Do your toes articulate? Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility.
I always like to start classes with a bit of foot awareness – our feet connect us to the ground and our distribution of weight across the sole of the foot can help to inform us how we’re standing and how our joints are stacked.
As with a lot of aches and pains much can be related back to faulty foot mechanics and whilst we do some exercises in standing it’s good to be able to put some of these things into play outside of class as well as look at things we can be doing day to day to improve issues such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, flat feet and ‘bigger picture’ problems at the knees or hips.
We have more joints in the foot that we do in the rest of the body Our big toe is crucial for balance, walking, running and jumping. It is required to go through a large range of motion as we transfer our weight forward over our foot and propel ourselves forward when walking/ running. It stabilises the foot and creates a large amount of force necessary for push off. When the big toe becomes stiff, the weight of the body has to be distributed to other areas of the body and force for push off is produced by other joints within the lower limb. As other areas begin to compensate for lack of mobility in the big toe and abnormal loading transpires through the leg complications may arise in ankle, knee hip and low back.
Another key area to maintain is the main tendon of the foot – the Achilles tendon, which runs from the calf muscle to the heel. The Achilles tendon makes it possible to run, jump, climb stairs and stand on your toes. Regular calf stretching (dorsi and plantar) and ankle mobility is vital to keeping the Achilles in good working order.
Alignment socks for repositioning misaligned, shoe compressed toes! These will help you to realign & straighten out toes that have become malformed from cramped toe boxes. You may find that as your toes lengthen out you actually need to go up a shoe size & you should try to get shoes that you are able to abduct (spread your toes apart) inside your shoes. You can wear the socks at night time & get some physical therapy whilst you’re sleeping! – https://amzn.eu/d/4NybZEv
Balls to roll feet on – either golf balls or a spiky ball
Shoes!! Wear shoes that do not ‘cast’ your feet into unhelpful shapes – try to have a flexible sole and wide toe box. Have a look at barefoot shoes for a true foot re-wilding – https://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/
Pilates is a great form of exercise to help our bodies as we get older. There are a number of ways that Pilates helps facilitate an active, independent lifestyle. Pilates provides a great framework for focussing on function by servicing all of our moving parts as a foundation from which to move for life and sport. From the fundamentals of joint stabilisation and control through an optimum range of movement we can use the Pilates repertoire to help in several key areas that affect us in later life.
Posture and Alignment – It’s not so much ageing that creates bad posture or alignment as much as time spent in sub optimum positions. Pilates helps to restore movement and balance to areas in need of attention and helps us reconnect with and find our alignment.
Osteoporosis – An estimated 3 million people have Osteoporosis in the UK with over 300,000 fractures per year due to the condition. After the age of 40 peak bone mass diminishes and so it’s an important consideration to add to your fitness goals. The reason why Pilates is so helpful is that in order for our bones to increase in density they need load, if your skeleton is not aligned then it becomes hard to load your bones optimally. So whilst there are a number of factors which will help improve an osteoporosis prognosis if you want to improve your bone density with weight bearing exercise you need to first check in on your alignment.
Pelvic Health – A key element of Pilates is the integration of the breath in conjunction with a core and pelvic floor connection. This helps exercise our pelvic floor muscles and helps prevent incontinence issues. So often we accept the odd leak when coughing or laughing but there is much we can do to help prevent and improve on the problem by retraining the pelvic floor muscles. This engagement of the deep abdominals, deep spinal muscles, and diaphragm is also very helpful to help strengthen the prostrate in men.
Falls Prevention – Having good balance and confidence in your ability to balance well is hugely important as we get older. Working on creating healthy joints and a sense of where you are in space is key to not having a fall. It also feeds into the Osteoporosis care to help prevent fractures and bone breaks by not falling in the first place.
Heart Disease – Research has shown that Pilates improves heart health through enhanced respiration, decreasing physical and emotional stress, and through improved metabolic function.
If you’re interested in Dynamic Ageing classes do get in touch with CYC:D to find out more and book a class held on Wednesdays 13:15.
