How To Release Knots In Your Back

Over the years as a Massage Therapist, the primary complaint of most of my clients was knots in their back; those aching, aggravating, tight spots that just never seem to go away. Something many of you can relate to.

Hours of sitting and working at your desk is an invitation for those irritating spots of tension to take up residence in your neck, shoulders and back. Unfortunately, some workouts can do the same.

I encourage my Pilates clients to get massages on a regular basis to help relieve muscle tension and release tight fascia - something everyone can benefit from. In fact, since I am still a Licensed Massage Therapist, I incorporate mini-massages into my private Pilates classes, focusing on tight muscles that need to be released, then stretched.  

I'm also a big supporter of massages for the additional health benefits such as increased circulation, improved lymphatic function, stress relief, injury prevention...this list could go on but that's all for another post.

If you're stuck with an achey knot in your back and don't have time for a massage here's a trick you can try: 

Tennis Ball Massage

I use this trick throughout the week to fight off the bundles of tension that live beneath my shoulder blades (teaching is not always easy on the body).

How To:

1. Lie on the floor and place a tennis ball between your back and the floor, in the area between your spine and shoulder blade. (Be sure to place it under a muscle, not on a bone or your spine).

2. Let your body weight lean into the ball and roll it up and down (laterally) along the tight muscle/knot in your back. Also try shifting your weight from side to side, moving the tennis ball horizontally.

3. When you feel a point of pressure (a knot) hold the ball in place and relax into it until you feel the knot release. Imagine your muscles 'melting' around the tennis ball. Take long, slow breaths as you do (don't hold your breath) because it may feel quite intense!

You can increase or decrease the depth of the massage by how hard you lean into the ball.

For a less intense version, try leaning against a wall instead of lying on your back.

Travel Tip: Throw a tennis ball in the car on long road trips and use it by placing it between you back and the car seat to release knots while on the road. Or if you're traveling by plane, take a tennis ball with you in your suitcase and roll out your back once you arrive at your destination. 

I hope this trick brings you some relief. Remember, knots may not go away over night...the key is to practice releasing your muscles on a regular basis. 

If you're holding tension in your body day-after-day or sitting/standing with poor posture, the knots will keep coming back. Releasing knots is a short-term 'fix'. The key to making sure the knots don't return, is addressing poor postural patterns, and strengthening weak muscles... which is a primary focus of Pilates!

Top 3 Ways Pilates Helps With Spinning

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At first glance, Pilates and Spinning don’t appear to have much in common – doing 100’s on the Reformer is a world away from sprinting on a stationary bike. However, as a devoted Pilates student + trainer and Spin instructor, I’ve noticed how my Pilates training has improved my performance on the bike. Pilates builds a deep awareness of our muscles and breathing – it can act like a biofeedback loop that can have big results and impact.

Here are 3 ways Pilates can help you take Spinning to the next level:

1. Stability, form, and balance. Pilates builds a strong core, which improves posture and form on the bike. Strong abdominals anchor your body to the bike seat to power your legs and prevent locking out the arms. When standing on the pedals (or “out of the saddle”), the core muscles (especially the hip stabilizers) preserve good form and maximize the workout by preventing swaying from side to side and leaning too heavily on the handlebars.

2. Better breathing. When the flywheel is heavy and you’re pushed to your max, it’s really easy to let your upper body slouch and rib cage collapse.  But this inhibits breathing – obviously not good! Pilates training helps strengthen the upper back and teach back extension, enabling you to keep the chest open, shoulders back, and increases awareness of the lungs inhaling and exhaling so that enough oxygen keeps flowing to the muscles during the hardest part of the workout.

3. Stronger legs. Pilates lower body exercises – bridges, leg lifts, side kicks, and lunge series – work together to build long and lean quadriceps and hamstrings, the most used muscles in Spinning. Strong leg muscles power the sprints and climbs that are part of every Spinning class, and solid quads and hamstrings help to protect your knee joints, too.

Side Note: It's important to mix in both Cardio and Strength Training (yes, Pilates counts!) in your weekly routine to get strong and lean. 

