Self-myofascial release (SMR) sounds complex, but it is actually just a fancy term for a self-massage that helps release muscle tightness by using a tool such as a foam roller, lacrosse ball or your hands. SMR has grown from a technique only used by elite athletes and physical therapists, to something widely used among all individuals.
How does SMR work?
SMR works by rolling a foam roller, lacrosse ball or other tools to apply pressure to a trigger point. A trigger point or “knot” is a group of tight shortened bands of muscle tissue which often cause pain in various parts of the body. These trigger points can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as bad posture, repetitive stress and injury. When deactivating a trigger point or releasing the tension of a shortened muscle by applying deep compression, it helps restore the muscle to normal function. SMR allows for healthy blood flow, restores healthy tissue, increases mobility and improves muscle imbalances.
Should it hurt?
It is uncomfortable, yes. If you have ever had a deep tissue massage it is easier to understand the pain associated with it. The muscles are tight and knotted up so some pain is inevitable when trying to break up the tension. If it becomes too painful, try applying pressure to the surrounding areas.
When should SMR be done, before or after a workout?
Ideally SMR should be done before and after a workout. Using SMR in a dynamic-warmup is a great way to get the muscles ready for a workout by increasing blood flow and reducing muscle tightness. Using SMR in a cool down helps begin the healing process and reduce soreness.
How to SMR using a foam roller.
It is important to roll slowly. Find those trigger points and slowly roll back and forth for 30 to 60 seconds on the trigger point. You will slowly begin to feel the muscles release some of the tension.
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Professional athletes and Olympians are so focused on their nutritional needs and macronutrient balances that many believe they can't slip up and take a "cheat day" of eating whatever they like. But some health and fitness experts think that relaxing the rules temporarily can yield more benefits than sticking to a rigid plan. So, who's right?
Most likely, both groups are correct. That's because cheat days can be as personal as meal choices. One person might see tremendous sports improvements from the practice, while another feels only setbacks. Here's a quick guide to the pros and cons:
In Defense of Cheat Day
You're eating healthy, getting plenty of physical activity, and yet your performance isn't improving the way you want, or you just feel stalled. This is the dreaded plateau.
Being completely restrictive in your diet, can lead to deficits in certain nutrients and calories. Though binging on pizza and cake is not the answer, allowing yourself some freedom in your diet can help physically and mentally.
For some people, a cheat day is seen more as a goal than a reset. You might look forward to it in the same way that you do a holiday or a vacation—as a reward that lets you step away from the drudgery of work. With this perspective, however, cheat days can turn into a binge.
Convinced that you have to eat everything you want in one day, you might rack up thousands of empty calories, and that can take days to balance out. In fact, you might not be back on track before your next cheat day, which means you'll constantly be pushing yourself backward.
In general, what makes a cheat day successful or defeating is how you approach it. If you see it as a way to reset your metabolism, it may be helpful (and tasty). But if you view a cheat day as a reward for your hard work, then it's more likely to turn into a cheat week, cheat month, or cheat year.
Overall, it is important to think about food as a fuel. We need all food groups and a team of nutrients to help us feel well.
In some sports, like wrestling and boxing, fasting is used as a way to drop weight quickly in order to make a certain weight class or to provide an advantage during a match.
Intermittent fasting has become a hot topic in the sports and fitness world, since some athletes have reported stronger results by skipping meals in a strategic way. Some plans call for a 24 hour fast and others just skip a single meal.
Elite athletes are highly in tune with their bodies, and understand the effects of every tweak and change, from drinking an extra glass of water per day to fasting for 18 hours instead of 12.
Those who believe in intermittent fasting claim it helps burn fat while preserving lean muscle and helps flush the body of toxins. One of the major reasons some athletes use intermittent fasting is it teaches the mind about hunger. There is internal and external hunger. Internal hunger are real symptoms your body uses to show you need food, such as light headedness. External hunger is what causes us to eat based on our emotions, like sadness and boredom. Intermittent fasting makes athletes take a deeper look to find out if they are truly hungry or if there are just external hunger cues.
