and effectively. You can do this by warming up with some mobility exercises, and finishing up your ride with a stretch to assist in recovery. By mobilizing pre-workout you increase athletic potential by getting your body ready to move, and activate the nervous system, while post-workout stretching helps release any built up lactic acid or metabolic waste. Below you will find a few simple stretches that can be used pre or post ride!
Kneeling Hip Flexor/Quad:
You’re going to want a pillow for this stretch. Get into a kneeling position, and place the pillow underneath the kneeling knee. Squeeze your glutes, and drive your front leg forward. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets. anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Thread The Needle – Rhomboids and Mid Traps:
Get onto all fours and then stretch your arms in front of you like you’re going into child’s pose. With one arm, reach underneath the opposite arm and turn your head. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to starting position and repeat 3-5 times on each arm. Repeat for up to 5 sets.
Wrap a stretching strap, towel, belt, or tie around one of your feet. Keep your leg straight and point your toes toward your knee, use the stretching strap to assist you into a deeper range of motion. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Thoracic Spine Extension:
Lay down on a small foam roller or thin pillow and extend your mid back. Perform a small crunch and then re-extend over the foam roller or pillow in order to mobilize your thoracic spine. Repeat this for up to 1 minute and for up to 3 sets.
Wrap a stretching strap, towel, belt, or tie around one of your feet. Bring your leg up completely straight and then use your strap to assist you into a deeper range of motion. Try to keep the opposite leg straight on the ground, if this is uncomfortable for any reason, bend the opposite leg with your foot on the ground. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position and repeat 3-5 times. You can do this for anywhere from 1-5 sets.
Cat/Cow – Entire Spinal Column:
Get onto all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. To begin, take a deep breath, push your hands into the floor and round your back towards the ceiling while bringing your chin to your chest. Hold for 1-2 seconds before pushing your stomach towards the floor, and raising your head up towards the ceiling. Repeat this for up to 1-2 minutes. Make sure to go slow and don’t hold these positions for more than 1-2 seconds.
If you commit to doing these stretches every time you ride, you will get so much more enjoyment out of your sport, and feel better during and after. You cycle for 30 minutes, an hour or longer – adding a few more minutes to take care of your body isn’t that much to ask!
Written by Shannon Ward, Stretch Therapist in our Newton, MA studio.