Ankle flexibility for better balance and sports

Featured

The feet and ankles support and cushion the entire weight of the body and are crucial to keep your body balanced. Anyone that has to be on his or her feet all day knows that they bear a lot of pressure while standing. The foot includes 26 bones and 33 joints, all helping you simply stay upright. Added to that are 12 muscles involved in movement of the foot, plus to 19 intrinsic muscles, which support the arches and toes. One of the most important functions of your feet is that stress is distributed correctly though these structures and upwards throughout the entire body.

When it comes to better sports performance—and all weight-bearing activities such as walking and running—you can’t talk about the feet without including the ankles and lower legs. Two big muscles on the back of the leg, the gastrocnemius and soleus, provide movement, and are often tight or stiff. Both of these muscles attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon. These muscles play a big role when you flex your ankles. A limited range of motion in your ankles can affect your sports performance, balance and good squatting and lunge form.

The ankles have to bend. Dorsiflexion involves being able to bring the lower leg over the foot. It occurs anytime your foot hits the ground. If you were lucky enough to watch the Beijing Winter Olympics, consider a figure skater performing loops and axels or an alpine skier’s competing in the slalom or giant slalom events—all demonstrated stunning foot and ankle mobility and function.

Touch the wall test

Touch the wall test

A simple and objective way to see if you ankles aren’t tight is to do the “touch the wall” test.

Find a wall and place a ruler or measuring tape out from the baseboard. Place your foot at approximately 5 or 5.5 inches away from the wall. Be sure to have your foot straight. Keep your heel down as you try to touch the wall with your knee. If you can easily tap the wall, you have good ankle mobility. If you cannot, repeat this movement slowly for 15-20 times. Check your range after you include the following two stretches.

High-step ankle stretch

Place your foot on a high chair or gym box. Be sure to have the foot in neutral alignment. Slowly flex the knee forward to increase the stretch. You should feel it in your ankles and calf. (This is a more advanced stretch.) Repeat 10-12 reps.

BOSU Calf Stretch

This is an incredibly effective gastrocnemius and soleus stretch taught by Justin Price, one of the top musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise experts in the world. Stand on the round side on a BOSU ball with one leg in front of the other. (Place the BOSU against a wall for safety.) Push the heel of the back foot down into the BOSU, as you stand erect. Keep the heel down and rotate the back leg outward. Hold for a few seconds. Next, bend the knee of the back leg and rotate the leg inward (heel is still down). Perform 6–10 repetitions on both sides.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-ankle-flexibility-for-better-balance-and-sports/article_5451e3a4-ab01-11ec-b25d-f733ba813780.html

Fitness Guru: Stretch your hips like a pro

Warrior 1 involves leg strength and mobility.

By CONNIE ARONSON

Skiing, snowshoeing, yoga or walking requires strength and mobility. Consider the yoga pose Warrior 1, where you stand in a lunge position with your arms stretched straight up overhead, neck extended with the head back and eyes looking up. Doing this pose involves leg strength as you stretch your leg and hip muscles. Your spine extends, the chest opens, and the arms, shoulders, upper back and neck stretch! All in all, Warrior 1 strengthens and stretches you.

You need flexibility as much as cardio, as it enhances optimal movement and just plain old feels good.

If you feel stiff and tight lately, you might want to work on your flexibility for the health of your body. However, if you’re not quite ready for Warrior 1, let’s start with an essential hip flexor stretch.

Hips don’t lie

The hip flexors are a muscle group that can get chronically shortened from prolonged sitting at a computer.

If your hips are stiff and tight, it can lead to poor hip mobility and is associated with poor core and hip stability.

Tight hips also affect the health of the whole back, as they cause the pelvis to anteriorly tilt. If you picture your pelvis being a bowel of water, the water would spill out the front. When you stand in perfect alignment, the pelvis is naturally rotated about 10 degrees, meaning that the front of the pelvis is slightly lower than the back of the pelvis.

A & B: Tennis ball and hip flexor stretch

While it may sound technical, the technique referred to as self-myofascial release is easy to do, and is like self-massage. Self-myofascial release techniques are used to release and rejuvenate tight muscles and other soft tissues to prepare for later stretching and strengthening exercises.

There are 2 parts to this stretch:

Tennis ball roll on the hip flexor

Tennis ball roll on the hip flexor

Lie facedown, and place a tennis ball beside your belly button. This targets the psoas major muscle, which lies under the abdominals. Turn your foot in slightly, and scoot your body to move the ball to any sore spot all the way down to the top of the hip.

Try to relax on any tight areas for 20-30 seconds, for a total of 2-3 minutes on both sides.

Right after rolling, go into the hip flexor stretch as follows:

Kneeling hip flexor stretch.

Kneel down on one knee, and tuck the pelvis under using the glutes and abdominals. Raise your arm over your head on the same side as the kneeling leg, and reach over your head, toward the opposite side of the body.

Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds, and repeat 2-3 cycles on each side once a day.

Kneeling hip flexor stretch with arm reach

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-stretch-your-hip-flexors-like-a-pro/article_674f0d2e-7f28-11ec-9b9d-639bf6f49d52.html

Fix your pain with self-myofascial release

Tennis ball rolling can improve flexibility and restore movement function

If you feel sore and stiff, you might want to consider foam or ball rolling. Whether you’ve skied too hard, or overdone any activity, you can fix your post-exercise pain with a technique called self-myofascial release. Rolling can improve flexibility, restore movement function and help with delayed onset muscle soreness. The technique also relaxes stored tension in the muscle and releases endorphins to help reduce pain.

