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Unravel Those Hip Flexors

Hip Flexor Tightness

What are the Hip Flexors?

As the summer starts to close many people will be noticing the after effects of increased running mileage. I hear a lot of people mention tight, aching, or painful sensations over the front of the hips which may also be accompanied by a painful lower back. This is partially down to a tightness of the hip flexors which is a collective name for a group of muscles known as the rectus femoris, psoas, and illiacus.

The hip flexors primary function is to flex the hip, this basically means that they lift the thigh forwards and up towards the torso. If you think about the cyclic pattern of running we are repeatedly lifting the thigh in our swing phase. Not only this but the majority of jobs and lifestyles nowadays involve a lot of sitting; at a desk, in the car, or in meetings. The seated position puts the hip flexors in a shortened state. If we hold this position for prolonged periods these muscles will become very tight.

Psoas Muscle

Psoas Muscle

Rectus Femoris Muscle

Rectus Femoris Muscle

Iliacus Muscle

Iliacus Muscle

What does this mean for my body?

If the hip flexors are tight when the thigh is pulled backwards during walking, running, or standing it will stretch these tight muscles and cause some discomfort. The other issue is that the prolonged sitting position and the tightening of the hip flexors causes their counterparts (the gluteals or buttocks) to become lengthened and weaker. This results in a stronger pull on the pelvis in the forward or anterior direction which causes our pelvis to tilt forwards. This has a knock on effect on the lower back causing it to arch inwards hence the common lower back aches and pains.

What can I do?

The fix seems very straight forward, if the hip flexors are tight and short we need to lengthen and loosen them. As well as this to create muscular balance we need to retrain and strengthen the gluteals. By restoring balance in these muscles the postural imbalances will be rectified and hopefully relieve any aches and pains as well as regain a normal range of movement.

Exercise Ideas:

Perform the following 1-2 times per day (or every other day depending on time) or it can be added to your warm ups for any activity you currently do.

1. Hip Flexor Kneeling Stretch

Kneel on one knee, so your leg trails behind you, lunge the other foot out in front of you. keep your torso upright and thrust the pelvis forwards until you feel a stretch up your thigh and over the hip. Hold this position for 30secs and repeat 2 times on each leg. Once you can balance effectively introduce raising the arms straight up over the head, remaining upright through the torso. (See Image 1)

Image 1. Hip Flexor Stretch

Image 1. Hip Flexor Stretch

2. Pigeon Pose

Place one leg and knee flat on the floor in front of you, then trail the other leg flat behind you. Use your arms to control your weight and lower your weight down so your hips drop towards the floor. you will feel this stretch around the buttock and hip area. Hold this for 30 secs and do 2 sets each side. (See Image 2)

Image 2. Pigeon Pose

Image 2. Pigeon Pose

3. Fire Hydrants

This gets its name from the pattern of movement mimicking that of a dog and fire hydrant. Kneel on all fours so your hands are under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Then keeping your back flat and straight raise one knee off the floor and take the leg out to the side, as though cocking the leg (hence the name). return the leg back in and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15 each leg. (See Image 3)

Image 2. Fire Hydrants

Image 3. Fire Hydrants

4. Gluteal Bridges

Lie on your back and bend your knees so you feet become flat on the floor. Then, keeping your shoulders and upper back flat on the floor, raise your hips up off the ground as high as you can, squeezing the buttocks. Once at the top hold it for 1-2 seconds then slowly return to the floor and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15. Once you can do this with great control you can try the same movement but using one leg only (make sure you work both legs thought). See Images 4 & 5.

Image 3. Double Glute Bridge

Image 4. Double Glute Bridge

 

Image 4. Single Leg Glute Bridge

Image 5. Single Leg Glute Bridge

 

Fix Your Weakest Links!

Working As A Unit – The Body’s Subsystems

When we experience pain, injury or stiffness we instinctively focus on that particular area or body part. The way we treat ourselves or manage this complaint then takes the same specific focus, targeting the painful or restricted area. This may help reduce any of the local trauma and be temporarily relieving. However, in order to fix any underlying dysfunctions that may be contributing to any pain, or stiffness we sometimes need to approach the body a series of “chains” or systems. These systems work together to allow efficient movement, and aren’t just independent muscles.

