The Silence of the Hams #everydayposer

I’m talking hamstrings today. How tight are yours? Many of my clients come to me with a goal to reach their toes again. I sympathize–I have reached longingly for my toes too. But tight hamstrings aren’t the end of the world, right? I mean touching my toes, while nice to do, isn’t really a problem, is it?

Spoiler alert: it is. Well, it is important to have mobile posterior hips if you value your pelvic floor. If you wish to end chronic back pain. If you would like to rid yourself of tension headaches. If breathing matters…

Wait, a minute! Our ability to breathe depends on loose hips? Yes my friends, the old saying is wrong–it is TIGHT hips that sink ships. Here is a relatively poor, but sort of accurate drawing (I did myself!) of two bodies:

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The posterior body of the drawing on the right is tight. All over. And eventually, this poor stick figure will begin to have some amount of trouble in the tight areas. We tend to seek help for low back problems and lay low for tension headaches, but this tightness is a whole body issue–and symptoms will continue to crop up along the posterior connections as long as there is any amount of tension anywhere.

So, we can stretch out of it, right? I’m sorry, but no. “Stretching” a tight muscle is much like stretching a tight rubber band. It just springs back to its original length. And to complicate matters more, all your tissues are connected. Stretch your back, but not your hamstrings, you still have posterior tension. It shouldn’t be hard to reach our toes at all–small children do it easy breezy. So we get old and tight, nothing to be done, end of blog. Wrong again, banana nose. Let’s check out the difference of those two stick figures again and look at what started the back body tension: the one inch block beneath the heel. Which is my equivalent of drawing a shoe.

But, I know that you don’t wear high heels shoes, right? Now I’m the wrong one. Here is a photo of my husband’s running shoe (he LOVED doing this project by the way):

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When seen from the inside, there is a one inch rise from the ball of the foot to the heel. I don’t encourage you to take a band saw to all your shoes, but know this: ANY amount of rise in the heel will crumple your back side into a screaming knot of pain someday. Will you change your shoes now? Run a band saw through them maybe? The length of your connective tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia and the like) depends on what you do all day, everyday–not what you do for a few minutes in an exercise class, even one like yoga where you “stretch.”

I’m running out of words and time for this post. SIGN UP to get my posts and the next installation which will be how to test the posterior body’s tension!! A REAL cliff hanging kind of ending, I know, but you can handle it. In the meantime, check your shoes!

Sunday Morning Coffee

I love Sunday morning. Even though I’m not currently involved in a religious community right now, having been brought up in a tradition of observing a time of reflection, it sticks.

So, I have my coffee and one of two things result: quiet time on the deck or a meditative walk with week-in-review-time in my head. Guess what: it is time for a rant.

I almost titled this blog “Dear Exercise Science Major Please Note: The Foot Does NOT Pronate” because that is what this rant will be about. But I like “Sunday Morning Coffee” better because it sounds nice and I’m nice and I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But, then again, this isn’t about feelings, it is about understanding. One thing a college education should teach you is how to discern information, especially information within your field of study.

So, last week was Father’s Day and I took my wonderful spouse out for brunch. It was a glorious, kick back in your chair kind of meal out on a deck, casual enough to put our feet up on the extra chairs. Seeing my husband’s shoes, our really nice waitress struck up a conversation about running and shoes and she pronates and is an Exercise Science Major going into Physical Therapy. And I said, “feet don’t pronate.”

Please know this. It is important. Pronation is a movement that only happens in a human body within the relationship between your wrist and elbow due to the fact your radius and ulna can rotate. ROTATE. So if you are told by a shoe salesperson that your feet “pronate” (which they don’t), and you need expensive, supportive shoes to “fix” pronation, what the SHOE salesperson is trying to sell you is essentially snake oil.

 

You don’t need special shoes. You need hips that are strong enough to align your knees. I can explain this or I can just send you to this video clip by Katy Bowman. She is the shit, so watch her explanation please!

The lateral hip is pretty stinking important. Keep yours strong. Because what is rotating is your knee. Not. your. foot. Your feet most likely turn out, but that is called eversion, which is most likely due to you shifting your weight forward in your foot toward your big toe knuckle. Let’s just say there is a bunch wrong with that and stick to the knees for now. You don’t want your knee to rotate, mkay?

And so now I can go finish my Sunday morning walk, practice using my lateral hip, and return to coffee on the deck. Have a beautiful day my friends!

Everyday Poser–Walking in the Snow!

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Here is what my neighborhood looked like this morning. Usually when things go winter around here, I get asked (told?), “you didn’t walk TODAY did you???”

Yes. I walk everyday. Walking is the best pose you can do for your body, yogis. And walking on varied surfaces is important for all kinds of reasons. Mostly this morning, my lateral hip muscles got a bit of challenge. These are called the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Which always makes me want coffee. But I had it before I left the house and I LOVED my morning practice of “walkasana” in the snow. See:

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Barefoot in the Park

Sandy's feet after a barefoot run

Dirty but happy toes!

