Essential Exercises and Stretches for Weak Hip Flexors

The hip flexors are a particular group of muscles that are vital to the physical functionality of every individual, from the finest athlete to ordinary folks. They comprise primarily of the iliacus and psoas major muscles that connect the femur (or thigh bone) to the pelvis, and serves to flex the thigh and trunk. Essentially, the hip flexors aid in hip flexion. The hip flexors can perform two different movements: “When the pelvis is in a stationary position, a contraction of the hip flexors will pull the femur upward, whereas, if the femur is stationary, a contraction of the hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward and the butt back” (Biss, 2016). Hip flexors typically get little attention with regards to strength and conditioning. They are either forgotten or neglected, which can become troublesome. Simple everyday routine such as sitting at your work desk can weaken your hip flexors because the seated position tends to shorten those muscles. Not only do tight hip flexors disrupt good posture and typically cause lower back pain, but in a weakened state, they increase the risk of developing foot, ankle, and knee injuries, especially in runners (Niemuth et al. 2005).

The good news is that, it is not too late to strengthen your hip flexors and restore optimal muscle balance, which is sure to prevent injuries and get you stronger. Here are some steps that you can take to either stretch or strengthen your hip flexors:

Run A’s on the Spot

Sounds silly doesn’t it? Simply put, this is high knees running in place, which combines knee lifting with simple running motion. This exercise strengthens and develops muscular endurance in the hip flexors. To do high knees on the spot:
1. Begin with one leg planted on the ground, and lift the other knee high but not passing hip height.
2. Jump from one leg to the next, hitting the ground with the ball of your feet, keeping the arm relaxed while following the motion.
3. Continue this alternating motion for 30-45 seconds

 

Foam Roll the Knots Away

According to Chiropractor Dr. Ben Kim, foam rolling (self-myofascial release) your hip flexors is “highly effective at improving blood flow and ligamento muscle length, and it can also help mobilize your ball and socket hip joints and the dense ligamentous capsule that surrounds these joints” (Kim, 2012). To get rid of those knots and tight muscle fibers that inhibit your range of motion, foam roll your hip flexor region by:
1. Place the foam roller in front of knees while you kneel on the floor, and then, fall forward and walk your body out with your hands.
2. Drop one side (the side you want to work) of your hip complex on the foam roller, with the leg on that side fully extended and slightly raised.
3. Softly roll up and down, rotating the torso to the opposite side to maximize the amount of weight placed on psoas major, just below your waistline.
4. Roll for 30 seconds to a minute on each side, and two minutes for a deeper massage.

 

Improve Muscle Extensibility with Couch Stretch

Comfort and relaxation may be expected from a couch, but the couch stretch may not be the most comfortable movement; however, it is extremely effective for opening up your hip and improving the extensibility of the hip flexor muscles. To perform a couch stretch:
1. Get into a kneeling position in front of a couch, chair, or wall to hold your foot up, and flex your back knee to the extent that it is as close as possible to your butt.
2. Keep your lower back straight, while you squeeze your glute muscles and hamstring, which aids in pushing your hips forward.
3. Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. Switch to the opposite side and repeat.
4. Complete three sets of 30 to 45 stretches.

Make a Pose Navasana

There are ways to strengthen the psoas isometrically and bring balance and stability to the spine, thereby preventing injury. The yoga pose, Navasana, also known as the boat pose, is effective at strengthening the iliopsoas. To do the Navasana pose:
1. Start in a tall seated position on the floor, keeping your knees bent and feet flat.
2. Lean back on your sitting bones until elbows are straight, lifting your feet off the floor and keeping chest upright.
3. With legs at a 45-degree angle and torso in a V shape with legs, balance on your sitting bones for 5 breaths.
4. Complete three sets of 5 breaths.
s

Hang a Little!

Hanging knee raises are great exercise movement to target and effectively strengthen your weak hip flexors, with the added benefit of developing your abdominal muscles in the process as well. To do hanging knee raises:
1. Start by hanging freely from a pull-up bar with arms extended at medium or wide grip.
2. Contracting your core, slowly pull your knees towards your chest, or aim for the elbows, making a 90-degree angle.
3. Hold the contraction and then, with control, lower your legs to the starting position.
4. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Keep your hips flexors strong and healthy in order to maintain effective movement and to prevent one form of injury or another. These exercises and stretches are just the thing you need!

