Category Archives: Injury
Low back pain is one of the most common complaints I get from new clients who have a desk job.
And honestly, I’m not surprised. They sit hunched over a computer all day, which causes bad posture and muscle imbalances that can easily lead to injury and pain.
That bad posture contributes to low back pain because it causes tight hip flexors, hamstrings and even calves. It can also cause tight lats and poor thoracic extension.
Those tight muscles and poor extension cause imbalances. They cause you to overuse the low back. And the tight hip flexors and hamstrings especially inhibit the glutes and prevent them from activating, placing more pressure on your low back.
Because muscles aren’t working that should be working, your low back takes over when it shouldn’t, which causes further pain and injury.
Below are some great trigger point, stretching and glute activation techniques to help you relieve that low back pain and get more out of your workouts!
TRIGGER POINT RELEASE
For videos showing all of these trigger point release moves, sign up for the Redefining Strength video library!
1. Calves – I love using either a rumble roller or a ball on a block (or books if you don’t have a block). I find it easier to really dig into knots using one of those tools. To roll out your calves, place one calf over the trigger point tool. Cross the other leg on top to apply more pressure. Rock the leg side to side to dig in more. You can also make circles with the foot and flex and relax the foot to apply more pressure and help release the trigger point. Move the ball or roller up and down the back of your lower leg, spending time on any tight spots you find.
2. Hamstrings – The best way to hit your hamstrings is using a ball or roller, but while seated on a chair, bench or table. You really can’t apply enough pressure while seated on the ground. Place the ball or roller right below your butt at the top of your hamstring and sit down on it. Roll it from side to side, holding on any tender spots. You can work your way down the length of your hamstring to right above the back of your knee. Do not roll out behind your knee.
3. Hips/Glutes – The best way to target your hips and glutes is with a ball. The smaller and harder the ball, the more you will really be able to dig in. Start by lying face down on the ground with the ball at the top of one quad. Roll the ball toward your groin and then back toward your hip bone. Move it slightly up and down the top of your quad. Hold on any tight spots. After working out the front of your hip, move the ball around the side and to the back of the hip bone. Roll out the top of your glute, staying right below your low back. Hold on any tight spots. As you work your way down your butt, as you hold on any tight spots, lift and lower your leg. Also draw your knee in toward your chest and then straighten the leg back out. Those two moves will help you apply more pressure to any trigger points. Spend more time on the areas in your hips and glutes that are tight. If a spot doesn’t hurt, don’t spend time there!
4. Ab Release – This is best done with a larger ball although it can be done with a small ball on some books or a block. Lie face down on the ground with the ball under your belly. It should be to one side of your belly button and right beside/above your hip. So basically in one side of your abs. Relax over the ball, letting your body sink into the ground. This will help release your hips as well. You can also move the ball up higher to right below your rib cage to help release your abs. Our abs can be tight and shortened because we sit hunched over all day so we can’t forget to roll them out as well!
5. Peanut – The peanut (two balls tapped together) can be used to work all the way up your back along your spine. It is personally one of my favorite tools. Lie on your back with the peanut right above your butt and a ball on either side of your spine. Relax your upper back onto the ground and lift both knees into your chest. Repeat that movement a few times then move the peanut up higher on your back and repeat. Once the peanut is at about the middle of your back and you don’t feel like tucking your knees is applying more pressure, start performing an upper body crunch instead. Perform a few slow crunches and continue working the peanut up your back until you reach the top of your shoulder blades. Spend more time on any tight areas.
5. Lats – You can use a roller or a larger ball to roll out your lats. I prefer the roller because I feel like it is easier to work all the way up and down your side. Lie on your side with the roller under your armpit. Rock forward and backward then move the roller lower down your side. Continue to rock slightly forward and backward to dig in further to any trigger points. Work down the side of your back until you hit the bottom of your rib cage. Spend more time on the areas that are tight.
7. Thoracic Spine – You can use a peanut or a ball to work out your upper back. One of my favorite ways to roll out my upper back, and work on thoracic extension, is with the roller. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground with the roller in the middle of your back. Keep your butt on the ground and extend your back over the roller, letting your head relax back over toward the ground. Move the roller up higher on your back and repeat. Every time you extend back over the roller, make sure to breathe and keep your butt on the ground. Work all the way up to almost the top of your shoulder blades. You can also simple roll up and down without the extension, but I love to add the extension in there as well.
1. Bear Squat – Start kneeling on the ground. Place your hands down on the ground in front of you. The closer you place your hands to your knees, the harder the stretch will be. Press your butt up into the air, driving your heels to the ground. Feel a nice stretch down your calves and hamstrings. Hold for 1-2 seconds and then drop back down to your knees. If your feet feel locked up, you can do the bear squat with foot stretch.
2. World’s Best Stretch with Hamstring – Start in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and feet together. Your body should start in a nice straight line. Step your right foot outside your right hand. Drop the right elbow down into the instep of your right foot. Then rotate open facing your right leg, stretching your right arm up toward the ceiling. Bring the right hand back down to the ground. Sit back on your left heel and straighten your right leg. Feel a stretch down your hamstring. Then bend the right leg and move back into the plank position with the foot outside the hand. Again drop the elbow and repeat the move on your right side. Complete all reps and then switch and do the stretch on the other side.
3. Lunge with Reach to Hamstring Stretch – This move kind of reminds me of crescent pose and a triangle pose in yoga…Not exactly but that is what it reminds me of. Start in a high plank position. Step one foot up between your hands. Lift your hands up off the ground and reach them back and overhead as you stay in a low lunge. Feel a nice stretch down the hip and quad of the back leg. Then bring the hands back down to the ground and hike your hips up to straighten your front leg. Feel a stretch down the hamstring of the front leg. Sink back into the lunge and reach up and back overhead again to stretch the hip and quad before repeating the hamstring stretch. Complete all reps on one side before moving back into the plank and switching to the other side.
