Last week we talked about how beneficial foam rolling can be in undoing the aches and pains that come complimentary with our modern lifestyles.
In that time we discussed how naturally, we develop a variety of muscle imbalances as a result of long hours of sitting, regular poor posture, repeated daily movements in our lives and/or poor training technique, and considered how these imbalances can affect our joints (by increasing stress, causing altered joint motion which encourages even worse movement patterns and eventually leading to chronic pain).
Think for a moment if your knees tend to move inward when performing squats or if they hurt doing lunges.
Consider if your shoulders elevate or head moves forward when exercising, if you get an arch in your low back, or if you just generally have a hard time keeping proper posture throughout your workouts.
These are all signs of common muscle imbalances we can improve by stretching. By doing so, we reduce our risk of joint pain and injuries and improve our range of motion all while helping to relieve muscle soreness.
Of course there are about a zillion stretches out there you can do and receive benefit from depending on your goals, but I’ve cut the list down to some of the most important stretches you really need for your body to start seeing and feeling improvements today.
SETTING YOUR ROUTINE
Add recommended static stretches in as a compliment to your foam rolling routine. You’ll want to use both forms of stretching in your flexibility program for best results.
Work your static stretching in to the cool-down portion of your workouts after foam rolling and/or on rest days.
Stretch minimally 3 days per week for improvement, but optimally aim to make it a daily habit to maximize all the effort you put in at the gym (or at home) and certainly get rid of any current joint pain or discomfort.
Don’t underestimate the impact a solid flexibility routine can have on your progress and overall quality of life. Treat each stretching sesh as an appointment – set dates and times prior to the start of the month or week and show up consistently.
DETERMINE WHICH STRETCHES YOU NEED MOST
ASSESS YOUR MUSCLE IMBALANCES
The first step in treating muscle imbalances is determining where they are. The exercise assessment detailed here will help you figure out which muscles you’ll specifically want to focus on when stretching to gain the most benefit and see/feel the most results.
Use your phone camera to take a selfie video performing the exercise so that you can use it to self-assess areas of improvement in your range of motion. Complete 10 reps in each direction to allow yourself sufficient time to observe your form when reviewing the video.
Once you complete the exercise, write down the overactive muscles listed in the article that are associated with the movement compensations you observe in the video (or for quick reference, check the quick reference guide below).
Then scroll on to the stretching how-to’s detailed down below to get started putting words to action.
CONSIDERATION: FORWARD HEAD / ROUNDED SHOULDERS
- One postural checkpoint not seen in the assessment mentioned above is the common rounded shoulders/forward head posture.
- You may notice that while exercising, your head is pulled forward or shoulders shrug or round forward even as you try to fight it, putting loads of stress on your neck.
- If you experience this yourself, focus on stretching the upper traps and the sternocleidomastoid as detailed in the stretches below (don’t worry, you don’t have to be able to say it in order to stretch it).
- The Levator Scapulae is an equally important stretch (in which I blanked out and forgot to take photos of); but you can grab the how-to on youtube.
QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE //
LOW BACK ARCH: Stretch hip flexors, erector spinae and lats.
FORWARD LEAN: Stretch calves (gastrocs and soleus), hip flexors and abdominals. (Although not included here, there are several great ways to stretch out the abs.)
ARMS FALL FORWARD: Stretch lats, teres major and pecs. (Although not included here, the best way to stretch the teres major is with these stretches or by foam rolling or massaging.)
KNOCK KNEES (KNEES MOVE INWARD): Stretch calves (gastrocs, soleus, and peroneals), adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps and TFL. (Although not included here, the best way to stretch the peroneals is by rolling with a foam roller or by massaging.)
FEET TURN OUT AND/OR FLATTEN (OR HEELS RISE): Stretch calves (gastrocs and soleus) and hamstrings
FORWARD HEAD / ROUNDED SHOULDERS: Stretch upper traps, levator scapulae and sternocliedomastoid. (Although not included here, the levator scapulae stretch can be seen here.)
HOW TO STRETCH
QUADRICEPS & HIP FLEXORS:
- Start off in a high lunge position next to a bench or chair and slowly drop the left knee to the ground.
- Engage core and glutes to find your balance.
- Posteriorly tilt pelvis (or imagine you’re pulling your tail between your legs like a puppy as you activate your glutes) and slowly lean forward to deepen the stretch.