References
Biss, Matt. “Flex Those Flexors: 3 Steps to Powerful Hips.” Bodybuilding, 13 December 2016, http://www.bodybuilding.com/content/flex-those-flexors-3-steps-to-powerful-hips.html. 20 Jan. 2017
Kim, Ben. “How to Keep Your Hip Flexors Healthy.” Drbenkim, 06 February 2012, http://drbenkim.com/hip-flexor-stretch-pain-stiffness.htm. 20 Jan. 2017.

Niemuth-Robert, Paul, Robert Johnson, Marcella Meyers, and Thomas Thieman. “Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational Runners.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, pp. 14-21, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15654186. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Rail, Kevin. “Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises.” Livestrong, 07 May 2015, http://www.livestrong.com/article/156403-hip-flexor-strengthening-exercises/. 20 Jan. 2017.

Stiff Wrists? Take a break from typing and try these stretches

In this age of booming technology, many of us spend the majority of the day trapped behind a computer. That means, on average, we spend 40 hours a week typing on a keyboard or moving a mouse. When you add it all up, that’s a lot of strain on your wrists and the muscles and tendons that help make them work. Let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on and what you can do to fight the pain.

The Causes of Your Stress and Strain

If you’ve recently started experiencing pain in the wrists, you could be feeling the effects of carpal tunnel which is a common and painful condition that affects millions of people each year.[1]  If your job requires you to do a repetitive motion, like typing, you’re also at a higher risk for wrist stiffness and pain.[3] But Carpal Tunnel syndrome isn’t the only cause of wrist and hand pain. The source of the pain can range from weak joints to strains to tennis elbow, so it’s important to get diagnosed by a medical professional.[4] But not to worry! Surgery isn’t the first thing your doctor will recommend. You’ll most likely start with some daily exercises to help strengthen and heal your stiff wrists.[5] These exercises will help increase the range-of-motion of your joint, lengthen muscles and tendons, and help to strengthen your overall mobility.[6]

Work It Out

Here are five stretches you can try at home that will help you alleviate wrist pain.[7] You’ll want to do 10 repetitions of the following exercises for 10 seconds each, three times each day.

Exercise 1: The Extender

Place your arm on a table or flat service and place a rolled-up towel under your wrist. Allow your hand to dangle over the table. Turn your palm down. Now, raise your hand straight up so that your palm is facing out. Return to starting position and repeat.

Exercise 2: Meet and Greet

Form your hands into a prayer pose. Spread fingers while keeping your hands together. Separate your hands so that only fingertips are touching. Now, bring palms into almost touch. Repeat.

Exercise 3: Wrist Roll

Sit with your arm at your side at a 90-degree angle. Put your palm facing down. Rotate your arm to make your palm face up. Return to starting position and repeat.

Exercise 4: Howdy Do

Place your arm on a table or flat service and place a rolled-up towel under your wrist. Turn your palm sideways toward your body. Leaving your forearm still, move your thumb to your wrist as if you were waving hello.

Exercise 5: Finger Puppets

Start with your hand and fingers straight up, palm facing out. Bring your thumb across until it touches the skin beneath your pinky finger. Repeat 10 times. Return your hand to starting position, palm facing out. Roll your fingers into a hook fist, then return to straight. Next, roll your fingers into a normal fist, then return to straight. Repeat.

You can do these exercises every day and you can do them anywhere—even sitting at your desk. By sticking to it, you’ll reap the benefits of relaxing, stretching and lengthening the muscles and tendons in your wrist. Over time, you’ll see significant improvement in the pain you’ve been feeling. If for any reason your pain gets worse, stop these exercises immediately and seek help from your medical care provider.


[1] http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/carpal-tunnel-syndrome

[2] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet

[3] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515258/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072780/

[6] http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/5-exercises-to-improve-hand-mobility-and-reduce-pain

[7] http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/5-exercises-to-improve-hand-mobility-and-reduce-pain


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How to Set Your New Year’s Running Resolution (and stick to it!)

