Oh, My Achy Flat Feet!

Is Having Flat Feet a Problem?

Overpronation of the Right Foot

Having flat feet, technically known as overpronation, invariably causes a myriad of issues that will continue to get worse unless corrected.  Untreated overpronation can lead to imbalances that transmit up through body, including the knees, hips, low back, shoulders and even the neck.

As imbalances slowly get worse, the result is chronic pain during movement. When it hurts to move, we move less often, and the cyclical effect begins to snowball leading to less activity, weight gain, and more pain.

Snowball Effect

Overpronation Can Lead To:

  • Calluses
  • Bunions
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Achilles Tendon Pain
  • Shin Splints
  • Pain While Standing or Walking Especially for Long Periods of Time
  • Knee Pain
  • Hip Pain
  • Low Back Pain

What is Pronation?

Pronation is normal movement of the foot collapsing inward toward the middle of the body to absorb transmitted forces while moving. If our foot collapses too far inward (overpronation), a disruption in normal function occurs and it causes additional stress to other body areas.

  • As we walk with a flat foot, the leg impacts the floor at a different angle, altering the direction of the pressure as it reaches the knee.
  • This causes the knee to cave inward.
  • The caving in of the knee causes the hips to shift forward, which can lead to hip and low back pain.  
  • Do you see a pattern here?

The Key Point Is:

“The Feet and Ankles Literally Form the Foundation of the Human Body.”  We learned in Mobility and Stability are The Keys to Movement Efficiency that the foot provides stability to create force production while the ankle allows for mobility.  Overpronation will most certainly affect our entire kinetic chain.

Quick Test:

  1. Stand barefooted and look at your feet. Can you see an arch?  If not, you have flat feet.
Flat Feet
  1. Pinch your calf muscle. Is it tender? If so, there is a good chance your calf muscles are overactive from improper striking of the feet.

 

Self Help For Flat Feet:

  1. Release the fascia through Self Myofascial Release.  
    Roll the Bottom of the Foot
    • Roll the feet on a golf ball 1 minute every day.
    • Use a tennis ball if the golf ball is too painful.
    • Start while sitting, and as pain diminishes, stand up and roll.
    • Foam roll the achilles tendon and calf to release those restrictions.
    • Use a soft ball or lacrosse ball for more advanced rolling of the achilles and calf.
    • Use the Fascia Blaster Mini 2 or full size Fascia Blaster to get deeper into the fascia. (Click on link for direct transfer to Amazon).  Note: Clicking on Amazon Affiliate links through this web site provides a small monetary return to this web site.  There is no extra fee for the purchaser when clicking through this site and all products are delivered through Amazon.
      Fascia Blaster

      Fascia Blaster Mini 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Stretch the foot and calf muscles to increase flexibility and retrain correct movement pattern:

Calf Stretch

Calf Stretch
  • stand with feet in a staggered stance with feet facing forward.
  • Gently lean forward keeping both feet in contact with the ground.
  • Pull up on the the toes to get a deeper stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other side.

 

 

Foot Stretch

  • Stand barefoot with toes pushed up against a wall.
  • Keep the ball of the foot in contact with the floor.
  • Slowly collapse the foot into pronation to stretch the plantar fascia then pull it back to neutral.
  • Hold for 30 seconds then switch to the other foot.

 

3. Strengthen the muscles by retraining good walking mechanics.

  • Go barefoot and actively pull your arches up by putting pressure more on the outside of the feet.
  • Practice raising the toes off the ground while keeping a good arch.
  • Practice splaying (spreading) your toes apart before bed every night.

Having chronic pain means people have slowly grown accustomed to the discomfort. Don’t suffer any longer, try these easy solutions to see if we can get rid of your foot pain. It will take a few weeks to see improvements so don’t get discouraged. 

 

This video will outline the steps we mentioned above:

Remember when you move better…you feel better.

Mobility Part 2 – Tissue Elasticity

Mobility

In Mobility and Stability are the Keys to Improving Movement Efficiency, we learned the importance of full joint movement in moving well.  Then we discussed the many things that can cause mobility limitations in What Causes Poor Mobility.   

Foam Rollers
Foam Rollers

 In Mobility Part 1 we discovered the most common reason for mobility issues is soft tissue restrictions.   We learned how to remove soft tissue restrictions with the use of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) techniques using foam rollers, balls and other tools.   

Another very common reason for a lack of mobility in a joint is the lack of tissue elasticity.  The muscles are like rubber bands, they lengthen and shorten to create movement. As they lengthen or stretch when we move a body part, other reciprocal muscles resist to help slow down the movement.   If the rubber band is too tight, motion is restricted. If the rubber band is overstretched, the muscles do not extend back properly.  

Muscles are Like Rubber Bands

Your muscles need a certain amount of tension to create strong, healthy movement.  Dynamic stretching in one way to improve mobility due to poor tissue elasticity.

 

 

Static Stretching

An important point is that static stretching is not mobility. Static stretching or holding a passive muscle position for a length of time, can actually inhibit the amount of force that a muscle can produce and it can decrease performance if done before a workout. 