The 6 Pilates Principles

There are 6 essential principles in Pilates that are important to keep in mind as you begin your Pilates journey or dive deeper into your practice.

These principles were not created by Joseph Pilates himself, rather they were brought about by those who studied under him in an effort to preserve and spread his unique method of exercise.

1. Centering

This addresses the key component in Pilates that everything begins and ends with the center. Some people call this the core, others call it the “powerhouse.” All Pilates exercises are energized and powered from the center (you can read more about what “the core” includes in this post).

2. Concentration

Pilates is not an exercise method where you can show up and zone out. One should bring their full attention to each exercise and what is going on in the body to work efficiently, effectively and with intention.

3. Control

Every Pilates exercise is to be performed with full body control. Using momentum or rushing through exercises at the expense of form and function is not Pilates. Pilates requires control of both mind and body.

Joseph Pilates

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Pilates Principles

4. Precision

Exercises should be performed with precision and focus. The details matter. Working with precision will affect the muscles that you work and the effectiveness with which you work them. Failing to focus on the precise details will reduce the effectiveness of the method.

This is the beauty of Pilates. This is why we only have you do 8-16 repetitions rather than 30+. When done right, more is not better. In Pilates we work smarter, not harder.

5. Breath

Joseph Pilates encouraged full, intentional breathing in life and in exercise. The breath has the power to transform the body and mind. When practicing Pilates one should exercise the lungs by breathing deeply and synchronizing the breath with the movement at hand.

6. Flow

Pilates exercises should flow with grace and ease. Flowing through each exercise, from one exercise to the next and using all part of the body in graceful unison.

15 Hydration Facts for Athletes

Water is a wonderful performance enhancer. Unfortunately, too many athletes overlook the power of this essential nutrient. Perhaps it's your turn to give water a try? This article offers droplets of information to enhance your water I.Q., optimize your water balance, and help you feel and perform better.

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1. You don't have to drink plain water to hydrate. 

All fluids count, as do foods that have high water content. For example:

  • Oatmeal is 84 percent water.
  • Low-fat milk is 90 percent water.
  • Coffee is 99.5 percent water.
  • Lettuce is 96 percent water.
  • Tomato is 95 percent water.
  • Broccoli is 89 percent water.
  • Low-fat vanilla yogurt is 79 percent water.
  • Ice cream is 60 percent water.

2. You cannot function without water.

Your body cannot survive without sufficient water, as noted by the fact that athletes die from dehydration. Water is the solvent for your biochemical reactions.

3. You need water for digestion.

Water is required to moisten food (saliva), digest food(gastric secretions), transport nutrients to and from cells (blood), discard waste (urine), and dissipate heat (sweat). Water is a major component of the muscles and organs; about 60 percent of a male's body weight and 50 percent of a woman's body weight is water.

4. Your body parts have different water contents.

Water constantly moves through your cells. About 4 percent to 10 percent of your body-water gets replaced every day with "fresh" water. For example:

  • Blood is approximately 93 percent water.
  • Muscle is about 73 percent water.
  • Body fat is about 10 percent water.

5. Bioelectrical impedance (BIA) methods of measuring body fat actually measure body water.

This formula estimates the ratio of water to muscle and fat. Hence, if you use a Tanita Scale or Omron device, be sure to maintain adequate hydration. If you are dehydrated, you'll end up with an inaccurate (higher) estimate of body fat.

6. Your body produces 8 to 16 oz. of water per day.

This occurs during normal metabolic processes. During a marathon, a runner's muscles can produce that much water over two to three hours. When muscles burn glycogen, they simultaneously release about 2.5 units water for every 1 unit of muscle glycogen; this helps protect against dehydration.

7. Your coffee is a source of water.

Although once thought to have a diuretic effect, current research indicates coffee (in amounts normally consumed) hydrates as well as water over a 24-hour period. That is, after drinking coffee, you may urinate sooner, but you will not urinate more than you consume.

Army research on caffeine and dehydration confirms coffee is an acceptable source of fluids for athletes, even during exercise in the heat. Hence, coffee and other caffeinated beverages such as tea or cola count towards your water intake.

