Myofascial Release Exercises for Athletes

Athletes place an immense amount of strain on their muscles and tendons especially as they increase their training and prepare for competition. Unfortunately, a common by-product of the increased activity is overuse injuries that can quickly sideline any athlete. This can easily be prevented by incorporating a form of self-massage, known as myofascial release, into the athletes training regimen.

Myofasical release is an easy, very effective way to loosen tight muscles and increase recovery time while keeping injuries at bay. This can easily be done using tennis balls or professionally made products by companies such as Rad Roller or Yoga Tune Up. When doing myofasical, try to avoid rolling directly over bone, swollen tissue or any areas that create pain of any kind. Spend as much time as you would like in the exercises below remembering to keep your focus on a steady breath. This is key. The more you can allow yourself to relax while doing these exercises, the more efficient they will be.

Foot: This can be done standing or sitting in a chair. Place the ball directly under your foot. Apply comfortable pressure and slowly roll the ball all around the bottom of the foot. Pay particular attention to any areas that feel especially tight specifically the inner and outer arches.

Feet

Hamstrings: From seated with legs extended, place the ball underneath your thigh. Press both hands into the ground to lift your hips (use blocks if needed) so you can roll the ball up and down the length of the hamstrings. Start at the sitting bones and work your down towards the knee.

Hamstrings

Hips: Lie on your back and bend your knees placing your feet onto the ground. Slide the balls under your hips so that they are right on the meaty portion of your glutes. Pick your left foot up and cross your ankle over your right thigh (if this feels like too much, keep both feet on the ground). To intensify the stretch, take both knees over to the right a few inches.

Hips

Hips2

IT Band: Lie on your right side with the leg extended sending the left leg in front of you with the foot planted for support. Slide a ball underneath your right thigh and rest your right forearm on the ground. Take a moment allowing the body to relax over the ball as you take a few deep breaths. Slowly begin to slide the body up and down over the ball starting from the top of the pelvis working your way down to just above the knee. If there is a particular area where you would like to spend some extra time, you can lower your upper body down onto the ground.

ITBAND2

ITband

Back: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Starting at the lower back, place two balls underneath your back on either side of your spine. Stay for a minute or so and then move the balls up about two inches, staying here for another minute and then moving up another two inches. Continue this up the spine and if you would like, you can work your way back down again.

Back2

Back

After you have completed the exercises above, spend some time lying flat on your back in savasana (corpse pose). Allow the body to be completely relaxed here and spend a few moments focusing on your breath. Take about 20-30 slow, controlled breaths before slowly making your way back up.

Yin Yoga for Lower Back Pain

Savasana– Lie on your back with the arms and legs extended. Take up space with your entire body. Turn your palms to face up and let the shoulders and hips melt into the floor. Close your eyes and start to draw your awareness to the breath. Focus on extending the inhales and exhales. Notice if there are any areas in your body that are tight or tense and concentrate on sending the breath into those parts of the body. Spend as much time as you would like here.

 Reclining Twist– draw your knees up towards your chest and with the shoulders rooted down extending your arms out long. Gently let both of your knees fall over to the right. Stay here for a few minutes and when you are ready to switch sides, lift the knees and lower them to the left. After you have completed both sides, spend some time with the knees drawn up towards the chest gently rocking from side to side massaging the lower back.

Sphinx– Come onto your belly. Place the forearms onto the mat with the elbows just below the shoulders and lift the chest. If this doesn’t feel well in your lower back, walk the elbows a bit forward; which will lower the chest closer to the floor. If there are any sharp pains or aches then release the chest to the floor. Simply lying on your belly may be a good enough back bend for you. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes pressing down gently with the forearms, pelvis and toes. To release, lower the chest to the floor and rest your cheek to one side for a few moments then press up and come onto your back.

