Going Vegan in Japan

Going vegan seems to be the hottest new trend in health and diets out there. Recently, my husband and I watched the Netflix documentary, “What The Health.” While I do feel that some of the documentary was a little dramatized, there were definitely some great takeaway points and facts that I didn’t know prior to watching. I won’t go into detail, but you should check it out yourself, whether you decide to take the vegan plunge or not!

After watching, we were a little disturbed with some of the foods we consumed. There are definitely some vivid, lasting images in my mind that I can never unsee. As a physical therapist, promoting health and wellness is part of my role in life, so this all seemed like something I should definitely listen to and try. Seeing how dairy and eggs alone can lead to a higher risk of disease was enough to make me want to try switching to a vegan diet.

Over the last few years, I have come to realize firsthand the part that nutrition plays in my health. Two years ago, for about 3-4 months, I kept a food diary and completed an “elimination diet.” To break this down – I eliminated all major allergens and food intolerances that would be questionable (dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, etc.) and then reintroduced one thing (dairy), ate a lot of it one day, and then tracked how my body reacted the next 3 days. Then I would introduce the next thing. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and it definitely requires self-discipline. It was very much worth it though. Now I can “pick my battles” when it comes to food based on if I want to feel bloated that day, or if I want my allergies to act up, etc. It’s pretty interesting. Shoot me a message if you’re interested even more 😉

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With this history of eliminating many of these foods from my diet, I felt like I already had an upper hand on the whole “vegan” thing. I knew there were decent dairy and egg-free pizzas, cheeses, milks, yogurts, etc. I just had never gone without meat before – Ah!

The even trickier part to starting this is how limited we are with groceries in Japan. Neither of us can read Japanese, we can hardly speak the bare minimum conversationally, so we don’t know much of what we can buy at the grocery store besides your fresh items. Of course, we have the grocery store on the naval base, but again, it is a limited selection since only certain things are shipped from the US.

Scott and I agreed that we would try, but we also agreed to not give up hope if we couldn’t make it work in Japan. We will be in San Diego, CA in just about 2 months and we know it will be much easier to adapt to a vegan lifestyle there.

Oh and did I mention – in Japan, they don’t have ovens in their homes!? Yeah, so we can only use the stovetop and our microwave. We could buy a toaster oven and/or a crockpot – BUT we’re also in a predicament here. You see, all of my 1 bedroom apartment belongings (food processor, crockpot, George Forman grill) are all back in MD… so we obviously don’t want to buy too much more and have duplicates of items that we already have (and will be reunited with soon).

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So to get started, we did a lot of searching online. From Pinterest to Instagram to random other websites. I have my basic recipes, but we wouldn’t to make sure we didn’t get bored. I’ll post a few links below that helped us out, specifically the ones that were easy and tasty 🙂

Our general grocery list looks like this:

  • Bananas
  • Fruit that is on sale (blueberries, pineapple..)
  • Baby spinach
  • Potatoes (regular or sweet depending on what is accessible)
  • Onions
  • Green and Red Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Baby Carrots
  • Mushrooms (I know there are different kinds but we’re not that smart yet)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, mangos..)
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fortified Cereals (Cheerios)
  • Granola
  • Ground Flax seed
  • Frozen fruits and veggies (whatever is on sale)
  • Granola bars (whatever we can find that is Vegan and somewhat healthy)
  • Almond milk (usually unsweetened vanilla.. but chocolate is also delish)
  • Tofu and/or some other “meatless meat” in the frozen section (hoping to eventually only rely on the frozen ones every once in awhile)
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Avocados
  • Salsa
  • Black Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Hummus
  • Pretzel crisps (or other chips for dipping/snack)
  • Spaghetti Sauce (to at least have around, even if you don’t use it right away)
  • Seasonings (we already have a few, but basic sea salt, ground pepper, garlic salt, chili powder are helpful.. others too – but again, we are on a time constraint)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Nut butter (we already had almond butter and peanut butter)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Coconut Water
  • Vegan Protein Powder (because we like to work out a good bit)
  • Enjoy Life chocolate chips (very optional but we love chocolate so..)

Okay so that is a basic list for the two of us for about a week (maybe more, maybe less). Of course sometimes we have to run out and get something else, but that’s usually only one thing and it changes all the time!

