Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tri-Stretch Device

I got this stretching device from Perform Better and, even though it's just a chunk of red plastic, I'm finding it to be very useful. For one thing, just owning it and seeing it sitting on the floor looking at me reminds me to actually do the stretches that I need so badly. It's easy to just feel like stretching is "extra" and put it off until later, then forget all about it. But the truth is that since I've had this great little chunk of red plastic, my back, knees, and hips have felt better than they have in years! Also, it's made to rock a little from side to side while you stretch, so you end up stretching muscles that usually don't get any action. It's true that you could just as well do these stretches using a block of wood or a rock or curb of the street, but the red plastic is just so appealing, right? Seriously, it actually is more effective with the Tri-Stretch.

The two main ways I use it are for my calf/ankle area and for my hamstring area. I'm insanely tight in these two areas and this leads to multiple problems in the knee, hip, and lower back areas. I start with the large gastrocnemius muscle in my calf by keeping my knees straight and leaning against a wall or car, whatever, with the non-stretching foot placed a little ahead of the stretching foot and pressing my heel of the stretching foot into the tri-stretch device. Turning the toes slightly in and stretching, then slightly out and stretching will hit all sides of your calf muscles in a great way.
Then I work into the soleus muscle, which includes the achilles tendon and ankle, by bending the knee of the stretching leg and continuing to press the heel into the tri-stretch device. Once again, turning the toes inward and stretching, then outward and stretching completes the stretch.

Moving on to hamstrings, just shift your stance so that the foot of the non-stretching leg is now a little behind the foot of the stretching leg. With knees unlocked but kind of straight, bend from the hips forward and stretch your hamstring. To deepen the stretch, reach down and hold the tri-stretch or your foot or ankle and let your head drop towards your knee. This opens up the back muscles and gives you a good stretch from your head all the way to your foot. As with the calf stretch, you can turn the toes inward and outward to hit many more areas of your hamstrings than you may be used to.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Stretching Your Lower Legs and Ankles

It's important to remember that stretching your lower legs involves more than just the main large calf muscle (gastrocnemius), in the back of the lower leg just under the knee. The soleus muscle, located in the lower half of your lower leg, is between the large gastrocnemius and your achilles tendon at the ankle. The only way to reach the soleus muscle is by bending your knee while you stretch your calves. When you stretch them with straight knees, you'll be primarily stretching the gastrocnemius. Keeping the soleus muscle as well as your achilles tendon strong and flexible is important if you want to keep running or even walking! Think of your lower leg and ankle as your first line of shock absorbers when you run or walk. Keeping this area healthy takes a huge load off your knees, hips, and back.

In this stretch, the standing leg has a softly bent knee, thus stretching that soleus. The extended leg is getting a little stretch action in the hamstrings as well as gastrocnemius and achilles tendon. Just pull up on your toes and push your heel forward on that extended leg while pushing down into the ground with the standing leg. The more you can keep your lower back from rounding, the more you can get a hamstring stretch out of this, too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Triangle Pose

This classic yoga pose is great for a stretch after any kind of exercise. It stretches the huge fascia connection that runs throughout the body and usually gets constricted in the midsection.

Step your feet a little wider than shoulder width (or wider if you prefer), arms outstretched to the sides. You can start with either side, but, for the sake of blog-writing purposes, let's start with the left side. Extend your left hand and arm as far straight out over your left foot as you can while also shifting and stretching your upper body to the left BEFORE reaching down for your ankle. Once you've stretched everything from the waist up as far to the left as possible, THEN carefully reach down for your ankle, shin, foot, the ground, or wherever you can with your level of flexibility. Now stretch your right arm straight up to the sky and look up at your right hand. Push your chest forward and get as much upward rotation in your upper body as you can.
To push the stretch a little further, take the right arm over your head, keeping your arm by your right ear. Keep extending your chest upward and outward.

The explanation is a bit wordy, but the stretch is so great!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stretching Hammies

Hammies are hamstrings and hamstrings are the long muscles in the back of your thigh, also known as leg biceps, which are really biceps femoris. So, there you go, hammies are biceps femoris.

Now that we've gotten that straight, the stretch is simple. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and turn your upper body to one side. Now, keeping your back softly straight, bend out over the leg you are facing and touch the ground. After you've gotten somewhat comfortable there, fold your arms behind your back, resting them on your butt, and push your chest forward while raising your head and straightening your back into a bit of an arch. To deepen it further, you can now lower your head towards your knee and soften the arch in your back.

Repeat on the other side. Don't forget to breathe! Always!
Still more stretches to come.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Next Runner's Stretch

This stretch series is great to do just after the King of Stretches I told you about in the last post. It continues to stretch the hip area and includes the quadriceps in the front of the thigh as well as the knees. Speaking of knees, if you have something soft (sweatshirt, towel, etc.) to put under the supporting knee in Views B and C, it can be kind of nice to save you from roughing up the skin on your knees.

Start in View A and try to lift your chest, keep your head up, and keep the back leg straight and tight. Sink as low as you can, feeling your hips and quadriceps stretch and start to unwind. Make sure you breathe evenly and deeply throughout the stretch.

Now, for View B, move your hands so that they're both on the inside of the front leg and lower the back knee to the ground. Keeping aware of your even breathing, deepen the stretch in both the hips and quadriceps. You're still keeping your chest and head up at this point.

View C deepens the stretch a little further in the hips by bending the front elbow and lowering the chest and head towards the ground. Those of you who are very flexible will be able to have your head on the ground and your forearm flat.

More stretches next time!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Best Post-run Stretch I Know!

This stretch is, in my opinion, The King. The reason I hold this opinion so strongly is that it stretches areas that I tend to have tightness in, especially if I've been running a lot. I think that all of the years doing heavy squats and deadlifts in my bodybuilding/powerlifting competition days created some shortened muscles in my hips and lower back. Oh well, live and learn, right? Always!

Anyway, to get specific about this stretch, what you're doing is squatting down as low as you can to mostly sit on your heels. Then, with your hands on the ground in front of you and your elbows between your knees, start pressing a little outward with your elbows and experimenting with pressing your upper body forward. Sometimes I even stretch my upper body so forward that I put the top of my head either on the ground or on a wall in front of me. For those of you who do yoga, you'll feel like you're in the beginning stages of the Crow Pose, but I actually get way more out of this pose than the full crow pose because of the awesome stretch on my lower back muscles. It's not the most graceful-feeling pose, but it sure is effective!

I'll be posting some more post-run stretches in the coming few days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vitamin Cute!

photo by Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson

His name is Diego and he, along with other pets that are good and behave themselves, is known to lower stress in the people who love him and take care of him. It's true!
And you can surely imagine the benefits of lowered stress--lower blood pressure, better immune function, better heart health, better everything! Diego brings Vitamin Cute and lots of fun to the studio of Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson every day.