Locust- From your belly, extend arms long next to your torso. Begin to lift the head, chest, arms and feet off the ground. Extend through the arms and the legs and roll the shoulder heads back towards your hips. Press your pelvis into the ground without tensing up in the glutes. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, rest and repeat twice more. (You may want to put a blanket underneath your pelvis for extra padding)

 Butterfly– From a seated position, bring the soles of the feet together and draw them away from you creating a diamond like shape with your legs. Allowing your back to round, fold forward, resting the hands on your feet or on the ground in front of you. Let your head be heavy here and keep the sit bones pressing gently into the mat. Option to elevate the hips with a blanket or block if needed. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and slowly roll yourself back up and extend your legs.

Childs Pose-Come onto your hands and knees. Bring your big toes together and sit back onto your heels. Lower your chest to rest on your thighs. If you would like, you can separate the knees wide and rest the chest towards the floor between the thighs. Extend your arms forward. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and to release walk the hands back toward the knees as you slowly lift the torso.

Standing forward fold- Stand up and separate your feet hips width distance apart. Soften your knees as you hinge forward at the hips and fold your torso over your legs. Bring your hands to opposite elbows. Let the head be heavy and continue to keep a gentle bend in the knees. Stay here for a just a couple of minutes and to release, take the hands to the ground and bend the knees lowering into a squat. You can work back and forth between the two as many times as you would like.

Savasana-Stay here as long as you would like.

7 Yoga Poses to Build Strength

The following poses are great for runners and cyclists who are looking to build more strength in order to maximize their performance. This is an excellent way to add some cross training into your particular sport and prevent injuries. From endurance athletes to weekend warriors these will help strengthen muscles while increasing balance and flexibility. Do this sequence a couple of times a week after an easier ride or run staying in each pose for a few breaths.

Downward Facing Dog How to:  1. Start in a high push up position with the shoulders over the wrists and feet about hips width distance apart.  2. Lift the hips up and back and press the heels towards the floor to come into an inverted “V” shape. The heels should disappear behind the toes.  3. Spread your fingers and press your palms and knuckles into the mat. Pull your navel in towards your spine and gently press your chest back towards your thighs which  4. Stay here for a few breaths and to release slowly lower your knees to the floor.  Benefits:  Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands Strengthens the arms and legs Plank 1. Start on hands and knees with shoulders over the wrists. 2. Spread your fingers and press your palms and knuckles into the mat pressing the floor away from you. 3. Tuck all ten toes under and step your feet back hips width distance part so that entire body is parallel to the floor. 4. Pull your navel in towards your spine and draw the shoulders blades away from each other lengthen your tailbone towards your heels. 5. Stay anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute and gently lower your knees back to the floor to exit the pose. Benefits:  Strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine and tones the abdomen. Side plank 1. From plank start to shift your weight into the right hand as you roll to the pinky edge side of your right foot. 2. Stack the left leg on top of the right and take the left hand either to your hip or extend the arm up towards the ceiling. 3. Engage your core and lift the hips up away from the floor. 4. Press firmly into the right hand while keeping the arm extended. 5. Stay for 30 seconds to a minute and switch sides. Benefits:  Strengthens the arms, belly, legs and core muscles.Stretches and strengthens the wrists. Improves sense of balance. High Crescent lunge 1. From a standing position, step your left foot back as much as you can. 2. Bend your right knee so it’s directly above your ankle and keep your left leg strong and active with the heel lifted away from the floor. 3. Draw the arms up and overhead while you allow your shoulders to relax into the back. 4. Pull your navel in while lengthening your tailbone towards the floor. 5. Stay for a few breaths and to release bring the hands down to frame the right foot and step the left up. Repeat on the left side. Benefits:  Stretches the groins and strengthens the legs and arms. Warrior 3 1. From high crescent lunge with right leg forward, keep your navel drawn in as you start to hinge your torso forward keeping the chest lifted. 2. Press more firmly into your right foot as you shift your weight forward lifting the left foot off the ground. 3. Begin to extend your arms directly forward as your chest and left leg become parallel with the floor while you stand on the right leg. Keep a gentle bend in the right knee to prevent from locking out in the joint. 4. Keep the front of the hips pointed down towards the ground, energize through the left leg and flex your left foot so the toes are pointing down and the heel is pressing back. 5. Stay for a few breaths and to release slowly lower left foot down to meet the right and stand tall. Benefits: Strengthens the ankles, legs, shoulders and muscles of the back and tones the abdomen. Improves balance and posture. Chair  1. Stand with feet together, toes pointing forward and stretch the arms overhead allowing the shoulders to relax down the back. 2. Start to bend the knees and send the hips back (as if sitting in a chair) keeping the tailbone reaching towards the ground and navel drawn in. 3. Shift the knees back over the ankles as much as possible and hold for a few deep breaths. The weight should be more in the heels of the feet allowing the toes to be relaxed or lifted off the ground. 4. To release, extend the knees and stand tall. Benefits: Strengthens the ankles, thighs, calves, and spine. Stretches shoulders and chest. Locust 1. Lie on your belly with the legs together and arms extending back towards feet palms facing up. Let your forehead rest on the ground to start. 2. Begin by lifting the head and chest and floating the feet off the ground. Start to lift the arms and continue reaching them back towards your feet. 3. Allow your glutes to stay relaxed and reach strongly through the legs all the way out to the toes. (If it’s too much to lift the toes, keep the feet on the ground.) 4. Stay for just a couple of breaths and slowly lower back down. Benefits: Strengthens the muscles of the spine, buttocks, and backs of the arms and legs. Stretches the shoulders, chest, belly, and thighs.