4. Frog Stretch with Rotation – One of the best groin and hip stretches out there in my opinion. Kneel on the ground and spread your knees as wide as possible. Lower yourself down to your forearms. Keep your feet in line with your lower leg and knees. Do not let your feet come together behind your butt. Sit your butt back between your knees as much as possible. As you come back forward, lower your body down to the ground and rotate your lower leg up and forward. Sit back again and then pivot the other hip. Keep alternating sides until all reps are complete.
5. Seated Rotation with Plank Reach – Sit on the ground with both legs out straight. Bend your right knee and cross your right foot over your left leg and place it on the ground by your knee. Place your right hand on the ground behind you. Take your left arm and place your left elbow on the right side of your right knee. Press through your left arm and rotate your body to the right, keeping your chest up nice and tall. Do not slouch. Then rotate back around and place your left hand on the ground behind you. Press up into a side plank, driving through your right foot and the side of your left foot. Reach your right hand back and overhead. Then sit back down on the ground and rotate back to the right and repeat the whole stretch. Complete all reps on the right side before switching.
6. Child’s Pose with Lat Stretch – Kneel on the ground with your toes pointed. Sit back on your heels reaching your arms out on the ground overhead. Walk your hands out as far as possible. You can also walk your hands to the right and left to get more of a stretch down each side of your back. You should feel this stretch down your arms and the sides of your back. You should also feel the stretch in your low back if you are relaxing back onto your heels.
7. Standing Wall Lat Stretch – Most easily done in a corner, but can be done on a flat wall. Reach your arm up the wall and press your side as close to the wall as possible. You can also bend your elbow and relax your hand down your back. Breathe and relax into the wall as much as possible.
8. Kneeling Thoracic Extension – On your hands and knees, reach one hand down your neck and spine. Fingertips should be pointing down your back toward your butt. Then rotate your core so that your elbow goes under your arm on the ground. Then rotate open driving the elbow up toward the ceiling. Try to focus on just opening up your back and not really shifting your weight in your lower body. Then rotate back closed and repeat. For more Thoracic stretches, check out an earlier post on Neck and Upper Back Pain.
9. Cobra – Lie on your belly with your legs out straight. Prop yourself up on your forearms with your elbows under your shoulders. You can stop there or you can press up further. You can push yourself up higher and lift up onto your hands if the stretch from your forearms isn’t enough.
NOTE: To help correct upper body imbalances, you may also need to address tight pecs, which will improve your posture and can in turn even help reduce your low back pain!
BONUS move….Kneeling Bridge. This is a great move to stretch out those pecs, work on thoracic extension and stretch your hips and quads! It is basically exactly the opposite of how your body is positioned while sitting all day. The only downside is many people struggle with the flexibility to truly do this move. You can always use a chair or bench and place your hands on top of that instead of your heels if you can’t reach your heels.
To reduce low back pain, you want to focus on activating your abs and your glutes.
1. Glute bridge – Lie on your back with your feet about hip-width apart. You should basically be able to touch your heels with your finger tips. Then bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Drive your elbows, shoulders and heels into the ground as you drive your hips up. Make sure your knees do not fall apart. Actively squeeze your butt as you drive your hips up. If you only feel your hamstrings working, make sure that you aren’t driving off your heels backwards. You shouldn’t feel like you are driving back into your shoulders. You want to actual feel like you are driving your knees forward over your toes even though you are driving through your heels. Drive your hips straight up. You can either do a glute bridge hold and hold at the top or you can perform reps by lowering down and lifting your hips again.
2. Reverse Hypers – Lie face down on the ground to perform a Reverse Hyper or perform an IKEA table Reverse Hyper if you have a table that will support you. To do the hyper from the ground, lie face down with your legs out straight and squeezed together. Relax your upper body and squeeze your glutes to lift your legs up off the ground. Keep your legs straight and together as you lift. Hold for a second or two at the top and then lower back down. Make sure to squeeze your glutes tight so you don’t feel it in your low back.
3. Fire Hydrants – Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Flex your feet. Then raise one leg out to the side, keeping the knee at 90 degrees. Try to not let the foot get higher than the knee or the knee get higher than the foot. Really squeeze the butt cheek as you lift. Repeat all reps on one side before moving on to the other side.
4. Bird Dog – A great move to activate both your core and your glutes. Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Flex your feet. Kick one leg out straight as if kicking it into the wall behind you while you reach the other arm out straight toward the wall in front of your head. Don’t worry about lifting your leg or arm up high. Really try to drive your arm and leg toward opposite walls. Squeeze your glutes and keep your belly button pulled in toward your spine. As you lower your arm and leg, bend them and bring them together under your body. Try to touch your knee to your elbow before extending back out. Repeat all reps on one side before switching to the other side. All reps should be done in a slow and controlled manner. You should even hold for a second or two at the top of the move.
5. Pelvic Tilt – The best core engagement move. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. There will be a space between your low back and the ground. Draw your belly button in toward your spine and press that space away. Hold your core tight for 5 to 10 seconds and then release. Feel the space again between your low back and the ground when you relax. There are progressions to the Pelvic Tilt, including marching and leg lowers. Check back soon for a post about ab engagement and pelvic tilt progressions on Redefining Strength’s blog.
6. Plank Series – Later this week, I will be posting a variety of plank variations. But here is a quick description of how to perform the basic forearm front and side plank.
To perform a front forearm plank, you should rest on your forearms with your elbows right below your shoulders. Beginners can start on their forearms and knees while more advanced exercisers will perform the plank from their forearms and toes. The longer you hold, the harder the move will be. Make sure to draw your belly button in toward your spine, tuck your hips under and keep your body in a nice straight line. Feet should be together and adductors, glutes and quads engaged. Do not let your upper back round as you hold. Breathe as you hold and don’t let your hips drop toward the ground or raise up toward the ceiling.
The forearm side plank variation is done on one forearm. Your elbow should be right below your shoulder. Beginners may do this from their knees. A modified plank can also be done with just the bottom knee down and the top leg straight.To advance the move, straighten both legs and rest on the side of your feet and your forearm. (Feet may be stacked or one may be in front of the other.) If that isn’t challenging enough, raise the top leg. Your top arm can rest on your hip or reach up toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep your body in a nice straight line. Squeeze your glutes and make sure your chest doesn’t rotate toward the ground. Drive your bottom hip up nice and high. Do not let your hip sag toward the ground.