So for breakfast, we generally eat cereal/granola and almond milk with some sort of fresh fruit. I will also make smoothies (fresh and frozen fruit with some flax seed, coconut water, and almond milk) occasionally, oatmeal, overnight oats, I’ve even made vegan pancakes pending what we have in the cupboard. And of course, I’ll have a cup of coffee usually. Right now we’ve been drinking ours black, but I know there are almond, soy, and coconut milk creamers back in the US.. just none available to us here!

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When you think about not eating meat, the first thing you probably think about is a protein deficiency. There are plenty of articles that go into depth with this – but what I didn’t think about were other deficiencies, the main one being Vitamin B12. Okay, so you could buy a supplement (I love gummy vitamins, not gonna lie). BUT you can actually get B12 in Fortified cereals (Cheerios, for example) and nutritional yeast! This was something I definitely didn’t know until I did some research.

Easy Lunch and/or Dinner meals:

Smoothie Bowls (AKA make a smoothie and sprinkle whatever toppings you want on top)

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– Usually my smoothies consist of banana, frozen fruit, flax, coconut water, almond milk. I’m kind of plain and stick to that often, but feel free to make your own and switch it up! I’ve made green smoothies plenty of times with kale, spinach, and/or avocado!
– Toppings may be: granola, sliced almonds, coconut flakes, flax seed, chia seed, other fresh fruit.

Salads

Be creative with salads because they can get old quick!

Usually our salads include some sort of darker leaf (spinach), sometimes we mix other types of lettuce in (romaine, arugula). Toppings include things like: dried fruit (craisins), almond slices, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fresh fruit (strawberries), avocado, cucumbers, zucchini, garbanzo beans, vegan cheese … really whatever you have and seems to go together!

Rice/Quinoa Bowls

Quinoa bowl – The one below is a Spinach Quinoa “Risotto” that was sooo good. See the recipe here!

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Poke Bowl – This is just your basic “sushi bowl” … kind of. Use white or brown rice – whatever you prefer – and throw some raw veggies on top! We cut up some carrots, avocado, cucumber, and then threw some soy sauce on there! You can definitely top it with tons of others, it was just what we had at the time! Super easy!

Rice and Veggies – Simple cook your rice (or make it in bulk so you can use it for other ones above too) and then sautéed vegetables.. throw them together and voila! If you want to add a salsa or vegan cheese.. hot sauce..liquid smoke.. the options are endless!

Mexican bowl – Again, plop whatever rice and/or quinoa in a bowl. Throw in some salsa, black beans, if you want any seitan or tofu that is seasoned to taste, avocado, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions.. literally whatever!!

Tacos/Wraps

Tacos – For our tacos, we used seitan ground “beef” that we bought in the frozen center. We grabbed a taco seasoning packet and then made the “meat” according to the packet – super easy! We grabbed some tortillas, cut up some tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, vegan cheese, and added some salsa.. yum! You can also just make black bean tacos.. And I’m sure you could substitute the black beans for the seitan even!? Not sure, but it’s worth a try!!

Veggie Wraps –

You know all those veggies that are about to go bad? Well, we used leftover tortillas and all our leftover veggies, put them in a wrap together and put some salsa and vegan cheese on it. Or you can add hummus. Again, the options are endless and really depends on what you have! Super simple and tasty!! And helps us get rid of veggies that are about to go bad…

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Vegan Sushi

— This may be tricky, but as long as you get the sticky white rice, you should be good. You will need a bamboo wrap thing too (not sure what the fancy name is, just being real here). I didn’t do this one, my husband did. I’m a little more impatient so I think it was better for him to do 😉 Haha. We used this video to help us out!

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Chili

So for this, I ended up boiling some regular potatoes first. I put them in the Tupperware containers and then poured the chili over top so that it gave a little “meal.” I based everything off of this recipe – but I’ll be honest, I really changed it and kind of just “winged it” (how I cook most of the time, let’s be real). I also really want to try making pumpkin chili one time… I had it once in the past from a co-worker and it was amazing!

Pastas

Basic Spaghetti – Okay, this is for real the most simple. Grab a vegan spaghetti sauce and some noodles of your choice. What I ended up doing to add a little extra – I sautéed some spinach, onions, and green peppers together and then added them to the sauce and let it simmer a little. I threw in some chick peas then for a little extra protein! You can get creative with this, though! And if you want to make your own sauce – by all means, go for it!

Another easy pasta dish we tried (recipe below)…

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Creamy Vegan One Pot Pasta

Snacks

Hummus and pretzel crisps/veggies. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been doing this foreverrrr anyways, haha.

