Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What To Do With A Foam Roller Once You've Finished Doing Myofascial Release

I am all about getting value for money.
So in the last post I told you the main purpose of those foam rollers. However, then I started thinking...
If you do go out and buy one, you pretty much want to get the most value for money, and there is only so much time you can spend doing myofascial release therapy.
Therefore, today I’m bring you a list of the top ten things you can do with your foam roller once you’ve finished doing your stretching. Enjoy.
1. Pool noodle.
2. Train your hamster to run on it.
3. Hold your own version of Gladiators, with the rollers as whacking sticks.
4. Sexy bolsters for your boudoir.
5. Rolling pin for making giant pizzas (recommend wrapping it in baking paper first, if you want to use it again afterwards).
6. Band together with a group of friends and use them to build pyramids.

7. Perfect for people who want serious volume in their hair.
8. Paint them white and use them as Grecian columns for your dog house.
9. Giant Nerf gun bullets.
10. Use them for painting cathedrals.
So, got any more ideas?


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Foam Rollers and Myofascial Release... What On Earth?

In the last few years, you might have noticed these cylindrical foam thingies gathering in the corners of the stretching areas at gyms. Occasionally a personal trainer will even make someone roll on top of them. Have you ever wondered what they are for and whether they are just a passing fad?

Well, here’s the low down.

It is all to do with myofascial release. 

Myofacial release, you ask?

It’s a type of soft tissue therapy, which relaxes contracted muscles, increases circulation and lymphatic drainage and stimulating the stretch reflect muscle.


It’s the same sort of benefit you will get from a sports massage, but a lot cheaper and you are in control (so might not make you scream as much.) The roller stretches out the muscles and tendons, while also breaking up trigger points.

It is also seen as more beneficial for flexibility than just stretching, which only lengthens out the muscles without dealing with any tension points.

Now, for the more jargon-y explanation:

The myofascia system is the combination of the muscles and the superficial fascia (ie. soft connective tissue that wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body). (There are a couple of different types of fascia, but we are talking about superficial fascia here.). For various reasons, the fascia and underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together (soft tissue adhesion), with the result of restricted muscle movement and soreness.

By sustained pressure on the soft tissue with traction to the fascia, the fascia can be softened and lengthened, breaking down the adhesions. Like when a massage therapist puts pressure into an area and then rubs it along. 

So, how do you use the foam roller?

Slow and pressure are the two concepts you want to keep in mind.

Basically, you position yourself on the foam roller and roll along the muscle at a slow pace with some of your body weight adding pressure. Then you stop and increase the weight at the most tender spots. Once the pain starts to reduce, roll on. The eventual goal is to have no sore or painful spots.

It is recommended that you start at the point closest to your centre, and roll outwards. For example, with your hamstrings, start rolling out just the top area nearest your butt and slowly work down towards the knees.

Each muscle should get about 1-2 minutes of rolling. So, a good session can take between 30-40 minutes, and is perfect for doing in front of the TV if you want to invest some money in buying your own roller. Or it is also a great time to catch up and chat with friends before or after a work out. As there is less risk of injury compared to stretching, it is great to do any time.

Below is a great video for showing you all the different muscles you can work with. Though I recommend doing it just slightly slower, and pausing where you personally feel a tension spot.

It's only 5 minutes, so take the time to watch and the go and practice!


Great for IT band issues and shin splits, as well as improving flexibility. It can get rid of tension spots and soreness, and prevents these from developing. Great for people that suffer backpain, or problems with tightness in their muscles.

However, like stretching, it doesn’t happen overnight. We are in it for the long term improvement.


It seems to be a very cheap piece of equipment, that has little risk of injury, and can have great benefits if you use it regularly. So, not much to lose.

So, no need to be afraid of those rollers ganging up on you. But always ask a trainer for help if you think you might be doing it wrong. Also, it does take some practice balancing on top of the roller without falling off, so maybe practice when not cute guys are watching.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Gym Review: Virgin Active Health Clubs - Melbourne

In my last gym review I looked at the very first proper gym I joined: Fernwood.

Today I wanted to review for you one of the more recent gym experiences I had - Virgin Active Health Club, Melbourne. I was a member for about a year, starting in 2011-2012. I only quit when I moved away and wanted to start rowing more regularly (and dropped down my hours at work, so couldn't pay all my memberships).

Virgin Active appears to be a huge brand over in the US, but has only reasonably recently come to Australia. In fact, they only have four gyms in the whole of Australia! (3 in Sydney and 1 in Melbourne, which is just rude, because everyone knows that Melbourne is the better city! Maybe they are just trying to get Sydney-siders as fit as Melbournians.)


