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Flexibility: Volume 4 Hips

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Hips-Ashley

 

Flexibility is the new stability. – Logan Green

 

The hip joint is actually a mobile joint but I thought this quote was so inspiring. The more flexible a person is the more aware they are of their body movement, thus, reducing the likelihood of injury. When looking at the kinetic chain, the hip is the second mobile joint from the ground and is responsible for joining the lower extremities to the rest of your body. In the ankle flexibility article, I discussed maybe having tight hip flexors is due to tight ankles. The kinetic chain is exactly that, a chain of joints alternating between mobility and stability to create a perfect environment for movement.

 

The Anatomy
The hip is a ball-and-socket joint created by the femur with the hip bone and allows a great range of motion. Mobility of this joint is only possible by an incredible number of structures. Muscles originate as high as the lumbar spine and have insertions as low as the tibia (the lower part of the leg).

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Hips

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Hips

 

Above is a diagram of the muscles associated with hip flexion, extension, lateral rotation and medial rotation. It can be overwhelming but have no fear, that’s why I’m here. This is to illustrate how intricate this joint is. The anterior and posterior muscles are listed below. Please note that these are not the only muscles associated with hip extention, rotation or flexion.

The anterior hip muscles include: the iliacus, psoas major and minor muscles

The posterior hip muscles include: the tensor fasciae latae, gluteus muscles, the piriformis, and quadratus femoris.

 

Flexibility Tests
One test will test flexibility of the posterior muscles of the leg (glutes, hamstrings and calves). Slightly bend the knees, bend from the hips. While keeping a neutral spine, reach for the floor and really focus on not curving your back. If you find your spine not parallel with the floor, you may have some tight muscles on the posterior side of your leg.

 

Another test is the squat test. The squat test will not only reveal if you have tight hips but may also let you know how flexible your ankles are. Perform an air squat, keep the spine neutral and continue until the femur is parallel with the floor. If the heels come off the floor this indicates weak ankle flexibility. If the back rounds out, this indicates weak muscles associated with the hip complex.

 

The last test that you can perform will also test for tightness in the hip. Position yourself on the ground and bring one knee to your chest, if the opposite leg lifts up you may have tight hips. Perform on both legs.

 

Improving Hip Flexibility

Hip Stretches:

  1. Butterfly Stretch - Sit with your legs in a butterfly position. With a neutral spine, bend at the hips and move your core towards your feet. Do not round your back. Hold for 30 seconds, release, breathe and repeat 2-3 times.
  2. Sit on the ground with legs bent and feet flat on the ground. Place one ankle over the opposite knee, lean forward and hold for 30 seconds, release, breathe and repeat.
  3. Lizard Pose - Position yourself with one leg forward and the opposite leg behind your body. The front leg should be in a 90 degree angle with the back leg stretched out into extension. The knee can be resting on the ground or for a better stretch left it and hold. Remember to lengthen the core and do not round out the back. This stretch will really open up your hip flexors!

 

I often hear of people struggling with hip flexor problems. Our lifestyles demand for most of us to be sitting or stagnant for long periods of time, working on a computer, sitting in a classroom or even relaxing during a three day Netflix binge. Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic but you understand where I am going with this. After not activating a muscle for such a long period of time and then demanding that it bear most of our weight can be stressful on a muscle. Stretching and improving flexibility will reduce the risk of injury. Injury to such an important joint can create more weaknesses or even muscle imbalances throughout your body by favoring one side. Be sure to stretch and stay stable and strong throughout your kinetic chain.

 

 

Sources

Prentice, William E. Principles of Athletic Training. McGraw-Hill, 2014

 

MACKENZIE, B. (2007) Static Flexibility Test - Hip and Trunk [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/flextest1.htm [Accessed 16/12/2016]

 

DuVall, Jeremy. "3 Flexibility Tests For Runners." Competitor.com. Running.Competitior, 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2016.

 

Jones, Oliver. "The Hip Joint." TeachMeAnatomy. Teachmeanatomy.info, 15 Nov. 2016. Web. 17 Dec. 2016.

Flexibility: Volume 3 Knees

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Knee-Ashley
“Better bend than break.” – Scottish Proverb

 

Flexibility throughout the kinetic chain is important because of the relationship muscles have with joints. If there is a weak link in one part of the chain it can be detrimental to other areas as well. The knee is no exception and is a complicated joint all on its own, not to mention the muscles it shares with the hip.

