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The Simplest Way to Build Strength

To Build Strength is Simple, It’s Not Easy

I’m sure many of you clicked on to this post with a certain level of skepticism. In this day and age, there are so many people trying to sell you products and services that wildly over promise and under deliver results. We won’t be selling you anything or trying to convince you this will be easy. But everything we will share will you here, are from our own personal experiences, and it truly was the simplest way for both of us to build strength that we never knew was possible. There are three steps to this method, but they won’t happen overnight. The first is entirely mental and it required shifting some of what you might believe about strength and how to build it, then the second and third steps will require some work!

Enough talk, let’s break this all down and start finding that strength you never knew you had.

straight arm scapular strength yoga

Step 1: Stop Resisting the Strength You Already Have

Your body works in a delicate balance. Front body and back body, left side right side, up-down, diagonally, and on so many other axis’ and movements planes. When you have resistance on one side, it debilitated the other side from working properly. Get rid of that resistance and both sides will function better. In context of strength –> When one muscle chain is tight, it can literally resist and impinge the opposing side. So by removing this tightness, or this inflexibility, you free the opposing side to express its full capacity of strength.

Think about it this way. If you have two horses who are trying to pull a carriage, it makes sense that if one horse is strong and the other is weak, then assuming both horses will try their best, the strong horse will end up pulling more weight, and they are likely to walk in circles because that weaker horse won’t keep up. This is essentially what happens when you have strong muscles and weak muscles, and this is primarily what keeps people like chiropractors and physiotherapists in business. 

Now, imagine those two horses are the same size and equally strong, but one decided to stop moving and actively drive his feet into the ground to stop the carriage. The other horse is going to have to work insanely hard to even try to move that carriage. He’s now, not only going to be pulling the entire weight of the carriage, but the weight of the other horse, PLUS fighting the opposing force of the horse who’s putting on the brake.

This is what is happening when you have tight muscles all over the body that are never being stretched or otherwise worked out to try and get them to relax. They grow exceedingly tight and begin to resist the muscles you are focusing on working out and trying to get stronger. But in reality, they are in an uphill battle with that tightening muscle. (Or, your one horse is getting stronger and stronger, only to pull that stubborn horse who is braking harder and harder)

 

Method to increase the flexibility that unlocks strength

The two of us, for those of you who don’t follow our blog, are ultra marathon runners primarily, are certified yoga and acro yoga teachers, and love to dabble/cross-train with interval training, calisthenics, gymnastics and other bodyweight disciplines.

Adding in yoga of any sort to your daily or weekly routine can result in unbelievable increases in flexibility and proprioception, both opening up new forms of strength. Rolling, with a foam roller, trigger point style of balls or a recovery roller stick can really help you release tight areas of your body that you don’t know are tight. Maybe it’s your lats that have just seized up over years of weight lifting, and now they are your biggest shoulder mobility limitation. Or maybe like so many of us in the western world, you have tight hips, hamstrings, glutes or lower back muscles, from all that time we spend sitting. Rolling just for 10-15 minutes every day can absolutely shock you with the mobility gains you will see in a matter of a few weeks.

 

For those of you who still doubt this ideology that flexibility will increase strength, take time to listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast episode with Christopher Sommers from Gymnastic Bodies. Best quote out of that talk = “If the best in the world are stretching their asses off, then why aren’t you?”

building strength with yoga

 

Step 2: Strengthen Up Your Weakest Muscles

On some level, most of us already know this, but you are only as strong as your weakest muscle, and it;s true. If you want to use our horse analogy again (because talking draft horses just screams strength!), then a team of horses pulling a carriage are only going to be as strong as their weakest horse, or can only go as fast as their weakest horse. Two major areas where this will shine will be in your foundation, and in your core. Build strength in these areas and you will begin to look at movement in a whole new way.

Foundation –> This will include whatever muscles are having some form of interaction with the ground below you. (Or if you are working on inversions, then above you)  If you’re a runner that gets shin splits, you need to focus on your lower leg muscles, find out what is strong, what is weak, and correct the imbalance. If you are trying and trying to balance in a handstand, there’s a good chance your hands are not strong enough to balance your weight, and the most common weakness that will help you improve will be by working your extensor muscles in the back of the forearm.

