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The thing is, I don’t stretch.

I know. I know. I, of all people, should stretch. I know all about the benefits of stretching. Trust me, I work with fascia all day. I see the evidence of stretching, or not, every day I go to work. And it’s not just anecdotal evidence that stretching is really, really good for you. There have been approximately 1,453,622* studies done on the benefits of stretching and they all prove, without a doubt, that stretching is good for you.

But truth be told, the only time I’ve done yoga in the last five years was at a bachelorette party last month. And the only reason I did yoga then was because everyone else was doing yoga and playing another round of Truth or Dare by myself while everyone else did yoga would have been super weird. It’s not that I don’t like yoga. I really enjoy yoga every time I do it. I just enjoy lots of other things more. Like eating cheese. And hiking. And telling my dog, Bumblebee, how cute he is. And there are only so many hours in the day, you know?

So, when it comes to stretching, I only do it when something hurts. Which means, no, I don’t stretch before or after I run, even if it’s a 30-mile run. No, I don’t stretch before or after playing volleyball. No, I didn’t stretch even once during the five weeks I was backpacking the Colorado Trail. And no, I don’t stretch before or after my completely awesome solo (unless Bumblebee joins me) dance parties in my living room.

However. I am getting older and maybe, (hopefully?) wiser. And now, I’m trying to change that. See, the problem with only stretching when things hurt, is that things are more likely to hurt. Like, every time I decide, This Is It! I am going to finally (finally!) do one pull-up, ever! So, I spend lots of time hanging from and jumping up to my pull-up bar for a few days or maybe even a couple weeks. But inevitably, I pull a rib out of place. Because I, like almost all of us, work with my arms out in front of me. And I, like almost all of us, spend more time than I should on my computer and my phone. And I, like almost all of us, don’t spend enough time climbing trees or swinging from the monkey bars (though I’m getting better!). And I, like almost all of us, have shoulders that round forward as a result, with shortened pec muscles (minor and major) as well as a whole host of other shortened muscles, like the coracobrachaialis, and the subclavius, and the platysma, and the sternocleidomastoid, if you really want to sound like a nerd. And as those muscles are already shorter than they would be ideally, and putting strain on those first few ribs as a result, when I go and give them a heavier load than they’re used to carrying, they can only take so much. Or, more accurately, the muscles in the back, trying to counteract all this new strain can only take so much. And eventually, just like an incredibly painful teeter-totter, the rib caught in the middle of this mess tilts down in the front and up in the back, aggravating the corresponding nerve ganglia, and then I can’t turn my head to check my blind spot for the next week. It is at this point of agony, and only at this point of agony, will I stretch (but only the side that hurts and only the muscles that might help my rib get back in place) in an effort towards being able to sleep at night. And my pull-up training stops for the next three months. I’m not saying I’m proud of this. I’m saying it’s the truth.

As you can imagine, I’m not getting great results with this system of training. I’ve still never done a pull-up. Hence, my new attempt at stretching before things get painful. My theory is that if I can stretch my way to a more balanced body prior to increasing the load, I will get better a better outcome. Kinda like getting an alignment before taking your car on a 3,000-mile road trip. Can’t hurt, right?

All this is just one, very long lead-in to why I’m writing you today. So many people ask me so many times a week about stretching. Which stretches they can do to help their particular issues. How to stretch this or that muscle. And while I am more than happy to give specific stretch recommendations (I do know a fair amount about stretching even if I don’t practice what I preach very often), it seems like there are three big things I want to tell everyone, regardless of their particular issue, or which stretch they’re attempting. They’re the three things that I always try to keep in mind when I’m stretching. And since I stretch so rarely (until now!) I’ve had to make sure it really counted. So. No matter if you’re stretching your hip flexors or your quads or the bottoms of your feet, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Hold each stretch longer than you think you need to. If you’re trying to change the structure of your body (and not just get a muscle to relax temporarily), you need a Rolfer. Or, aim to hold each stretch for at least 45 seconds. Or both. But we’re talking about stretching here. If you want to change your fascia, hold your stretches for a long time. Remember, you’re trying to counteract years of sitting at a computer or driving or looking at your phone. 10-20 seconds isn’t going to cut it. Yin yoga, where poses are held for several minutes, is excellent for this reason.

