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How to Successfully (and Permanently) Change Your Lifestyle

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How to Successfully (and Permanently) Change Your Lifestyle

Do you want to be a healthy person? Someone who is in shape, without being on a diet or some crazy routine all of the time? Do you want to make fitness a permanent part of your lifestyle? Most people do. Creating a lifestyle that fitness fits into is the key to long term success. You cannot be on a diet forever – but you can generally default to eating healthy foods. You can make working out a few times a week a habit that you enjoy and look forward to. How do you get there? How do you get over the hump and go from a fitness routine being something you are consciously doing, to part of who you are? The key is to change your habits. To get to the stage where you are doing the things you need to do, without thinking about it. No motivation or accountability is required – you just do it. If you look at the four stages of learning, many of you will be yo-yoing between conscious competence (making yourself do the right things, following a diet, getting yourself motivated) and conscious incompetence (knowing what you should be doing, but giving up, ‘falling off the wagon’ and not maintaining it). For long term success we need to get to the fourth stage, unconscious competence. At this stage, doing the right thing is habitual. We do it, without having to think about it or make any particular effort. It is just part of who we are. So how do you reach the stage of unconscious competence? You Are Your Habits Who you are can be defined as the actions and behaviours that you engage in. You are what you do. When you consider that the majority of what we do is habitual and not something we consciously think about, you can say that we are our habits. We get up, roll out of the same side of bed, eat the same breakfast, drive the same route to the office, etc. We all have habits that define our lives, without us thinking about what we are doing. What we want, is for fitness to become part of our habitual lives. We want to habitually go to the gym and workout. To achieve that we might habitually pack our gym bag the night before, habitually drive a different route home (via the gym) etc. The way to create permanent change is to change our habits. To maximize our chances of being successful we should aim to change one habit at a time. Trying to overhaul everything is overwhelming and most people fail in their fitness goals because what they are trying to do is too far away from what they are normally doing. They’re trying to change far too many habits at once. Willpower and desire will work for a while, but not forever. If you’re trying to change too many things it will become overwhelming and you will never enjoy it. The fact is, our habits are our comfort zone. It’s important that we are getting out of our comfort zone to make progress, but not so far out of it that we are constantly uncomfortable. That is a recipe for giving up and going right back to our old habits that keep...

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Spin Class 101

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Spin Class 101

In recent years, spin classes have taken off as one of the most popular workout classes out there. People swear by spin, SoulCycle, and many other variations of indoor cycling. If you’d like to try spin but aren’t sure what exactly to expect, here is everything you need to know. What is Spin? Spinning is done on a special stationary spinning bike. You can control the resistance on the bike and difficultly level of the class from your seat. Spin is more than just riding a stationary bike. An instructor walks you through a full body workout on the bike. Many classes also use fun lighting and upbeat music. Where To Spin There are spin-specific studios, such as SoulCycle, that focus primarily on spin. Many standard gyms now also offer spin as a part of their regular class schedules. Space is limited to the number of bikes in the room, so you typically have to sign up in advance or get there very early. Even if you do sign up online, you need to get there at least ten minutes early to get set up. Some places will give away your seat if you aren’t there five minutes before class time. Equipment While some people may wear special cycling clothes or shoes, it’s not at all necessary. As long as you wear a shirt, pants and sneakers that you’re comfortable working out in, you’ll be fine. Some women find leggings more comfortable than shorts. The facility will provide the bike and any weights. You will want to bring a sweat towel and a water bottle. Terminology There are a few basic spinning terms you should get familiar with. The saddle is your seat. Resistance is like gears on a bike—it affects how hard you’ll need to pedal to move the wheel. Positions refer to where to place your hands on the handlebar. There are three—one is at the base, two is on the outside, and three is at the top of the handlebars. Flat is riding at a steady pace. A climb uses an increase is resistance to mimic riding uphill. A sprint is riding as fast as you can. “Jumps” on the bike take you from a seated to a standing position. Class Types There are a few basic types of spin classes. An endurance class works gradually uphill to improve stamina. In interval rides, you’ll do periods of hard work followed by periods of rest. A strength class uses higher resistance and a lot of hills to help build muscles in your legs. Other classes may incorporate hand weights and core work. Setting Up You need to get there early to set up your stationary bike. Like with a regular bicycle, the seat height, handlebar height and handlebar distance need to be tailored to you. The seat should come up to about hip height while standing. You should be able to mostly extend your legs with a slight bend in your knees while seated. Ask the instructor to help you the first few times you go. Safety Always follow whatever your instructor is telling you to do. If you feel faint or dizzy, slow down and lower the resistance. Drink water throughout. Let the instructor know if you any existing injuries or conditions they should know about...

