Foam-Rolling for the IT Band and TFL

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a very useful tool in the fight against chronic pain. In this article series, I’ll be detailing the different important areas of your body that you can use self-myofascial release on and how to approach them.
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This article focuses on the Iliotibilal Tract (ITT), the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL), and their attachments, which are in the knee and the iliac crest. 
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This is an often-overlooked area of the body when it comes to stretching and SMR. It’s not an easy area to target but it can have a big impact in contributing to pain, stiffness, and dysfunction. As you can see in the illustration, the ITT and TFL are connected and work together to contribute to movement at the hip joint. Because they are so long and attach into the knee joint and on the pelvis, they can cause pain throughout the leg if they are tight. If you’ve ever been to physical therapy for a hip or knee issue, they may have instructed you to use a foam roller on this area to release some of the tension that could be contributing to the injury. It can help a lot, but you’ve got to do it carefully and thoughtfully.

1. First things first: this will probably be painful. And that’s okay. It will get better! 

2. Start at the knee and go up. Finding the right posture for rolling out your TFL and ITT can be difficult. One thing to try is lying on the side of your leg that you’re rolling and putting your other foot on the floor in the direction you’re facing. It will feel a bit pretzel-y, but you’ll get the hang of it.

3. Don’t stop at your hip joint. As you roll higher up your leg, you’ll eventually find where your femur joins your pelvic. This is your hip joint. You don’t want to roll directly over it since that could cause issues, but you do want to go above it and keep rolling higher, up into your hip and towards the top of your pelvis, where you can see they insert into the ilium.

4. Target the TFL by leaning forward. The TFL is more to the front of the hip. Once you hit that hip joint, lean forward so that you’re facing the floor more. This will allow you to target the TFL more directly. (See below for example)

​You don’t necessarily need to roll out your TFL or ITT if they are not causing you problems. However, if you have tight hips/hip flexors or hip bursitis or do a lot of leg dominant exercising like running or Olympic style weightlifting, you might find this to be helpful. It can also help to get rid of any stiffness you might encounter if you have a sedentary job. Of course strengthening the area and stretching it gently can also help. Foam rolling should be a part of your fitness routine, not all of it. Don’t forget about the other functions of your joints and muscles! If you do try this out, let me know how it goes at my Facebook page or send me an email! ​

Why we need to rethink ‘Exercise’

The word ‘exercise’ has many meanings. Its first recorded use as pertains to physical activity has in the 14th century (1). In the technical sense, exercise can relate to spirituality, mental faculties, patience, and so much more. Its meaning before the 14th century was widely varied and often had to do with play, practice, general activity, busyness, and intentional movement (1).

Exercise has been present in many forms throughout human history. As far back as 2000 BCE, we have examples of physicians prescribing exercise for health (2). This principle has wound its way through our cultures, taking many forms.

In early Hindu culture, exercise was prescribed to prevent disease states related to sedentary living. In early Chinese culture some physicians suggested exercise in the form of mimicking the movements of animals. In Greek culture, exercise was slightly more structured, and this was around the time that the foundations of modern medicine were planted by Hippocrates and his peers. Spartan culture was fully built around the concept of training for war. As history moved on, people less attributed disease states to punishment from the gods to lack of movement and training (2).

So that’s your history lesson for today. But what does this have to do with our modern ideas of health and wellbeing?

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The modern idea of exercise has really solidified in the last few decades. But training just for the sake of training or looking a certain way is still a young idea. When I was writing my Master’s Thesis on exercise as a treatment for hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I searched the scientific literature for papers and recommendations on this topic. I became increasingly frustrated because there was…nada. I expected there to be something! Why hasn’t anyone been testing this beyond the confines of physical therapy? This type of research would not just apply to people with this disability. It would apply to others with hypermobility or joint issues, and to elderly people with mobility issues, and people with other disabilities.

I think that the biggest issue preventing this research is our society’s conception of exercise. What do you think of when you think of exercise? Big burly dudes doing curls with huge weights? Crossfit? Strongman? The Olympics?

All of these are exercise and athletics. But having this idea of exercise be what we think of first only serves to limit us.

I’ve worked with some elderly clients and I really enjoy it. Unfortunately they become very frustrated at times because they can’t do the things they used to be able to do. I have felt this frustration myself due to my disability and it is awful. But if we can change our idea of ‘exercise’ from this overwhelming concept full of unachievable goals, then we can settle into a new idea of exercise as one based on movement and fostering strength, mobility, and flexibility that serves to make our lives better.

