Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trunk - Abdominal and Back Stretching

In considering the trunk or "core" of the body, which is basically everything from the pelvis up to the rib cage, in regards to stretching there is really no way to isolate one specific muscle or muscle group. We'll therefore consider stretching exercises which stretch all the multitude of muscles involved in both the abdominal and lower back region.
This area is strategically significant in regards to stretching and fitness for several reasons. The area between the pelvis and rib cage not only holds in the majority of our bodily organs (intestines, kidneys, liver, spleen, and so forth) it is also very vulnerable to injury due to the fact that this region provides all the stability for the upper trunk and arm movements and activities, with only the lower spine and lower trunk musculature for support.

It is referred to as "the core" of the body because all upper and lower body movements are stabilized and coordinated through the contraction and stability of the abdominal and lower back regions. Stretching this area is therefore a critical part of any flexibility and fitness program to prevent injury and help maintain proper postural alignment.

The stretches can be catagorized into four basic planes of movement: flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation - (with varied combinations of the four)

Back Extension stretching

Lateral Flexion Stretching

Trunk rotation stretch

Rotational Flexion Stretch (Windmill)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Gluteal Stretching

In our continued focus on stretching, today we'll wrap up our coverage of the leg with the muscle group which is arguably the biggest and strongest in the body, the Gluteal muscles. Two muscles, the Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Minimus, make up what is also referred to as the buttocks (and other names which I will not mention here).

These muscles are responsible primarily for extension of the hip joint (and to help keep our pants up above our waistline unless you are one of those unfortunate souls who thinks its cool to walk with the waist of your pants hanging precariously on the minor curvature of your hamstring muscles!)

Stretching these muscles requires a combination of hip flexion and also a little bit of internal rotation of the hip to get the most optimal results.
Basic Gluteal Stretch

Advanced Gluteal Stretch

Combination Flexion/Rotation Stretch

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Adductor - Inner thigh stretching

In our continued discussion about stretching, I thought I'd continue today with the inner thigh muscles, also known as the hip Adductors (like adding 1+1=2, these muscles pull the legs closer together when contracted). These muscles are also part of the group people refer to when they have "pulled a groin muscle."

As seen in the diagram these muscles consist of the Adductor Longus, Adductor Magnus (my personal favorite), Adductor Brevis, Pectinius, and the Gracillis.

The same principles for stretching apply to these muscles as with any others. The stretch should be done slowly, until you can feel the stretch, but not fast or excessive where you may injure the muscle and cause the exact opposite desire you want from stretching. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat if needed.

Depending on your fitness level, I'll again show several different levels of stretching exercises possible.

Low level Adductor Stretch

Intermediate Adductor Stretch

Advanced Adductor Stretch

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Quadricips Stretching

Today we'll address stretching one of the major muscle groups of the leg, the Quadriceps (or Quads). This group of 4 muscles is located on the front of you thigh and is responsible for knee extension or straightening. These are some of the main workhorses that allow you to stand from a chair, jump, kick, and so on. Theya re some of the most powerful muscles in the body because they are constantly working to hold our bodies up against the effects of gravity whenever we are performing any typs of standing activity.

All 4 of these powerful muscles (vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and rectus femoris) merge together into one major tendon, the patellar tendon. This is the tendon on the front of your knee in which your knee cap (patella) is supended as a lever and attached to the front of you lower leg just below the knee joint.

Because of the powerful nature of these muscles and the fact that they exert all their pressure on one spot, it is a common injury, if proper stretching and warm-up is not performed before activity, to develop a tendonitis or inflamation injury in the front of the knee as a result. So depending on your fitness and activity level, you will probably want to incorporate one of the stretches below as a preventative measure. (I'll address the treatment of tendonitis at a later time).

Basic Side Quad Stretch

Intermediate Quad Stretching

Advanced Quadriceps Stretches

Again, as with all stretches, go slowly and hold each stretch for approximately 20-30 seconds and repeat as needed.