Banana “Nice Cream” – There are so many varieties of this you can look up. There’s even a whole Instagram account dedicated to it! I do recommend a food processor, my blender had some issues with grinding up the frozen bananas and it was a little frustrating.

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Oat balls – Amazing. I’m obsessed with both kinds. Peanut butter chocolate chip and almond butter with raisins. Note: I’ve had to change these both a little bit – I’m not sure if my proportions were off or what, but I usually end up with more dry ingredients…? Just as a heads up 😉

Complete Cookies (okay, we buy these). They aren’t too bad for you and they definitely help a sweet tooth! You may be able to find limited flavors some places, or you can order in bulk here.

I hope this gives you a good idea on how to eat vegan even with limited resources. Will it take time to learn – yes, definitely. But if you’re committed, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you!! You can do it! 🙂

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Oh and if you’re in Kamakura, Japan, I highly recommend checking out Vegetus – an all vegan restaurant that we visited for a night out. It was delicious whether you’re vegan or not!! We found it on Happycow.net — which is an amazing restaurant that can help you find Vegan restaurants (or options) near you!

Good luck if you want to try it out! If not, you can still try the recipes 😉 You might be surprised!

– Jen

(Follow me on Instagram – @jennstrack19 if you want to check my vegan progress!)

 

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Love, Pray, Eat… Or Something Like That: Thailand

Okay, so I was kind of going to claim Japan as my “Eat” category, but if I’m going to be honest, I ate so much EVERYWHERE. No shame, I couldn’t help it! I am going to classify Thailand as the “Love” because I 1) loved it here and 2) felt so much love from all of the locals.

So the day that my true solo travels began, I took the first train at 5 AM towards Tokyo. I did awesome with this, I was super proud of myself. BUT, I still only got to the train station about 90 minutes prior to my flight, so I had to book it around. Luckily, everything at Narita International Airport went pretty smoothly. I desperately wanted coffee because I had not made any that morning, but I had gotten to the gate with only a few people in line left to board..phew! No big deal, though. I am very blessed with the ability to sleep on airplanes, and everywhere, actually. Give me a concrete floor and I will gladly nap. I took AirAsia, which I was initially nervous about since it was a new airline name to me, but they ended up being awesome. You can read my snippet about them on my other post.

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My flight went straight from Tokyo to Bangkok, with a 3.5 hour layover until my flight to Phuket. I figured that would be great, I could get through customs, get some money out of the ATM, get some coffee, and relax.. Well, that was not exactly the case. I waited in line at immigration for 2.5 hours. I was so antsy the whole time, sweating and everything. Every other line seemed to be moving faster, but of course I didn’t want to jinx it and just stayed in my line. Finally I noticed I only had an hour and I politely asked these 3 men in front of me if I could go ahead of them (all while apologizing a million times). You see, I still didn’t have my boarding pass because of the way I booked my flight (the company does it that way so it’s cheaper, I believe). So once I got through, I literally ran from the international arrivals to the domestic terminal, up the stairs, asking questions frantically to 3 different people along the way. Everyone was so nice and helpful, I can’t thank them enough. I got my boarding pass with about 35 minutes until the flight left (they were already boarding). So I ran to get all my baggage checked again (only carry-ons, thank goodness!!) I once again made it to my gate while the last few people were getting on. I noticed there was an ATM nearby and decided to try to get money out here. I ended up ending the transaction, my card popped out with no money, and I was left confused thinking they took my money. It didn’t, I was just being frantic. I’m totally sure people were laughing at me. I ended up doing it again and got some money out for real this time (duh). If I remember correctly, the money pops out before your card – so be careful not to leave your card at an ATM in Thailand!!

Once I arrived in Phuket, I felt super relieved. I finally made it, yay!! So I decided to stay at Puding Guest Long in Chalong.  It had a little bit of a musky smell (I have a strang sense of smell), but otherwise, it was a cute little place and everyone was super friendly. There’s a coffee shop downstairs, also. I had no idea going into my Thailand trip where I wanted to stay or anything, but it seemed kind of central and it was only $15 USD a night. Chalong itself is about an hour taxi ride from the airport, which I paid around 800 baht to my hotel, 700 baht from my hotel to the airport when I left. Again, I didn’t do my research much, but Chalong is actually where all the Muay Thai trainers go! For me, I enjoyed this since I’m into fitness and all of that. It felt safe, there are bars and restaurants, but no clubs or anything quite as crazy as those in Patong. Almost all of the restaurants have healthy food – raw, vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc. Again, for me, I loved this. I was able to both try Thai food as well as mix it up with healthier options.