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How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class

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How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class

Joining a workout class is a great way to exercise. You’ll meet new people who share your interests. You’ll have an instructor and coach who can provide direction and help you with your form. Many people are also more likely to push themselves in a class than they would exercising on their own. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your workout class.   Commit If you find a workout class you like, commit to going at least once a week, but preferably more. Once you choose one, pencil it in like an important meeting or a doctor’s appointment. When you go regularly, you’ll be able to see your progress over the weeks and months.   Find A Friend It’s less intimidating and more fun if you work out with a friend. A workout buddy can hold you accountable to coming to class when you’d rather be on the couch eating ice cream. Plus, you can turn the class into a little friendly competition. Find something each week to play—a pushup contest, spin distance or balance challenge. Loser buys smoothies! If you think you don’t have time, replace a weekly friend dinner or wine night with a weekly barre or spin class. You wallet and your waistline will thank you if you replace happy hour with gym time.   Set Goals A workout class is just like any other exercise routine. Instead of going and blindly following along each week, set goals for yourself within the class. If you go to a strength building class and use five-pound weights, make it a goal to increase to eight-pound weights by the end of the year. If you do yoga, make a commitment to master a challenging pose. That way you have something to work toward and the class won’t get too easy and boring.   Get to Know the Instructor Don’t just show up right before class and leave immediately after. Try getting there a little earlier to talk to the instructor. They’re there to help people work out and get in shape, so share your fitness goals and talk about how you can use the class to help you reach them. You may find that they’ll tweak their class a bit to help you build shoulder strength or do a headstand. If you have any fears or worries, an instructor can help ease them. Always let them know if you have any preexisting injuries or limitations. They can offer modifications if you need them.   Switch It Up Instead of going to the exact same class with the same instructor every time, try switching up the instructor or class style. If you practice yoga, don’t just go to hot or power classes all the time. There are many different styles of yoga that do different things for your body. At body toning classes, different instructors will focus on different areas—some will work legs while others will put a heavy emphasis on core.   Have Fun If you hate the class, you’ll probably end up quitting. Don’t force yourself into spin every week just because you think it’s the “best” workout. The best workout is whatever one you’ll stick with! If you want to do Zumba or water aerobics, so for...

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Finding Balance Between Flexibility and Stability

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Finding Balance Between Flexibility and Stability