7. Band Stability Press (anti-rotational) – Anchor a band in a door, around a pole or even use a cable-pulley machine. Step away from the anchor point as far as you can without allowing your body to rotate toward the anchor. You should be facing perpendicular to the band. Start with the handle at your chest. Push the band straight out from the center of your chest until your arms are straight. Do not let your arms rotate open and go back toward the anchor. Then slowly bring your arms back in. This move looks easy, but when you try it, you realize how much your entire body fights rotating back toward the band hook!
For more glute activation exercises, check out Part 3 of the Bootilicious series. And check back later this week for more great plank variations to help you engage your core.
Use the moves above to find the specific spots that are tight and inactive on you and then loosen and activate them! Just because you have low back pain doesn’t mean you will need to use all of the moves above.
You may find you only have trigger points around the front of your hips and that your hamstrings are fine. Don’t spend time on areas that are ok. Target areas of tightness or inactivity!
If your back pain is due to trauma, please consult a doctor.
Stop accepting chronic back pain and start doing something about it!
The other day I agreed to do some mobility and stabilization work with a collegiate men’s basketball team.
They were probably the most inflexible, broken down and injured group of people EVER.
And they were high level athletes!!
But the craziest part is that they just seemed to accept their inflexibility, pain and injuries. When they shouldn’t, and most definitely don’t have to.
Sometimes I think we become so used to chronic pain that we just start to accept it and avoid certain activities INSTEAD of working to correct the pain so that we don’t have any limitations.
But most injuries can be made better. And most aches and pains can be gotten rid of.
it just takes spending some time on those not so fun pieces of working out – like stabilization exercises, stretching, foam rolling and RECOVERY.
Working out isn’t all glitz and glamour. Actually you get all the glitz and glamour, all the fun exercises and great results, by doing that tedious, boring, prehab and rehab stuff.
Because if you don’t do enough prehab and rehab not only will you suffer from chronic pain at the site of that injury, but you also risk causing injury further up your kinetic chain!
Here are some prehab/rehab exercises, stretches and trigger point release techniques to get you started this weekend. Check back this next week for more stretches and exercises to help alleviate those nagging aches and pains from sitting at a desk all day!
Glute activation exercise for less low back pain (good to do after an ankle, knee or hip injury!)
The other day I went to a health fair as one of the vendors and a woman from a massage and chiropractor office came over to me and started talking to me about training.
She told me one of her massage therapists was super into Crossfit and that they got a TON of business from there. She said to me, “Oh you know how it is with all that super intense exercise….So many people get injuries, but it is worth it.”
I’m honestly not sure what I said in response because all I could think was, “UHMMM…NO…Actually I don’t because people come to me feeling crappy with maybe some aches and pains and my intention is to make them feel BETTER not WORSE.”
And I’m not meaning to bash Crossfit here because, to be honest, there are a lot of idiots out there in the fitness industry in a lot of different capacities. Heck, stupid people training themselves injury themselves. But with the popularity of Crossfit increasing, there are going to be more and more idiot trainers flocking to it. It’s that way with anything that becomes popular.
Anyway….My point is that WORKOUTS SHOULDN’T MAKE YOU FEEL WORSE!
I’m not exactly sure when or why a good workout became defined as a workout that murders you. I’m not exactly sure when or why it became cool to be injured.
But let me assure you…It isn’t.
And five years down the road, when other injuries have popped up because you didn’t properly rehab your “cool” injury, you won’t be thinking that pushing through the pain was all that darn awesome.
Workouts can be GOOD and even hard without leading to injury or making you feel like death every time after you finish.
Every workout doesn’t have to feel like a slaughter.
Actually every workout SHOULDN’T feel that way if you are truly interested in getting results.
Just because someone else, who you think you should be lifting as much as, is lifting a certain weight doesn’t mean YOU are ready to lift it.
YOU CAN’T RUSH THINGS OR COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS! Workouts are a BUILDING process. And that progress isn’t going to be a straight line up!
And if you don’t respect the process, you are going to get injured and workouts aren’t going to make you feel better like they should!!!
A couple of months ago, I had this new guy join my latest evening class.
One of the first exercises we did was a single leg deadlift. Because he hadn’t done the move before and hadn’t done much balance or core work recently, he had to use very light weights.
At the end of the workout, he comes up to me a little downtrodden and says, “I was doing way less weight than some of the people I know I should be doing more than.”
I said to him, “Why should you be doing more than them?” I, of course, knew he meant he should be doing more than them because they were older than him and female and he thought as a younger man he should have more strength than them. And he is, in fact, “stronger” than them in that he probably has more natural brut strength.
But when he stated what I mentioned above I said, “But they have done this before AND they have BUILT UP TO IT! Their bodies are ready to handle the load while doing the movement.”
He then said to me, “Well if I held the weight this way or did a double leg move, I could do more.”
I then said, “But this move builds up all the small muscles so that you can lift even MORE when we progress to those bigger, heavier lifts. Plus just because you can lift it, doesn’t really mean your body is ready to.”
He didn’t seem completed convinced. But he has been putting in the work and remained patient.
And guess what? The workouts have been making him feel BETTER and STRONGER every single day.
He just had to stop worrying about what other people were doing or the weight his was doing.
He had to focus on HIS GOALS.
So if your workouts aren’t making you FEEL BETTER, are they really worth it?
Are you too caught up in doing gnarly workouts instead of staying focused on what truly matters?
Somewhere deep down inside, we all know that moving more, that exercising more, will make us feel better.
However, many of us are stuck in the Pain/Injury Cycle, which prevents us from every consistently working out.
Many people, at one point or another, attempt to start a new workout program.
They don’t really know where to start or what to, but they give their workouts 110% effort.
And then they get injured. So they take some time off.
During the time off, the pain does lessen yet they may suffer from other aches and pains. So they again start working out in an attempt to get rid of their pain.
But because they haven’t really improved their movement patterns or rehabbed their injuries, their pain increases and may even lead to further injury.
That in turn leads to them quitting their exercise program yet again and leads to continued chronic pain.