My daughter started it. I had been curious, but unsure about trying it. The first time I carried them just in case. But it didn’t take long to know that I was ready to do it. And now, after four weeks, I am shoeless and convinced. I love barefootin’ it!

I’ve tried two activities this summer that changed everything about regular exercises, running and yoga, that I have done most of my adult life. Last month I blogged about doing yoga on a stand up paddle board which changed the way I think about stability and balance. Today I’m going to blog about running barefoot, which has changed the way I think about stability and balance.

And first, a disclaimer. I just submitted my test to become a certified foot specialist.* And I would be in deep doodoo if I didn’t say LOUDLY that you should never, never, ever take feet that have spent 10, 20, or more years in shoes out for a barefoot run without training the feet carefully. Think back to the time you broke your arm or leg or whatever. Did you notice muscular atrophy? After only, like six weeks? Would you have lifted heavy weights or jumped up and down right after that cast was removed? No? Okay then.

So, after strength training my feet for the past two years, I tried running on the sand dune trails near my home. My husband and I have been running these trails for a few years. They offer a perfect surface of packed sand covered with pine needles and leaf meal. And acorns. Did I mention we had been running these trails for years? That we have named every hill? That we also know all of the roots, benches, and trail spurs by memory? For my first barefoot run, I had no idea whatsoever where I was. At all. I went totally Zen. I had to focus my eyes on the trail just ahead as I navigated through the roots and debris. Occasionally an acorn would lay in wait under what appeared as nice soft leaf meal and I would have to instantly adjust my foot placement and quickly rebalance my body. Every step took total concentration. Thank goodness my dear spouse stayed close by to guide me and that I didn’t try my first barefoot run somewhere in traffic.

The second run was less disorienting. I could look up and mostly I knew where I was. I noticed that I was holding my torso much more erect in order to shift my balance quickly. Sometimes an acorn would get me, but rather than feel like I might fall over, it just hurt a bit. I also ran a little faster.

By the third week, I saw acorns, but didn’t notice the sharp pain of stepping on them. I wondered if they were somehow washed out from under the leaf meal, but my daughter confirmed she had experienced the same thing after a few weeks (which would have been when I was very much feeling them). A friend that also runs the dunes wanted to see the bottom of my feet to see if I had grown thick calluses. The funny thing is that my feet really have not been so callus-free in a very long time. It was about this time I taught about proper foot alignment to stabilize the hips in my weekly yoga classes. By the end of the week, I DID notice one thing: very tired hip stabilizer muscles. More than usual.

Even running shoes have heels. Most have about an inch incline from the ball of the foot. In my foot specialist training, the physics of a positive heel was taught. And guess what! I’m going to teach it to you! This conservative one-inch heel will pitch you forward 30 degrees. In order to adjust to that forward pitch, we bend slightly at the knee and hip. Essentially, every step we take is a tiny little fall forward and a tiny little catch by our leg joints, especially the knee and hip. It doesn’t seem like a lot until you do the math. Ten thousand steps every day and the ensuing tiny little falls for 365 days a year times 50 or more years is like a gizillion tiny little falls. Ever visit the Grand Canyon? Each tiny little molecule of water added up to quite a big deal of wear and tear on those rocks. In the same way, our soft connective tissues erode in our overused leg joints and eventually we even begin to wear away on the bone surfaces.

So, by ditching my shoes, I also straightened and repositioned my body, which made my hip flexors stretch back to their proper length. I had to simultaneously pull my torso into a more erect position to maintain balance, so those hip flexors had to work harder while lengthening. It is what we call in the fitness biz a “strong” muscle–one that can BOTH eccentrically and concentrically contract. And since training begins to take effect after about 4-6 weeks, it explains why my hips were feeling it at week three.

But what about the acorns? Next lesson: your feet should be able to move like your hands. Hold your hands out in front of you and separate your fingers. Now hold your feet out in front of you and separate your toes. All of them. Including Miss “weeweewee all the way home.” If you cannot do it, you now have your first foot strength training exercise assignment.

The intrinsic muscles of our feet–which means simply, those muscles that start and end in the foot–are weak from being in shoes, just like those arm or leg muscles that were once in a cast. Weak muscles do not move joints very well. Your feet have over 30 joints. The acorns didn’t disappear, nor did my feet suddenly develop a layer of super strong skin. My feet muscles simply began to move their joints and adjust for stepping on those little buggers.

It’s actually pretty simple: I used my body to move in the way it was designed. Now I have more stable hips, more aligned knees, and more mobile feet. My running form is improving–I am more erect and in control. To use an old phrase, less really IS more!!

*certification through Katy Bowman, MS, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute. Her most recent book is Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief.