Ankle flexibility for better balance and sports

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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

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

3 Top Hip and Back Stretches- You don’t have to be sore after a workout

These 3 moves will help you recover and realign after a big day on a bike, 1/2 marathon, or strenuous hikeAll target the hips, to help extend the body upwards and undo much of the tightness of not only the hips, as well as the back, shoulders and calf muscles.

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release can help with athletic recovery

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release can help with athletic recovery

1.Foam Roll Quads
 
Foam Rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique that regenerates and rejuvenates muscles and other soft tissue affected by an overzealous day on a bike, or on the trails.There are 4 quad muscles in the upper leg, and the outer most one, the rectus femoris, when tight, pulls the spine towards the top of the leg, causing hip or back pain, or  hyper-extention of the spine in an effort to stand up straight.Place the roller perpendicular to your thigh and lie over it. Find any sore spot and hold your body weight there for a few seconds until the tissue releases. Roll each leg for one minute. ( If rolling hurts your shoulder, lie on the floor with a tennis ball )
 
A "do-anywhere" great hip, upper back and calf stretch
2. Step Back with Arm Reach
 
This integrated exercise helps realign the entire body by combining a calf and hip flexor stretch, while strengthening the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Stand with you feet hip-width apart and take a big step back with your right leg. Simultaneously reach the right arm upward.Keep the back leg straight, heel down. Push your hip forward without arching the lower back. Instead, extend from the upper back. Hold for 2-3 seconds. 6-10 reps on both sides.
 
3. Spine Extension The majority of the muscles in the hips originate at the lumbar spine, cross the pelvis, and attach to the top of the femur. This exercise stretches the whole front body,, and spine extensors, undoing much of the forward bending of many activities, plus feels great. Place your hands, fingers pointed down, firmly on your lower back. Inhale, and extend the spine as you lift your chest. Exhale, as you return to neutral posture. Repeat 6-8 times. 
 

Stretch your low back with this standing stretch.

Stretch your low back with this standing stretch.

 
Photos by Hallie MacPherson
 

Why Yoga Works – The Top Reasons to Try It

malasana

Yoga is good for the mind, body and soul.

Yoga might be the only time in your busy day that is truly yours; a time when all of your attention is directed to exactly what you are doing. Today over 15 million people in the US know the value of doing just that-relaxing with yoga. The yoga that we practice today rises out of an ancient meditation heritage dating back at least 4,000 years. Fast forward to today’s crazy hectic pace, especially with the approach of the holiday season, the benefits to your physical, mental and emotional health are top reasons why yoga still works.

1. Stress relief. Yoga reduces stress by encouraging relaxation and lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga teaches you how to breathe more fully by taking slower, deeper breaths. Known as  pranayama, breathing more fully helps improve lung function and trigger the body’s relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience and response to stress. Other benefits include reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate,  improved immune system as well as reduced anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and easier pregnancies.
2. Pain relief. Next time you have a headache, neck, back, or other chronic painful conditions, yoga can help. In the largest US study to date, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, yoga or stretching classes were linked to diminished symptoms from chronic low back pain, more so than a self-care book. Both the yoga and stretching class emphasized the torso and legs. Researchers found that the type of yoga, called viniyoga, which adapts and modifies poses for each student, along with breathing exercises, works because the stretching and strengthening of muscles benefit back function and symptoms. Many people with chronic pain shy away from yoga’s misleading reputation for requiring supple joints for fear of getting hurt. But the same goes for approaching any new activity with too much gusto, writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in Yoga For Pain Relief . Instead of pushing yourself to your limit, think of staying in a 50-60% effort zone.

3. Better Posture & Better Bones. Yoga helps to maintain your muscularity and that helps with maintaining your posture. It also helps with stretching all the muscle groups that support better body alignment. For women, increasing research is showing that exercise is a means of preventing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer. The reasons are twofold, in that both the physical effects and indirect effect of adding yoga as a form of exercise prevents weight gain.

4. Befriending Your Body. For anyone who feels ashamed or self-conscious about their body, yoga can help you become an alley with yourself instead of an adversary. Our obsession with thinness equates the physical practice as a good way to sweat/ get /thin/quick; all about the outer body. Yet yoga primarily evolved for a subtle and more powerful connection of the inner world: the mind, senses and emotions. Today 90% of all women and junior and senior high school girls, respectively, dislike their bodies and are on a diet. ( 15% of these girls are actually overweight.) It doesn’t help that classes might be packed with thin fit people. While yoga does teach you to use and discipline your body to be strong and flexible, the emphasis is on your body as a whole entity: living, changing, accepting and alive in the moment.

This article was originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express. November 16, 2012.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist. Visit her at: www.conniearonson.com