Foam Rolling

Foam rollers have become very popular in gyms as they can be used for all fitness levels for training and recovery. However, many people don’t know the correct way to foam roll or the reasons why they are beneficial. Foam rolling is self-myofascial release, which is a method of self-massage that releases tight muscles and knots (trigger points). The goal is to release the muscles in order to increase elasticity for proper functioning, to improve flexibility, and to reduce inflammation.

Muscles are surrounded by fibrous connective tissue called fascia. Over time, individuals may develop painful points along the muscle and fascia due to trauma from injury, scar tissue, or structural imbalances. These trigger points can shorten the muscle, restrict blood flow to the muscle, and restrict mobility, which causes inflammation and pain and inhibits motion. This can lead to additional problems with posture, joint alignment, neuromuscular transmission, and exercise form, all of which make the body more vulnerable to injury. Further, the surrounding muscles then have to compensate for the weakened areas and may become strained due to overuse. Foam rolling helps the fascia stay mobile, and removing the knots enables exercises to be more effective so that structural balance and joint stability is restored, flexibility is increased, and stress on the surrounding muscles is decreased.

When our muscles are tight, we are often uncomfortable and display poor movement patterns. Our muscles can become tight for a variety of reasons ranging from poor posture, poor flexibility, training, hydration status, stress, sleep, etc. The idea behind foam rolling is to break up muscle knots, prevent knots from developing and create normal blood flow and nerve function back to the area. This decreases recovery time after a workout and decreases the risk for injury. Additionally, a greater range of motion allows for more effective workouts since there are no muscular restrictions. The ideal time to use a foam roller is before your workout as it will increase range of motion and bring blood to the tissues. In addition to foam rollers, tennis balls, golf balls and lacrosse balls can be used to break up muscle adhesions.

When foam rolling tight muscles, you will frequently feel pain which may radiate to another area. This pain should be uncomfortable, but certainly not unbearable. You can foam roll any muscle in your body by using moderate pressure and your bodyweight. When you locate tight/painful areas, you should concentrate on rolling those areas slowly, letting the muscle relax. If the pain is too intense, roll the surrounding areas instead and slowly work your way into the painful area. Do not overwork knots or painful areas, as this may damage the tissue. Avoid rolling bones or joints. Roll slowly. Make sure your form and posture is correct. Using a personal trainer to guide you will ensure that you do not cause more damage and will reach the muscle in the most effective way.

Not only are foam rollers beneficial for muscles, but they are also brain exercisers since the brain and nervous system need to be retrained to correct faulty movement patterns. The use of foam rollers requires complete concentration since they are unstable. Unstable exercises also improve proprioception and challenge core muscles.

Overall, foam rollers are a great tool that should be used by everyone in the gym, no matter their fitness level, to enhance their workout and prevent injury.

To see videos on how to foam roll properly, head to our video category & check them out!

The Importance of Being Flexible

Flexibility is underrated in both the fitness industry and in life, in general. A person’s flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. It is important to attain a full range of motion to perform activities of daily living and to reduce the stress on muscles, which in turn decreases injury rates.

Flexibility is joint-specific, since each joint has a potential range of motion. Static flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained while not in motion; dynamic flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained during movement. Dynamic flexibility is important to athletes because range of motion is limited by the amount of time it takes for a muscle to lengthen, which affects athletic ability. The more a joint can flex, the better the athlete can improve sport-specific skills.

Greater flexibility of the muscle(s) around the joint translates into better posture, reduced risk of injury, and less muscle tension and soreness. We need to be flexible in order to perform every day activities, from sitting to standing, and from lifting items to turning the body in different directions. Joints become stiffer as people age. When our muscles are sedentary and inflexible, our bodies create poor posture habits and movements that reduce the mobility of joints and compromise body positions. Flexibility helps prevent this loss of mobility.

Stretching helps to reduce soreness after exercise and gradually elongates the muscle through its full range of motion, which improves muscular balance and resting posture. Additionally, stretching promotes muscular relaxation, which increases flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. This decreases the likelihood of both sporadic and chronic back pain. Stretching also increases blood flow and nutrients to soft tissue, increasing joint synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and improves greater range of motion and decreased joint pain and degeneration.

