Whether you know it or not, we demand a lot from our backside, especially the glutes and hamstrings. Hip extension, knee flexion, posture, smidge of rotation, speed, and well, power. Let’s us send a #blessup for our glutes and hamstrings for allowing us to walk, stand, and run.
Quite simply, myself included, most folks and even athletes have horrendous glute and hamstring development. This not only puts you at a MAJOR risk for INJURY in sport, but it also simply means you have a lot left in the tank you aren’t tapping into. If your glutes are weak and tight, they’ll tug on your hips tipping them forward (anterior tilt) and compromise functional movement and translating into sport. Nobody likes dysfunction (or maybe you do) and this trickles down, or up I should say, the stream leading to “swayback” posture effecting your spine, in which your lower back arches and shoulders round.
Simply put, a hot mess.
Let’s dive a little deeper into this, especially the beloved glutes. Yes they are important for all around aesthetics, no one raps about a small booty. There is actual function and purpose behind training them that goes well beyond an Instagram hashtag.
Most people think glute max when they hear “glutes”. While this is one strong dude and a powerful hip extensor, we can’t forget about your gluteus medius and minimus. These two are key in stabilization, abduction, rotation mainly. Huge movers for our bodies, so why are weak glutes so common? Well, we sit…a lot. Drive to work, then sit at work, then drive to the gym, move for a little, then drive home, then sit to eat, and then lay down in bed. Repeat. Due to our heavily sedentary lifestyles, many of us suffer from weak and under-active glutes. Unless you are a high level athlete or Olympian your standing to sitting ratio is probably heavily swayed. Because of this inability to develop our glutes effectively, they cannot properly engage and recruit during our training sessions, leading other part of our legs to compensate. This leads to growth and/or injury to other parts of our body such as low back, hamstrings, and glutes, leaving our backside falling short. I would bet that if you took 3 months to work on your backside, that low back pain would peace out.
How do I know if I have weak glutes? Most common symptoms or red flags I see are tight hip flexors, knee pain, low back pain, and weakness in ankles. Tight hip flexors are really an issue of weakness not tightness. A perfect example would be weak glutes causing hip imbalance. This may lead to aggressive rotation of femur, when in turn (see what I did there) can cause knee pain. So guys, your glutes are so important, I can’t stress this enough. You can couch stretch until the cows come home, but if you don’t get stronger butt, these issues will become chronic.
Now that we have stressed the point of a strong butt, where do you start? Whether you are a runner that wants to improve your 5k time or marathon pace, a weightlifter that wants a stronger lockout at the top of your deadlift, an Oly lifter that wants to learn how to generate more power in your clean, or just look good in your fresh in your new Lulu leggings, there is a program for you. Let me introduce you to my friend, strength coach, and glute connoisseur, Emilio Evans. He has developed a 3 month “Glute Program” that will get you to your goals, I promise. If you are interested in picking up this program FOR FREE, please connect with him via email or Instagram. His contact information is below.
If you are an athlete at any level, I am sure soreness is a part of your identity now, but do you know how to tell the difference in pain/injury and muscle soreness? Here is a simple overview of the difference of soreness and pain and when to rest and recover or take other measures to get to feeling better.
Time Matters- and not just in your workouts.
The huge thing to note when differentiating between soreness and pain is time. Natural soreness from physical activity has a much shorter duration of time- typically a few days. It will typically buff out, a lot slower if you aren’t recovering, stretching, bodywork, Epsom salt baths, etc. Soreness should last anywhere from one to three days, depending on the athlete. If you have experienced pain- you know that it can come on quickly, most of the times while engaged in exercise or shortly after. Pain will typically linger after 3-5 days and make it difficult or even impossible to partake in any exercise or daily activities.
Pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is our bodies “check engine” light and alerts us that we need to fix our shit.
After strenuous exercise, or exercise after a hiatus from physical activity, it is natural to experience muscle soreness- you may hear someone say they have caught the DOMS (we will get into what that is a little later) Usually, muscles are tender to the touch or burn slightly with movement.