2. ‘Rainbow’ your stretches. We tend to think of our muscles as individuals. The Deltoid. The Psoas. The Trapezius. The Gastrocnemius for the aforementioned nerds. But the thing is, each of those muscles is made up of so many muscle fibers. And they don’t all act as one. The anterior (front) fibers of the deltoid help lift your arm out in front of you, but the posterior (back) fibers have to relax in order to allow that motion to happen. Which means, if you’re trying to stretch your deltoid, you need to stretch it in more than one direction to stretch all the fibers in that muscle. Anytime you’re stretching, try to stretch all the fibers of that muscle, little by little. For instance, take your basic calf stretch. Your toes are elevated on something like a curb or a bolster or a folded blanket, while your heel is on the ground. Then you lean your body forward to get that nice calf stretch you know and love so well. To rainbow this stretch, turn your toes in towards your midline, as if you were pigeon-toed, and do the stretch again. By degrees, bring your toes up to neutral, stretching as you go, then turn your toes out to the side as far as you can, still stretching as you go. In this particular example, you’re conveniently drawing a rainbow with your toes while you stretch. You’ll be getting a much more complete calf stretch this way, addressing so many more of the issues that come from having tight/short calf muscles.

3. Don’t just stretch what hurts. It’s the victim who complains, not the perpetrator. If your IT (iliotibial) bands, running down the outsides of your thighs, are chronically aching, I understand the urge to stretch them. Just don’t forget to also stretch your adductors, on the insides of your thighs, too. When the back of your neck is throbbing, it’s usually a result of shortened muscles in the front of the neck. Wherever you feel pain or discomfort, try to think about what’s on the other side of that; what’s the counter-muscle? Try stretching that as well as what’s ailing you. You’ll probably be surprised at how tight something that wasn’t hurting can be.

That’s it. Three things I’m keeping in mind as I work towards that first pull-up. It’s gonna happen. I can feel it.

Happy stretching!

*I made that number up. I have no idea how many studies have been done on the benefits of stretching, but it’s a lot.

We all know we ‘should’ be doing more, right? Should be moving more, should be doing yoga more, should be eating more greens, etcetera, etcetera.  We all know we ‘should’ be doing less, as well, right?  Less screen time, less blueberry muffins, less sitting, and so on.  But we’re here, now, and we’re all doing the best we can, given what we’ve got to work with.  In light of this, I wanted to share my three favorite upper-body stretches I do to combat all the time I sit hunched over my computer, sitting in my car, staring at my phone, and all that jazz.  I try to do these whenever I think of them, whether that’s for a few seconds in between sessions, or for 10 minutes at the end of the day.  Anything is better than nothing.  (Although, if you want to get technical, you need to hold a stretch for a minimum of 45 seconds if you want lasting change in the fascia.) And there’s very little needed by way of equipment, so you can get started right now, if you want.

Doorway hanging

All you need for this is a doorway and your body.  The idea is to open up your arms, shoulders, and rib cage as much as you can comfortably.  No need to push yourself into an injury.  Just grab the frame of the doorway (wherever you want), and walk through until you start to feel a stretch.  Try to keep the bottom of your rib cage in line with your pelvis instead of jutting your ribs out in front of you.  You can get a million different stretches with this just by adjusting your hands through the whole rainbow of possible positions.

Supported Snow Angels

For this one, I like to use a rolled up towel or small blanket, but you can use a pillow, a yoga block, a foam half-dome, or a rolled up sweatshirt in a pinch.  You’re going put your towel or whatever on the floor, then lie down on your back, with your spine running the length of your prop.  Then, pretend you’re making a snow angel with your arms, at a ridiculously slow speed.  Spend longer in the places where the stretch is more challenging. Also, if you can get Miss Marley to supervise, she’ll make sure you’re doing it right.

Platysma Pull

Your platysma is a muscle that extends from your collar bone to your jaw, or your lower lip, depending on who you ask. This is my favorite “I’ve been looking at my phone way too much” stretch, because the platysma gets short when we look down all day.  Start by looking down, and using both hands, press your fingertips just under your collar bones, with a downward motion.  Hold that pressure and look up as high as you comfortably can without compressing your neck.  This in itself should give you a pretty good stretch.  But when you’re ready for a bigger challenge, slowly jut your chin up towards the ceiling.  Hold that for a minute and you’re well on your way to justifying all that time you spent on SnapChat.

Happy Stretching!

Once upon a time I wrote an article about plantar fasciitisWhile I found it absolutely brilliant at the time, I have since realized it’s lacking in the practical application department.  Sure, you can get a great basic understanding of what plantar fasciitis is and why you might suffer from it.   And those things are very helpful and all well and good and a wonderful place to start.  In fact, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go here and read the article now, before you continue on with this little ditty.  But then what?  Yeah, it hurts.  No, I can’t run anymore.  Theresa, are you ever going to tell me what to do about it?

