You Can Get Fit!

Posts Tagged ‘injury prevention

Hi!

Recently, I’ve been clearing my house of unnecessaries, including those older issues of health and fitness magazines that have been tucked behind the jar of pickles in the fridge. I’ve been giving them a quick read before donation and/or recycling, and I’ve found a few great tidbits to pass along!

lycopene sunscreen?
Apparently, consuming tomatoes and tomato products slightly increases our skin’s UV protection. We still need to lather up with regular sunscreen, but there’s another reason to chow down on heart-healthy lycopene-containing goods! Bring on the bruschetta!

post-it nuts?
This one’s pretty cool. Have you struggled to remember how many of a certain variety of nuts counts as one ounce? (Either that, or carry around a portable food scale all day long!) Fret no more! I read in Shape magazine that if you spread a single layer of most nut varieties on a 3 inch x 3 inch post-it, you have your one-oz serving. Cool, eh?

joint juice
Another benefit to garlic and onions: it appears that those of us who consume more of these veggies have lower rates of osteoarthritis! Who cares about bad breath–bring ’em on! (And maybe pop a a mint while you’re at it.)

So, you, as readers, benefited while my house benefited from a cleaning! Have you seen any useful tips from magazines recently?

feet

Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂 Be sure to give your mom, as well as your kids, a big hug.

Feet Are Really Important!

Where would we be without our feet? Well… probably sitting a lot. Lame jokes aside, our feet are extremely important, not only for walking and standing, but they’re the foundation for our whole body. Have you ever noticed that if one side of your foot hurts – if it’s bruised, or broken – you put your weight on the other side when you step? This causes a whole cascade of effects all the way up your body. If you weight your foot unevenly for too long, your knee joint and hip joint will also wear unevenly, damaging the cartilage. You may also throw your low back our of alignment. Clearly, it is important to take care of our feet!

There are actually many strengthening and stretching self-care exercises that can be done at home to take care of our feet. Today, I’ll talk about two of them.

1. Arch Strengthening.

Over time, if you aren’t careful, gravity may start to collapse your arch down. Rather than relying 100% on shoe inserts to prop your foot into its normal position (note that some of us, born with “funky feet”, will always need a little help), why not try strengthening the arch as best as we can? You will need bare feet and maybe a handtowel, if you want the tactile sensation of something scrunching up under your toes. Sit upright in a chair with the towel under one of your feet. Your working foot will make a doming, or inchworming, motion: curl your toes under as your knuckles point more toward the ceiling, creating room under your arch. You will create space under your foot, and your heel will drag forward. When you’ve scrunched all the way forward, release your toes, set them back down flat (now farther forward), ,and repeat the process, inchworming your foot forward again. Repeat 3-4 times, or until your foot and leg can’t physically go any farther forward. Repeat the entire process on the other foot. ***If your foot starts to cramp, do take a break! Don’t push through this! And it’s OK to pause, cross the working foot/ankle over the opposite knee, and massage the bottom of your foot with your thumbs to work out any cramps before trying again.

2. Foot and Toe Mobility/Agility.

You might not realize the importance of all five of your toes, but pressure from each one of them is key to maintaining our balance. The following exercise will help strengthen your toes and the muscles in your forefoot that help control the movement of your toes. You will need a short cup and several (20 or so) coins of various sizes. Sit in a chair, and set the empty cup on the floor with the coins on the floor surrounding the cup. Using one foot, pick up the coins and drop them into the cup. To really challenge your control, try going for one coin at a time, and perhaps try using more the outside of your foot than the inside for some of the coins. When you’ve gone through all 20 coins once or twice with one foot, do the same on the other foot. Again, if you can, try to focus not only on your first and second toes, which are most likely your strongest toes, but also on your third, fourth, and fifth toes, which are also key in our walking and balance.

Work through these exercises a few times a week. You may find that your calf muscles fatigue–they’re working hard, as well, during these moves, so give them a little extra stretching love.

If you routinely do these exercises, with any luck, you can minimize or avoid plantar fasciiitis and other nasty foot maladies! Try them out, and let me know what you think!

This time, I mean it literally!

Many of us live in locations which will be lightly or heavily blanketed in snow and ice in the coming months. How many times have you stepped outside, only to find yourself slipping and sliding, trying to regain control? It’s these times that we’re grateful for our sense of balance.

Some of our sense of equilibrium is dependent on the health of our inner ear. But whether or not your ears are up to muster, you can still perform a few exercises to strengthen the muscles which help keep you upright in slippery conditions.

1. Two-legged balance: start simply by placing your feet in one line, one right in front of the other, heel to toe. Try not to let one turn in or out with respect to the other–we’re going for one straight line with both feet. This is harder than it looks! To help keep from wobbling, think of engaging either inner or outer thighs (it can be different for different people, so experiment to see which works for you). Your hands can also help you–you can place them on your hips, or out to the side somewhere, whatever helps with balance. For the ultimate challenge, close your eyes–it can be amazing how much the visual sense contributes to balance! When you’ve had enough (2 minutes, 2 years, or whatever feels good), switch so that the other foot is in front.

2. One-legged balance: start with your low back in a neutral position (tailbone neither sticking out behind you nor tucked underneath). Then, lift one foot off of the floor, bending the same knee. You can lift the knee to hip height, if it feels OK. Hold this position, keeping your hips as level as possible, not letting one jut out to the side. Stay strong through your deep abdominals and pelvis. When you’ve held this a few minutes, lower the raised leg, shake out the standing leg, and move on to the same thing on the other side.

2a. For more excitement, from the one-legged balance position, you can make small circles with your raised leg, rotating your thigh bone in the hip socket. Make about 10 slow, controlled circles one direction, then change directions. Some people say this is easier than holding in place – maybe it’s the mental distraction?

