Build Stronger Feet and Balance

I really am a terrible person but I just can’t help myself laughing out loud, a literal lol when I watch one of those videos with people slipping, falling, crashing their bike on a straight road and of course cats slipping off the kitchen counter. 

It is an innate human thing to do – laugh at someone else’s expense. This very natural response is called Schadenfreude. ‘Schadenfreude is when we laugh at someone else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude comes from the two German words, Schaden and Freude, harm and joy’. Psychology Today It’s our built in response to avoid fear or pain. Simple hey!?

Personally I’d rather not fuel someone else’s avoidance of feel fear or anxiety by not tripping, falling, slipping, to the best of my abilities anyway. 

Another failing of mine are my feet. My big size 46 feet. I used to torture them by squeezing them into tight, rigid cycling shoes. I wore these specialised shoes for 20-25 hours+ a week for a few years when I raced full-time in the 90s’. The firmness of the shoe helps not waste energy pushing into the pedals but can and does result in pathetically weak feet and ankles if no other training is carried out.  

Apart from neurological conditions, weak feet and ankles are leading causes of trips, falls and knee pains. 

While my feet are better now than right after I hung up my bike and stiff shoes (because of knee problems), they have suffered anyway. I tend to train in the gym barefoot or in socks which has helped me immensely. No more orthotics for me. However, I noticed for ages how my bush walks took their toll on my feet and ankles despite wearing expensive barefoot style shoes. Cramps, aches and occasional plantar fascia inflammation all made walking less enjoyable. Until…

Until I discovered balance training. 

In 2016 we had some renovation work done on our house. One length of hardwood removed nearly ended up in the builders skip. This piece of 5m, 8cm x 20cm chunk of hardware made me immediately think ‘balance exercises’ in the gym. I was mostly thinking of adding this for my senior gym members as part of fall-prevention training. 

Sadly I didn’t action this right away. Thinking people would label me as mad as a fish I wasn’t brave enough to unleash the beam. Until… 

Ol Faithful

… Until I finally attended the level 1 Certification with MovNat in January 2020. The curriculum includes many aspects of natural human movement. The preparation manual included many movements to practice including balance. I didn’t really think much about the effort of walking along a length of timber until I realised how inefficient I was. Not wanting to flunk my cert because I couldn’t balance walk, I put in much practice. Pretty much daily I spent a minute here and there walking forward, backwards, shuffling sideways, duck-walking along the timber and other really quite fun moves. This was between November 2019 and January 2020 and during this time I was still doing my weekly off-road walks that I’ve always done. Very rough paths, loose stones and rocks and bits of trees etc.

I can honestly say my body had an epiphany earlier in the year. Were I normally have to focus on where I’m placing my feet to avoid an ouchy, it’s as if my feet just all-of-sudden intuitively knew where to go. These past 6 months of ongoing off-road walking have been fantastic. More relaxed, faster when I need to be and so much more efficient with fewer trips or stumbles if any at all. Best of all, my feet and ankles simply do not give me any negative feedback afterwards. No tight ankles. No big toe pain. No plantar fascia pains. My feet have learned how to be feet again it seems.

Doing more reading has supported my thoughts that balance training effectively fine tunes the feet and ankles and their reflexive strength and endurance. 

I do still daily walks on my cheap ol homemade balance beam that was saved from the builder and I have all my clients routinely walking and working on some 2x4s from Bunnings. At $5 each these have been great investments. A lot cheaper than recovering from a painful fall or trip. I’m not saying a trip or fall will never happen, cause hey, ‘life happens’, but luck favours the prepared.

If you spend your day in hard soled shoes and complain of sore feet and ankles, I really do recommend you call over to your local hardware store and pick up a length of 2×4… or check out the builders skip in your suburbs. 

Here are a couple of videos of simple balance drills, starting with one not needing any equipment at all, just the floor beneath you.

And if you can get hold of a 2×4 or similar, here are some great exercises to practice.