Core –> Block out the idea that your core is only your 6 or 8 pack. Think deeper than that. Think about solidifying your transverse abdominals to build that true strength. Static holds (with proper form) held for good chunks of time can really begin to tax and grow those deep, huge muscle groups. ***Personal opinion, but planks, might be one of the absolute best ways to grow this deep core strength. Forearm plank, wall plank, side plank, rotating plank, the options are endless***  It will also begin to teach you how to connect your core structure to your limbs, and once this foundation is locked it, more advanced movements like handstands, planche and levers become much more accessible to you.

 

 

Step 3: Stay Consistent Every Day

This step is extremely dependant on the first two. Once you have convinced yourself that increasing flexibility and range of motion will help unleash strength and once you’ve identified areas that are holding you back from being truly strong, then it’s time to go forth and work through the motions of building strength.

We won’t go into specific training plans or recommend any fitness regimes because there are about a billion people out there doing that already and it’s just too much of a debated topic. In the end, it really doesn’t matter as long as you do it with the right direction, motivation, and methodology.

To share our personal account of building strength here is a general breakdown of our experience over the past 8 months.

Starting point: Ultra distance runners already, moderate cross-training background, a 200hr YTT and a 200hr Acroyoga teacher training under our belts.

Routine: When schedule allowed our training schedule looked pretty similar to this for about 7 out of the last 8 months. (All of the below is given “per week”)

  • 5 Strength Workouts  – 40 minutes of a blend between yoga and advanced body movement
  • 6 Skill Building Sessions – 10-15 minutes of dedicated practice on one specific skill (hand balance, handstand, etc)
  • 4 Run Workouts – Ranging from 1-3 hours mostly – Mix of intervals, tempo runs, beach sprints, long easy runs, long hikes and recovery runs.
  • 1-2 Crosstraining – 30-90 minutes – Biking, calisthenics, yin yoga, or other yoga practice for the most part

Stretching: Where did we fit in all of this strength building stretching to get massive flexibility gains? Deep stretching was working into the strength workouts (a little throughout and a bunch in the last 10 minutes), we would always make time for 5-15 minutes of dedicated stretching after running (don’t care what the controversial research papers say about it affecting your running, we value longevity and mobility more than we value high run performance), and the same goes for all cross training workouts, we would always leave 10 minutes or so at the end to stretch out.

Results: Differences could be seen after a few weeks, as we noticed flexibility started increasing. The true improvements to strength came after 2-3 months of consistency in what we were training. Free handstand, press to handstand, one arm hand balances, lolasana (had to go Sanskrit there, just don’t know what people are calling that in other disciplines) all started to take form, and we’re beginning to get tastes of more advanced movements like hanging levers, straddle planche, and just starting into hollow back handstands. These kinds of results might take longer for you, they might come faster, but the bottom-line is you have to be willing to believe in the process and that you are working through what you need to work through.

mobility helps make runners strong

Amazing Stretches For Road Trips

We’ve all experienced that feeling of getting out of the car after a long day of driving and stretching out from toes to fingers. It’s one of the few drawbacks to exciting road trips. Whether it’s driving to your favourite music festival, exploring a new country, or even making the trip home to visit family, everyone has reasons for opting for a long haul in the car, rather than flying. Mixing a bit of our knowledge from all our yoga teacher trainings, our ongoing recovery practice we use to combat tight and stiff muscles from ultra marathon training, and our every growing list of road trip experiences, we’ve put together our top 3 stretches for road trips that will help you stay loose and mobile even after a long drive.

1) Elevated pigeon

Pigeon pose is a miracle yoga pose that helps stretch out your piraformis and your glutes, which can both get very tight after sitting for hours on end in ergonomically brutal car seats. The hard part is you rarely ever feel like getting down onto the floor in your hotel or after you just get in the door, to crank out a few useful stretches. This is why we like the elevated pigeon position (And yes, there may be a thousand other terms for it, but whatever). It can be done on a chair, a lower table, even the hood/trunk of your car if you want to stretch at a pit stop, but we find it incredibly easy to simply use the side of your bed as you get ready to go to sleep.
 stretches for road trips

How to get into it?

