Why Women Should Lift Weights

Why Women Should Lift Weights

It is very common for women to hesitate when approached with the idea of lifting weights. Suddenly, images of Arnold Schwarzenegger-size muscles start popping into their mind. Most women don’t want bulging biceps or mountainous traps. That doesn’t mean they should skip the weight room altogether.

Weightlifting isn’t going to take away femininity; rather it offers a multitude of mental and physical benefits that women should take full advantage of. Major benefits include getting stronger, sculpting lean muscles, improving athletic performance, preventing injuries, enhancing your mood, decreasing stress and reducing the risk of major health issues.  

The most obvious reason to lift weights is to increase strength and muscle. Having muscle mass is valuable to every human body, especially women. Strong muscles makes life easier. Being strong and functional allows women to make their daily tasks and activities less fatiguing. When the body is correctly conditioned through weight lifting; it learns proper movement patterns and how to carry a load, thereby reducing the risk of injury. 

INCREASED MUSCLE MASS BURNS MORE CALORIES

Focusing on increasing the body’s muscle mass is when body re-composition truly happens and the transformation follows. This can be explained by muscle building; the more you lift, the more muscle you build. Muscle requires more energy, also known as calories, for your body than fat does. So, by lifting weights and adding muscle mass, the body will burn more calories at rest. But, it’s not just about how fast the metabolism is and burning more calories.

Cardio is known for burning more calories than weight lifting and there is absolutely a time and place for aerobic exercise. When doing cardio in order to burn calories, it is so easy to look at food as numbers and fall into restrictive methods of eating and overexercising. Weight lifting helps to open the door to a healthy relationship with food. It allows women to look at food as fuel to grow and maintain their muscles and get the most out of their weight lifting session.  

MENTAL BENEFITS

Weightlifting offers gains that aren’t just physical. There is a mental component to weightlifting that is simply unmatched. Watching oneself get physically stronger often results in getting mentally stronger. The endorphins released during weight lifting can help to lift one’s mood as well. Participating in athletic activity and body movement increases serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter associated with happiness.  

While lifting weights is beneficial for the everyday woman, it is also beneficial for female athletes. Female athletes should partake in a structured strength program at an early age, even earlier than male athletes. The reason being that females tend to physically develop and hit their growth spurt earlier in life. While their bones grow, their muscles are lagging. This, in combination with anatomical structure, makes female athletes more susceptible to injury; especially ACL tears. There is no reason that female athletes should not train with the same intensity as male athletes to increase their sport specific strength, sprint speed, agility, and joint stability.  

USE IT OR LOSE IT

The female body is constantly changing through various stages of life. From puberty, to child bearing, through regular aging cycles, the female body evolves much more than the male body does. As the female body ages, muscle mass decreases 3-5% every decade after the age of 30. Muscles have a use it or lose it mentality. Research shows that between the ages of 40 and 70, women lose an average of 22 percent of their total muscle. So, it is better to have built a solid base when dealing with the aging process. Fast twitch muscle fibers specifically deteriorate with age. The fast twitch fibers assist in speed and power movements. Slow twitch muscle fibers help to maintain endurance. It may not seem like a big deal if fast twitch fibers deteriorate. But these fibers are used in simple tasks such as getting up from a chair, getting in and out of the car, or stopping the body from falling. Having increased muscle mass helps to assist your body in the aging process and maximize quality of life and independence. 

HEALTHY BONES

Lifting weights isn’t just about muscle. It can also be your best defense against osteoporosis by increasing and protecting your bone density! Osteoporosis is a disease that decreases bone strength and mass which raises the risk of fracture. While everyone’s bones become weaker with age, a key risk factor in developing osteoporosis is simply being female. This disease affects over 10 million Americans, 80 percent of which are women. By lifting weights, you are engaging muscles that then pull tendons, which in turn pull on bones. This domino effect leads to stronger bones!  

NEED ADVICE?

All of our Stretch Therapists are certified in personal training and all have varied experiences with the latest fitness studios, workout trends and various sports. If you have a question about which workout routine is best for you, consult a few of the therapists at your local studio. We have relationships with a lot fitness brands so we may even be able to make an introduction for you!

