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

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:

Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at

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


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:

Restorative Napping

Restorative Yoga- we could all use a little nap

We could all use a little nap. It seems that many of us just keep going until too much stress upsets our normal balance.

According to the American Psychological Association, a third of us are living with extreme stress that can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, heart disease and a host of other health problems. We worry, plan, over-schedule and maybe not pay enough attention to what’s going on inside ourselves. Maybe we are simply exhausted. Restorative yoga is a way to help you relax deeply for a few minutes a day. And no, it’s not an infomercial.

Here is where modern science and the ancient practice of yoga merge. B.K.S. Iyengar, author of the classic book “Light on Yoga,” first introduced props and blankets to his students who had difficulty holding specific yoga poses. He then discovered that he could help them recover from their illnesses and injuries with supported gentle yoga poses that not only stretched the spine in healthy ways but also enabled students to rest deeply in the poses.

Iyengar taught that to relax is to cut tension, and as you practice restorative poses you feel harmonious and balanced. This works by returning the nervous system to its natural state, a state in which the body has the ability to heal itself. The goal when doing the poses is to be aware and passive, not falling asleep. (The sleep state is different from the state of deep relaxation).

The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center studied restorative yoga and looked at its positive impact on emotional wellness in ovarian cancer patients. Imaging studies show significant increases in left-sided brain activity when one relaxes or meditates, which is associated with healing positive emotional states.

In her book “Relax and Renew,” renowned yoga teacher Judith Lasater suggested thinking of restorative poses as taking a short holiday right in your home that it adds to one’s energy rather than subtracting from it. It’s particularly helpful when you feel tired or weak, during big life-changing events, or recovering from an illness.
Race To The Top

“Twenty minutes of restorative yoga is the equivalent to a one-hour nap,” Lasater wrote.

And that’s just the energy benefits. The healing benefits abound.

Here are two simple poses to try: one at home, and the other at the office. The first one is Legs–Up-the-Wall–Pose. It refreshes your legs, especially swollen jet-lagged legs, enhances the health of your circulatory system by the mild inversion and gently calms the nervous system. (Don’t do this pose if you’re pregnant or if you have sciatica.) From a seated position on the floor, swing your legs up onto a wall, so that your tailbone and butt are not lifting off the floor. Your back should be completely supported by floor. If your chin is lifted towards the ceiling put a small pillow under your head to support your neck. Your chin should be slightly lower than your forehead, not strained. Keep your legs straight and relaxed with your arms comfortably out to the sides, palms turned up. Relax and take several long, slow breaths. Feel like your back is completely supported by the floor and your chest is open and free. Stay here for five to 10 minutes, and take your time when you come out of the pose.

The second nap is Desk Forward Bend, nice for a break at the office, at your desk. Lasater likens it to school days when she would simply lean forward and rest her head on her desk. Place your chair near your desk so you can lean forward, feet flat on the floor, and then lean forward and place your folded arms on the desk. Let the desk support your arms, head and worries, and relax completely for three to five minutes. When you’re ready to come up, inhale, and use your arms to sit up. Sit for one more long breath before carrying on with your day, refreshed.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified, ACE Gold Level status-certified, and an IDEA Elite Level-certified personal trainer. She works at High Altitude Fitness and the YMCA in Ketchum.

Originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express – Friday, February 15, 2008