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.
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.
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:
Bring your chin down toward your chest and release back to neutral position. Try with your hands behind your head, adding light assistance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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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.
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.
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?
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 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!
Written by Ariel Scheintaub, LYMBR Stretch Therapist