Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's A Game of Feet

Coco Austin trains her feet under a load.

Almost a consistent theme with many as we mature is the pain in our feet. Sometimes it is caused by injury. Sometimes it caused by excessive bodyweight. I'm going out on a limb here and suggesting that it is caused a reduction of flexibility, strength and conditioning of our lower legs and feet. Modern times do not place extraordinary demands on our feet. We should not be surprised.
The use of the shoe as a protective tool is very, very, old. Realize the use of the word "protective" and not supportive. The shoe has actually changed our feet. Below is a famous illustration of someone who walks barefoot and another who lives in shoes. It's quite a difference. 

Obviously there is something going on here. Perhaps we can represent it with this analogy. Place your arm in a splint for 8 to 12 hours per day, every day. What do you think would happen? Atrophied muscles, loss of movement, loss of size and loss of function? Why should it be any different with the muscles of the lower legs and feet?

Let's compound the ideal of atrophied feet and increased load. Take feet that have been trapped in shoes during working hours and sometimes during non working ones too. As the muscles atrophy over the years and reduce their strength and flexibility,... you decide to increase the load placed upon them by gaining weight year by year. This can also load the lower leg, upper leg and torso area. Your posture will change with age and the stress on the weakened feet will increase. 

In some cases, increasing the load on the feet is necessary. Fashion and social style may indicate for example that women wear high heels. It is NOT a very healthy option, but with proper conditioning it can be folded into a lifestyle where fitness and looks do not have to be mutually exclusive. 
In another case a soldier may hike miles over rough terrain with unwieldy loads. The US Military has spent many years researching and altering the footwear of soldiers, who are young and strong, to manage this stress.

There is one simple alternative. Spend more time walking, hiking and running barefoot. This may not be practical in an urban area with broken glass, rocks and possible contamination risk. The "barefoot running" craze has stimulated a need for products that manufacturers are more than happy to develop. New shoes with little support have popped on to the marketplace. They are not the be-all-end-all, but they increase the choices we have to improve foot fitness. Here are two such examples.

The Inov-8 Shoe
The Vibram 5 Finger Shoe
These shoes are just two possibilities of a currently expanding market. Make sure to get a proper fit with either shoe. For more information on either of these brands, check out:

Even with barefoot or protected walking or running, the addition of exercise for the feet can have quite a dramatic effect. Below is an illustration of just some of the structure of the lower leg and feet. There is plenty muscle tissue to work with.

Let's work our way through some lower limb drills that may relieve pain,  increase flexibility and develop some strength.

1. Stretching the front of the ankle is very important. When we spend some hours in traffic,.. the front of the ankle gets fixated into position. It's a far cry from hunting in the plains for Bison and running to avoid being eaten by Sabertooth tigers. Using a foam roller or even a rolled up towel can increase the range of motion. Focus on sitting in this position for about a minute. If it is painful, start with several short holds.

2. The next drill is to squat on your toes, then flex the plantar muscle on the sole of the feet. You end up rocking forward and back. [not up and down like a squat]. Usually bodyweight is sufficient in the early stages, but you can add a barbell plate in your lap for an extra challenge. You will also need to hold on to a fixed object for balance.

3. The third drill is to increase the strength of the muscles on the front of the lower leg. The shin area. The requires a wooden block. Place just your heels on the block and lower your toes towards the ground. Let the muscle stretch then contract it slowly to a position we call dorsiflexion. Repeat until you feel fatigue.

4. The standard calf raise is the next drill. Keep the knees locked and place the ball of the foot on a wooden block as shown or even a doorway. Lower the heels and let the calf stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Then reverse the action and stand on your tip toes. Continue this process until you are fatigued. This drill will also enhance the shape of your lower legs.

5. This drill is a stretch for the muscles surrounding the toes. This is often neglected. Simple insert your fingers between your toes. Then squeeze and let the muscles relax and stretch. 

6. There are small muscles around the ankle that are addressed in other drills. The use of a Theraband however, adds unique resistance to the foot. Simple loop the band over the end of the foot, flex and relax until you are fatigued. 

7. Finally, using a golf ball we can do some soft tissue work by rolling it on the sole of the foot. This drill alone is quite beneficial. 

You can use all of these drills or just the ones that give you the most benefit. Tailoring an exercise program is using the Bruce Lee idea of "Absorb What is Useful, Reject What is Useless, and Add What is Specifically Your Own". Feel free to experiment. 

In addition to this article on exercise and barefoot running, here is a link to a great source of foot information. America's Podiatrist
It's time to start thinking of your feet as a part of your body that can age and this article is chock full of information to REVERSE it.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Feminine Strength

Pole Vaulter Allison Stokke

 There is an interesting study on perception and strength in men and women. Check it out HERE.
It's about the sexes underestimating their strength, but one glaring sentence jumped out at me.

"far more women than men felt that strength was not important nor should be exhibited."