 

Anatomy

Components of the Knee
The knee is one of the more complex joints and there is an extremely ample amount of information. Instead of only doing the muscles, the tendons are also explained for a better understanding of flexibility at the knee. These are not the only structures responsible for stability but they go hand in hand when looking at flexibility.

 

Tendons: Attach muscle to bone. Although tendons are a fibrous collagen tissue they are still flexible enough to maintain proper function of a joint.

 

Muscles: As a stability joint, the knee has many muscles that participate in movement. The quadriceps and hamstring groups are responsible for flexion and extension at the knee. With a disproportionate muscular ratio between the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles, one may experience knee problems. Bailey Palmer, an exercise physiology professor at Texas Tech University, expands on this subject, “Athletes can strengthen their hip extensor muscles (i.e., hamstrings) to improve their hamstring to quadriceps strength ratio, which can reduce muscular imbalances and improve overall stability during sport specific movements.”

 

For the visual people (like myself)

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Knees

 

Movements

The movements of the knee and the muscles that are responsible for those actions:

  1. Flexion: bending a joint from a large angle to an acute angle; bringing the leg closer to the core.
  • Hamstring Group: Biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus (gluteus muscles can also aid in flexion)
  • Gracilis
  • Sartorius
  • Popliteus
  • Extension: extending a joint from a smaller angle to a larger angle; opening up the hips by pushing the leg away from the core.
  • Quadriceps femoris (made up of four muscles): Vastus lateralis, vastus intermedialis, vastus medialis, and rectus femoris
  • Medial rotation: Movement toward the middle or midline of your body (small degree of rotation)
  • Sartorius
  • Lateral rotation: Movement away from the middle of your body (small degree of rotation)
  • Biceps femoris (gluteus muscles can also aid biceps femoris)

 

Where do I start?
Start by stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors and calves!

 

Hamstring Group: Hamstrings in my opinion are one of the most commonly missed muscle groups to stretch or strengthen. Neglecting such a large muscle group can have serious consequences. Some simple hamstring stretches are listed below including a flexibility test.

  • Flexibility Test: Stand upright. Bend at the waist while keeping your knees straight or slightly bent. The less bending at the knee indicates good flexibility. Don’t worry; some people will never be able to touch their toes, the smaller the angle at the waist means greater flexibility.
  • Stretches:
    • While sitting on the ground place your legs in a 45 degree angle or wider. Bend at the waist without rounding your back and hold for 30 seconds and repeat once or twice. Between each stretch, take a deep breath and try to decrease the angle at your hip the next time. The pull should come from the back of your leg and be slightly uncomfortable.
    • This can also be done with legs in front of you.

 

Quadriceps Group: This muscle group may easily over shadow the hamstrings because we can see them! Also, if you don’t like to run, it is easy to forget about them. How do we test and stretch them?

  • Flexibility Test: Lie on your stomach; bring your leg toward your gluteus. If you can touch your feet to your gluteus, you are flexible! Again, there are always exceptions! If you have huge hamstrings or calves, this may impede your ability to get a positive flexibility test. Also, if your hip flexors are tight, it may also not give you an accurate account of your flexibility.
  • Stretches:
    • Stand next to a wall and use it for balance. If no wall is available touch your nose with one finger for balance, it works! Bring your foot to your gluteus and hold it with your hand for 30 seconds. Breathe and repeat.
    • This also can be done lying on your stomach using a rubber exercise band.

 

Calves: Ashley, Why are we talking about the calves, aren’t they used in ankle mobility? Yes, yes, they are. Because muscles only know how to contract, they must cross over a joint to produce the desired movement. See ankle mobility to get the full scoop on calve stretches!

 

What if I have knee pain?

Knee pain is very common. Among those that suffer chronic knee pain, there are other options for strengthening the muscles in the thigh and hip that do not require great stress on the knee. Professor Palmer goes into depth here to explain more, “For those experiencing knee problems that may limit their ability to strength train, performing non-weight bearing physical activity (i.e., swimming, cycling) can improve flexibility and muscular endurance.”

 

Why is flexibility important for the knee?

Flexibility at the knee reduces the likelihood of injury. Stretching and properly warming up will reduce muscle strain or tears. It is better to teach your body to bend than to break from a stressor that can be prevented!

 

 

References:

Flexibility: Volume 2 Ankles

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Ankles
“You can’t build a strong building on a weak foundation.” –Gordon B. Hinckley

 

 

The Foundation
The ankles are the first mobile joint between you and the ground. They are not only the foundation but also are responsible for shifting weight quickly and assessing any kind of weight bearing stimulus. This joint is also overlooked when observing a weakness in the kinetic chain. Do you have a hard time with exercises like squats or maybe deadlifts? The ankle may be the culprit. Don’t worry! There is a way to improve performance! The answer is flexibility!


