6 STRETCHES FOR CYCLISTS

6 STRETCHES FOR CYCLISTS

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. 

Calf: 

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.  

Hamstring: 

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.  

Strength and Flexibility, The Perfect Combination

Strength and Flexibility, The Perfect Combination

There is a common myth that when muscles are flexible around a joint, you will get injured and that tight muscles perform better. A tight muscle does not make a strong muscle. You may be very strong through a specific range however true strength means maintaining that strength and position through the full range of motion of each muscle and joint.

In order for muscles to perform at their best and protect a joint, they must not only be strong, they must be mobile. It doesn’t matter how strong your muscles are around a joint, if they do not possess the requisite amount of mobility needed to maintain and progress through position, you put yourself at a very high risk of imbalance and injury.

A strong muscle has the ability to lengthen and shorten while acclimating to the forces placed on it. When muscles and tissues are tight, they are unable to maintain tension and stability through their full range. This leads to improper engagement of muscles, which further leads to compensation and imbalance. Compensatory movement is a breeding ground for injury, and the only way to fix it is by first addressing mobility restrictions. In all sports and activities, proper form is imperative for maximum results and to prevent injury. Proper form can only be achieved if all the muscles that are involved in the movement are healthy, mobile, and able to meet the demands being placed on them.

A tennis player came to see us complaining of recurring elbow bursitis. After evaluation, we found that her bursitis was a result of tight muscles surrounding her elbow joint. This tightness caused a friction force to be applied to the bursa, inflaming it. We stretched the muscles that surround her shoulder and elbow in order to increase blood flow and decrease pressure in the joint. After two sessions with our stretch therapist, the client reported that her pain was 100% relieved. Now that her elbow joint is more mobile, and the muscles are able to fire properly, she is able to play multiple sets without the added stress on her bursa.

Continued sessions with us have helped her to decrease tension forces in her elbow, increase mobility, enhance her posture and improve her tennis form and performance. She is now able to play longer and stronger without pain. Regular stretching sessions have taken her game to another level.

Whether it’s tennis, hiking or your favorite fitness studio workout, chances are you have imbalances and mobility issues. We always recommend focusing on building strength, but it’s equally as important to build on your flexibility and mobility to keep you healthy and able to get the most out of what keeps you moving.

Preventing Neck Pain While Working

Preventing Neck Pain While Working

After a long day of sitting in your chair, staring at a computer, do your neck and spine feel stuck? Whether you are still working from home at a less-than-ideal setup, or back at your office, chances are your posture is suffering from long hours at a desk. Are your shoulders rounded forward, leaving you wondering why your neck hurts? 

We know that poor posture can lead to neck and back discomfort, but coupled with incorrect equipment and workplace stress, this is a recipe for pain. Straining your body all day during work will decrease productivity and minimize your capacity for mental concentration. Both physical and mental stressors increase activation of the upper trapezius more than any other neck muscle. According to The Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, studies suggest that the upper trapezius muscles are activated by psychosocial stress independent of changes in concentration or posture. The Journal explains studies done by University of Colorado’s Physical Therapy Program comparing the effects of mentally challenging computer work performed with and without exposure to a psychosocial stressor on neck muscle activity and posture. The cervical flexor and extensor muscles however, do not experience a change in activity when adding workplace stress. It is important that we know the specific area that is being overworked in response to stress so that we can stretch that muscle and keep it relaxed throughout our day. Taking breaks in between work may be hard for you, so these practical tips will alleviate neck and back pain WHILE you work.   

1. Keep your neck from straining forward for prolonged periods of time 

  • Raise your screen to eye level 
  • Change your font to your eye’s preferred text size 
  • Lead movements with your eyes more than your whole head and slouching with your shoulders and neck 
  • 20/20/20 rule: look at something about 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at a time 

2. Reset your postural habits 

  • Lean back in your chair, rest your shoulders directly over your hips, keep your chest open and feet flat on the ground 
  • Adjust your screen and chair to an appropriate distance apart without compromising your new seated position 
  • Avoid pinning your phone between your shoulder and head while multitasking 

3. Break up the stiffness from staying still all day

  • Incorporate movement during work (i.e. walking during calls, our CEO is famous for doing this!) 
  • Stretch! Take 6-8 seconds in every rep. Perform 3-5 reps on each muscle. After a brief break (up to 10 seconds) you can perform a second set! 

*As you stretch, remember to exhale during the stretch and inhale as you come out of the stretch. This will help you see the most progress in your range of motion with each repetition.  

Move as far as your body will allow by itself before using assistance. This will allow for a more functional and impactful session.  

Below are some stretches you can perform to improve your posture and relieve pain: 

Neck Extensors 

Bring your chin down toward your chest and release back to neutral position. Try with your hands behind your head, adding light assistance. 

Neck Flexors

Start leaning forward to disengage the muscles that hold your head up, resting your elbows on your knees. Leading with your eyes, look up towards the ceiling. Keeping your mouth closed and teeth together will allow for a deeper stretch. 

Try taking your elbows off your knees and use either your fingers or palms to assist at the end of your range of motion on your forehead.  

Scalenes 

Sitting upright with your head facing forward, gently bring your ear down to the shoulder. Try bringing your hand to the top of the head to provide light assistance towards the end range of motion. Keep your opposite shoulder down. 

