Over the last decade or so a dense cylindrical piece of foam made its way into virtually every health club, gym and athletic training facility; and for good reason. If you have ever seen a foam roller and wondered “what’s that used for,” you’re not alone. The goal of this article is to provide you with some answers surrounding this tool, and how it can play a crucial role ensuring that you stay injury free.
Before we can properly discuss foam rolling techniques, and the theories behind them, we must first have an understanding of fascia and its function as it relates to our muscles. Fascia is a structure of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other. Fascia is what gives each individual muscle its shape and works smoothly with the correlating muscles around it. Through injuries, improper technique, and inadequate recovery time, fascia can develop scar tissue. This scar tissue will inhibit a muscles’ ability to pass over another muscle, which can impair firing mechanics and cause inflammation. We can think of damaged fascia and healthy fascia as the two sides of Scotch Tape. If you rub the non sticky side of the tape across your arm it glides over the skin smoothly with little resistance. However if you try this with the sticky side (fascia that has accumulated scar tissue) you will find that it is abrasive and will pull the skin.
A common misconception about foam rolling is that it is meant to be a tool used for stretching. Foam rolling is designed to be a form of self-myofascial release (SMR). There are two basic neural receptors built into our muscles, muscle spindles and golgi tendo organs (GTOs). These receptors are designed to protect the body from being overstretched, preventing injury. Stimulation of the GTOs past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity and in turn decreases muscular tension. Through SMR we can apply tension to specific parts of the muscle, causing the muscle spindles and GTOs to relax. This principle, known as autogenic inhibition, is the primary use of foam rollers.
A crucial component that will dictate the effectiveness of foam rolling is proper technique. Often, foam rollers are being used as an aggressive massaging tool by rolling up and down the muscle at a rapid pace, as opposed to proper technique. Proper technique, as defined by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, includes: slowly rolling down the muscle and stopping at each “hot spot” and waiting for the pain to diminish before continuing further down the muscle. These hot spots are often referred to as trigger points and typically require between 10-30 seconds of pressure before signals to the central nervous system can tell the muscle to relax. There are mixed opinions on when to roll, how long to roll, and how often, though common practices include both pre and post workout. Many performance coaches recommend foam rolling as a daily activity, regardless of whether or not the individual has worked out. It is also important to note that the proper amount of pressure plays a vital role in the effectiveness of foam rolling. Whilst the exact amount of pressure is hard to define, the process of foam rolling should never be extremely painful, as you could potentially cause further damage to the muscles.
Unfortunately the research surrounding foam rolling is scarce and inconclusive. There are very few studies covering the effects of foam rolling and most were performed with variables that could have lead to misleading results. For example, in 2006, a study published by the Journal of Undergraduate Research found that foam rolling the hamstring was an ineffective method of increasing range of motion. Some possible errors involved with this study, in my opinion, was the lack of warm-up prior to foam rolling, rolling only performed at a frequency of three times per week, and improper technique. That said there is a reason the foam roller has become a tool embraced by the athletic community and virtually every health club out there. For more information on foam rolling, please contact Seattle Athletic Club Personal Trainer, Will Paton.
This video of a three-part series addresses different stretch techniques including: static, active, dynamic and resistance stretching by demonstrating some basic stretches for the calves, inner/outer thighs and large hip muscles.
When assessing when a certain stretch technique should be used, there is no right or wrong answer; however, here is what I recommend to my clients.
Static stretching should be done once a muscle is thoroughly warmed up. I recommend it primarily after your resistance workout following a cool down. If you decide to static stretch before a workout, make sure you do a long warm up prior.
Active stretching can also be done before a workout after a warm up, or in place of one. This technique is used a lot with team sports and group fitness. It’s a great and safe way to get multiple muscles firing and create length in muscles that are tight before beginning a work out. I also use it with clients to reinforce proper movement patterns before adding weight to them, and with some clients this can be used as a workout itself.
Dynamic stretching can also be included as a warm up if you are outside doing a sport. I recommend at least a small warm up (walk/jog) before attempting these moves. Ballistic movements have a higher risk of injury, but also can produce good lubrication in the joints in multiple planes of motion. These stretches also mimick the natural plyometric movements of the body, so it is good preparation before a sport.
