We stretch because it helps us feel better. While we may not do it often enough, we all know the feeling of a good stretch in the morning when we get up before we start moving. We reach, twist, take a good breath and maybe a yawn. We know how good it feels to lean or bend or pull against something when our low back feels tight or a shoulder is stiff and the relief we experience.
We stretch to move better. The right kind of stretching helps us gently and easily open space in our joints and in the connective tissue or fascia that gives our body structure and absorbs and transmits the force we need to move. When that tissue is tight or restricted we lose our range of motion and that elastic bouncey feel that allows us to move freely and easily. When it’s stretched well we feel light and loose.
We stretch to perform better, wether it’s in training or competition for an athlete, or in the simplest activities of daily iife. Flexibility is about being able to adapt to the changing demands of our environment. Again, that means changing direction on a soccer field but it also means carrying a bag of groceries while you try to pick up a toddler. The right kind of stretching helps us respond to those moments when we have to move in unexpected ways and, also gives us the ability to move with more grace and power as we go through the day.
If you are already making time to stretch good for you. Here is a great resource to help you make sure you’re getting the full benefits of a good routine. Stretch To Win by Ann Frederick and Chris Frederick, they have been pioneers in the field for over 25 years.
The players toed the line to run the last of the warm up striders. ” I want you to run one at a time,” I said. “Listen to the sound of each person’s feet as they hit the ground.” So, off they went, one at a time, each with a distinct pattern and rhythm to the sound of their run.
Later, as we were wrapping up the session, I asked each one to sign their name on the back of the workout. “Take a look,’ I said, ‘ do they look the same?” The answer was obviously no.
This group of girls has worked together since January. So much change, so much growth and yet they are still, thankfully, different and unique. Each one a one of a kind package of talent and potential with their own strengths and opportunities for growth. And, each one with their own special contribution to make to the teams they play on. Each one an unfolding work of art with their own signature.
Martha Graham, the American dance genius once wrote, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And, if you block it , it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
It’s tempting and natural to ask how I measure up or how I compare to other players but, as Graham reminds us that’s not helpful. A better question might be How Can I Contribute? Show up at each practice and each game and look for a way to contribute. You bring something that only you can bring in each moment. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s not but it’s all yours.
It’s not easy, especially in this goofy, hyper-competitive, measure up world we’re living in but … as you practice it, over time , you’ll find it’s the most rewarding and in many ways most enjoyable way to approach your sport. All you have to do is bring what you got!
One of the biggest benefits of Fascial Stretch Therapy™️ is the powerful and effective role it can play in relaxation and recovery. Whether it’s the stiffness, soreness or heavy legs that come from working out and competing or the accumulation of tension from the physical and emotional stress of daily life that we all experience, the gentle, pain-free movements and stretch wave of FST help trigger a parasympathetic response in the body ( think “rest and relax”) that allows the body to restore and refresh itself.
We live in a world where our sympathetic ( fight, flight or freeze) nervous system in often overactive and overloaded. Being in a constant state of having to produce, deliver, measure up or just keep up leaves many of us feeing both tense an exhausted at the same time.
That stress gets “stored” in the body. It can be the physical demands of training for competition or , the exercise class we take or the 18 holes of golf we just played. But, it’s also the mental and emotional wear and tear of meeting the demands of work, family life and other daily stressses that gets lodged in the body – the tight hips, the stiff lower back, the tension in our shoulders and neck. ( we’re not meant to be walking around with our shoulders hunched up to our ears)
Some of the tightest, most sensitive, most restrictive clients I work with aren’t athletes or fitness enthusiasts at all. They are people who are experiencing the effects of always feeling “on”. FST has been such a helpful tool for restoring that state of calm that it’s not unusual for some clients to actually fall asleep on the table before our session is over.
It’s important to realize that pain is not a lifestyle and that state of calm is not an luxury or an indulgence. Relaxation and recovery are essential and make us more able, not less to rise to new challenges as they come. While every individual’s threshold is different, powering through is something we do at our own peril.
