Standing Hamstring Stretch

Oh the Hamstrings!  When they get tight many things begin to happen.  Many people with low back pain will experience some relief once hamstring tightness is addressed.  As we age our stride length when walking will actually shorten if we do not maintain good hamstring length.  And then there is injury prevention.  Do not even get me started……

There are many ways to stretch your hamstrings.  Personally I opt for a standing position at the bottom of a flight of stairs.  This fits into my work out regime well.  After a long walk I can stretch my hamstrings before I enter my home.  When I have finished my spin class I can put my leg onto the bike, hold the handle bar for balance and stretch.

Here are some points to remember.  Place your foot onto the step.  Find a step height that is comfortable for your level of flexibility and your stature.  Make sure your hips are squared, meaning one hip is not forward in relation to the other.  Some persons may feel the stretch in this position.  If not bend forward from the hips until you feel a gentle stretch. Relax and deep breath.  Hold this position for 10-30sec.

Let me know what you think!


Standing Piriformis Stretch

The Piriformis muscle is a deep muscle of the hip located in the buttocks region.  The Sciatic nerve is intimately related to the Piriformis muscle.  Depending on your anatomy the Sciatic nerve passes either below or through the Piriformis.  When the Piriformis becomes tight it places pressure on the Sciatic nerve placing you at risk for sciatic pain down the back of your leg.  There are many ways to stretch the Piriformis.  Here is one of my favorites that Jan, my favorite Fitness Instructor taught me.

Stand in front of a chair where the seat is level with the groin area.  I have also done this stretch after spin class using the bike seat.   Simply adjust the seat of the bike to the correct height.  Next place your lower leg on the chair, or surface you are using with knee bent as shown.  You should feel the stretch on the outer hip, buttock region.  You can place gentle pressure to your leg to enhance the stretch.  You can also bend forward from the hips to give a deeper stretch.

Just remember all stretches should feel gentle not painful.  Deep breath and relax while stretching to get the most benefit.  Hold stretch for 10-30 sec.

Standing Piriformis Stretch

Standing Piriformis Stretch

Standing Calf Stretch

There are many ways to stretch your calf muscles but this one pictured below is my favorite.  I like this position because it allows me to relax into the stretch easily.  Stretching your calf muscles should be done after any aerobic exercise.  As we age tight calf muscles put us at risk for injury to the achilles tendon which attaches to the calf muscle.  Believe me this is definitely an injury you want to avoid.  So take 30 seconds for each leg to perform this stretch.  It is easy, here’s how:

Preferably stand at the bottom of a stairway and hold onto the banister.  Drop the heel off the step of the leg you want to stretch.  You will feel the stretch in your calf muscle.  The further you lower your heel the more intense the stretch.  That being said remember that stretching should always feel gentle, not painful.  Relax into the stretch while deep breathing.  Hold for 10-30 seconds.

Stay tuned for my next blog on Friday which will focus on an important muscle group to stretch, the Piriformis muscle.  See you then…….

standing calf stretch

Passive Standing Calf Stretch on Step

Quadricep stretch

A gentle, prolonged quadricep stretch will be needed after doing most any aerobic exercise.  So whether you are a runner, cycler, walker or enjoy a zumba class make time to stretch your quadriceps.  Here’s how:

Pictured below is a passive standing quadricep stretch.  My favorite fitness instructor, Jan reminded me recently how effective passive stretching is because passive stretching allows the person to relax into the stretch more easily.  Notice how the foot is hooked onto the chair.  This allows the leg that is being stretched to be supported making it easier to perform a prolonged stretch.  You can easily replicate this stretch in your home or gym.  Find a chair or arm of a sofa that allows you to rest your foot on it while still being able to bring your knee even with the standing knee.

You should feel the stretch along the front of the upper leg.  As you become more flexible you can contract your buttocks muscles and move your hip forward for a deeper stretch.  Remember stretching should not be painful.  Gentle and prolonged is best.  Relax and take deep breaths as you stretch.  Hold your stretch for 10-30 seconds.  And please do not turn your stretch into a balance activity.  If you try to balance when doing this stretch your muscles will not relax.

standing quad stretch

Standing Quadricep Stretch

When do I Stretch?

I get asked this question frequently from patients and clients alike.  It is easy to become confused because as with many things the recommendations for when to stretch have changed.  Stretching the major muscles groups used during exercise is best done after exercising.  Gone are the days of reaching down and touching our toes, bouncing up and down before heading off on a run.  Stretching prior to exercise will actually inhibit the activation of those muscles making them weaker.  This is thought to last for ~30mins.