Pop one leg up onto the side of your bed (or chair or table) and cross your leg in front of your body so that your shin is facing in front of you. (See picture) Keep your back foot planted on the ground and slide it back as far as is
comfortable to you, eventually working your way to having the back leg locked out straight. To make the stretch less intense, move your front heel in towards your hips, and to make it more intense, slide the foot away from your hips until eventually your shin will be parallel with the edge your propping your leg on.
travel stretches

2) Wall Quad Stretch:

This stretch will work wonders on your quads and hip flexors, which have become an infamously tight muscle chain in the first world where sitting is everywhere. Keeping these muscles lengthened will help your hips stay relaxed and level, which will lead to good posture, reducing hip and back pains.
deep quad stretches

How to get into it? 

Find an empty space on a wall or in front of a chair/couch (if you know your quads are super tight the ladder tends to be a little gentler).  Start on your hands and knees and slide back towards the wall as close as you can.  Draw your right heel up to your butt and slide the right knee closer to the wall (eventually we want the knee touching the wall, but start about 6 inches away and move closer from there).  Next step, step your left foot forward so its flat on the floor just outside your left hand. (ps. don’t worry we aren’t graceful making that move either;))  You might be feeling this in your quad or hip already, if so take some time here to let things lengthen.  If you want a little more then bring your hands onto your left knee and slowly rise the chest to end up in a lunge looking position.
yoga for hips

3) Shoulder Opener:

A lot of people have incredibly tight shoulders. This mostly stems from two things in our modern day lifestyles, i) we hunch a lot while sitting and even standing, ii) we workout our shoulders unevenly, creating an imbalance in the interior and posterior muscles. Now whether you have tight shoulders or not in everyday life, if you sit in a car seat for any period of time, its a good chance you won’t be sitting in an “optimal” position to keep your shoulders neutral. The trendy bucket seat designs almost force us to collapse into them and roll our shoulders slightly forward. So getting a bit of shoulder opening will help counteract this.
shoulder opener poses

How to do it? 

You can luckily do this one during a rest stop along the trip, at a hotel between driving days, or at home after a long drive. If you have a wall available, this will be easiest, as you can adjust to your own height, but if your in a parking lot, you can often times use the side of your car. Prop your hands up on a solid surface (wall or side of car) high enough so that your arms are about at a 45 degree angle when standing upright. Now hinge at the hips and drop your head between your arms. Slowly relax the shoulders, and work the crown of your head towards the surface your leaning up against. If your head touches no problem, then move your hands down the wall and go deeper. Still nothing, your shoulders are probably fine!
With each one of these stretches for road trips, aim to hold each one for 2-3 minutes if time allows. So with that in mind don’t force yourself into the stretch. Simply relax into them and let your muscles release. These are amazing stretches for keeping you loose and mobile during long road trips, but at the same time can be super helpful to anyone who drives a lot in their day to day life. If you have any others that you find beneficial during long drives, then please share in the comments so everyone can try them out.
Are you a runner and want to increase mobility/flexibility? Be sure to read our Yoga Poses for Runners!

Yoga Poses for Runners – Part 2

With all of the great feedback we received from out post a while back (Yoga Poses for runners #1) sharing some of our favourite yoga poses that we thought runners everywhere should try, we thought it was time for round two.  This time we’re focusing on the upper legs and hips for the first three, then going to turn a bit of attention to your shoulders and back muscles, which so many of us accidentally neglect from time to time.  So whether you run 5k’s all year and can’t get enough of them, or you’re taking on an ultra marathon of unimaginable difficulty, these could help you stay loose and free from injury!

***Before you get cracking though, always remember WHEN and HOW you stretch is important.  Make sure you’re muscles are a bit warm (couple sun salutations or 10 minute jog can always help with that!) and try to avoid static stretches before any kind of workout.***

 

#1 – Gomukasana – Cow Face Pose

Gomukasana yoga for runners cow faceAbsolutely no idea where that name came from, but this one can be magic for some people.  Start from a seated position with legs outstretched, cross your right foot over your left leg and tuck it back near your left butt cheek.  Sitting up nice and tall, allow your knee to fall forward.  This may be enough for you (it was when we started doing it;)) or you can go a bit further.  Keeping your right leg where it is, draw your left foot towards your right butt cheek and allow the left knee to lay on the floor.  Check in to make sure your right knee is stacking right over the left AND that both of your sitting bones are on the ground. (If one is lifting off the ground try sitting on a block)

cow face pose for runnersThis is the basic posture, but feel free to play from this position to suit your needs; folding forward, fanning your feet out to the side away from your body, whatever feels right!  This is great for people with tight hips and people prone to pains along their IT bands.  Make sure to do both sides, and sit in this one for as long as you can comfortably, these muscle groups take a while to let go.