Written by Natalie Veneri. Natalie is a Stretch Therapist in our Darien, CT studio and is a former college athlete.

Stretching and Weight Training: A Client Story

Stretching and Weight Training: A Client Story

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.

Not local to one of our studios? Subscribe to LYMBR on Demand and get the first month free. 

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.

Not local to one of our studios?

Unwind Your Poor Posture

Unwind Your Poor Posture

Your posture affects everything you do in life, work and sport. The way we move, or don’t move, through our day has lasting effects on our body. Here are the 5 main areas of which you should be mindful, to minimize the chances of poor posture impeding your day and your ability to be active.

Chest/Biceps 

Rounded shoulders are usually one of the first indications of poor posture and some muscular imbalance in that area.  Oftentimes, this will suggest that the chest, or pectoral muscles, and the biceps are tight.  Shoulders that are rounded forward towards the front of the body shorten these muscles, causing tightness. Daily activities that may cause this include typing at a computer while sitting at a desk or carrying a backpack heavier than it should be.  Great stretches to help lengthen these muscles include the doorway stretch pictured below, and child’s pose. 

Hip Flexors 

Most people are surprised to learn that their hip flexor muscles play a vital role in posture, as they connect the torso to the legs, aiding in spine stabilization. Tight hip flexors often reveal an anterior pelvic tilt, meaning the pelvis is rotated forward and the spine exhibits added curvature.  The shortening of these muscles, as well as an excessively curved spine, will cause the upper body to be shifted forward.  A sedentary lifestyle or sitting for prolonged amounts of time may cause this tightness.  To help decrease tension in the hip flexors, make sure to get up and walk around if you find yourself sitting for an extended period of time. 

Quadratus Lumborum (QL) 

A tight quadratus lumborum, or QL, is often the source of low back pain and an anterior pelvic tilt.  The Q Lis located in your lower back on either side of the lumbar spine. It starts at your lowest rib and ends at the top of your pelvis. Much like the hip flexors, a tight QL can be the result of sitting for long periods of time, sedentary behavior, and weak core muscles.  Strengthening the core muscles and stretching the QL through back rotations will help correct this imbalance by bringing the pelvis and spine back to a more neutral position. 

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) 

Are tight lats affecting your posture? Tight latissimus dorsi, or “lats”, can be easily observed during a postural assessment. Look at yourself in the mirror: Is one shoulder higher than the other? If one side of the torso appears shorter than the other, the side that appears shorter is tighter.  This imbalance can be caused by carrying a bag on only one side of the body. By carrying a bag on one side, the lats on the other side will start to compensate and shorten for the unilateral added weight. Favoring leaning to one side more when sitting will also cause tension on that side’s lats.  Make sure to properly stretch both side lats during the day. If a shoulder bag is being used, make a conscious effort to not overstuff it so that the spine can stay aligned, and alternate carrying on your left and right side. The stretch pictured below is one of many to target this area, and is a fan favorite amongst our clients.

Neck 

Stiffness in the neck muscles will also cause a shift in posture.  In today’s technology-based society, it is easy to find ourselves looking down at some sort of screen, whether it be at a monitor in the office, or a phone on the commute home.  This repetitive stance of looking down causes the muscles in the front of the neck to tighten and the head to protrude forward, placing it out of line with the spine.  Bringing any electronics in use to eye level, as well as making a conscious effort to sit up straight, will aim to prevent this imbalance. 

Good posture takes practice and mindfulness of how you carry yourself throughout your day. Better posture leads to a better, more comfortable life.

SUBSCRIBE TO LYMBR ON DEMAND to get access to self-stretches you can do anytime, anywhere to supplement the work you do in the studio and keep your posture in check! Members get this free, non-members get the first month free. 

Written by, Emma Younghans and Ariel Scheintaub.

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.  

Is Your Body Travel-Ready?

Is Your Body Travel-Ready?

Get the most out of every day when you travel this summer.

