The Short-Foot Exercise for Stronger Feet

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Foot/heel/Achilles issues have given me trouble over the years. The same issues are the scourge of many a runner. Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles tendon pain and metatarsalgia are a few of the problems one can experience as a result of faulty foot and lower-leg mechanics.

The causes of these injuries are often multi-faceted and thus are the solution(s). It seems that weakness of the foot muscles may be a prominent issue. One idea on the mechanism of plantar fasciitis is that the intrinsic foot muscles do a poor job of controlling forces going through the foot. If the stresses of running and walking aren’t distributed adequately then we may overstress the plantar fascia and that may trigger pain. We then need to find a way to unload the stressed tissues. (Please note that this may or may not be what causes plantar fasciitis. There are a lot of questions on how this and other lower-limb pain develops. This study discusses the poor understanding of plantar fasciitis and the difficulty in measuring foot mechanics.) If  weak and underperforming foot muscles are part of the problem then how do we bring them back on line?

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Lots of muscles and joints in those feet.

Among many strategies to address foot pain is an exercise known as the short-foot exercise or foot doming. As the name implies, this exercise has you using the intrinsic foot muscles to create a dome by pulling the metatarsal heads (balls of the toes) toward the heel, which shortens the length of the foot.

The short-foot or foot dome exercise.

The short-foot or foot dome exercise.

More than anything this is a brain exercise. Chances are that when you first try this exercise you won’t do it very well. You’ll struggle, steam may come out of your ears and you’ll get frustrated. Don’t be a baby and give up immediately though. This is a new skill and it takes focused attention and time to develop skills. Keep at it. It likely won’t take you very long to figure it out. For me, the challenge of mastering this exercise is nothing compared to the frustration of being sidelined by foot pain.

Also, try the exercise on your non-hurting foot. If you’re like me, you’ll find that it’s easier to do which again may be an indicator that the source of your pain are muscles that aren’t doing their job correctly.

You may experience cramping. That’s fine. It means you’re doing the exercise correctly. You can either relax the foot muscles and try again or do what I’ve done and hold the short foot until the cramping passes. It hurts a bit but I’ve found the pain to pass quickly.

The muscles involved in this exercise aren’t given to being big and strong. We need them to work a lot for a long time, so we need to condition their endurance. Therefore we need to hold the short foot position for time and we need to do the exercise often throughout the day. The good thing is you need no equipment to do this and you can do it anywhere. You don’t have to take off your shoes either.

I think this video does a good job of describing the exercise:

Shoulder and Thoracic Spine Mobility

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The last couple of blog posts have shown some hip mobility drills. As the title implies this is about the shoulders and T-spine. There is a lot of motion available in this area and this collection of drills does a fairly good job of getting to a lot of that motion. This is not the be-all-end-all of shoulder/spine mobility work. There are plenty of other shoulder and spine drills in the world That said, these movements have helped me move and feel better and I think they’ve done the same for several of my clients. Here it is:

Cat/Camel

If the T-spine can’t move well then it’s likely that the shoulders won’t move well either. This is a good place to start to get things moving.  This yoga exercise usually feels very good, rarely induces pain and it’s easy to do. First I do the original version that has the spine flexing and extending in the saggital plane. I follow that by a side-flexion type of cat/camel. (And to add authenticity, I included an actual cat. Couldn’t get my hands on a camel though.)

3D shoulder mobility

As you can see, all of these are done prone. You can put your arms on a wall and do them standing. There’s also quite a bit of ab work that happens while doing these so you may need to rest between drills.

More Hip Mobility From GMB

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I’m a fan of mobility. I put a premium on my clients and I having a large “movement database.” I’m not just talking about flexibility mind you. On that note, I like Dr. Andreo Spina’s words on mobility vs flexibility:

“By my definition, mobility and stability are intimately related. Mobility, which is often confused with ‘flexibility,’ can be defined simply as the ability to move or to be moved freely and easily.  Another way to think of it is the ability to actively achieve range of motion.  Flexibility by contrast is the ability to passively achieve range of motion.  It is therefore possible to be very flexible, however have limited mobility.  The former implies that you can passively achieve a particular range, while the latter implies neurological control of a particular range as it is being actively attained.”