There are a variety of things that help us recover, refresh and restore ourselves; sleep, nutrition, hydration, getting outside, connecting with others. Good bodywork, like FST helps turn the stress switch off and bring us back home to a more relaxed place where we can take greater advantage of them. While FST was developed in the high performance world of Olympic and professional sports you don’t need to be an athlete to use it. It’s use has spread to health, wellness, general fitness and medical settings around the world.
Check it out here and consider giving it a try. Sometimes we don’t even know how tightly we’ve been wound until we take the time to unwind.
It’s March. For high school athletes who are college bound that means the summer conditioning and physical preparation packets will be arriving in a while. They’re often received with a mix of excitement, confusion, shock and anxiety; natural reactions to the challenge of moving to the next level. Over the past 15 years of helping players make that leap three things have proven helpful in the transition and give players a leg up on the process when they arrive on campus in the summer.
Interpret and Translate
When you open that E-mail or packet it can be overwhelming. The language is new, there are calendars, standards, workouts, schedules, and often information on nutrition, rest and mental preparation. Even the most successful club and high school players find it daunting. So first, it’s important to understand what’s there and put it in context. There’s a logic, goals and a set of principles behind the plan. Seeing the plan as a coach’s way of helping the team and players be successful can change something like the fitness standards from an obstacle to a stepping stone on a path toward contributing and accomplishing goals. It doesn’t make it easier but it becomes a challenge to rise to more than something to fear.
Taking all the pieces and laying them out in one place on a single calendar can help players see how the parts make a whole; how one phase leads to the next and how the elements like speed, agility, strength and stamina fit together. If there are standards or tests you need to pass understand what they are, what they measure and how to prepare for them. Making the unfamiliar more familiar helps reduces some of the emotional static and makes the plan feel challenging but doable.
Once you have a sense of where you’re going, get a sense of where you are. If the program has hang cleans in the work out and you’ve never been in the weight room then you just need to build a bridge from here to there. The first step might simply be getting some coaching. If you’re expected to run ten 110 yard striders and you’ve never done one, then start there with five of them. You will get a picture of where you are and when we know where we’re starting we can create the steps to get on the coaches plan and get to campus ready to go.
This is huge. Working with a qualified, experienced strength and conditioning coach makes a big difference physically and mentally. On the physical side a coach should help you look at what parts of the plan can you do on your own or with your team and what parts make sense for to do together. Then they can help you build a schedule. Every player is unique. Some players have worked with me 4 or 5 days a week, individually or in a group. Others maybe once or twice a week. An experienced coach can help you create the workout schedule to fit you and your needs. If there’s a standard or a test to pass a coach can help you practice it to become familiar with it, benchmark it and help you learn from it so you can meet the expectation when you get to camp.
The mental side is often the bigger part of support. Having someone who is trained and experienced who can stand outside the process while you go through it is extremely valuable. Good coaching provides the right amount of challenge and encouragement.
Start By Working From The Inside Out
When we’re feeling challenged one of the most important things we can do is stay connected with our goals and values. Why am I doing this? What do I want? What am I expecting or hoping for? Those conversations can happen both inside and outside the gym. Developing that clarity and being able to come back to it is even more valuable in some dorm room in August when you’re away from home and exhausted.
The Best Time To Start Is Now
You don’t need to have it all figured out to get started. In fact, you can’t. This is not just an advanced version of high school or club. This is new territory. Mark Twain wrote, ” Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” If you begin now you can put the things in place that you will need to start working on your college program when it arrives. What you may not realize is that the plan you get is the same plan that the rest of the team gets, players who have been training at a college level for a few years. Start now and you’ll be building the capacity to train at that higher level and get the most out of your plan when it arrives. It’s a great feeling to be able to jump into that packet when it comes with confidence.
It’s the weight of all the little things we’ve done that tips the scale in the big moments. It’s showing up for the workout at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon when it would be easier to be somewhere else. It’s making sure your feet are in the right position for each start, especially when you’re tired and you just want to get through the session. It’s taking time to check your notes from the last training session before you design this one.
Discovering and developing our potential is a process of unfolding,one step and a time with each step informing the next. It’s an act of faith because we never know exactly where it will take us, when the “big moments” will occur or what they’ll require from us. It’s also an act of love – falling in love with the process, with taking those small steps and with being surprised by what shows up along the way.
