Better Stronger Faster

Happy Valentine’s day to you!

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In the spirit of Valentine’s day, here are 5 gifts to give to someone who will be with you forever- Yourself!

1-    Find ways to stretch every day.  Particularly your hip flexors, glutes & hamstrings.  They seem to get the most tight when we sit all day.  And muscle tightness in these areas can lead to back pain, knee pain and a myriad of other complaints.  You don’t have to lie down on the floor by your desk to do them either- a lot of stretches can be done in sitting or standing.

2-    Get to know your body better.  The human body is a never-ending complexity- you can always learn more about it.  Take a new class at your gym, or investigate a new fitness fad.  You don’t even have to leave the house- get a DVD or read a fitness book!  There are a million ways to “keep the spark alive” and find news ways to understand how your body works.

3-    Make a positive change in your diet.  Love is never about restriction, only generosity!  So make a commitment to ADD something to your diet that will improve your health.  Drink MORE water, eat MORE fruit, add MORE protein- you choose the “gift”- surprise yourself!

4-    Be kind to your body.  Working out shouldn’t be about pain and punishment.  If something hurts, stop!  You will only do damage if you work through pain.   If you can’t seem to do something without hurting, then it’s time to see a physical therapist or your doctor.

5-    Share your commitment to yourself with your friends and family.  Letting people know you have a fitness goal can give you the support you need to stay committed.  It can also start a conversation about health & fitness that will teach you something new, find a new workout buddy, or inspire someone you know to love their body too!

Is there room for a new definition of athlete?

ImageI have often wondered what makes people consider themselves part of that special group of people called “athletes.”  Usually it’s some sort of external identification, such as being picked for the high school basketball team.  But as years pass, coaching stops and the years of parental influence & rides to practice fade into yesteryear, the playing field can level somewhat.  It is at this point, that the effort and consistency of training is placed squarely on the individual.  And it also the time that most people come to see me.  It’s ironic that those old highschool players have not given up their “athlete” membership even though they haven’t picked up a ball in over 10 years.  On the other side, I hear frequent patient comments that “I’m not very athletic” even though they are very active in exercise routines. Strange…

Someone once told me that unless you are a certain performance level, you aren’t an athlete.  In other words, unless you are able to win a contest against someone else, you aren’t an athlete.  This person happened to be a former football star, but kept his “athlete” membership card even though he stopped working out.

I have a very inclusive definition of athleticism.  I believe an athlete is someone who challenges him/herself physically- systematically & repetitively for the goal of improving their performance.  This means the obese runner is an athlete, the bodybuilding weight trainer is an athlete, a golfer is an athlete, a bowler is an athlete.  The former football star WAS an athlete but is not one now if he doesn’t challenge himself any more.  Being an athlete isn’t a lifetime membership card you are given once, but a membership that must be continually renewed.  It’s not based on type of sport, or your physical look, even your current physical ability.  It’s just based on the fact that you create effort to rise to a physical challenge & that you are consistent in that effort.

It’s this attitude of “in or out” that is a barrier to fitness for a lot of people.  At the very minimum, it is the “noise” that people hear in their head as they are trying something new physically.  And that “noise” can be very distracting, sometimes to the point of making the person stop.  I’ve seen it often in my patients- it’s the feeling that you have to already be “fit” in order to try anything physical, that you have to do it right & look good doing it the first time.  In short, it’s this “in or out” mentality that causes people to lose confidence in their ability to challenge themselves physically.  And in self-fulfilling prophesy, their performance suffers.

I try to urge people of all ages and abilities to push this thinking out of their head and regain confidence in their bodies.  Every body has the capacity to improve in strength, endurance and agility if challenged.  You may not look good the first time you try something new, but with practice and focused effort, everyone gets better- I swear!

Kneecap pain has nothing to do with your knees?

In most of the cases I’ve seen, the cause of kneecap pain has very little to do with your actual kneecap. Sure, it is the kneecap that is hurting, and x-rays may prove that there is some wearing of the cartilage there. Your doctor or physical therapist may even show you that the kneecap is not in alignment with the rest of your leg. But the truth is, the most common causes of kneecap pain are poor hip strength, quad dominance, foot over-pronation or poor training techniques-usually of a combination of the four.

http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.231/article_detail.asp
http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.2427,type.2/article_detail.asp

Barefoot for the Flatfoot

More on the Harvard study:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100127134241.htm

The study DOES have some useful info for the heel striker and flat footed person. If you run, try leaning slightly forward to move the weight forward on your foot.  Try not to land on the heel, but rather, flat footed or in the middle of your foot.  You can do this in your regular pair of running shoes.  It is good to absorb some shock in the foot, because it “spreads the wealth” if you will- it gives the body more joints & muscles to absorb force with.