Resistance (Ki-Hara) stretching is fairly new. It has a medicinal benefit in that it allows you to stretch more of the muscle belly versus the tendons. Stretching the tendon is typical if you have a very short, impeded movement pattern. Professional athletes, like Dara Torres, use it regularly. It would be best after a workout, or on a day you aren’t working out because you will have increased blood flow to the muscle.
– PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) and basic assisted stretching are done with a trainer. PNF is along the same principles as resistance stretching only you squeeze the opposing muscle group isometrically, which shuts off (inhibits) the target muscle from resisting the stretch, and then relax as you are assisted into the stretch. During assisted stretching you can squeeze the target muscle in an isometric contraction to push blood into it, and then follow it with a relaxation during the stretch. These techniques I am more than happy to give you an introduction to if you would like further details.
Purpose: This advanced exercise concentrates on the waistline and hips. Emphasis is also on balance and coordination.
Begin in a kneeling position. You should be centered on the mat, facing the long edge of mat.
Place one palm down on mat directly under your shoulder and in align with your hips. Fingers pointing away from you.
Place the back of the other hand in front of your forehead with your elbow up to the ceiling.
Straighten your top leg out (parallel to floor) along the mat in line with your body, making sure your center is firm.
Lift your outstretched (top leg) leg up off the mat, hip height & balance.
Inhale; for 2 counts; flex your foot and kick your leg forward reaching leg further on second count. Make sure you are not breaking at the waist. Imagine kicking a ball suspended in front of you.
Exhale; swing your leg behind you stretching as far behind you as you can without rocking back and forth; gently pointing the toe.
Complete 4-6 sets of kicks on one side; repeat the sequence on other side.
• Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your waist.
• Remain perfectly still in your upper body as you perform the kicks.
• Keep your elbow to the ceiling so that shoulder & chest remain open during exercise.
• Navel is firmly pulled into the spine.
• Keep head lifted and aligned with your spine.
• Don’t sink into your neck or shoulders.
• Start with small kicks front & back. Concentrate on your balance & control before engaging in larger movements. If you have a bad knee, or wrist injury, skip this exercise.
Bandha= lock, or bind
Welcome to Seattle winter, brrr, are you ready?
To keep the internal fires stoked, a strong yoga practice that includes a little external heat, and back bending is a great way to stay healthy as cold sets into our joints.
Bridge pose is a simple and easily performed backbend. For intense athletes like you, back bending is key to healthy low back and hips.
To start, warm up with a few Sun Salutations or 10 minutes easy pace on the Elliptical or Treadmill machines. Gather props, such as block and blanket if wanting a more restorative pose. Lay down supine on your mat, and begin by drawing your knees up to your chest and with feet at least hip width apart, set your feet firmly down on your mat. I like to begin with “Dynamic Bridge” before settling into the pose. If you have tight hips, feet are as wide as your mat to begin. Push down on your feet; inhale, as you raise your hips and arms up off the floor. Hold for one count, connect with your core and inner thighs, Exhale, and slowly release everything to the floor. Do this 3x’s. Lift your hips the final time, and leave your arms on the floor, push into your feet again as you shimmy your shoulder blades together. As you hold the pose, soften your glutes, and connect more with your inner thighs. This will take the pressure off your low back, and allow for lengthening in the front body. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release.
If your traps and pectoral muscles (major muscle group that contains your chest and upper back) are tight, I suggest you lengthen your arms toward your feet instead of clasping your hands behind the back, otherwise to increase intensity, lift your hips as high as you can and clasp your hands. Be sure to continue lengthening your neck away from your chest so you can breath naturally.
If you have injury in neck or back, or need to relax instead of effort try these restorative alternatives.
1. As you lift your hips, slide the block under your tailbone for support and fold your weight over the block.
2. Roll the blanket under your neck for support
3. Roll the blanket long like a burrito, and lay supine on the roll with your legs straight on the floor, or knees bent if you have low back pain. The roll will lift your chest and shoulders and put pressure on the back of your lungs in a very calming slight backbend variation of Bridge Pose.
