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5 Exercise Mistakes that Lead to Elbow Pain

Photo courtesy of Awake and Alive

Photo courtesy of Awake and Alive

Training regularly does not come without its risks and the potential for overuse injuries is prevalent.  One of the most common overuse injuries is elbow pain; the kind that leads to a dull throbbing usually along the inside and slows down your progress or even stops your training completely.  In my article for Awake and Alive I give my top 5 exercise mistakes that lead to elbow pain and how to avoid them.

Check out the article and video here

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Six More Stretches Most Athletes Need

I would have never guessed that one of the most popular articles on my blog would be Six Stretches Most Athletes Need.  Based off my experience most athletes are more concerned with increasing their strength, bicep size or mastering some new exercise to get then to the next level instead of concerning themselves with recovery and stretching.

Stretching always seems like an afterthought for most and if I had a dime for every time I heard, “I’m tight here and I know I need to stretch more but…..” I’d be a fairly wealthy man.   I realize stretching does not release the rush of endorphins a squat or bench press does and I know that most people ask others, “How much ya bench?” versus “Can you touch your toes?” however the days of waking up and hopping out of bed throwing on your uniform and performing at a high level are short lived and the maturing athlete must add some stretching into their programming.

As I did in the first stretching installment I am going to keep it brief, simple and only focus on stretching techniques for the most common areas that athletes get tight and have dysfunction.  It won’t take up too much time; you won’t need to put on a pair of Capris and Zen out.  You can do this before you go to bed in the privacy of your own room so no one will even know you are into stretching.

The difference this time around is that I am going to add a PNF (acronym for a fancy long word meaning to contract and relax the muscles) component which will help you get the most out of your stretch and get the desired release you are looking for.

Let's Start Stretching

Let’s Start Stretching

Hip Flexors and Quads 

The Hip Flexors are the muscle group that pulls the knee towards the chest.  In sports they are used for running and jumping.  The Quadriceps muscles are a series of four muscles of the front of the thigh that extend the knee.  These muscles help with actions such as kicking and they also play a huge roll in knee stabilization to prevent injury.

Student athletes are either in motion or sitting for long periods at a time and this combination of movement and inactivity leads to shortening of the hip flexors and the quads.  When they become too tight optimal athletic performance is compromised and they can eventually cause misalignment of the hips which may lead to tight low backs, postural changes and even injuries.

This following stretch is intense but highly effective for hip flexors and the quads.  Find a mat and place on knee on it and the knee angle should be slightly behind the hip, with your front foot at a straight shin angle.  Grab and hold the top of your back foot like a traditional Quad stretch.  Tilt your hips forward as if you are tucking them underneath you, contract your rear-leg glute muscles and as you relax the muscles, exhale, find your new position and repeat.

Hip Flex and Quads Stretch

To learn more about the role of the hip flexors in athletic performance check out my Sports Performance Series and learn how to test their length and what movements strengthen the hip flexors.

Hip Adductors 

These muscles get really tight, especially in athletes who run a lot for training and their sport.  The hip adductors are the inside muscles of the thigh and are commonly referred to as the groin area.

The roll of the hip adductors in sports is to bring the leg across the body toward the midline and they also help stabilize the hips and knees.  These muscles are important for lateral motion or cutting.  If the length of these muscles are not optimal not only will your cutting ability and power diminish, but if you lunge your leg away from your midline these muscles might be too tight to support the movement and therefore could get pulled or torn.

To stretch the hip adductors find a box or a table that is around the height of your hips. Bend your knee and abduct your thigh so they can both rest on the table.  Make sure you are able to get into this position and maintain good posture.  It is not uncommon to have one side that is tighter than the other but strive for good body posture to get the most benefit from the stretch.

Contract your glutes of the stretched side and release with a breath and allow the hips to subtly move forward and drop as you relax into the stretch.

Hip ADDuctors Stretch

Thoracic Spine and Pectoralis Muscles

The thoracic spine or T-Spine is the area of the upper back around the level of the shoulder blades and we should all know where our Pectoralis muscle group is.  The thoracic and pec muscles are victims of our daily lives and tend to be in a constant state of flexion.  Most activities ranging from sports, driving, watching dinner and studying pull the shoulder blades forward because of the position we are in causing the pecs to get really short and mobility of the thoracic spine becomes limited.  When you are called to rotate in your sport (think golf or tennis) or get maximal body extension (sprinting or jumping) tightness in this area inhibit the range of motion needed to perform well and could cause a rounded back posture.

An easy way to stretch the T-Spine and Pectoralis muscles is to use a Swiss Ball.  Simply lie on the Swiss ball taking the shape of the ball with your back neck and head.   When you are settled in this position turn your palms up towards the ceiling and lightly contract your pectoralis muscles as if you were doing a chest press or fly.  Exhale, release and relax and find your new resting position for these muscles.