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The night I arrived in Phuket, I went straight to find food. I honestly don’t remember the name of the restaurant, I just know it was on the main street in Chalong. I decided I wanted Thai food, because duh, I’m in Thailand! I’m not a huge spicy food person, but I figured, hey, why not! So I ordered green curry. Well, I did not get any pictures, I’m sorry to say. But I did spend the entire dinner wondering if my food was still hot temperature-wise, or if my mouth was just constantly on fire. It was weird though, it seemed that every time I brought the spoon closer to my mouth, even without touching my lips, I could feel the heat radiating. I’m such a spicy food amateur, I’ll tell ya. So the whole dinner I basically did my best to finish my food while trying to casually drink my water and banana smoothie. Ya know, without people noticing I secretly wanted to dunk my entire head in ice. And cry. Classic first meal in Thailand.

In the morning, my first day of adventures included an Elephant Sanctuary Visit. I was so pumped about this and it turned out to be everything I dreamed of! I had heard of many different sanctuaries throughout Thailand, but not as many in the Phuket region. I booked my tour through Viator (a tour website that I actually booked all my trips through when I was in Thailand). The company itself is Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket. You can read more of their story on Facebook by searching for @ejsinphuket on Facebook or checking out their website at http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

Okay, but before I went to this tour, I needed to get coffee. I wanted it so bad the day before!!! The wait was so worth it. I checked out this place called “Latte Caffe” and it was amaaaaazing!! I got me a nice coconut milk latte and an oatmeal pancake topped with nutella and banana (seen below).

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My driver picked me up right at my hotel during the time frame they had said. It was cool because I got to ride in the back of a truck, true Thailand style. We picked up another solo traveler from France on the way, then got a little lost due to the driver going to the wrong hotel, but finally picked up our last couple from England before heading to the actual sanctuary. Unfortunately, since I was the first one picked up and furthest out of the way, I’d say I spent about 2-2.5 hours in the truck. Obviously, this is also because we got a little lost. We ended up being the last ones to the sanctuary, but they didn’t start without us! There were a bunch of different people that had been picked up from different trucks at different places on the island. They had already mashed up some bananas to feed the elephants and were prepping more food when we arrived.

The tour began with a little information about what they do at the elephant sanctuary. They basically rescue elephants from tourism and elephant rides because they can be very mistreated in these situations. From terrible weather conditions, inadequate nutrition due to long days of work, and disciplinary actions that may cause bleeding or other harm to the elephant, the tourism industry is a sad way for people to make money off the elephants. The elephants at the sanctuary were rescued and are now treated as family, which you can completely see during the interaction between the humans and the elephants now!

During the tour, we were able to first feed the elephants, then bathe them in the muddy water, and then help them rinse off. It was so much fun to see the different personalities that each elephant had! There was even one that was a few months old. He acted just like a child. They kept calling him “bad boy” because he would run away, or flop over in the mud, or just do other childish things. But hey, what else would you expect from a toddler?? It was adorable!

After all of the fun with the elephants, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal from the hosts. I, of course, made sure to try everything! It was all amazing, and not too spicy unless you added spices and sauces yourself (I didn’t). We then started packing up and heading home. I did the afternoon tour, which meant we hit Patong at rush hour. So if you are looking to get back without traffic, I may recommend taking the morning half-day tour! I did get to see a pretty sunset view on the way home, though!

The next morning, I was supposed to go on a sunrise snorkeling tour to Phi Phi island. Unfortunately, due to weather, the trip was canceled (boo!). I thought about going on an adventure by myself, but I decided that I am always on the go and maybe I should take a day to myself! So I did! I ended up getting an hour long foot massage, pedicure, and manicure for roughly 30 USD total! The ladies were so nice and accommodating. I ended up going right in Chalong just a short walk away from where I was staying, but there are a ton of places! I also decided to eat at a Vegan restaurant, “Pure Vegan Heaven” this day. Like the rest of the food, it was also amazing.