Flexibility improves range of motion (ROM). If we can achieve optimal ROM then we can improve multiple aspects of fitness without plateauing as easily and also prevent injuries from occurring.

 

 

Anatomy
For a better understanding of how to assess your ankle mobility, knowing the anatomy can benefit you in where to start.

 

Compartments of the Ankle and Lower Leg
First, there are essentially four different compartments that make up the muscles of the lower leg and ankle. Within each of these groups is between two- four muscles. It can get tedious explaining every single one. Below is a description of each compartment.

  1. The anterior (front) compartment is responsible for dorsiflexion (bringing the foot toward the shin).                                             Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Ankles
  2. The lateral (side) compartment is responsible for plantar (pointing) flexion and eversion of the foot.                                                                                                              Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Ankles
  3.  The superficial (surface) posterior (back) compartment is responsible for plantar flexion and flexing the leg.                          Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Ankles
  4. The deep posterior compartment is responsible for plantar flexion, inversion and rotating the leg medially (to the middle).               Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Ankles

 

Where do I start?
A good place to start is a flexibility test of the ankle.

 

Flex Test
Lay on your back with your feet against the wall from heels to toes. Begin by flexing your foot or pulling toes toward the front of your leg. If there is more than an inch between your toes and the wall you have optimal ROM of your ankle, anything below that is moderate or acceptable.

 

 

Extension Test
When looking for extension of the ankle, lay on the ground away from the wall. Point your toes as far as you can until your ROM is at its max. Ideally there will be a straight line from your leg to the tip of your toes. Speaking in degrees, 20-30 degrees is acceptable.

 

What exercises will improve ankle flexibility?

Static stretches (held 20-30 seconds)

Stretch muscles on the posterior side of the leg:

    1. Gastrocnemius: Place both hands in front of you on a wall. Place the leg you are stretching 3 feet from the wall (this should be behind you) and extend your knee and keep your heel on the ground. As you lean forward you should feel the calf muscle stretch.
    2. Soleus: This is the muscle underneath the gastrocnemius. Instead of keeping the knee straight, bend it. The weight will shift and the inner calf muscle will be stretched.

 

Active Stretches

The active stretches are great for this mobility joint because it is practical for everyday movement.
    1. Circle movement: rotate your foot in a circle with curled toes. Be sure to do this on a slow fashion and really reach for the furthest point that your toes can reach. Also, this might create a cramp if done too fast in either the arch of your foot or the calf. Go in both directions. You should feel your ankle loosen up. 
    2. Dorsiflexion and Plantar flexion: This is simply pointing your foot (extension) and pulling it back toward your shin. Point with curled toes and you should feel the stretch in your ankle.

 

Dynamic Stretch
Remember: Dynamic stretches should not be the initial type of stretch.
    1. Ankle Stretch: Take a knee. One leg should be in a 90-degree angle in front of you and the other leg should supporting most of your weight with the knee on the ground. The leg in front should have the heel in the ground. You can use your hands to stabilize your upper body and control the ROM. Push the hips forward and that will create a change of angle at the ankle joint. Push until it is uncomfortable but not painful. Repeat 10-15 times.

 

 

References:

Flexibility: Volume 1

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Series
“Blessed are those who are flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape." -Unknown

What is flexibility?
Flexibility is just as important as the strength we acquire from lifting weights.  During this “Flexibility Focus” series I will explain why flexibility should be a crucial part of your exercise routine and how to improve the range of motion (ROM), starting from the ground up. This will simply be an overview of the kinetic chain in relation to flexibility. To sum up flexibility in a nutshell, it is the ability to move a joint through a full range of motion.

 

What is the kinetic chain?
The kinetic chain is made up of multiple parts that all function together as a unit. I always start from the ground when looking at a problem, so naturally the foot/ankle region would be the first thing to observe. Next, we have the knee joints, followed by the hip joints and then the sacroiliac joints. The back portion following the sacroiliac joint would be the thoraco-lumbar spine region and then the cervical spine (neck) region.