Dynamic Stretching vs Static Stretching

Numerous studies (1,2) have proven that static stretching can be counterproductive to athletic performance. We will discuss static stretching in a later article, because there is a time and place for it, but not as a warm up before an exercise period. Static stretching is best after the exercise session concludes, or for use in people with muscle imbalances or needing restorative flexibility.

Dynamic stretching on the other hand is beneficial to increasing mobility and studies have shown (3,4) that “dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session” (5).

Benefits of Dynamic Stretching

  • Improves flexibility.
  • Combats the effects of aging by maintaining and regaining flexibility.
  • Protects from injury.
  • Increases the range of motion.
  • Boosts athletic performance through force and tension.
  • Increases blood flow to muscles.
  • Increases lubrication of connective tissue, making you supple.
  • Relieves lower back pain.

What is Dynamic Stretching?

  • Dynamic stretching is rhythmically moving your joints within their full range of motion to mimic a particular sport or activity. 
  • It incorporates postural control, stability, balance, and explosive movements.
  • It utilizes basic movement patterns such as hinging, squatting, lunging, and swinging to bring joints through the full movement patterns.

Examples of Dynamic Stretching Routines:

Prehab Dynamic Stretches
  1. Arm Circles:

Extend arms out, parallel to the floor. Slowly rotate each arm in tight circles in a forward motion. Gradually make the circles wider until you get to 8 to 10 repetitions (reps).  Then reverse the direction and do 8 to 10 more reps, starting small and again increasing the circle size.

2.Leg Swings:

Hold onto a wall, counter, pole or golf club and swing one leg at a time front to back 10 times.  Start with small swings and increase the arc as you get higher in reps. Then swing the same leg side to side in front of the foot, and then swing 10 times behind the planted foot.  Now do the same for the other leg.

3. Hip Circles:

Stand with knees below shoulders, rotate your hips clockwise for 8 -10 large circles. Then switch directions and rotate the other way for 8-10 circles.

4. Toy Soldier Walk:

Toy Soldiers

Walk forward with legs stiff, knees straight and toes flexed back toward you.  Every time you lift a leg, try to touch the toe with the alternate arm. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.

 

 

5. High Knees:

As you walk back to your original position raise each leg high so the knee taps your extended arm in front of you. You can vary the speed from a walk to a quick tempo. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.

6. Butt Kickers:

Butt Kickers

As you take a step, extend the leg toward the rear and try and kick your butt with your heel. This can be done at a slow speed or rapid tempo.  Walk for 10 – 20 yards doing the butt kickers.

7. Standing Torso Twist:

a. Horizontal – place arms straight out from sides, slowly twist so the left arm is facing directly in front of you fully extended, the right arm is now behind your back, fully extended parallel to the ground. Now twist to the left so the right arm is in front and the left arm is behind you. Keep your head and neck aligned with your torso, do not crane your neck. Do this 10 times slowly in each direction.

b. Rotational – same as above except the arms rotate out diagonally during the extension and you keep one up high while the other drops low.

8. Air Squats (Body Weight):

Stand with knees shoulder width apart, and your arms held out in front of your body.  Slowly drop down toward the ground while pushing your butt back, like you are going to sit on a toilet.  Keep your knees behind your toes and swing your arms back to your side as you approach the bottom. Then slowly rise back up, bringing the arms out in front of you.  Try to get to where your upper leg is below the hip crease (below parallel).

9. Lunge:

Lunge Execution

a. Forward – Step forward dropping one knee to the ground and keeping your hands on your hips. Once the knee touches the ground, raise back up and alternate legs so the other leg steps forward and touches the ground. 

b. Walking Lunge – keep walking forward with each step for 10-20 step.

b. Reverse – Once you get comfortable with the front lunge, you can drop the knee to the rear and do reverse lunges.

c. Lunge With Upper Body Rotation – once in the lunge, extend the arms overhead and twist the torso to the side of the raised knee.  On the next step, twist to the opposite side.

Vary Your Dynamic Warm Up

Try to expand your movements to go beyond the basic flexing and extending patterns. Incorporate side to side moves, twisting, bending, and diagonal movements.  The more you move the body, the better the movements become and the better you feel.

The beauty of dynamic stretching is it can be incorporated into your warm up and it can do specific movement patterns for your sport. The Golf Swing Warm Up video demonstrates dynamic stretches and warm ups that will assist any golfer in getting ready for 18 holes of golf. It is amazing what 5 minutes of warm up and mobility prep can do to prepare your body for your sport.  Most people who practice the warm up routine for 2 to 4 weeks report improved performance and decreasing levels of discomfort after their sport.

Injury Prevention

  • Never stretch while cold, always warm up first. Spend at least 5 minutes doing an active warm up (jogging, rowing, jump roping etc) or doing dynamic stretches that get the body moving.
  • Don’t bounce.
  • Use active stretches that simulate your muscles for the activity or sport you will perform.
  • Hold static stretches for the end of a workout when they are most effective.
  • Tired muscles have limited elasticity, so if you train them when tired, they might remember a restricted range of motion.

