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Foam Rolling – Why It’s So Beneficial!

There are many different stretching exercises out there and all have similar goals: increase flexibility, improve performance and reduce muscle soreness.  One of the more recent and effective additions to the world of stretching is foam rolling.  Due to a recent injury, I have spent a lot of time rolling and learning first hand about its benefits and I have been amazed at the results.

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What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rollers are cylinders about 6 inches in diameter and usually about 36 inches long that you lie on and roll over your muscles to help to loosen tight muscles. Foam rolling actually increases circulation so the connective tissue and muscles receive more oxygen and water than stretching alone.  In addition, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that acts similarly to massage. Meaning not only do you get the benefits of working out muscle knots and tightness, but you also get the same reduction in stress releasing hormones and improved mood and relaxation that you get from a massage.  Some call it the ‘poor man’s massage’.

A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research documented the benefits of foam rolling before a workout.  The study tracked 2 groups of active people: one group used a foam roller before working out and the other group did not.  The group that used the rollers not only felt less sore after their workouts, they also felt that the workouts were not as difficult.

Foam rolling is not only beneficial for those who work out, it is also great for anyone who sits for long periods of time.  Long bouts of sitting are not good for our bodies (that is a whole other blog topic!) but for most of us, it can’t be avoided.  Foam rolling is also an excellent way to reverse the harmful effects of long-term sitting.

Tips of How and When to Roll:

  • How to roll.  Either find a trigger point (painful spot) and apply pressure, or roll along the muscle (like a massage). A combination of both usually works best.
  • Roll before and after a workout. 
  • Hydrate before you roll.  In general, hydrated tissue is resilient and more susceptible to the benefits of rolling while pliable dehydrated tissue is glued-down and sticky.
  • Do it slowly.  You want slow and purposeful movements.  When you hit a painful area, stay on it – that is where you need to focus.
  • Move in multiple directions. It’s not just up-and-down; muscles and fascia attach at different angles and even in spirals, so roll in different directions.
  • Make it a daily habit.  Even if you aren’t at the gym, make a point of rolling those muscles.  Think of it like flossing – it is daily maintenance.
  • Don’t foam roll on joints.

Personally, foam rolling is the single best thing I have done to combat my injuries.  The benefit is immediate; with each rolling session, I feel noticeable improvement.  I plan to make foam rolling a permanent part of my daily routine in hopes of not only speeding up my recovery, but reducing my chance for future injuries.

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Power From Within

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the news on the radio and it mentioned a study that confirmed something in our brains called insula can give athletes an extra physical edge to excel. I was intrigued!

We have all heard the stories of an athlete being able to perform the unexplainable. Or read accounts of individuals who pushed their body beyond what they thought sprinting-athletewas possible. There is a scientific reason why this happens. The reality is that our bodies are capable of more exertion than we think – it’s not physiological, it’s perception and anticipation.

Recent studies indicate the brain’s insular cortex can help an individual be more efficient physically and give that extra “edge”. The insula is said to anticipate future feelings.  Researchers at the OptiBrain Center and the Naval Health Research Center suggest that athletes can generate a heightened awareness that can accurately predict how the body will feel at the next moment. This allows an individual to activate their muscles to move faster and perform better than typically expected.

The OptiBrain center says this “mindfulness” is a result of the insula serving “as a critical hub that merges high-level cognition with a measure of the body’s state to insure proper functioning of the muscles and bones; those that perform more optimally are the ones who are able to use anticipatory cues to adjust themselves and return to equilibrium.”

The insula helps to calculate how much energy exercise “costs us”. The brain can respond by pushing the body when it needs to and pulling back when necessary. The insula seems to be the key to pushing yourself physically to limits you did not think you could reach.

So next time you are in a workout, try to incorporate a sense of mindfulness…anticipating when you will need to exert yourself to a higher level (for those in our Tabata Bootcamp – you know when it is coming ;-). You might be surprised how much you can push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable.

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What The ?