​I was talking with one of these elderly clients this morning and she was talking about her mother and grandmother and how they both died in their 90s and were still fairly mobile and capable. I pointed out to her that the way they lived is very different from the way that even she lives today. Her grandmother was born in the 1870s! There were no cars. There were no electric washers and dryers and dishwashers. They had a garden. They canned their food. Everything required more labor. Their bodies were ‘trained’ just from everyday life.

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to live this way. Modern conveniences are amazing. And quite frankly I’m not about to give up my dishwasher for anything. But it does mean that we have to re-conceptualize our idea of physical activity. It doesn’t have to include the gym. It doesn’t have to only include structured workouts. The other day I deep cleaned my bathroom. It took two hours and you better believe that I was sweating my booty off. To me, that’s exercise. It takes muscles, it takes energy, it’s movement. Sometimes all I do is a few sets of kettlebell swings and some resistance band work. There’s some exercise. Going for a walk, cleaning out the closets, going for a swim…it’s all exercise.

​Recently a study came out that found something very important. Any ten minutes of movement is better for your body and your brain than ten minutes of sitting (3). And that’s not to say that sitting is always bad. But if you even do ten minutes of some form of movement, you will be better off for it.

You may not be able to make it to the gym. You may not be able to do the crazy workouts you see advertised on Facebook. You may barely be able to do a squat or pushup. And that’s totally fine! Rethink your movement. What gets your heart rate up? What gets you sweating a little bit? What tires you out? Do that and take it slowly. You’ll see improvement. And then you can keep building from there. Don’t complicate it! Just move.

​References

(1)
Online Etymology Dictionary. (2018). exercise (n). Retrieved August 22, 2018 from https://www.etymonline.com/word/exercise

(2)
Tipton, C. M. (2014). The history of “Exercise Is Medicine” in ancient civilizations. Advances in Physiology Education, 38 (2), p. 109-117. DOI: 10.1152/advan.00136.2013. Retrieved August 22, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056176/#!po=18.7500

(3)
Brodwin, E. (August 8, 2018). Exercise may be the best protection against aging that we have, according to new research. Retrieved August 22, 2018 from https://www.businessinsider.com/exercise-protects-against-aging-health-benefits-2018-8.

Why you SHOULD stretch if you’re Hypermobile

When someone is hypermobile, there are a few hard and fast rules that they’re usually told to follow. “No running”, “No yoga”, “No stretching”, etc. And when you have hypermobile EDS, there are more rules piled on. “No heavy lifting”, “No high-impact exercises”, “Just use the elliptical or go swimming”. Why do these rules exist? Because they are the safest recommendations. But if you’re here I know you’re not after the same old restrictions that everyone always reminds you of when you want to try a new activity or dig deeper into one you already love. That’s what this series is about.

You can be hypermobile in several ways. It can be benign, it can be Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, it can be hypermobile EDS, etc. This is for anyone who is hypermobile. Why shouldn’t you give up stretching? Won’t it make the hypermobility and joint instability worse? Not necessarily.

When you have instability in your body that your connective tissues can’t handle, it passes the load on to your myofascial system. Myo=muscles. Fascial=fascia. Your muscles are surrounded by fascia, which is another type of connective tissue. Fascia is similar to an information highway for your body’s stability. It communicates across muscle groups and gets involved when there are muscular issues.

If you have tight muscles due to hypermobility or joint instability, then your fascia will also become tight. Self-myofascial release (such as foam rolling or massage) can help loosen fascia but will only help muscle tightness a bit. It is usually used alongside stretching in order to keep muscles loose enough that they don’t become tight due to overuse or instability. By stretching properly, hypermobile people can allow their muscles the right amount of freedom to do their stabilization work properly.

So how should you stretch if you are hypermobile?

First of all, learning your own hypermobile limits is essential. Where do your joints naturally go to (this is not where you can make them go to do party tricks for your friends!)?

Once you learn that, you can passively stretch to that point but no further. You should not be increasing your flexibility or hypermobility. Pushing past those limits will add looseness to your already loose connective tissues. You just want to stretch the muscle so that your body has access to its natural movement limits. If you add this to strength and stability training, then you will allow your body to become stronger in its natural state and it won’t become so tight that your joints start to hurt or have issues from problems you’ve created.

I have tested this theory and honestly it helps. When I avoided stretching, my knees started to hurt because I was doing strength training and my thigh muscles became tight and began pulling on the inside of my knee. When I added some gentle stretching for these muscles, I started to feel better and my knee pain subsided.

You can also do active stretching, PNF stretching, and self-myofascial release (which is not really stretching but it helps).