Combining rolling an area of muscle with an immediate stretch for that particular muscle is the best strategy for fixing tight, sore muscles. Research shows a greater improvement in joint range of motion compared to stretching or foam rolling alone.

It may sound technical, but self-myofascial release is really a simple concept. Myofascial refers to muscles and fascia; the prefix myo means “muscle.” Self-myofascial release is basically massage, where external pressure is applied to sensitive areas in the muscle, which are either tight, inflexible, knotted or contain scar tissue. The sustained pressure stimulates circulation to the area and increases flexibility.

There’s a reason muscles feel tired and tight either from doing too much or doing too little exercise. The benefits of exercise are myriad, but there is a downside of repeated loads on the body: microscopic damage in muscle and fascia. That typically results in sore or tight muscles, or diminished movement quality. Massage and trigger point therapies by clinicians can help, but you can also fix your own pain at home with a roller or balls.

There are two kinds of self -myofascial release techniques: general and specific. General involves using a foam roller for larger muscles, such as the front thighs. More specific would mean working on your calf or foot, where tennis balls, golf balls, baseballs, or other massage tools can pinpoint a precise area of muscle. The specificity of using a tennis ball is also practical if you’re traveling and can’t take a foam roller along with you.

Rolling and athletic performance

The influence of rolling on athletic performance remains unclear. A review of nine studies reported no change in vertical jumps or multi-directional sprints. In another study of 24 athletes published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, joint range of motion increased but power and agility declined after five minutes of rolling. For pre-event warm-ups, the recommendations are not to roll for more than a minute to prevent power loss.

How to roll

For the rest of us, at present there is little concern regarding how long you roll. Research suggests five seconds to three minutes, or three sets of thirty seconds on each area in need. Once you find an area in the muscle that’s restricted and tight, take your time to explore the tight spots with either a roller or a ball. Try to relax to allow the hormones to release into your body to encourage further relaxation.

Watch the link for an example of neck myofascial release combined with a neck stretch at

vimeo.com/516004574.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/community/fitness-guru/article_ac72a5dc-77bd-11eb-8267-ebbc34eee6d4.html

Stretch to stay on top of your summer game

We all want to enjoy summer to the max, and that means more time outside, doing the activities and sports that warm sunshine offers. But each sport has specific demands on your body. A stretch routine after a ride, golf game or hike can make a difference in staying up to the task, especially as you age. Flexibility can decrease as much as 50 percent in some joint areas. The good news is that this loss of motion can be minimized with a regular stretching and range-of-motion routine.

For decades, coaches have thought that pre-exercise stretching was important for their athletes, and would prevent injury or muscle soreness. However, copious research on the topic of flexibility challenges that old belief. It is thought that due to an alteration in joint connective-tissue compliance, stretching before workouts may lead to greater joint instability.

What the research shows is that stretching will help you achieve positive long-term performance outcomes when done at times other than before performance. A warmup that increases blood flow, like arm circles, or leg swings, to get a mild sweat beforehand, is a better injury prevention component.

Your post-game stretches have to be specific to target the muscles that have been stressed or overused or have a reduced range of motion. Here are some tips to ensure that you end a great day outside energized, happy and loose.

Cycling: Stretch after you get off the bike

The quads and hips are big players in cycling, used powerfully and repetitively, and stretching afterward helps combat tightness. Cycling is different from other sports in that force is primarily produced as the muscles are shortening. In cycling, the pedal stroke doesn’t use the full range of motion of the hip, knee or ankle. Running, on the other hand, bends your knees as you raise your thigh, but straightens and extends your leg to push off the ground.

Cyclists also spend a lot of time bent over in the riding position, which puts the hip flexors in a shortened position. Short, tight hip flexors add to achy hips and backs. Tight hip flexors, particularly the deep-seated psoas, can pull forward and down on the lumbar spine. When that happens, you lose an important lower back curve. No wonder your back can hurt after a long ride. Aim for post-ride hip, low-back and chest stretches. You can view those at vimeo.com/343122017.

Golfing: Get loose

Flexibility is imperative to improving your golf swing. Without flexibility, you won’t have the range of motion to unlock any of the power you already have, or are working on. Picture a golfer, at the final moment of follow-through from a fairway shot. That person is, for the most part, opened and stretched in a fluid spiral line of energy. That takes optimal range of motion in joints or groups of joints.

In just one round of golf, you end up swinging a golf club up to 300 times, including practice swings, and at speeds upward of 90 mph. That’s a lot of stress on your muscles, tendons and joints! A pre-game 5- to 10-minute warmup provides essential preparation for your game. Walking around a practice tee, leg swings or arm circles are ways to loosen up for your game. A good warm-up increases blood flow to working tissue as well as velocity of nerve impulses to muscles. It should be relatively easy, inducing a mild sweat. Stretching is recommended after your game. Click on this link for a golf-specific flexibility routine: vimeo.com/343122336.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_6eacb7c8-9377-11e9-9a99-5301d856d0cc.html