The 3 Best Stretches for Healthy Shoulders in Racquet Sports.

The 3 Best Stretches for Healthy Shoulders in Racquet Sports.

Anyone who plays a racquet sport knows the importance of having healthy shoulders. Any type of muscle soreness or injury can make serving and hitting ground strokes very painful, taking the joy out of playing. There are four muscles that make up the rotator cuff, the infraspinatus, subscapularis, supraspinatus and teres minor, each of which have a different function, yet they work in conjunction to allow the arm to move in a 360-degree plane. Due to poor posture, an increase in sitting, and a lack of general emphasis on mobility, these muscles are unable to effectively move and stabilize the shoulder.   

Being a tennis, paddle, or squash player with lots of power does not necessarily come from strength. In fact, it has a lot to do with flexibility and how well you use all parts of your body in unison, something we refer to as the kinetic chain.  

Novak Djokovic is the best example of power through flexibility. When you look at him, he is slender and isn’t somebody you would classify as “strong” in the traditional sense. However, one of the things that makes him such a force on the tennis court is his flexibility. His body’s elasticity allows him to create so much racquet-head speed that it doesn’t benefit him to be bulky. He transfers a lot of his power by using his legs, hips, core and shoulder together. He utilizes every part of his body to create his power, and if one part of that kinetic chain is off due to either injury or lack of range of motion, a lot of his skill, coordination and strength would be lost.  

When we think about serving in racquet sports, a lot of the generated power comes from the range of motion in our shoulder, rather than just strength. One way to demonstrate this point is a simple exercise to try while reading this.   

Take your arm and bring it up to a 90-degree angle like in the starting position picture above, while keeping your elbow in the same position, bring it up to the 45-degree angle in the second photo and snap it back to the starting position with maximal force. Now try doing the same thing but this time, bring your arm back as far as possible to your maximum external rotation and snap back to the starting position from here. Which of these two created the most force? Maximum rotation of course. This is one of the keys to serving with power. Now if you look at my maximum rotation (which is not great by the way at only 95 degrees or so), if I could get my arm back another 20-30 degrees, wouldn’t I be able to create more force? Absolutely.   

Our shoulder creates torque when we serve and the more range of motion we have, the greater our angular momentum. Now I’m not trying to turn this into a physics lecture, however the key principle behind serving power is in the simple demonstration above. When in the LYMBR studio, we put a large emphasis with all of our racquet sport players on the importance of rotator cuff flexibility. The combination of stretching and our strengthening protocol will help you get your serve as strong as ever.  

Below are a series of rotator cuff stretches that you can do at home, as a warm up or cool down. Since these rotator cuff muscles all work together to allow the shoulder to move in a 360-degree plane. It is important to find a routine that helps you, it will not be the same for everyone. Try one set of each stretch, take a rest and go through the series again, be aware of your body and how each stretch changes how you feel. Always stay engaged mentally while you are stretching. This creates more mind to muscle connection, will ensure you are moving safely, and will give you the greatest chance of doing the exercise correctly. All of these factors will help take your racquet game to the next game.  

SUBSCAPULARIS  

Subscapularis – This muscle is largely responsible for the internal rotation of the shoulder, therefore to stretch the muscle, we must do the opposite. In order to stretch the muscle on your own, grab a long object (a broomstick, wooden dowel, or rake handle works). Standing straight, bring your arm out to the side and bend it to 90 degrees with the object on the back side of your arm.  From here, you want to bring your arm forward 5 degrees, drop the arm down by 5 degrees, and extend the arm out by 5 degrees. These tiny movements will isolate the subscapularis muscle and put the shoulder into a healthier position for stretching. Turn your palm so it’s facing forward, and grab the object behind you. With your opposite hand, pull the object forward to externally rotate the shoulder. Move through the stretch for about 3-5 repetitions and make sure not to hold the stretch. Do anywhere from 1-3 sets on each arm depending on how much time you have.  

