Thursday, December 13, 2012

Learn how to breathe and you might even strengthen your core. No, really.

Stress does some funky things to our bodies.  I've made reference to the idea of using active recovery to help decrease your stress for longevity in life, and it's not a mystery any more that stress contributes to an awful lot of illness.  But stress has physical manifestations, and some of them detrimental in the long-term.

When your body responds to stress, it has no clue if that stress is because of traffic, a work deadline, you're running late, or because a grizzly bear is trying to eat you!  It just knows you are stressed, and it will react in the same basic ways related to survival, including maximal oxygen uptake.  These modes of function are not how we are intended to operate on a daily basis, but it winds up happening that way.  In order to maximize oxygen uptake the body recruits muscles that should otherwise be doing other things.  When a stress level is maintained, we get into the habit of "chest breathing" rather than breathing from the respiratory diaphragm.

The extended trouble with chest breathing can be excess tension in muscles up around the neck which attach to (and can help lift) ribs, and also dysfunction of core muscles, among other issues.  These can mean neck and head pain, as well as back and hip pain.  Retraining (and continually reinforcing) proper breathing mechanics in our daily life could help us all.  So read on for 2 different ways to go about this.

First is the method you can use at you desk at work, or even waiting at a stop light (but please, only when safely stopped!):
Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.  Take a breath in using your abdomen and the respiratory diaphragm.  You should be feeling your abdomen hand get pushed out while the hand on your ribs stays undisturbed.  Then, reverse the movement, exhaling by gently pulling the navel back towards the spine and allowing the air to be pressed out of the lungs gently by the respiratory diaphragm.  If your top hand moves, no worries!  Just keep at it, and it will get more and more normal over time.
I recommend exaggerating this exercise with deeper, more pronounced (but not forced) inhalations and exhalations, just to reinforce being able to maximally inhale and exhale with this method, which should further reinforce it being reflexively used as your body's preferred method of breathing.

The second method is a 2-part exercise that will introduce engaging the transverse abdominis a bit more, which can help the firing sequence of the core muscles.  Research suggests that core muscle firing sequences which are out of order are often correlated to low back pain.
The first part of this exercise is to lay on your back.  Similar to above, you will place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.  Draw in a breath using the respiratory diaphragm and push it out using your abdomen (core muscles).  Try to inhale for a 4-count, hold for a 2-count, and exhale for a 4-count.  This will help to strengthen the respiratory diaphragm.
To address the transverse abdominis, we are going to turn over, on all-fours, and do the same abdominal breathing as above, but with the navel drawing towards the spine against gravity, the transverse abdominis will have the chance to get some strengthening in.

I recommend also trying the seated technique while standing.  You may find it easier or more challenging.

Practice the seated or standing exercises as often as you can - preferably 30 seconds, once an hour for a week or two.  Practice the other at least once a day for a total of 2 minutes.  If you have a regular yoga or pilates practice, some of these techniques may already be a part of your practice, but remember to bring them outside of the studio and into life.  You spend 22-23 hours of each day outside the studio, dealing with life and its stresses.  To be able to maintain these techniques in the face of minor daily stresses will help us return to them after greater stresses.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't foam roll your IT Band!!!

It's been entirely too long since I've updated with anything.  I've been working hard on a number of different projects.  Among them has been studying for and earning my NASM-CPT, so I now can offer personal training as an additional way to help you achieve your performance, health and wellness goals!

But, on to the task at hand...why on earth would I suggest not to foam roll your IT band?  So many people's IT bands give them all kinds of grief, and many professionals in fitness and therapies will instruct clients to foam roll their IT band.  It hurts, and since no pain means no gain, it must be doing some good, right?  Maybe so, but probably not so much for the IT band - probably mostly for the vastus lateralis (member of the quadriceps group), which resides largely underneath the IT band.  In the meantime, the foam rolling is managing to mash the IT band into that vastus lateralis and help them get even more stuck together than they already are.

Here's what's going on there...

The IT band, itself, is pretty much just tendon.  It doesn't do any contracting - it just transfers the contractile forces of the muscles that feed into it.  So foam rolling it will not prompt much release of tension that's on the IT band.  The trick is to focus on the muscles that pull on the IT band and give it its tension.  Those main muscles are the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and gluteus medius, with a little help from gluteus maximus.  As those muscles tighten, and pull on the IT band, the IT band is pulled taught against the aforementioned vastus lateralis quadricep muscle, and those two can eventually get stuck together by way of their connective tissue (fascia) becoming intertwined.  Getting the IT band unstuck from the underlying muscle and fascia, and getting the glutes and TFL to release has proven to be highly effective for my clients with IT band issues.  So, if you are having IT band issues, and if foam rolling directly on the IT band hasn't been helping, then use these 2 quick videos as a visual guide for how to get that foam roller into your TFL and Glutes effectively (I've selected brief videos that provide a good visual, moreso than videos that contain a lot of information).