There are common terms used in the fitness industry all the time. It occurred to me that fitness professionals often speak their own language and that readers of these fitness concepts might not even comprehend what they are talking about…so how do you make a change if you don’t know what you’re changing?

Confused Geeky Woman

Well, let’s tackle it.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”.  During aerobic exercise, adequate fuel (glucose, fats, etc.) + oxygen allow muscles to contract repeatedly without fatigue. You could perform aerobic exercise for a very long time. Great examples are walking, jogging, swimming or biking.

Anaerobic means “requiring no oxygen”.  During anaerobic exercise muscles rely on reactions that do not involve oxygen – typically involving lactic acid (glucose in the muscle) for energy.  You can only get energy in this way for a short amount of time. It typically occurs with short-spurt, high-energy activities where you can barely catch your breath and get fatigued. A great example is running sprints.

We basically use both conditions when we exercise. The proportion between the two changes depending on exercise intensity.

VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense exercise. It is the best indicator of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.

Maximum Heart Rate is the theoretical maximum rate in which your heart can beat for your age. It is not recommended that you exercise at this rate! To calculate for a healthy individual, use the equation 220 – Your Age.

Once you have your maximum heart rate, you can calculate a target heart rate range (many gyms and trainers offer this as a reference for the level of your exertion). For example, if you are targeting to work at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate and your maximum heart rate is 180, 70% would be 126 beats per minute.

Metabolism refers to the chemical reaction of a cell or living tissue that transfers usable materials into energy (ie. fat into energy). “Raise your metabolism” refers to the rate you are able to use this energy.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of several methods to assess body composition (fat vs. muscle). It is calculated by dividing your weight by your height in inches. The controversy over using BMI as a “healthy” indicator is that muscle weighs more than fat and the ratio can fluctuate person to person. To get a true indication of your body composition, you should conduct a body fat analysis that is measured with calipers or other more sophisticated means.

Dynamic vs. Static stretching

Dynamic stretching is the recommended form of warming up your body before exercising. It includes slow, constant movement that mimics the workout you are about to do – not held stretches!

Static stretching is highly recommended at the completion of exercise. It is a method of stretching large muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, back) by holding each stretch for at least 6 seconds. This helps to relax and elongate your muscles.

Interval Training is a type of exercise program that combines high-intensity and low-intensity timed intervals in a single workout to maximize burning fat.

Plyometrics is a form of training that uses quick movements to increase muscular power (jumping up onto a box or high bench) and usually involves an explosive movement.

Soluble Fiber vs. Insoluble Fiber

Dietary fiber is found naturally in the plant foods that we eat. It’s a carbohydrate the body cannot digest so it passes directly through the digestive tract.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel to help slow down digestion. It delays the emptying of your stomach and makes you feel fuller, longer. It also slows down the absorption of fats and sugars. Some examples of soluble fiber include oatmeal, lentils, flaxseed, beans, etc.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but rather absorbs water. It has a laxative effect and adds bulk to your diet, helping prevent constipation. Since insoluble fiber does not dissolve, it passes through your body in-tact. Sources include grains and vegetables such as whole wheat, bran, seeds, nuts, brown rice, cabbage, etc.

Type I Diabetes vs. Type II Diabetes

There is a lot of discussion in the fitness industry about how eating a healthy diet can prevent diseases such as diabetes. There are two types of diabetes, and only one can typically be improved by diet and fitness.

Type I diabetes is when you have a total lack of insulin to help process glucose (energy) in your body. In this case, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating insulin production from the body. It is typically genetic, cannot be prevented and requires insulin injections.

Type II diabetes is when you have too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively. It can develop at any age and is often a result of an unhealthy lifestyle or diet. In many cases, it can be prevented and cured by maintaining a healthy weight, eating sensibly and exercising regularly.

If there are other fitness terms you would like us to cover, please email us at info@heelstolaces.com.

To leave a comment on this article or any other blog entry, please fill in the “Leave a Comment” box under each blog entry on our site: Heels to Laces

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