I am honored to provide a guest post for April while she is on vacay!! My name is Jillian and I’m a physical therapist. I am Canadian, but live in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been working out for years on and off (in fact I even used to be an aerobics instructor), but recently have ‘stepped up my game’! Thanks to April and so many others who continue to motivate and inspire me to live my best fit life ?
So, I could talk about my workouts and what I’ve been eating, but it wouldn’t be much different than what you see from April. Let me just say for the record that some of my favorite foods these days are: MGN cake batter whey isolate protein powder, purple sweet potatoes, bok choy, and oats!! My favorite exercises these days are: overhead barbell shoulder press, lower body plyometrics, and tricep dips with my feet on a stability ball and a 45 lb plate in my lap! My favorite ‘toys’ are: BOSU balls and Foam Rollers (we’ll talk more about this below)
So, my favorite thing to teach people is how to S-T-R-E-T-C-H. I am a firm believer that injuries begin and end with stretching. Whether not stretching properly, or at all, has contributed to an injury, or stretching is a component of the rehabilitation of an injury; stretching is a major player!
Why? Stretching improves flexibility. Flexibility is the range of motion that is available to a joint or joints. Flexibility is an integral part of physical fitness and is important because:
It improves muscle balance around a joint, thus improving posture
It reduces the chance of injury when playing a sport or in everyday activities
It increases the blood and nutrient supply to muscles and cartilage, thereby also reducing muscle soreness after training.
And as if these aren’t reasons enough, stretching can also reduce stress!
Why Not? People neglect to stretch primarily because of time, or rather lack thereof. At the end of a training session we are too tired or in a hurry to get out of the gym! You shouldn’t stretch if:
Joints or muscles are infected, inflamed or hurt
You have had a recent fracture
Sharp pains are felt in the joints or muscles.
I am often asked “when should I stretch, before or after”?
The answer to that is either, or both, and sometimes I stretch muscles in between sets. However, do NOT mistake stretching as a warm-up! Stretching should not be done as a warm-up to an activity as you could injure your muscles if stretching them when they are cold. At least 3 to 5 minutes of cardiovascular training is recommended to warm up the muscles sufficiently.
The other common question is “how long should I hold each stretch”?
Research shows that holding a stretch to a point of mild tension or tightness for 20-30 seconds will effectively increase flexibility. Anything longer than that will not provide additional results. The best thing to do is to do 2-3 sets of 20-30 seconds of each stretch. You should stretch slowly (do not bounce!) and with control. Remember to breathe ?
Patients and fitness friends often complain that they stretch ALL of the time and yet their hamstrings (or other muscles) are still tight! This does not mean you shouldn’t stretch. It is important to stretch after doing any physical activity. When muscles perform any exercise, they tighten and shorten as a result. Stretching them out helps to restore and improve their length. When doing strength training, you could stretch each muscle group directly after performing each set. Yoga, as many of you know, can be invaluable to improve your flexibility.
What else can you do to improve your flexibility and performance both inside and outside the weight room? Enter… THE FOAM ROLLER
The 36” long cylinder has given new meaning to the term soft tissue mobilization. You won’t find a good strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, or physical therapist without one on site! Foam rollers are the poor man’s massage therapist . Basically you can do what us PTs refer to as self-myofascial release. Fascia, the sheets of connective tissue (think of the thin sheath that covers a chicken breast) throughout your body, along with muscles, can hold tension. Rolling can release this tension, ultimately restoring flexibility and mobility. The possibilities are endless. Using your body weight you can roll and apply pressure to tendons (eg. Iliotibial band), muscles (glutes/quads), spine (thoracic or lumbar rolling), and even joints such as the shoulder.
So where do you get one? Which one do you get? My first suggestion if you a foam roller freshman, is to go with a basic 36” long, 6” wide white standard foam roll.
If you are a sophomore or junior and like pressure (i.e you ask the massage therapist to go deeper) then you might prefer a black axis foam roller, which is firmer in density, has a smooth surface, and is good for moderate to heavy use. OR a PRO-ROLLER with firm density and a textured surface; guaranteed not to breakdown.
If you are a seasoned a seasoned veteran and you like it HARD (this is NO joke) then you can opt for a PVC core – yes, that’s right, I said PVC, as in pipe! Check it out:
And for travel and intense trigger points: THE GRID