Simple stretching alone rarely makes long-term changes.  When tightness or mobility limitation is identified somewhere in the body, there is usually a weakness, overactivity or imbalance existing somewhere else in the body. Combining SMR techniques with dynamic stretching and joint distraction (Part 3 of this series) will go a long way toward improving mobility impairments.

The Science Daily reported on progress being made identifying Reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity (6). They found the combination of exercising and stretching leads to long-lasting yet reversible increases in flexibility.  So it is important to establish a dynamic stretching routine as part of each daily movement session, followed up with static stretching after your workout.  Today is the perfect time to start your movement practice. Five minutes a day will do wonders for you. Give it a try!

 

References

  1. Gergly, J.C. Department of Kinesiology and Human Science, Stephan F. Austin University. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 April;27(4):973-7.
  2. Simic, L., Sarabon, N., Markovic, G. Motor Control and Human Performance Laboratory, University of Zagreb. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2): 131-48.
  3. Zourdos, M. (2012). Effects of dynamic stretching on energy cost and running endurance performance in trained male runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), 335-41.
  4. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.
  5. Greenfield, B. https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/fitness-articles/workouts-exercise-articles/mobility-for-endurance-athletes/
  6. Columbia University, March 13, 2014. reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity Discovered.

 

Mobility Part 1 – Soft Tissue Restrictions & Self Myofascial Release

Soft Tissue Restrictions 

When we are unable to move a joint through a normal range of movement, it results in a lack of mobility.  One of the primary causes for lack of mobility is soft tissue restrictions, or trigger areas, that result in tightness and pain.   This restricted tissue is the fascia, a very thin, collagen-like substance that permeates the entire human body from nerve endings, to muscle fibers, to bones and organs.  

fascia
Fascia on chicken breast

Think about that clear layer on a piece of raw chicken breast, that is fascia.  Fascia in humans is a living seam system and provides a soft tissue scaffolding system to help support your body as well as assist in movement.

The fascia is responsible for the huge range of movement we possess. The fascia can get tacked down, and restrict the movement of different layers of tissue.  Thus  we lose functionality or have movement painful.  Think scar tissue and matted down old tissue that hasn’t been required to move in a long time (i.e. you haven’t done a full squat in decades).  These tacked down areas are called adhesions, knots, trigger points or scar tissue.  

Self Myofascial Release

SMR
Self Myofascial Release

Using self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques, we can break up those adhesions and restore the sliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue. The main tools used in SMRF include foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and even barbells and kettlebells.   By using friction, pressure, and movement with a hard object over these areas of adhesions, we begin to break up the knots. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation (1) found the foam rolling is more effective than static or dynamic stretching in acutely increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstrings without hampering muscle strength, and is recommended as part of a warm up in healthy adults.

SMR can be performed before a training session to help loosen tissue and improve mobility for that workout, but should also be done after the workout to release those areas tightened during the workout.

How To Perform Self Myofascial Release

Foam Rollers
Foam Rollers

Lie on a foam roller, using a slow up and down movement, roll over the tissues applying pressure to the muscle.

  1. When you find an area that hurts, stop and hold pressure for 30 seconds.  
  2. Then slowly move your body around to apply different pressure points.
  3. Roll slowly, no more than one inch per second.
  4. Bend and extend the limbs in the area you are working to untack the tissue.  
  5. Roll each area for up to 2 minutes or move if the pain subsides.

SMFR breaks up the adhesions, but it can be very painful the first few times you do it. Don’t get discouraged, the more you roll, the less painful it gets. When the pain diminishes, tissue changes are occurring and the adhesions are being broken up.  Your fascia is free to move again.

This 13 minute video shows how to foam roll the entire body:

SMR Don’ts

  • Do not roll over joints or a bone (like the front of the shin).
  • Don’t foam roll your lower back. Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball or two balls taped together in a peanut shape. Place the ball(s) on the side of the spine and slowly roll along the spine.
  • Don’t roll to the point of excessive soreness.

Here is a good reference chart showing how to roll various areas:

Foam Rolling
Foam Rolling Basic Patterns

Other Tools for SMR

Tools for SMR
Lacrosse Ball
  • The lacrosse ball, VooDoo Floss reviewed in this article, tennis ball, edge of a kettlebell or even a barbell can be used in place of the foam roller to target deeper tissues.  Be creative, humans have used rocks and man made tools for years to work out areas of discomfort on their bodies.  I have a lacrosse ball in my car to roll out my back and shoulders during my drive.

Quality products to help you begin your SMR journey include:

 

Double Lacrosse Balls
Voodoo Floss Bands

 

12″ Rumble Roller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*This page may contain referral links to help support the site.

 

References

  1. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.

What Causes Poor Mobility?

In the article Mobility and Stability Are The Keys To Improving Movement Efficiency we learned that Mobility is how well a joint can move, while stability is the ability to maintain control of joint movement.  Mobility is key for moving better, and moving better is key for feeling better.