The Virgin gyms are best for those who want it all. If you love feature packed gyms (which I must admit, I do) then this is the baby for you.

You really do need to do an introductory tour to get to see everything they have, but just to give you a sneak peek:

- over 40 a day. Yup, a day. Except on the weekends which is limited to about 10 classes. In absolutely everything you can think of, including Pilates reformer classes.

- swimming pool, with spa area (in the middle of the city!)

- large weights area.

- cardio equipment (I will admit that I never had to wait for a piece of equipment, though with all the classes and extras, I didn't spend as much time on the equipment as I do at other gyms).

- large spin classes.

- All the latest toys in gym equipment like Powerplates.

- Rock-climbing wall (yes, I'm serious about that, it was awesome if you just wanted to practice and build up strength).

- Sleep pods (basically, you can come in and just have a snooze. How great is that in a gym? You could program it to play relaxing music and wake you up after a 20min power nap.)

Other great benefits include:

- no contract. you can cancel any time you want. (or you can sign up for a 12 month contract).

- student and senior citizen discounts.

- cool memory key thing that remembers your workout program and so you just plug it into the machine and it tells you what to do (hard to explain, check it out).

- Because it is in the city, it caters to the working lifestyle, and offers short, sharp classes at lunch time that lets you work out and still leaves you time to get back to work. 

And the thing I liked is that you got all that for not that much more than any other gym. I compared to a few around, and it was only a few dollars a fortnight more expensive, which I was very happy to pay for all the extras.

However, there were some downsides:

- they have a joining fee which they NEVER waive. With Fernwood and other gyms, you can usually find a time to join when you don't have to pay. Not so with Virgin, and they never offer special deals on prices.

- They don't actually tell you the prices anywhere until you go in. However, from memory when I was going it was $25/week. 

- In the mornings before work, the change rooms are bursting. It can be hard to get mirror space or even find an empty locker.

- I missed my induction course, and then was too scared to ask for another, so didn't know how to use a lot of the weird equipment.

- Also, because there are so many people, and it is so large, it can be a bit intimidating.

- The weekend open hours aren't great, as they appear to believe no one actually lives in the city.

The hours are:
Mon-Thurs 6:00am - 10:00pm
Fri 6:00am - 9:00pm
Sat 9:00am - 5:00pm
Sun 10:00am - 4:00pm
Public Holiday 10:00am - 4:00pm

So how would I rate it overall? 

If you want all the extras, and don't mind being adventurous and trying out new things, this gym is awesome. It is especially great if you work in the city and want to go before or after work (and don't mind a bit of a crush). 

I wouldn't really recommend it if you just like doing the same thing at the gym or want a bit of help from staff. You could pay a lot less and get a lot more attention.

Finally, if you are a little bit self-conscious about going back to the gym, this might be a bit intimidating. I found a lot of guys just sit on the machines staring at you trying to wriggle their eyebrows. It was pretty uncomfortable at times.

But overall, I'm a big fan and would go back if I were back in the city, or they opened one in South Yarra.

Rock climbing wall!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Beginner's Guide To The Seven Types of Stretching

Courtesy of Tallia22 at stock.xchng
So, in my last post on stretching I discussed whether you should do it at all, and mentioned two general types of stretching: dynamic and static.

If that was all new to you, then you are really going to get a kick out of today's post. 

Today I'm going to show you all seven of the different types of stretches. Yup, seven.

And you were excited that you even remembered to do any stretching at all after a job, weren't you? Well just think how much you can show off at the gym after reading this?

Dynamic and Static are still the two most common forms.  However, all together we have:

    1.    ballistic stretching
    2.    dynamic stretching
    3.    active stretching
    4.    passive (or relaxed) stretching
    5.    static stretching
    6.    isometric stretching
    7.    PNF stretching

Who knew there were so many types, huh? (Well, obviously lots of people, and now you are one of them.)

I'm going to go through each one, give a brief description and example and then look at the benefits and risks associated. Remember, these are the types that exist, not all are beneficial for all people.

1.    ballistic stretching

This uses the momentum of the body to force the muscles to stretch beyond the normal range of motion. You will know this as bouncing in the stretch. It used to be quite popular, in the 70s. The general thought behind it was like trying to loosen a rubber band or balloon, you stretch it out really quickly and the fibers sort of loosen. Well, turns out that our bodies are not quite the same as dead rubber bands.