It’s easy to say “I’m going to run more in 2017”… but sticking to New Year’s resolutions is a lot harder than just saying them out loud.  Whether you’re looking to run your first half marathon, your first 5K, or just hit the treadmill at the gym more often, we’ve got some great tips to give your stick-to-it-iveness a kick in the rump, runners’ style!

Suffering from Chronic Inflammation? These 3 exercises just might help

When the body sustains an injury, it reacts by initiating an inflammatory process to increase nutrients to the injured area and promote healing. This process is marked by redness, warmth, and swelling in the area. This is an important part of recovering the health of the body’s tissue. But sometimes a problem occurs when this inflammatory cascade is not “turned off,” leaving the body in a state of chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can be inconvenient and can cause health issues. In addition to the heavy, uncomfortable feeling, chronic inflammation has been shown to cause long-term damage to the brain, heart, and several other organs. It has also been linked to several diseases like Alzheimer’s and chronic heart failure (Reina-couto et al.; Schwartz).

So chronic inflammation is certainly not something we can ignore. But what should we do about it? While the use of pharmaceuticals and nutrition adjustments can have an effect, there is one area of treatment that is often ignored: exercise!

Running Form, Performance and Injury: An Interview with Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit

When you modify how somebody moves, you can have a really substantial and nearly immediate overall change in their pain. Why weren’t more people doing this clinically?

This was one of the main reasons why Bryan Heiderscheit, P.T., Ph.D. of Biomechanics, decided to dedicate his research and career to runners to reduce risk of injury and improve performance through focusing on form.

Love a Runner? Here are 5 thoughtful ways to show the runner in your life you care

Not many exercises call to mind the pure simplicity of fitness better than a run. It’s a fantastic way to get your exercise, with a laundry list of benefits for both your body and your mood. Good for everything from joint stiffness to depression, with the obvious inclusion of fitness, it’s like the universal remote control of feeling good about yourself.

It’s trendy but, with the freedom to do it wherever you want, without the need for specific outfits or equipment, also extremely accessible. Seriously – it never goes out of style. If you aren’t already doing it, chances are you know someone who is.

Maybe it’s the special someone in your life. Maybe they really love it. And maybe you’ve been looking for that special way to tell them you care.

Hey; don’t even worry about it – we’ve got you covered:

How to prevent and correct forward head posture

The human race has made some amazing technological strides in recent years. Think about it: how many intricate electronic devices do you use in the run of a day? Chances are you wake up to an alarm each morning on your smartphone, listen to music on a tiny mp3 player at the gym, and maybe check your email from a tablet during a coffee break. You might work in a cubicle in front of a computer, or at least a decent percentage of your work day probably involves looking at a computer screen. After work, perhaps you take a bus or subway home and spend the transit time looking down at your phone; sending texts, checking social media accounts, and online window shopping. Thanks to some very talented software engineers, we are able to document every minute of our lives and have the answers to all of our questions at our fingertips.

Unfortunately, with the rise of smartphones and desk jobs in our midst, we have also seen a recent surge in the prevalence of “forward head posture”, a postural condition where the cervical spine adopts a forward-leaning misalignment and can cause mild to severe neck and upper back pain 1. It can also progress into other postural conditions such as the similar upper crossed syndrome and lower back pain. Also known as “texting neck”, forward head posture is commonly found in those with seated desk jobs, poorly designed working conditions, and excessive smartphone use 2. Luckily, forward head posture can be prevented or even corrected with therapeutic exercises and stretches that target the supportive musculature of the neck. Let’s take a closer look at what forward head posture is and get into some of the preventative and corrective measures you can take to fix it. Of course, if you are unsure or feel any pain while performing any exercise, stop and seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

Your human head weighs around 10 pounds, and when standing upright with perfect posture, it is stacked evenly over your cervical vertebrae, down your thoracic and lumbar spine, over your pelvis and finally down through your legs into the center of your feet (3). That 10 pounds of skull won’t feel all that heavy when your joints are stacked. The musculature of your neck acts like guy wires in all directions with no particular muscle group doing more work than the others at any given time (4). Now picture yourself looking down at your phone with your head tilted down and sagging forward. Your skull and vertebrae are no longer stacked, and the musculature in your neck and upper back now has to work isometric overtime to hold your head in that position (5). Over time, this will develop into a constant forward head posture. Your neck vertebrae will start to creep out on an angle so that your ears are always in front of your shoulders. The muscles in the back of your neck will lengthen and weaken and their fascia will thicken, leading to soreness and knots. The muscles in the chest and front of the neck will shorten. You may start to develop neck pain, headaches, or tingling in your hands 5. You won’t even stand as tall as you did before.