Many things can limit mobility resulting in less than desired movement and performance:  

Muscle Imbalances
  • Soft tissue restriction.
  • Shortened and tight muscles (tissue elasticity).
  • Joint range of motion dysfunction.
  • Motor control problems.
  • Postural misalignment.
  • Muscle imbalances.
  • Neural dynamic issues.

While this list can be daunting, many of the techniques to improve mobility will fix the most common problems.  If the basic corrections fail to improve mobility, or discomfort worsens, a comprehensive assessment by a specialist is encouraged. Specialists will likely prescribe a follow up regiment of soft tissue mobilization, dynamic and static stretches and/or self mobilization to reinforce the manual work.  

Remember it took time for the dysfunctions to build up, so reversing the damage will take time as well.  But a few proactive minutes every day addressing problem areas, can improve movement efficiency, speed recovery, and improve sports performance and make moving feel good.

Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk Might Lack Mobility

If you lack adequate mobility, you could be the Incredible Hulk and still find it difficult to do basic body movements like bending over to tie a shoe or put your pants on.

 

Movement is Medicine

Kelly Starrett, a Physical Therapist, CrossFit Gym Owner, and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard writes “we believe that much of the orthopedic dysfunction we encounter in our physiotherapy and human performance coaching practice results from people either not having a movement practice or exercising like fiends in poor positions and in narrow exercise ranges”.

The other area I see mobility issues is in people who are busy with their life, and do not spend enough time moving.  Sitting at a computer for eight hours a day will shorten muscles, cause restrictions, and even cause muscle imbalances if poor posture remains the position of preference. 

Establishing a daily personal movement practice will greatly improve our mobility.   The three most pertinent areas we can work on include:

  1. Loosening soft tissue restrictions with Self-Myofascial Release (SMR).
  2. Addressing shortened and tight muscles (tissue elasticity) by stretching.
  3. Improving joint range of motion (ROM).

Stay tuned, we will break these areas into three separate articles in the near future.

 

Mobility and Stability are the Keys to Improving Movement Efficiency

Movement Efficiency

A fundamental objective all people should aim to improve is movement efficiency.  Efficient movement:

  • Makes it easier to perform the daily activities of living.
  • Allows you to build strength on a solid platform.
  • Reduces pain and the risk of injury.
  • Make you better at your sport.
  • Makes you feel better overall.  

Movement is the result of muscle force that affects another body segment along the kinetic chain. There are other forces on the body, such as gravity pulling down on the body and reactive forces pushing upward through the body like when you run.

Efficient movement requires having appropriate levels of stability and mobility.  They are a check and balance system that work together to generate motor control. Too much of either one is a problem, and too little of either is also a problem.  

An example of too much mobility is a hypermobile elbow joint. If someone with a hypermobile elbow lifts weight overhead, the elbow joint might not lock in, thus, there is no stable platform and it comes crashing down.  Other times additional muscles, tendons and ligaments are forced into supporting the load placing extra burden on them. This isn’t ideal because it can lead to over use injury since they are not doing activities they they are designed to do.  

A lack of mobility is much more common, especially in the ankles.  Athletes that lack ankle mobility typically have problems getting to full depth in a squat.  Fortunately, through proper attention to mobility and stability, we can greatly improve our movement efficiency.

What is Mobility?

  • Mobility is the ability to move in an uninhibited range of movement around a joint or body segment.
  • Mobility is the ability to put one’s body into the correct position for various movements such as a squat, deadlift, overhead press etc.
  • Having mobility means having the ability to move the way our bodies were designed, that is the correctly and safely.  
  • Mobility allows for greater performance through higher force and therefore power production.

What is Stability?

  • Stability is the ability to maintain control of a joint movement and resist an undesired movement.  
  • Without stability, the joint is more prone to injury, and will not allow efficient power production.

Stability and Mobility

The American Council on Exercise identifies that individuals who exhibit optimal levels of stability and mobility anticipate movement and stabilization needs well.  Efficient mobility and stability elicit the necessary motor responses to perform proper joint mechanics.

Gray Cook of Functional Movement Screen (FMS) goes further in depth with his “joint by joint approach” where different joints have specific functions and needs and are prone to predictable levels of dysfunction.  We must also take into consideration the joint above and below as these joints will also impact the mobility and stability of each joint.

Mobility and Stability are not mutually exclusive,

you cannot train one alone, they work in conjunction.

All joints have varying levels of stability and mobility, but they tend to favor one over the other depending on their function in the body. Using the joint by joint approach, we see how joints stack on top of each other, alternating from stability to mobility.  Starting at the bottom:

  • Foot = Stability to create force production when pushing off the ground.
  • Ankle = Mobility to allow pronation and eversion of the foot.
  • Knee = Stability for walking, some mobility with flexion and extension.
  • Hip = Mobility in the ball and socket joints to allow legs to swing.
  • Lumbar Spine = Stability to support the upright body.
  • Thoracic Spine = Mobility to allow bending over.
  • Scapulothoracic = Stability between the arm and the shoulder.
  • Glenohumeral = Mobility allowing  arms to swing and move 360 degrees.
  • Neck = Stability to hold the head upright. 