If you run or cycle a lot, there's a chance that you do or will have some IT band discomfort at some point.  If you are alive, there's a reasonable chance that you have some imbalance in your TFL/Glutes, so foam rolling these makes sense for you, too.  Include it into some of your self care regime, but don't waste your time directly on the IT band, if the IT band is your target!  Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Overhead and level

We're working our way upwards, folks.  We started with the bottom of the squat and how your ankle might be compromising everything else above.  We looked at how your computer keyboard might be keeping you from critical external rotation in the rack position.  We have looked at how the triceps and lats can do a good job of keeping the elbows low in that rack, too.

Well, now it's time to get overhead for the jerk and snatch.  Hopefully by now we have all mostly identified our biggest issues in the squat and in the rack position.  Hopefully we've all improved all those, between time under the bar, and time mobilizing before and in between sets.  Haven't we?  But we won't stop there will we?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Elbows forward!

In the last entry, I mentioned the importance of external rotation for your rack position.  All the external rotation in the world is only going to be a part of the equation.  If you are having trouble getting your elbows forward in the receiving position for the clean, that's another problem altogether and might require more focus on the triceps and lats.

Triceps cross both the shoulder and the elbow, so when length is needed from that muscle at both of those joints, we can uncover sub-optimal flexibility.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

External rotation and the rack position

Here's my second entry aimed at improving your mobility in this CFSQ Olympic liftng cycle.  First we addressed improving the bottom of the squat.  Since not everyone is working the overhead portion of the snatch, I am going to save that for down the road a bit, and we will look at improving the range of motion in the shoulder and elbow in order to easily get into the rack position.  As we are all learning, these Olympic lifts are highly technical and even the smallest deviation from ideal movement and positioning can have pretty significant effects on your ability to increase your maxes.  Even without looking at maxes, these lifts have a tendency to uncover even the tiniest deviations in our mobility.
So the next one I want to look at is the shoulder (and elbow, to a lesser extent) in the rack position.  For many of us, there is the issue of mobility in the shoulder - specifically in the rotator cuff.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Oly lifting massage & stretching packages

As a complement to my little blog series about improving your mobility for these Olympic lifts, I am offering a series of 30 minute massage sessions aimed at releasing trigger points and adhesions, as well as assisted stretching to improve the flexibility of the muscles of the ankle or shoulders which are giving you the most trouble.

This series is designed to be efficient in terms of both time and money and will require some assessment in the gym beforehand so that the time in session is used wisely.  The cost is $100 for 4 sessions.  Reach me by phone or email to get started with it.  Or, you can always just catch me in the gym!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Improve the bottom of that squat

At Crossfit on the Square, we are embarking upon a 6-week Olympic lifting cycle, focusing on the clean, clean and jerk and the snatch, and I've discovered some lacking mobility in myself, so I've been inspired.  I'm about to start a brief series of entries aimed at addressing mobility issues that can hinder Olympic lifting movements - but nearly everyone could improve their mobility in these few specific areas, and I will try to offer some insight of the areas these might help you outside of these lifts.  So read on...

First, I'll start with the mobility issues in the bottom of a full squat, which is the "catching" position for the full clean and full snatch movements.  Many of us (myself, included), can get away with air squats, front squats or even back squatting with sub-optimal mobility in the ankles, because the position off the weight counterbalances us as we lean our weight back into our heels.  But in the overhead position, that weight also sits further back toward the heels, and can no longer counterbalance an artificial lean into the heels.  For those of us who need the weight to counterbalance us, this means that we cannot get to the bottom of the squat properly.  In order to recenter the weight, the knees need to come further forward in order to bring the trunk forward and get the bar over the feet again.  Poor ankle mobility can prevent the knees from getting further forward.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Active's not just for recovery any more. It's for everyone!

