Feel Good Friday: Care For Your Feet

Since last April it seems my family is being cursed with ankle and foot injuries. First it was my wife and her broken ankle and then this summer my foot/ankle was injured and finally the last couple weeks my oldest daughter had been fighting off an ankle injury from soccer. Fortunately for my family and I we do not believe in curses. The next step then is to treat the ankle and feet from the ground up.

One of the strength coaches, whom I follow, said and I paraphrase, “When there is an injury do not just look at the area injured. Look above and below the injury when trying to discern the cause of the injury.”

So when treating or pre-habbing (hopefully we avoid rehab) I look to the bottom of the foot first. We start at the bottom of the foot because that is where the back fascial line begins. First let us take a quick look at what is fascia. I do not want to get too scientific but a quick introduction to fascia will help as you read the rest of the article and see how you can benefit from the exercises.

The fascia is basically a connective tissue made up from bundled up collagen fibers.  The fascia envelops a muscle and can affect how our muscles are functioning and thus can affect our posture. If there is tension in one area such as in our example the base of the foot and the start of the back fascial line begins, then it could have implications further up the line. There have even been links to headaches being caused by lower extremity issues all the way down into the foot.

The back fascial line travels up from the plantar fascia (the bottom of the foot), then up the calves through the Achilles tendon and gastrocnemius, where it then passes through the biceps femoris (hamstrings), then the sacrotuberous ligament on your “sit bones”, through the lumbar spine, and then finally ends its trip at the base of the skull then stopping at the top of the head to your eyebrows.

It is no wonder with how many areas of your body the back line fascia travels that it can cause a multitude of injuries. From plantar fasciitis, to Achilles tendonitis, tight or injured hamstrings, low back pain, neck pain, and even vison and breathing issues, among some others, how important it is to take care of the fascia in your feet.

Now that we have gone over what fascia is and how any injury or issue with it can cause injuries or problems let us now look at a couple simple things you can do at home to treat yourself. We are still thinking prehab before rehab. Believe me the latter will be longer and much more frustrating.

As a runner I know my feet can take a pounding even when I focus on landing softly and not heel striking. While I wimg_0548as dealing with my own ankle injury I would spend between 10-20 minutes per day post run doing an ice bath. I would suggest watching TV, reading a book, or having your phone close as a distraction. The first five minutes can be pretty tough but I felt it really made a difference and once I started using the ice bath I feel my recovery increased.

Another form of self-treatment and care is self-myofascial release or SMFR. http://www.on-your-marc.com/dynamic-stretching-foam-rolling/ I am sure many of you have used or at least seen someone using a foam roll. I like to perform SMFR on my feet prior to running as a way to wake the feet up and get them ready to run. The foot has a few large nerves, but as with the palms it has many more small nerves that are very sensitive, performing SMFR can help to wake them up.

img_5434I start off performing foot SMFR first using a tennis ball because at first it can be uncomfortable especially if you have never done it before. Then eventually we will move on to using a lacrosse ball which is much denser. After that we graduate to using a golf ball. The golf ball is much denser and being of a smaller diameter you can really pinpoint certain spots on your feet a lot more precisely. You can spend between 1-2 minutes per foot preferably before your other leg stretches.

img_5439There is also a great stretch you can do that would benefit anyone but runners can really get a lot from this. Sit carefully back on your glutes and tuck your toes under and you slowly and I repeat slowly, lean back and add some of your upper body weight back and more centered over your feet. You will try to hold this static stretch for at least 10 seconds. Eventually you can build up your time to 30 seconds and even up to 60 seconds. Some studies show no increased benefit from holding stretches over 30 seconds, so the length of your hold can be to your personal preference but should never hurt. I would also be careful doing this stretch if you have knee issues as the increased torque from having them bent under you can be painful.

img_5441Now that your feet are stretched out and ready to go yet another way you can help out those feet that are such hard workers and may be bearing the brunt of over 2x your bodyweight is to wear compressions socks. They can increase muscle firing and help reduce ground reaction forces that are so tough on everyone and not just runners.

I hope I gave you some tools in your arsenal to help keep not just your feet healthy but possible other body parts further up your back fascial line. As always happy and healthy running!