An update on our Men’s Pilates! Every Tuesdays 13:45 – 14:45 at Healthflex, The Edge, Woolmer Hill.
The Men’s Pilates classes at Healthflex are open to all men who are keen to work on their flexibility and core strength. Typically we will start the class with some flexibility and mobility drills reviewing the Pilates Principles which we will layer through all the exercises in the class.
We’ll be working on all the key core muscles involved in improving your balance, alignment and peripheral joint stability and whilst there will be a range of exercises, the Pilates ruleset will remain constant throughout all the classes. This means you’ll be able to transition the same ideas we use in class to align our bodies with your daily activities. For example aligning your spine, breathing out on effort and integrating your core muscles with movement throughout your day. It’s about understanding how to move optimally and creating habits and a practice that facilitate a positive change in the way you move and feel.
Pilates creates a great foundation from which to move and play sports, to rehab, maintain and progress.
For more information do get in contact and for class bring along a mat, water, and ask at the Healthflex Clinic reception about small equipment which we use in class.
This week I’ve been incorporating lots of ankle mobility drills into my classes. Ankle mobility refers to the flexibility of the ankle joint and its surrounding muscles and tendons. When your ankle is flexible, you have a greater range of motion during your activities.
Having optimum range at the ankle joint allows for better movement higher up the chain at the knees and hips and will prevent them from weakening. All of which will improve your walking and running movement patterns.
Poor ankle mobility is caused by a general lack of flexibility in the muscles in the calf and back of the lower leg, ankle joint issues (or stiffness) from prior injury or surgery, or inflexible footwear and footwear with any sort of (high or low) heel.
As well as stretching your calves (think heel drops off a step) The Foot Series is a great way to condition the ankle complex by building strength through your range of movement and improving your endurance.
In standing (near a wall for balance if you need it) engaging your ‘Pilates posture’ – lengthened tall, shoulders relaxed, eyes front and weight evenly distributed across the soles of your feet –
Heel raises x10 (control the descent)
Knee bends x10 (keep knees in parallel don’t let them converge)
Combination: Heel raise – knee bend – heels lower – stand tall x10
Reverse combination: Knee bend – heel raise – stand tall with heel still raised – lower heels back down x10
I’ve just spent the last couple of months updating my Pilates for orthopaedic conditions knowledge with FutureFit and wanted to focus a bit on exactly why Pilates is so helpful in the treatment of common orthopaedic conditions. Whilst I don’t solely use Pilates in my movement sessions but instead use a range of functional movement protocol the traditional Pilates principles certainly embody and underpin the main focus of exercise prescription for rehab thereby providing a safe and effective recovery.
Common Orthopaedic Conditions –
Back pain (non specific, specific, root nerve pain, disc herniation and piriformis syndrome)
Arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
Osteoporosis and osteopenia
The Pilates mat repertoire gives a great range of exercises which allow for enough regression or progression to take participants with very limited movement capabilities and progress them in a sustainable way. The incorporation of the Pilates principles which are taught alongside each exercise help to integrate the breath with core co-contraction, increase body awareness (and therefore autonomy) and focus on the quality of movement.
A tailored programme can offer you many things – principally better alignment and mobility of the spine but also increased muscle strength and endurance, reduced stiffness and improved flexibility, reduced pain, better balance along with improved well-being.
If you are affected by any of these conditions it’s important to seek out an effective exercise programme which meets your needs and minimises your symptoms. Due to covid-19 I am not currently able to offer sessions but feel free to contact me for further advice.
If you’re feeling a growing sense of stagnation with your exercise routine as well as lockdown this may help…the exercise side of things anyway. It generally takes 6 – 8 weeks of training in a specific modality to see the results of your labour so if you’ve been focussing on your fitness in your allocated exercise time from the start of lockdown it’s the right time to give your programme a shake up.
Regularly mixing up your exercise plan is crucial to achieving results. Periodisation is a method to plan phases of your training to optimise different aspects of your ‘fitness’ thereby maximising your gains whilst also reducing the risk of injury or overtraining….and getting bored!