    The Kinetic Chain

    The kinetic chain is defined as the relationship between joints or segments, and the effect they have on each other during movement.  When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments. Movement efficiency involves a synergistic approach between stability and mobility throughout the kinetic chain.

    It is important to understand that proximal stability promotes distal stability. This means having a stable core while performing an overhead squat will allow the athlete to lift heavier weights.  In a previous article Engage Your Core! we identified the importance of bracing the core to allow for optimal production, transfer and control of force and motion.  Without a strong core, your power to your arms and legs will be greatly reduced.

    When we look at people with good posture, they generally exhibit an improved relationship between stability and mobility throughout their kinetic chain. People with poor posture have a compromise somewhere along the kinetic chain.  The longer the imbalance exits, the more it compromises the adjacent joints until movement becomes dysfunctional and painful.

    We can reverse inefficient movement patterns through mobility and stability exercises, so stay tuned for the next articles.   In the meantime, engage your core, retract your shoulders , exercise your back daily and stand up straight so your joints are stacked in line.  When you move better, you feel better.

Four Minutes to a Healthy Back

Do the overwhelming number of back exercises that claim to build strength, flexibility and improve posture confuse you? Some of those highly touted exercises can actually cause more tension on the spine, adding to discomfort and negatively impact your movement.

This article and video will outline four easy to perform back exercises, all of which are scalable to various levels of conditioning, and can be completed in under four minutes a day. Dr. Stuart McGill, considered the back expert in the field of back rehabilitation, highly recommends these four exercises.

In the Engage You Core article, we learned the core and back are intertwined as they work in conjunction to provide stability. Stability is the ability to maintain control of a joint movement and resist an undesired movement.  By having a strong back and core, we have a solid foundation for all other movements to build upon. This is called proximal stability, a term we will discuss more in the future.  To build back stability, practice these back exercises daily.

  1. Cat-Camel Exercise (aka Cat Cow in yoga).

Cat – Camel is spine flexion-extension cycles that reduce internal resistance in the spine. It is a motion exercise, not a static hold. Do 5-8 cycles per day.

Cat Camel

It begins with the Cat portion or upward extension of the thoracic spine:

  • Starting on hands and knees, fingers spread evenly.
  • Wrists in line with shoulders & elbows.
  • Arch the back upward as you exhale.
  • The chin comes toward the chest.
  • The tailbone tucks under.
  • Briefly hold for 1-2 seconds.

Then you move into the Camel portion:

  • Lower the belly.
  • Neck comes up looking out in front (not upward).
  • Tailbone lifts.
  • Briefly hold for 1-2 seconds then go back into the cat position.
  1. Bird Dog.

The Bird Dog is a leg and opposite arm extension exercise. These are isometric holds that should last no longer than 8 seconds.

Bird Dog
Bird Dog

 

  • Build endurance by holding for 8 seconds then increasing repetitions.
  • Higher difficulty is achieved by drawing the elbow to the knee (Bird Dog Crunch).

    Bird Dog Crunch

 

  1. Side Plank (aka side bridge)

Side planks target the lateral muscles of the torso and are important for optimal stability. These are isometric holds, so hold the position until your form starts to break down then rest. Work on getting to one minute per side, then advance to a more difficult progression.

side plank
Side Plank Variations
  • Begin by bridging the torso between the elbow and knees and raising the torso so a straight line occurs from the shoulder down to the legs.
  • Place elbow directly under shoulder, forearm on ground to help balance.
  • Always maintain a neutral neck and spine position.
  • Feet should not be stacked one on top, move the top foot out in front of the bottom foot.
  • If you are bending in the middle, work on an easier progression.
    • Level 1 – Knee on ground.
    • Level 2 – Ankle to shoulder bridging.
    • Level 3 – Star pattern – raise the top leg and or top arm.

      Star plank

 

  1. Modified Curl Up.

The modified curl up is a modified sit up where the key point is to maintain a neutral lumbar spine while slowly raising the back using the upper abdominals.  Do not flatten your lower back. 

  • Use your hands underneath your lower back to provide support or a small rolled up towel. Flattening the back flexes the lumbar spine and adds stress.
  • One knee is bent while the other is straight to lock the pelvis.
  • Alternate the bent leg halfway through the repetitions.
  • Engage your core muscles, while raising your shoulders several inches off the ground.
  • Keep lower end of scapula on the ground. You are only doing a small motion.
  • Use hands to support the neck if needed.
  • Wok to increase repetitions, up to 3 sets of 10-12.

Low back exercises have the most beneficial effect when performed daily. You should not experience pain during any of these exercises, if you do, stop immediately and consult a professional. Add these four minutes of back exercises to your morning routine to prep your body for the day ahead and build stability for better movement.

 

What is Scapular Winging and Should I Care?

Shoulder stability is key to building a strong foundation of support for your upper body, especially when the upper extremities are moving like when throwing a ball or weight lifting overhead.  A common imbalance we see in the shoulders is scapular winging.

Many people do not know they even have scapular winging because:

  • It usually does not cause discomfort.
  • It is difficult to see your own back, so you don’t even know you have it.