I’m also very interested in the concept of movement variability. What is “movement variability?” Todd Hargrove of Bettermovement.org discusses it as such:

“Good movement is not just about harmonious interaction or coordination between the different parts of the body. It is most fundamentally about how the system interacts with the environment, particularly in response to unexpected changes. In other words, good movement implies a quality of adaptability and responsiveness to a changing environment.

One can imagine building a humanoid robot that can walk with flawless symmetry and grace. But if the robot cannot adapt its gait pattern to accommodate changes in the terrain, it will fall each time it steps on a rock, and its movement skill is essentially useless. True movement intelligence therefore doesn’t exist so much in the movements themselves, but in their interaction with the environment.

The graceful stride of the deer isn’t useful unless it can be modulated to jump a log and avoid a wolf. A soccer player who can execute technically brilliant ball handling skills in solo practice does not face the real test until she performs those moves in a game situation against an opponent who is trying to steal the ball.

We would not say that someone is fluent in a language if they have only one way to communicate a particular thought, regardless of how perfect that particular communication is. Similarly, one is not fluent in the language of movement unless he can accomplish the same goal in many different ways.”

Why do I mention movement variability? My last blog post was about hip mobility and in it were several different hip mobility drills. This post is also about hip mobility and it features a bunch of different drills. Which ones are best? Who knows? With regard to movement variability, I think it’s probably a good idea to do a lot of different mobility drills and frequently experience novel movement.

Recently I discovered GMB.io.  (Yes you read that right.) I’m not sure what GMB stands for but I have enjoyed looking through their content which is very much mobility-centric. Their 8-exercise hip mobility sequence (below) is great! I’ve been using myself and with my clients. Lately I’ve been alternating between this series and the series in the prior post.

 

 

 

Hip Mobility Sequence

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I’ve been using the following drills with a lot of my clients as well as with myself. Is this the be-all-end-all collection of hip mobility exercises? Probably not, but I think it hits several nails on the head in terms of movement that’s available to the hips. I think these drills may be especially useful for cyclists and those who are desk-bound. (I’ll be very honest and tell you that I’ve stolen these moves from both Gary Gray and Andreo Spina.) I do them in the order presented but for no other reason than that’s how I do it. You could do any of these in any order.

I use these with most of my clients a lot of the time. I personally use them after a bike ride or long trips in the car or on a plane.


 

 

Achilles Tendonitis Progress

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My Achilles pain was getting better and then it flared up again recently and it has stayed flared for a while. This has been an ugly aggravation as it was a serious regression. Now, I’m very happy to report that my Achilles tendon irritation seems to be fading away. I’ve done three short-distance run/walks with no pain. (Will it stay gone is the real question.) What has helped?

Time off

Initially I thought that simply changing the way I ran would allow me to side-step whatever healing process that needed to take place. I revisited several technique changes that helped me overcome a past bout of Achilles pain. I discovered that there was no magic fix. Minding my technique is a good idea but it seems my tissues still needed time to heal.

Heel lift

I put a 1/4 inch heel lift in my shoe. The idea is to give a little bit of slack to the sore tendon.

To this point, I made sure not to do much in the way of stretching the tendon. It’s often a mistake to think that if it’s sore, it must need stretching. In fact, the damage to the Achilles may have been brought on by it’s being stretched too much and/or too fast.

Eccentric strength work

I’m continuing the work I wrote about in the last blog post. Runner’sConnect.net has a comprehensive guide to both Achilles pain rehab and prevention strategies. I won’t rehash it here.

Extensor hallucis brevis work

I think this has been a BIG ONE. I believe that part of my problem stems from my inability to adequately anchor to the ground the distal end of my first metatarsal, aka the ball of my big toe. How might that affect my Achilles tendon?

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

If I can’t secure that first met head to the ground then I have a weak foot tripod as the Gait Guys have described it.That means that my foot might pronate in an uncontrolled way which can result in something like the image to the right. Too much of that done too often and/or too fast could over-stress the Achilles causing damage and pain. To form a solid foot tripod, I need to be able to secure the center of my calcaneus (heel bone), first metatarsal head (ball of the big toe) and the fifth metatarsal head (ball of the little toe.)