Feel Good Friday: Soleus Calf Raises

Well it is another Friday and time for another Feel Good Friday blog post. This week we will return our focus to the ankle complex. If you recall from a blog post a couple weeks back the ankle plays a large role in running. Even more of a role for runners as they get older. Today we will look at and target the soleus muscle which plays a role in ankle movement.

The soleus muscle is one of two large muscles in the calf. The gastrocnemius is the muscle that you typically see especially as you watch someone perform standing calf raises. The soleus sits underneath the gastrocnemius and aids in deceleration of the tibia. This is the lower leg, and during running it comes forward as the ankle dorsiflexes and the tibia angles forward. Dorisflexion is the foot bending backward toward the shin.

The soleus is not worked enough through the standard standing calf raises. Today I will share an exercise that you can do to target it. The soleus muscle makes up the Achillies tendon. As such strengthening it can help prevent and reduce Achilles tendon stress.  The soleus calf raise can help build strength endurance since the soleus helps to push. Building strength endurance will allow you to apply your strength repeatedly over a long extended period of time. Running is a great example, but also activities where a lot of stress takes place around the ankle complex.

Some progressions of the exercise you can do can would be to add weight in the form of dumbbells, or a weight vest. Another progression could also be to begin doing the exercise unilaterally, one leg at a time. You can also progress the unilateral version of this exercise by increasing weights the weight used as well.

Happy Training!                                 

Feel Good Friday: Knee Break Ankle Mobilizations

Wow! This will be the 5th installment of ‘Feel Good Friday’.  Is it just me, or do you feel that 2017 is flying by as well?  First of all, I want to apologize for missing my weekly ‘Feel Good Friday’ this past Friday. It was a crazy week.  I added a couple new clients into my schedule including an online client.   These Feel Good Friday exercises are designed to help activate muscles and help to avoid or correct some muscle imbalances.  They can also help you move and feel better. This week’s exercise name is – Knee Break Ankle Mobilizations.  Even though the name can sound ominous, they are very beneficial for your ankles.

The last Feel Good Friday blog post went in depth about discussing how important it is to maintain power in the ankles. One other aspect of joint health is proper mobility and stability. This week we will focusing on Knee Break Ankle Mobilizations as a mobility exercise for the ankles.  This exercise helps improve ankle mobility.  Joint mobility is defined by the American Council on Exercise as the degree to which an articulation where two bones meet is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues, ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc. This is otherwise known as the range of uninhibited movement that takes place around a joint.

The Knee Break Ankle Mobilizations can easily be added as a warm-up in an already existing training plan. They can also be combined with the exercises from Feel Good Friday: Stronger Ankles=Stronger Running and Stronger You. They will provide you a good direction on ways to keep your ankles healthier and stronger.

Happy training!

Feel Good Friday: Stronger Ankles=Stronger Running and Stronger You

When I thought of strengthening exercises I used to think think of exercises like the bench press, squat, chin-ups, etc. Sometimes though it is the little muscles and joints that need to be shown some love in regards to strengthening . That is why people seem to ask about bench press, and squats numbers. I have never had anyone ever ask me how many calf raises I can do. I doubt anyone ever will.

However, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Runners tend to not be very much into lifting for the most part. One of my earlier blog posts discussed the need to be healthier and stronger from the ground up. Now more research seems to continue to bear that out. A recent study was published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland. My grandfather on my Finnish side would have been proud I am referencing a Finnish study. But I digress. The study examined the muscles that are used to straighten the knee and ankles during walking and running activities. It was determined during the study that the knee and ankle had forces about 8-9 times bodyweight.  That is a lot of force which can be detrimental. The ankles though had a lower maximum force. This means if your ankles are weak they can be a limiting factor in your performance. 

The latest findings help to support an earlier study done by Kulmala (one of the researchers) that showed that while power output was similar from the hips and knees in runners ages 26, 61, and 78 respectively, there was a marked decrease in ankle power that increased with age.

So, you may ask how can we change that?   I like to incorporate a few exercises that are great for strengthening the ankle.  I believe it makes sense to begin strength training while you are younger and be proactive in preserving your strength and power. This can also help you run more efficiently.  Even if you are not a runner it is still important to maintain a strong base of support.

