I just got back from Europe and for those who have traveled, you know how much walking you do on a daily basis. Now I consider myself to be fit guy, but walking almost 10 miles a day was new to me and is for most people. I’ve noticed in the past when I do a lot of walking my shoulders (specifically my traps) start to get sore. I’m not exactly sure why but this was something I wanted to breakdown and fix. Most likely it’s because my body isn’t used to it. During my time abroad, I was traveling with 3 other very close friends of mine. One of those friends is currently in enrolled in school to get her PhD in physical therapy. So, naturally I picked her brain on the topic like I do with most of my aches and pains.
Most aches and pains can be a result of two things. The first is inflexibility. The second is from the trigger points in the muscles of the sore area. Most of my athletic career, I battled with a sore back. To give you an idea how bad it was, some mornings I couldn’t even bend over far enough to put my socks on. The main reason I was having back trouble was because I have the world’s tightest hamstrings. So what did I do? Obviously I stretched my hamstrings. But it’s how I stretched that I think is unique from most people.
I go to the gym about 3-4 days a week. I’m very efficient with my workouts and I’m able to have the body I want by just working out 2-3 hours a week. I will post another blog about my routine and how to boost efficiency and results, while cutting back on time. But for now, I want to share my stretching and massaging techniques. Whenever I go to the gym, I stretch hamstrings. Not because my back is sore, but because it’s way better to be proactive then reactive when it comes to injuries and soreness. I want you to think of the backside of your body as a chain with links. This chain goes from the back or your achilles tendons up your butt, up your back, and up to the back of your neck. When there is tightness in a part of the chain, the other links have to overcompensate for the other tight links. In my case, my tight links were my hamstrings. And the links that were over working/stretching was my lower back. That’s why I was having soreness back there. A great way to test your “chain” is to get into an overhead squat position. With your feet shoulder-width apart, try putting your “ass to the grass” (a very technical term) as they say in the biz. In other words, bring your butt down to the backs of your feet. As you’re doing this, hold your hands straight up (or hold a barbell with no weight) straight above your head with your arms locked. If you can’t get in this position, then you have a weakness in your chain. Usually, you will be able to tell where in the chain is weak. For most people it’s back, shoulders, or hamstrings like in my case. What is the best way to stretch your hamstrings? Looking back to my 2 years in pee wee football, I laugh at what our stretching routine was. We would stretch for eight seconds then move on. Knowing what I know now, that did practically nothing. Below is the stretching technique I have done to significantly improve posture, decrease soreness, increase performance, and overall just feel better and looser on a day to day basis.
- WORKOUT – It doesn’t have to necessarily be legs but just get the body warm and the blood pumping. You can do a little stretching beforehand, but don’t do a lot. You want that elasticity in your muscles if you are doing heavy workouts.
- STRETCH – After a non-leg workout I’ll do a basic stretch regardless. And this is how you stretch your hamstrings properly. Keep your back as straight as possible. Almost as if you’re trying to stick your butt out. Then reach down to your toes as far as you can. Most people won’t come near their toes. If you do, congrats on your flexibility. For the rest of us it takes time. Bend as far as you can with you back straight and your butt out. Yes, you will look weird doing this but it is the only way to isolate the stretch in your hamstrings. The reason why keeping this position is important is because when your hamstrings are tight, your back will over stretch putting more strain on it. I do both one leg and two legged stretches. I start with one leg with my leg on a box or chair or bench or anything available. For the one leg, go as far as you can for 20 seconds. Then, bend your knee and flex that hamstring you’re stretching, then immediately go back into the same stretch on the same leg for another 20 seconds. The reason for the flex in between sets is to: 1)bring blood to the area, 2) more importantly, after you flex, there is a split second where your flexibility increases due to the muscles relaxing right after flexing. In other words, you are temporarily able to go down further immediately after you flex your hamstring. When you do go down again, hold it there. It will hurt slightly if you’re going down far, which is good. If your leg starts to shake, bring it back a little bit. It’s very important to take slow deep breathes throughout the stretching. This will make it easier and less painful, I promise. I do 2 sets per leg then do one set for both legs at the same time.
- HOT TUB – If you really want a great stretch, repeat step 2 but do it in the hot tub. Sit and relax in the hot tub for 10 mins then do the stretches right in the hot tub. I also like stretching quads and hip flexors while I’m in there as well. This will make your muscles even more loosey—goosey and will help you get deeper in your stretch.
I have not forgotten about my sore shoulders and traps. My soreness in my shoulders/traps/neck primarily came from trigger points. For this I had to treat it by massaging. Here is my routine for any soreness or tightness in that area.
- SMALL STRETCH – the best way to stretch this area is by sitting upright in a chair, sitting on one of your hands, then with the other hand lightly pull your head in the opposite direction of the hand you’re sitting on. Do this very slowly and start lightly. Pull your head to your side first and then work it to the front then back again.
- LAX BALL ROLLOUT – A lacrosse ball is perfect for this massage because it is hard, round, smooth, and the perfect size. Place the ball on the knot/trigger point that is bothering you and lean back against a smooth wall. Lean on the ball and work the ball over the sore area by moving your body slowly. Make sure to put enough pressure over the area, but not too much where you are grimacing.
With this simple routine, I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my soreness and keeps my body and limbs/joints feeling free. Hope this helps.