This perception is one that needs to change. The only fitness quality that produces movement is
strength. Endurance requires movement from muscles to tax the system and flexibility allows movement, but movement is created by muscles. If you don't do something to build or at least maintain them throughout your life, they will decrease. They don't suddenly fall off of a cliff. The decline is gradual by the decade. That is why watching the scale alone tells us little about what is going on inside of us. We need other measures of fitness, other measures of feedback. That is where strength training comes in. It is the most elegant and highest yielding fitness tool. The results are almost magical in nature. While we are embracing more as a culture, there are still pockets of resistance. Mention weight training to the average woman and she will exclaim, "I don't want to look like a man." This is hardly the case. Women don't produce enough male hormone naturally to get excessively large muscles. Secondly, it is a lot of work to be the most outstanding in your field. When the same women start playing tennis are they in fear of being forced on to the Grass Courts at Wimbledon?

Strength training in general brings about many positive markers in health. These would include but are not limited to muscle strengthening, better sleep, better blood chemistry, stronger bones, resistance to injury and cosmetic improvement. Literally the most important thing you can do as you age is to focus on strength training. 

Speaking of upper body strength we are keeping you abreast of the improvements in Robin White's efforts to turn back the clock and REVERSE the aging process. She is weighed and measured on the 10th of every month. Many times measurements of weight, lean body mass, percentage of body fat, etc can be skewed by food intake, muscle glycogen, bowel movements and dehydration. We have only been looking for a trend. So far she is getting stronger and improving in all areas. We have been dealing with some exercise form issues with leg training, but those have been overcome. Her increases in upper body strength have been very good. She's been focusing on her neck, since an aging neck is visually unacceptable. Check this LINK.

The previous updates are HERE.
The progress continues. Our plan is to avoid excessive body fat loss. Rather we are focusing on increasing muscle size and lean body mass. Our focus this month was on the upper body and neck and we were not disappointed. Here are the STATS-
Body weight-127.2, up 1.2 pounds! (Yes Robin is gaining weight!)
Hips-36.125, Up .125
Waist-24.5, Exactly the same
Waist/Hips Ratio-.678, More extreme
Belly-27.25, Same
Thigh-20.5, Same
Chest-34.25, Up .75 inch!
%Body fat-17.07%, slightly down
LBM-105.33, Up 1.3 pounds!!
Neck-13", Up .375 inches
Calf-14, Same
So Robin significantly increased her upper body size and neck size. Her ultimate goal is adding more lean body mass, which would increase her hips, neck and chest measurement. She doesn't want to lose too much fat since the fat stores in the feminine areas of the buttocks, breasts and face would diminish and reduce her curves.

The focus next month will be an intense increase in leg work,.... and the addition of CREATINE. Until then,... train hard and focus on strength as you age.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Very few people consider the importance of the neck in terms of health, fitness and appearance. Other cultures may actually focus on the neck in ways that are not particularly healthy, however they are interesting.

From the safety standpoint, having a stronger neck can protect you from trauma. We have all heard of the simplest of accidents that resulted in broken necks. However when properly trained, the neck is capable of dealing with tremendous punishment. The following video is indicative of a frightening trauma which had no effect on the subject. Mixed martial arts champion Fedor Emelianko was thrown and he landed full force, head first and under the weight of another combatant. He actually continued unaffected and won the fight minutes later. This is an incredible video clip.

This example is extreme but shows the amazing resiliency of the human body. Please do not try this at home.

In terms of youthfulness and general appearance the neck is far more apparent than almost everyone is aware. Take a look at a healthy young neck.

It is devoid of sun damage and has adequate muscle. Now following is a young woman who's lack of strength training and dietary protein has caused atrophy of the same muscles. Please compare.

This comparison is not isolated to women. Men have extreme variations in adaptation as well. First is an intense, intense, neck strengthening program to produce extreme results.

The next is the result of eating too many calories. Some body types store lots of fat in the neck and face area.
The immediate cure is to adopt a reduced calorie diet. For best results consider this resource.

The simple process of aging results in a slow loss of muscle tissue. The loss can easily be diminished, halted or reversed by appropriate strength training and adequate nutrition. This photo perhaps is a classic example that we associate with the aged population.

So we are well aware of the various appearances the neck can take on and some of the results are rather extreme. The easiest one of course is to protect the skin from the sun with some sort of sun block. While absorbing Vitamin D from the sun is the current rage, no one is suggesting that repeated tanning or repeated burns to the body and particularly the neck is healthy.
The next thing to do is to ensure at least a minimum of exercise. The neck has ample muscle and weak muscles respond well to training. Below is a graphic showing the musculature of the neck. All those tight, weak, muscles can cause head aches and shoulder aches. The best cure is prevention. The best prevention is adequate exercise.

Below is a chart with some simple exercises. Remember that any exercise should be first cleared with a physician who is familiar with fitness and training. These exercises are great introductory movements to simply restore mobility and youthful movement. -Click the photo to enlarge it-

There will come a time when simple movements will not be enough. Actually using external resistance will be required. This resistance can come in the form of barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells. Even resistance bands can be rigged to provide neck exercise. Here is a link to some instructional dvds that cover basic strength and advanced methods of training. LINK

There are more severe exercises such as the "Wrestlers Bridge" that require instruction under the guidance of an experienced coach. The combination of resistance and flexibility give this exercise plenty of bang for the buck,.. but it is not for everyone.

Now armed with powerful imagery, anatomy and instruction we only need motivation. Certainly turning back the clock of Father Time should be motivation enough. If detailed coaching is needed, please feel free to contact me.