8. An increased concentration of particles in your blood triggers the sensation of thirst. 

If you are a 150-pound athlete, you'll start to feel thirsty once you've lost about 1.5 to 3 pounds of sweat (1 percent to 2 percent of your body weight). You are seriously dehydrated when you have lost 5 percent of your body weight.

9. Body water absorbs heat from your muscles and sweat dissipates heat.

The evaporation of 1 liter (about 36 oz.) of sweat from the skin represents a loss of about 580 calories. Sweat keeps you from overheating during exercise and in hot environments.

10. You can measure your water losses after a workout.

To determine how much water you lose when you sweat, weigh yourself (with little or no clothing) before and after one hour of hard exercise with no fluid intake. The change in body weight reflects sweat loss. A one-pound drop in weight equates to loss of 16 oz. of sweat. A two-pound drop equates to 32 oz.—that's 1 quart. Drink accordingly during your workouts to prevent that loss.

11. When you sweat, you lose water from both inside and outside your cells.

The water outside the cells is rich in sodium, an electrolyte that works in balance with potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte inside the cells. Sweat contains about seven times more sodium than potassium, hence sodium is the most important electrolyte to replace during extended exercise.

12. Dehydration can hinder athletic performance.

Athletes who lose more than 2 percent of their body weight (3 pounds for a 150-pound athlete) lose both their mental edge and their ability to perform optimally in hot weather. Yet, during cold weather, you are less likely to experience reduced performance, even at 3 percent dehydration.

Three to 5 percent dehydration does not seem to affect muscle strength or performance during short intense bouts of anaerobic exercise, such as weight lifting. But distance runners slow their pace by 2 percent for each percent of body weight lost through dehydration. Sweat loss of more than 10 percent body weight is life threatening.

13. Water can reduce constipation and help with urinary tract infections.

There is also no scientific validation of theories that excessive water intake will improve weight loss, remove toxins, or improve skin tone.

14. You don't need eight glasses of water per day.

No scientific evidence supports the "eight glasses per day" rule, so you can simply drink in response to thirst. You can also monitor the volume of your urine. If your urine is scanty, dark, and smelly, you should drink more. If you have not urinated during your work or school day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.), you are severely under-hydrated.

15. Bottled water is not always better than tap water.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, nearly half of bottled waters come from municipal water supplies—not from the mountain streams pictured on the labels. This suggests standard municipal tap water is high quality.

Rather than spend money on bottled water, turn on your tap. This will help stop the flood of 95 million plastic water bottles that get discarded each day, of which only 20 percent get recycled. Drink plenty of water—but think "green."

Dehydrating Foods to Avoid

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Proper hydration is critical for performance, especially in the summer when higher temperatures and humidity causes athletes to sweat more.

When the body loses water, dehydration can set in and cause blood volume to decrease, which can cause muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness and difficulty regulating body temperature. 

Even the most conscientious athlete can hurt their efforts to stay hydrated because of the food they eat.

Here are a few dehydrating foods and beverages to avoid during the summer racing season.

Salt

Sodium is necessary for maintaining fluid balance in the body. However, large amounts of sodium ingested through cured fish, meats or deli meats, soy sauce, fried foods and snack foods like popcorn or chips can leave you feeling thirsty.

Always choose items with lower sodium when available. For instance, if you're out for sushi, try the low-sodium soy sauce. Don't forget to drink extra water when eating these foods too.

Protein

Athletes have slightly higher protein needs than the average sedentary individual. Yet, there's no good mechanism to store protein in the body if consumption surpasses need. Often people who consume large quantities of protein, while restricting carbohydrates, end up with increased ketone levels. Ketones are then excreted through your urine, and if your body is excreting more urine than usual, you need extra water to supplement all that was lost.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are high in calories (7 kcal/gram) and can cause dehydration—two bad side effects for athletes during summer racing season. A general rule is to consume one glass of water or club soda between alcoholic beverages. It may calm your buzz, but your body will thank you the next day.

