The top 5 Least Flexible Muscles and how to change them.

Can you touch your toes with straight legs?

Can you zip your dress to the top from behind?

When you sit for a long time, does one hip get numb?

Have you ever felt an electric shot go down your leg?

Do you get "Charlie Horses" in the middle of the night?

Each of these problems can be treated by simple stretches, strengthening exercises and gentle self massage.  These are the most common areas of the body that limit flexibility and ease of movement.  Foam rolling or "myofascial release" is a great way to improve these conditions.

Certainly pain that lasts for more than a few days should be treated by a doctor including joint inflammation or severe pain, but try these simple techniques for mild discomfort in the interim.

The Hamstring and IT Band
If you can't touch your toes, you probably have "tight" hamstrings. This common issue can be improved by using the foam roller on the "IT" ( illiotibial band) of connective tissue.

  • Start on your side with a foam roller under your hip.  
  • Your hips should be stacked and top leg's foot on the floor for balance and control.  
  • Apply pressure to the roller by increasing the amount of your own body weight into the roller.  
  • Slowly roll down the side of the thigh moving 1-2 inches every 5-10 seconds.
  • Apply pressure the feel the tightness release but not so much that the pain makes you clench your teeth.  
  • Perform this on both side of the body 2-3 times.  
  • Then stand up with legs straight and try to touch your toes.  Did you see improvement?

The Chest and Shoulder Muscles
If you can't reach behind to zip up your dress, you probably have "tight" shoulder and chest muscles.
This common muscle tightness can be alleviated with foam rolling the back of the spine as follows.

  • Start with the foam roller parallel to your spine lying face up.
  • Reach your arms out to a "T" position.
  • Slowly roll the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade out to armpit feeling the roller on the muscles up to the neck
  • Feel the chest muscles release
  • Roll to the other side and repeat 2-3 times

The Piriformis Syndrome
Many people with tight IT
bands and strong hip flexors suffer from a numbing or dull ache after
many hours of sitting.  To alleviate the tension in the hip joint, try
this foam rolling technique and the IT band rolling for hamstrings
above.  Coupled together these two self massage regimens could help
reduce your symptoms.

  • Start in a seated position with foam roller under your hips like sitting on a bench
  • Bend one knee and lean into the opening of the hip ( between the hip bone and the pelvis)
  • Slowly roll the back of the thigh to the knee and then back up the hip
  • Move slowly with the roller 1-2 inches every 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 2-3 times on both sides

The Hip Flexors
If
you sit many hours, have a weak core, or are a consistent runner, you
may suffer from some sciatic pain or tingling. This self diagnosed
"sciatica" may result from pressure on the lumbar spine due to tight
hip flexors. 
Because many muscles support the lower back it is
important to incorporate the three major contributors in your foam
rolling plan.   Try a combination of the hamstring, piriformis and this
quad release foam rolling technique to increase lower back
flexibility.   

  • Start face down with the foam roller perpendicular to your hips just below your hip bones
  • Put weight into your elbows and contract the abdominals to support the spine avoiding an arched low back or dropped pelvis.
  • Slowly roll the front of the thighs to the top of the knees
  • Slightly turn the feet inward on the first roll down and up then outward on the next series
  • Perform 2-3 sets of up and down the thighs with foot positions

The Calves
If
you experience a "Charlie Horse" in the middle of the night, you
probably have tight calf muscles.  Women who wear heels, runners, and
even walkers tend to have this happen.  Foam rolling the calf muscles
of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and peronials may help reduce the
occurrence of this awakening experience.  

  • Start seated with hips on the floor and foam roller under the ankles.
  • Lift the body to add weight into the roller on the back of the calves
  • Slowly roll upward to just below the knee moving 1-2 inches every 5 seconds
  • Repeat the roll with toes pointed upward, inward and outward on each roll up and down the back of the calves.

Foam
rolling alone is not enough but coupled with a program that focuses on 
strengthening weak muscles and stretching will result in a great range
of motion and less pain. See your physical therapist, personal trainer
or doctor if pain increase with these movements.  
Special note:
Foam
Rollers are perfect for developing core stabilization, lower body
balance and stamina. They may also be used for gentle stretching and
self-mobilization of joints and spine.  
Types of foam rollers -
SPRI White Foam Rollers:
Advantages:  Lower price point, softer feel, form to body
SPRI
EVA Foam Rollers: (marble blue rollers constructed of heat sealed EVA
foam) Advantages: built to withstand body weight, non-porous rollers
return to original shape, prevent moisture and bacteria from
penetrating the surface.
Sold on line at Sears.com

Andrea Metcalf is a healthy lifestyle spokesperson, author of Naked Fitness, a 28 Day Proven Weight Loss Program for a Slimmer, Fitter, Pain-Free Body, (Vanguard Press) and a regular contributor to Better TV, WomensForum.com and NBC Chicago.  Receive daily tweets on health and fitness tips by following andrea on twitter @andreametcalf or www.FITStudio.com

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