The Body’s Subsystems…

Five of the main subsystem identified in the health and fitness world are the Anterior Oblique Subsystem (AOS), Posterior Oblique Subsystem (POS), Lateral Subsystem (LS), Deep Longitudinal Subsystem (DLS), and the Intrinsic Stabilisation Subsystem (ISS). Each system offers a different function but they all need to be working effectively together to ensure the body is stable and moving properly. This then helps prevent injury or dysfunction.

Should any of the subsystems be not be functioning optimally it will have a debilitating effect on movement efficiency, joint function, and cause potential alterations in posture. If we can understand the function of these subsystems, and how they can affect our posture and movements then we may be able to rectify any dysfunctions, improve our posture, and maintain pain free function. This blog post will therefore discuss each of the five subsystems and provide an overview to help recognise common dysfunctions so we can address these systems in our daily training.

Anterior Oblique Subsystem…

The AOS consists of the External Obliques, Abdominal Fascia, and opposite side Adductors (National Association of Sports Medicine). Additional muscles have been considered part of this subsystem such as the Internal Obliques, and Rectus Abdominis (Brookbush Institute).

This subsystem stabilises the anterior or front chain and trunk during functional movements such as walking. It also helps transfer force between the lower and body, specifically integrating pushing and twisting movements. This system helps reduce any excessive or forceful rotation or extension through the trunk, anterior pelvic tilt or sacroiliac joint (SIJ) motion within the Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex (LPHC). The muscles of this subsystem achieve its function by actively lengthening or eccentrically contracting.

Common Dysfunctions…

This system can commonly be either overactive or underactive, which can contribute and present as a dysfunction in certain areas of the body.

…Overactivity of AOS…

The AOS can be overactive and can cause a dysfunction in the upper body. This may present as certain adaptations during an overhead squat assessment. Specific things to look for are and excessive forward lean of the torso, scapula winging, excessive internal rotation of the shoulder, increased curve of the upper back (thoracic kyphosis). It is common for an over-active AOS to be paired with and underactive POS which will be discussed later.

If these adaptations arise and you think your obliques, and adductors being overworked then you can approach this by reducing any core flexion exercises in your program i.e. crunches, and release shortened, tight structures associated with the dysfunction such as the pecs, and obviously adductors and obliques. You will also want to increase the activity of the POS which will be discussed later.

…Underactivity of AOS…

An underactive AOS can contribute to a dysfunction in the LPHC. This dysfunction will display an anterior pelvic tilt, and an excessive curve in the lumbar spine (lumbar lordosis) as a result of excessive extension coupled with no resistance or stabilisation from the AOS. This again is often paired with an underactive POS.
You can approach this underactivity of the AOS and pelvic tilt etc. by loosening the tight structures, usually the hip flexors and the erector spinae muscles in the lower back. You should also then activate the AOS by including the following into your program.

1. Cable Chop Patterns – to activate the AOS, squeeze glutes, legs stabilise and AOS resists the extension and rotation of the cables as you chop from high to low.

2. Ball Catch-Twist-Throw – sit on a yoga ball, have a partner throw you a medicine ball, catch the ball whilst maintaining stable, twist to one side then twist back throwing the ball back. Repeat on the other side.

3. Standing Cable Chest Press – this increases the workload for the anterior trunk and legs. Stand with cables behind so you have to resist their pull. Then perform your chest press keeping the trunk stable.

4. Step Up to Press – Step up, raise trailing leg knee to 90° (forcing single leg balance and stability), then press the arms without the trunk folding and becoming unstable.
• Progression 1: drop to one band resisting the rotation pull of the band. Hold band in opposite hand to lead step up leg. Look for a good reach and avoid leaning back and turning out with the band.
• Progression 2: start side on, lead leg nearest step. This starts you in a turned out position forcing AOS to activate to turn the body into the step up, press and stabilise.

Posterior Oblique Subsystem…

The POS consists of the Gluteus Maximus, the opposite Latissimus Dorsi, and the Thoraco-Lumbar Fascia. The Gluteus Medius has also been considered as part of the POS by Brookbush Institutes.

