Category Archives: Mobility

By the way, real athletes don’t wear flip flops

Hey there! So last week we talked about shin splints and how to best take care of them. One very important piece of the puzzle also has to do with the shoes that you wear. But, I am not going to talk about the shoe that you are wearing while working out, but rather the shoe that you wear before and after, especially in the summer time. Wearing this shoe for many hours during the day, day after day, could have a big impact in a fairly short time frame. What am I talking about? I am talking about the flip flop.

Wait, what? The flip flop is not good for you? Isn’t it almost like a “barefoot” shoe with zero drop, isn’t that good? In terms of the flip-flop being a minimalist shoe with zero drop, I agree, that would be great for your feet. However, because there isn’t any attachment around your heel, you have to clench your toes every time you walk so that the flip flop doesn’t fall off. Because you are clenching your toes, the under side of your foot, the plantar fascia, becomes very tense and rigid. This rigidity deactivates the smooth “suspension system” in your feet that you were born with. This rigidity also translates into the rest of your legs and especially your shins, as these muscles is what helps your toes to clench down.

Sadly most of us have completely lost the flexibility and natural shock absorbing capacity of our feet over the years, due to wearing very hard, constricting shoes, high heels etc, and add to that the lack of walking barefoot on uneven ground. So, to compensate for that we keep looking for shoes with more and more cushioning thinking that it will solve the problem, when really we need to take care of our feet from the ground up, not bolstering them up like the Bubble Boy in Seinfeld!

Your feet contains 28 bones that all work together, but they also work like individual pistons constantly adapting to the ground that we walk on. It is a beautiful piece of machinery that we have tied down and constricted for so long that it now moves more like a 2 piece joint, rather than a 28 piston shock absorber. The best way to help yourself is to limit restricting or over cushioning shoes and starting to walk barefoot as much as possible.

But what about my flip flops? A couple of years ago I came across the information that wearing flip-flops any extended time is bad for your feet. As I had some problems with my shins and under my feet at the time I was intrigued, but also very sad as I loved wearing flip-flops. After having spent many years living the beach life in California, Australia and Indonesia, I had gotten used to wearing flip flops whenever possible. The one thing that probably saved me back then was being barefoot a lot and playing beach volleyball, like all of the time, which helped to even things out.

Anyway, I decided to try get rid of the traditional flip-flops, and switched to a “flip-flop sandal” by Havaianas that actually goes around the back of your heel. The effect was not instant, but I did notice a difference after about a week, and especially after using them on a city trip I noticed a huge relief compared to before, my feet just weren’t as stiff. Currently my feet and I are happy with this arrangement and have not turned back since.

I also have to say a few words on sandals like Birkenstocks. As they also do not have a heel strap, you have to clench your toes here as well, even though it might not be as obvious as with the flip-flop. And the arch support that so many people like about them, is actually what makes them so bad. Why? Because it makes our feet very lazy and we loose strength and agility. Think about it, it is for our feet as if we were walking around with crutches all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place, if you have injured yourself, where you might want to use crutches for as short time as possible. If you continue using them too long, you are going to build a dependency on the crutches and after a while you will feel uncomfortable moving without them. That is not a good habit to cultivate.

Maybe your running is not the culprit of why you are having some lower leg and foot issues. If suddenly you are wearing flip flops a lot of the time just because it’s summer, that could be what is causing or certainly adding to the problem. If you decide to start walking more barefoot and removing your flip flops, remember that with any change your body will need some time to adapt, so be gentle, think about the long run, and give yourself some time to get used to the changes. It may seem like small things, but at the end of the day it is all the little things that adds up and puts you in the situation where you are right now, so why not make small changes that will add to making the best possible version of you?

Ciao!  😉

 


Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with Havaianas

http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/risks-of-wearing-flip-flops

Don’t let these tiny muscles stop you.

We just had the ING night marathon here in Luxembourg and this weekend the Stockholm marathon is taking place. What do these two things have in common other than being great marathons? A lot of people will have pain along the front of the lower leg after the race. This is often a case of too much too soon, together with a non optimal running technique, and of course the more tired you get the worse your technique will be.