Why is stretching important after exercise?

There are several reasons not to let time get in the way of stretching after exercise.  Stretching the muscles that were used during your work out will go a long way in the prevention of injury.  By increasing your flexibility you will improve your ability to move as well as the range of motion of the associated joints.  Your posture will also likely improve.

Here are some good reminders

  • Always stretch muscles that have been well warmed up.
  • Stretch slowly and gently.  Breathe into your stretch to avoid muscle tension.  Hold each stretch for 10-30 sec.
  • Never bounce when stretching.  This can cause injury.
  • Stretching should never hurt.  Pain means you are stretching too aggressively.  Stretch gently, breathe deeply and relax into it.

My next blog entry will show my favorite stretches along with the do’s and don’ts




Do I Have to Stretch?

I am always so proud of myself when I finish my work out.  As I am patting myself on the back I look at the clock and inevitability think to myself, “can I skip stretching?”  I know, I am a PT.  I should know better than to even think of such a question.  But like you I have at least 20 more things to accomplish before my day is done.  I need to beat a path out of the gym and get to it, right?  Not so fast.  Here are a few reasons to treat yourself to an extra 3-5 minutes for stretching.

  • Increasing flexibility and joint range of motion.  A flexible joint greatly decreases your risk of injury!  By stretching you decrease the resistance in the tissue structures.  You therefore are less likely to injure yourself during exercise when you are more likely to be moving through a greater range of motion.
  • Improves Posture.  Tight hip musculature and/or pectoralis muscles will contribute to poor posture.   A good reason to stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings and deep hip muscles after an aerobic work out.  A person with good posture looks younger and healthier.
  • Reduced Risk of Low Back Pain.  Flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps and other muscles attaching to the pelvis assist in maintaining the normal curve of the lumbar spine.  This helps to keep your back healthy and pain free.

So there you have it.  You can decrease your risk of injury, look younger with beautiful posture and decrease risk of back pain.  Count me in for stretching.

My next blog will focus on how to stretch your quadriceps muscles.  Stay tuned!


Warm Up & Cool Down, Are They Both Important?

Why do I want to warm up?  Do I have to spend time cooling down after exercising?  What about stretching?  Can I pick and choose which ones to do?  My next few blog topics will address these very issues.

When & Why do I warm up?

It is very beneficial to warm up for 5-10 mins prior to your work out.  You can do this with any low level aerobic movement.  If you are preparing for a run begin with a slow jog.  Any kind of strength training session should begin with gentle movements of the muscles to be worked.    These types of easy movements increase blood circulation to the working muscles, & begins to increase your heart rate to prepare for the bout of exercise.  Your joints get bathed with synovial fluid which is important for joint health.  Last but not least your warm up also assists with injury prevention.  Well worth the time spent!

Can I Warm up & not Cool Down or Vise Versa?

Find the time to do both!  We now know the importance of the warm up.  The cool down that is done for 5 mins will assist in preventing muscle strains.  The cool down will also allow the heart rate to decrease slowly and prevent blood pressure fluctuations.  This is beneficial for persons with heart disease, or hypertension.

Stay tuned for my next blog where we will discuss stretching.  I will also share with you my favorite stretches along with the proper way to perform them.



Top 5 Reasons a Person with a Complex Medical History will Benefit from a Personal Trainer who is also a Physical Therapist

I have learned so much from the clients I work with.  Here is some of what they have said.

1.  “I am 40 years old and have a significant medical history.  I wanted someone who understands disease, medicine and how to exercise with me safely.” Laura A.

This is a perfect reason why working with a personal trainer who is also a physical therapist is important.  My education as well as, experience gained when working at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehab hospital have provided me with the knowledge required to work with clients who have a medical history.  I worked in collaboration with Laura’s PCP so that we were able exercise safely and address Laura’s fitness goals.

2.  “I had a heart attack when I was 55 years old.  I have never exercised.  My surgeon has cleared me to begin an exercise program.  I did not know how to begin.  Lynn taught me how to safely exercise.”  John H.

Education is a big part of working with a client who has never exercised and who is recovering from a heart attack.  I monitored John’s heart rate and blood pressure and I taught him how take his pulse.  He also learned how to monitor his rate of perceived exertion during exercise.  We worked within the guidelines provided by his surgeon.  His cardiac fitness has improved and he has gained confidence to exercise independently.