Rules can be great sometimes, but when you have a chronic issue that affects your body in a certain way, learning how to deal with it on your own or with the advice of a professional is crucial so that you can do what’s best for your body and your overall health.

Not ‘No Excuses’. Just Reasons.

What is the problem with ‘no excuses’ anyway?

‘No excuses’ is a very common saying in the fitness world. And at its root, what does it really mean? It means that you should make exercise and eating well the highest priority in your life. Get your workout done at all costs. Resist that cookie at all costs. Nothing is more important than ‘fitness’…right?

If you know me, you know my answer to that is: WRONG.

The whole idea is total bullshit, and here’s why:

Why should fitness/dieting/losing weight/working out/etc. be the most important thing in your life? And to pursue it above all else? This idea is in and of itself privileged. There are a lot of things more important than getting a workout in for a hell of a lot of people. If you are poor and work more than one job just to make ends meet, a workout may not be a priority. If you struggle with a chronic illness (or more than one like me!), some days are just a total loss and you know it when you wake up that morning. If you are a caretaker for someone who depends on you, there are days where you can barely even get the time to sit down to eat. And nutrition? It can be even more difficult. Food prep done in advance is a privilege that requires time and skill. And you know what? If you’re strapped for money, forget about “investing in your health” with organic meats, fruits, and veggies (I hate this whole idea and plan to write something else on it). No. That doesn’t happen in my home. At all. I rarely food prep, because I have a lot of things going on, and I can’t always devote the time to it. I’m usually doing school work or cleaning or several other things instead.

Are these things excuses? I don’t think so. They’re REASONS.

Hear me out, because I know it seems like a cop-out. It’s really not. The truth is that life is not conducive to a ‘no excuses’ attitude. Things happen. Balance is key to continuing any type of progress you are trying to achieve. And reasons are different than excuses. What I really want is for you to be honest and reasonable with yourself. Just this morning I woke up after a night of my shoulder bothering me, and my hips and lower back were bothering me. Did I go to the gym and push my body anyway? Hell no. I did my morning routine, then I went grocery shopping, and then I had a hot bath until I had to go pick up my son at school. And I do feel better now. If I had gone and done my planned workout, what might have happened? I would probably be fighting a muscle tension migraine right now, struggling to take care of my son on my own until my husband gets home at 6, 3 hours from now. But I’m writing this right now because I honoured my body and I had a decent reason.

Now, don’t start thinking that reasons are a way to get out of ever taking care of yourself, however that looks for you. They aren’t. But since I listened to my body’s reasonable need today, I can still get everything done that I needed to today, and I can resume my regular schedule tomorrow morning with my usual yoga class. The purpose of reasoning instead of excusing is to stop, listen to yourself, and honour your true needs. For me, that means that not pushing my cranky body is a priority. It also means that mental health will always come first. It means going for a walk instead of doing a heavy lift session some days and vice versa.

Forget about 'no excuses'.Focus on Reasons and Choice instead.Listen to your body. Rely on reasons, and not ‘no excuses’. Sit down and intentionally think about the times when skipping exercise might actually be better for *you*. Maybe it’s when your kids slept poorly and you’d like to get more sleep instead. Maybe it’s on days that you know you struggle with for personal reasons. Maybe it’s the day after a long, labour intensive day and your body could use a lazy day. Don’t rely on the voices around you. You know your body and spirit better than anyone. Decide what makes a good reason for you, and find something else to fill that time. Think of all the other things you could accomplish or learn or experience.

No, not ‘no excuses’. Let’s do reason and choices instead.

 

–Amanda

Advice From a Fat Trainer to a Non-Fat Trainer

Dear Straight-Size Trainer,

First of all, I’m going to explain that to be straight-size is to be the opposite of plus-size or fat. You are probably what people think of when they picture a trainer in their head. Thin and/or ripped, no second thought given to working out without your shirt on, you’re what everyone wishes they looked like.

I want to be your friend. I think we make great allies, and I want you on my side. I want to tell you something though, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way.

Fat people don’t need to be saved.

I know, I know. You might have been fat once. You might specialize in weight loss or have a passion for solving the “obesity crisis” whatever that is supposed to mean. I see it in trainers everywhere. They see fat people and all of a sudden develop this savior complex.

Fat people don't need saving.My friend Michelle and I were talking about this the other day after a post popped up in a group for trainers we are both in. We are also both “bigger” or fat. By the way, fat is not a derogatory word. It is just a descriptor. I am 5’5” and weigh 200 pounds and am a size 14. I describe myself as big because I’m not quite plus-size but Michelle does describe herself as fat, as do many other plus-size trainers. Whatever we call ourselves or what our clients call themselves, we, as fat people, don’t need saving.

