The Importance Of Stretching

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It is really important to stretch regularly to help develop flexibility and maintain muscles at their optimum length which can help prevent injury and muscle pain.  For example a tight hamstring can sometimes be a contributing factor in back pain.


There are a variety of different types of stretching dependent on whether you are warming up before training or an event or cooling down.  The two key types are Dynamic Stretching which is usually done to warm up before an activity and Static Stretching which is usually done post activity.  Dynamic stretching helps increase blood flow and increases range of motion and Static stretching helps muscles relax and helps to realign muscle fibres.


Chances are you don’t get many opportunities to stretch.  If you have a desk-job, or spend lots of time in fairly static positions your body could do with a good stretch every once in a while.  It will help loosen all the imbalances and muscle tightening that might be occurring from spending 8 hours a day hunched over a computer or driving long distances.


Stretching is best done when your muscles are warm and supple and therefore is best done after your walk, run, exercise class or event.


Below are some key stretches for the key muscle groups.  Ensure that you hold each stretch for at least 30-40 seconds, and ideally up to one minute. 

 

1. Downward Dog

This stretch improves flexibility in hamstrings, calves and shoulders and relieves pain in the lower back

How to do it: Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under.

Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, pressing your hips up toward the ceiling.

Draw your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees.

Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulder blades down. Keep the head between the arms

 

2. Hip Flexor Stretch

This stretch improves flexibility in the hips and quads and helps release the hip flexors.

How to do it: Come onto both knees and step your right foot forward.

Make sure to keep your right knee over your heel and your left knee directly under your hip.

Reach your left hand up toward the ceiling.

Make sure to keep both hips facing forward and glutes are engaged.

 

 

3. Piriformis Stretch

This stretch helps improve flexibility in the hips and glutes.

How to do it: Lie on your back, bend both knees, and bring your left ankle over your right thigh.

Lift your right foot off the ground, bringing your leg up to a 90-degree angle.

Loop your hands in between your legs and slowly draw your right knee in toward your chest.

Keep your head and neck relaxed on the ground.

 

4. Lying Spinal Twist

 


This stretch helps lengthen and realign the spine and also increases flexibility in the lower back and hips.
 
How to do it: Lie on your back and bring both knees in toward your chest.
Bring your hands out to your sides and draw your knees up and over to your left side.
Keeping your shoulder blades on the ground, rest your knees on top of one another.
Take deep breaths the entire time.
When changing sides make sure to use your core muscles to bring your legs back to center.

 

Running - How To Stay Injury Free

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 Top Tips For Runners To Prevent Injury


1. Pace Yourself

It is important to incorporate a more relaxed running pace in your training schedule.  Often runners make the mistake of running at a pace which isn't compatible with their level of fitness.  It shouldn't be seen as a failure to set a more relaxed pace as a slower metabolic process that converts stored fats into usable energy is better.  How to assess if you are running at the right pace... make sure that you can talk comfortably!


2. Vary Your Training

It is generally easier to stick with what you know and feel comfortable with.  However if you continue with this approach progress will tend to slow down.  Mix it up a bit and do some slow training and some interval training to help the body adapt.


3. Don't Overload Your Muscles

There are three variables in training that can be controlled: frequency, intensity and volume.  If you decide to change all of them at the same time then the body won't be able to cope and has the potential to become injured.  Don't fall into the temptation of always pushing hard and overloading the body.  It doesn't make you fitter!  Ensure you interchange hard periods of training with rest periods and the body will then be able to adapt and grow stronger.


4. Recover Effectively

The body gets stronger when it has the time to heal effectively.  It is important to obtain a balance between training, rest and nutrition to ensure good levels of fitness, motivation and to prevent injury.  Consistency is key.


5. Think Long Term

Ensure that you organise your training into phases and also incorporate strength and conditioning into your plan to ensure optimum fitness.  For example if you have just run a marathon don't suddenly stop running or start intense training immediately after.  It is all about a balanced approach to training.

 

Top 6 Tips For A Good Recovery Post A Marathon

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The "Recovery" Phase should form a key part of a training plan to ensure that your body recovers effectively and enables you to start training again without injury and at full capacity.  The body undergoes a huge amount of physical duress during a long event and experts say that it can take up to two weeks post a marathon for the muscles to return to full strength.

 

Here are 6 Top Tips to help you recover post your marathon

 

1.  Keep moving and keep warm Post Race

- Walk around for a least 15 minutes after the race to let your body cool down.

- Ensure that you put on some dry warm clothes to prevent you from getting cold.

 

2. Eat and Drink

- It is really important to eat something within 30-45 minutes of finishing the race to keep blood sugars up and to help to start repairing muscles.

- Good foods to eat are bananas, bagels, nuts, nut butters, fruit.

- Drink plenty of fluids such as water or additional energy drinks.

 

3. Treat any minor injuries

- Treat blisters, chafing or cuts to ensure that they don't worsen and become bigger injuries.

 

4. Have an ice bath (if you're brave enough!)

- Fill the bath with cold water (ice is optional), get in and stay for up to 10 minutes.  You can stay in longer (up to 15 minutes) but if not used to regular ice baths it is better to stay in for less time.

- Ice baths are believed to constrict blood vessels, reduce swelling and reduce the breakdown of tissue.  The advantage of having an ice bath vs. putting an ice pack on is that large areas of muscle can be treated all at once.