So maybe you have just recently been taking part in a race, or you have just upped the speed or kilometers in your training lately because the weather has been great (and who has time for a calculated steady increase then?), and now you have been feeling some pain along the front of your lower legs aka shins. The common misconception is that there is always an inflammation present when there is pain there, which is commonly called shin splints. So, most likely you will start downing the Ibuprofen to get rid of the alleged inflammation.

Before you do any of that, please do yourself a huge favor and check the muscles along the shin before jumping to any conclusions, especially m.tibialis anterior. If the muscles along the shins are tight they can cause a lot of pain there, and they can also refer pain to underneath the foot. More often than not, “shin splints” is simply a case of very, very tight muscles. It is very easy to mobilize these muscles yourself with a lacrosse ball. Check out the videos below for easy instructions on how to mobilize the muscles along the inside and outside of the shins. In the second video I do not agree about what she says about not using a lacrosse ball (she says it is too hard) as I think that it is very easy to adjust the pressure yourself. But of course, if you have different types of balls do try them out and see what works best for you.

video for mobilizing the inside of the shins

 

Sometimes the reason why these muscles are so tight could be because you are new to the sport, have new shoes, have added kilometers or intensity, or simply had a city trip where you were just walking a lot more than usual. If that is the case then doing this mobility exercise everyday for a minimum of a week, plus adding the couch stretch should more or less take care of the problem, depending of course on how severe the pain was from the beginning. If your shins are tight most likely your calves are tight also, so you might as well give them some love too. Dive into your mobility work and you will back into your running routine very quickly.

But, let’s say you went down Ibuprofen alley instead, and didn’t do any mobility work. Most likely you also stopped running which will take some of the pressure off. The Ibuprofen will make you feel as if the pain is going away, and after 10 days or so on anti-inflammatory medicine (in case you went to see the doctor) you are now cleared to go running again. Maybe the first day will be fine, but within a very short time, usually just a few runs, the pain will be back again, and you wonder why, why, WHY?

It is because you haven’t taken care of the tight muscles, which is the reason for your pain in the first place, and anti-inflammatory medication will not help you with that. You need to put some length back into these muscles so they can relax and be flexible again. I hear these kind of scenarios all the time in my practice when people are complaining about lower leg and foot pain, and people are often surprised to find out just how tight their muscles are along the shins. The second surprise is when they find out how easy it is to take care of this problem yourself with mobility work.

However, if this is a frequent area of pain for you, you should think about the long run (no pun intended) which means that you would want to look at improving your running technique. If you are putting your foot down in front of your pelvis when you run, as a typical heel striker would, you will put a tremendous amount of pressure along the shins, and further along the leg. This is really not ideal, as you also loose a lot of power this way. Think about it, did you ever go snow sledding as a kid? Well, if you did you will know that putting your feet out in front of you into the snow will slow you down. So when you are running it would be a lot more preferable to have the foot land underneath your pelvis with the forefoot instead. From this position if you just lean forward a little you have created a rolling forward motion. Find out more about this here. This technique takes a lot less energy and is also a lot easier for your body to absorb, being a spring like motion, and it also makes you faster. Win-win! In real life it (should) look something like this

Most people completely neglect their shins unless it becomes really painful. If you are a runner start thinking pre-hab instead of re-hab by moving this mobility exercise into your regular routine. That way you will instantly feel how you are doing, and can adjust right away, rather than waiting for the pain to be your motivator. Before I finish today’s writing I should also mention that there is one type of shoe, typically used in the summer time, that will wreck havoc on these muscles too, whether you are a runner or not, but more on that next week.

Be wiser and get ahead! Think pre-hab instead of re-hab 😉

Deskjockeys and athletes- take advantage of the couch!

Summer is here in Europe and I am seeing a lot more people out and about and doing sports. Awesome! This is also the time where a lot of people will decide that it is a good idea to start or restart running and cycling. With the ING night marathon in Luxembourg hitting the streets next weekend, (yes I will be there to cheer you brave guys on!), I get asked this question a lot – what stretches should I be doing?

