Core values November 03 2015, 0 Comments

Following on from a previous blog, my knee is improving slowly, and the bruising seems to have gone down, but it has some way to go yet, so still no running for a while. Fortunately, I can borrow the neighbour's dog and be useful when I go out for a walk. For more strenuous exercise, I do floor exercises to strengthen my core muscles around the abdomen, useful for runners and less active people alike.

Back pain and damage can come either from overdoing exercises such as crunches, or from too little activity such as sitting in front of a screen all day. In both cases, improving the tonus of the core region helps to hold everything in place and reduces the risk of spinal displacement and damage to the inter-vertebral discs. They also lead to better posture and to better running. These exercises have been picked up from physiotherapists and gym trainers over the years.

core exercise

Once again, as for the foot strengthening exercises from last week, they are done slowly to build strength, applying tension to a count of ten seconds, holding for two, and then releasing for another ten. Aim to build up to five repeats of each without any breaks so that the muscles stay under tension for about a minute. Breathing is important if you are working your muscles, so breathe out slowly as you go into tension and in as you release.  As they use body weight, no equipment necessary, and they can be done anywhere that you can find the floor space to lie down.

'C' crunch
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Raise your hands straight in front of you and link fingers - keep them vertical through the whole exercise. Slowly raise your chest and hips as high as possible and making a 'C' shape, hold and then lower.

Still on your back with your legs bent and feet tucked in close to your bottom, keeping your shoulders on the floor, raise your hips slowly until your back is straight, hold and release.

Side crunch
Lie straight on your side with the legs together and your lower forearm on the floor about level with your lower rib-cage and at right angles to your body for stability. Slowly raise your hips from the floor into a side 'plank' position, hold and then lower again. Do both sides.

Lie on your face with your toes tucked under your feet and your hands under your shoulders. The plank usually involves holding a stationary position, but while you are here you might as well work your arms as well with some push-ups... Holding the body straight straighten your arms to raise your shoulders, hold and release.

Still on your face, and with your feet relaxed and extended on the floor, rest your hands lightly behind you in the small of your back. Pick up your feet and head and shoulders as far as you can, hold and release. If you would like to put more effort into this exercise, touch your fingers to the sides of your head or extend your arms to full-stretch in front of you.

Combined with the standing foot-extensions described last week, this takes about fifteen to twenty minutes and can be done once a week to maintain, and two or three times to build strength. Also pretty good for people who temporarily cannot run...


The benefits of barefoot style June 30 2015, 0 Comments

We use our ZEMgear shoes for free-time and social use as well as for sports. We get a few widened eyes and raised eyebrows when people on public transport see them, a small price to pay for comfort, and anyway, some like that sort of attention... I first noticed the benefits at an exhibition.  We were wearing ZEMs - the best way to display your wares is to use them - and at the end of a longish day, I noticed that I had no back-ache, something that I have associated with exhibitions for many years. To get an idea of why this might be, we need to go into the mechanics of heels.

When standing barefoot, weight distribution between the heels and the ball of the foot is about 50:50. This is the most energy-efficient way of standing, as your weight is balanced over your feet, a technique taught in the Alexander technique for reducing strain and promoting relaxation.  You can change the weight distribution by leaning forwards or back, but this induces tension in the opposing muscles.  Over a full working day, this can make a big difference both in how tired you might feel at the end of the day, and in aching of the correcting muscles.

Let us now throw some heels into the mix. High heels are worn to attract. They make you taller and bunch the calf muscles so that the curve of the calf is more accentuated. They tilt the body forward so that the spine curves to compensate, making the bottom stick out and lifting the bosom into a sexier pose. So what is the effect of this re-distribution of assets?

Relatively low heels will change weight distribution, throwing more weight onto the ball of the foot, and less on the heel, and really high heels can put as much as 90% of your weight on the front of your foot, which can cause distortion and bunions.  The arch of the foot, which normally flexes to absorb impact during walking, is now stretched into a fixed position, which weakens its ligaments, and the toes are are flexed into a fixed position from which they can make little contribution to locomotion. The Achilles tendon and calf are shortened, and if the shoes are worn for long stretches, this can become permanent, making it uncomfortable to go back to low-heeled shoes because of the stretch that this induces. The knees are pushed forward so that when standing the weight is not balanced over the foot in the column of the leg - instead the muscles and ligaments around the knee have to be in tension to maintain balance. Still thinking in columns, the vertical alignment of the spine is disturbed, putting strain on the discs, and necessitating additional muscular effort to stay upright.

Walking barefootI know that it is too much to ask some people to give up their high heels, and the social constraints surrounding some jobs make this impossible. However, to allow your feet, legs and spine to relax, try barefoot in the evenings at home, and barefoot shoes for going out informally. Your body will thank you for it.