The role of the POS is to stabilise the posterior “chain” (Lumbar Spine and SIJ). It transfers forces between the lower and upper body, and in particular combines pulling and turning out movements as well as decelerating whole body turning in or face down (pronation). It also helps control spine flexion and rotation, and hip flexion, adduction and internal rotation.

This subsystem runs from the Glute Max diagonally across the SIJ into lumbar fascia and into the opposite Latissimus Dorsi. The POS plays a big part in asymmetric movements such as walking with one side decelerating and one side accelerating thus requiring high levels of stabilisation.

Common Dysfunctions…

…Underactivity of POS…

The POS is almost always underactive and often in combination with either an overactive or underactive AOS. This can then contribute to dysfunctions in the upper body or the LPHC as mentioned.
To approach an underactive POS we obviously need to activate the muscles of this subsystem (Glutes and Lat Dorsi). This can be done using the following examples.

1. Glute Bridge Progressions – focusing on a good squeeze of the glutes.

2. Cable Squat to Row – squat holding cable out in front, under tension, as you stand tall, stabilise the trunk and row the bands in. Resist the pull of the band and avoid forward lean or sway.
• Progression 1: progress to single arm row, maintaining stable trunk position minimalizing twist of the trunk.

3. Step Up to Row – This is similar to the AOS step up to press, but the press is substituted with a cable row. But again focus on keeping trunk stable.
• Progression 1: progress to single arm row, maintaining stable trunk position minimalizing twist of the trunk.

Deep Longitudinal Subsystem…

The structures of the DLS are the Sacrotuberous Ligament in the hip, the Biceps Femoris (one of the hamstrings), Tibialis Anterior, and Peroneals. Other muscles have been suggested as part of this subsystem such as the Erector Spinae, and Piriformis (Brookbush Institute).

The job of this subsystem is to stabilise the Lumbosacral Joint Complex as well as the Medial Arch of the foot. It also controls the lower leg and foot during walking. It helps decelerate the lower leg during the swing phase of walking. It also controls foot position when striking the floor during walking by controlling lifting of the toes (dorsiflexion) and controlling the tilt of the ankle (inversion-eversion).

It also helps with proprioceptive communication (sensory feedback) of forces between the foot, knee and hip complex during high intensity activities. Therefore it helps ensure good positioning, balance and alignment of the lower body joints thus preventing injury. However, if this system isn’t functioning optimally this may not be the case.

Common Dysfunction…

This system is almost always overactive meaning Biceps Femoris and Erector Spinae to become dominant. Individuals may then present with low back pain, hip pain and an alteration in functional movements such as squatting, running or jumping etc. This alteration is linked to an excessive pronation (rolling flat) of the foot during activities. The ability to dorsiflex (raise the foot) is also inefficient and places excessive force on the structures of the foot. You may also notice an inward buckling of the knees, thus putting the ankle, knee and hip out of alignment during movement.

As with all the other subsystem we approach this by releasing the tight structures of the overactive DLS such as the biceps femoris, erectors spinae, peroneals, and often the piriformis. This can be done by seeking manual therapy, foam rolling techniques or active stretching work. Isolated hamstring exercises should be avoided as this will further activate the already overactive structures.

POS activation exercises as described above should be added to help support this subsystem and reduce the responsibility place on the DLS. To activate the POS you should basically include any leg work (squats, step ups, lunges) with pulling movements (row).

Lateral Subsystem…

This LS consists of the Gluteus Medius, Adductors, and opposite Quadratus Lumborum. Other muscles are considered to be involved such as the Gluteus Minimus, and Tensor Fascia Latae (Brookbush Institue).

The role of the LS is to stabilise the LPHC in side to side movements, it also transferring forces between the lower and upper body. It plays a significant part in single-leg movements, ensuring optimal alignment of the hip, pelvis, SIJ, and lumbar spine during both double and single leg stance.