 INFRASPINATUS  

Infraspinatus – This muscle will externally rotate the shoulder, therefore to lengthen the muscle we have to put the shoulder into internal rotation. Stretching this muscle does not require an object as we can use the ground as an anchor. Lying on your side, bring the arm that is closest to the ground out to 90 degrees. We want to position our shoulder similarly to how we did in the last stretch. Bring the arm forward by 5 degrees and extend the arm out 5 degrees. You also want to make sure that your shoulder is in line with your head, if it comes out to the side or is to far behind you then you’ll lose the precision of the stretch. Gently rotate your arm down to the ground whilst keeping your elbow still. Use your top hand to gently assist the arm further. Don’t use a lot of pressure on your wrist as you can hurt the joint or irritate the shoulder. Move through the stretch for 2-3 seconds without holding the stretch. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side or as many as you can with the time you have.  

TERES MINOR  

Teres minor – Whilst standing or sitting upright, put your hand behind your head, and reach for your opposite side shoulder blade. Take your opposite hand and grab the outside of your elbow, gently pulling your elbow and hand behind the head. This is an advanced stretch and in order to get the isolation, keeping your shoulder blade in the same place throughout the movement is the key. For most people, this will just feel like a triceps stretch, and that is okay. Put an emphasis on not leaning to one side as that will definitely cause you to lose the isolation of the stretch. Perform 3-5 reps with 2-3 seconds per rep without holding the stretch, repeat on the other side and perform 1-3 sets on each arm.  

This is a general routine that works for most people in keeping their shoulders healthy for racquet sports. However, the shoulder joint consists of about 8 muscles that attach to the shoulder blade, upper arm, and collar bone not to mention the various other muscles responsible for stabilizing and mobilizing the shoulder. If you are experiencing shoulder discomfort, or have trouble performing these exercises, we suggest getting in front of a LYMBR practitioner to ensure you are performing them correctly, furthermore to ensure the pain is not being caused by another muscle along the chain.  

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. 

Improving Digestion Through Optimal Nutrition

Improving Digestion Through Optimal Nutrition

We already know that what we eat affects everything from our weight to our ability to fight viruses, and our digestion. However, if you spend some time exercising during the day, but spend the rest of it in front of the television, chances are your digestion may slow down with you. Adding in short walks, playing with your kids, and stretching throughout your day can help keep things moving! Keep in mind, getting enough quality sleep can also help with digestion and help mitigate constipation.  

If you are feeling constipated, bloated, or are experiencing other digestive issues, it is important to make changes to your eating plan gradually. Try keeping a list (or a mental list!) of the changes that help you feel better and what makes you feel worse. Spreading out your meals throughout the day and leaving about 3-4 hours between meals will allow for optimal digestion. A low fat diet is often better tolerated and you may feel better if you avoid fried/greasy foods and foods prepared with added fat.  

BE MINDFUL OF SUGAR ALCOHOLS

Sugar alcohols are found in many sugar free products. Look out for certain alcohols like maltitol, xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol which can increase bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Sweeteners like Sweet-N-Low, Splenda, Equal, Truvia, and most stevia products contain maltodextrin which can cause bloating in some people. Moderation is key.  

Anywhere between 25-38 g of fiber daily for adequate digestion and promotion of bowel movements. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes as a way to meet the requirements the body needs.  Micronutrients (i.e. vitamin C) are as important as macronutrients (i.e. carbohydrates)! High fiber foods feed the healthy bacteria in your gut therefore reducing inflammation and chronic disease. Fiber also increases short chain fatty acids which has been shown to improve immune and intestine function.  

PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS

Keeping the gut healthy has many benefits, one of which is keeping the digestive system functioning as it should. The gut can be supported by prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements. Incorporating prebiotic and probiotic food sources will help support gut function and improve overall health. Prebiotic foods include artichokes, bananas, beans, and oats. Probiotic foods are live bacteria found in fermented foods including sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and water kefir. If you have a diet high in animal products try reducing your portion size or swapping a red meat burger for a veggie burger every once in a while. Red meat, high fat dairy products, and fried foods have been linked to a reduction in the growth of healthy bacteria.  

At the end of the day, listen to your body and remove your unique intolerances and inflammatory foods. We can truly live a healthier quality of life through physical activity and nutrition.  

Written by Jenny Candela, LYMBR Stretch Therapist, ATC and studying to be a Registered Dietician.  

Tomova A, Bukovsky I, Rembert E, et al. The effects of vegeterian and vegan diets on gut microbitia. Front Nutr. Published online April 17, 2019.  

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.