For most people, their feelings on stretching are black and white, they either love it or they hate it.  Those that love it gravitate toward yoga classes or the stretching mat at the gym whenever indecision happens during a workout, as their fall back plan.  Those that hate it often seem to find a way to skip it before or after a workout, always having time for an extra set or an extra mile, but never having quite enough time to stretch. While those that hate to stretch are often chastised and scolded about the importance of stretching in a balanced workout plan, those that overstretch are not doing themselves any favors either.  It’s all about finding a balance between strength and length, or flexibility and stability. Flexibility Flexibility is defined as the available range of motion across a particular joint, or how far you can move without restriction, be that restriction within the muscle fibers themselves or at the joint due to tendon issue or inflammation.  Each joint has a prescribed range of motion in each direction, and in those people that are hyper-flexible, they may far surpass the normal range.  Others with mobility restrictions may not be able to use the full normal range of motion.  For optimum performance at most activities, aiming to match, but not exceed normal range of motion is a good goal.  Normal range of motion for each joint can be found here.  Mobility Flexibility is a part of mobility, but it’s not the whole story.  Mobility is the ability to preform a desired movement without restriction, but flexibility does not necessarily need to the cause of low mobility.  Perhaps you cannot perform a full squat because you lack the strength, coordinator or balance to complete the movement.  While this is not necessarily a lack of flexibility, it is a lack of mobility. Stability Once you have the flexibility and mobility to preform a movement, you’ll also need the stability to preform that movement in a controlled manner.  This is where the balance between flexibility and muscle strength and tone come into play.  While orthopedic joint issues such as ligament tears can impact stability, those stability issues are a separate issue and to be worked out with a doctor or physical therapist.  The stability you can impact in your own workout is by making sure that whatever flexibility and mobility work you have done, you have enough strength and control to hold the movement. Finding Balance While low flexibility and high stability may be easy to visualize by picturing someone with extreme muscle development that lacks the ability to reach their toes or turn their head fully, low stability and high flexibility is harder to diagnose because flexibility is often valued as a goal in itself.  However, imagine someone who has invested a significant amount of time in hip opening stretches and long deep lunges, that now cannot successfully lunge under weight without the laxity of their psoas giving out, or cannot preform a full squat without their knees kicking out due to adductor laxity.  Exercises to Find Balance Exercises that help strike a balance between mobility and stability are those that emphasize strengthening a muscle while using it’s length and dynamically stretching while working the fibers. Walking Lunges with a Deep Stretch...

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Pilates 101: Understanding the Basics Before Your First Class

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Pilates 101: Understanding the Basics Before Your First Class

If you’ve never tried Pilates, there are many compelling reasons to incorporate it into your cross training routine.  Pilates workouts can form the foundation of any fitness routine, by focusing on core strength and stability, and emphasizing smaller stabilizing muscles in the hips and shoulders.  While most people are familiar with Yoga either from personal experience, friends or through popular culture, Pilates is still a mystery to the vast majority of the population.  While some describe it as “yoga with sit-ups” this description doesn’t do it justice.  Here are the basics to get you started before attending your first class. History and Background Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German man born in the 1880’s.  He began his life a as a sickly child, and devoted his young life to fitness to overcome his ailments.  By adulthood, he was no longer sickly, and was an avid boxer, gymnast, skier and diver.  One of his first jobs was training Scotland Yard officers in self defense in England.  Caught up in an internment camp in WWI, Joseph developed a fitness training regimen for other prisoners and hospital patients using various props, including springs and lifts from hospital beds.  After the war, he continued to refine his fitness regimen, and his workouts eventually became the go to methods used by dancers around the world, including the entire NYC Ballet in the 1920’s and 30’s. From humble origins in internment camps with invalids, to elite dancers, Pilates is meant to form the foundation for all around fitness and body stability, regardless of an individuals level of health.  As many of the exercises were developed in hospital beds, it is a great routine for even the most inexperienced that can be leveled up to challenge even the fittest athlete. Workout Focus Pilates workouts can be designed to work every muscle in the body, but as a whole it focuses on toning muscles rather than building bulk.  For that reason, it’s become more popular with dancers who wish to be strong, stable and flexible without changing much about their overall shape. Full and complete breaths to promote the circulation of oxygenated blood is a big part of the workout, and throughout the class instructors will cue breathing, asking students to expand their rib cages or use their deep abdominal and pelvic floor to exhale fully. Every exercise begins with abdominal engagement and spinal alignment, even when the specific movement seems to be targeting extremities such as arms and legs.  That core stability focus helps athletes in other fitness fields to consciously keep abdominal engagement throughout their workouts and competitions even when off the mat.  Many athletes, including professional basketball players and football players, have begun adding Pilates to their workout regimen.  Trainers specifically adapt exercises to the needs of these elite athletes, and as one trainer for NFL athletes notes, “People look at Pilates as sort of a girls’ exercise, [but] you can ask one of those men I worked with . . . how much we kicked their butts. They were shaking, they were sweating, they were uncomfortable. And then afterwards they felt calm, relaxed, loose.”  Trainers for elite athletes focus on, “creating a natural muscle balance, where he has the appropriate length and strength of each muscle on opposing forces.” Types of...