Common Dysfunctions…

This can be underactive on one side but the opposite side will compensate and become overactive. This can cause dysfunction in the SIJ, and lower leg function. You will notice a drop of the pelvis to the side of under-activity when standing on one leg. The standing thigh will also adduct, as well as some side flexion of the trunk. This will affect the alignment of the leg during single stance exercises and cause unnecessary forces will be placed on the structures of these joints.

Like the majority of dysfunctions in the other subsystems an underactivity of this system often pairs with an underactive POS and overactive DLS.

As discussed before tightness of the overactive muscles should be released. The common shortened muscles are the quadratus lumborum, and adductors. However muscles such as the gluteus medius can be underactive, and therefore the approach should be release the QL and adductors but activate the gluteus medius.

You can then include POS exercise as described earlier as well as single leg exercises with shoulder exercises such as:

1. Step up to single leg stabilisation then curl and press (keeping hips level and core engaged, avoiding side bend).

Also include glute medius activation:
2. Clams

3. Side Plank – but avoid dynamic side bending exercises.

Intrinsic Stabilisation Subsystem…

The ISS consists of the Tranversus Abdominis, Multifidus, Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm, and the Thoracolumbar Fascia. The Brookbush Institute considers the Internal Obliques as part of this system too.

Its role is to increase abdominal pressure, increase the stiffness of the spinal segments and SIJ, and stabilise the LPHC. The pressure created by pushes back on the vertebrae reducing any forward moevement that may be caused by excessive spine extension or over-activity of the QL, Latissimus Dorsi or Erector Spinae.

The Multifidi provide feedback to the central nervous system allowing continuous alteration of movement and postural, this helps with spinal alignment and stability during activity.

Common Dysfunctions…

Like the POS this subsystem is almost always underactive which leaves us prone to disc herniation (slipped disc), sprains and strains of the spine, as well as LPHC and SIJ dysfunction. It will also affect posture, and stability of the trunk, spine and core during activity. Its ability to withstand sudden position or postural changes, or impacts to the body, this leaves us at risk of injury.

To approach this system the muscles need activating. They are only small muscle groups so there isn’t a huge amount of movement but the following exercises can be introduced to any warm up before training.

1. Draw belly button to the floor in lying position, this can be done by “squeezing the anus” (transversus abdominis activation)

2. Kneeling “superman” exercises – ensure the transversus abdominis is activated throughout.

3. Explosive Moutain Climbers – do these explosively keeping trunk straight and stiff.

Overview of Subsystems and Dysfunctions…

Below is a table of which systems are usually underactive or overactive in certain dysfunctions. Along with the discussion above this may help you approach how to deal with any issues you have and what to include and take out of your training.

SubsytemISSPOSLSAOSDLS
Upper Body DysfunctionUnderactiveUnderactiveOveractiveOveractive
LPHC DysfunctionUnderactiveUnderactiveUnderactiveOveractive
SIJ DysfunctionUnderactiveUnderactiveUnderactive on affected side
Overactive on opposite side
Underactive on affected side
Overactive on opposite side
Overactive
Lower Leg DysfunctionUnderactiveUnderactiveOveractive

Reading Suggestion…
http://brentbrookbush.com/category/core-subsystems/

It’s All Rock and Roll!!

Foam Rolling and Self-Soft Tissue Release: The What, the Why, and the How

In the height of a boom in the fitness industry I am seeing more and more people picking up a foam roller and putting themselves through some pain. I often wonder if these individuals would see better results if they knew exactly what it is they were actually doing, why it may work, and how it works.

So What Does It Actually Do?

The use of foam rollers or other soft tissue release techniques are methods to help provide relief of tight, sore, and stiff tissues. They break down restrictions and barriers in the soft tissues with the aim to achieve this relief (Barnes, 1991).

The way we can apply these methods varies, we can be creative with what tools we use but as long as you understand the principles of how it may work and what you are trying to do there are a whole range of tools you can use.

Own Hands – you can use your own hands to rub, push, and pull yourself around much like a therapist would use their hands when treating you.

Foam Roller – you can utilise the very popular foam roller to lie on, roll on, sit on etc.

Cricket/Hockey/Lacrosse Ball – a simple hard ball can be used for a more direct pressure to roll on and press yourself on.

