6 Ways to Stay Physically and Mentally Flexible

6 Ways to Stay Physically and Mentally Flexible

In these times of uncertainty, we focus so heavily on what is happening around us that we sometimes forget to take a moment and focus on ourselves. With the added stress caused by the events of 2020, chances are many of us are experiencing added physical and mental stress that we should not overlook. 

Contrary to popular belief, small acute bouts of stress are not only important but necessary for both growth and survival. Stress is caused by external forces that strain our bodies, effecting all 5 of our natural senses. Because of this stress, we can react to potentially dangerous circumstances and prevent serious injury.  

How do we process stress? 

Stress is processed by the Limbic System, the part of our brain that controls our Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight) and our Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest). In situations perceived to be dangerous, our fight or flight response kicks in and causes a physiological change in our bodies to anticipate the danger. Examples of this are increased heart rate, increased perspiration, and blood being removed from “non-essential functions” to fuel the muscles for action. This Sympathetic reaction is what allows us to react as best as possible during dangerous situations, or in more relatable sense, helps us function better during exercise. Once the external factors causing our body to react this way are removed, we are finally able to relax and enter a “rest and digest” mode where the body can bring all the excess blood from the muscles back to our organs for various functions such as digestion. 

Stress begins to become an issue when the balance of “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” weighs heavily in one direction over the other. When we stay in a prolonged state of stress, our mind and body begin to fatigue. Depending on the stress stimulant (fear, frustration, poor body image, etc.) these normally short-lived feelings become more embodied into our lives and we slowly become what we feel and think. Anxiety, depression, digestion difficulties and hypertension are just some of the various side effects caused by chronic stress. These negative side effects begin to spiral out of control if they are not properly checked and can significantly degrade out quality of life. 

Knowing that this excess of stress is unhealthy and, in some cases unavoidable, it’s important to fight back against stress and restore balance in our body and mind.  

Here are techniques you can use to bring yourself out of “fight or flight” and back to “rest and digest”: 

  • Focus on Breathing: We are ALWAYS breathing, so why would focusing on it help us relax? When we are in a stressed state, our breathing becomes shallow and ineffective, leading to an even further cascade of sympathetic reactions to occur. By taking a moment to reflect inward and take deep intentional breaths, you are allowing for more oxygen to fuel your body. On top of that, you also allow yourself a moment to block out unwanted external stimulus and hyper focus on something your body craves. Give yourself a moment to take 10 deep breaths (10 second inhale: 10 second exhale) and see how you feel! 
  • Exercise: Wait a minute, I thought exercise was stress on the body, wouldn’t that cause even more stress to be caked onto our body? The answer is yes, but sometimes you can use this additional stress to your advantage. Through exercise, you are making it a point to bring this stress onto yourself for the intention of bettering yourself, you are taking control of the stress and channeling it into something that you know will benefit you as opposed to laying there in a constant state of worry. The physiological benefits that come into play post-exercise start to kick in and will naturally aid you towards that “rest and digest” response.  
  • Stretching: We all saw this one coming! Like exercise, stretching allows for the body to be put through planned out intentional stress that is aimed at releasing tension in our bodies. By releasing this tension, we allow for fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to saturate our muscles and remove all the unwanted waste festering in our bodies. Stretching acts like a tune-up for the body which is important for long term functionality.  
  • Eat well and drink water: When it all comes down to it, we are all essentially giant bags of salt water, it is crucial to constantly replenish our water to maintain strong physiological function, keep blood flowing and improve our overall vitality. Throwing nutritious and delicious food into the mix will not only get you through the day but give you the energy needed to dominate the day. 
  • Keep an Affirmation Journal: This is a great practice not only to relieve yourself of stress, but to reinforce your volitions and strengthen your mental fortitude. Write down things that you want to be or be perceived as (even if you don’t currently believe it). Write down things you want to accomplish and strive for. Keep these ideas of greatness and success at the top of your mind and, over time, they will become a shield protecting you from all the negativity that seeks to bring you down. 
  • Give someone a hug:  By human nature, we need human contact to help us relax. During these trying times, there have been plenty of people who have been socially isolated for months. Human contact helps release a hormone known as oxytocin, which among other reactions in the body, helps people feel comforted and relaxed. If possible and safe, be sure to give a hug to a friend to let them know they are appreciated. 