 

Why is it important?
When one of these parts does not function properly it can cause pain in other places. I can use myself as an example. I have poor flexibility in my ankles and that affects my back squats and my traditional deadlifts just to name a few. Because I don’t have the flexibility I need in my ankles, it causes my chest to fall forward when my body hits that point where it can no longer descend through my legs. If my chest falls forward it places unnecessary pressure on other points of the kinetic chain. Getting the picture? Maybe your hips are not level when you walk, that may cause tension in your back and possibly even up to your neck region!

 

How does the kinetic chain function?
Another way to look at it is from a mobility/stability view. Each point in this kinetic chain has a specific design to help our body move as efficiently as it can. Every other joint is mobile while the next will be a stable joint. The ankles are designed to be a mobile type of joint, the knee joints provide stability, the hip joints are mobility, S-I joint is stability, the thoraco-lumbar spine is mobility and last in the chain is the cervical spine as a stability joint. The pattern of these joints creates an environment that allows our body to be structured but ‘flexible’ at the same time.

Crush-Fitness-Flexibility-Series

 

How does a person become more flexible?
Stretching! Over the next few weeks I will go in depth on each part of the kinetic chain to help you improve your flexibility. There are different styles and progressions, from static (stationary) stretches to dynamic (moving) types of stretches.

 

What are the benefits of stretching?
By increasing your joint range of motion you can improve other areas of fitness such as strength, power, and endurance. Increasing ROM can help prevent injuries as well! Improving flexibility can every help with every day tasks.

 

TYPES OF STRETCHES

Ballistic Stretching
Once thought to be a superior type of stretching has lost its edge. This style of stretching requires a bouncing movement, such as touching your toes over and over while getting a nice stretch in the hamstrings. Unfortunately, this stretching style is not used as often due to an increase in injury. The muscle may not be ready to stretch as far and this stretch is not as controllable as any of the others.

 

Static Stretching
This involves reaching the furthest point possible in relation to a    joint and holding that position for a short period of time. Example: Sit in the butterfly position with the bottom of your feet together and push knees toward the floor. This will stretch your groin.

 

Active Stretching
This type of stretching involves assuming a position and holding it with only the help of your agonistic (opposite) muscle. This causes the muscle to relax. Example: stretching quad by holding foot, the hamstring is flexed and the quad is extended and relaxed.

 

Dynamic Stretching
Moving parts of your body to warm up. Such movements are increased with speed of movement. Example: prisoner squats

 

PNF or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Yes, this is a mouthful but most people just use PNF for short. This type of stretching can involve another person aiding the stretch. Lying on your back. The person helping will begin by pushing your [leg] to the furthest point possible (uncomfortable but not painful) and then having you actively push against them for 10 seconds. After pushing for 10 seconds this should allow the hamstring to relax and the person helping you with the stretch will further push your leg and decrease the hip angle, creating an increased stretch to the hamstring.

 

We are only as strong as the foundation beneath us…

 

 

Bibliography

Edwards, K. M. (n.d.). Weak Glutes: You Can Do Sidebends or Situps but Please Don't Lose That Butt!. [Kinetic Chain Image]. Retrieved from http://back2motionpt.com/atl/category/kinetic-chain

Depression Versus Dreams

Crush-Fitness-Ashley-Depression
“Often people with the strongest hearts carry the heaviest ones.” -Unknown

 

Depression can be the darkest corner of the earth. For some it can be the loneliest and most helpless place in the world. This is not a subject that I see come up in the fitness industry but it is a very real and powerful mental disease. As part of this population, I can say that it is not easy to cope with and manage life, not to mention trying to add fitness to it all.

 

How do I cope with this and manage to keep up with life? I can’t give anyone a perfect recipe and send them on their way, but I can share a few things that help me.

 

IDENTIFY WHEN DEPRESSION HITS

  • Often times we don’t realize that our activities are slowing down until they stop completely.
  • It can start with skipping the gym multiple days in a row because “you don’t feel like it”. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for taking a break! Sometimes we need that break to be fresh and come back strong! My suggestion is to fill that usual ‘gym time’ with something new, exciting, or different!

 

GET UP!

  • Sleeping has been one of my go-to vices. There were times that my dreams were so much better than my life that I wanted to live in them instead of making a change in my life. This one has and sometimes is the toughest to this day.
  • I have days when I feel like I don’t have the energy to even get dressed for the day. These are my messy bun days, the days when I don’t match because I grab whatever is in the closet. It is absolutely okay to have these days. My victory is getting up and out of bed.
  • The rest of the day is cake. I make my bed, throw pillows and all, so I am not tempted to lie back down.
  • Then I leave my house. Now, I’m sure you’re asking why I would leave my house looking like a hot mess. Getting away from my house is the best thing because it pushes me out of my comfort zone and into a new environment. I see people running errands, smiling and saying hi. It reminds me that other people are going through things too and they are out doing what needs to be done.
  • I don’t want to say fake it till you make it, but fake it till you BREAK it. You are stronger than your depression.