Hello muscle soreness.
During workouts, our muscles are put to the test and face fatigue. This usually doesn’t hit until a day, usually two later…DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Discomfort will gradually go away but a red flag indicator of something more serious is when the pain is persistent, during rest or fitness. This is your sign, please seek help so you can start to move, live, and workout pain free.
Okay, so DOMS. No soreness, no growth?
DOMS can be a great sign of muscle damage cause by training and as we know the body “renews” the damage to our muscle cells so that we can endure more load and intensity. Aka “muscle growth” aka “gains”. So, now that we understand on the surface what DOMS is, let’s briefly go over what DOMS is NOT. It is not the buildup of lactic acid. High intensity exercise DOES lead to lactic acid, but soon after, during rest, lactic acid is excreted or burned off. DOMS is the result of the muscle damage, mentioned above, which leads to inflammation.
Even though soreness is inevitable, how can we try to stay a few steps ahead of soreness?
First, know YOUR limits. Not your friends, not an Olympian not your mom's…YOURS. Prepping your body pre-workout and recovering, stretching post workout. I will state the obvious here: REST, HYDRATION, and NUTRITION play major key roles in recovering. Switch up your activity as well. 21-15-9 and 1RM daily aren’t the best idea. Fun? Yes, but if you are in this for the long haul, be smart.
"Do your worst"
One of the biggest misconceptions about deep tissue massage that I have come across as a therapist, is that most people who walk through my door believe that if there is no pain, they have gained nothing, or when it is painful I hear "no don't back off, work it out." The term ‘deep tissue massage’ actually has nothing to do with the amount of pressure that is applied, but about working the deeper tissue layers of muscle and fascia in order to correct, and heal an area of dysfunction the client is presenting with.
As a bodywork therapist I treat a lot of athletes, and generally active people who have primed their nervous system to bare intensity. They come in with this fixed mindset of "no pain, no gain", and some even want the session to be painful because it feels like I am "being effective". Trust me, you can be effective without experiencing pain.
When someone comes to see me requesting deep tissue massage I often find myself educating them on my goals for the sessions and keeping the nervous system happy with me. Can it be uncomfortable? Sure. But, it is never my goal to make it painful just to please the person. A session with me should be slow and intentional, working through the muscle tissues layer, by layer. Giving an increased amount of attention to the dysfuntional area (typically not where you are feeling pain) and trigger points found along the way. Many therapists make the mistake of trying to ‘force the issue’. Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissue to respond on its own, and release under a slower, more focused approach as opposed to forcing it.
As with most anything, if you take the forceful approach, it is usually met with increased resistance. Muscles will have more of a tendency to ‘push back’ against a lot of pressure, and with that you aren’t really accomplishing anything with the treatment, except maybe some bruising and soreness the following day.
I am not saying that you won’t have any pain, or discomfort during a deep tissue massage. Working on the trigger points and already sore, tight areas will be somewhat painful. It is usually described more as the ‘hurt so good’ feeling though. It should never be unbearable to the point where you feel as if you can’t relax, or breathe through it. I always tell my clients that on a scale of 1-10, if the intensity of what I am doing goes over a 6 or 7, that I will need to back off. Everyone has a different tolerance level, so communication and attentiveness is key during a deep tissue massage.
And as always, remember to drink plenty of water after a deep tissue massage.
The front part of the upper arm is composed of a network of muscles, the smallest of these being coracobrachialis. Even though he is small, he can cause some pretty mighty issues.
The primary function of this muscle is to help bring the arm towards the body. A secondary duty is to help stabilize your arm when it is at your side. The coracobrachialis muscles lies midway up and on your inner part of the humerus. Along with all it's own responsibilities, it is also a synergist to the anterior deltoid and biceps in flexing the arm at the shoulder.
How do I know if I need bodywork done of this guy?
The pain will typically show up in the front part of the shoulder, and can even present itself in the back of the forearm/upper arm. Depending on how long you have been dealing with pain, you may have a shooting pain that feels more acute going down the arm. If put off for too long, you may experience loss of range of motion (raising your arm overhead/putting your hand behind your back).