These are just a few coping mechanics that can help you navigate through the craziness that is all around us. As we get closer to the holiday season, keep these tips in mind and be sure to stay diligent in your pursuit for mind body mastery. 

Written by Rick Charron. Rick is a Stretch Therapist and Head of the LYMBR Training Academy.

For Good Knee Health, Look a Little Higher

For Good Knee Health, Look a Little Higher

You may feel that life did not bless you with the best knees. Whether you feel discomfort during a run, playing golf, or just moving about day to day – there is chance that a muscle a little higher up is the culprit.

The Gluteus Maximus and commonly known as your glute, is the biggest muscle in our body. This muscle helps to cushion us when we fall, externally rotate our legs, and propel us as we walk. This muscle can also be the cause of your knee pain. The Gluteus Maximus (one of three glute muscles) attaches to the top of your hip bone, right on the side. The muscle doesn’t stop there, it becomes a tendon and continues down to the outside of the knee. If this muscle does not have adequate flexibility, it affects the entire chain down the leg to your knee. So if you favor one leg, jut your hip out when you stand, or habitually crosses your legs, you could develop a knee issue. We also see problems with athletes such as runners and with people that spend long hours sitting at their desks.

Working on the Glute Max and surrounding muscles releases muscular tension that can be influencing the hips and knees. Releasing this tension can give you the best chance to run a little farther or move more comfortably through your day.

3 Simple Yet Effective Stretches For Your Calf Muscles And Ankles

3 Simple Yet Effective Stretches For Your Calf Muscles And Ankles

It’s the height of summer and we’re running more miles, playing more sets, and getting in as many rounds of golf as we can. Are you preparing your body for the demands you’re placing on your muscles and joints?

Every activity involves demands on your lower leg. Below the knee, we have multiple muscles that allow us to push off, jump, change direction and make explosive movements. The calf muscles below the knee include the gastrocnemius, which is the large, two headed muscle that’s primary function is running, jumping and pushing off, while it also helps flex the knee joint, hence its size. The gastrocnemius is a type I muscle fiber, meaning it is responsible for explosive movements. The other muscle that comprises the calf is the soleus. It aids the gastrocnemius yet is utilized more in walking and less explosive movements as it is comprised of type II muscle fibers. Since it is a smaller muscle, it only acts at the ankle joint. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles come together towards the ankle joint and create a band known as the Achilles tendon. It is crucial to understand that these muscles are very susceptible to injury if exposed to sudden movements and contractions.  

Since the lower leg is such a sensitive area, injuries due to quick and explosive movements can take a long time to recover from, depending on the severity. We have all heard of the dreaded Achilles tendon tear, one of the most painful and hardest injuries to fully recover from, however a calf strain or tear can also be very painful. When an injury like this occurs, people describe the feeling of a pop or even the sensation of being kicked or shot in the leg.  

One of the ways to help prevent this from happening is a to make time for a thorough warm up and cool down. The stretches laid out below show how to stretch each part of the calf with these gastrocnemius and soleus stretches, which will help protect the muscles and surrounding tendons. It will also greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. Note: when performing these stretches, each time do one set with the foot pointing straight forward, one with the foot turned in while keeping the knee tracking forward and one with the foot turned out and keeping the knee tracking forward. This will also stretch the medial and lateral aspects of the muscle.  