 

NOTHING VERSUS EVERYTHING

  • I’m not sure about you but I have gone through different kinds of ups and downs and anyone who has felt defeated by depression can tell you that if affects your appetite. It usually is the extreme of either end of the spectrum. There have been days and days that I have gone without eating. On the other hand, I have eaten myself out of house and home.
  • What do I do about this? I set alarms on my phone. I actually use an application called productivity that reminds me to do things and when I hit these slums I add eating at certain times to the list. This is a simple way to keep track of the last time you ate as well.

 

SUPPORT

  • Not only is there an entire community right here to support you and lift you up, but there is always someone in your life that would be there for you in a heartbeat.
  • No matter what you may think, ‘I don’t want to burden so-and-so’, or ‘I don’t want them to know I’m struggling’; it may be the one thing that pulls you out of that depression pit.
  • It is healthy to talk about why you feel the way you do. There are counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other resources that specialize in depression that help people just like you and me everyday.
  • Be strong enough to ask for help.

 

“The ones who are the most broken are often the only ones that can keep it together.” I said this in one of the darkest times of my life and that is when I realized that it is okay to fall apart sometimes because the greatest thing is that we don’t have to do it alone. I know what it is like to feel so broken. Make today count. Roll out of bed, eat some pancakes and go outside, because everyday you have the chance to pick up the pieces and make your life a dream.

The Eye of The Storm

 

“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.” –Robert H. Schuller

Fitness journeys can mean something different to everyone. For some it is an image and for others it may be health related. Whatever the reason, I can bet any of you have struggled with a mental block.

How do I break through that brick wall of a mental block? For me, I literally feel like I hit a brick wall. Recently, I experienced a different kind of mental block that was in no way related to fitness. At the same time it still affected my workouts. Why was this? How could something from a completely separate part of my life have this kind of impact on something I love so much?

It isn’t mental health versus fitness, it is mental health AND fitness. As much as we would like to consider them separate forces, they work together in perpetual motion. Each has to have the right amount of pull in order to create motivation.

Motivation is the eye of the storm. Getting there and staying there are not the same.

What does a mental block look like? Mental blocks can come in all forms or fashions. Work, school, and stress are the most common ones. It can be exciting things too! Extreme emotions create mental blocks because the pull is greaterin that area of your life.

How do I break through my brick wall? Here are a few steps to get you back on track!

  • Pinpoint your mental block. Being able to pinpoint your mental block isa huge first step! This allows you to back track to recognize the signs before your mind becomes blocked with nowhere to go. Sometimes mental blocks come straight out of nowhere. At least it may seem that way. Unless it is a huge event that has happened in your life and knowing where the block came from, being able to recognize red flags before getting to a point where you want to shut down and not do fitness isextremely important. I find that people pleasers have the hardest time seeing red flags because of their kind hearts.
  • Know your triggers. Knowing your triggers will allow you to prevent a mental block before it even starts! Triggers are anything that have the ability to create intense emotions, these are usually not the positive ones. Expectations, either of yourself or from someone else, are great examples of pressure that lead to mental blocks. Overloading, often a trait with those people pleasers mentioned above or a student trying to get ahead in school by taking too many hours can lead to overexertion and result in a mental block or breakdown.
  • HAVE A PLAN! This is the most important of them all. Even if you don’t know your triggers or cannot pinpoint for the life of you where this mental block is coming from, you still have the ability to control it. The way a person reacts to a situation will often determine a much sweeter outcome.
    • Divert your attention: Do something different, change your schedule, be spontaneous and it can shake your mental block.
    • Stay busy: Staying busy is incredibly important because it does not allow you to sit and dwell and possibly fall deeper into a harder place to recover from.
    • A backup for your backup: If not already part of the plan, try talking to a counselor or someone you love that understands you. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.
  • Treat yourself! Everything starts with mental health and I encourage each of you to do one nice thing for yourself every day. That is also my ‘secret’ to staying motivated. You deserve it and it reminds you of your worth.
Mental blocks are not a fun thing to deal with but they are part of life. With mental health your body will follow; that can be applied to any part of your life. Treat mental blocks as building blocks and keep climbing toward your goals!