Another very distinct referral is pain into your middle finger, specifically in extension.
Most cause of injuries to the coracobrachialis are physical/sports related: push-ups, climbing, throwing, or weightlifting. Most of the time, strains like these will go away on their own, with a little rest and recovery. Try this stretch out to target the coracobrachialis
Don't get punked by your body.
Seriously, your body is laughing at you when you chase pain. Just when you think you have tried everything, maybe it is time to think outside the box. There is nothing to lose except pain.
Rarely is the site of pain the cause of the pain. It may seem counter intuitive, but the part of your body that is yelling at you is not what I, or you, or any therapist should be focusing on. Pain is simply a way for your body to communicate with you. "Please change your habits" "Houston, we have a problem"
Recently, I have had a lot of new and seasoned clients approach me with knee pain so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the good ole patella.
The patella, aka knee, is embedded in the tendons of the anterior thigh muscles (quads) and forms the patellar ligament that originates on the tibia. Your patella lies over the hinge joint formed at the knee that provides flexion, extension, and very slight rotation of your lower leg. Your knee is very mobile and weight bearing for sure, but we can't give it too much credit. We must give attention and credit to what is going on above and below the knee. If the hip and ankle ain't having it, we know the knee is going to suffer.
Things to look at when experiencing knee pain:
A. Mobility and Stability in the hip: losing range of motion (ROM) in the hip can lead to the knee taking a beating. Spend time taking your hips through extension, flexion, rotation, ab/aduction.
Click here for a great dynamic hip warm up.
B. Ankle Mobility: decreased ROM, especially in the dorsiflexion plane, leads to the knee picking up a lot of slack. Dorsiflexion is crucial, because it allows your shin bone (tibia) to move forward freely and if our tibia is stuck in a vertical position, this will in turn decrease our ability to create force in the hips, and even create a "flow-on" effect up the chain to the knee, thighs, hips, and lumbar.
Everything is connected and everything matters.
Take Care. Move Better
You have all felt it: that burning, or sometimes aching pain between the spine and shoulder blade. We try to rub our traps fearlessly and dig into our rhomboids, but you might wonder why this doesn't bring lasting relief.
I introduce to you, serratus anterior.
Serratus anterior is one of many muscles that resides in the realm “sensori-motor amnesia”. It is compliant and gets the job done, but rarely begs for attention. The Serratus Anterior originates on the upper nine ribs and the fascia between the costals, then flows in front of the shoulder blade and attaches to the anterior vertebral border of the scapula. It's primary job is to help bring your shoulder blades forward aka "protraction" with assistance from pec minor and upper fibers of pec major. When this trifecta shortens, it can often result in stooped posture and rounding of the shoulders. Serratus anterior also rotates the scapula upward and also assist in breathing. Energetically it may be associated with movements such as: handstands, pushups, downward facing dog, and of course, we can't forget throwing a mean "big swing" in a boxing ring.
So what can strengthening and freeing up the serratus do for your body?
1. Solid deep breathes: who doesn't love breathing? In all seriousness, the serratus also acts as a breathing accessory muscle by helping the ribs expand back and out to the side, which means deeper breathes that makes our nervous system happy. This is especially critical during strenuous workouts. The body needs to process energy and oxygen quickly and if your serratus is glued down, those bigger muscles are going to have a hard time working.
2. Neck Relief: If the serratus muscle is struggling or slacking, guess who is picking up the work...you got it, the neck. This can lead to a number of problems, but what I see the most is forward head posture and compression of the cervical spine and all kind of headaches.
3. Range of Motion: who doesn't want better range of motion? Along with other muscles, the serratus anterior is a shoulder mobilizer. A healthy, supple serratus will provide optimal humeral and shoulder function, and this will allow the arm to articulate with much more freedom. Freedom is great
4. Better Performance: need I say more? golf swing? freestyle stroke? throwing a right hook? or do you just want to breathe better?
How do I build strength in my serratus? Great question.
there is more, but this is a great beginning start. Make sure that your shoulder blades don't wing out and don't let those shoulders round forward.