I know that I've mentioned before how important it is to take recovery days to give muscles and other soft tissue the opportunity to flush out waste, to bring in new nutrients and to repair themselves.  Articles with titles like this one might lead you to think that you've finally found an excuse for being a couch potato or for skipping the gym or yoga studio 6 days out of the week.  But look more closely, and it's clear that it's about destressing yourself, and allowing recovery time, physically and mentally.  And, a simple google search for "sedentary muscle imbalance" yields all kinds of results, addressing issues from muscle pain, postural issues to sciatica.  So, perhaps being a couch potato isn't all that healthy.  (If you already exercise on a regular basis, this post has something to do with you, too, so don't stop reading now.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

The "other side" of massage therapy

No, I don't mean the "happy ending" other side of massage therapy.  I mean the "E-word."  Energy.  I don't often talk too much about the energetic component of massage and bodywork.  Not because I don't believe it's there.  Not because I want to deny it.  Not because I am afraid it will scare potential clients off.  I don't really talk about it a lot because I prefer to focus on the components that have some evidence to support it (even if it's merely empirical observation, and not a completely scientific study).  Then, even if I can't educate a client on what IS happening, I can at least share the widely shared hypothesis of the physiological effects of the technique (though in some cases there are multiple widely shared hypotheses).

But last week, I had an experience with a client that made me think about the energetic aspect of massage and body work.  It is a widely accepted "fact" that emotional memories can be bound up in muscles.  (Here,

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If you think stretching is boring...

...then give this a whirl.

There's this dude.  Not "The Dude," but a dude in the massage and bodywork field, named Aaron Mattes.  Aaron Mattes developed a stretching modality called Active Isolated Stretching - The Mattes Method.  He cleverly takes one of the main concepts of stretching and turns it on its ear.  This is the concept of needing to hold a stretch for an extended time in order for it to be effective.  The Mattes Method is typically an assisted stretching method, involving a bodyworker (self-stretching is possible, however), and it calls for holding a stretch for no more than 1.5-2 seconds, but then to perform many repetitions of the stretch.

I still believe there is tremendous benefit in holding a stretch for 30+ seconds, but I also think that there is a logic in what Aaron has laid forth. However there are a couple critical details in making this an effective method of stretching.  So, don't think that you can just stretch for 2 seconds at a time and say that you're using the Mattes method and getting the maximum effectiveness of the technique.

In order to understand what makes the Mattes Method so effective, let's begin by looking at the name, Active Isolated Stretching:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"What's that you say, body-of-mine? Moderation?"

The other day I took a 3-hour master class with yoga teacher Bryan Kest.  It was a great experience which helped me to reframe a little bit of my perspective on whole-being wellness.  I wouldn't say that anything about my perspective really changed, but the way he presented ideas and philosophies helped to grow my vocabulary for this kind of stuff.  It also made me think that this philosophy informs the self care I discuss here and is tremendously important to it, yet I don't think that I address directly enough all the time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Self care & injury recovery

I have been noticing a number of people around me lately who have some acute minor injuries, or pains.  Some of these are people I am in the gym with, and some are clients, several are both.  Despite knowing what I need to do on a daily basis to take care of my soft tissues, and to help prevent injuries, I have a hard time following through on these things.  So this is a selfish post, as much as anything.  I know that I need to come up with a strategy for self care, and I hope that by publishing it here, I will hold myself to it a bit better.  Naturally, I wouldn't post it if it wasn't also a template you can apply to yourselves.

First, the list of things that I consider integral to my own self care, and the primary purpose of each:

Stretching - To promote a healthier, longer resting contraction of muscles...effects of which are plentiful.
Foam rolling/self myofascial release - To promote release of trigger points and fascial restrictions which may be more persistant that stretching can handle, preventing healthy resting length, and can also inhibit joint mobility.
Self Massage - Yet another strategy to release persistent holding patterns in muslces.
Yoga - Active stretching that utilizes neurological principles of reciprocal inhibition to enhance the effectiveness of the stretching, while gently strengthening opposing muscles.
Epsom salt baths - The Magnesium Sulfate in epsom salts are a gentle muscle relaxant. Relaxed muscles can find a healthier resting length more easily, and will allow better circulation.
Icing - Icing will knock down inflammation in an injured area.  The excess inflammation in an injured area can jam up effective circulation (think of a traffic jam).  By clearing the inflammation, we allow better waste removal and nutrient delivery.

Some of these things should be done on a daily basis, and some are more "as-needed."

On a daily basis, we should all be stretching...preferably a couple times per day, and definitely after a workout!  I do better with this one than most others, at least after a workout.  I plan to stick around for 15-30 minutes after my workout to cool down, and then the stretch.  Throughout the day, we should all be stretching the muscles we know are chronically shortened.

Foam rolling is so easy and so effective.  It's not always comfortable, but it gets the job done.  If you don't have a foam roller, get one!  If you don't have a lacrosse ball (for the smaller muscles), get one!  If you need to know how to use a foam roller, there are plenty of tutorial videos on YouTube.  I may add one, soon, too.