Barbell – a gym barbell can be used as an “extreme” foam roller for added pressure.

As we become more active, experience injury, and adopt bad posture our tissues start to form bonds and adhesions between each other. This then stops the tissues gliding freely past each other allowing normal function. Tissues can also become dehydrated, and lose its elasticity which causes them to stick to any injured or damaged part of the tissues. As these adhesions are the reason we feel stiff, sore, and our movement is restricted. Other symptoms are an altered alignment of our joints and bones, which then alters the angle and function of our muscles and joints (Boehme, & Boehme, 1991; Barnes, 1997; Curran et al., 2008; Swann & Graner, 2002).

No matter what tool you use the principle is the same for trying to breakdown the above bonds and restrictions. By applying both static pressure and a rolling, sweeping pressure friction is created between the soft tissues and your roller etc. which may aid the stretching and loosening of the soft tissues such as muscle, tendon, and fascia. This helps in the breaking down of the bonds formed between tissues. Any sustained or sweeping pressure can also increase blood flow through the expansion of the blood vessels to the restricted site which may aid healing and also help flush the restricted area. The physical stretching of the tissues helps with the restoration of soft tissue back to its normal state (Okamoto et al., 2013).

Some of the reasons self-soft tissue release benefits us, other than it feels good, are as follows…

(Shah & Bhalara, 2012)
1. It can aid correction of muscle imbalances
2. Increase our range of movement
3. Decrease the soreness in our muscles
4. Decrease increased muscle tone/spasm
5. Increase flexibility of bodily tissues
6. Maintain normal muscle length

So Why Do We Do It…

…To Warm Up…

We are always told to warm up before activity, and of late I have seen many people rolling around before they start their big weights session. The aim of this is to enhance their performance, if their muscles are “rolled” and released ready to work then their performance will be optimised. It may be something as simple as being less sore, having more range of movement, or because of changes in muscular function. Researchers have found some evidence that foam rolling may improve the body’s ability to recruit muscle fibres, and voluntarily activate muscles via improved communication between the central nervous system and the muscular system (MacDonald et al., 2013; Peacock et al., 2014). This communication appears to be improved by stimulating the connective tissue using our rollers or other tools which increases the feedback to the CNS and thus improving muscle function (MacDonald et al., 2013).

Foam rolling has also shown to improve the range of motion (ROM) without affecting the reducing force out or performance (MacDonald et al., 2013; Sullivan et al., 2013). As a result of the improvements in muscle activation, recruitment and range of motion the research has shown that foam rolling can actually help improve performance. Recent studies have shown foam rolling improves strength, power, speed, agility, and low-level exercise (Peacock et al., 2014). So if we can spend a few minutes rolling before working out or performing we may be less sore, have more movement, and our muscle may be able to function more effectively.

…Recovery…

Once we have exercised it often causes us to feel sore, and stiff the next day or two. This is known as delayed-onset of muscle soreness or DOMS. This phenomenon involves muscle soreness, swelling, temporary muscle damage, decrease in muscular strength and range of motion (Cheung, et al., 2003; Torres, et al., 2012). There can also be some effect on neuromuscular performance, which alters muscle firing and recruitment patterns (Cheung et. al, 2003). This would have obviously negative effects on any subsequent exercise bouts. So the people I see after exercise, like myself, who foam roll and stretch after exercise are doing so with the aim of reducing this DOMS and any negative consequences so they can train again in the following days.

Much like the studies mentioned before regarding performance, foam rolling has been shown to help recover performance after intense bouts of exercise. Recovery of sprint times, power, agility, and strength-endurance appears to be increased with foam rolling (Pearcey et al., 2015). Voluntary muscle activation, and range of motion seems to be also be improved, as in pre-performance studies, after intense bout of exercise with foam rolling (MacDonald et al., 2014). This is all great news for us as trainers if we can restore our performance, muscle function, and range of motion so we can train again the next day with just a few minutes of rolling. However, the major restriction is often the soreness of the muscles. Luckily, Pearcey et al. (2015) also found that foam rolling after intense exercise increased the pressure-pain threshold, which basically means that the soreness felt when the muscles are touched was significantly improved when foam rolling was done after intense exercise.