(To be clear, I can’t say this is The Cause for anyone else’s Achilles problems. Someone else may be able to run with lots of pronation and feel fine.)

How did I know I had difficulty getting that met head to the ground? I’ve been videoed running and I could see this extended pronation occurring. I could feel it as I tried doing the exercise in the following video. This gets into what seems like some real minutiae. For me, it seems pretty important. Also, I don’t believe this movement is trained in the eccentric strength protocol I mentioned above.

Metronome running

I’ve read several discussions (here, herehere) on running cadence and loading rate as it pertains to injury risk. Essentially, by using a quicker cadence we should load the tissues of the foot for less time per foot fall thus resulting in less stress to those tissues. That’s exactly something I need.

I went back to using a metronome when I run so that I can make sure to keep a quick pace. I set the metronome from 170 to 180 bpm and matched my cadence to the beat. It’s definitely a quicker cadence than what I’m used to. Seems I’ve backslid some on minding my cadence. Going forward, I think it will be a good idea to periodically run with a metronome to ensure that I’m staying quick on my feet.

 

Feet! Feet! Feet!

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Ever hear anyone exclaim with enthusiasm “Today is feet day!!” right before their workout? I haven’t. No one is very excited about working their feet. I’ll wager most of us don’t ever consider our feet until there’s some sort of pain or problem down there. The thing is, it’s only every single step of every single day that we might need our feet work well for us. As long as we live on a planet with gravity and we don’t want to walk on our hands, then we might want to consider whether or not our feet are doing the job they should be doing.

If when we walk, run, or step and our feet aren’t working well, then it’s very likely that something upstream from the feet may be compromised too. It’s analogous to a house built on a bad foundation. Lazy or immobile feet might affect the ankle which might affect the knee which might affect the hip, the back, the spine, the shoulders…

On that note, here’s a fascinating video (I’m fascinated by odd things sometimes.) from Canadian chiropractor Dr. Andreo Spina of Functional Anatomy Seminars (FAS). I’ve been turned on to Spina via Boulder trainer Mike Terborg and Boulder/Denver-area chiropractor Dr. Nick Studholme.

I’ve noticed improvement in a long-standing big toe issue by doing some of this work. I’ve also found some of these exercises very challenging as have several of my clients. Some of these drill may seem impossible at first but I and others have found that with a bit of mindful work, we can get these foot muscles to work in a few days to a week. It does take some focused work but maybe just a few minutes a day.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part IV

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I’ve been discussing movement, exercise and how to make traditional exercises more applicable to real-life and athletic activities. I’ve discussed going from two feet to stepping.  From there we can progress to a variety of hops and jumps.

Progressions

  • 2 feet to 1 foot
  • stationary to stepping to jumping
  • jumping from two feet to two feet
  • jumping from two feet to one foot
  • jumping from one foot to one foot
  • stepping and jumping may occur in saggital, frontal or transverse planes
  • add weight

Other things to think about

We could focus on “sticking” the landing and maintaining perfect balance and control or we might focus on moving very quickly from one hop/jump to the next.

We might emphasize a very long or very high jump/hop or we might emphasize short and fast hops/jumps.

Here are some videos featuring tri-plane jumping and hopping with all sorts of arm driver activity. These are in no particular order and I’m not showing a progression. These are just a few combinations.

There is a nearly endless galaxy of these types of exercises. Any number of implements can be used (Core Momentum Trainer, dumbbells, sandbags, kettlebells, nothing at all). Trainees can either stay stationary or move in any direction.

I’m in the advanced stages of ACL rehabilitation and I’m using a lot of these types of exercises in my own workouts. I’m using them with a lot of my clients who are athletes as well as clients who don’t consider themselves athletes. These exercises can be a lot of fun, feel very challenging and are useful in stimulating the metabolism for those wanting to lose weight.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part III – Lunge and Reach

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In the previous two posts, (here and here) I discussed what I’ve learned by going through the FASTER Global coursework. (If you’re a fitness professional who wants to truly become an expert at movement, then you need to do this course. This has been the most comprehensive movement education I’ve had in nearly 20 years of working in the fitness field.)