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My last full day in Thailand, I took a trip to Phang Nga Bay! I was really looking forward to getting out and doing something again after relaxing all day the day before. Again, I booked my tour through Viator; however, I was lucky enough to find John Gray’s Sea Canoe tour on there. From what I had heard (and according to locals), this was the best! It really was an amazing day. Everything went smoothly from pick-up to drop-off. My van ended up being filled with me and 3 other Americans from all parts of the country, but when we arrived, there were actually 3 boats they were taking out on the water! I’d say each boat had about 30+ people on it.

Once we were on the boat, the guides asked us if we had any allergies. This might not sound like something big to highlight, but I actually have a cashew allergy, so I had to be careful in Thailand. When they served our food later in the day, they actually made me a completely separate plate without cashews! It was amazing and so thoughtful! All of the food was so delicious! We had both lunch and dinner served to us, as well as coffee and a snack.

If I remember correctly, we ended up going out into the water 3 different times into 3 different areas. It’s all hard to explain, and the pictures don’t exactly do it justice, but it was all so beautiful. Seeing the stalactites and stalagmites (which I had to remember which was which at first), being able to drift through the caves in the dark, and just hearing the softness of the water rippling around you. It was like a dream. Since I was traveling alone, I ended up pairing up with one of the other Americans, who was also traveling alone. Our instructor “Nub” was great! He was so knowledgeable and was able to point out things that, honestly, I’m not even sure how he saw them, haha.

Once it got dark, we were able to release the Loy (or Loi) Krathong that we created with our guide into the water. There is a Loy Krathong festival that is held every year in Thailand and other surrounding countries. It consists of people releasing a Krathong (a floating lantern made out of the trunk of a banana tree) into the water to allow their misfortunes to float away in hopes of receiving good fortune in the upcoming year.

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The ride back on the boat was beautiful, the sky was mostly clear, and the moon was shining down as the warm air breezed past us. Of course, I would have loved to have spent this moment with my significant other, but alone with my thoughts and happiness is second best I guess 😉 I believe we ended up returning to our lodges/places of stay around 10 pm!

So my flight out the next day wasn’t until 10, so I had all day to explore. I ended up booking another tour (through Viator, of course) to see a few spots on the island for half a day. It was only about $9 USD for transport and all of the stops, and it actually lasted from about 8:30-2 pm. We stopped at two different overlooks, a cashew factory (they had more than just cashews!), Wat Chalong Temple, and the largest jewelry store in the world – Gems Gallery: Phuket! Of course, in the morning, I had to start off with some more amazing food..this time from a little place called “Greze” right in Chalong. I tried my first bulletproof coffee here and had it with a greek yogurt bowl with personally picked toppings! I loved it all!

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My tour guide was amazing, and the others in the group were from England (a couple) and Pakistan (a solo traveler). It was great to have this smaller group so we could interact a little more and get to know each other. For example, the man from Pakistan was going to travel with his wife to Thailand but she was just now pregnant with their second child, how sweet! We ended up being buddies throughout the trip, sharing dried mangos and other random dried fruits out of a can, taking pictures for each other, etc. It’s amazing what you learn about someone when you talk to them! 🙂 He was so happy to travel to Thailand, even got a tattoo in Bangkok. Such a nice guy.

After being dropped off back at my lodge, I packed up my things, grabbed a bite to eat (I can’t remember where to be honest), and then got a taxi. I was a little nervous because my guest lodge had organized my airport transfer before. I heard you could get ripped off potentially, so I was prepared. I went across the street to a restaurant called, “Tony’s,” which I had ate at one night (super cheap, huge selection, but not exactly the best quality). They organize tours here as well as taxis. My taxi driver who picked me up was the sweetest little old man I have ever seen!!! I was so happy. He spoke a little bit of English, so we talked a little bit of the way. At the end I made sure to tip him well, he smiled ear to ear and said, “See you later!” I had told him along the way how much I loved Thailand and wanted to come back! All in all, I definitely didn’t get ripped off and I felt safe the whole time.

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Thailand was such an adventure for me and I wholeheartedly mean it when I say I can’t wait to return. Next time I hope to stay in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then head south for some island hopping! I also wanted to say I had no troubles at Phuket International Airport, which I had read elsewhere. It all went very smoothly! Until I left Thailand that is..but that can be for the next blog 😉

Up next…Bali!