But how do I find or activate my serratus anterior? another great question.
1. Standing Wall Press: Stand facing a wall at full arm's distance, place palms shoulder height on the wall. Lean forward as if you were doing a standing wall plank. Now, without bending your arms, drop your chest toward the wall. You should feel your shoulder blades come together (retract) on your back. Now, push the wall away from you, and you should be feeling the shoulder blades go wide apart (protraction).
I truly believe in the power and change that exceptional bodywork can have. I also believe that nutrition and what you consume is not only a direct impact of your fascia and tissue quality but can extend the benefits of what we do in each session, unequivocally. Food is medicinal. I am a huge advocate for self care, but if nutrition is faulty, you are missing a big piece.
So does diet matter? Absolutely, But not nearly as much as how stressed we are about it.
Often, this stress comes from our why. Why we do what we do.
What we eat has become a source of stress for a lot of us, and we look to science and the latest studies to tell us what is best, healthiest, cancer-preventing etc. I wish we paid more attention, from a nutritional standpoint, to what gives us joy and pleasure, de-stresses our system and makes us feel good inside and out. If you eat healthy sometimes, say yes to french toast and pizza every so often, enjoy your ice cream with immeasurable joy and try not to obsess or shame yourself when you do indulge, then you probably have a relatively healthy baseline, your fascia is probably healthier than most and this is a recipe for “normal” or average amounts of pain.
Whether you’re preparing for or recovering from an injury, optimizing health, or working towards an athletic or performance objective, you already know how important nutrition is as you work toward those goals. Just orient your goals from a positive place of low-stress- your nervous system will thank you and your fascia will reflect this.
So last week, I met with a colleague who knows a thing or 1,000 about mobility. We talked a lot about adductors, and well, to be honest, he is onto something for sure. I mean, look at the picture, those are straddle goals folks.
Call it magic, call it hocus pocus, call it what ya want but I call it the body just doing its thang. The hip adductors are some outstanding muscles consisting of: Pectineus, Adductor Brevis, Adductor Longus, Adductor Magnus, and Gracilis. Always overlooked but that doesn't stop their busy job of giving you powerful movement.
So what do they actually do and why are they always a wreck? I am so glad you asked... great question! Lets get right into it! Besides the obvious adducting, they play a prominent role in flexing, internal rotation, and extension of the hip...whew, that's a lot. I would be a mess too. If you know anything about the amazing Tom Meyers and "Anatomy Trains", they are a intricate part of the Deep Core Stabilizing Line of the body, Anterior Oblique Line, and Lateral System of movement.
Now that we have clarified that "adductors lives matter", let's not forget the role they play in amplifying force and stabilizing the body, especially during task as "simple" as walking. If your trunk muscles, primarily your abdominal region, is lacking strength or poor activation the adductors will take over for stabilization. They become the prime leader of force generation...this pisses them off causing tightness and pain.
When you squat, do you knees cave inward? Yes, I know what you are thinking, "but Sara, shouldn't we look at the ankle mobility or knees?" Absolutely we should! But my first question back to you would be, "but why? why is the mobility of the ankles and knees so crappy?" Let's keep going up that chain...hint hint, the adductors.
Now, let us put this all together. Stand up real quick, put your feet together. Place your hands on your core, one on the front and the other on the side. Squeeze the knees together. Did you feel your abdominals contract? You should have, thats the connection
Come see me, lets work together to un-mess those adductors, then go see my friend Michael for some amazing adductor education, mobility bombs, and drills to make sure we are reaping all the benefit we can from those amazing muscles.
Whether you’re training for a race or use running as a part of maintaining your fitness, it can take a toll on your body. When you exercise and stress the body and don’t give yourself enough rest or recover properly you can burnout real quick. As a runner it’s not only your mileage and the intensity of your runs that you need to take into account—how’s your sleep, stress at work/home, nutrition to fuel your exercise, daily movement habits, what do your rest days look like?