Well, as you probably know by now, I am a real fan of mobility work because it targets the area right where you need it, and it’s very time efficient. So my first answer will be, do mobility work first. However there is one “stretch” that I find you should not do without. It is called the couch stretch, simply because it was invented on a couch, but no couch is required. This is not a static stretch though so it is important that you pay attention to the different segments and actively participate.

If you are a cyclist, runner or doing anything similar to that position, this should be on your daily to do list. If you are sitting all day at school or work this should also be on your to do list. If you are running and sitting all day I say you need to do this everyday.

Why is it so good? It gets into the whole front line (see deep and superficial lines from Anatomy Trains) of your legs, with the very important hip-flexors and rectus femoris (middle of your quads). If you can raise your arm up you will also get deeper into the hip-flexors, your abs and even lats (m.latissimus dorsi).

It is very important that you tighten the butt on the side where your leg is up on the wall, otherwise you will loose integrity of the spine, and that will keep you from working in the area that you are after. By tightening the butt and keeping your back straight, you will move your butt and back as one unit towards the wall, rather than bending just your back towards the wall.

Start in an easy position, tighten your butt and then move slowly towards the wall. After a little while release the butt muscles and move forward into a more relaxing position and then go at it again.

Remember, this position is not some high level acrobatics, even though it may feel like that for many of you. This should be easy – if you have good range of motion. If you are having trouble with this stretch it is a clear sign that you need to work on it. The very best option would be to do a few minutes of mobility work with the lacrosse ball or foam roller on your quads and hip-flexors first (and even lats), and then get into the couch stretch.

If this seems impossible for you right now, start by just sitting back on your heels for a few minutes. If even that is too uncomfortable, (contact me or someone in your area for an appointment because you need some more help), put a pillow, stack of books or a yoga block under your butt, so that you will challenge your position but not be in total agony.

Remember, if the couch stretch doesn’t count as acrobatics, sitting back on your heels comfortably counts as super easy. If it’s not, it is extremely important that you get to work on it before you do your knees and hips further or irreversible damage.

The good thing is that it often does not take as long as one thinks to improve your range of motion, so start working on it today and make a small note on where you are. Then check back in a weeks time after doing the couch stretch every day, and I am sure that you will have improved. Just try it!

One final video with a bit more description. Wishing you all a great weekend! 🙂

My best mobile friends

If you have followed my blog you know that I am a huge  believer in prevention and taking care of yourself. And just because you are traveling it doesn’t mean that you should stop doing that. One of my favorite methods for doing this is using mobility exercises. There are lots of different ways to get the job done and tools to help you. Depending on how long you will be traveling for and how much space you have in your suitcase, you will most likely have to choose between different tools to bring.

The following two tools are the most minimalistic tools that I bring along where I feel I get all the help I need. They easily fit into your luggage and can also be thrown into your hand luggage or backpack if need be.

No 1 is the lacrosse ball. If you have never seen one before it’s the size of a tennis ball but made completely out of rubber. Therefore it is a lot more versatile than the tennis ball as it does not cave in with added pressure. Basically put the ball on a part of your body that you feel needs extra attention, like your calves after a lot of walking. Slowly let the ball sink into the muscle and then move back and forth across a small area for a minute or two. In my previous post I wrote about how to use lacrosse ball in flight, you can read about that here.

No 2 is the Gemini. I absolutely love this tool and use this every day to mobilize all the way along the spine. The shape of the Gemini is specifically made for this and it works great. I have tried a lot of different mobility tools and so far I have not come across anything that has been more effective in working along the spine than this. You can also use it for larger muscle groups like the quads or lats if you wanted to.

Usually I will bring a yoga mat with me as well as it gets me good traction and helps me avoid some dodgy hotel room floors, but it is not necessary if you are short on space, and you could always use a towel if need be. If I still had some extra space left in my suitcase I would add a foam roller to the mix as I find it to be more effective going over larger muscle groups as well. But with the lacrosse ball and Gemini you really have everything you need, and as they are so easy to bring with you no matter where you are going you will always find them with me while traveling.

Enjoy your traveling and keep up your mobility work 😉