This cycle of pain and injury is why it is hard for many people to even get started on a healthy lifestyle program.
Most of us don’t like doing things that are uncomfortable. Most of us doing like being in pain.
Actually most of us will do a lot to ever avoid suffering pain, which unfortunately can cause us to never truly feel good.
So how do you get started when you are suffering from pain and exercise just seems to cause more pain?
YOU LEARN TO MOVE WELL!
Don’t worry about lifting a ton of weight. Don’t worry about doing crazy cool stuff.
Deal with the pain first!
Start with the boring tedious stuff that everyone wants to avoid.
Start with the foam rolling. With the stretching. With the activation moves. With the strengthening moves.
THEN learn to move correctly before you worry about adding weight or doing brutal workouts.
If we try to run before we can walk, we may be able to run for a bit but we are probably not going to be running for long because our body doesn’t truly know how to run. So it will get injured.
BE PATIENT. Allow your body to grow and to learn.
Don’t skip those first ESSENTIAL steps. No, that first rehab/prehab stuff isn’t glamorous, but it is essential if you want to run and run without pain.
It is essential if you want to stop that pain cycle from repeating itself over and over again.
I know we all want to just jump right in and use all the cool equipment and do all the crazy “badass” workout moves so we can post our gnarly workouts on Facebook, but if you want to MOVE BETTER AND FEEL BETTER, if you want to make working out a way of life, you’ve got to EARN those moves.
Start with the basics. Learn to move well and you will earn the fun stuff! Plus you will break the pain cycle and really start feeling good!
Here are a few posts about EARNING your exercises and progressing your workouts. Plus if you want some great stretches, foam rolling and activation moves, check out Redefining Strength!
It sucks. Plain and simple.
And there are a ton of reasons why you could be suffering from knee pain (reasons I will be getting to at a later date).
But no matter why you have the pain, it generally causes you to avoid leg exercises that could help you develop stronger, more powerful legs.
Lunges and squats generally cause pain. And even traditional deadlifts or sumo deadlifts may be uncomfortable.
But just because you have knee pain doesn’t mean you can skip leg day.
Actually when you have knee pain, you NEED to develop stronger legs, especially stronger glutes. Strengthening your glutes can often help alleviate knee pain (even though weak glutes are not necessarily the direct cause of knee pain).
Single leg deadlifts and straight leg deadlifts can both be great options. If your knee pain is a result of a previous ankle injury, single leg deadlifts can be a great way to also work on and improve your balance.
HOWEVER, I have found that one of the most torturous standing glute exercises isn’t a variation of the deadlift, it is the Anterior Reach Lunge by Nick Tumminello.
This move is so great that I love using it even with uninjured people. It seriously is a deceptively hard move and one that is sure to make your butt SO SORE the first time you do it.
How to do the Anterior Reach Lunge:
1. Start standing with your feet together. Beginners should start with bodyweight while more advanced lifters can hold weights by their sides. Intermediate lifters or people suffering from low back pain may want to do the lunge with a front reach instead of adding weight.
2. Step forward with one foot. Beginners can keep the step forward smaller. A bigger step forward will make the move more difficult.
3. Step forward and bend the front knee slightly as you hinge over. All of your weight should basically be in your front leg with your back leg used for balance and support.
4. While you are stepping forward, your weight shouldn’t continue to go forward as you hinge over. Your front heel should be firmly on the ground while your back leg stays straight.
5. Your back should also be flat as you lean/hinge over.
6. The more you lean over, the harder the move. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK TOWARD THE GROUND. It doesn’t matter if the weights touch the ground or if you can only lean over a little bit. It only matters that you push the butt back, keep the core engaged and the back flat as you hinge over.
7. If you do the reach instead of holding weights, you will reach your hands overhead and in front of you as you hinge over. Do not round as you reach.
8. Feel a nice stretch in your glute and hamstring as you hinge over. Make sure your weight isn’t going forward into your front toe. The heel of the front foot should be firmly planted on the ground. After you hinge over, stand up and step back.
9. You can choose to complete all reps on one side or alternate legs as you go.
Knee pain is no excuse to skip leg day, especially GLUTE DAY. For more great glute strengthening moves that could help alleviate your knee pain, check out these 10 Mini Band Moves.
P.S. For some reason this move does really make me think of the bend and snap…Anyone else get that!?!
Let’s face it…Even if we are pretty active, we spend a great deal of time hunched over a computer. Which generally leads to bad posture and upper back and neck pain.
Because most people sit looking at a computer screen all day, muscles get out of their proper alignment. For instance because you hunch over the computer, your upper traps may become active (aka you may be tense a lot with your shoulders up by your ears). If your upper traps are overactive, most likely your lower traps will be underactive. Muscles therefore aren’t working the way they should be.
When muscles aren’t properly aligned and working the way they should be, other muscles compensate, leading to injury.
Below are some great trigger point release, stretches and strengthening moves you can do to alleviate minor aches and pains in your neck, shoulders and upper back. These moves will release and stretch any muscles that would be tight from sitting all day. They will also strengthen those muscles that are underactive.
NECK – Be careful when rolling out your neck. Use a very softer ball and stand against a wall with the ball between the wall and your neck. Do not go over your vertebrae. Dig in lightly to any tight spots. Look side to side and up and down to release any trigger points.
UPPER TRAPS AND SHOULDER BLADES – Stand with your back to a wall. Place a tennis ball right behind your trap (just to the side of your neck). Roll the ball out toward your shoulder and then back in. Then roll it down your shoulder blade and back up. Hold on any tight spots. You can even stretch your neck away from the side of the ball and then relax to help dig out the trigger point. As you work your way down your shoulder blades, you may even cross one arm (the arm on the side with the ball) across your chest to allow you to really work under the shoulder blade. Hold on any tight spots and relax and breathe.