All of the above evidence highlights the potential effectiveness of foam rolling on recovering from heavy exercise. It clearly has some potential to restore performance, muscle function, range of motion, and importantly reduce muscle soreness.

…General Maintenance…

The evidence for all the factors, such as increases in ROM and decreased soreness, discussed above would suggest that foam rolling and soft-tissue release would be very beneficial for those just looking to maintain a mobile and pain free life.

So How Do We Do It?

You have probably seen or tried yourself the standard rolling back and forth on the roller aimlessly. This is all well and good you may get some results from this, but you could gain so much more by understanding what you are doing.

When you are rolling I would use this to find the painful areas, almost like you are scanning the area for sore spots. Once you find a sore spot you can use some of the following techniques to help relieve it.

• Ironing – this is simply isolated deep rolling. So find your sore spot then take a deep breath in and on your out breath let as much weight sink onto the roller as possible. Then roll slowly, and controlled into this sore area. Rolling direction can be varied, so you can roll your body up and down, side to side, rotate your body as you roll. This is much like ironing the area out. I would keep the area very specific keeping your rolls small and deep, and simply just move around the area of the body once you notice improvement.

• Contract-relax – Again find your sore spot and place as much weight on it as you can, again taking your deep breath in and out as you do this. Then contract the muscle, in a static contraction and hold it for 5-10 secs, when you relax try to let more weight sink onto the area via the roller. Do this until you notice an improvement.

• “Lock and Load” – As well as sore sports you may find this area feels restricted during movement. SO with this short or tight tissue you can place a “lock” on the muscle near the tight area. This can be done by placing the roller, barbell, hard ball etc. across the muscle belly near this tight spot. Once “locked” you can then “load” and move the muscle into stretch through full range as far as you can. Keep the pressure on the muscle locking it in as you stretch, then you can release the lock once you get to the end of your range and return to start. You can then repeat on same area until improvement occurs or find another tight area.

Chest Release…

I use two tools when targeting my chest. Firstly I will “iron out” the chest using the cuff of a barbell much like a foam roller. This use of a barbell places more focused and direct compression and pressure.
To do this lie on the floor with the barbell at your side, take your arm to be released out to the side and place the cuff of the barbell diagonally across the fibres of the pectoral muscle. Wrap your leg over the barbell to apply pressure and use your other hand to roll gently over the muscle creating a wave of pressure. When you find a particularly tender or sore spot stick with this area until you feel improvement using small but deep waves of pressure.

I will move on to using a kettlebell once I feel an improvement from the rolling. This applies a more specific and direct pressure to the area I sense as being most restricted. This exercise involves more active movement and stretching of the pectoral. You can do this by lying on a bench raising your target arm straight up in front of you. Place the kettlebell on the area of the pectoral that is most restricted. Then apply as much pressure down as you can stand, then slowly take your arm down and diagonally out to the side. Once the end of range is reached release the pressure and bring your arm back up and replace the kettlebell and repeat. The placement of the kettlebell depends where you feel tightness or restriction. You can apply this to you recovery or warm up after/before your chest or upper body training days.

Thoracic Spine Release…

The foam roller can be used for this or you can make shift what’s called a “peanut”. This method is good for use before and after any overhead training days.

Lie horizontally on the foam roller placing it roughly near the rib level of the spine. With your legs straight and flat on the floor arch over the roller taking your arms straight above the head. Aim to get your hands to the floor, but don’t allow your hips to lift off the floor or allow your arms to bend. Some cracking or popping may be felt with this movement, but as long as it is not painful this is normal and may feel relieving. This can be done several times or until you feel an improvement in range of movement or feel looser through your spine.
Your peanut can then be used, which is basically two tennis balls taped together so it looks peanut shaped. Place this in a similar spot to where the foam roller was. The balls of the peanut should be placed either side of the spine and then work your way up toward the neck by slowly rolling over the peanut until you feel the muscle soften and soreness diminishes.

You can then lock into the muscle by lying on the peanut as above, then slowly performing a crunch movement to stretch these muscles for 10 reps, then reposition the peanut and go again. If you feel a particularly tight stretch when crunching hold the end position (top part of the crunch) for 5-10 secs then lower back down and repeat.