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Setting and Keeping Health and Fitness Goals in 2017

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Setting and Keeping Health and Fitness Goals in 2017

The New Year is right around the corner, and you may be starting to think about what kinds of goals and resolutions you want to set for 2017. It’s a common practice, but most people end up giving up on their resolutions at some point in the year, often as soon as February. It is possible to stick to health and fitness goals. Here are some tips for setting and keeping your New Year’s resolutions. Set Attainable Goals You’re much more likely to keep your resolutions if the goals you set are within your reach. They should still be a stretch, but should be something you can reasonably accomplish. Running a marathon by June when you’ve never even run a mile isn’t a reasonable or attainable goal. For example, running a 5K race is a great goal for a beginning runner. Be Specific “Get in shape,” “lose weight” and “eat healthy” are great goals to have, but difficult to stick to because they’re so vague. It’s hard to see the results because they aren’t specific enough. When setting goals, be really specific so you have a way to measure your success. For example, instead of eat healthier, try eating three vegetables a day or only eating sweets once a week. Instead of saying you want to get in shape, set a goal to lose ten pounds or work out five days a week. Create Mini Goals A year is a long time to wait to see results. By setting mini goals throughout the year, you’ll have a quantifiable way to measure your results and see how far you’ve come. If you want to run a 10K race by the end of the year, maybe you set mini goals to run a mile without stopping by March, run a 5K over the summer and do a 10K before Christmas. Write Them Down There’s something about physically writing down a goal that makes it a little easier to accomplish. You can put into words exactly what you want to do, and create a plan for how you’re going to do it. Getting specific and setting mini goals will help with that plan. You should also post your goals in a prominent place so that you see them all the time. That will help you stay motivated to keep going. Find Your Motives When it comes to health and fitness goals, it’s not enough to just want to do something. Consider what your motives are. If you just want to look good, that’s often not enough of a reason for most people to stick to a strict diet and exercise regimen. Figure out the deeper reason—you want to feel better about yourself, have more energy or live a long time for your kids and family. Maybe you want to be able to take a dream hiking vacation or play with your grandkids. Figure out your motive and let it be the driving force throughout the year. Reward Yourself While you should definitely reward yourself when you reach your big goal, you should give yourself small rewards throughout the year, too. If you finish that 5K race in the summer, treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes. It doesn’t have to be fitness related—you can see a movie, go to a...

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What to Look For in a Personal Trainer

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What to Look For in a Personal Trainer

You’ve decided that you want to seriously improve your fitness. Whether you’re a fitness fanatic looking to step your game up or a newbie trying to get in shape for the first time, a personal trainer can work with you to help you reach your goals. They work with you to create a personalized plan, push you through tough workouts and help you with your form so you don’t get hurt. Still, a personal trainer can be a big expense, so you want to make sure that you’re hiring the right person for you. Here’s what to look for in a personal trainer and some things to consider before taking the plunge. Credentials First thing’s first—a trainer should be able to show you their qualifications. In the age of the Internet, it’s very easily to get a certification online with minimal training as long as you’re willing to pay. Make sure that they’ve passed an exam and received their certification through an accredited organization such as The American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Experience A trainer with more experience who can show you proven results from other clients will likely be able to help you reach your goals. Keep in mind that there are plenty of great, new personal trainers out there, so experience isn’t everything. Plus, a more experienced or in-demand trainer may cost more than someone who’s just starting out. Personality You want to make sure that the trainer’s personality is compatible with yours, and that they’re coaching style matches your training style. If you need encouragement and positivity, a trainer who shouts, insults you and acts like an army general might not be for you. If your personalities don’t mesh, you may wind up quitting. See if you can do a trial session before committing. Exercise Philosophy The way your trainer sees exercise should match your personal workout style. Is the program going to be mostly indoors at the gym, or can you do the workouts outside? Do they place a heavier emphasis on cardio or on building strength? Make sure their exercise philosophy matches your personal style and aligns with your goals. Availability If you want to hire a popular trainer, they may be very busy with other clients. If you’re dedicated and disciplined enough to stick to your program even when your trainer isn’t there, you might be okay meeting once a week or even less. You’ll also need to consider whether he’ll be able to meet at different times, or whether you’ll have to schedule appointments weeks in advance. Cost Personal trainers can be expensive. You’ll need to look at what you can reasonably afford. Remember that this is usually an additional cost on top of a gym membership or equipment. Even if you can’t afford regular one-on-one sessions, some trainers offer group sessions or even packages that come at a discounted price. Patience This is probably the most important thing to look for in a personal trainer. There will be times when you don’t work as hard as your trainer would like, don’t follow his advice or don’t do everything in your program. A trainer who can be patient with you as you work to reach new goals...