The first key to preventing forward head posture is to take inventory of your postural habits. Have someone take a picture of you sitting and standing normally. Are your ears over your shoulders or in front of them? Are your shoulders rounded forward or pulled back and down to open the chest? Having these pictures can give you clues as to where to start with your prevention or correction program and also show your progress over time. It is recommended to use the series of exercises described below at least once every day. You may find it easiest and most effective to do the exercises immediately upon waking each morning and again when you are going to bed. These exercises stretch the muscles most commonly shortened in forward head posture and strengthen the muscles that have weakened to bring your head and neck back into alignment 6.

Exercise #1: Seated Chest Stretch

videotogif_2016-12-15_16-17-31

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Place your hands about a foot behind you and as far apart as your hips. Ideally, your fingers will face forward, but to the side is fine if you don’t have that range of motion yet. Take a soft bend in the elbows. Draw the shoulder blades back and lift the upper chest. Keep your hips on the floor. Draw your chin back so your ears are in line with your shoulders. You should feel this stretch just below your collarbones. The exercise stretches the pectoralis and brachialis muscles. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat for three repetitions.

For a deeper stretch as you progress with this exercise, you can start to slowly lift the hips straight up and away from the floor. Keep your weight in your heels and maintain your neck alignment. Eventually, your torso and upper legs will come to parallel with the floor.

Exercise #2: Upper Back Pulls On the Wall

videotogif_2016-12-15_16-56-38

Stand facing a wall and place the palms of both hands at least shoulder height high on the wall in front of you. Lean forward into your hands and bend at your hips so you are shaped like an “L”. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down your back. Pull your chin back so your ears are in line with your shoulders. This exercise trains the middle and lower trapezius muscle fibres to pull your cervical spine back into alignment. Hold the contraction for 30 seconds and repeat for three repetitions.

Exercise #3: Stretching Trapezius and Suboccipital Muscles

videotogif_2016-12-15_16-21-13

While sitting or standing tall, tuck your chin into your chest and look down. Place the palms of your hands on the back of your head and gently press downward. Hold for 30 seconds. Then, rotate your right ear down slightly, maintaining the downward pressure with your hands, to stretch the left side. Hold for 30 seconds. Rotate your left ear down, maintaining downward pressure, to stretch the right side. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the sequence three times.

 

Exercise #4: Chin Retractions

videotogif_2016-12-15_16-54-55

Begin by sitting or standing tall with your chin parallel to the ground. Keeping your chin level, use your index and middle finger on one hand (your “peace” fingers) to gently press your head back, giving yourself a double chin. Relax any tension in your jaw. Take your fingers away and try to keep your head in that position for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of three repetitions. This exercise will train your neck musculature to retain the “ears-over-shoulders” position for optimal posture.
Prevention and early correction of forward head posture is key to eliminating neck and upper back pain. If you work a desk job, you may find it helpful to adjust your workstation to accommodate your new postural habits 7. Try to raise your computer screen to eye level and keep it about two feet away from your face to encourage proper spinal alignment. Paying close attention to your posture at work and at home, along with performing the above exercises, can help you commit to your health and wellness in just a few minutes a day.
Citations:

1. Morningstar, M. W. (2003, March 31). Cervical hyperlordosis, forward head posture, and lumbar kyphosis correction: A novel treatment for mid-thoracic pain. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 2(3), 111-115. doi:10.1016/s0899-3467(07)60055-x

2. Kang, J., Park, R., Lee, S., Kim, J., Yoon, S., & Jung, K. (2012). The Effect of The Forward Head Posture on Postural Balance in Long Time Computer Based Worker. Ann Rehabil Med Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, 36(1), 98. doi:10.5535/arm.2012.36.1.98

3. Troyanovich, S. (2000). Structural rehabilitation of the spine and posture: Rationale for treatment beyond the resolution of symptoms. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 23(6), 0437-0437. doi:10.1067/mmt.2000.108138d