DISTAL GASTROCNEMIUS  

Distal gastrocnemius – With the band double wrapped around the top of your foot, start with your toes relaxed. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent next to you. From here, aim your toes towards your shin and use your arms to pull the band for an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. Tip: lying flat is imperative to the specificity of the stretch. If you are sitting upright, it will not target the correct area of the muscle. 

PROXIMAL GASTROCNEMIUS  

Proximal gastrocnemius – With the relaxed leg out straight, double wrap the band around your stretching foot, getting as close to your toes as possible without the band slipping. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent. With your leg out straight, point your toes towards your shin and pull the band to get an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. The more flexible you are, the higher your leg can remain straight. Do not concern yourself with how high your leg is, focus on keeping it straight. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.

SOLEUS 

Soleus – sitting on a chair with one foot up and one foot relaxed, take both hands and grab around the middle of your foot. Point you toes straight up and use your hands to help pull upward. Have your leg bent to a comfortable angle, not all the way and keep your heel on the chair. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Again, If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. 

The next time you plan your run, match or round, be sure to add time before and after to stretch so your body can see you through and perform at the level you expect.  

Written by Koby Jansen, Stretch Therapist at LYMBR Darien. Koby is a former D1 college tennis player at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Former #1 in the state of Queensland and #7 in Australia for his age group. 

5 Stretches To Help Prevent Tennis Elbow

5 Stretches To Help Prevent Tennis Elbow

There aren’t too many racquet sport athletes that don’t know about tennis elbow (particularly if you are reading this), but let’s take this opportunity to learn exactly what it is. Tennis elbow is simply an overuse injury that occurs when too many repetitive movements of the elbow and wrist are performed. Tennis players are not the only people that are susceptible to this injury, however it is most common in racquet sport athletes due to the strain that it puts on the lateral aspect of the elbow. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis. When tennis elbow occurs, the inflammation causing pain is localized to the tendon on the outside of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle). Tendons are responsible for attaching muscle to bone and are susceptible to overuse injuries, one of the most common forms of inflammation found in tennis players is of the lateral epicondylitis in the elbow, otherwise known as tennis elbow. There are many ways to treat tennis elbow if you wind up with it, yet it is important to be proactive and take the proper steps to help prevent this from happening.  

If you are a racquet sport athlete, we can modify our sessions in order to keep you at your best based on what your individual goals are. If tennis elbow is something that you are conscious about preventing, let us know and we can add our wrist and forearm stretching protocols into our sessions. Below are some stretches that you can do on your own before and after you play. It is important to target as many aspects of the lower arm as possible. Since the muscles and tendons are all very close together, just doing one stretch will not give the desired result. The fingers play a big part in a tennis swing as they are the body part that actually grips the racquet. Since we grip the racquet so hard, they are constantly in a flexed position, therefore adding these simple finger extension movements will greatly aid your tennis game. 

WRIST EXTENSORS 

Wrist extensors pronated (left image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing down and your elbow crease angled toward your body. With your fingers out straight, gently point them down to the floor along with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the belly of the forearm extensor muscles. 

Wrist extensors supinated (right image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing up and your elbow crease angled straight up. With your fingers out straight, gently point them up to the ceiling with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the distal forearm extensor muscles. 

WRIST FLEXORS 

Wrist flexors pronated (left image) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing down and your elbow crease angled toward your body. With your fingers out straight, gently point them up to the ceiling along with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the belly of the wrist flexor muscles. 

Wrist flexors supinated (image right) – While standing, extend one arm out in front of you at a 90-degree angle with your palm pointing up and your elbow crease angled straight up. With your fingers out straight, gently point them down to the floor with your wrist and use your opposite hand to assist. Make sure the pressure of your assisting hand is closer to your wrist than your fingers as it will be less sensitive and target the forearm muscles more specifically. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Note: This stretch will target the distal wrist flexor muscles. 