To relax the back after any back bending, twist, or a gentle forward bend. If you have tightness in the hamstrings, roll your blanket under your knees before you forward bend.
Winter Health Tip, from Yoga wisdom:
Most of us contact with winter viral infections, and to stay on top of your health, try a Neti pot; an ancient ayurvedic method for health in winter. A Neti pot looks like a small teapot with a long snout, that you set inside one nostril as warm, slightly salty water pours through your nasal passages, back of the throat, and blows out the other side. You can buy Neti pots from local yoga boutiques, or use a method I do at home. First thing as you waken (before coffee, sorry) mix a tiny dash of salt and warm water in your hands, then slurp up your nose while closing the glottal muscles of the back of your throat. Blow out mixture forcefully. Ok, so the first few times you may feel like you are drowning, but hey, what’s good for you isn’t always fun the first few times. Remember broccoli? Yeah, now you love it!
For extra winter credit, oil up your nose with either sesame or olive oil, after the Neti process.
Let me know how it goes!
This month, the Yoga Pose of the Month is actually a simple series of four basic “feel good” yoga poses for a post work out stretch.
The first, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Muka Svasana), is a yoga classic. It’s purpose is to stretch all the major posterior muscle groups, as you strengthen your core, and let oxygenated blood flow to your brain.
The second is Pigeon (Raja Kapotasana) which is designed to create flexibility in the hips, glutes and inner thighs.
The third, Bridge Pose (Setu Bhandasana) will open the muscles of the chest and create flexibility in the anterior body, as well as strengthen your back side if you push firmly into the floor and fire up your hamstrings and glutes.
The final, Resting Pose (Svasana) is an important piece to muscle recovery as it allows the body and mind to be totally still, and feel the wonderful effects of your workout and deep relaxation of Yoga Asana.
Most people know that lunges are a great exercise. They burn your legs, they get your heart rate up, and they taste your balance. They strengthen the entire leg from the quadriceps to the glutes. Many, however, do not fully understand the benefits of being able to perform the lunge correctly or the way to progress and change your lunges.
Basic Lunge Form
To perform the basic lunge, take a big step forward leading with the heel. At the same time, come up to the ball of your foot on the back leg. Find your balance in this position before moving on. Once you feel stable, lower the back knee towards the ground keeping your weight in the heel of the front foot. Both knees should make a 90 degree angle with the ground. Press through the heel of the front foot, activating hamstrings and glutes, to move back into a standing position. Maintain a neutral spine (upright posture) throughout the movement for the basic lunge.
Lunge with a Twist
This lunge makes the exercise involves all 3 planes of motion, helping to activate the core muscles and spinal rotation. While holding a weight or a medicine ball, perform the initial phase of the basic lunge. As you lower the knee to the ground, rotate the body towards the forward knee, tightening the stomach as you move. Return back to center as you stand up, focusing on the heel. Make sure you stay in control of your body through the whole movement. If you find that you are unstable, break the steps down and make it two separate movements. Lunge-twist-return to center-stand up. Once your body learns to do that you can work towards putting it all together.
The side lunge is one of the more difficult lunges to perform correctly. For beginners, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart with both feet pointing forward. Lean your weight to one side as you reach your hips back lowering down. Press into the foot to stand back up and then lean to the other side. The feet do not move and the toes stay pointing forward. Be sure the weight stays in the heel and that the knee stays over the foot. Once the standing side lunge becomes easily done you can move into the stepping side lunge. The movement is the same only now you need to find the right placement of the foot; not to short, not to far. If you try to think about where your foot was for the standing side lunge you should be good to go. Be careful that the foot doesn’t turn out as you step. This exercise is meant to activate the hip stabilizers more than a basic lunge.
Several day to day activities require lunges to be performed. This can be as simple as pulling something out of the car or picking up a pencil that has fallen on the ground to as complex as reaching for a drop shot on the tennis court. By training the body in the three planes of motion, you will be prepared to deal with different types of situations that our bodies face daily!
The Bosu ball is an excellent piece of equipment that can be incorporated into any exercise routine. Whether you are an elite level athlete or simply want to increase your balance and stability, the Bosu will help in a wide variety of ways.