4. Kebaetse, M., Mcclure, P., & Pratt, N. A. (1999). Thoracic position effect on shoulder range of motion, strength, and three-dimensional scapular kinematics. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 80(8), 945-950. doi:10.1016/s0003-9993(99)90088-6

5. Borg-Stein, J. (2002). Cervical myofascial pain and headache. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 6(4), 324-330. doi:10.1007/s11916-002-0055-0

6. Bae, W., Lee, H., Shin, J., & Lee, K. (2016). The effect of middle and lower trapezius strength exercises and levator scapulae and upper trapezius stretching exercises in upper crossed syndrome. J Phys Ther Sci Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 28(5), 1636-1639. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.1636

7. Tornqvist, E. W., Hagberg, M., Hagman, M., Risberg, E. H., & Toomingas, A. (2009). The influence of working conditions and individual factors on the incidence of neck and upper limb symptoms among professional computer users. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 82(6), 689-702. doi:10.1007/s00420-009-0396-7

HERE’S WHY YOUR ARM SWING MATTERS

In the context of running, much of our attention is put on the lower half of our bodies with respect to what we’re doing with our feet, legs, and hips. But, there are actually some important things happening on our upper bodies that — with a little attention and help — could improve our running economy and enhance performance. In our last post, we discussed running and posture; here, we’ll talk about the importance of arm swings and how it affects our balance and stability. (hint: it actually still has a lot to do with your posture).

Five Tips For Staying in Shape This Winter

Five Tips For Staying in Shape This Winter

Your training season is over. You ran your last race a month ago, and winter is here. We all know the temptations of the Christmas season: food, parties, and alcohol. On top of that, you have snow. It is so much easier to look out at the cold and pull your blanket up over your head. Here are five tips to help you avoid the slump & stay in shape this winter:

It’s Not The Off Season

If you want to improve as an endurance athlete, you need to stop calling it the “off season.” In off season, we sit on the couch a lot. We binge-watch whatever we can find on Netflix while eating mounds of chocolate.

Instead, divide the winter into post-season and pre-season. Post-season is all about recovery, especially if you raced long distances like a marathon or Ironman. Recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch, though. Keep running, but run fewer miles and a little less frequently. To maintain your fitness, most coaches recommend doing a minimum of three runs per week. In pre-season, you work on base training. You slowly increase your mileage so you are ready to go when training season comes again.

Do Form Drills

It’s always a good idea to improve your running form, but Winter is an ideal time to fully evaluate your form, to make major improvements, and to start doing those form drills you know you should be doing. The better your running form is, the faster you will go with less effort. Incorporating running form drills will help you get faster in race season without interfering with your races.

Add Strength Training

We all know we should be doing strength training. It’s on every training plan you read on the internet. Remember when you started lifting two weeks before your big race? Your muscles hurt so much that your time suffered. Winter is the perfect time to add in some strength training with enough room to let your muscles get used to it before training season.

You can also use strength training to address any imbalances in your body. If your left leg isn’t as strong as your right, you can work on balancing things out without worrying about it affecting your racing form. Try out these strength evaluations to see what you need to work on. Stronger runners get fewer injuries.

Try Cross Training

During the training season, we spend so much time running that we can’t do other things. Instead of going to your gym to do the same old workout, try signing up for a class that piques your interest. Play some basketball or squash with your friends. Try out yoga or spin. It will help your training, too. Our bodies get used to the same old workouts, so new motions and activities will shock them into better fitness gains. Plus, you might find something you really love.

Just Keep Running

A lot of people stop running completely once the temperature gets below 40 degrees. It might seem obvious, but running through the winter is a great way to stay in shape, and you miss out on some of the best running of the year. Many runners prefer winter running to summer running. You can always add more clothes, but there’s a limit to how much you can take off. When you learn how to dress for the weather, you can stay comfortable no matter the temperature. Plus, there is nothing like a crisp day after a snowfall with a running path all to yourself.

It can be hard to motivate yourself to stay in shape over the winter, but the winter season is an important part of an athlete’s preparation for next year. Take advantage of these tips, and you may not only stay in shape all winter long, you might get performance improvements next year.

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