CHEST – A big foam ball works best if you do this on the ground. Take the foam ball and place it in your chest near the shoulder joint, but not on the shoulder joint. Lie face down on the ground with the ball in your chest. Reach your hand overhead and then bring it back down by your side. You can even reach out to the side and then bring your hand back in. Hold on any tight spots. You can also do this standing with a smaller ball against a pole, door frame or corner of a wall into a hallway. Place the ball on the wall in your chest near your shoulder joint. You should put it in the side of your chest that isn’t blocked by the wall so you can stretch your arm out in front of you. Stretch your arm out in front of you at shoulder height. Then raise it over head and lower it back down to the ground. Move the arm around to help dig out any trigger points.
LATS – You can use a foam ball or a ball. I prefer the roller because I can hit my lats and also roll out my upper back and work on thoracic extension. Lie on your side with the roller under one armpit. Rock forward and backward and then move the roller down your side toward your belly button. Work down your lat to about the end of your ribs. Rock forward and backward as you move to really dig out the lats. If you use the blue ball, you can actually start in your chest and then roll the ball under your armpit and up between your shoulder blades. It is a great move if you want to hit your back, lats and chest all in one!
THORACIC EXTENSION – Take a roller and roll out your upper back. Let it roll from about your ribs to your shoulders. You can lean a bit to either side to change exactly where the roller hits. You can also use a ball to roll out your upper back. I like the roller though because after your roll out your back you can do a nice little stretch. With the roller in your upper back, drop your butt down to the ground and then lean back over the roller, trying to drop your head to the ground behind you. Change where the roller is in your upper back and then drop your butt to the ground and extend back over again. Really works on thoracic extension since we seem to be in thoracic flexion for 8 hours a day while sitting in front of the computer screen!
For more great foam rolling techniques, check out the Redefining Strength video library.
THREE WAY STRETCH – You can do this move seated or standing. Reach one hand behind your back and then grab that wrist with the other hand. Pull the arm behind your back toward the opposite side. Then lean your head to the side you are pulling to. Do not tense your shoulders and bring them up toward you ears. Relax into the stretch. Then change the direction of your gaze. Look up and hold for a second or two. Then look straight ahead. And then look down. Move your chin as you look and not just your eyes. Changing the direction of where you look, will change exactly which muscles in your necks and upper back that you stretch.
HEAD NODS — There are three types of head nods I like. The “yes” head nod where you look down toward the ground then lean your head back and look up at the ceiling as if doing a big nod yes (move slowly trying to open up your range of motion). The “no” nod where you look side to side, trying to look as far both ways as possible as if you doing a big slow no nod (do not move to quickly and make yourself dizzy). And the “rooster” nod where you pull your chin back in toward your chest as if trying to create a double chin and then you extend your chin back out (it kind of reminds of the rooster head movement). All should be done slowly and with the shoulders relax. If you feel your shoulders creeping up by your ears, stop and relax them. You may even want to slightly reach down toward the ground with your hands to keep them relaxed.
WALL SLIDES – An oldie but goodie, this one works on thoracic flexibility. Stand against a wall with your core tight and your butt and upper back firmly against the wall. Place your forearms against the wall with your elbows bent. Then try to reach your forearms and hands up the wall as far as possible without losing contact with the wall. Don’t let your head, butt or upper back move from the wall either and try to keep your core tight. Slide your hands up and down, increasing the range of motion if you can with each rep.
KNEELING THORACIC EXTENSION – On your hands and knees, reach one hand down your neck and spine. Fingertips should be pointing down your back toward your butt. Then rotate your core so that your elbow goes under your arm on the ground. Then rotate open driving the elbow up toward the ceiling. Try to focus on just opening up your back and not really shifting your weight in your lower body. Then rotate back closed and repeat.
CAT/CAMEL – You can do this move standing or on your hands and knees. The basic move is that you round your back as much as possible and then you extend back the other way as much as possible. So on your hands and knees. Round your back up toward the ceiling. Then drop down and arch your back driving your belly button toward the ground and even looking up toward the ceiling with your head. If you do this standing, you will round forward as if hunching over your desk. Even bring your hands and arms forward as you round. Then extend open, opening your arms and even looking up toward the ceiling. Really exaggerate the extension if you can.
UPPER BACK AND LAT – Probably my favorite stretch of all time shown to me by Mark at the gym. Kneel on the ground. Then lean forward and rotate onto one side. Drop the side of your head and shoulder down to the ground. Reach the bottom arm out in front of you. Then reach the top hand back and overhead. Really try to rotate your chest open toward the ceiling. Hold and then repeat on the other side.
LAT STRETCH – Child’s pose can be a great way to stretch your lats and your upper back. You can also simply place the side your hand on a bookshelf or desk and then straighten your arm and bend over (if needed) and walk away. Even rotate a bit so you are looking under the arm on the desk or wall and then away from the arm. Feel a nice stretch down your arm and into the side of your back. Hold and repeat on the other side.
CHEST STRETCH – A doorway, pole or corner is great for this stretch. Place your hand or forearm on the side of the doorway. Step through the doorway until you feel a stretch down your chest and into your shoulder. Do not rotate toward the arm in the doorway. Try to face straight ahead. Hold and then switch.
SCAPULAR PUSH UPS – These are hard for many people to do so you may want to have someone watch your form the first time. This is a very small range of motion. Set up in a push up position from your knees or toes. Create a nice straight line with your body. Then pinch your shoulder blades back and together and press your chest out. Then relax. It is really only a few inches of motion. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CORE TO MOVE. Many people will drop their hips and move their core or bend their elbows. All you are doing is pinching your shoulder blades back and together. Do not let your shoulders shrug up by your ears.
SCAPULAR WALL HOLD – An essential move if you sit at a desk all day. Stand with your back to a wall. Bend your elbows with your arms at your side. Drive your chest out and pinch your shoulder blades down and together. Do not let your shoulders shrug. Lean back into the wall. Only your elbows and maybe your head should touch the wall. Walk your feet away from the wall only if needed to increase the resistance. Press your chest out and draw your shoulder blades together as you hold. You create the tension and this move will only be difficult if you really activate the muscles.
CORNER ROW – A dynamic scapular hold. Stand in a corner in the same position as the scapular hold. Place one elbow on each side of the corner. Drive up into the scapular hold and then relax back into the corner and repeat. Do not let the shoulders shrug up as you row out. Also the farther from the wall your feet are, the harder the move will be.