Failure to correct scapular winging can lead to overuse of other muscles, weakness in the primary movers, nerve damage, shoulder impingement and/or other injuries if left uncorrected.

A winged scapula can be visible upon posterior viewing of the back.  Typically we see protrusion of the inferior angle and vertebral (medial border near the spine) of the scapula protruding outward.

Scapular winging indicates:

  • Instability or weakness of the scapular stabilizers (primarily the rhomboids and serratus anterior (S.A.) that fail to hold the scapula in place
  • and/or tightness in the pectoralis minor muscle.

In a normal, healthy back, the scapula should be snug against the posterior ribs with no obvious edges visible as in the photo below.

How to Assess If You Have Scapular Winging

  1. Take a photo of your upper back while standing with arms at your side. Do you see the shoulder blades pop out?
  2. Take a video of you performing a wall push up while shirtless, or wearing a sports bra. Observe for winging of the scapula during movement.  

The photo above left has obvious scapular winging of the right shoulder while the photo on the right shows a fairly flat back with good scapular control during the wall push up test.

Can I Fix It?

To fix the scapular winging involves some Self Myofascial Release  (SMR) techniques, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises that will help to restore balance. First let’s try to figure out the primary culprit(s) for your scapular winging.

Tight Pectoralis Minor Muscle (Pecs)

The pec minor muscle attaches from your ribs to your shoulder blade. Tights pecs (from actual shortening) can occur from front rounding of the shoulders when we sit for prolonged periods or are hunched over a computer. This chronic tightening can tilt your shoulder blade forward, causing the winged look from the back.

Remedies for Tight Pecs

  1. Perform SMR by placing a lacrosse ball or soft ball directly under the pec muscle and rolling out tightness.
  • You can do this while lying on the ground or
  • Standing against a wall or corner of a weightlifting rig and leaning into the ball.
  • Apply pressure into the ball, move your arm around slowly.
  • If you find a painful spot, hold the ball on that area for one minute to release that trigger point.
  • Repeat 2-3 times every day.

2. Doorway Stretch

  • Standing in a doorway, extend both arms against the door trim keeping elbows at a 90 degree. Lean the body through the door slightly to get a good stretch of the Pec Major.
  • Now raise arms a little higher, around 2” with more of a “Y” configuration and do the same stretch. This will stretch the pec minor.
  • This can also be done in a corner of a room.
  • Hold for 1 minute and repeat 2X at each height.

Unengaged Serratus Anterior (S.A.) Muscle

The S.A. muscle holds your shoulder blades against your rib cage. If this muscle is weak, or not engaged appropriately, it will be ineffective, and lead to scapular winging.

Activate (Engage) the Serratus Anterior

  1. Assume a wall plank position with one arm on the wall but place the other arm on your serratus anterior muscles on the opposite side. You should feel the bumps where the S.A. connects to the ribs. Internally pull your shoulder blades down then try to draw your shoulders around the ribs. You will feel the S.A. muscle move when you have properly engaged it. It is difficult for many people to activate this muscle, so take time trying to move the various muscles until you feel it engage.  Once activated:
  • Hold the contraction for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Practice activating the SA during push ups.
  1. Wall Push Exercise – perform a wall push with arms fully extended.
  • Activate the serratus anterior.
  • Push your arms into the wall keeping arms locked.
  • Protract your shoulders (slide then down and around).
  • Do Not round your back.
  • Hold this end position for 5 seconds.
  • Slowly bring your shoulders back to a starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times. Gradually progress to 30 reps.

     

     

    Do NOT round your shoulders

    3. Wall Push in Plank Position:

    • Same as above only have your forearms bent against the wall instead of extended out straight.4. Lying Dumb Bell Protraction:
      • Lie on back with knees bent.
      • Hold a DB straight over your shoulder (easily maintainable weight).
      • Activate the S.A.
      • Push the weight toward the sky while keeping the arm straight.
      • Hold for 5 seconds.
      • Return to starting position.
      • Repeat 10 times. Gradually progress to 30 reps.
Supine DB SA Push

Weak Rhomboids

Strong rhomboids hold the shoulders together, rotate the scapula down and provide stability for the shoulders. They also play a big part in posture. So when the rhomboids are weak, the shoulders tend to round forward, the back hunches over and we can develop pain between our shoulder blades and into our neck.  To strengthen our rhomboids:

  1. Prone Lateral Raises
    • Lie flat on your stomach. Hold a light dumbbell (DB) in each hand or no DB if performing for the first time
    • Place forehead on the floor or mat and keep toes down.
    • Raise the light DB’s with arms fully extended, thumbs up.
    • Once you have reached shoulder height, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 1 sec. The goal is to isolate you back. You will only lift the DB’s a few inches.
    • Inhale, then slowly lower the DB to the starting position.
    • Repeat 8 X, gradually working toward 15 reps.

2. Front Raise Thumbs Up

  • Same as above but arms are straight out in front of you next to your ears.
  • Thumbs should be facing up, with no weights initially.
  • Keeping torso glued to the floor or bench you are lying on, slowly raise arms. Squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades as you lift as high as you can without breaking form.
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Repeat 10 times, gradually working to 15 reps.