Sugary Foods and Drinks

Have you ever wondered why you need a tall glass of milk to wash down a delicious brownie? Foods with high levels of sugar impact fluid balance in the body. Sweet foods and drinks drive up our thirst mechanism because many of them contain sodium. Turn to water and foods with high water concentration like celery and watermelon to quench your thirst and your hunger.

Caffeine

Caffeine is considered a diuretic. In some people, caffeine does not increase urinary excretion nor cause increased heart rate. However, for those who don't normally consume caffeine, having it during training or on race-day is a recipe for dehydration.

Top Fitness Tips

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1. CONSISTENCY is key. You have to stick with your program – anywhere, anytime, no excuses!!!! 

2. A successful workout routine needs Cardio AND Strength training. You don’t need to lift weights to work on your muscle – moves like push-ups and planks can be done at home, and engage your core and arms.

3. Record all of your food & exercise. Keeping track of activity, calories and nutrition is a great motivator to make better choices.

4. At work, make it a point to get up and move once an hour for 5 minutes. During a typical 8 hour day, you can fit in a 20 minute walk.

5. When starting a workout program with a partner, talk about what your goals are. Having a partner who’s a good influence helps keep you motivated and on track.

6. Choose moves that workout MULTIPLE muscle groups at the same time. This way you’re using your energy and time efficiently to tone several parts of the body at once. 

7. To get the toned arms you want, use your own body weight as resistance. Push-ups and pull-ups are great, even if you can only complete a few. Keep up your form and frequency; you’ll get stronger!

8. Students: For every two hours of studying, take 15 minutes to get off your butt and on your feet and climb the library stairs, walk around the dorm, clean your side of the room. 15 minutes of each of these will burn 50-100 calories, and help keep you sharp for the next round of reading.

9. A good 30 minute workout can give you more energy than an hour nap. Time saved and energy gained- what’s not to like?

10. Surround yourself with people who have similar life goals and you’ll find it easier to stick to better habits. Contact with good friends is a stress reducer as well; it’s a win-win!

13. TAKE THE STAIRS! You may not be able to do 30 floors, but even 4 flights before jumping on the elevator is beneficial.

14. What’s a great way to get moving, tone muscles and burn calories? Walking.It’s the simplest and one of the most beneficial activities you can do anywhere, anytime.

15. Never underestimate the power of music as a motivator; that pounding Gaga remix can be the difference between the usual 5 mile run and pushing it to 7 or 8. Get lost in the beats and GO!

16. Schedule working out like you’d schedule any meeting. Carve out time for it on your agenda and stick to it without compromise; this is how you get results.

17. Couples: Consider working out together as quality time. You may be surprised what you learn about each other when you start moving! Plus it's nice to get some encouragement from your significant other.

18. Wear a heart-rate monitor while you work out, it’s the only way to really know if your heart is in the right zone. Aim for 70 to 80 percent of your max target heart rate.

19. Watching TV? Every commercial break, get up from the couch and do a set of leg lifts, squats, lunges or, my favorite, hold plank.

20. Eat smaller and more often. Spreading out your food intake over the course of the day allows your body to better process what you’re eating.

21. Cut down on simple carbs (rice, pasta, bread) especially towards the end of the day.

22. STRETCH! Incorporating flexibility training twice a week Think Yoga, Pilates, or Mobility Drills at least 2 times per week to lengthen and define muscles and increase range of motion in your joints.

23. Strength exercises should be done 2-3 times a week. Having more muscle mass will help you burn more calories long after your workouts.

24. Stay hydrated; especially after cardio and other sweaty activities, drink 1-2 liters of water, more if you are in a humid climate or high elevation.

25. To find how many ounces of water per day you should be drinking, divide your weight in pounds by 2. If you weigh 150 lbs, that’s 75 oz (10 cups) of water. Reach this goal with water-based veggies (lettuce, celery, tomatoes), herbal teas, and by keeping a great refillable water bottle on you at all times.