Whether you escape to the beach or tour a new city, don’t let the effects on your body from your travels, impact your ability to dive right in to your well-deserved summer vacation. Learn what happens to your body while you travel and a few tips and posture changes to help avoid and relieve common aches and pains during your journey.

What does travel do to your body?

LOW BACK
When we travel, we are likely sitting for hours on end, whether driving in a car or traveling by plane. Your posture may start out fine, but over time, we become more prone to slouching, causing the lumbar spine to be unsupported.  If this pattern of slouching continues, we start to form a new posture, causing misalignment in our bodies and putting stress on the joints and muscles. Tension will be increased in the low back muscles. Stretching these muscles will help increase mobility in the lower back, lessening any acute or chronic pain an individual may have there.

If you have to lift a heavy bag, keep it close to your body to protect your back and keep your core tight while you are lifting. If you are flying, practice proper sitting posture in the airport while waiting for your flight. Sit up tall, lengthen your spine, and pinch your shoulder blades back. Wherever you are traveling to, it is a good idea to support your low back by placing a rolled-up towel or small travel pillow between you and the seat. Practicing good posture will enforce good posture, preventing your low back muscles from stiffening beyond comfort.

SCIATICA
We see clients in the studio complain of a tingling or shooting pain from their back down their leg after getting back from a trip. Oftentimes this may be a case of sciatica. Sciatica can be a symptom of other back issues, in which pressure is put on the sciatic nerve. Such pressure may cause pain radiating from the back and glute muscles down the leg. The muscles most heavily affected by sciatica are the piriformis, glute, and hamstring muscles.

Before heading out, plan a visit to the studio for some low body stretches. Stretching the piriformis and hamstrings as in the video below, will reduce the tension of those muscles, lessening compression on the sciatic nerve. 

HIP FLEXORS
Hip flexors connect our pelvis and thighs, and when that angle is decreased when sitting, the muscles will tighten up. When you’re seated for hours during travel, that tightness increases greatly. Tight hip flexors will overstretch the glutes and hamstrings, making them harder to utilize once you reach your destination. Having hips that are too anteriorly or posteriorly tilted will also cause a pulling of the hip flexors, which may lead to discomfort in the knees and low back.

It is important to maintain proper posture while sitting, as slouching or sitting with the knees up toward the chest will cause added tension in the hip flexors.  Try to get up and walk around during your travel so that the muscles are not flexed the entire time. When you stop for food or bio break, take 5 extra minutes to walk around and stretch. Stretching the hip flexors, especially after a long flight or car ride, will alleviate the tension and restore the muscles to their proper range of motion.

SHOULDERS
Carrying bags are obviously necessary for travel. Heavy backpacks will place stress on the shoulders and low back.  When carrying a single shoulder bag, our bodies will favor one side, causing the other side to compensate in movement and posture. Muscle imbalances that are not corrected will often cause discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and back. Although we may assume a shoulder bag only affects the muscles of the upper body, lower extremity muscles, like the hips, will also become imbalanced due to this shift in posture.

Using a rolling bag for luggage will lessen the stress of carrying bags. If you do use a two-strap backpack, make sure not to overstuff it, and adjust the straps so the load does not lie too high or too low on your back. If you prefer a single strap bag, switch shoulders every 20 mins to even the load.

NECK AND SPINE
Sitting upright for long periods of time when traveling will affect the neck and spine. Usually neither area will be properly supported while in this seated position. The head and neck will shift to get comfortable, or while trying to sleep. If the back or neck is leaning to one side, that side will be shortened and should be stretched. Looking down at any phone, tablet, or book during travel will cause the front neck muscles to tighten, while the muscles in the back of the neck and back lengthen.

Use a travel pillow to support the neck while traveling. Stretching all of the neck and upper back muscles will allow for proper alignment of the neck and spine and reduce any soreness in the areas that may have been slept on improperly. These stretches can be done from your seat or once you reach your destination.

Before you head out for your vacation, plan some time in the studio to get your body travel-ready. Subscribe to LYMBR On Demand so you can get access to self-stretches anytime, anywhere. And book a relaxing session for when you return!

Safe travels!

Written by Ariel Scheintaub, LYMBR Stretch Therapist