Intermediate Quad Stretch

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stretching Fitness - Hamstring Health

With our continued focus on stretching exercises necessary for good flexibility, fitness and injury prevention, and having already addressed the calf muscle, we'll now work our way up the back of the leg to the Hamstring Muscles.
What we call the Hamstring (or more affectionately, the Hammies) is actually a set of three muscles called: Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, and Semitendinosus. These three muscles are mainly responsible for bending or flexing the Knee joint, but as they also cross the back of the hip joint the also help with hip extension.

If you've ever done a lot of activity where you are bending forward with your knees straightened, like working on the engine of your car or pulling weeds out of your yard, you may have noticed these muscles the next day when they are protesting the sudden work you've put them through after not noticing them for so long!

The Hamstrings are relatively weak muscles in comparison to the more powerful Quadriceps muscles, located on the front of our thighs, and therefore are more prone to being overstrained or "pulled" as a result. Also because we spend so much time sitting these days, with our knees flexed in a bent position, the hamstring muscles tend to become a little shortened and tight. Thus the need for regular stretching of these muscles.

Again, no matter what level of flexibility or fitness you are, the main thing about stretching is to go slowly and hold the stretch at a comfortable level for at least 25-30 seconds.

Low Level Stretch
Intermediate level Stretch

Advanced Level Hamstring StretchThese stretches can be done for several repetitions as well as any other stretch. Remember, treat your Hammies right, and they will treat you right!

Happy Fitness!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Daily Fitness For Life - Stretching

One of the basic components of any fitness program, both in order to prevent injury and allow for proper warm-up and cool down, is a basic stretching program.

Over the next while I will adress several basic stretches that anyone of any fitness level should incorporate into their pre and post exercise routine. In fact, these stretches can and should be done for your health and daily function, even if you aren't going to be working out.

Like with any excercise program, there are several different fitness levels or intensities in which a stretch can be performed, but one common thread exists among all of them: Stretches need to be performed SLOWLY! Stretching which is performed too rapidly can result in injury or instead of loosening the muscle as intended, it will generate a reflex response which will actually cause the muscle to tighten (similar to when the doctor hits your knee with that little reflex hammer during your yearly check-ups).

To be effective a stretch should be done at a slow pace, until you can feel the muscle stretching, but not painful, and hold that position for at least 30 seconds. The same stretch can also be done more than once, especially if the muscle you are stretching feels particularly tight.

I will address several stretches over the coming week or so, with a different stretch being discussed each time, but today we will start with one of the basics = The Calf Stretch.

The "Calf" is made up of two main muscles, the gastrocnemious and the soleus, and is located on the back of your lower legs.

Basic/Low level Calf stretch: (see illustration at right)
To advance the intensity of this stretch you can step the leg you are stretching further back from the wall or object you are leaning against.
Also, in order to stretch both muscle groups, you can stretch as shown in the illustration, with the knee extended to stretch the gastrocnemius, and also bend the knee forward slightly to stretch the deeper soleus muscle.
This stretch is important because the foot, ankle and lower leg are the first part of the body to contact the ground with any type of walking or standing exercises.
Happy Stretching!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Year, New Life

There is no denying that the "Holidays" are now officially over and far enough in the past that we have to begin to face the reality of another new year ahead (especially since nearly two weeks of that year have now already past)!

With most of us desiring to change something about our lives for the coming new year, the bigest mistake we can make is trying to make the change too extreme or drastic in nature! Now, by no means am I trying to say that you shouldn't make big goals for yourself in life, but the fact of the matter is that no BIG goal ever gets accomplished without achieving a bunch of smaller goals along the way.

In regards to fitness for the average person, a few simple changes can start those small changes in your body to allow the bigger goals to later become possible. Simply reducing the amount of snacks you consume each day, or taking slightly smaller portions with each meal can add up to significant calorie differences in your diet. With the addition of changing a few other behaviors like taking simple walks, taking the stairs instead of elevator at work, or adding a few basic exercises each day can all add up to a slow change of metabolism which will naturally and effective start to drop pounds and improve your health.

Most people who may have been innactive make the mistake of trying to go "all out" in introducing a new diet or exercise program into their life, with often sad results which I may discuss in more detail at a later time.

In summary, don't worry so much about making the huge changes that you might want to make over time. Start with the small changes and gradually implement more and you will likely have better results at reaching your long term health and fitness goals!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


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