4-6 week periodisation phases to typically cycle through include a stability phase focusing on consolidating your core connection, peripheral joint stability and proprioceptive awareness. Followed by a strength phase, prioritising load over stability to increase muscle strength and finally, if appropriate, a power phase.
Here’s some examples of how you might progress exercises from a stability phase (12-20 reps 1-3 sets) into a strength phase (8-12 reps 2-4 sets):
Single leg alternate dumbbell shoulder press –> Standing barbell push press
Scaption on a single leg –> Standing kettlebell overhead press
TRX fly on one leg –> Bodyweight press ups (or decline to increase load)
Single leg squat –> Kettlebell goblet squat
Single leg Romanian deadlift –> Romanian deadlift
TRX hanging bodyweight lunge –> Dumbbell lunges
For more info on tailored exercise training programs drop me a line via the contact page.
As a continuation of the post I did on testing your balance part 1 I wanted to add a simple continuum of exercises from easy to hard that you can practice & use to challenge your stability.
So as aforementioned in part 1 the goal of these balances is to test your proprioceptive balance system – that does’t mean using strategies such as bending your knees or holding your arms out high wire style…or fixing your eyes on something, it’s about testing your own internal balance system with your body in the correct (or as close to correct) standing alignment.
Your body uses your proprioception system to create an image of what is internal or inside the skin – in much the same way as a dolphin uses sonar or an animal uses it’s whiskers. Proprioception literally means ‘ones own perception’ & that information about change of skeletal position travels by our neurones to the brain to act on. The more muscle fibres you have firing & the more supple (not tight) the tissue, the better the proprioception.
When you practice these consider your alignment: stand with your feet hip width apart & the outside edges of your feet straight. Back your pelvis up over your heels keeping your ribs aligned over your pelvis. Then draw your head back over your spinal column. When you come on to single leg balance make sure you push down into the floor with the standing leg as opposed to hiking the low back/hip up on the non-weight bearing leg.
1. 2 foot balance eyes open
2. 2 foot balance eyes closed
3. 1 foot balance eyes open
4. 1 foot balance eyes closed
5. 1 foot balance eyes open with head turns
6. 1 foot balance eyes closed with head turns
From time to time in class we focus on standing balance – it’s a good way to test all the principles we practice throughout the classes & as an indication of general muscle balance health. So I wanted to use this post to look at what goes on when we try to balance, how to test it & how to improve your ‘true’ balance.
So our body’s stabilise by using the relationship between the proprioceptive system (that’s information coming from the muscles, joints & tendons) & the processing of that sensory input (i.e. what the brain tells the body to do with that information). Tight or shortened muscles send ‘fixed’ information from your proprioceptors and this data/sensory input gives incorrect information to the decision centre (the brain) which in turn acts on this mis-information. The outcome is an overcorrection, a wobble or lurching movement in an attempt to stabilise you. Any restrictions or sub optimal muscle length tension will alter the correct information given to the brain.
Testing your ‘true’ balance – See how well you’re balancing with these simple tests.
Stand with your feet pelvis width apart & check your feet are straight (as in the outside edges, see pic) – how does this feel? Any wobbles? Now close your eyes & see if there’s any difference with them open or closed. Maybe you felt you moved about more with your eyes closed – this is the ‘true’ part of the balance test – your eyes are not part of the sensory input we speak about when we mean whole-body balance, they are not part of the proprioceptive system they are part of the vestibular system (eyes & inner ears) but the poorer your proprioceptive system is the more you rely on your eyes to make corrections. So in order to stop the eyes doing all the work (& incurring eye muscle fatigue, dizziness & age-related changes in vision) you need to fix your body’s internal sensory input or proprioceptive system.
The progression to the 2 foot balance with eyes shut is to come onto a single leg with eyes shut. Whilst we may have some muscle tension issues within the body it’s also our inability to process information through our feet & inform our bodies of correct posture, due to footwear that down trains our proprioceptive system. Think any type of heel, thick inflexible soles & too narrow toe boxes.
So hopefully this will give you a clearer idea of what you are aiming for when you consider/assess your balance – test yours & practice some ‘eyes shut’ standing to monitor your progress.