You do not need to create an entire workout based just around strengthening your ankles. However incorporating a few exercises into an already balanced training program or before a workout as a warmup will be beneficial. Anything that challenges the ankle joint will have a carryover.

  1. Single Leg Balance on Trampoline or Dynadisc- Stand on one leg with your knee slightly flexed. Balance on the one leg for 30 seconds and then move on to the other leg. Perform the exercise two times on each side. I prefer to do these exercises barefoot to allow the small muscles in the ankle and foot to have an increased challenge.

If you do not have a trampoline available you can use a dynadisc as well.

2. Standing Calf Raises & Single Leg Calf Raises Versions

Calf raises are done by simply rising up onto the balls of your foot. Go up as high as you can. Then lower yourself until you feel a stretch at the calves at the bottom of the movement. Notice I do l not let me feet touch the floor. That would take some tension off the calves.

 

 

In the single leg calf raises you would perform the exercise the same as the above. Except you will work one leg at time, unilaterally. This can not increase the challenge but also allows each leg to work fully and help avoid having one more dominant leg and any muscle imbalances. Perform all the repetitions on one side and then repeat for the same amount of reps on the other leg.

 

 3. Lunge Matrix

I like to use the Lunge Matrix at times as a warmup, and also as warm up. I personally like it because it allows you to work on strengthening the legs but also then ankle joint in various planes of movement, frontal, saggital, transverse.

4. Single Leg Squat Touchdowns

 

Feel Good Friday: Glute/Hamstring Muscle Activation

These Feel Good Friday blog posts each week have been a blast to share. I hope you are enjoying them and learning some things you can incorporate into your training. I look forward to sharing what I do when training my clients, both 1-1 and online. Many of these exercises I also use in my own training sessions. Today exercises will focus on muscle activation.

This week I am going to share three more exercises that target the posterior chain. The focus here will be on the gluteus and hamstrings. If it seems like I focus on the posterior chain a lot, well you are on to something. These muscles are vitally important in locomotion, force production, and force reduction. They are also important in possibly reducing the risk of injury. Whether we are distance runners, sprinters, weightlifters, or stuck at a desk all day it is important to keep these muscles firing correctly and in conjunction with each other.

I typically start off the glute/hamstring warmup with two isolation exercises, to “wake” them up.  I then follow that up with a core exercise that is meant to integrate the muscles into working together. The integration exercise is meant to challenge your body by requiring an increased need for coordination and balance. A  study I recently read showed that integration exercises can yield greater muscle activation than isolation exercises.

This does not mean you need to train your core muscles only using these exercises. However, if you are not currently incorporating muscle activation exercises like these  shown here in the videos or similar you should start adding them in to your current training program.

These muscle activation exercises can be used as a warm up before a run or a strength training. I would suggest performing each exercise for 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions. You should rest just briefly before starting the second set. Complete two sets of each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. If you would like to buy mini-bands similar to the ones used in the video you can purchase them here.

 

Feel Good Friday: Half Kneeling Front Foot Elevated Quad Stretch

For this week’s Feel Good Friday I wanted to share  one of my favorite stretches that I personally use often post run. This is a great stretch for anyone from athletes to someone that may spend a lot of time sitting, where certain muscles can become lengthened and under active while other muscles can become tight or constricted and over active.

This stretch is one that I have tinkered with. In years past I had performed this stretch with the rear foot elevated. Now however since I have become a runner and my hip flexors or psoas can get tight I like to elevate the front foot on a cardio step. I find that when I rock forward not only do I feel the stretch in the quadriceps I am actively stretching but I can also feel it in one or both of my hip flexors and sometimes my groin as well. It can just depend upon how tight I am

While there are many differing studies of just how much if any benefit stretching has I still find time to stretch post run or strength training. So if you are rushed this is a great stretch to hit a couple different areas and muscles at once. For this reason I find this version to be a great bang for your buck stretch.

I also am a big fan since you can control the degree of stretch of both your psoas or hip flexors by how far you rock forward, as well the degree of stretch of your quads. Again based on how far toward your glutes you pull your foot.

One last thing before we wrap up this week’s Feel Good Friday. I would not suggest doing this stretch if you have knee issues. For one, kneeling on your knees can be uncomfortable to some even with a mat or pad underneath. Also the quad stretch can put a lot of shear on the knee of the quad being stretched.