Quad Release…

Start lying face down on a foam roller so your target quad is on it. Then place as much pressure on it as you can stand. You can then slowly roll up and down the quad creating a wave of pressure, your leg can then also rotate in and out to create a pressure wave across the quad.

Once improvement is noticed in soreness of tightness, stay in the same position, and lock the tissue in by finding a tight spot and put as much weight as you can onto this spot with the roller. Once locked in slowly bend your knee, bringing your heel towards your buttocks. This should be done slowly so your quad stretches from the “locked” point. You can do 2-3 at this point and then reposition the roller to a different spot and repeat. The roller can be substituted for a barbell, or even a cricket/hockey ball for a more direct pressure, if you can’t achieve enough pressure with the roller.

Hamstring Release…

As with most of the above you can start with rolling down and up the hamstring using my foam roller by sitting with the roller under your thigh on the hamstring. Focus on one leg at a time rather than both so you can get more pressure on it.

A barbell can then be used to “lock and load”. This is done by placing a barbell in a rack, and then lift the target leg over it, resting the hamstring on the bar. Stand on the other leg for stability. Then drop your weight down pushing the hamstring into the barbell at a restricted point in the muscle. Once locked in slowly straighten the leg stretching the hamstring from the locked point, do 2-3 then reposition the leg.
Hip Flexor Release…

A kettlebell and a cricket ball can be used for this exercise. Lie on a bench, and bend your hip and knee so your foot is flat on the bench. Here you are targeting the high hip flexor (Psoas). Finding the hip flexor is often hard for some as they assume it stops at the hip. However, this area it is generally approx. an inch up from your “hip bone” and an inch or so in just off the side of your “abs”. Check you are in the right spot by pressing your fingers into the area and straightening and bending your leg and you will feel the muscle working. Once you have found it, bend your hip and knee again to bring your foot flat, and then place the ball in the area. Pressure is applied onto the ball and muscle by using a kettlebell pressing down on top of the ball. Once pressure is placed on the ball and locked in, straighten your leg slowly, and try lower it down off the bench to get a further stretch, release the pressure return and repeat. Do this several times or until you feel looser and improvement in hip flexor movement.

Take home message…

Many tools, and exercises are available to achieve the results of self-tissue release, and the internet is full of people demonstrating them. However, as long as you have a brief understanding of what it is, how it works, and how it may benefit us you can use it to your advantage without having to fork out for a therapist to apply it for you and you can find your own effective way of achieving results.

Be creative with exercises as long as you know where the tissues are that you are targeting, and how they work you will achieve success. The above are only a few examples that I use and work for me, there is no guarantee that they will work for you. The evidence for foam rolling and self-tissue release is in its infancy and is very limited at present so it is not a 100% guaranteed method, but the evidence does look promising.
Should anyone want a personal and specific stretching and mobility program please do not hesitate to contact me. This is something I can offer online with support throughout.

References…
Barnes, J. (1991). Pediatric Myofascial Release. Physical Therapy Forum – MFR Techniques.

Barnes, M. (1997). The basic science of myofascial release: morphological change in connective tissue. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 1(4), 231–238.

Boehme, R. and Boehme, J. (1991) Myofascial release and its application to neuro-developmental treatment, pg. 5-8, 11-16, 80. Boehme Workshops, Milwaukee.

Cheung, K., Hume, P. and Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine, 33(2),145–164.

Curran, P., Fiore, R., and Crisco J. A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 17(4), 432–442.

MacDonald, G., Penney, M., Mullaley, M. Cuconato, A., Drake, C., Behm, D. Button, D. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27 (3), 812-821.

MacDonald, G., Button, D., Drinkwater, E. and Behm, D. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 46 (1), 131-142.
Okamoto, T., Masuhara, M. and Ikuta, K. (2013) Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (1), 69-73.

Peacock, C., Krein, D., Silver, T., Sanders, G. and Von Carlowitz, K. (2014). An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. International Journal of Exercise Science, 7 (3), 202-211.

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