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Dynamic Stretching: Part 1… “The Basics”

If you’re like me, you’ve been doing dynamic stretches practically forever. I grew up always performing “high-knees,” “butt kicks,” and “toy soldiers” before every practice and game. Of course, in college I actually had an idea of what I was doing, compared to when I was younger, but nobody ever told me why I was doing these. My coaches would just tell me to stretch and that it was good for me and I, as well as my teammates, accepted that. Lucky for me, I got into a profession where I can finally figure out why I am doing these sometimes-crazy-looking-stretches and how they are going to affect my performance. Let’s start off with the basics… but, beware, this is part of an in-service presentation I am giving, so it can get a little science-y.. (I left a “bottom line” portion at the end of each paragraph or so, if that helps)

What is dynamic stretching?

Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that incorporates whole body movements in an active manner. Dynamic stretching does not involve bouncing movements that exceed comfortable ranges of motion. This type of stretching would be known as ballistic stretching and is not to be confused with dynamic stretching.1

What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?

Static stretching is a prolonged, passive stretch that is generally held for a few seconds up to about 90 seconds. Static stretching is said to acutely depress the reflex activity of a muscle and increase muscle compliance. The increase in muscle compliance then increases the time to and decreases the force of a myofibril contraction during muscle performance. 1 In a comparison, dynamic stretching is said to help preserve this muscle-tendon unit stiffness in order to enhance muscle performance instead of stunt it. In a systematic review, static stretching of the upper body was shown to have neutral effects on power, whereas it was shown to negatively affect physiological outcomes (Ex: heart rate, vO2). 2 It is important to include static stretching in sports that require static flexibility; however, 90 seconds of static stretching has been shown to produce impairments on dynamic movements. 3

Bottom Line: Static stretching is okay to improve passive motion; however, it can impair activities that involve strength and power.

Why does it work? (#science)

One theory behind dynamic stretching is known as postactivation potentiation (PAP). PAP increases cross bridge cycling via an increase in myosin phosphorylation of the regulatory light chains. 3 In more basic terms, by performing similar muscle contractions, you are conditioning the muscle and its contractility so that it is more, in a sense, “ready” to perform more contractions. Essentially, you are progressively warming up the muscle so that it may contract more efficiently in the exercise that follows. 4 PAP is said to increase the rate and ability of a muscle to develop force; therefore, it influences and increases a muscle’s mechanical power. 4

Some other thoughts behind dynamic stretching include its ability to increase heart rate and increase core and muscle temperature. By doing so, the blood flow is increased throughout the body so that the body may move more efficiently during activity. 4 In addition, dynamic stretching is said to improve kinesthetic awareness and enhance motor unit excitability. 1

 Bottom Line: Dynamic stretching can enhance your performance in activities that follow by improving a muscle’s effectiveness and efficiency during muscle contractions. It helps get your muscles ready for the important stuff!!

How will this benefit me?

If you are performing any sort of active motion, you will want to initiate dynamic stretching instead of static stretching. While static stretching has been shown to improve static flexibility, most required functional tasks and/or exercises involve active movement, which requires dynamic stretching to improve.

Types of dynamic stretching are important to consider based on the tasks/activities performed after the warm up. 2, 4 The velocity and intensity of lower body dynamic stretching has been shown to impact and improve both vertical jump and long jump performance. 4 In a study by Chatzopoulos et al, dynamic stretching was shown to improve balance on a stability board whereas static stretching was shown to harm balance. This is attributed to the quick movements needed to maintain one’s balance.

It should be noted that if a person already has a way they like to warm up or some sort of stretching routine involving static stretching that they are not willing to change, static stretching deficits should not exceed 5% in comparison to no stretching. 6

 Bottom Line: When you move, you use your muscles differently than when you stand still. So why warm up by standing still? Get out there and MOVE to warm up! Also, just remember that some people are stubborn and won’t change their ways – they shouldn’t be negatively affected greatly by static stretching before exercise, but they will be affected (and YOU will be better than them, duh).

Does it affect the upper and lower body differently?