If often takes us a long time to develop the type of body positivity where we believe that we don’t need to be saved. That we can be healthy at whatever size we are. That we are more than our bodies and that our bodies are the least interesting thing about us. We have often read and researched and learned about the impact of habits vs. weight loss on health and while we know that BMI (a flawed measurement system) tells us we are at a higher risk of certain diseases, we also know that our other health markers (blood pressure, blood sugar levels, resting heart rate, etc.) tell us more about our health than our weight does. This brings me to my next point:

Good fatty vs. bad fatty

I posted a video of me doing rack pulls in the aforementioned Facebook thread and was assured that since I am active, of course a trainer wouldn’t bother me about my weight. Why? Because I’m healthy and active, apparently. But if you know me you’d know that I struggle with several chronic illnesses and only continue to lift through sheer determination to continue doing what I love. The assumption may be that if I lost weight I might be healthier, but I’ve been like this at every single size I’ve ever been. My health is not dependent on my size.

This makes me a good fatty, rather than a bad fatty who doesn’t exercise or eat well or _________ (insert some judgment on their health). The bottom line is that fat people shouldn’t have to prove that they are worthy of respect by demonstrating fitness to people they don’t know. I like to share videos of me doing things like that because I am proud of it and I want other big people to know they can do what they want. Others should be free of judgment whether they demonstrate fitness or not, because they are people and people deserve respect.

 

Now, all of this is not to say that I am against weight loss. If you want to lose weight, if a client of yours wants to lose weight, if your cat needs to lose weight, super. You do you, you help them, I help people do that too. The difference is that I’m not trying to save them. As Michelle pointed out in her own post about this in the trainer group, fat people know they’re fat. You know when you have to shop in the plus-size store or when fat is getting in the way of doing things or when you start struggling to get up several flights of stairs. We know, they know, everyone is aware. If you want to help people, stop thinking of yourself as their savior. You aren’t the solution to the problems you perceive them to have. We don’t need you to save us. And if you have a client come to you and they want to lose weight, approach it from a place of compassion. Approach it from a place of body neutrality, where we can change our habits and begin exercising and eating more nutritious foods and still reap the benefits thereof even if we don’t lose weight. Because that is scientifically backed. Weight loss through restriction isn’t.

 

Michelle listed some resources for people to look at and here they are:

Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon

Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole

Big Fit Girl by Louise Green

Hungry for Happiness by Samantha Skelly

Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield

 

I know it may be uncomfortable for you to be confronted with the idea that fat people don’t want to be changed or that they don’t need you to tell them they need to change. They really don’t need you to save them. I’m asking that you sit with that idea and try to see it from their perspective. In the end, the productive conversation is not the one about how we can get fat people to see what they need us. The productive conversation is one that teaches you how to be more accepting, client-centered, and inclusive in your approach so that you can help as many clients reach their goals as possible.

 

Please visit Michelle at her Facebook page and her website, www.coachsparkles.com. And if you have any comments or questions, please leave them here, or message me through this site or my Facebook page.

Thank you for reading!

Balance

What is balance?

How do I achieve it?

What does it look like?

These are questions that people often have about building a life of balance, simply because so many of us don’t have it. Our culture in North America is very focused on extremes. Work a lot, spend a lot, eat a lot, do a lot of wacky things to go viral online, restrict this food group, kill yourself in the gym, and so on. I remember when I worked in a convenience store during my first year of University. I was stocking magazines for the first time and I looked at the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. And of course there was a HUGE GUY with HUGE MUSCLES and one of the headlines was something about a WORKOUT THAT WILL MAKE YOU PUKE and I thought…why the hell would you want to do that?? Unfortunately, the mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’ and ‘go hard or go home’ is pervasive in the fitness community and it’s not very helpful in the long-term. I am definitely not knocking people who push themselves to their limits, especially for competitions. I am in awe of what I have seen people do and I envy them for being able to do it. But to go into the gym with the intention of working out so hard that you end up seeing your breakfast again? No thanks. That’s not healthy, either physically or mentally.

Oftentimes, people think that if they listen to their body and allow it to tell them what it needs or can do that day, they will end up laying on the couch and eating box after box of chocolate or mac and cheese right out of the pot. I mean, that does kind of sound fun, but when you learn to add habits into your balance, your body learns to expect certain things like vegetables and water and movement. It’s amazing what you can build when you are intentional about it.