LAT TOWEL PULLDOWN – You can do this move with or without a towel. It is very much like the wall slides except you aren’t against a wall. Reach your hands up with your elbows bent. Your hands should be on either side of your chest with your palms facing forward. You can hold a towel tight between your hands. This sometimes helps to remind you to keep tension between your shoulder blades and activate your lats. Reach your hands up overhead, keeping tension on the towel. Then pull the towel back down, pulling with your lats as you pinch your shoulder blades down and together. Repeat, keeping tension between your shoulder blades and using your lats to pull.
BAND SCAPULAR FLY – For this one you need a light resistance band. Hold the resistance band with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Arms should be straight out in front of you at about shoulder height or right below. Keeping your arms straight, open your arms out to the side. Pinch your shoulder blades together as you open. Do not let your shoulders shrug up. Then once you open the band to your chest with your arms straight, bring your arms back together so your arms are about shoulder-width apart again and there is no slack in the band. Repeat.
Many of these moves can even be done in your office when you need a quick break from looking at the computer screen. I tell clients all the time that at least every hour or so they should get up and do a couple quick stretches and a scapular hold for a minute or two. Great way to reverse the effects of hunching over AND a great way to become even just a little bit more active!
Here is actually a great move to extend EVERYTHING that is basically flexed all day at the computer.
NOTE: Anyone love…I mean hate…burpees? Look out for some cool burpee variations to come later this week!
Many of us sit at a computer for hours at a time, maybe even whole days, typing.
Which means our wrists are bent and flexed in an unnatural position for HOURS. And then when we are done typing, we go and “grip” things.
We carry grocery bags or go to the gym and lift weights or hold pencils and pens. We hold spoons to stir the dinner in the pan that we are also holding. (And it’s funny because most of us need to work on grip strength, which while important to improve, can also add to our pain).
Our hands and wrists are constantly in flexion (even our elbows are flexed a lot).
And this leads to a lot of hand, wrist, forearm and even elbow pain. (Shoot even if you play a sport like tennis and have some elbow pain…THIS CAN HELP!)
So what are some tips to help you alleviate the pain?
Where ever there are muscles, you can foam roll and probably should be foam rolling.
Take a golf ball and place it under your hand on a table or flat surface. Roll the golf ball around the palm of your hand. You can add a little bit of extra pressure by pressing down with your other hand.
You can then take the golf ball or a tennis ball (or small trigger point roller or foam roller) and roll out all of the muscles from your wrists to your elbow. Make sure to get the top and bottom of your forearm. To dig in deeper as you roll out, you can tense and relax your forearm on the ball or roller. To tense, make a fist and then relax over the roller. You can also dig in deeper by applying pressure with your other hand.
If you are suffering from elbow pain, you may also want to roll out your tricep and bicep right above your elbow. You can take a roller or ball and place it on a low table and roll your arm out on it. You can also place the roller or ball against a wall and press your arm into it (this works well for the tricep but not as well for the bicep unless you are in an opening or doorway). Again, you can apply more pressure and dig in deeper, by pressing down with your other hand. Make sure to rock back and forth and not only move the roller up and down.
Wrist (and Hand) Stretches:
- Hand Circles – Clasp your hands together and draw circles and figure eights both ways with the hands together. Try not to tense your hands, but relax them through the range of motion.
- Under Forearm stretch – Kneel on the ground and place your palms down on the ground. Turn your fingertips back toward your knees. Then sit back on your heels and feel a stretch down the inside of your forearm. Sit back as far as you can without letting the heel of your palms come up. Rock back and forth. Do not hold the stretch but move slowly.
- Inside/Outside Stretch – Kneel on the ground with your palms on the ground and your fingertips pointing out away from each other. Lean forward a bit into your hands so that there is some pressure on your palms and wrists. Keeping the pressure on the hands, flip one hand and then the other so that the finger tips are pointing in and the back of your hands are down. Then, one at a time, flip the hands back out.
- Side to Side Extension – Kneel on the ground with your palms down and hands about shoulder-width apart. Fingers should be pointing outward away from each other. Then rock side to side slowly and smoothly.
- Prayer Stretch – Place your hands together. You can do this with the fingertips pointing up or down (do both if you have time). Press the fingertips together. If your fingers are pointing up, you are going to try to press the hands down as low as possible without the heels of the palms coming apart. If your fingertips are pointing down, you will try to raise your hands up as high as possible without your hands coming apart.
Tricep and Bicep Stretches:
- Wrist and Bicep Stretch – Stretch one arm straight out in front of you. Take the other hand and press down on the fingertips, pointing them down toward the ground. As you press down, you should straighten your arm more so you feel a stretch down your forearm and up into your bicep.
- Hugs – Swing your arms open as wide as you can to feel a stretch through your chest and biceps. Then swing your arms across your body as if you are hugging yourself. Reach your hands around back as far as possible and then open up again as wide as possible. Repeat never really holding in one position.
- Overhead Tricep Stretch – Reach one hand up overhead and then down your back. Reach as far down your back as possible and then take the other hand and press down on the elbow to increase the stretch. Try not to arch your back as you do this stretch. You can also do this with a towel. Reach one hand over and down the back from the top. Hold a towel in that hand and then reach up the back to grab the other end of the towel. Pull down on the towel to increase the stretch.
- Across the Chest Tricep Stretch – Reach one arm across your chest and take the other arm and pull it tighter to your chest. You can relax the arm across your chest down into the bent elbow of the other arm. Make sure to keep the shoulder of the arm across the chest relaxed down and back.
Probably one of the best simple cure-alls for the lower arm is the rubber band finger extensions. It works all the way up your forearm to loosen everything that is constantly flexed.
To do it, get a rubber band (you can use a basic rubber band or get one of the thicker ones designed for this) and place it around the outside of your fingers. Place it around that middle knuckle. Then extend your fingers open as far as possible before bringing them back together. Do a number of reps (I recommend starting with like 30-50 depending on the tension of the band).
These are all quick fixes you can do to alleviate hand, wrist, forearm and elbow pain. None of them take a lot of time and can even be added to your workout warm ups.