T-Spine and Pec 

Shoulders, Traps and Pectoralis Muscles

As stated above, with our daily posture chances are that you will feel like you are wearing your shoulders as earrings after a full day of sitting in class or working in front of the computer.  Again with this forward posture we are thrown out of alignment and not only will we be unable to perform at our best, we can also experience a lot of neck stiffness and pain if the muscles affected never get a chance to rest.

When stretching the limbs of the upper body I am a big fan of using a band because the band allows the shoulder joint freedom to move around were it will not be inhibited or in pain.  The band also provides some stability for the joint while it is in traction at the same time the surrounding muscles are being stretched.

Take your light band with an underhand grip and put it behind your back.  It is very important that you maintain good posture and keep your shoulders and ribcage down while your perform this stretch or else you will be getting a false sense of flexibility.

Contract your biceps and pull your shoulder blades together as you allow the band to provide some tension for the stretch.  Relax, exhale and allow your palms to travel upward while you maintain keeping the ribcage and shoulders down.

Shoulder Extension Stretch

Shoulders internal and External Rotators

I am sure you have tried the yoga pose where you place one hand low behind your back and the other over your head and try to get your fingers to touch; how did that go for you?  If you are like most people I see, one direction looks pretty good and you might even be able to get your fingers to interlock, however when you try the other direction you can only get half of what you displayed on the other direction.

Imbalance between sides can be drastic during sporting movements and you want to try your best to even out the sides to prevent possible injuries.

Attach a medium tension band on a pull up bar and grasp the band behind your back.  Go as high on the band as you can without allowing the shoulder to rise up to handle the tension.  Once you are set contract the muscles around (deltoids and pecs) and deep within (rotator cuff muscles) the shoulder.  Relax, exhale and find a higher point to grab on the band and repeat.

Rot Cuff Stretch

Low Back Stretch and Decompression

Who hasn’t has some dull low back pain in their lives before.  Tight hips and hamstrings, heavy weight training, ballistic lifting and giving and taking impact in practice and games all contribute to a tight low back.

There are plenty of people who can tell you how debilitating a tight low back can be.  Sports and activity can be difficult to maneuver and in the more extreme cases, simply getting out of bed is tough.  If left untreated with accumulating years of abuse, damage to the disc and spine can occur and the pain can become a more permanent fixture.

One of my favorite ways to decompress the low back and relax the surrounding muscles is to perform a tabletop stretch.  You can rest your arms on a table or grasp a bar to anchor yourself.  Walk your feet back far enough to get an effective stretch while your knees remain straight and your back stays flat throughout.  Contract your lats, low back muscles, glutes and hamstrings.  Relax, exhale and try to elongate your spine to decompress your low back.

Low Back Stretch Decompression

There you have six more stretches to help you perform at your best.  Feel free to choose a few that you need to do and perform them a few times throughout the week.  You can also perform the original six one day and these new stretches on the next day.  Remember that stretching is a big part of being able to perform at your best.

Now go out there and make it happen.

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Six Stretches Most Athletes Need

When I design a training program for a specific athlete’s sport, there are many areas to focus on including: strength, conditioning, speed/power, mobility/flexibility and recovery.   It is very common to focus on the areas that seem like they are the most beneficial for athletic gains.  In the case of sports performance training, it’s the training for the sport itself and the speed and power work which are usually most attractive to the player while the mobility, flexibility and recovery modalities take a back seat.

This approach may work for a short while, especially if the athlete is young, injury free and plays a sport that is not completely single-side dominant.  When the athlete starts to mature, the accumulation of years of the same sports stress combined with postural challenges, like sitting in the classroom and doing work on the computer, can cause many problems.  The neglected areas of mobility and flexibility may lead to muscle soreness, lack of movement, decrease in athletic performance, or even result in injury.

Let’s face it, stretching is not fun or exciting but a small venture into the dullness a few times a week can vastly improve your performance, recovery and keep you off the sidelines and in the game.

Below are some of the most common areas I have found to be tight on athletes and the mobility and stretches that correspond to the assistance of relieving the tight area.  When performing these stretches be aware of proper body alignment and be prepared to hold the stretch for more than the commonly proclaimed “30 seconds.”  It can take up to two minutes for tight muscles to release so hold on to those stretching positions a bit longer.

Ankles

This area of the body cannot actually be stretched because the ankle is a joint.  However, the ankle can be mobilized.   The ankle is the foundational structure for support and movement for the entire body.  In sports, movement begins from the ground and then generates power upward and in the applied directions.  If the ranges of motion of the ankles are not optimal, structural alignment of the joint and limbs will be offline.  Off-alignment makes the body absorb and distribute energy in inappropriate directions therefore decreasing the maximal power generated and possibly setting you up for a joint injury.

To mobilize the ankles and stretch the muscles of the calves: have your front foot flat on the floor with your toes three to six inches away from a wall.  Place your hands on the wall and gently pulse your lower leg and knee forward keeping the knee aligned with the toes.  The ankle mobility should increase and you can judge this by how close your knee gets to the wall.