Levator Scapula 

Turn your head 45 degrees away from the stretching side (or until your chin is slightly outside the knees). Bring only your chin and head forward toward your chest.  Bringing your hand to the back of your head, perform the stretch and provide light assistance at the end of the range of motion.

Trapezius

Turn your head 45 degrees towards the stretching side. Bring your ear forward and down toward your chest. Perform the same stretch with your hand on the top of your head, bringing your elbow down toward the floor.  

Back Flexion 

Sitting toward the front of your chair, tuck your chin toward your chest and reach your hands in between your knees, down to the floor. If you can, reach your hands towards the back legs of the chair or pull on your own legs to add assistance. 

Thoracic Extension 

Place your hands on your knees for balance. Extend your back, lifting your breast bone, head, and eyes to the ceiling. Try to arch your spine during this movement, be careful to not just lean back in the chair  

Pecs

Start by placing one arm against a wall edge or door frame. Keep your elbow straight and palm against the wall with the arm at shoulder height. Pinch the shoulder blades together. Engaging the back muscles inhibits (turns off) the pec muscle. Turn your shoulders away from the wall. 

Written by Cierra Chamberlain, LYMBR Stretch Therapist.


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References:  
Bahar Shahidi, Ashley Haight, Katrina Maluf, Differential effects of mental concentration and acute psychosocial stress on cervical muscle activity and posture, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Volume 23, Issue 5, 2013, Pages 1082-1089, ISSN 1050-6411, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2013.05.009 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1050641113001235)  

Is Your Knee Pain A Pain In The Butt?

Is Your Knee Pain A Pain In The Butt?

If life did not bless you with the best knees or hips in the world, don’t stress! Sometimes the sports we play or jobs we do have a negative impact on our body. We all know someone who has suffered from knee problems. It might even be you. One muscle that can impact your knees is a muscle you may not have considered. If you’re seated and reading this then you are using this muscle right now because you are sitting on it! This muscle, technically known as the Gluteus Maximus, is our biggest muscle in our body. This muscle helps to cushion us when we fall on our backside and propel us as we walk. Sometimes this muscle can actually be the cause of your knee pain.

This may seem weird to some, because the knee is so far from the hip. The truth is that the Gluteus Maximus attaches to the top of your hip bone, right on the side. The muscle doesn’t stop there, it actually becomes a tendon and continues down to the outside of the knee. So if someone stands on one leg, juts their hip out or even sits with their knees touching they could develop a knee issue.

We see a lot of runners who come to the studio for knee pain, but also people that sit for hours at work without taking any meaningful breaks to move around and relieve some tension.

Focusing on the Glute Max region releases muscular tension that can be influencing the hips and knees, giving you the best chance to crush your next run, ride or whatever gets you moving! It can even make those long work days a little more pleasant. 

Low Back Pain + Your IT Band

Low Back Pain + Your IT Band

One of the most common reasons clients come to our studio is to find relief from lower back pain. We see this in clients who sit at desks all day, as well as clients who are very active either training for a race or maintaining a rigorous workout schedule. The origin of this pain often stems from the IT Band and the glutes. The IT Band, also known as the iliotibial band, runs lateral to the quads (the outside of the thigh). This band runs from the iliac crest, which is part of the pelvic-hip complex (as shown below) and around the outside of the knee. The knee is the most common place people think of when they hear the words “tight IT Band” – but the low back is just as common an area to be affected.

If you take a look at the study of movement, muscles work in conjunction in order to facilitate movement by pulling on the bone; everything within the body is somehow connected. Therefore, anything that is misaligned or tight may cause an improper movement pattern somewhere else in the body, altering proper function.

If there is tension in the IT Band or gluteus, they begin to pull on adjacent muscles within the complex of the hips, notably the Quadratus Lumborum (QL’s). The QL muscle is technically an abdominal muscle but it has tremendous impact on the lumbar region of your lower back.

The IT band provides stability at the hip during lateral movements. Other muscles that stabilize the hip includes the gluteus medius and the quadratus lumborum (QL). As the IT Band tightens due to injury or overuse, friction will cause a downwards pull of the gluteus medius and the QL, causing the upper body to laterally bend a few degrees to the right. Even a slight pull on the lumbar spine could potentially compress the nerves and lead to pain and even greater neuromuscular problems later in life.

How do we approach this in the studio? We begin with an assessment by performing various stretches on the client. First, we test the hip flexors and the muscles of the quads to determine whether these muscles contribute to the lower back pain. From this point on, we turn to the IT Band and test its range of motion. Often times the IT Band contributes to tightness in the gluteus medius. Tightness in this muscle creates tension within the rest of the gluteus muscles. After stretching the gluteus muscles, we make sure to check in with the client to see how they are feeling after the series of stretches. The last piece within this series is to target the Quadratus Lumborum. Since the QL has several attachments into the spine, we make sure to perform a light and smooth stretch in order to allow the client to relax on the table and prevent the nervous system from protecting the muscle. Once the nervous system has relaxed, we see incredible results from the stretch,relieving a great amount of tension within our client’s lower back. We then re-asses by testing the range of motion of the IT Band and see how the client feels when they get off the table. As they start walking around the studio, they experience notable relief in their lower back and improvement in their gait.

Lower back pain affects so many people – yet every body is different. Treating the whole body is key to finding the source of the pain and finding the path to relief and recovery.

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