3. Banded Pull Aparts

  • Using resistance tubing, keep arms at a 90 degree angle, elbows bent at chest level.
  • Extend the arms out laterally, fully extending the tubing until the arms are at full extension.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Release the tubing slowly and start again.
  • Repeat 10 times, gradually working up to 20 reps.

We have covered a lot of important material regarding shoulder stability.  Now is a good time to perform these exercises if you have any sign of scapular winging or other shoulder weakness.  The strength you develop performing these exercises can prevent a more severe injury down the road.  Remember mobility, stability, strength and intensity, this is the roadmap to moving better and feeling better.

Engage Your Core!

We hear “engage your core” all the time by our Coaches, but what exactly does that mean? Do we suck in the belly just before a movement? Do we keep it sucked in the entire time? How do we breathe when we are sucking in our abs?  This article will answer those burning questions, plus teach you the importance of bracing your core to help us move more effectively.

First, What is Your “Core?”

Your “core” are the muscles that control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis, and stabilize the spine for voluntary and involuntary loading.  A strong core allows optimal production, transfer and control of force and motion to other areas of the body, and is the basis for good posture. Those with a weak core are much more prone to suffer back injuries, have greater difficulty with basic and advanced exercises, and are less likely to reach their strength potential.

 

The “Core Box”

Think of your “core” as essentially a box, with each side being several layers thick. It can be divided into front, back, top, and the sides.

 

 

On the posterior surface, or the back, the spinal stabilizing muscles (erector spinae, multifidus and latissimus dorsi) run from your shoulder blades, along your spine and back.  They are important for segmental stabilization of vertebrae, and are rich in sensory nerves, transmitting continual feedback to the brain regarding loading and position of the spine.  These muscles generate gross movement and forces.

The diaphragm muscle forms the top of the “core box”, and is also the primary muscle for breathing. So this is where the breathing part comes in when we teach how to engage our core.  There are many recent studies of how important proper breathing is to sports and movement. There will be more articles on this topic in the future.

The outermost layer on the anterior surface or front is the powerful rectus abdominis muscle, which begins at the pubic bone and ends at the sternum. This muscle is activated while doing crunches because it pulls the ribs and the pelvis in and curves the back. This muscle is also used during childbirth, bowel movements, and coughing. Breathing in and holding the rectus abdominis in pulls in the abdomen. When this muscle is exercised and layers of fat disappear from the abdomen, the exposed rectus abdominis muscle creates the look of a “six pack.”

 

The transverse abdominis (TVA)  is also on the front wall with the rectus abdominis but is the deepest layer.  The TVA is often referred to as the corset muscle since activation produces a hoop effect similar to cinching a belt around the waist.  This contraction pulls in the muscles, stabilizes the low back and pelvis before movement, and increases intraabdominal pressure to help brace the core. Having a strong TVA produces a slimming effect by drawing in the abdominal area.  A weak TVA can cause the lower abdomen to pooch out, and allow the pelvis to become anteriorly rotated, an imbalance that can lead to further dysfunctions.

The quadratus lumborum, external and internal obliques connect the front to the back (ie are the sides of the box), while the pelvic floor musculature comprises the bottom of the “box”.  These muscles stiffen to support loading and movement, and provide a stable foundation for the body to work from.

So How Do I Engage My Core?

First lets see if you can engage your TVA.  You can’t strengthen a muscle you don’t know how to activate.

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent. Find your Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (the ASIS is the top corner of the hip bone).  
  2. Place a finger on your ASIS bone and then slide the finger an inch toward the belly button.
  3. “Draw in” the muscle of the TVA (10- 50%) but not maximal effort because that will engage the rectus abdominis. Another example would be to suck your belly button to your spine. It is important to keep breathing as you maintain a nice easy contraction of the TVA.
  4. You should feel the TVA muscle when you contract it.  You should not have any other movement occurring.

 

Strengthen the TVA

  1. Perform 3 sets X 10 repetitions with a 3 to 5 second tempo and a 10 second rest between each set, while still breathing normally throughout the exercise.
  2. Now do the lying TVA activation but lift one leg while bracing the TVA. Don’t hold your breath or bulge your lower abdomen.
  3. Once you can lift the legs with proper form, lie on your side, and do a clam shell move (keep ankles together and lift your top knee) while maintaining the TVA activation.
  4. Now work toward bracing the core while walking and moving.  

Other Ways to Engage the Core

The various cues for core engagement may vary depending on the specific movement you are doing, but in general, here are a few ways to turn on additional core muscles:

  1. Scapular Retraction.  Press your shoulder blades down and away from your ears as this helps to ‘cap’ the contraction of the abs and engages the core muscles in your back.
  2. Pelvic Floor Contraction.  Think of ‘lifting up’ through the pelvic floor to engage the muscles in the pelvic floor and deepen the contraction of your abdominal muscles.
  3. Proper Breathing.  Use your diaphragm, not only your chest during each breath. Your stomach should also rise and fall with each breath.
    • Breath out during the concentric phase (like the upward pushing during a push up)
    • Breath in during the eccentric phase (at the top of the pushup and during the initial lowering.