I believe I’ve made the case for why we should train with tri-plane movement. Further I believe that I’ve illustrated why traditional gym exercises like squats and deadlifts may not be the best way to develop all-around movement skills or strength.  (For the record, I’m not saying traditional squats and deadlifts are bad. I use them in my own workouts and with my clients. To be clear, I believe that there are infinite variations that can and should be used to condition people in the most comprehensive way.)

In the previous post I showed a bunch of lunge and squat variations. Here are some more lunge variations this time with arm reaches.

Lunging and reaching

While lunging, we can drive motion from the upper body by reaching up, down, across, overhead, etc. We can reach with one or both arms. The way in which the trainee steps drives motion from the upper body up through the rest of the body. As he or she reaches, motion is driven down through the body toward the ground. The reaching affects balance and creates a wide range of slightly different body positions which look a lot like any number of athletic activities, for example, look at the baseball pitcher and basketball players.

Lower body motion plus upper body motion.

Saggital plane anterior lunge with same-side posterior arm reach… Or something like that. Lots of stuff happening.

Kobe executes a type of lunge and reach down.

Kobe executes a type of lunge and reach down.

Resistance can be added to these in numerous ways: weight vest, dumbbell(s), sandbags, kettlebells, etc. Cables or tubing positioned at any number of angles can speed up or slow down the lunge.

Remember though, if someone can’t control these exercises then he or she should be regressed to something that is controllable, safe and manageable.

Here are a few examples of lunges combined with reaches in various directions. I’ve shown an anterior lunge and a lateral lunge but we could add any of these reaches to any type of lunge. The combinations are nearly infinite.

Next we can progress to jumps and hops, all done in any number of directions, all with feet and arms in any number of positions. I’ll show some of those in the next post.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part II

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From gym work to “real life.”

Athletic endeavors and typical daily movements are rarely symmetrical. We’re often stepping from one foot to the other in any of several directions, swiveling and/or bending our bodies, reaching, moving with a load on one side of our body–all potentially at the same time. If we think of the SAID Principle (discussed very thoroughly here by Todd Hargrove of Better Movement) then it stands to reason that some of our training ought to resemble our chosen athletic or leisure activity, both in movement pattern and energy system usage.

A squat by any other name…sss1

Skiing-in-France-HD-Wallpaper-1280x800-3A lot of conventional exercises–squats and
deadlifts for instance–keep the feet planted against the ground in a symmetrical stance. Fine, but how much should we expect those exercises to translate to something like skiing? Yes skiing uses two legs and it sort of looks like a squat but there’s a lot more going on during a ski turn than just moving the body down and up.

We could say something similar about basketball where there’s a lot of jumping,

how-to-deadliftlanding and movement into positions which look a good bit like a deadlift–but clearly doesn’t look like the standard deadlift.

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Here’s a very interesting video on how to take a squat and add some flavor to it:

These are the types of movements that more closely resemble many sports and recreational activities. These can be used as part of a warm-up for a workout or they can be used as the workout itself.

Ground reaction forces

At some point we need to consider ground reaction forces. A foot or feet hitting the ground creates a whole different set of circumstances compared to planted feet. Enter the lunge.

A lunge creates a ground reaction force (GRF) as the foot hits the ground. A series of events should ideally take place in a certain sequence at the following joints: mid-tarsal joint, subtalar joint, talocrural joint, knee, hip and on up through the spine and even out to the shoulders and beyond!

(BTW, a lunge can be any distance or depth. If someone can’t lunge far and deep then it’s completely appropriate to simply take a step. I often ask my clients to go as far and/or deep as they can only so long as they can maintain control of the movement.)

There are a lot of variations on the lunge. We can step in any number of directions. Our world is a three-dimensional place so we can step forward or backwards, side to side, or in a circular or twisting type of motion.The purpose in doing this is to allow us to experience a wide range of joint angles and different ground impact scenarios. We can see if an athlete is able to move into his or her sport position. We might be able to expose a movement pattern that is unstable and which the athlete may want to improve for performance and safety.