Let’s dive into the importance of post-race care
There is good reason massage therapists are part of a runner's entourage- especially post-race. Science has proven that massage can’t “flush toxins or lactic acid” but what massage does do is apply moving pressure to muscles and other tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia (which sheaths muscles like casing). The energy from that work does soften the fascial structures in the body and makes those muscles relax. It also helps to mitigate adhesions and reduce the buildup of scar tissue which will ultimately allow optimal range of motion. That's especially great news for runners, who rely on limber joints and muscles for pain-free peak performance.
While there’s many things you can do for post-race recovery out there, but what’s missing are self-assessments to help you understand why you are sore or not recovering from your race or long run that you can do to keep yourself in check.
Post-Run/Race Recovery Assessments
Tightness and restrictions, especially in lower extremities, might be impacting your running performance – let’s look at two quick tests and mobility to help alleviate the restrictions
Post-Race Recovery Assessment 1: Forward Bend
Stand with your feet together right under your hips, knees straight, and try to reach down toward the floor. Keep your spine tall, some people will create a false sense of range by flexing their spine. If your fingertips don’t reach the ground, you likely have hamstring or low back tightness that can impact your posture during running, which could either lead to early fatigue and possibly injury. Alternately, if you can palm the ground you don’t have enough tension in your hamstrings and are missing strength & stability in your glutes and hips. Hamstrings are a pretty resilient group, while they should be able to achieve proper range of motion, they should not be a super flexible.
Post-Race Recovery Assessment 2: Lunge Test
Here we are checking hip flexor (quad and psoas) and ankle mobility. Tight quads can induce large anterior pelvic load. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Take a big step forward with your right leg. Make sure your front foot is in neutral (arch is not collapsing toward the floor), your left glute is squeezed tight, and your hips are squared forward. Now slowly drop your left knee straight down to the ground. You should be able to do this keeping an upright torso and tall spine, without the hips twisting and without the front knee falling in toward midline. Switch sides
Post-Race Recovery Mobility
Now that you know where you’re feeling tension, try these two techniques to address the tightness and speed up your recovery!
Your Quadratus Lumborum muscles (QL) are found on either side of the lower back and are crucial in stability of the low back, especially when seated. Connecting the lower spine to the pelvis, the QL is a busy muscle, its actions include bilateral flexion, extension of the lumbar spine, respiration (helping the diaphragm to contract), and it’s an elevator of the hip.
If we get a tight and grumpy QL, we have to look at the bigger picture. This muscle never works alone, and if he is overworked and overlooked it’s because his neighbors are not doing their job. Many of you may know about these muscles in relation to back pain, and they are often the source of great discussion when trying to identify lower back issues. However, they are sometimes unfairly blamed as the sole culprit for pain and we can easily forget that the QL is just one part of a whole system of muscles that work together to support, stabilize and mobilize the spine.
In order to look after our QL we need to understand its relationship with the muscles around it, its anatomy and what we can do to strengthen it and release it. So, let’s do a quick crash course of anatomy. The QL is found on either side of the lumbar spine. They attach to the iliac crest (top of the hip bone), the transverse processes of the L1- L4 (lumbar vertebrae) and the twelfth rib (your last rib).
What can you do to make the QL happy?
Work Your CoreThe QL is often overworked when we are sitting. So anybody out there who works in an office chair, this is especially important for you. A strong core is very important in stabilizing your lower back when sitting for long periods of time. If your core is not that strong, your QL (the marathon runner of muscles) works overtime in supporting us. This means it gets tight and tired. So work on your core to protect your QL!
Work Your Glutes
Your deeper gluteal muscles (medius and minimus), among many other things, help to stabilise your pelvis during walking. So the QL and the glutes work together to stabilize our posture when moving. If your gluteal muscles are weak, again your QL will overcompensate.
Work Your SpineThe erector spinae are a group of muscles that run along either side of your whole spine. They extend the spine and when only one side is contracting, bend your spine to the side. Immediately you’ll recognize the identical actions as our QL. They are very close co-workers. If your erector spinae are weak, again your QL has to take up the slack.