If you sit at a desk all day, you can easily do some of these every few hours when you get up for a break. You could even add in the scapular hold and some neck and trap stretches too!…Hint…hint…
NOTE: If you have sever pain please see a Physical Therapist. These are meant to alleviate minor aches and pains. Ice can also be a great tool if an area is super inflamed.
Recently I’ve had to do way more running than I would ever have liked to have done in my lifetime.
I don’t regret a second of it though because I’m running with Jodie and she is one strong and amazing woman. (And her half marathon is August 18th! GO JODIE!)
HOWEVER, I have noticed one thing…Everyone thinks they can run.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE THE WORST RUNNING FORM EVER!
People who have never worked out before in their life often turn to running as their first exercise option.
But what people don’t realize is that RUNNING ISN’T EASY!
Yes, running SHOULD BE a natural movement pattern.
But it isn’t for most adults anymore because we sit hunched over a computer screen for 8 hours a day.
And that sitting over the computer causes postural distortions that then hinder us from properly executing movements that should be natural…aka RUNNING.
I don’t know if Jodie has ever noticed this when we are running, but occasionally I will have like sensory overload where there are just too many runners with incorrect form ahead of us and I have to pass them or I will go insane. I speed up and run around even if I had to step off the path because I just can’t handle it.
And when I say all of this, I’m not trying to be mean or judgmental. I think it is great that people are getting out and being active and doing SOMETHING.
I’m just trying to get across the point that there is proper FORM to running and that if you don’t have decent form you are probably going to get injured.
And injury hinders us from really reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, which are to FEEL BETTER and MOVE BETTER.
So what is proper running form? (And note here I’m talking about longer distance running and not sprinting although many of these things apply to both.)
Well I can tell you it isn’t the knock-kneed running you see so often occurring on the trails. Boy does that annoy me.
And many of those people wonder why they have knee, hip or low back pain!
Anyway, proper running form and common problems….
First off, your upper body should be RELAXED.
Your head shouldn’t be flexed or extended, but should be in line with your spine. This means your eyes should be focused slightly ahead and/or slightly downcast.
Your shoulders shouldn’t be up by your ears. I call this the “turtle” position. No hiding your head in your shell! You don’t want to hold tension anywhere that isn’t necessary. Your shoulders being elevated may have to do with sitting at the desk all day and tension in your upper traps. Try a scapular hold to help you activate your lower traps and roll out your upper traps to alleviate this problem.
Your shoulders may also be elevated because you are forcing too much arm movement. Your arms should be relaxed and swing loosely. If you even notice many long distance runners don’t have much arm movement at all. Their upper bodies are simply relaxed. (This doesn’t mean your arms should just hang by your sides. Your elbows should be bent to about 90.)
Your hands and wrists should be neutral. No weird flexion or extension. AND you shouldn’t be holding your hands in a death grip. RELAX!
You also need to be conscious of how much you rotate. Too much rotation is bad. While running does work your abs, you shouldn’t be doing russian twists while you are running. If your hands are crossing the midline of your body then you are rotating too much. (This could mean you have a little lack of coordination or poor hip flexion aka the movement when you bring your knee to your chest.)
Also, do not have excessive lean or rounding forward. While sprinters will lean forward during the acceleration phase, once they hit maximal speed (or when you are jogging) you should be near perpendicular to the ground.
Now your lower body…
Your low back shouldn’t be arched and you should not waddle (aka have excessive hip sway from side to side)! This means weak core and glute muscles as well as tight hip flexors that need to be taken care of before you just pound away the miles. (If you have lots of rotation this can also mean your hamstrings and adductors are tight as well.)
I’ve also noticed that there are a number of people with a slight hip hike when they run (one hip is higher than the other). This means different problems are occurring on each half of our body, which guess what? LEADS TO INJURY! Roll out your entire hip complex if this is occurring and search for tight spots on each side. You are also going to need to work on adductor and glute medius (your side butt) strength on the side opposite the hip tilt up.
You should also have a good range of motion around your hip and be able to produce force with each ground push off. I see it all the time…Runners bobbing up and down. Don’t waste your energy going up and down! PUSH FORWARD. While you shouldn’t consciously have to think about going forward, each time you push off you should propel forward NOT UP. If you don’t move forward fluidly but do bob up and down, you need to work on your ankle mobility, hip flexibility and posterior chain strength (aka glute, hamstring…whole back of your body….).
Your knees…THEY SHOULDN’T COLLAPSE IN! I see this so often when I’m out running with Jodie. If your knees collapse in, you need to work on your ankle mobility….great thing I have all a lot of the info you need RIGHT HERE. You also need to roll out your inner thighs, hamstrings and strengthen the outside of your leg and glutes. Some single leg balancing would also be a great way to help correct this problem. Also, just a slight side note…But if your IT Bands are always tight and hurt, you may want to have someone see if your knees are collapsing in!
Your feet may also be part of the problem. Take a look at your shoes. Do you run on the inside of your foot or the outside. Many people I’ve seen run on the inside, which makes sense since many of those same people run with their knees collapsing in. All of it is connected and can lead to shin splints, knee problems, plantar fasciitis and even low back pain! If you run on the inside of your feet roll out your lower leg and not just your calf. You will actually want to do a number of the exercises I outline in a post about how to get rid of shin splints and plantar fasciitis!
If your feet turn out that is also a problem to address. It can mean spots in your calves and hamstrings are tight while your glutes and even muscles in your hips are weak.
And last but not least…Don’t overstride. Don’t try to reach with the leg. Let the legs SWING. It all goes back to relaxing and being mobile, which is hard when you sit for 8 hours a day!
Sorry if this is a bit more technical than the usual post, but I want people to start thinking about how they run since so many people turn to running as their exercise of choice.
The whole point of working out is to feel better, to move better. To feel stronger and fitter.
And honestly, bad movement patterns do the exact opposite even if you don’t feel the negative effects yet.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up running.
It just means you should do some strengthening and mobility work so that you can do the thing you love without injury. And you may find you even do it better if you do some of the mobility and strengthening required to have proper running form!