 

 

#2 – Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby

Happy baby, how can this pose NOT feel amazing!:)  So start off laying on your back and draw your knees up to your chest.  Spread your knees apart and reach your arms IN BETWEEN your knees to take hold of your feet along the inside of the foot, the outside of the foot, or the big toe. Now rise your feet up to shine the soles of your feet to the sky.  Maybe you get there, maybe not, thats just where we’re moving towards.

happy baby yoga pose

Alignment check in –> Has your lower back lifted off the ground?  Try to press it back down and keep the whole spine long and in contact with the ground.  If your feet are facing up to the sky, then next step is to draw your knees down towards your armpits.  For runners, you might always want to take some time to try straightening one leg at a time, your hamstrings will likely have a love/hate relationship with you during this one so take it slow;)

#3 – …quadasana? … alright this isn’t exactly a yoga pose, but you’ll still love it!hip stretch yoga for running

Find an empty space on a wall or in front of a chair/couch (if you know your quads are super tight the ladder tends to be a little gentler).  Start on your hands and knees and slide back towards the wall as close as you can.  Draw your right heel up to your butt and slide the right knee closer to the wall (eventually we want the knee touching the wall, but start about 6 inches away and move closer from there).  Next step, step your left foot forward so its flat on the floor just outside your left hand. (ps. don’t worry we aren’t graceful making that move either;))  You might be feeling this in your quad or hip already, if so take some time here to let things lengthen.  If you want a little more then bring your hands onto your left knee and slowly rise the chest to end up in a lunge looking position.

quad stretch for runnersOnce you’re this far, you have two options to focus this stretch a bit more.  A) Pressing your hips and shoulders back towards the wall behind you will target the stretch along the quad.  B) Allowing the hips to draw forward and down to the floor will target the stretch deep into the hip flexors.  Some people might even get more into the hip by keeping their hands on the floor and sinking the hips low.

 

 

 

#4 – Garudasana – Eagle Arms

**If you want full Garudasana, google it, we’re only focusing on the arms**

Anyone out there where a pack? Ever feel like a 70 year old getting out of bed when you take that thing off after a long run? How about stage racers, how heavy was your pack last race?  I think you’re getting the point, runners’ shoulders can get pretty tight and we rarely pay attention to them.  Truth is, tight muscles in and around the shoulders, chest and back can restrict the expansion of your ribs and therefore your breath as well.

 eagle arm preparation yoga for runners eagle arms yoga pose for runners eagle arm variation yoga

 

 

Eagle arms can be done standing up straight, sitting up straight, in a wide legged forward fold, and even at your desk or in your car!!!

 

 

 

This one is simple, take your right arm and swing it under your left (imagine stacking the centre of your humorous bones), and interlace your forearms as your point them up to the sky.  You may only be able to connect the backs of your hands together, or you might have no problem bringing your palms to touch.  Where ever your are, keep the elbows lifted to shoulder height, and when that begins to feel comfortable, try pressing your forearms away from your face.  Hold this one for 30 seconds to a minute, and repeat on your other side!

 

If you have any questions or comments on these postures feel free to comment below, or send us an email at [email protected]  If you’ve found these postures helpful, we’d love for you to share them with your run groups!!:)

 

Run Free and never let tight muscles hold you back;)

Mel’n’Jon

Key Yoga postures for runners!