Wooden board is optional, but it puts a sense of reality into the practice.
A little bit more tricky, but also fun.

Got any thoughts or experiences? Why not get in touch.

Exercise for the Over 50s

Put away your slippers and forget that advert on the TV for the retirement village because the fountain of youth is very much within your grasp. It always is and always will be.

Okay, so yes, age has a cruel way of catching up on some people but in most cases only because it’s let to happen. You read that correctly – It’s a choice to allow age to slow us down.

Maybe it’s the assumption that we are meant to stop moving as much as we get on a bit or maybe it’s laziness aka too tired or maybe it’s the ‘I’m too busy to exercise’ like exercise to stay fit, strong and mobile is a luxury we choose to avail of.

Copy of Beechtown Market

Physical ageing is very much a choice we make. Being fit, strong and mobile is a choice we have… an easy choice actually.

Your body has been created to last your whole life and adding knowledge and wisdom to the equation adds to your strength of being and character too.

We are meant to be strong, mobile and capable at 80, much like we are in our 20s. No, that’s not a pretentious or lofty statement but very much a reflection of what can happen if we choose to be active throughout our lives.

At FitStrong we have a small group class designed for the over 50s. Believe it or not we work on all the movements those in their 30s work on. We squat, carry out pushing and pulling movements, carry weights and lift things up and put them back down again. I’m not going into details as we do regress these and progress them as and when needed.

However, the elements that culminates in the greatest successes is the ‘other stuff’ we practice.

These elements are taught at the Original Strength workshops by Tim Anderson and the team and after first experiencing in them in 2015 I realised that these movements and practices (yes I’ll get to them in a moment) really are the missing links in adult exercise and we’ve all done them before… back when we wore smaller clothing and watched Tom and Jerry on the little TV in the corner.

Yep, how we moved when we were children was how we developed into stronger, fit and agile young adults and we were meant to continue that process of living actively. But, high school, college, university, that 9-5 job and everything that we piled onto our schedule kind of shoved the exercise into the, ‘must do when I’ve got time’ list of chores!

But, moving well and staying strong is not a chore, it’s how we are made. Denying our body these stimulations leads us down the road to frailty, unable to bend over without pain, never mind touch our toes or run up a flight of stairs.

The big 5 movement categories that we did as children also reinvigorate or reset adults. Just like hitting Ctrl, Alt, Del on your keyboard to reset your frail computer, resetting our bodies can allow us to slowly regain more youthful movement, strength, agility and overall fitness.

The big 5 movement categories?

Simple. If you spend any time watching the kids move around when toddlers, you’ll have noticed how they lead every movement with that big head of theirs, despite it being considerably heavy compared to the rest of them. They rolled from their front to their backs and vice versa. They rocked until they discovered crawling which ultimately lead to getting upright and without an athletic coach, discovered how to climb, walk and run. You’ll maybe have noticed how they didn’t actually suck in their guts. They actually used their abdominals to breath… the way we are all meant to.

The 5 movements:

  1. Breath Abdominally
  2. Move our head around with control
  3. Roll on the floor (rotate our bodies)
  4. Rocking on all fours (move into deep hip positions like squatting down)
  5. Crawl (use our four limbs to move in a gait pattern, left leg, right arm move together etc)

What Adults don’t do so well?

  1. Breath Abdominally. Many adults chest breath as a result of fatigue and stress.
  2. Move their heads. Many adults complain of stiff necks and an ability to look up, over their shoulders or even tuck the chin into the neck accompanied by frequent head aches.
  3. Rotate. Not quite rolling on the floor but it’s the same movement pattern. The ability to segment our lower from upper body in movement is a vital ability.
  4. Get into a squat position. How many adults can rest in a squat position? Sadly not many due to tight hips, ankles and knees.
  5. Whilst adults do not travel on all fours like toddlers and babies, crawling taught us gait movements. Yet again, many adults fail to move well when walking, jogging and running. It should be smooth, proud and comfortable. However, watch people out walking around, running and such and you’ll see activities that far from resemble smooth, proud and comfortable.