Currently in the literature, there are no articles to investigate the effects of dynamic stretching of the upper body and its impact on injury prevention. High-load dynamic stretching in the upper body (anything greater than 20% of maximum effort, ex: plyometrics) has been shown to improve strength and power with good evidence, flexibility, and delayed onset muscle soreness with moderate evidence . 2 In the upper body, there was also no benefit in performing low-load dynamic stretching (Ex: repetitively gripping a sponge) prior to exercise. Specifically for those who play baseball, dynamic task-specific warm-ups (swinging a bat) at the standard weight has been shown to improve swing speed more than using a heavier or lighter weighted bat. 2

One study of the upper body also demonstrated that a low-volume dynamic stretch of the pectoralis and triceps brachii muscles showed a decrease in the maximal isometic peak force during the bench press exercise. There was also no short-term effect on the time to maximal isometric force or the rate of force production following dynamic stretching. In the same study, there was a negative effect induced by static stretching when performing upper body tasks after. This must be taken with caution, again, as we do not know the proper load and duration to perform dynamic stretching. We must also consider that there are articles out there that say otherwise (that dynamic stretching improves performance). Additionally, the 2 dynamic stretches performed in this study may not have been appropriate in fully stretching or warming up the muscles in a dynamic, task-specific manner. 7

In regards to the lower body, a study by Curry et al. compared static vs. dynamic stretching in females in their mid-20s and its effect on lower body balance, force production, reaction time, and power output. In these females, who were recreational athletes, time to peak performance improved with both 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and a 5 minute bout of light cycling. These improvements were seen 5 minutes after stretching had occurred. 30 minutes after stretching had occurred, time to peak force began to increase with the basic cycling; however, it remained fairly steady in those who performed the dynamic stretching routine.

 Bottom Line: There is little to no research out there to show any evidence in dynamic stretching decreasing a risk of injury in the upper or lower body. While there is more research on the lower body, both the upper and lower body generally seem to have impairments of power and strength following static stretching while there are enhancements following dynamic stretching. Wade cautiously, though, some studies don’t have many subjects.. There definitely needs to be more research.

How long should I stretch?

For upper body dynamic stretching, there has been no research to determine proper load and duration that provides maximal effectiveness to improve strength and power. 2

In regards to lower body dynamic stretching, a study by Ryan et al. compared 3 groups who performed different warm-up activities: A-5 minute jog and 6 minutes of dynamic stretching, B-5 minute jog and 12 minutes of dynamic stretching, C-5 minute jog only. Those in group B who performed a longer duration of dynamic stretching showed a decrease in muscular endurance, attributed to a decrease in high-energy phosphates and a repeated high-intensity contraction to failure. Both groups A and B showed an increase in vertical jump height and velocity. Group C, who did not perform any dynamic stretching, had no effect on the vertical jump; however, did show an increase in flexibility. Overall, the most appropriate volume, as concluded by this study, indicates that 6 minutes of dynamic stretching after a 5 minute jog is adequate in stretching the hip and thigh musculature, improving vertical jump performance, and not affecting muscular endurance. To be noted, this study was performed with recreationally active men in their mid-20s.

 Bottom Line: Don’t stretch too little because you won’t see a great effect. Don’t stretch too long because then you’re going to have tired muscles. Simple as that. 6-10 minutes is most likely adequate; however, it will depend on how “in shape” or well-trained you are. The higher training you have, the more it will take before you fatigue.

But I’m not a young, 20 year old, competitive athlete?

This will still help you!! While most of the literature focuses on high-school aged to mid-20s recreational and competitive athletes, a study by Behm et al. recognizes the similarities and differences in dynamic stretching effects in regards to young and middle-aged men. The study mentions that dynamic stretching provides similar improvements to static flexibility as static stretching does. It also notes that static stretch-induced impairments and dynamic stretch-induced enhancements of the countermovement jump are not affected by the difference in age, meaning they respond similarly as the younger counterparts. The article also mentions previous literature that discusses that older, untrained women experienced a deficit in strength training following static stretching, similar to younger female athletes studied. While these demonstrate similar effects on middle-aged people, we must keep in mind the elderly and frail have not yet been studied in regards to effects of dynamic stretching.

Bottom Line: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, dynamic stretching still works the same! Age is not an excuse!!

Is there anything I should be cautious about?

Caution should be taken when performing dynamic stretching prior to any activity that may have a higher risk of knee injury in regards to an improper hamstring:quadriceps ratio. 8 In a study by Costa et al, an overall decrease in hamstring:quadriceps ratio was seen, suggesting that the hamstrings may respond to this type of stretch differently than the quadriceps. The hamstrings provide a great deal of eccentric control in the last 3rd of the swing phase during running as well as assist the anterior cruciate ligament (that darn ACL everybody hears about..) in decreasing anterior tibial translation. As this study shows a decrease in peak torque of the hamstrings, caution must be taken in order to maintain a proper balance between muscles. While this is not a true contraindication and more of a precautionary measure, clinical judgment should be made before introducing dynamic stretching. As this is only one study, there should be further research to determine if there is a higher risk of injury in certain regions after performing dynamic stretches of particular muscles or if this study is merely an outlier.