NOTE: I did not discuss heel strike. Interesting read about foot strike.
I’ve gotten a ton of people recently coming to me with shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
There is a close relationship between the two so I’m not surprised when runners end up having troubles with both. They can be due to improper footwear, over-pronation of the foot, incorrect running/walking form or just plain-old OVERUSE.
Below is a quick breakdown of each injury and then some prehab/rehab stuff you can do to make the pain go away!
Shin splints are not your bone splintering apart. Shin splints are actually pain in either the anterior or posterior tibialis, the muscles of your shin.
Shin splints can occur from improper footwear, improper gait mechanics (overstriding), over-pronation (when your foot rolls inward) and just plain-old overuse. (Today I will not get into proper gait mechanics or discuss the shoes you should wear, but you should be aware that these two things MAY be a potential cause of your pain.)
Here are some ways you can help alleviate the pain and even start correcting the muscle imbalances that may be occurring because of one of the issues above.
How many of you runners that suffer from shin splints roll out the muscles of your lower legs, other than potentially your calves?
Don’t lie. I know not many of you do.
The fronts and sides of our shins are often forgotten when we roll out.
To roll out your shins, sit on the ground with one foot flat on the ground and your knee bent. Take a tennis ball or other small ball and dig it into the muscle down the front of your shin. Start right below your knee. Make small circles, digging the ball in as much as you can. After making circles in one spot, move the ball down lower on your leg toward you ankle. Work your way all the way down your shin.
You can also use a roller or tennis ball to hit the outside of your shin. Place the roller or tennis ball on the side of your lower leg right above your ankle. Press your leg down into the roller and roll up toward your knee and then back down. Hold on any tight spots and rock your leg side to side to dig in deeper to those spots.
Here is a link to a full video library that includes a few different ways to roll out your shins and your entire lower leg.
Stretching can also help alleviate the pain of shin splits by lengthening potentially overactive muscles.
You can hit your shins from a couple of different angles using one basic stretch. Standing, point your toe. Place your big toe on the ground and let your foot fall forward, pressing the top of your foot toward the ground. You can change exactly what angle you hit based on how you point your toe. Your big toe can point straight ahead or out to the side or even inward.
You can also make circles with your foot in that position to loosen up your shin and improve ankle mobility.
You should also make sure to stretch your calves as they me tight and part of the problem!
A good way to stretch and help strengthen is by doing heel walking. Flex your feet and walk around on your heels. This could be a great part of your pre-run warm up.
Also, ABCs are a great ankle mobility and lower leg muscle strengthening exercise. Sit or lie down and point your toe. Draw the alphabet with your big toe.
If you do have shin splints from overuse, make sure to also rest up and then start a rehab program.
If you have shin splints from over-pronation, you may also need to loosen up other muscles like your adductors while strengthening your glutes.
Ice and anti-inflammatories can also help alleviate pain BUT they will not “cure” the problem.
The best “rehab” program is a prehab one. If you know you are going to be upping your mileage and have suffered from shin splints in the fast, stop the problem before it happens. Foam roll before and after workouts and make sure to stretch and warm up properly. Work on your ankle mobility even if you aren’t having pain at the moment. Also include the proper strengthening exercises in your program.
Take care of your body BEFORE you have pain so that an injury doesn’t sideline you later!
Plantar Fasciitis is pain on the bottom of your foot and can occur along with heel spurs or even because of heel bone spurs.
It is a common overuse injury in runners and has a lot to do with over-pronation and lack of calf flexibility. You are more at risk if you are overweight, have high arches, do repetitive high-impact activities or suddenly start or up your activity level.
Usually your plantar fasciitis feels the worst when you wake up or after you’ve been sitting for a while. It tends to feel better when you’ve warmed up.
The quickest way to get rid of plantar fasciitis is by rolling out all the tight muscles involved.
Roll out your calves with either a tennis ball or roller. Start at the base of your calf right above your ankle. Rock side to side and then move the roller or ball up higher on your calf. Hold on any tight spots.
You can also flex and relax your foot to dig in deeper to any trigger points. Or you can make small circles with your foot. Both help apply more pressure to the tight area.
You also need to roll out the bottom of your foot no matter how much it hurts. The smaller and harder the ball you use, the more you dig in and the quicker you will get everything loose (AKA the quicker everything will feel better!).
Standing, place the ball under your arch. Press down into the ball and roll it all along the bottom of your foot. Hold on any tight areas. BONUS: Take a small water bottle in the refrigerator and freeze it. Then use the cold bottle to roll out your foot! The cold really helps alleviate the pain (both from the injury itself and the actual rolling out haha).
You must stretch your calves AND the bottom of your foot.
To stretch your calves you can do Bear Squats or more traditional static calf stretches. To do a bear squat, start on your hands and knees. Then press back off your knees, driving your butt up to the ceiling and your heels down into the ground. Hold for a second and then relax back down to your hands and knees. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps. A great dynamic warm up stretch!
To stretch your feet, you can put your toes against a wall while keeping your heel on the ground. Lean forward into the wall.
Or you can flex your feet and sit back on your heels while kneeling on the ground. This stretch can even be added to the beginning of the bear squat so that you can stretch both your feet and your calves.
A great foot strengthening exercise requires only a towel. Place a towel on the ground. Using your bare foot, scrunch the towel with your toes. You can also practice picking up the towel with your foot.
Doing these moves always remind me of the movie Die Hard….when the guy tells Bruce Willis to take off his shoes and makes fists with his toes. (Am I weird? Probably.)
For both of these injuries, you will want to use a lot of the stretches and mobility exercises outlined in the Ankle Mobility post (This post shows the stretches discussed here)! They will help you strengthen and stretch your feet and lower legs so you can move pain-free!
For more foam rolling techniques, check out this Trigger Point Video Library. And for a great recovery workout for runners, click here! This workout will help you prevent injuries and develop great strength to run further, faster.
NOTE: This post doesn’t include all of the prehab/rehab options out there. It also doesn’t address all the causes of these two injuries. See a PT if your pain is sever or persists without lessening while trying some of these easy home remedies.