A lot of problems have been identified, such as it actually causes the muscles to tighten up, and is very likely to lead to damage. So this one is not recommend at all. There are many, many better ways to stretch. So, don’t bounce people, don’t bounce.

2.    dynamic stretching
While ballistic stretching aims to go beyond the normal range of motion, dynamic stretching stays within you current range, gradually increasing reach and/or speed of movement. It should not be bouncy or jerky, it should be slow and controlled. I discussed and gave an example of dynamic stretching, such as slowly swinging your leg, trying to go a bit higher each time, to warm up your hamstrings before exercise.

This is recognised as one of the best (possibly only beneficial) ways of warming up before doing a work out. Try to increase the range of motion on all major muscles groups that you will be using during the session. You should be looking at sets of 8-12 reps. 
It is also a great way to start the day, if you tend to get up from bed a bit tight and sore. Taking time to work from your head down will loosen everything up and get the blood flowing.

3.    active stretching
For total confusion, this is also referred to as static-active stretching (or active isolated stretching).

The aim is to hold the stretch using no support but the muscles opposite to the one you are stretching. For example, you might lift your leg to stretch your hamstring, and work your quads to hold it in position, keeping the leg kicked above your head (if you can reach that high).

The benefits of this are that it increases the flexibility in the hamstring which can relax into the stretch, while also strengthening the quad muscle.

However, this type of stretching is really hard to do, and usually can only be held for around 10 seconds.

When would you use this time of stretching? It's most common use is in some of the more active forms of yoga, where you are building strength and flexibility at the same time.
4.    passive (or relaxed) stretching
So this is called passive stretching, or relaxed stretching, or even static-passive stretching. This is often confused with static stretching (next point), however is slightly different. In this type of stretching a partner or a piece of equipment is used to stretch the muscle while you try to relax it.

It's biggest advantage is when you are having muscle cramps.
More often you would use static stretching, but if you have a spare partner lying around, why not give it a go (if you trust them not to push it too far. You are not trying to hurt yourself).
5.    static stretching
Static stretching, compared to passive stretching, involves stretching to the farthest point and then holding the stretch. This is one of the most common types of stretches. When you reach down to touch your toes and hold it, that’s static stretching. This should be challenging, but comfortable.

This is generally considered a safe and effective way to improve flexibility. It might not be as beneficial as some of the more advanced types, but you are much less likely to injury yourself.

For beginners, I recommend you try doing static stretching for a few weeks after your work outs before going onto more advanced types. But please remember, you should only do static stretching when your muscles are already warmed up. It is not a good form to try before your work out. Stick with dynamic for that.

6.    isometric stretching
This is a type of static stretching, which involves ‘isometric contractions’ of the stretched muscle (eg. tensing the stretched muscle.) It is faster than either passive or active stretching by themselves for increasing static flexibility.

It also increases strength, and can be less painful than other types of stretching (not that stretching should be painful!)

An example of this type of stretching would be using a partner to stretch out your hamstring as you try to push the leg back down to the floor.

Though, please note that this is not recommended for anyone whose bones are still growing, and for everyone it is best to do some strength training for the muscle before being stretched.

Finally, this type of stretching is not meant to be performed everyday. Try to rest for at least 24-26 hours between sessions. 

Method: get into static stretch position. Tense muscle for 7-15 seconds, relax for 20 seconds.

7.    PNF stretching
I actually heard about this for the first time on the health retreat I went on, and was pretty excited to tell you about it. Though, to be honest, I thought it was just another name for isometric stretching.

PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

It is a combination of passive stretching and isometic stretching to achieve maximum static flexibility (so I wasn’t completely wrong!)

Basically, you do a passive stretch, then an isometric stretch, and then do another passive stretch trying to get further than before.

Generally recommendation: use PNF techniques 3-5 times for a given muscle group, resting 20 second in between each. (Though there are debates if this is necessary).

The combination of the passive and isometric stretching makes this the most effective type of stretching. However, if you are unused to it, practice adding in an isometric stretch just once a week to your normal stretching routine, and build up to doing PNF stretching sessions once you get the hang of it.

And with all stretching, remember what I said last time: frequency is more important than duration.
One mega long stretch session a week is not going to get your flexible as fast as doing a series of short sessions through the week.

Really need to get your flexibility up quickly? Try a combination of dynamic stretching in the morning, static stretching after lunch, and alternative static and PNF in the evening. 3 times a day will get you there much faster than you think.

So good luck, hope to see you touching your toes soon!