Bottom Line: There is one study that says to be cautious performing dynamic stretching before activities that cause a higher risk of knee injury (basketball, soccer, etc.) HOWEVER, this is ONE study and to be conclusive to the larger population, there needs to be more standardization, subjects, and further research in general. Proceed with the same caution you would proceed with when performing any activity.. just use your noggin!!

So… now you know the basics. Stay tuned for some upcoming posts with different examples and what they are targeting, etc.

Have a great day! 🙂

-Jen

References

1Curry B, Chengkalath D, Crouch G, Romance M, Manns P. Acute effects of dynamic stretching, static stretching, and light aerobic activity on muscular performance in women.Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association [serial online]. September 2009;23(6):1811-1819. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

2McCrary J, Ackermann B, Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. British Journal Of Sports Medicine [serial online]. February 18, 2015;Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

3Samson M, Button D, Chaouachi A, Behm D. Effects of dynamic and static stretching within general and activity specific warm-up protocols. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine [serial online]. June 1, 2012;11(2):279-285. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

4Ryan E, Everett K, Fiddler R, et al. Acute effects of different volumes of dynamic stretching on vertical jump performance, flexibility and muscular endurance. Clinical Physiology And Functional Imaging [serial online]. November 2014;34(6):485-492. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

5Chatzopoulos D, Galazoulas C, Patikas D, Kotzamanidis C. Acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on balance, agility, reaction time and movement time. Journal Of Sports Science & Medicine [serial online]. May 1, 2014;13(2):403-409. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

6Behm D, Plewe S, Button D, et al. Relative static stretch-induced impairments and dynamic stretch-induced enhancements are similar in young and middle-aged men. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, And Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquée, Nutrition Et Métabolisme [serial online]. December 2011;36(6):790-797. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

7Leone D, Pezarat P, Valamatos M, Fernandes O, Freitas S, Moraes A. Upper body force production after a low-volume static and dynamic stretching. European Journal Of Sport Science [serial online]. 2014;14(1):69-75. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

8Costa P, Herda T, Herda A, Cramer J. Effects of dynamic stretching on strength, muscle imbalance, and muscle activation. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise [serial online]. March 2014;46(3):586-593. Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA.

Let me see you 1, 2 step

Hey everyone!! So.. I have been doing workouts on my steps for years (just ask my sister who I always woke up on Saturday mornings). There are TONS of things you can do on steps, but for this post, I will just focus on a few, specifically targeting the legs and hips. These are just easy things you can do without leaving home that still change up your workout a little bit 🙂 Also, sorry for the cat if you can see him… he is my shadow..

1) Heel Taps. These help to focus on the eccentric control of your quadriceps specifically, while also helping to encourage more ankle range of motion and gluteal stability to realign your pelvis to level as you come back up.

2) Single Leg Heel Raises. This will help to encourage more balance on your stance leg while focusing on your gastroc-soleus complex to assist with push-off during running, walking, etc. Try to not hold on if possible! Allow your heel to sink down past the height of the step and make sure to go slow and controlled as you sink down to focus on the eccentric contraction!!

3) Lunges. These are fairly simple and can be done forward, backwards, or to the side (as seen below). Go up and back down to focus on concentric and eccentric contractions of your quads, inner and outer thighs, and gluteal region. As you get better, feel free to go faster and change this to a more plyometric-style workout!

4) Stair squats. I’m not sure what these are actually called, but they are fun. Please disregard my form, I kind of hurt my ankle a little a few weeks ago so my ankle movement is super poor right now. Try to keep your heels down when you squat (not like me) and make sure you push your glutes back, trying to break at least 90 degrees to really emphasize better form. Try these slow at first so you don’t trip or fall (I have before.. not shown here, haha).

5) Monster Lunges. Again, not sure what to call these, but they look similar to monster walks so I think this is a good name. This will help to work on more of that side to side motion while still emphasizing all of the benefits and functional components of a lunge.

Not shown here: Running  up and down the steps forwards/backwards/sideways – try them all for a little cardio boost that is more entertaining than a plain old run at the gym. Plus, if you have pets that you are dodging, it’s an added bonus 😉

Have a great day everyone! I hope these are helpful and you can try them out soon! 🙂
-Jen

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”