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Basics of Gym Etiquette

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Basics of Gym Etiquette

Your gym probably has a set of rules that you need to follow—always wear shoes, no running on the gym floor, and return weights to their racks. But there are lots of unwritten, unofficial rules that gym goers follow. If you’re new to the gym, it can be confusing trying to figure out how to behave and what unspoken rules you should be following. Here are the basics of gym etiquette.  Wipe Down Machines If you’re getting a decent workout, there’s a good chance that you’ll work up a sweat. You leave sweat behind on benches, weights, handles and machines. You should wipe down the machines when you’re done using them so they’re clean for the next person. Most gyms have sanitizing wipes you can use. You may also want to wipe down equipment before you use it, just in case. Use Headphones Just because you love blasting Taylor Swift while you run, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else wants to listen to pop-country ballads. Use headphones while you’re working out so you don’t disturb the people around you. There are plenty of gym-specific styles that will make working out with headphones more comfortable. Don’t Hog Equipment You gym has a limited amount of space and equipment, and certain times of the day or year are going to get very busy. If there’s a line for the treadmills, don’t use them for an hour while people are waiting. Stick to thirty minutes maximum on cardio machines. When you’re resting between sets on weight machines, don’t just sit on the machine so no one else can use it. Let another person get their reps in while you recover, then switch off. Get Off the Phone Talking loudly on the phone on the gym floor is a big faux pas. No one needs to hear about your issues with your mom or the sordid details of your night out last night. Save the chitchat for your car ride home. Give Some Space When you’re working out, it’s nice to have a little bit of space and breathing room. If there are ten open ellipticals, there’s no reason to get on the one right next to the only person using them. Give people a little space and you’ll have more privacy, too. Don’t Treat the Locker Room Like Your Bathroom The gym locker room is not your home bathroom. You don’t need to be grooming excessively, taking long showers or engaging in any other more personal habits. You also don’t need to be hanging out completely nude and letting it all hang out. You may be comfortable chilling in your birthday suit, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Use the Mirrors Appropriately Gym mirrors are not for applying lip-gloss or taking gym selfies. They are there so that people can watch themselves while lifting to make sure that they’re keeping proper form. Don’t take up space in the mirror or walk right in front of someone who’s using it correctly. Leave the preening and admiring for your mirror at...

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How to Build Your Own Home Gym

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How to Build Your Own Home Gym