Having spent the past year or so working hard to not only complete  our Yoga Teacher Training, but complement our intense ultra marathon training regime with an effective yoga practice to speed up recovery and build mental strength.  We thought we would begin to share some of our favourite yoga poses that we spend a ton of time in post workouts, on rest days and even while at work! 😛

yoga for runners mel meditation

Whether it’s a group runs, running talks, or at our races, we hear so many people throw out the all to common phrases such as “all runners have tight hamstrings”, “plantar fascitis is something you can’t do anything about” or one of our favourites “I used to be able to touch my toes, but then I started running!”  What we want to get people thinking is that these RULES aren’t concrete, you can break through these social stereotypes, and all it takes is a little bit of work each day.  So here are 4 places to start, we find that these poses will address some of the most common tight or problematic areas runners tend to have.

jon yoga pose for run stretch#1Runners Lunge

There are a number of variations of runners lunge out there, depending on what studio you attend. However, this version will target not only your hamstring, but also your glutes and IT band.

Start by stepping back into a short lunge stance, feet hip width apart. With a flat back, fold forward over your front leg, allowing the front knee to take a slight bend.  Note: You should not be feeling a stretch in the front hamstring…YET, so take a bend to the knee.  Now slide your back foot across and behind your front foot, resting the knife edge of your foot on the ground.  NOW, begin to straighen your front leg and say “HELLO hamstring!”

Variations –>  Placing your hands on blocks will help if you’re have trouble rooting your hands to the ground when folding.

run yoga pose lunge mel#2Lizard Lunge

This is a simple posture that can target your adductors, hip flexors, or even your quads, all depending on how you move in the pose.  Once you’ve found your alignment in this one, feel free to make subtle movements to explore and find your body’s sticking points.

From down dog or from standing, find your way to a deep lunge.  Drop your back knee to the ground and place both hands on the ground inside of your front knee (might have to heel/toe that foot out a tad).  Square your hips to the front and choose between OPTION A: lower your chest to the ground, coming down to your elbows or fully outstretching your arms and bringing your chin to the floor.  This option will stretch deep into your hips, but be sure to not let your front knee fall out.  OPTION B: bend your back knee and reach your opposite arm back to grab a hold of your back ankle.  This will bring a deep stretch to your back quad.

lizard lunge yoga pose runner

 

#3Kneeling Arch Stretch

foot stretch for running yogaThis one is so simple yet extremely important.  Many runners don’t notice any foot or arch issues until they have set in and it’s often too late.  We’d suggest to most people find a daily routine that you can sit back into this, such things that would work great would be while eating breakfast, while brushing your teeth, or simply reading for a few minutes before tucking into bed.

arch stretch runners yogaBend your knees and sit back onto your heels.  Curl your toes under so the bottoms of your feet are stretched out (making sure EACH toe is curled under…that includes you baby toe!).  That’s it!!! Your toes may begin to hurt a bit, allow yourself to go to the point of intense sensation, but never to the feeling of pain.  Place a folded towel under your shins if your ankles are uncomfortable, or under your buttocks if your knees are feeling strained.  Whether you can only last 15 seconds, or sit for a comfortable 15 minutes, simply try to stick with it and go longer than you went yesterday.

 

proud pigeon yoga for runners#4Sleeping Pigeon and King Pigeon

Piriformus is something every runner has heard about, and most of us have likely felt its wrath when it gets overworked.  Well this is a great posture to passively and safely stretch and relax it.

From down dog, bring your R knee forward and place it on the ground behind your R wrist.  Place your ankle on the ground wherever comfortable (the more parallel your shin is to the top edge of your mat, the more intense this stretch will be).  Check back and make sure your left leg is outstretched directly behind you and not swaying to one side. Focus on drawing your R hip back and your L hip forward and to the ground.  At this point press your legs down into the ground and find stability in your hips.  Now choose one of the below options;

sleeping pigeon yoga for running

 

 

Sleeping Pigeon

–> Walk your hands forward and lower your chest to the ground. If comfortable in this position, feel free to explore a bit by drawing your chest to either side, changing the angle of the hip stretch.

 

 

King pigeon yoga for runners

King Pigeon

–>  Bend your back knee up and grab hold of this foot with one hand or if your balance is there, with both hands.  Pushing down into your front leg for stability, kick your lifted foot back which will pull your chest open.  Once your at this stage, one at a time bring your hand forward and up overhead and grab a hold of your foot.  **If your can’t quite reach your foot this way, sling a strap around your lifted ankle and slowly with time you’ll find the strap gets shorter and shorter until your grabbing your foot.