Yin/Restorative Yoga for Athletes

This is a really great practice to do especially when the body is starting to feel fatigued. Yin is excellent for increasing mobility in the body, especially in the joints and hips as well as lubricating and protecting the joints in order to help prevent the body from getting injured due to repetitive motions found in your specific sport. I’ve put suggested time frames for how long you should stay in each pose, but ultimately you will need to listen to your body and only do what it allows you to. Take breaks when needed and be sure to relax and enjoy each pose.

Savasana– Lie on your back with the arms and legs extended. Take up space with your entire body. Turn your palms to face up and let the shoulders and hips melt into the floor. Close your eyes and start to draw your awareness to the breath. Focus on extending the inhales and exhales. Notice if there are any areas in your body that are tight or tense and concentrate on sending the breath into those parts of the body. Spend as much time as you would like here.

Bananasana– Reach the arms overhead and clasp the hands behind your head. Start to walk both feet over to the right edge of your mat (keeping your hips in place) and then follow by walking the shoulders to the right, creating this banana like shape with your entire body. To deepen the stretch, cross the left ankle over the right. Stay here for 2-3 breathing into the left side of the body. To release, come back to center and repeat on other side.

Supta Padangusthasana-Place a strap, belt or a towel around the ball of your right foot. Keep your left knee bent, sole of foot on the floor. Walk hands up strap and wrap it around the hands enough so you can relax with the shoulders and heavy on the floor. The weight of the arms will create enough tension to hold the foot up. If you would like to take this a step further, begin to walk the left forward, bringing the heel onto the mat. Spend 2-3 minutes here and then release and switch sides.

Butterfly– Come up to seated and place the soles of the feet together. Slide them away from you to create a diamond like shape with the legs. Allow your back to round as you fold forward and lightly rest your hands on your feet or on the ground. Let your head hang heavy toward the floor and if you have a block (and flexibility allows) you can place it on the feet and rest the forehead on the top of it. Stay here for 3-5 minutes and then press your hands into the floor and slowly roll up. Before moving, take a few deep breaths to allow the spine to neutralize.

Toe Squat- Begin by sitting back on your shins with the feet together. Tuck the toes under and spread them away from each other. Rest on the balls on the feet and let the hips sit back onto the heels. This is a very intense stretch as it gets into the fascia on the bottom of the foot. Breathe deeply into the stretch and relax as much as possible. Try to stay for 2-3 minutes. To release, come out slowly and lean forward placing the hands to the ground in front of the knees. Lift the hips and release the feet. You can even sway the feet from side to side for a few moments.

Ankle Stretch– Sit back onto the heels again but this time the tops of the feet will be on the floor. (If you have any knee or ankle pain, omit this pose). This might be enough of a stretch here or you can place your hands in front your knees and press into the hands to lift the knees a few inches of the mat. This pose is also fairly intense so only hold as long as you’re able and gently release by lowering the knees and stepping the feet back one at a time into plank pose.