For flat-footers who have foot pain & are looking to improve their arches, walk around barefoot as much as possible at home.  But if your feet start to hurt, by gosh, put on shoes!!!  It takes time to strengthen up those arches.  FYI- flat footers are notorious for weak calf muscles- so try some barefoot calf raises every day to strengthen your calf muscles & help re-create an arch.  You should be able to raise your heel 20x in a row (no rest) when standing on one leg- Try for a couple sets of these each day. Go up as high as you can with each rep.  If daily calf raises cause foot pain, you may be strengthening too aggressively.

Good luck!

What’s up with barefoot running?

What’s up with barefoot running? That’s inevitably the question I get from my patients who are runners with foot pain.  They are referring to the Harvard study discussed in this article:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100127134241.htm

an excellent piece that explains the famous study that has spawned a new sneaker (the Nike Free), new training methods, and of course countless debates on the benefits and risks of barefoot running.  It scientifically explains the difference between cushion-y sneaker vs barefoot running , and in easy to understand language.   The Harvard scientists quoted in the article found most people land on their heel in the “typical” sneaker run, and people who run barefoot land on the ball of the foot.  When you land on your heel, you are creating a “braking” motion at heel strike, slowing you down.  Landing on your heel also does not allow for any shock absorption (Ever try to run landing on your barefoot heel? Ouch!)

Because the foot is so springy, landing on the ball of your foot uses the muscles of your foot (and can get them stronger), and allows for better shock absorption for the leg.  The Harvard scientists concluded forefoot running (aka landing on the ball of your foot) is a more mechanically efficient running style and those cushion-y sneakers may slowly create weaker arches because our foot muscles don’t have to do any work as hard.

Well, great. Does that mean everybody should ditch their motion control sneakers, custom foot orthotics & run gracefully like wild gazelles on the west side highway?  Ummm, please don’t.

Well let me start at the beginning- when we were babies.

Lots of barefoot walking, running & “playing” from an early age is best for the foot- this will help build the arch, foot musculature, not to mention a lot sensory feedback in baby’s feet (think balance, control, “awareness”, etc). Gone are the times when we put those rigid high-top “walking shoes” on our babies getting ready to walk.  The new medical info out there has created a new baby-walking shoe, with an extremely flexible sole, which is as close to barefoot as you can get.  Think about it- if the shoe gives you all the support, why would your muscles have to work at all?  And the baby stage is exactly the time for the muscle building to happen- this is the foundation of strength your baby will have for the rest of his or her life.  Pass this info along to any parents you know.  Often this fact gets to people too late.

Ok, now you have incredibly strong arches 😉 and you probably don’t need custom orthotics- good for you.  I’d recommend walking around at home barefoot as much as possible to keep your arches strong.  But I would still recommend cushion for your sneakers and/or dress shoes.  Why?

I believe current opinion out there is that running creates a force 4-5x your body weight and sprinting creates a force 6-7x your body weight.  Running creates large forces no matter what, even if these forces are reduced by improved form.   Nobody tells you the force of running has to go somewhere- and much of that force will be absorbed in the foot if you are running barefoot, or even in a sneaker but landing on your forefoot (ball of the foot).  Forefoot runners can have significant joint wear in their feet- aka arthritis- at the navicular-1st metatarsal joint, or at the 1st toe joint; they can also have bunions and more.  There are more foot changes than just some callus….   I don’t want to scare you, just inform you that there are consequences to any running position.  The force of running will be absorbed somewhere- feet, knees, back- you can take your pick.  I personally prefer some of MY running force to be absorbed in my shoe, haha. That’s why my incredibly strong arches land at mid foot when running & prefer some cushion in her running sneakers.

What are Orthotics?

Orthotics are shoe inserts that help position your foot in the proper alignment.  They look like a Dr Scholl insole, but have a hard plastic piece on the bottom of it.  The topcover is just for cushion- it’s the plastic piece that’s doing all the work of correcting your foot.

Want custom orthotics?  You’ll need a prescription to be covered by insurance, but many insurances don’t cover their cost.  So- you’ll probably have to pay out of pocket (ewww- we don’t like that phrase).  Unless… you’re one of the lucky ones!  Sometimes I feel like I’m telling someone they’re a Publisher’s Clearinghouse winner when I’ve found out they’re covered by insurance 100%, haha.  The best way to find out is to just check your insurance- you never know.

They DO sell orthotics over the counter, but since they are not made specific to your foot, they may not work as well or at all.  If you’re looking to go this route- have your doctor or PT tell you if your foot is flat, normal or high arched- different inserts are made for different feet.