 

 

Give these 4 postures a try, let us know how it went, feel free to ask us any questions and if you find any variations that really hit a tight spot for you, please share with everyone!  More to come in the near future 🙂

Hari Om

Mel and Jon

 

Psst – be sure to check out our version 2 of Yoga Poses for Runners

Muscle Roller Stick from Addaday | Product Review

For the past month we have been using the muscle roller stick from Addaday in our recovery routine to test out their unique roller stick design. We’ve tried a few different types of these sticks so will mention some comparable notes throughout this review. Bottom line though, if you train or exercise at any level that gives you tight muscles, we are huge advocates in preventative actions to maintain mobility and speed up recovery, and this roller stick is extremely effective at working through tight muscles!

pressure point tools for recovery

Add-A-Day | Technical Specs

The muscle roller stick we’ve been using is the “type C massage roller” and we have really found it to be a great middle ground for great effectiveness but still a reasonable size to toss in a gym bag or carry on luggage. The roller is designed with ‘gears’ which are essentially like small roller balls that dig deeper into a muscle or crevasse in your tissues than other rollers. We’ve tried using “the stick” that is popular in the running community, and can honestly say the Addaday GETS DEEPER!

The gears are also unique because they are textured to help break apart scar tissue in the muscles and are coated in what Addaday calls Surface Skin Technology, which to us seems sort of like a thin gentle rubber coating. (We’ll touch more on this further down) There is also one special gear that is called the pinpoint precision gear, and essentially its a smaller one that can dig into more finite areas of your body like your achilles, along your shin or your soleus. This is a nice feature, and comes on a number of the different Addaday roller sticks, because it allows more versatility with a single tool. Instead of having to use a lacrosse ball to get into this muscle, then a roller stick to work through another area and a third tool to hit other things, the Type C can really handle more than other sticks we’ve used.

recovery tools for runners

 

 

 

 

Addaday Roller Stick Pro’s

Size

As we mentioned before, the Type C is a great middle ground that still allows you to leverage some good pressure onto the muscles your rolling out, but the stick is small enough to tuck down in a corner of a carry on suitcase or even stuff into your backpack or hiking pack. We really like this because while we’re traveling or out camping, we are obviously still doing lots of activities and training, so it’s nice to always have a recovery tool with you.

“Gear” Design
roller stick for muscles

I’ve never seen rollers that offer this kind of multi-gear design, and it really opens up the opportunity to wrap a muscle or roll along two sides of a bone. The most prominent place I found this helping was along the back of my neck. Always having tight neck muscles, I love the way you can slot your spine in the middle of two gears, and let the gears dig deep into your muscles, while completely avoiding the spine.

Strong

 

Maybe you’re like us, maybe your not, but if you like to put a lot of pressure behind your self massage techniques, you need a roller that A) can handle the pressure, and B) has good enough handles you can leverage the pressure. The Type C checks off both these requirements, meaning you can dig deep with this one!

 

Addaday Roller Stick Drawbacks

This is pretty specific, so if you are a female this might not even apply to you. But when I use this roller on bare skin, being a male I have moderately hairy legs, so I find the Surface Skin Technology coating can pull a little on my leg hair. Most of the time the pain from my muscles far trumps this hair pull, but it is a drawback I thought was worth mentioning. The traction you gain from this coating is definitely nice when you’re rolling over clothing, and Melissa is a fan of it, but I have to share the warning, some guys might find it drags on their body hair a bit.

 

Would We Recommend the Addaday Muscle Roller Stick

It seems today that many companies have started designing and making their own version of a muscle roller stick, but before even thinking about the product itself, we admire the values that Addaday stands for and the innovation they’ve brought into their products. Their brand name simple refers to “Add a day to your life!” and they follow that off with, “Feel Better, Move More.” Their priorities are aligned with wellness, mobility, longevity, and this shines through in their products quite well.

The Type C muscle roller stick is absolutely a recovery tool that we would recommend, for athletes or for anyone who feels their mobility isn’t where it could be. We would strongly encourage people to also test out their other products, Addaday makes a incredible tool called the Boomerang Massager, that we tried out in the store and had our eyes rolling into the back of our heads!

Remember the name and go give their recovery tools a try, don’t you think it’s worth it if you can simply “Add a day to your life!”

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