Sphinx– Lower from plank onto your belly. Place the forearms onto the mat with the elbows just below the shoulders and lift the chest. If this doesn’t feel well in your lower back, walk the elbows a bit forward; which will lower the chest closer to the floor. If there are any sharp pains or aches then release the chest to the floor. Simply lying on your belly may be a good enough back bend for you. Remain in this pose for up to 5 minutes pressing down gently with the forearms, pelvis and toes. To release, lower the chest to the floor and rest your cheek to one side for a few moments then press up and come onto your back.

Reclining Pigeon-Once on your back, bend the knees and take the feet to the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh. Stay here if this stretch is enough or draw the left thigh closer to your belly and take the hands to the back of the left leg. Stay here for 3-4 minutes sending deep breaths into the stretch. Repeat on second side.

Viparita Karani– Keep the hips on the mat and begin to draw the knees toward the chest, taking the hands behind the thighs and gently start to extend the legs overhead. Keep a soft bend in the knees and if you feel supported enough here, you can lower your arms to the mat. Allow the head and shoulders to relax into the floor and breath into the backs of the legs as the hamstrings open up. This is a great pose to do at the wall where the weight of your legs can be completely supported. Stay here for 3-4 minutes and lower down by bending the knees and extending the legs long onto the mat.

Savasana-as long as you would like.

Enjoy!

Yoga for Runners Series

I am thrilled to combine my passion for yoga and running and to be able to share it with my community. I will be leading a Yoga for Runners Series at Red Coyote Running and Fitness in OKC starting Wednesday April 1. The classes will focus on stretching some of the overworked muscles including the hips and hamstrings as well as strengthening some of the under utilized muscles such as the core and upper body. For more information about why yoga is so important for athletes check out my article that was published in elephant journal. 

To sign up for any of the Yoga for Runners classes or to join the whole series click here. 



Yoga for Athletes

yogis war 2

Yoga is very advantageous to all athletes and should be incorporated into everyone’s weekly workout routine. To learn more about all of the great benefits of a consistent yoga practice, see my blog post Why Every Athlete Should do Yoga. The sequence below will help strengthen and stretch your under and over utilized muscles as well as increase your joint and muscular flexibility, mental focus and balance. Spend as much time in each posture taking as many breaks as needed. Its not about forcing your body into each pose.  Ease into the stretch and back off when you start to feel any discomfort or pain.

Cat/Cow Stretches

Stretches: lower spine, hips, back and core

Benefits: opens chest, warms up the spine, relieves lower back pain and sciatica

How to: Start by kneeling on hands and knees. Align shoulders directly over the wrists and hips over the knees. As you inhale, lift your chest and tailbone to the ceiling while lowering your belly to the floor (cow pose). On your exhale, press your palms firmly into the floor as you round your spine drawing your navel in and taking your chin to your chest (cat pose). Repeat this back and forth motion between cat and cow pose as many times you would like and then return to a neutral spine.

Cow pose Cat pose

puppy finalPuppy Stretch

Stretches: spine and shoulders

Benefits: opens chest, strengthens and stretches arms, hips and upper back, relieves symptoms of stress and insomnia

How to: From your hands and knees position, begin to walk your hands towards the front of your mat. Keep your hips stacked over your knees. Drop your forehead to the floor and place a blanket or block underneath for more support. Let your neck relax but keep the arms active by lifting elbows away from the floor. To feel a nice stretch in your spine, press your hands more firmly into the mat stretching through your arms while pulling your hips back toward your heels. Stay for about a minute or so and then walk your hands back towards your legs, lift your chest and rest sitting on your shins.

Forearm Plank

Stretches: Shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches

Benefits: strengthens arms, legs and core

How to: Start on hands and knees tucking toes and stepping feet to the back of your mat. Lower down to forearms one at a time. Press inner forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Pull shoulder blades onto the back, plug shoulders into socket, pull your frontal ribs in and keep your neck long. Press your thighs toward the ceiling but resist tailbone toward the floor and press heels towards the back of your mat. Stay as long as you can, resting when you need to. To modify this pose, lower the knees to the mat. Stay for a few breaths and then lower shins onto the mat and rest your hips on your heels.