For me, because I live with so many chronic health conditions, I have no choice but to listen to my body constantly. Last Monday my shoulder was killing me and so I didn’t go to yoga on Tuesday morning. Today my shoulder was fine and I went to yoga. If I’m having digestive issues I might go to the gym instead of running. And if I didn’t sleep well last night, I might go back to bed for a couple hours while my son is at school because I know it will be better for both of us when he gets home.

My version of balance takes the long view. I might not be able to lift one day but can in a few. I might be able to run today but not in a few days. If I can’t exercise today, I will do something else that fosters balance and self-care, like reading a novel with a cup of coffee or space out watching baseball later because I just need to recharge.

I am currently reading a book on the philosophy of yoga and I found this quote in it the other day:

Finallyfoundmy newhome!

It really struck me, because it urges us to find guidance in ourselves. To look inside and see what balance means to us and consider all the facets of who we are when we look for balance today. Today’s balance may look different than tomorrows. And that is totally ok! Take nutrition for example. It would be great if every day was awesome and you got all your veggies in and drank a ton of water and ate whole grains only. But we all know that every day isn’t like that. Some days you just order pizza for dinner because you.are.so.done.omg. Some days you have a big salad for dinner. Sometimes you’re feeling unwell and don’t eat much of anything or just crackers and toast. And that is totally fine. Don’t judge your nutrition by one day. Look at your whole week. I bet it will balance out over that period of time. Mine usually does.

So what exactly is balance then? For me it is giving my body what it currently needs that will support my health in the long run. It means resting when it’s needed. It’s also moving your body intentionally when you can and want to. Sometimes it’s pushing through, but it’s not doing it to the detriment of your health as a whole. It means having veggies with your dinner but enjoying birthday cake at a party too. It’s about enjoying life, not being a slave to plans.

All parts of us come together to make the whole. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Think about all of these things when you are building your balance. Shape a life that supports all the facets of who you are. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Fostering your spirit is just as important as eating well. Who you are matters when it comes to balance. So build your balance, do it intentionally, and see what it helps you achieve.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Garbage Cans

In this post I wanted to share a valuable piece of advice that I picked up along my journey of developing better habits for my health. A lot of my habits have centered around food, but some have been about actual eating. For instance, waiting until you’re hungry to eat. I know, it sounds totally obvious, but not everyone does this! Some people just eat because it’s lunchtime and we’ve been trained to eat at certain times. Some people eat 5-6 small meals a day because they were told by someone that it’s the best way to eat for fat or weight loss (it’s not!).

I think one thing we all struggle with is the idea of clearing our plates at a meal. And really this isn’t limited to official meals. It could also be related to snacking, even though snacking isn’t a habit we want to encourage. Many of our negative food habits that follow us into adulthood are things we were trained to do as children. “Clean your plate” is definitely one of them. So what do we do about this compulsion? Being aware of when your hunger is becoming satisfied during your meal and stopping then is helpful, but again, it’s difficult. Sometimes we need a reminder that it is ok to stop and here it is.

You are not a garbage can.

Again:

YOU ARE NOT A GARBAGE CAN.

So what do garbage cans have to do with anything? Well, many people feel they should clean their plates because their food will be wasted otherwise. But how is that really different from finishing your meal when you don’t need to? When you’re already satisfied and continue eating so as not to waste, you’re putting that excess/waste or whatever you want to call it into your body anyway. I know that you’re probably thinking, no that’s not the same. But continuing to eat when you’re full and satisfied is not helping you. If you don’t want to ‘waste’ it, save it for later. Give it to the dog. Start a compost pile. I know we all heard about ‘starving orphans’ in Africa as encouragement to clean our plates when we were younger, but unless you can find a way to overnight your leftover spaghetti to someone starving, it’s not actually going to make a difference.

If you are really concerned about waste, start making smaller plates. I am so familiar with the habit of filling your plate or bowl too much and I get it. You’re hungry, you made delicious food or got takeout from somewhere and it just smells so good! But you can always go back for more if you’re *really* still hungry after eating your first serving. However, this practice is a good time to check in about some things. Are you really still hungry or do you just want more? These are different. And in that vein, are you savoring this yummy food? Or are you eating distracted and too quickly? Try to take your time. Put your phone down, turn the TV off, and actually experience your food. Think about textures and flavours. Don’t make it satisfying only to your physical body. Make it satisfying to your mind and your palate as well. By doing this, you can move beyond treating your stomach like a garbage can and you can start focusing on it with your dining actions.

Questions? Comments? Chime in below!