It’s a fitness enthusiast’s dream to have their own home gym full of fancy equipment, and maybe even a personal trainer who comes right to your house. No more membership fees, driving through traffic, waiting in line for machines or dealing with obnoxious and rude gym-goers (you know the type). Thankfully you don’t need to spend a fortune or have a mansion to create a quality home gym. Here are some basics you’ll need to get your home gym started. Mats You don’t want to work out on a hard floor. Get some mats that you can put down while you’re exercising. You can spring for fancy or thick gym mats, but a couple of yoga mats will work fine, too. Plus, you can roll them up and stash them. Hand Weights Hand weights ranging from about 5 to 25 lbs. are probably good for most average fitness enthusiasts, though you can certainly adjust to your needs. Have at least three different weights for different exercises, since you may have to use heavier or lighter weights depending on your strength.  Resistance Bands Resistance bands are perfect for strength training and don’t take up a lot of space. You can use them to work your arms, chest, back, glutes and thighs. They’re also great to take with you if you’re traveling. Stability Ball Though these take up a little more space than the other items on this list so far, they’re worth it. A stability ball can help you work your core in a variety of ways. Plus they’ll make basic sit ups a lot harder. You can also use them to strengthen your glutes, back and hamstrings. Jump Rope While we would all love to be able to fit a treadmill or stationary bike in our homes, it’s not realistic for most people. Jumping rope is a great cardiovascular exercise that requires very little time or space. Just ten minutes of jumping can burn up to 200 calories while strengthening your arms, legs and core. Get a weighted rope for added difficulty. Pull Up Bar A pull up bar can be used for so much more than those standard, gym class pull ups. You can work your biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, back and abs using one bar. There are plenty of ones you can buy that hang easily over a door, or you could even build one yourself. Stopwatch or Timer Since you won’t have the ease of the clocks or timers at the gym, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to keep track of how long you’re doing each exercise. This is especially important if you’re doing interval training (which is perfect for home gyms). Electronics If you want to get fancy, adding electronics to your home gym will make it a lot more fun. Playing music while you’re exercising keeps you motivated, and since you’re at home you don’t even need headphones. If you like to do workout DVDs, putting a TV and DVD player in the room will make it a lot easier since your equipment is already there. Of course, you can always select the best equipment for your own personal needs and preferences, and even expand if you have the money and space. We have tons of equipment reviews right here...

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Relax the Calf: Self Myofascial Release Techniques for Your Calves

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Relax the Calf: Self Myofascial Release Techniques for Your Calves

While foam rolling can be a quick and easy way to break up myofascial restrictions, decrease pain and increase range of motion in most areas of the body, the calves are a particularly tricky area to access alone with a foam roller.  Generally, foam rolling guides will tell you to sit on the ground with your legs outstretched, cross your legs at the ankles, and lay the calf of your bottom  legs across the foam roller, while using your arms to lift your hips off the ground, in an effort to put as much downward pressure into your lower legs as possible, hoping to transfer that pressure into the foam roller and achieve results in your calves.  There are, however, several problems with this method. First of all, it defies basic physics.  Physics tells us that with a long lever arm, such as the full length of your legs, the more muscular effort you’ll have to put into the foam roller to see results.  When you sit your hips on a foam roller, you’re mostly using the force of gravity to apply pressure.  As you move further down the leg, gravity helps less, and your own muscular energy has to make up the difference. Second, while large foam rollers are great as a generalized tool for large muscle groups, there are more than a dozen tiny muscles that make up the calf, each crossing the ankle and holding your body stable on unstable surfaces.  The larger more superficial muscles that make up the general shape of your calves and fuse into your Achilles tendon may get generalized relief from standard foam rolling practices, but to really impact your ankle mobility and break up fascial adhesion, you’ll need to work a little bit more specifically to see results. Prepping Your Calves To get the most out of your self myofascial work, it helps to prep your calves with gentle stretching.  While there are 12 separate muscles in your calf that cross the ankle joint to help stabilize and propel your movements, the two largest and most superficial are gastrocnemius and soleus.  Gastrocnemius originates above the knee, and forms the thickest part of your upper calf before tapering into the Achilles tendon and crossing the ankle.  Since it’s a two joint muscle, the best stretch is achieved with a straight knee and a flexed ankle, such as in warrior one pose in yoga. Soleus is a single joint muscle that starts toward the top of your lower leg, below your knee, and also fuses into the Achilles tendon.  It makes up the bulk of the muscle in your lower leg, below what is normally thought of as the calf bulge.  To target this muscle, stretch with a bent knee by flexing at the ankle with your knee bent to take the stretch off gastrocnemius and allow soleus to get the attention. Reversing the Force So we’ve already covered why your body weight isn’t particularly effective at generating pressure for the calves on a foam roller.  What if you switched roles, and left your body as the stationary object, using your roller to apply the downward force.  Sitting up on your knees, with your shins and the tops of your feet on the floor, place the foam roller across the back of...

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