Forearm plank Modified forearm plank

Standing Forward Fold

Stretches: hamstrings, calves, hips

Benefits: strengthens thighs and knees, calms the mind helping to relieve stress, reduces fatigue, and relieves headaches and insomnia

How to: From standing, as you exhale, bend forward from your hips keeping length in your spine and a soft bend in your knees. If possible, bring your fingertips to the ground or bend your elbows taking your hands to the opposite elbow. You can also use a water bottle, helmet or block to bring the ground a little closer to you. Stay for a minute or so and then bring your hands to your hips and lift your torso returning to a standing position.

Modified FF Standing ff

 

Low Lunge with back knee down

Stretches: Psoas (hip flexor) in back leg, hips

Benefits: Strengthens quads and glutes

How to: From a standing forward fold, step your left foot back as far as it will go and lower the knee to the ground. Keeping the right ankle and knee in line with each other, slide the left knee back enough to where you feel a comfortable stretch in your thigh and groin on that leg. Bring your hands to your right thigh and lift your torso upright. Allow your shoulders to stay relaxed and slowly start to extend your arms overhead. If this feels like too much, bring your hands back to your thigh or take your palms together in front of your heart. Stay here for a few breaths and then slowly release the hands down framing the right foot, tuck back toes under and return to your standing forward fold.

Low lunge Low lunge mod

Half Splits

Stretches: hamstrings, calves, hips, low backHalf Splits

Benefits: Strengthens hamstrings, relieves sciatica

How to: From the low lunge position, place on the ground on either side of the front foot. Begin to shift your hips towards the back heel. Flex the front foot so only the heel of the foot is on the ground. For a deeper stretch, walk hands forward and lift your chest. Modifications to this pose would be to take hands to your hips or blocks. Stay for a few breaths and then slowly switch sides.

Low lunge twist

Stretches: psoas (hip flexor) and hips

Benefits: strengthens quads and glutes, improves digestion and elimination, and relieves sciatica

How to: From the low lunge with left leg forward, place both hands on the ground between left foot. Press right hand into the ground and extend your left arm towards the ceiling opening your chest. You might stay here for a few breaths, then tuck your back toes and lift your knee taking this stretch a little deeper. Keep pressing the ground away with your right hand and draw your shoulder into socket with the right shoulder over the right wrist. Send your left hip back and lift your right thigh up. Breathe here for a few breaths and return to your standing forward fold.

Low lunge twistLow lunge twist full

Boat Pose

Stretches: spine, lower back and hamstrings

Benefits: strengthens core muscles, improves digestions, stimulates kidneys and thyroid, and strengthens lower back muscles

How to: From sitting, place feet and knees together as you bend your knees. Hold the back of your things, lengthen spine and slowly start to lean back without collapsing into your abdomen. Slowly lift your feet a few inches from the floor while engaging your core and lifting your chest. You can start to work towards lifting your shins a little higher taking them parallel to the ground and extend your arms forward. Stay as long as you like and slowly lower feet back to the ground.

Boat tabletop Mod boat

Seated Twist

Stretches: Shoulders, hamstrings, spine and hipsSeated twist

Benefits: massages abdominal organs, relieves backache and hip pain and strengthens spine

How to: From sitting, extend legs in front of you. Start to bend left knee and walk your left foot towards as close to your left sitting bone as possible. Keep right leg engaged and active and flex your right foot, pointing your toes back towards your hips. With an exhalation, rotate to the left and wrap right arm around your right thigh. Press left hand into the floor next to your left hip and lift your torso, keeping spine long. With your inhalations see if you can sit up a little taller and as you exhale, take your twist deeper. Stay for 5-10 breaths and slowly unwind returning to center extending your left leg.

After you’ve completed all of the postures, spend some time lying on your back, quieting your mind and resting your body.

savasana cropped