It is important to know almost all of intermittent fasting results are based solely on testimonials and not research. Though athletes will lose fat, some research shows the loss of lean muscle while fasting as well. The argument for fasting to flush toxins also has flaws. The liver and intestines responsible for detoxification need calories to do their job. Therefore fasting could slow down this process or even bring it to a halt. In response to internal and external hunger, although it is important to not eat based on your emotions, fasting and ignoring hunger can lead to binge eating.
Working with a nutritional counselor is the best way to be sure you are eating correctly for your activity level. Though there are many new and trendy diets out there, not all of them are right for everyone.
As many runners know running downhill can take a toll on your knees because of the immense amount of stress it puts on them. To better understand why they hurt, it is important to know the difference in body position when running downhill versus running uphill or on flat terrain. When running uphill or on flat terrain you land with a flexed knee and on the middle of your foot, which takes some of the pressure off the knee. However, when running downhill your knee is fairly straight and most of your weight lands on your heel, putting tremendous strain on your knees (fig. 1).
So how do you reduce knee pain running downhill? Your instinct is to lean backward, which is ok in cases of steep hills because it is necessary to slow you down. However, when running on a hilly course the lean backward body position puts more strain on your knees (fig. 1). Next time you are running downhill try leaning forward slightly, using your hips not your shoulders, this will help distribute the weight of your body more equally and put less stress on your knee (fig. 2). It is also important to continually engage your core to keep your body in control when running downhill and ensure proper body alignment.
Athletes often concentrate on eating to fuel their performance in specific ways. For example, Olympians are extremely strict about the quantity and timing of their meals. But it's just as important to consider how food can help anyone—even weekend athletes—prevent injury and recover faster from strenuous exercise.
The key is incorporating more antioxidants into the mix. These help protect the body from problem-causing molecules called free radicals. You're exposed to these through everyday pollutants, and the breakdown of certain medications, but they're also produced as part of the body's normal process. When your body is acting efficiently, these free radicals get flushed away, but sometimes they linger and end up causing cell damage. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals, and render them harmless.
When doing your grocery shopping and meal prep for the week, consider these antioxidant-rich choices:
Fruits and Vegetable:
Berries: If you're going to go with one fruit, make it a dark berry like blueberries or blackberries. The key phytochemicals they contain can not only prevent cell damage, but studies have shown that they lower inflammation, which is crucial for injury prevention and recovery.
Prunes: Although they have a reputation more as a digestive aid (which is also a big benefit), prunes are very high in antioxidants. In fact, they have twice the amount as black plums, from which they're derived.
Oranges: Dark-skinned fruits get the most attention for their antioxidants, but oranges also pack an impressive amount as well. Along with peaches, mangoes, and watermelon, they also boast beta-crytoxanthin, which has been shown in some studies to lower the risk of arthritis.
Dark greens: All hail the kale. Leafy greens are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, so load up on options like spinach, kale, collards, and Swiss chard. All of these are also great for lowering inflammation, and putting more dietary fiber into your meals.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are the go to fat for reducing inflammation. Reducing the inflammation around an injured area will help reduce pain and promote healing. Some studies have even shown that with the correct amount of omega-3s pain killers and drugs a like may not be necessary. Examples: salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts.
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that reside in your stomach. They help with digestion and extremely important to athletes. Probiotics increase antioxidant absorption which helps speed up recovery. Not only that, probiotics also boost the immune system. Examples: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh.
In general, eating more vegetables and fruits, along with healthy fats and lean protein,can keep your immune system stronger, minimize muscle aches, and get you bouncing back faster from even a boot camp workout.
How to Acclimatize to the Heat
Getting used to the heat is a process and should be gradual. Every athlete is different, but it usually takes about two weeks of consistent training in hot conditions in order to acclimatize fully. Start with lower intensity and shorter duration workouts, as you become more adjusted to the heat, begin to increase the intensity and length. The first benefit you will notice will be a decreased heart rate, which typically happens in the first week while more regulated sweating can take several weeks. Remember, heat acclimatization does not last forever. Without consistent training in the heat, acclimatization is usually lost in about 2 weeks.