It can be scary, painful and it’s ultimately challenging. But it’s also a great journey. And, here’s the really good news. It’s uniquely yours to make. Nobody’s potential, nobody’s contribution , nobody’s journey is exactly like yours. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, ” The path is made by walking.” Get going, keep moving and enjoy the journey.
There is a simple process at work in training that is the key to getting better. In their book Peak Performance authors Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg lay it out as follows: Stress + Rest = Growth.
It doesn’t maker what the quality; strength, speed, agility, or endurance. When we challenge ourselves with a hard workout or training block and then take care of our recovery we adapt, we get better.
Both elements of the formula are necessary if we’re going to improve. We tend to emphasize one and neglect the other. We often assume that if we aren’t seeing the improvement we want it’s because we aren’t working hard enough or long enough. So, we ramp it up, add more reps, more practices, go longer hoping it will get us closer to our goal. It rarely occurs to take care of the recovery side of the process.
Without recovery not only do we not improve, we plateau or sometimes even get worse. Over time, under-recovery can lead to illness, injury and burnout.
APPROACH RECOVERY LIKE TRAINING – BE INTENTIONAL
Ask yourself what are the things you need to take care of on a daily basis? Start building practices and habits around those. Sleep, nutrition, hydration, stretching, and mental practices like meditation all have a huge impact on how well we respond to training and how good we feel.
Look beyond the day to day for larger patterns. Each week I have athletes fill out a weekly schedule that shows their training and competition schedule along with school, work and social commitments. Then they review it the next week and make any changes so that it reflects what actually happened. Together if we need to make adjustments we can and we can look at where recovery is or isn’t getting taken care of.
Take inventory and get to know your body. Every day athletes fill out a paper and pencil journal to capture things like sleep and energy levels as well as what’s going on that day. It’s information for me and more importantly a chance for them to pause, assess, and over time get more in tune with themselves.
There are a lot of ways we can tend to the recovery side of the formula. In their book Magness and Stulberg offer resources and practices that are a great place to start. Like anything else though the most important thing is to start. Pick one practice you want to work on and make it a habit. This is where coaching can help. Working with someone who understands the process and can help you find a focus and provide encouragement and learning is worth it. Once you’ve grooved in one habit move on to the next. Over time you will begin to see a difference and really take advantage of the hard work you’re putting in.
Trying to change a habit can be hard work – even when we know its not good for us or that it’s keeping us from being who we want to be or doing what we want to do. New patterns take time to establish and they often feel awkward and mechanical at the start. They just don’t feel natural.
You can see it in something simple like running mechanics. Even small adjustments like foot placement or hand position take time to become part of us. We need to repeat them over and over again, paying attention and continuing to adjust before they take hold.
I worked with an athlete a few years ago who resisted small changes in her form because in her words, “I don’t like it, it feels too easy.” Then one day at the end of a workout I put her on the watch and asked her to run a 40. It was her second fastest ever – even though it came at the end a fitness and conditioning session. She ran two more and they were just as fast. She started to see that maybe there was something to the new mechanics. Slowly it became her preferred pattern, the new normal.
In his book, Job’s Body, A Handbook For Bodywork, Deane Juhan writes, “You have to behave in a reality before you can perceive in that reality. For personal change, for pattern change, for template change it is necessary to act, to voluntarily, willfully engage in the process of self-observation and self-regulation and to stay with it over time …”
I’m getting coached right now, working on my nutrition and eating habits. It’s slow work but it’s good. Paying attention ( in a non-judgmental way ) and making adjustments isn’t as simple or easy as it sounds. It is frustrating at times and then there are small breakthroughs.
Part of good coaching is engaging the athlete or client in a relationship and environment that helps us make those uncomfortable changes and meet the challenges slowly, at our own pace in a way that makes sense to us and makes them intrinsic. A new pattern that’s stable. Creating a space that is both challenging and safe, where we can practice doing it differently, paying attention in a non-judgmental way and keep adjusting until we create a new path that takes us closer to where we want to go.