3.  “I began working with Lynn because I wanted to stay as active as possible but I have pulmonary fibrosis, heart failure and require use of oxygen at all times.  I knew exercise would help me but I did not know what to do.”  Margie L.

Working with Margie required consistent monitoring of her heart rate and oxygen levels at rest and during exercise.  I worked closely with Margie’s doctors providing this cardiopulmonary information.  This assisted her doctors in adjusting medications when necessary.  Progressing Margie’s exercise program was very gradual due to her medical history.  As a hospital trained physical therapist I have the knowledge base to work confidently with a client who has a complex medical history and who is taking multiple medications.

4.  “I am a retired physical therapist and have secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis.  I work with Lynn to increase my overall strength and improve my flexibility.”  Debbie H.

MS is a progressive neurological disease that requires knowledge of the disease in order to keep the person safe when exercising.  Exercise may be more difficulty with multiple sclerosis but there are ways to accommodate all ability levels.   I continue to work with Debbie to exercise and perform stretches which meet her needs.  Her program varies based on her current symptoms and health status.

5.  “I had a stroke a year ago.  When I was discharged from physical therapy I was doing pretty good but then I stopped doing my exercises.  Lynn has helped me get back on track.  She keeps me motivated and doing my exercises.”  Bill H.

It is easy to lose the motivation to exercise 3-4 times a week and maintain the gains made in PT.  Bill needs a bit of incentive to stay on track.  We work together 3 times a week.  I work in concert with his Primary Care Physician as his blood pressure requires monitoring at rest and during activity


Top 5 Reasons a Healthy Person Will Benefit From a Personal Trainer Who is Also a Physical Therapist

These are some of the reasons why clients have found their way to me.

1.  “I am a healthy guy but sometimes when I work out at the gym I end up with an exacerbation of arthritis pain in my hip and both knees.  This means that I cannot work out for many days until my pain subsides.”  Joe B.

An exacerbation of arthritic pain can happen for a few of reasons.  In Joe’s case it was improper technique when he performed some of his strengthening exercises for his legs.   Another reason arthritis pain will flair is if you have progressed your endurance training too quickly.   Old or ill fitting athletic shoes will not provide adequate shock absorption for weight bearing exercise.  My knees will begin to “talk to me” when my athletic shoes have too many miles on them.

The National Institute of Health recommends range of motion exercise, strengthening exercise and aerobic or endurance exercise combined with healthy eating and weight management to minimize arthritic pain.  Working with a Personal Trainer who is also a Physical Therapist will ensure that you will train safely.  As a Physical Therapist I have a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology.  I understand the mechanics of all joints in the body and how to work the muscles that surround each joint properly.  I can also work in collaboration with your physician to manage your arthritis.

2.  “I have been a musician for many years.  I felt like some of my muscles were getting weak and that my posture was “off.”   I needed someone to address all of my issues.” Ellen B.

When I begin working with a client the first thing I do is assess your strength, range of motion and posture. In Ellen’s case I also watched her play the flute and piano.  The information we gain from this evaluation guided everything we did in our subsequent visits.

I do not want to waste your time and money.  I want my clients to benefit from each of our sessions together.

3.  “I am 29 years old and was working with a personal trainer.  He had me lifting heavy weights and hurt my back when doing one of the exercises.  Lynn taught me exercises that were appropriate for me and gave me tips on how to relieve my back pain.”  Amy M.

It is very important to perform a strength, range of motion and posture assessment prior to beginning training.  This information along with teaching proper technique is crucial for training without injury.

4.  “I had leg pain for several years.  I went to a chiropractor regularly and would feel better for a short time but then the pain would return.  My doctor told me there was nothing wrong with my leg.”  Marilyn B.

My PT assessment of Marilyn revealed Iliotibial Band Syndrome and muscle strength imbalances in her leg.  She also had impaired range of motion in her leg.  As we addressed these issues Marilyn’s pain subsided.

5.  “Six months ago I broke my leg.  My insurance benefit has run out.  I am able to walk and return to work but my strength, balance and agility is still not 100%.  I wanted to work with a trainer who understood total rehab not just lifting weights.”  Karen M

It takes more specific training to regain balance and agility.  Karen wanted to be as active as she was prior to her injury.   She required significant balance retraining and agility drills which were progressed as her strength improved.  My training as a physical therapist allowed Karen and I work in depth on these impairments and address her goals successfully.