Lunges for all occasions

Here are a collection of lunges done in an assortment of directions. Each type of lunge creates a different reaction throughout the limbs and joints.

Not pictured are lunges in which the trainee steps up or down off of a step. Any of these lunges can be done in this way. It’s a good way train for something like a hike (if for some reason a hike can’t be undertaken) or to simply add variety and new skills to the workout. Next you’ll see lunging in conjunction with reaching.

 

Techniques to Help You Run Pain Free

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I’ve used a few simple techniques to help a few of my clients with their running technique.  These ideas have also helped me overcome a long-term bout of heel and Achilles trouble.

My clients often hurt when they ran so if nothing else, I figured they needed to run differently somehow. There was no guarantee that what I would show them would solve their problems but clearly the way they were running wasn’t quite working.

The following are drills and cues that I’ve used.  Effective cueing can be challenging.  I have in my mind a movement a feeling and an experience that I’d like you to have.  I have to translate what I feel into English and transmit that message to you.  My words may hit the mark or you may have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about!

Hop up and down.

Hop up and down.  How do you land?  On your heels?  Most people land on their toes and to some degree their heels settle to the ground.  It happens naturally.  Your probably don’t need to think about it too much.  In this way, we effectively dissipate the impact forces and avoid too much jarring and banging into the ground.

Run in place.

Now run in place–quickly!  Again, how do you land?  I think most people land similar to the way described above.  It’s a light landing on the toes, not heels first.  This is pretty much one-footed hopping.

Where do your feet land?  Directly under your hips.  That’s about where we want the feet to land.  In contrast, what we don’t want is for your feet to fling out in front and slam into the ground.  To that point…

Quick Pace

Overstriding is a frequent issue in injured runners. By overstriding the foot lands out in front of the runner and he or she slams hard into the ground with every foot fall. This can cause lots of stress to various tissues and joints and it’s likely a cause of pain.

This is a good contrast in foot placement.  The guy in back is overstriding.

This is a good contrast in foot placement. The guy in back is overstriding.

By running at a quick(er) pace we facilitate the feet landing under us, not out in front.  We create shorter loading times of the bones and joints and thus reduce the stress that may be causing our pain.  It’s difficult to overstride with a quick cadence.

For a most runners this means consciously picking up the pace. This can feel awkward at first and may feel inefficient.  One way to start to adjust your cadence is by using a metronome when you run.  Start at your normal pace and sync the metronome to your pace.  From there you can up the beat and match your pace to the metronome.  This takes time and practice.  If it’s important then you’ll do it.

Again, this all may feel very strange–and it should.  After all, if our current chosen running technique is causing pain, then it stands to reason that a new and better running technique should feel weird.  As with any new skill, it won’t feel strange forever.

Lean forward from the ankles.

chi_postureLearning to lean from the ankles–not the hips!–is important.  By leaning from the ankles we sort of fall forward.  We keep the hips under us, not poked out behind.  When leaning from the ankles it’s difficult to overstride and slam the foot into the ground. Here’s a drill to learn how to lean from the ankles.

Run tall.  Keep eyes on the horizon.

The simple cue to “run tall” seems to work well for a lot of runners.  I’ll keep it simple and leave that phrase as is.

Keep your eyes on the horizon.  This works well to help keep you tall.  Your body tends to go where your eyes go.  If you stare at the ground then you’re likely to slump forward.  You won’t be running tall.  Learn to use your peripheral vision to see the ground. The guys below are running tall and gazing out.

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!!  You should do it too!

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!! You should try it!

Run lightly.  Quick pace.  Lean from the ankles.  Run tall. Eyes on the horizon.

Here’s a good graphic.

I’m not going to say a lot more other than I like the information presented here:

better-running

Skipping

Finally, here’s a skipping drill that may help you get a feel for running tall, running lightly and not pounding your heel into the ground. My hope is that this drill will transfer to your actual running. Skipping involves an exaggerated running gait and you don’t actually want to bound and prance to an extreme degree.