This is my second article in a series about the benefits of corrective exercise. In this discussion, we will attempt to expose a few of the common issues that my clients deal with along with plausible solutions.
I think that many foot/calf issues come from our “adultish” habits of bad footwear, fake floor surfaces and sitting. Many symptoms like plantar fasciitis, neuromas, fallen arches, gout and cramping can be eliminated by taking on some good foot habits. You can avoid many of these issues just by retaining some of your childish habits.
THE BAREFOOT THING
Kids know that walking barefoot is good. Somehow we educate this instinct right out of them along the way. It happens about the same time we start to make them sit all day. Adult’s feet are weak and soft and prone to many problems because of this. Kids can sprint across gravel easily because they have healthy feet. Walking barefoot on unnatural surfaces can do even more damage than with shoes on because the hard surface won’t allow your feet to articulate. Our feet get hobbled by bad footwear, obesity, inflammatory diet and hard artificial surfaces the vast majority of the time.
Walk barefoot as much as possible on natural surfaces — just like at Mountain Fair. This will stimulate the tough fascia under your feet and create better circulation. This will allow your feet to articulate naturally and keep them strong because you are not over-relying on your footwear. Footwear is a devise similar to a brace. It helps in some situations but it will promote weakness if you use it too much.
WEIRD 5-TOED SHOES
They work great when you wean yourself into them. Using them is better than never going barefoot, but you can’t replace good ole’ barefoot playing. The problem is that you are still walking on concrete and your arches are still getting smashed because now you have even less footbed support. I recommend that you wear them on natural surfaces to slowly strengthen your feet; you might as well go barefoot since the artificial materials used in shoes keep you from grounding yourself, which I’ll explain more about in a minute.
You pay maximum price and get minimalist shoes — now that’s American! Track athletes had these kind of shoes 30 years ago. They were designed for spongy track surfaces (chopped up recycled tires mixed with volatile chemicals). We never wore them on concrete because they were sprinting shoes and offered no cushioning for distance. I think that the same logic applies today. If you are pounding on concrete, why would you reduce the amount of stability and cushioning? Trail running is a better application for these type of shoes and easier on your entire body. I do recommend a heavy cushioned shoe with a quality insert for running on concrete if you must do this to your body. If you are a competitive runner, I recommend you work with an objective source to slowly strengthen your feet and allow your body to properly compensate in order to benefit from the freedom of minimalist shoes.
The vast majority of civilization seems to believe that there is energy that we can’t see moving around us all the time. Most people believe in things you can’t see, so this should not be too much of a shocker. When you stand barefoot, you are connecting yourself to it (by “it” I mean this energy or vibration coming from and/or circulating around and throughout the earth — look up Nikola Tesla and/or the phenomenon of lightning) and electrons are transferred from the earth into your body. Far out huh?
This grounding effect acts as a powerful antioxidant as the electrical connection removes free radicals. This is called grounding — wow, creative huh? You must use natural conductive surfaces to get the effect. Shoes and yoga mats insulate electricity and defeat the purpose. Give in to your childish desire to run around in the grass barefoot; it’s fun and very healthy.
Of course stretching helps. Remember that stretching is simply the expanding and contracting of muscle fibers to create a “pump.” This pump brings lymph and blood flow to and from tissues. When this pump is weakened or shut off, bad stuff happens. The more we interrupt this pumping effect, the more room there is for illness and pain. It’s all about good circulation. That is why you need heat, aspirin, ice, compression wraps, anti-inflammatory drugs, little blue pills, etc. So yes, you must stretch your entire body to help the pump. Kids and animals stretch instinctively while we “adultish” types are staring at screens all day.
Examples of Self-MyoFascial Release are foam rolling, trigger point therapy, deep tissue massage, Rolfing massage, digging the bottom of your foot on a pebble or hugging a crying baby. You can do it yourself or sub it out; either way, you must do some kind of myofascial manipulation to experience good health. This is also another way to help the pump.
Sitting in front of a screen all day does not help balance. As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” A little balance training goes a long way. Safely ad some balance component to training and you will stimulate circulation, neurological recruitment, coordination, strength and cool new skills to show off with.
This is not a complete list of methods you can use to correct mechanical or soft tissue problems. These are only a few of the simple things to do that are very effective, non-invasive, safe, tested for eons, and not covered under the affordable health care act. Finding your inner child can help you heal your body and also get you in trouble in other ways, so be careful.
*Disclaimer: Steve Wells (exercise-geek-therapist-trainer) is offering a new program called Club Fit that teaches you corrective exercise. Look for Club Fit at Midland Fitness this April.
Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.