I have been active for as long as I can remember but only started running in the beginning of high school. Although I’m an extroverted person I’ve always gravitated towards individualized sports like tennis, running, bodybuilding and cycling. I think this gravitation stems from my perfectionism. On a team sport you have to rely on others to win or advance whereas in individual sports all the pressure primarily falls on you. Holding myself accountable for my goals helped develop personal discipline not only in sports but in every area of my life. For example, in high school if I wanted to run faster or score a PR at a race I had to practice on my own. I had to push myself at practice, get up out of bed and run on my own. If I did poorly at an event the blame didn’t fall on my teammates or my coach, it was directly correlated to how hard I had worked. Not only were my shortcomings my own but when I did succeed or PR the feeling of accomplishment stemmed from deep within, which was incredibly motivating. Of course none of the athletic success I’ve had could have been possible without the guidance of my (AMAZING) trainers and coaches or the support and motivation from my teammates.
Towards the end of college, when I was no longer running cross country for my school’s team I discovered endurance racing. At 20 I ran my first half marathon and fell in love with the discipline that came along with endurance sports. Two years later I discovered a whole new way to challenge myself when I got into bodybuilding. I started taking cycling classes as a late teen as a form of cross training. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I became more serious about it. All the pavement pounding from running and insanely heavy squatting from body building had begun to take its toll on my knees. My knees weren’t bad, they didn’t hurt severely but I could sense it coming. After certain long runs I’d notice a dull ache in my knees, especially my right knee. I decided to focus more on low impact cardio like indoor cycling and walking on the treadmill. I dropped my runs down to 1-2 times per week. My knees felt noticeably better. However, every now and then, be it after a long day of teaching or a heavy leg day I feel a faint ache in my right knee. Stretching is my most neglected exercise, which is horrible considering my job and lifestyle. I knew my hips and legs were tight and figured it could be playing a roll in my knee pain. When my cycling studio welcomed a new physical therapist I decided to check her out with the goal of simply learning a bit more about my body and hopefully some tips for injury prevention, specifically for my hips and knees.
The other day I went for my appointment and to say I was blown away is only scratching the surface. Maureen was incredible. The experience itself was healing and relaxing while also being extremely informative. It was almost like a deep tissue massage where the masseuse focused on only the areas that needed it most and explained to you what was wrong with them, how it happened, the damage the tightness can do and how to fix or alleviate it. I learned so much about my body! I want to share my experience in case there are any other athletes or gym rats reading so you guys can get a similar treatment! I know most people go to physical therapy after an accident or injury but prevention is just as important of a reason. I went to this appointment injury free, no previous accidents or incidents and no complaints of pain. I really just wanted to get a better understanding of my body, see if anything was “off” and learn what to do moving forward to prevent an injury. I use my body for everything, career and hobbies included and I want to make sure I take the best care of it possible. As a coach and trainer I would highly recommend regular physical therapy to anyone who is active from an athlete to a regular gym-goer.
My Physical Therapy Experience
When I first walked into the room Maureen had me stand up straight facing her so she could assess my body. After this she turned me around to face a full length mirror so she could show me what she noticed during her assessment. She showed me that my right hip was slightly tighter than my left which was causing it pull up a bit higher, off-putting my balance and stance. My right hip twists forward a bit so my right arm hangs a touch further from my body than my left. My right shin also has a slight bit of bowing to it. Basically, within the fist few minutes Maureen knew why my right knee ached and was able to show me how to change that. She demonstrated several exercises to help stretch my right hip back out and condition it untwist. The exercises are to be done morning and night to help loosen up my hips and realign them which will reduce the aches, help me stand up straighter and lengthen out my body.
Next she worked on my quads. My IT band was insanely tight and she worked on that for a while. It was the BEST pain. I normally roll out that muscle on my foam roller but apparently I was doing it completely wrong! I used to roll back and forth over the roller feeling it push into all the knots. Maureen told me to “roll and hold”; you roll the muscle over the foam roller until you hit a tender spot at which point you let your body weight go onto the roller and feel the pressure on the tender spot. Then, you hold the roller on that spot for three full minutes; that is the best way to release the muscle. She did this technique with her hands and my legs felt softer and more relaxed as soon as she finished.
Next, she worked on my psoas, which is a smallish muscle that wraps from the back of the base of your spin, around your hips, down towards your pubic bone. To feel it you press into your hips between your hip bone/belly button/pubic bone area. It’s deep in the lower belly. As soon as she touched that muscle she went, “wow! That’s the worst yet!”; it was TIGHT. I’ve known for quite a while I’ve had tight “hip flexors”, I blame running, what I didn’t know was the consequence. This may be a bit TMI for some but I’m sharing anyway in case someone has the same problem with no idea what’s causing it. First off, I’ve always felt like I have a pooch in my lower abdomen. Everyone, including Dan says they don’t notice it but I do. Even when I competed and was down to 12% body fat, I noticed it. I know it’s not “fat”, so I figured it was just the shape of my body-nothing I could do. Well, it’s actually my tight psoas pulling that area forward and out. Because the muscle starts from your lower back, if it’s tight it will pull your lower abdomen out and forward causing that pooch appearance. It also causes you to lean forward slightly from the hip which can create the illusion of a thicker midsection or “pooch”. She worked on my psoas quite a bit trying to soften, relax and release the muscle. When she finished I touched it and noticed a much softer area. When I stood up and looked in the mirror my stomach looked flatter than ever and elongated! I asked if it was in my head and she told me that loosening up that muscle can make it appear as though you’ve lost more than 10 pounds. Truth. Secondly, and here’s the TMI, I urinate constantly and have chronic constipation. It’s a serious issue and interference. I’ve been checked for this at the doctors to no avail and had chalked it up to a poor digestion system and small bladder. Nope, that’s all due to my TIGHT PSOAS. OMG WHO KNEW?! Due to the placement of the psoas, if it’s tight it will press on your bladder and colon which tenses everything up. Pressure on the bladder can do two things: 1, make it feel like you constantly have to urinate even if you don’t; 2, squeeze it so it isn’t as big as it could be therefore it cannot hold as much fluid as it should and needs to be emptied out more often. Story of my life. As for the colon, do I really need to explain the effects of a tight, constricted colon? Put it this way, don’t you go better when you’re relaxed? Yeah. Another negative affect of a tight psoas is painful intercourse and effects to your menstrual cycle since it also constricts the uterus and cervix area. I have not noticed pain during sex but occasionally there is a noticeable tightness in this area. These reasons were more than enough for me to religiously incorporate the exercises Maureen gave me into my daily routine.
At the end of the session she wrote me a full list of all the exercises she instructed me to do, complete with stick figure diagrams! She gave me a four inch ball to use on my psoas and a tennis ball for my glutes and piriformis (why doesn’t spell check recognize ANY muscle name?? Wtf, did it not take anatomy?).
Overall, the session was outstanding and I will be incorporating physical therapy into my routine. I will be doing the above exercises every morning and night and going to see Maureen at least twice a month. I really want to loosen up my psoas, devote some time to fixing that and my right hip and see what changes I notice. I’m hoping to get my TMI issues and also my knee back to normal. I will keep you posted on how it turns out but I’m happy that I learned so much! If you live in the area, are active, have pain, a previous injury or just want to learn more about your amazing body you MUST check out Maureen!
Disclaimer: Although I work for Studio 14, this post was NOT sponsored in any way. These thoughts are 100% my own and I am only raving about it because the experience was THAT good. I want to share it with everyone, especially those who may have similar issues! xo