26. Burn up to 300 extra calories a day just by taking a walk on your lunch hour.

27. Add wild Alaskan Salmon to your diet for a protein boost that helps maintain lean muscle.

28. Never finish a meal in less than 20 minutes. By slowing down you’ll eat 10% less and process more nutrients.

29. Do at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercises (power walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics classes, kickboxing, swimming, boxing etc.) at least 4 times a week. This will help you boost your metabolism and burn calories.

 

31. Circle the perimeter of the grocery store for the freshest, healthiest items – stay away from anything processed.

33. Do muscular/strength endurance exercises (body sculpting, weight training) at least 2-3 times per week to boost metabolism and define muscles.

 

Tips courtesy of fitness and health expert, Jennifer Cohen.

Heat Treatment

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Heat treatment is used as a therapy for many sports related musculoskeletal injuries. There are many forms of heat treatment, with the most effective often depending on the injury in question. Time scale is also an important factor when deciding whether to use heat therapy.

What Are The Benefits Of Heat?

Heat acts to:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce stiffness
  • Decrease muscle spasm
  • Increase blood flow to the area which promotes healing

When Should I Use Heat Treatments?

Heat therapy should be used on chronic injuries and late stage acute injuries. A chronic injury is one that has persisted for a length of time and is usually due to overuse and biomechanical issues, as opposed to a traumatic incident. Heat can be used before exercise to warm the muscles, but should be avoided after exercise.

At home the easiest way of applying heat to an injury is by using a widely available heat pack. These can be made of varying materials, often gel or wheat based which either require heating in a microwave or submerging in hot water. Wrapping such an item in a towel and applying it to the injuy is perfectly suitable. This should be applied be 15-20 minutes at a time. Warm, damp towels, warm baths and heat rubs can also be easily used at home although may not be as effective at warming deeper tissues.

What Are The Contraindications To Using Heat?

The following are contraindications (times when heat treatment is not suitable) which apply to heat therapy:

  • Sensory changes (cannot feel if it is too hot)
  • Heat injury
  • Hyper or hypo-sensitive to heat
  • Circulatory problems
  • During the acute phase of injury
  • DVT
  • Infections
  • Malignant tumours

Most of these are due to the massive increase in blood flow to the area. With conditons such as infection or malignant tumours, heat would increase the risk of spreading the infected or cancerous cells in the much increased blood flow.

Butt Seriously

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Runners and cyclists spend most of their time training and performing using their legs in a repetitive forward-line motion over and over again, without any regard for lateral (side-to-side) movement.

This can lead to weakness in the muscles responsible for those actions, which can decrease performance and cause injury. Which leads us to the butt… The muscles of the butt, specifically the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus, as well as your core (abdominal muscles and tiny mid-back muscles) aren’t used as much as your hamstrings, calves, and your large lower back and upper trapezius muscles. Any imbalance between muscle groups can lead to fatigue and even injury, so strengthening these weak muscles is a great way to prevent and correct further damage. It will also help to improve your cycling or running, not to mention the appearance of your backside.

Recent studies show that plyometric exercises – explosive movements that include leaping, bounding, jumping or skipping – can be useful for endurance runners and cyclists for building speed and endurance, as well as improving performance. And performing these exercises during base cycle of your training plan can be beneficial to taking you to the next level. Here are four exercises that will help you build a better butt and also improve your running or cycling. Add these exercises to your resistance-training program twice a week for four weeks and you’ll see your pedal power increase. Due to the vigorous nature of jump squats and jump lunges, make sure you’re sufficiently warmed up before attempting them. And be sure you can comfortably perform 15 to 20 non-jump lunges and squats before attempting the jumping variations.

1. Single Leg Squats – Great for runners, who are always on one leg at a time.

2. Jump Squats – This explosive action will train you to generate more power, as well as strengthening and toning your butt.

3. Jump Lunges – Like jump squats, this explosive action will help you build more muscle power and strength as your jump upwards. Stabilizing muscles will also get a workout by keeping you balanced when you land.

4. Hamstring Curls on Stability Ball – This exercise specifically targets your hamstrings and the all-important gluteus maximus.

5. Bridge and Single Leg Bridge - Both work your hip extensors i.e.: glutes These muscles are generally weak in today's culture which spends so much time seated at a desk or in a car.