The thing is, since any number of things can cause plantar fasciitis, it’s awfully difficult to give generic advice about.  But I’m going to try.  ‘Cause I’m an overachiever.  So, first things first, we need to figure out where the root or roots of your particular plantar fasciitis may be hiding out.  Let’s start with the most obvious.  Have you injured your foot lately?  Stepped on a big pokey rock while barefoot?  Gone a bit overboard with the salsa dancing?  If so, it’s probably best to use the RICE method for a while.  Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation; just like you would for a sprained ankle.  And we all know that with ice we’re doing 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off, right?  After 20 minutes of icing something, you start to increase the inflammation, so don’t go pushing this, trying to be an overachiever, too.  After a week or so of the chowing down on your RICE, you can start pushing around in there to see if you’re ready for some soft tissue work.  If it’s still super sore to the touch, keep RICEing ’til it doesn’t.  If you can get a moderately deep foot massage without pain, you’re ready for deep work, if you need it.  If your pain’s gone completely, congrats! you just healed your own plantar fasciitis!  Otherwise, use a tennis ball, standing on it and rolling slowly, slowly over the owie spots to get them to loosen up.  You don’t want to bring back that inflammation, so be careful.

Now, let’s say you have not injured your foot, but you still have plantar fasciits.  This is where it gets tricky.  Naturally, we’re going to be looking along your back line for a super tight spot that could be causing your foot pain.  Starting with your heel and using your fingers (or someone else’s) or a tennis ball dig into your soft tissue (not the bones) slowly working your way up your calf.  Be careful as you get to the knee ’cause there’s a whole bunch of juicy, yet delicate stuff right there in the open at the back of the knee.  In fact, just don’t press into the back of the knee.  It’s not worth the risks.  Then head up your hamstrings, which could take a while as those are some meaty suckers.  Speaking of juicy meat, head north through your glutes, going slow and savory-like.  Next up, low back, heading up to mid, then upper back.  Again, you should be able to manage all this while lying on a tennis ball on the floor, but having a friend do the work for you is extra nice.  If you still haven’t found your “ouchy!” spot, head up (gently!) to the neck, then over the head, all the way to your eyebrows.  If you haven’t found any especially tight spots, you’ve got a catch-22 to deal with.  On the one hand, you’re the only person in the whole country who doesn’t have a single tight spot along their back line.  You should get a prize!  On the other, you still have no idea where your plantar fasciitis is coming from and you’re probably going to require some help from a professional.  Can’t win ‘em all, I suppose.

If, instead, you have found a tight spot, or six, you now know where to focus your efforts.   Loosen up that fascia, nice and slow and easy-like, using that same tennis ball if your hands get tired or you can’t quite reach.  Little bits at a time; like 5 or 10 minutes a day.  Max.  Again, I’m the only overachiever allowed here.  I don’t want you doing more damage than good.  Don’t go pretending you’re a Rolfer.  Besides, when Rolfers work on themselves they tend to get all messed up ’cause they don’t respect their own boundaries and stop when they should.  Better not to go there.  Trust me.

After a week or so working on your trouble areas, you should start to notice a shift in your plantar fasciitis pain.  If not, reevaluate.  Retest your back line and see if maybe your tight spots have moved.  If you feel like you need the help of a professional, give me a call.  You may also have some energetic blockages that need to be cleared and we’ll go into that next.  But if you’re noticing a difference in the right direction, keep up the good work!  Remember not to overdo it, but consistency can go a long way here.

Energetic gunk and plantar fascia.  I don’t have a logical explanation for this, but I do have a story.  My mom called me and told me she had plantar fasciitis and she needed me to fix it.  Lucky for her, I was flying into Chicago the next week and I could take a look.  We did a session.  All went well, but I couldn’t find any outstanding tightness in her back line that pointed to causing this foot pain.  So after the session had a day to settle out I asked how her foot was feeling and she said the pain was still there.  I was heading back to Denver that evening and didn’t have time for another session, nor did I think that would help.  Instead, I asked her to do some energy work on her heel, whenever she could.  I told her to pretend to draw the stuck energy out of the bottom of her heel, as if she were pulling yarn out of a ball.  Just an inch or two at a time, over and over again.  Maybe only 3 minutes at a time, but several times a day.  I told her to do it whenever she sat down.  So she did.  And 2 weeks later, she said it was completely gone.  That was in November and she hasn’t had any problems with it since.  So, hey, why not give it a try?  It’s free, it’s easy, and at least for one person, it worked.

Yes!  I did it!  Practical tips for dealing with plantar fasciitis!  Done.  Bam.  Oh, and one more.  Call your favorite local Rolfer, if you don’t seem to be making much progress on your own.  She might be able to help you out.