- Using the left arm, reach back and raise your foot toward your bum as far as is comfortable for a nice stretch down the front of the left thigh.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Gently lower your left foot down to the ground and switch legs.
INNER THIGHS (ADDUCTORS):
- Stand next to a bench or chair and lift nearest foot to rest on the bench – leg bent at 90 degrees.
- Slowly reach straight down between your legs toward the floor, going as far down as you’re able while maintaining a straight back.
- Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
- Stand up tall next to a bench or chair, engage your core and bring the leg furthest from the bench across the body to rest.
- Let the resting foot turn slightly inward and hold for 30 seconds when you feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings. Switch sides. Bring your arms up and begin to slowly rotate the body in the opposite direction to deepen the stretch. If you’re not feeling a great stretch, try using a higher prop.
CALVES (GASTROCS & SOLEUS):
- Stand facing a wall and extend one leg back, keeping the knee and foot straight and the back heel on the floor.
- Draw belly button in toward your spine as your engage your core and lean forward with back heel remaining grounded and quads & glutes engaged throughout.
- Hold for 30 seconds and stretch the other leg.
- To reach the lower part of your calf (the soleus), bend the knee of the outstretched leg until you feel a stretch in your lower calf and hold for another 30 seconds.
TFL (TENSOR FASCIA LATAE):
- Standing straight, turn left foot out 45 degrees and step right leg forward.
- Engage the core and left quadricep, and posteriorly tilt pelvis (or imagine you’re pulling your tail between your legs like a puppy as you activate your glutes).
- Shift your hips forward and hold for 30 seconds when you get a good stretch along your left hip. Then switch legs.
LATS (LATISSIMUS DORSI):
- Kneel in front of bench, chair or stability ball. Place one arm on bench with thumb pointed straight up in the air.
- Engage the core and shift your weight back until you feel a good stretch in the upper back on the same side as the outstretched arm.
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides. If there is a tingling sensation felt in the shoulder, turn your palm down as you perform the stretch. To intensify, move the outstretched arm just slightly across your body.
BACK (ERECTOR SPINAE):
- Sit on the floor and cross one foot over the other knee.
- Maintaining a straight back, rotate the torso outward toward the crossed leg and use your elbow to push against the crossed leg and deepen the stretch.
- When you feel a nice stretch, hold for 30 seconds, then stretch the other side.
- Stand against the corner of a wall and form a 90 degree angle with your arm, left forearm positioned against the wall and right side of the body open to the room.
- Retract your shoulder blades, engage your core, press into your left forearm and and slowly twist the right side of your body away from the wall into the open space until a stretch is felt in the pec area.
- Hold stretch for 30 seconds and before switching sides.
- Turn the head to the left about 45 degrees.
- Tilt the head back to the same side, as if trying to reach the ear to the shoulder until you feel a stretch in the right side of the neck.
- Hold for 30 seconds & stretch the other side. Place your hand on top of your head and gently pull to the left to deepen the stretch.
UPPER TRAPS (UPPER TRAPEZIUS):
- Place left arm behind your back and keep left shoulder down.
- Tilt the head over as if touching the right ear to the right shoulder, then tuck your chin down until you feel a stretch in the back left side of your neck.
- Hold for 30 seconds and before switching sides.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN EXERCISING
If you observe a low back arch, try to avoid the stair stepper, bicycle or over-striding when running as it may put the lower back into over-extension, further enticing lower back pain to appear.
If you really want to use these forms of cardio however, simply be sure to foam roll tight muscles before your workout, and complete foam rolling and static stretches after.
If your feet turn out and/or knees move in, its imperative to emphasize foam rolling and static stretching.
Aerobics classes like zumba or boxing, as well as use of any cardio equipment such as stair steppers, bicycles or treadmills may be too extreme for constant repetition at first as they require proper flexibility of the ankle joint (which, you’re currently working on with stretching & strengthening).
Listen to your body. If you feel you’re okay to try these methods, keep the pace at a controllable speed, foam roll before exercise, and complete foam rolling and static stretches after.
If you possess a rounded shoulder and or forward head posture, be aware of keeping a neutral spine all throughout when performing cardio, checking yourself to be sure you are maintaining proper posture throughout.
Keep shoulders down and don’t allow your head to protrude forward. If you’re on the stair stepper, try to keep it at a pace where you can do it without your hands on the handles.
Thanks for reading and I do hope this helps!
If you have any questions, suggestions or thangs you’d like to know, feel free to drop a line in the comments down below!