Hamstrings

Hamstrings are the collective group of muscles of the back of the leg that are used to extend the hip and flex the knee.  In sports the hamstring muscles are important for: generating the quick first step, jumping, stabilizing the knees for cutting and deceleration of the body to stop quickly and change directions.

With their numerous functions it is common for these muscles to get tight due to their overuse.  If they stay tight for too long optimal use of these muscles decreases, stiffness of the legs and low back can occur and possibly a muscle pull or injury occurs that will keep you out of the game.

To stretch the hamstrings: I like to lay supine on the floor and use a long strap for leverage.  Loop the strap around the ball of your foot and bring your leg to its end range of motion where you feel tension; making sure the non-stretched leg is flat on the floor and not popping up.  Once I’ve established my end range position without straining, I then begin to contract my thigh muscles and hold the contraction for a few seconds and then release the muscles along with my breath and gain a few more degrees in the range of motion.

There are variations to this stretch that you can check out more in depth in my article: How are your Hammies

Hip Flexors 

The hip flexors are the muscle group that pulls the knee towards the chest.  In sports they are used for running and jumping.  These muscles get tight really easily.  As a student athlete I remembered going to early morning practice for soccer and then sitting in classrooms for the next five hours and then going to afternoon practice.  After all of the training in the morning and then all of the sitting at my desk, my hip flexors would tighten up tremendously.

All of us sit more then we should for our body’s health and the hip flexors are tight because of this.  If they get too tight not only will optimal performance be decreased but they can pull the hips out of alignment and this can lead to sore lower backs, postural changes and even injuries of the surrounding muscles.

There are several ways to stretch the hip flexors and you may have to perform more than one way to get them loose.  In my Sports Performance Series I talked about the role of the hip flexors in sports, how to test their length and what movements strengthen the hip flexors.

In terms of their recovery and resting length: one of my favorite stretches has you put your back leg on a bench and front foot on the floor.  Tilt your hips forward as if you are tucking them underneath you.  Maintain this position; sink the hips downward letting gravity assist.  When the hip flexors begin to release you may sit your hips back towards the heel of the elevated foot to increase the stretch intensity of the quadriceps muscles.

Hip Rotators 

These muscles can get really tight much like the hip flexors do when sitting all day.  The hip rotators are primarily the glute muscles and their function is to stabilize, rotate and extend the legs.  All of these movements are necessary for sport applications and if they don’t respond well then neither will your playing ability.  These muscles also tend to be tighter on one side than the other which can throw off hip and leg alignment which may cause low back tightness and pain.

To stretch the hip rotator muscles:  find a box or a table that is around the height of your hips.  Turn your foot inward towards the middle of your body and have your knee outside of the body.  Rest the outside of the leg on the surface finding a position that is comfortable and does not aggravate the knee or ankle joints.   My left side likes to tighten up more than my right and if it is really bad then I cannot rest my knee on the surface.  When this happens I place a mat or pad under the elevated knee so it has something to rest against and therefore will want to relax and stretch.  As it begins to release I take the pad away and let it rest on the surface

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine or T-Spine is the area of the upper back around the level of the shoulder blades.  Much of the movements we perform during sports and our daily lives involve going forward or dealing with objects right in front of us.  Sports, driving and even while I sit here and create this article for you, my shoulder blades are being pulled forward because of the position I am in.  The chest muscles get really short and tight and mobility of the thoracic spine becomes limited due to the tightness.  For rotational sports like tennis and golf this can inhibit the range of motion needed to perform well and for the rest of us this tightness and lack of mobility can lead to the rounded back posture.

A great way to keep the T-Spine mobilized is to use a roller:  Lie on the floor and place the roller on your back near the bottom of the shoulder blades.  Keeping the hips down and the body aligned properly, let the upper back extend backwards over the roller and then, when stretched, bring it back to the neutral position.  It is important to think about only moving the upper back and not the entire spine, this is not a crunch.

                             

Lat Stretch

The Lattissimus dorsi muscles are the big wing shaped muscles of the back just below the shoulder blades.  The muscle inserts into the upper arm and is used to bring the arm towards the body for action and support.  The muscles are anchored at the shoulder blade, ribs, spine and the hip.  With all of these attachments if any of them becomes too tight it can throw off alignment of many areas of the body therefore causing its function to decrease and soreness and pain of the arms and back can occur.

One of my favorite stretches to maintain proper alignment is the lateral bend with support:  I like to use a squat rack; however a doorway can work just fine.  With one arm, reach across and over your head, with the near arm keep it lower, by the hip for support.  When you get your grips make sure the hips are rotated and aligned.  When aligned, slowly move the far hip away and you should feel a stretch in the area where the lats insert.

There you have six stretches to help you perform at your best.  Best to choose a few that you need to do and perform them a few times throughout the week.

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