WRIST PRONATORS

Wrist pronators – Starting with your arm bent at 90 degrees by your side and wrist in a fully pronated position (palm down), turn your wrist away from you so that your palm is pointing directly up. Use your other hand to assist. Do not move your shoulder to help get further, isolating the forearm movement is critical to the effectiveness of the stretch. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. 

WRIST SUPINATORS 

Wrist supinators – Starting with your arm bent at 90 degrees by your side and wrist in a fully supinated position (palm up), turn your wrist toward you so that the back of your hand is pointing directly up. Use your other hand to assist. Do not move your shoulder to help get further, isolating the forearm movement is critical to the effectiveness of the stretch. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side.  

FINGER FLEXORS 

Finger flexors – this stretch is simple, but a few tips and tricks go a long way. Rest your hand on your thigh with your arm bent at 90 degrees. Gently starting with your index finger lift it up and use your other hand to assist very softly. The muscle fibers in the fingers are very sensitive so you do not need to feel this stretch to much in order to get results. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on each finger. Perform 1-3 sets on each hand. 

BEING PROACTIVE IS KEY

These stretches on your own will not be as effective without the help of a LYMBR therapist. But the more you do these on your own, the more progress we will be able to make in the studio. It is important to be proactive about the health of your body, particularly as a tennis player, since overuse injuries are so common. Always take control of your body and do everything you can to prevent injuries before they occur, rather than reacting to injuries that have already happened. 

Returning To Tennis And How It Impacts Your Hips And Back.

Returning To Tennis And How It Impacts Your Hips And Back.

In our last post, we talked about the importance of getting your mind ready for the imminent return to tennis. That, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. Once you start your tennis journey again, if you don’t take care of your body correctly, it can lead to nagging soft tissue or potential overuse injuries. Tennis is a sport that puts a lot of stress on your muscles and joints, particularly if you are playing on hard courts. When you take time off and you are not performing the very specific movements that tennis possesses, it is highly likely that your muscles, and even joints will be sore once you return. During this time, you are very susceptible to having certain areas of your body flare and become sore. This increases your chance of injury because you will tend to overcompensate for the affected areas. 

After my first year of college tennis, my body and mind needed a break. I didn’t touch a tennis racquet or do any tennis movements for a month, and when I came back, I was as motivated as ever. My mind was ready to play hard and play for long hours, but my body was not. The first day back, I played for three hours, ran sprints and did a strength workout. After a week of doing this every day, my hips and lower back were on fire, and by the second week of playing, I was unable to serve due the pain in my back.  

Tennis movements are very specific, and while tennis is one of the most fun and healthy sports to play, the proper precautions need to be taken. The hard surface of a tennis court puts a severe strain on our joints, with the hips taking the brunt of that strain. Our hips are the body’s foundation. Our lower body function is non-existent without fully working hips. Our hips support our spine (which holds our rib cage protecting the heart) and keep our body upright. The hips are one of the most important parts of our body, and as it pertains to tennis, it takes time for our hips to adjust to the rigors of a tennis court. Take it easy and progressively increase your tennis load over time is to protect your hips. 

The lower back is another area that is put under tremendous strain when playing tennis. The serve is the most important shot in tennis, by a wide margin. When we serve, our lumbar spine is put through extreme extension, and if not prepared for it, doing too much can be very detrimental. It also ties in with our hips during the serve. If you are right-handed, you will jump and land on your left leg requiring balance and very localized strength. Tennis unfortunately is a sport that is very one side dominant. This fact is tested most during the serve as it puts acute stress on your opposite side hip and lower back. It is something to be mindful of when you do return.  

When it comes to returning to the court, do not overdo the serving early, take your time and wait until your body has adjusted to the pounding of the harsh tennis court surface. Keep your eye out for my next post coming up as I will outline exactly what stretches you should be doing for specific injuries, warm up and cool down, injury prevention and much more. 

Written by Koby Jansen of LYMBR Darien. Koby is a former D1 college tennis player at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Former #1 in the state of Queensland and #7 in Australia for his age group.