As with any balance exercise, make sure that while using the Bosu ball you have something that is anchored to the ground close by. You will be purposely placing your body in unstable situations and you may lose your balance throughout the exercises. Having something close by will make you feel more comfortable and progress more smoothly through the exercises until you develop the needed strength. Remember, safety first.
Bosu stands for Both Sides Up, meaning you can stand or place your hands on either the black side or the blue side. Both sides change the degree of instability in different ways.
When standing on the blue side of the Bosu you recruit more ankle and foot stabilizing muscles since the foot does not have a solid place to make a balance point. This is great for runners who are training on variable of surfaces or people who may be worried about falling or twisting an ankle. By subjecting the foot to the instability of the Bosu you will train it to be prepared to react quickly when placed in a similar situation. This can be anything from hitting a rough spot in the ground, a tree root, or, of course the worst of all, holes. The Bosu will help you train for injury prevention as well as treatment of ankle or knee injuries.
The black side of the Bosu focuses more on the knee to hip complex and less on the ankle (the ankle will still be very much active). Since the black surface is perfectly flat, the ankle no longer has to struggle for stability. However, since the blue side is now touching the ground, the rest of the body must work together to maintain balance.
Exercises to Try:
Single Leg Step-up (blue side first then progress to the black side)
Place the foot directly in the center of the Bosu on the blue side. Let the circles on top of the ball guide you to proper foot placement. Contract the muscles through the leg that is on top of the Bosu and step up bringing the opposite knee up to assist with balance. When you first start, the goal is to get up and touch back down in the same spot. As you get into a rhythm, start holding longer at the top of the movement, testing your balance.
Basic Squat (blue side first then black)
Blue Side Facing Up: Stand on top of the blue side of the Bosu with both feet. You want your feet a little less than shoulder width apart. Find your balance by relaxing your legs and extending your spine up from the crown of your head. Maintain this spine length as you bend at your hips and knees to lower down into a squat.
Black Side Facing Up: While holding on to a secured object place one foot on the black side of the Bosu, fully tilting it to one side. Contract the muscles of that leg as you press yourself up and place the opposite foot on the other side of the Bosu. Your toes should be pointed forward and your feet should be a little wider than hip width apart. Relax the legs and extend the spine up. Maintain this spine length as you bend at your hips and knees to lower down into a squat. Your legs will most likely shake as they struggle to find stability (this is why we stay close to an anchored object) but as you progress in the exercise your muscles will calm down and the shaking will subside.
Volleyball is an excellent form of exercise. Not only is it fun and competitive, but you can burn up to 700 calories per hour. It is a great polymetric workout, and uses big muscle groups such as your glutes, quads, shoulders, and core.
There are three components of the game. Passing, setting, and hitting. Otherwise known to the average person as bump, set, spike!
Passing is essential to the game. If the team cannot pass the ball, they cannot win the game! Learning how to pass the ball should be your first priority when learning to play. Your goal is to have your pass go right to the top of the setter’s head without making him or her move. It is important to focus on your platform angle and moving your feet to the ball. Perfecting these two things along with repetition will start to improve your passing skills and help your team tremendously.
Setting the volleyball is one of the most difficult skills to teach and takes a lot of practice to master. The setter is the quarterback of the team. They run the show and call the shots. The key to setting is to keep the ball on your fingertips and not ever touch it with your palms. Make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers and practice setting against the wall. This will start to help you gain a soft touch on the volleyball.
Hitting the volleyball is usually the team’s third contact. The best way to go about learning how to hit is to split it up into separate parts. Approach, positioning, arm swing, and timing. Hitting takes good coordination and lots of work to master. For a player, this is usually the most popular component to practice and master!
Perfecting each of these three components will help take your team to the next level. You cannot have one without the other. They are essential to the game and needed to get that great BUMP, SET, SPIKE!
Are you looking to tune up your backyard volleyball skills? Or maybe you want to learn more about the game and improve your court awareness? Volleyball is an excellent way to have fun and get a great workout. Working with our Personal Fitness Trainer and former Pac10 volleyball player, Stephanie Weishaar, can help take your game to the next level.