Yoga, I think I explained why yoga works above.  Ideally, I would do yoga twice/week, as an active recovery, apart from my other workouts.

Baths are not just a froo-froo luxury!  Rephrase: Make time to take a weekly bath, as a matter of self care.  The heat, moisture and magnesium sulfate all will help to relax the muscles and its neurology, making post-bath the perfect time for some of your daily stretching, or a brief yoga sequence!

Icing is something I do on a regular basis for my arms, based on my profession.  Icing has the mechanical effects noted above, and is great for injuries.  But icing also has an effect on the neurology in the muscles and can help to reduce sensation, thereby reducing pain, and helping to break the pain-spasm-pain cycle you might be experiencing.  Don't ice for more than 8 minutes, or so, and definitely stop when the iced area is  numb.

If you want help putting together a specific self-care regimen for your lifestyle, I am always happy to help.  If you feel like you need additional help getting to a trouble area or helping an injured area release, we can set up a session to do that - even just a short one that won't require too much time in your schedule.  Now go get up from your desk and stretch, starting with opening up the chest!

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Games WOD 12.5 recovery

Well, the Crossfit Games Open 2012 is over.  Finally.  

Those of you who aren't crossfitters, or who just might not have been participating in the games, listen up - these recovery stretches and exercises can still be relevant for you, too.

The last 2 workouts of the games have actually used a good bit of the same movements...squats and pressing weight overhead.  As such, a lot of my recovery stretches and movements are going to be the same as the ones I posted last week.  I'm adding just a couple stretches and a mobility activity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Knee pain...

...and something you might actually be able to do about it.

Knee pain can come in many forms and can come from many sources.  It can mean big problems, or it can just mean wear and tear.  There is a fairly common cause of knee pain, which we can manage on our own, and largely relieve with just a little manual intervention.

The truth is that the kneecap doesn't quite move in a perfectly straight line when we bend our knee, and the muscles in our lower quads are responsible for helping it along its path properly.  They do so by having almost a tug of war in a left/right direction to keep the kneecap on track.  If those muscles are in an imbalance, and one side begins to win or lose the tug of war too much, then the kneecap mistracks, and pain ensues.  The pain ensues because the kneecap really does move along a track of cartilage, and if it's pulled off track, it's kind of like getting the fabric of your jacket caught in the'll go, but it's not smooth, not easy and not right.

Mostly, we tend to discover that the inside quad muscle is unable to keep the kneecap on track for whatever reason.  Often, that reason is that the outside quad muscle (vastus lateralis) is too tight.  It's holding on to too much of a resting contraction to allow the inside quad muscle (vastus medialis) to pull the kneecap into proper tracking.

That's a picture I took of myself.  Or not.

Luckily if this is, indeed the case, it's a pretty easy one to treat on your own.  You need to get the vastus lateralis to release some to reestablish the balance between it and vastus medialis.   You need to get a self massage tool of some sort, either The Stick, or a foam roller, or just your hands, and work out that vastus lateralis.  It will probably take a good bit of pressure, which can be hard with The Stick, and you might have to work through some serious discomfort and trigger points on a foam roller, but stick with it.  Give it some time.  Work on it a couple days in a row.  If it is a patellar tracking issue, you may feel some degree of relief in a single effort of just a few minutes, but it could also take a couple days before you really notice a difference.

If you are having knee pain when you  are coming up out of a squat, or running or standing up at the end of a movie, then give it a shot.  The odds are that you're not going to do yourself any harm whatsoever.

My Games WOD 12.4 recovery

I think I might have been the first one to get to do WOD 12.4 at CFSQ this week, as I did it at 6am yesterday morning.  Ouch.  So, I thought I'd post some of what I've been doing throughout the day to aide in my recovery.  I'll keep it short and sweet with the assumption that you'll know what movements or stretches I'm talking about.

First, right when you finish...fall on the floor and catch your breath a little.  It's OK, I won't tell you to keep standing while you cool down!  But then, it's time to stretch for healthy resting muscle length and to do "cool down" work with the muscles to continue to gently pump that metabolic waste (soreness) out of there...

- Hip Flexor Stretch
- Deep Quad Stretch (couch stretch)
- Pec Stretch
- Upper traps stretch
- any of the Hip Girdle Stretches that seem most appropriate at the moment

"Cool Down" movements (but really, do these throughout the next day or two)
- Air squats
- pushups (on the knees, we're recovering, here - don't be a hero)
- Once of my all-time favorites, the Hip Mobility Sequence

It's certainly not a comprehensive list, but it's what I've been doing so far, and should give you someplace to start once you finish 12.4.