Starting Core Exercises To Develop Strength

There are many core exercise that will help strengthen the entire region and provide life lasting benefits for you.  Work your core three times a week on nonconsecutive days for 5 minutes.  Start with the first exercises listed below and progress to more difficult ones and you become stronger.

  1. Dead Bug – Start with keeping knees at 90 degrees and arms elevated. Slowly move one arm back overhead, then the other.  Progress to opposite leg and arms moving while building the number of repetitions.
  2. Quadruped – On hands and knees, slowly extend one leg while maintaining core bracing.  Once comfortable, add in the opposite arm. Extend the length of time you can hold each limb. Also add in movement by tucking the raised knee into the the raised elbow, then extending back again.3. Plank –  Variations include starting on knees, then progressing to elbows, to straight arms, leg or arm lifts then to moving planks and unstable surfaces such as on a Bosu Ball, or large ball.

4. Side Plank – Variations include starting on a knee, then elbow, then straight arm, then moving arms overhead, and then unstable surfaces.

5. There are many more advanced moves like bicycle crunches, atomic sit ups, V-Ups, Oblique twists, etc.  See this Pinterest board for additional core exercises.  https://www.pinterest.com/finney2734/core/

A strong core will make your movement patterns more efficient, decrease chances of a back injury, and will enable you to generate more power to your limbs.  Your posture will improve and if you have ever experienced bouts of incontinence during jump roping, that too can go away with proper core work.  As far as those six pack muscles shining through, these exercises will start you in that direction but six packs are also made in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Rogue Voodoo Bands Review

If you’ve ever seen somebody use a Voodoo Floss band before, you probably wondered what exactly they were hoping to accomplish by wrapping a band around some body part and then moving it around. Moreover, if you managed to actually talk with the owner you probably heard some fantastic tale of it solving pain that had been nagging them for years. Understandably you were a bit skeptical so you went to the Internet to find the truth. Lets see how Voodoo Floss Bands really stack up.

First things first : Price: $24 USD for (2) 7’ bands or $42 USD for (1) 28’ band.

Manufacturer: Rogue Fitness.  You can buy them here at Rogue.

Additional brands are available through Amazon.

Voodoo Floss Bands

How They Work:

Voodoo Floss Bands provide compression to a specific joint or muscle(s). When this compression is coupled with movement, a phenomena known as ‘tacking and flossing’, multiple things occur. It improves range of motion by helping to reduce tissue restriction, improves joint mechanics, and pushes swelling out of the area and into the lymphatic system for proper drainage.

How to Use:

Voodoo Floss Bands are very simple to use and merely require one, sometimes two, hands to wrap the band around the desired area. Dr. Kelly Starrett recommends to wrap the band towards the heart, beginning at the furthest point from the heart for the desired area. An example for a knee wrap would be to begin wrapping below the knee and work up towards your quadriceps.

Pros:

Easy: There is essentially zero learning curve, just wrap the band around the desired area and tuck it back into itself and start mobilizing. Also it is very easy to carry around in a gym bag or anywhere on the go.

Longevity: This is a quality product that I have used for 3 years now and it works just as well as when I first purchased it. It will fade over time and usage, but we aren’t shooting for cool points here.

Multi Purpose: Can be used for mobilizing/stretching to improve movement and to reduce inflammation from nagging injuries/help recover for the next workout. This is huge as most mobility tools are single facet like foam rollers just providing myofascial release. Perfect for warming up for a WOD or cooling down and stretching afterwards.

Quick Results: Only takes up to a minute or two of mobilizing to make immediately noticeable changes to your physiology. This is especially prominent if you’re trying to work out inflammation.

Adaptability: Nearly any part of your limbs (legs/arms) so ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, shoulders, etc can be treated. Stay away from the trunk as they were not designed for that.

Cons:

One Person Ease of Use: Some positions can be tough to wrap such as elbows or shoulders, so having a partner in these situations will make it much easier. I highly recommend mobilizing at your box with a friend, both before or after a WOD as it is makes the time go much faster.

Should Clean: I say “should clean” because I have cleaned my own set once in the preceding three years; however, I do the majority of my mobilizations at home when I’m not sweaty. If you find yourself using the bands to warmup or cool down from workouts, you’re likely sweating a fair amount and they can attract dirt and other grime. A quick wash with some soap will make them sparkle again!

Temporary Skin Marks: You will more than likely see redness and marks on your skin from your use of the bands. If you begin to notice any unbearable tingling sensations or pain, the band is probably too tight, immediately remove it.  Skin marks typically last only between 5-20 minutes, then fade away.

Conclusion:

The Voodoo Floss Bands are one of the premier mobility products for any athlete and I personally consider them one of my top three mobility tools along with my lacrosse ball and foam roller. I recommend this product to anybody dealing with inflammation in their arms and legs, those trying to improve their mobility and movement patterns, and to anyone wishing to spend a few minutes doing some preventative maintenance to avoid future injuries.

 

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