Ooh, let’s break the doom and gloom theme of that last section. Our bodies are wonderfully created and have the capacity to rebuild and ‘reset’ to its former glory.

Getting stronger, fitter, healthier all start with getting back to basics and doing these often and doing them well. It doesn’t need to be a military bootcamp session either.

Walk, look around you beyond the screen of your smart phone, stopping sucking in your stomach, don’t avoid the stairs and probably most importantly, get down to the floor… and yes, get back up again and consider checking out how well you do move. See below.

Coincidently, many under 50s are benefiting from practicing these resets too. Maybe being younger, the feeling of losing some mobility is a new and unpleasant experience compared to those who have lived with being stiff as planks for years on end.

Do I need these resets? 

I don’t like standards in general as they attempt to generalise qualities but, the following are movements we should be able to do without discomfort in the absence of any recent injury or trauma.

  1. Reach your arms fully overhead without arching your back. Can you stand, back against a wall and reach your arms overhead to touch the wall without taking your back off the wall?
  2. Sit into a resting squat. Can you bend your knees and squat down so to rest?
  3. Touch your toes. Can you keep your legs straight and hinge over to touch at least the bottom of your shin?
  4. Can you stand on one leg and balance for 10 seconds?
  5. Look behind you. Can you stand upright and rotate through your neck and shoulder girdle to see behind you?

Just 5 standards. Did you answer Yes to all? If so, clap yourself on your own back as a big well done – mmmm, and if you can’t do that then maybe read on. Just read on anyway!

If you answered No to any of these, you have a need to address your mobility issues. Indeed, a lacking in any of these qualities can result in aches, pain and injury. These qualities are simple, given human movements we can encounter in any given scenario. How about a quick look over our shoulder and ouch, a neck muscle spasm? How about dropping your phone or something and quickly trying to catch it and ouch? How about scrubbing the bath tub and pulling a back muscle?

These few examples are actual stories from clients I have worked with. Thankfully they are all fine specimens now.

Where am I going with this (longer than expected) blog post?

I am so passionate about helping people to move better so that they can live a strong and mobile life that I want to share the programs I run. I’ve lived in pain in the past and that forms one of my ‘Whys’ in my business practice. I really don’t want to see other people living in pain when they can in most cases* allow their bodies to fix themselves.

What I want to share

30 Minute Discovery Sessions

It’s hard to plan how to get to point B in a strength and wellness plan if we don’t know where point A is.

The 30 minute discovery session offers an opportunity to discover your starting point, discuss goals, concerns and leave the session with a clearer direction in mind.

The session includes:

  • Movement screen to see how well your body moves.
  • Goal Discussion.
  • Clarity on what direction you could take next to achieve your goal.
  • Answers. An opportunity to ask all the questions you have.

How to start? Fill in the contact form below.

Private Sessions

The next step towards your goal is following a step-by-step training program. Our programs are designed rather than just random workouts. Training sessions in the gym focus on building up movement skills, learning how use that wonderful body to press reset, and slowly say goodbye aches and pains. Repetition is key to success in every endeavour and especially so in physical wellbeing. To help gel new habits we’ll agree upon suitable homework tasks.

Ready to take control? Fill in the contact form below.

Mobility Workshops

Over the cooler months of May to October I will be running a series of workshops that will help you learn how to reset your movements, help you find ways to move better so that you can pursue other physical goals or simply to help you get on with life without those niggles.

Dates and times to be confirmed but get onto the early bird list here.

 

If there is anything you would like to know, please do get in touch. I am here to help.

Jamie

 

 

*Yes, in most cases general stiffness can be self addressed but in some cases when really neglected, muscle tension needs to be encouraged by the skilled hands of a therapist. I know some of the best in the Brisbane area and am happy to share their details – just ask.