Also, if you have access to a gym, many yoga classes include standing balance work, which is a nice addition to the above repertoire.

You’ll ultimately end up with stronger ankles, which is great for sprain prevention at any time of year! Not to mention fantastic muscular calves to show off in the warmer months…

Do you do the same exercise day-in, day-out? Don’t get cross, cross-train! Doing different forms of exercise is good for the brain and the body.

We get in ruts, right? Get out of bed, put on running clothes, go for morning run. What if you joined a gym at one point and did something different, say, went to a group cycling class? Or lifted weights?

Uh oh. I can smell your fear from this far away! You’re getting uncomfortable. That’s what happens—we get happy with our routines. But sometimes, it serves us well to break away. If you’re a frequent walker, you’re constantly working the muscles in the front-to-back plane of the body. Taking, say, an aerobics class would get your body moving laterally, developing strength in new muscles.

So, participating in a completely different fitness activity is great for your body, because it will strengthen your body in new places. It may also get you thinking in new ways. I find that when I try a new activity, it gets my brain’s creative juices flowing. Besides, it’s just plain fun to do something different!

What’s your favorite way to cross-train?

It’s the end of the day. Where are your shoulders?

Are they droopy and rounded forward? If they are, does your posture make your back and neck ache?

At the risk of sounding like your mother… stand up straight! It will actually ease the tension in your muscles when your body is aligned properly. Also, if you’re hunched over, imagine the awkward pressure that’s being placed on your internal organs. And when you sit or stand tall, you actually look thinner! (I bet you all just straightened up, huh? Yep, that one’s always a motivator.)

So, how do we stand up straight?

Let’s start by floating the crown of your head toward the ceiling, trying not to let your chin jut forward or tuck backward too much. Your shoulders should relax away from your ears. Whether you are sitting or standing, your pelvis should be in a neutral position—that is, your hip bones and your pubic bone should line up in the same vertical plane. Hopefully when this happens, your tailbone is neither sticking out too far behind you (like Donald Duck) nor tucked under you too far.

There is some natural curvature to your spine, so we aren’t aiming to entirely flatten it out, but try to deemphasize the rounded shoulders that plague many of us by the end of the day.

If you spend a lot of time in an uncomfortable chair, sometimes placing a small cushion in the curve of your lower back can help with support, and can actually help you sit taller. Keep the cushion small, though. Oftentimes, just a small washcloth folded up can do the trick!

So, try it out, maybe only a few hours a day to get used to the great posture that you’ve been neglecting for years. I promise you that over time, runway model perfect posture will come naturally!

How’s your footprint these days? More importantly, how do your feet feel at the end of a long day of standing? Throughout my childhood, I was constantly diagnosed with “flat feet”, so that when I left behind a footprint, it didn’t show much of an arch. Yet arches are the shock absorbers of our feet, so they are important!

Years of orthopedic shoes later (and lots of money), and I still had “flat feet”. Believe it or not, I became athletic, using custom orthotics in my shoes. Still, my legs and feet would get achy before my friends’ would. I thought there was no solution.

When I started running marathons in my mid-20’s, the specialty shoe stores fitted me in motion control shoes in addition to my orthotics, to prevent my feet from running inward. I ran like the breeze… with cement bricks on my feet. Still, I’d reach the 20th mile with my lungs feeling great and my feet feeling terribly.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I received tremendous insight in combination from some runners and podiatrists who are “in the know”, so I thought I’d pass that along to you. More recent research has proven that motion control shoes often function more like a crutch, merely holding our weak arches up, doing the work for us, and not allowing them to strengthen. Wow. So I decided, then, to try running and working out in some (less expensive! hooray!) neutral-support shoes. I still used my orthotics, as I have structural problems that need correction, but using orthotics plus motion control was just over-the-top.

And the experiment was a rousing success! My feet are no worse for the wear. (I just need to get my joints happy enough again to experiment with more long running.)

I have also incorporated balance work to further strengthen my arches. Stand near a wall (so you can hold on in case you fall over), make sure your pelvis is level forward/backward/right/left, and just lift one leg off of the floor. Your hands can be on your hips, or out to the side. I suggest doing this barefoot to really work your arches. Hold as long as you can stand it, and work the other side as well. Your deep core will get a workout, as well, and this will also help you if you are a frequent ankle-sprainer!

Between switching shoe type and barefoot balance work, I can’t say that I’m not flat footed, but I’ve made significant improvements in foot pain, and also in knee pain (when your foot rolls inward, your knees follow). Try these things out, and of course, your mileage may vary. I’d love to hear your experiences!

Whenever I practice yoga in a room with mirrors, I plop my mat down as close as I can to the mirror. Lest you, or the others in the class, believe I have vanity issues (ok, I have been known to tuck a stray hair back into place), I’m mostly concerned about my body alignment. Proper body alignment during a workout will help prevent injury, and it also helps you get the most out of every second of your exercise session. No wasted time!

You’ve heard for years to keep your knees behind your toes when you do a squat, right? Like you’re sitting in a chair, but someone took the chair away from you at the last minute? In your mind’s eye, you think you’re doing a proper squat, but how do you really know, unless you see yourself in a mirror?

At first, it’s weird to spend your entire workout staring at yourself, I know. I still get freaked out by it, and I teach entire classes facing a mirror, some days. So, work yourself into the idea by having the mirror at your side. Just don’t crane your neck sideways and give yourself a neck cramp, ok? Take a peek every now and then.

And you know what? You’ll find that after a few months of checking your form in the mirror, your body will automatically know where to go. You won’t have to look in the mirror so often anymore! Progress! Your body and mind getting stronger together!


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