What Happens to Your Body When Acclimated
Your Heart Will Thank You
With acclimatization, your heart rate will decrease and blood flow will improve. You will also produce more plasma, which means there is more blood to help your hard working muscles and help cool down the skin’s surface. These adaptations put less stress on your heart, allowing you to more easily pump blood through the body.
You Will Become a Sweating Champion
As you get used to hot conditions, your body will be able to regulate heat better. This means you will be sweating sooner in your workout as well as sweating more and at a quicker rate. Your sweat will also be less salty. Less sodium in your sweat allows you to stay more hydrated while training. Because sweating helps keep your internal temperature cool, you are able to train longer without fatiguing. It is essential to keep your body hydrated while training in the heat to keep these functions working properly.
Pre-season practices equal hot long days. Hydration is one of the main priorities for athletes during summer practices. With the heat comes increased sweating rate and dehydration. 1 to 2 percent of body weight lost in sweat causes mild dehydration and more than 2 percent body weight lost can be life threatening. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are serious issues that affect high school and collegiate athletes every year. The Institute of Medicine says athletes should drink a minimum of 3.7 liters of fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Being well educated on hydration is essential to perform at an optimal level during two-day practices through the hot summer heat.
Before a long practice athletes should drink about 16-24 ounces of water, 2-3 hours prior.
During practice athletes should be drinking at least 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes. Athletes that sweat heavily should drink 10 or more ounces to ensure proper electrolyte replacement.
After, athletes should drink at minimum 64 ounces of fluids. It is recommended athletes drink closer to 96 ounces to ensure complete rehydration. A great way determine the correct amount of fluids to refuel is weighing in before and after practices. Athletes should drink in-between16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound they lost.
It is important to understand that when you feel thirsty you are already mildly dehydrated. Stick to a hydration plan and do not decide how much you should drink based on thirst level. Monitoring urine color is also important in ensuring you are fully hydrated and ready for a strenuous training session.
Check out these 3 surprising facts about how top athletes fuel performance—and why you may want to think twice about copying their strategies.
Ideally, meals will be a balance of the macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates, and fats—but what the ratios will be can differ significantly, given a wide variety of factors like activity level, age, and weight loss or gain goals.
Athletes, in particular, can find performance gains by focusing on ratios for certain types of sports, which usually fall into the categories of strength and endurance. Let's break down the differences.
Eating for Endurance
When embarking on sports or activities that rely on endurance—which can be anything from running to basketball to swimming—you'll likely be burning calories at a nice pace, which means it's important to refuel with more carbohydrates than protein.
Many studies have found that carbs can improve endurance capacity and help speed up recovery. But that doesn't mean you should load up on refined carbs like white bread and other processed foods. It's much better to get carbs from healthier sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.
Eating for Strength
If you have a sport that's more about strength—such as weightlifting, wrestling, and power yoga—then you'll likely get better performance by focusing on protein instead of carbs. While you'll need both to some degree, protein has been proven to build and maintain muscle. Much like carbs, you'll want to focus on high-quality sources such as lean meats, fish, eggs and low fat dairy.
For both strength and endurance, incorporating healthy fats is essential—consider options like nuts, avocados, and olive oil. These not only help you feel full for longer, but they also stabilize blood sugar levels, and can "unlock" some types of vitamins from your food.
When creating meal plans based on these factors, it can be especially helpful to bring in some expert insight. Consider tapping into a sports performance nutrition program that's designed to give you individualized nutrition plans to meet your goals.
Why do my knees always hurt when I run downhill, shouldn’t it be easier on my body than running on flat ground?
- Trevor from Hastings
While much easier on the cardiovascular system, running downhill can cause a lot of wear and tear on the muscles and tissues surrounding your knees due to eccentric loading. Eccentric loading is just a complex word for when an outside force tries to lengthen and stretch the muscle and to control that stretch the muscle contracts. Every time your foot strikes the ground while running, especially downhill, your quadriceps and gluteal muscles have to work extra hard to contract and stabilize your knees. If your quads and glutes are not strong enough, most of the strain will be placed on the knees, which is why knee pain, such as ITB syndrome and runners knee, is very common in runners who do not run downhill often.
You can help prevent or minimize knee pain by:
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