As always, if it feels wrong, don't do it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hip girdle stretches

I promised in my Flexibility vs. Mobility post that I would be sharing some stretching sequences for the hips. It's taken a while, but it's finally here.
The intention is that with this group of stretches, you should be able to address all the major movers of the hips - particularly ones you are likely to use in your workouts.  So, pick whatever feels most restricted to you, and focus on that.  BUT, don't ignore the rest - we must aim for balance.
If you have watched Mario's Hip Mobility Sequence, you will recognize some of these.  The difference is that we ARE going for flexibility when we are using these postures for a stretch, so that means hanging out in them for 30 seconds, and even repeating if you can manage the time to spend on your one-and-only, irreplaceable body.
Most of these stretches will address multiple muscles, but I've decided to refer to them pretty much by their primarily targeted muscles.
Below is a list of the stretches, the times they appear in the video and what movements they are likely to be good recovery from:
0:00 - Psoas & hip flexors - recovery from any time your hips are in flexion (including sitting).
1:04 - Adductors and hamstrings - recovery from squats, sled pulls, or anything that calls for driving with the legs.
1:56 - External rotators / glutes  IT band - recovery from every and anything (these muscles serve so many purposes in different situations that it's pointless to narrow it down too much).
3:05 - Rotators / adductors - recovery from squats & forceful driving with the legs
4:39, 5:35 & 6:28 - Quads 1, 2 & 3 (different options for different depths of stretch) - Squats, wall balls, running, sitting at your desk
7:43 - Obliques / Lower lumbar muscles - deadlifts, running, weighted squats.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The post that isn't

This is a post to let you know that there won't be a post this week.  I'm too busy not stretching enough, not working out enough, and not minding my caloric intake enough while in Germany.  Oh boy, its delicious!  But that's beside the point. I will get us back on track with a post next Friday, then back to alternating Fridays.

Happy stretching, hydrating and icing!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Myofascial release and (sports) injuries

The other day, I had a wonderful session with a client who has chronic pain which flares up sometimes and stems from an auto accident she suffered many years ago.  At the time she came to see me, there was acute pain near the spine, so I was a little hesitant to work directly on the area with any forceful deep tissue-type work.  Consequently, our session turned into nearly 90 minutes of almost solely myofascial release work.  We had tremendous results. Inspiring results.

This hugely productive session, was exciting for me (and my client, too, I think), and it got me thinking: what role can myofascial release have in injury recovery?  I did a little searching, and found something that surprised me just a tad: most of the articles that popped up in the top of the search results had to do with sports injuries and myofascial release.  Is the sports medicine scene ahead of the curve here, and
why hasn't the orthopedic medicine world caught on?  I don't have the answer to those questions, but I'll bet that what works for the major athletes will begin to be adopted by the general public.  I'd like to help that happen, and here's just some of the how and why myofascial release can benefit injury recovery...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Breaking muscle spasms - more than a basic stretch

This week, I've seen a couple instances of some pretty intense muscle spasms. Spasms can range from being momentary irritations to being days-long, debilitatingly painful conditions, which can lead to additional complications (including muscle strains) if not released. Spasms can have a variety of causes, including a host of things that put the offending muscle into poor holding or movement patterns (here's a nice little article with more on causes of spasms).  With spasms, there is a neurological component.  The muscle is deciding to fire (contract) without instruction from the brain.  Then, when the brain tells the muscle to fire, it might only manage to contract even harder, causing more pain.  Fun, right?  So the key is to break this firing loop and get the muscle to properly follow the brain's instructions.

For most of us, instinct tells us to stretch the offending muscle when it starts to go into one of those more minor spasms. And after hanging out in that stretch for a little bit, our spasm subsides and we can go back to life. But what if the muscle just doesn't want to comply and stop spasming?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Flexibility vs. Mobility

This week I'm trying something new, and posting a video blog.  I wanted to address the concepts of flexibility and joint mobility, and how they are interrelated, yet different.

A brief note on my video - I use the shoulder as an example because it's easy for me to make sure it's in the frame.  As a result, my example of capsular inhibition sounds an awful lot like frozen shoulder.  It's very similar, but please don't confuse this for information regarding frozen shoulder syndrome - at best, this would be an incomplete picture of frozen shoulder.

Hip Mobility Sequence from Mario at Crossfit on the Square (use this to help improve the capsular mobility in the hips):