- If you don't have access to a bath then you can take a shower.  Use a combination of warm and cold water on your legs.

 

5. Sleep

- Key for any recovery. 

- Sometimes adrenaline can hinder sleep post a race but try to get as much as you can. 

- If you have had a light massage post race this can often help with sleep as it helps relax the nervous system.

 

6. Have A Massage

- You are often able to book in for a quick massage on the day of the race.  Charities often organise a free treatment after the marathon for their runners as a thank you for raising money for them.  These massages will be quite short and light and are worth having as they help kick start muscle recovery and ease any soreness.

- Wait until at least 24 hours post your race to schedule a longer massage.  Within 2-3 days post your race any treatment should be a light flushing massage to help with recovery and muscle soreness.   A deeper treatment at this stage may aggravate any inflammation and delay the recovery process.

- After 3 days you can schedule a deep tissue massage to help deal with any remaining niggles or injuries to get you back to full fitness.

 

It is also important to keep active in the few days post your race but any exercise should be light such as swimming or walking or a light jog.  The experts say that any significant training shouldn't start until 10 days post race as there is the potential for injury if the body hasn't had time to heal and recover efficiently.

 

Key Benefits Of Massage When Training For An Event

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When you are training for an event you will often have mapped out routes and training distances, worked out your diet and nutrition but often we tend to neglect one of the most important factors when training for an event ... "Body Maintenance and Recovery"!

Massage should form part of any training schedule and form an integral part of an effective recovery program.  It can help the body to heal and strengthen between training days.

 

Key Benefits of Massage When Training for An Event

 

1. Faster Recovery

 Massage therapy has been shown to decrease cortisol levels in the body. This enables the body to enter a recovery mode.

The increased and enhanced blood circulation helps to relieve muscle tension, reduce soreness and helps with a faster recovery.

 

2. Improves Circulation

You may not realise it, but massage affects the cardiovascular system.  It dilates blood vessels, which helps them work more efficiently to promote circulation.  This manual assistance of encouraging venous blood flow back to the heart enhances blood flow, which delivers fresh oxygen and nutrients to the tissue and promotes the removal of waste products. 

This improved blood and lymph flow helps brings damaged, stiff, and tense muscles the rich blood supply they need to promote healing.


3. Better Movement

Massage can help with improving range of motion as increasing blood flow allows the tissues (muscle and fascia surrounding the muscle) to increase in length. Massage can help release the tightness of trigger points of muscles and tightness of the fascia which can enable better movement. 

 

4. Promotes Relaxation

Massage can help with reducing stress and tension while promoting relaxation by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.

This can help reduce any mental stress and anxiety which could hinder performance and focus.

 

How Often Should You Have A Massage?

This will be different for everyone and it will depend on how often you are training, at what intensity, previous injury and cost. 

Some elite athletes will have daily massage leading up to an event, for others every 2-3 weeks can work well in between your own maintenance program which should include Foam Rolling and Stretching.

However if you already have an event in the diary then it is worth scheduling in your regular maintenance massages leading up to this. 

Pre- Event - every 2-3 weeks.

Post Event - 2-3 days after your event to help with recovery and to reduce any muscle soreness.

 


Top 5 Foam Rolling Exercises

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What is Foam Rolling?


A foam roller is a self-massage tool that can be used pre and post exercise to increase mobility and to help speed up recovery.


Used effectively a Foam Roller can help decrease muscle tension and target trigger points which have developed over time through repetitive movement (overuse).


When Foam rolling it is important to roll slowly over the area that you are treating, apply gentle pressure at first.  The maximum amount of time to spend on one particular area should be around 20 seconds.  If you apply to much pressure for too long there is a risk of irritating the area further.


Avoid rolling over bony areas and be careful of rolling over a very painful area; too much direct pressure on an already inflamed area could cause further damage.


Top 5 Foam Rolling Exercises


1. Calves

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  • Start from the heel and raise your body off the ground.  Roll up the calf then back and then roll side to side.
  • You can use the other leg on top to add additional pressure. 
  • When you get to a sensitive spot then hold and rotate your foot through its full range of motion one way and then the other.

 

2. Hamstrings

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  • Start from the knee and keep your legs straight by extending through the heel.
  • Work up the length of the hamstring rolling side to side and up and down.
  • You can roll both legs at the same time or cross one leg over the other to apply more pressure.

 

3. Glutes & Piriformis

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  • Roll both glutes by sitting square on the roller.  You roll up to the top of the muscle but be careful of your spine.
  • To roll the Glute Medius roll onto the side of your glute and and roll up to the top of the pelvis.
  • To roll the piriformis (narrow muscle inside the glutes) cross one leg over the knee (seen in the photo) and roll back and forwards on that glute.


4. Quads

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  • Start with the roller on the front of your legs just above your knees.  Work up to the hips and down to the knee again.
  • If you have your big toes touching and heels turned out and then roll again, this will target different parts of the quad muscles.
  • You can roll one leg at a time with one leg on top of the other.  This will add more pressure.


5. Upper Back

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  • Place the roller in the middle of your shoulder blades and lock your hands behind your head.
  • Lift your body up off the floor and keep your elbows high. 
  • Then roll from the top of the shoulders and past your shoulder blades. 
  • Be careful not to roll directly on to the neck or down to the lower back (lumbar spine) which is a sensitive area and could be damaged if too much pressure is applied.