Stretching can be part of a workout or a workout all by itself. As a rule of thumb, before a workout, dynamic stretching should be done. Static stretching should be reserved for after a workout. When stretching, always be gentle and never jerk the muscle into position. Instead, smoothly move the muscle into position to safely lengthen the muscle tissue. Mild discomfort is normal during stretching, but there should never be any pain. Pain is an indication that the muscle is being overstretched or has been excessively stretched. Find 5-10 minutes per day to stretch to reduce stress and improve your health. Your body will thank you for it!

Breathe Easy

Breathing is the most basic movement pattern but it is often done incorrectly.  This causes tremendous consequences, in terms of our musculoskeletal health. If we think about how often we breathe, it is easy to see how incorrect patterns can lead to big problems. Faulty breathing patterns and the impact that they have are often overlooked. This is because it is such a subtle and involuntary movement that we typically do not think about it!

It is common to think of breathing only in terms of respiration, which is obviously essential to sustaining life. However, the effects go beyond the basic respiratory function. There has been much research demonstrating a link between breathing pattern disorders and low back pain, neck pain, shoulder imbalances, TMJ pain, poor motor control and posture.

Posture and breathing are directly related. One cannot be addressed without the other. Breathing pattern disorders usually develop as we begin to develop poor postural patterns very early in life. Watching an infant is a great way to see proper breathing, as they have not yet learned to do it the wrong way.

The diaphragm, which is the main muscle responsible for breathing, can be seen as an essential component of the core function. If we think of the trunk as a cylinder or column, with muscles and fascia wrapping around as a belt, the diaphragm acts a lid, while the pelvic floor muscles make up the floor. Often when working the core, we often focus on the abdominal muscles and do not consider the importance of the diaphragm. If breathing is not correct, one cannot have full core stability.

An easy way to assess your breathing is to stand in front of a mirror placing one hand on the upper part of the chest and one hand over the abdomen. Take a deep breath and notice the movement of the hands. If the hand on the chest elevates, this indicates incorrect breathing, or thoracic breathing.

The correct pattern is when inhaling, the abdomen expands, pushing the hand over the abdomen forward, or outward. The hand on the chest should not move much. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing, and properly engages the diaphragm.

Thoracic breathing engages muscles of the chest, upper back and neck as the primary breathing muscles. Over time, these muscles will develop tension from overloading and doing more work than they are designed to do. While these muscles are overworking, the diaphragm is under-working, contributing to core weakness and the long list of consequences that result.

Awareness of breathing pattern disorders through the simple test above is an important step. To begin working on correcting the pattern, try the following. Lay supine (on your back) and prop your legs up on a cushion, or support, so that the hips and knees are both at 90 degree angles. If you cannot do that, simply laying on the back with knees bent will also work. Place one hand on the abdomen and the other on the chest and breathe normally trying pull the breath into the abdomen. With each inhalation, the goal is expand the abdomen lifting the hand. The ribcage will also expand a bit laterally, but should not elevate. Try to stay as relaxed as possible while doing this and don’t worry about taking deep breaths. Breathe easily and normally. Do this for a few minutes three to four times a day.

This will start to groove the movement pattern and reprogram the system. Gradually, you will begin notice when breathing is being done incorrectly and will be able to easily switch to diaphragmatic breathing. It is more difficult to do this while upright, which is why the supine position is the best way to start the training process. It is very important to work on posture simultaneously in order to achieve the best, long lasting results. It is very difficult to breathe correctly with poor posture.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a process. It will not change overnight. It takes a lot of work and consistency to retrain a system that has been in place for so long. Remember how often you breathe and for how long it has been done incorrectly! Do not get frustrated if you feel like you are getting nowhere. Keep working on it. If you feel you need more help, consider seeking the help of a professional who has experience with this. Many chiropractors, acupuncturists, trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists and other types of body workers can be very helpful.

There are many other health benefits to proper breathing, in addition to musculoskeletal health. One can write volumes on breathing in terms of musculoskeletal, biochemical, respiratory, mental/emotional, endocrine, neurological and spiritual health. Many types of meditation and relaxation exercise focus on the breath. It is synonymous with life. So contribute a few easy minutes a day to your breathing, and ultimately your health. It is a worthy cause.

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