Thursday, May 29, 2008

Like a Dog Chasing its Tail

Sometimes I feel like a dog chasing its tail. I keep going around in circles and never quite catching what I want. And who knows maybe I even look a little bit silly. I am trying everything possible to get my running form and training down. Some days I feel on the way to getting things right and then the next day it all falls apart again. What seems to work one day so I can get a good run in, doesn't work the next time I try it. I am trying to get a system of "best of" routines and am using a lot of variety, but the way my body works is getting so unpredictable. So I keep chasing my tail!

I got an 8 mile run in on each day Friday through Monday. Tuesday my hip was way off so I did not run. Wednesday was track. My hips felt in a pretty decent alignment and although somewhat tight I had my best feeling track workout this year. We did 3 sets of 4*400 with a 200 jog in between each 400 and a 400 jog between each set. My times were OK staying under 90 secs for each and getting faster on the last set (down to 86 secs each). Normally I would not be happy with the times, but I was going for keeping my hips in balance and they stayed about the same all of the workout.

Today I could barely jog when I went out for my run. It wasn't any stiffness from the track. I felt fine, but my hips felt rotated and one leg felt higher than the other and I could barely stride with the left leg. I went a mile, tried to stretch, then turned around and headed home. It feels like someone had twisted the tip of the femur into the hip joint and I get the feeling that the IT Band and the TFL was tight on that side as a result or as a cause. Anyhow I felt like a jogger who could not move his legs correctly. I decided to get the heart pumping so I went outside with the kettlebells and did a lengthy mix of swings, snatches, and cleans and presses.

I had been using my minimalistic Puma H Streets on my runs lately and the Saucony Kilkennys on the track. Today I tried running in the Vitruvians again. I think I will retire them. It was too much shoe, particularly with the Sof Sole orthotics in them. I think my feet were not planting on the ground naturally and it was setting off twists and rotations. I may also get rid of the orthotics soon as my right knee feels a bit tender. I rarely have knee problems and don't want to start one.

In my travels around the web, I found an interesting post by Brett Jones called "Movements not Muscles...". I am wondering if Brett's advice for doing the squat and correcting a "caved in knee" posture can help me as I seek to correct my knee rotating in. He suggests focusing in on the movement and not the muscle. That sounds about right. I just have to learn how to do that. I am hoping that my awkward stride is a result of a faulty movement pattern and not a condition I was born with or a problem due to a tight muscle. This is what the neural reprogramming of Z-Health is supposed to do. I realize I need the advice of a Z-Health practitioner and have been in contact with one for a few weeks now trying to get in for an appraisal. Hopefully that will happen soon.

I have been trying to figure out the difference and importance of mobility, stability, and flexibility. It seems most runners work on flexibility. I am trying to add mobility and learning how it fits with stability.

I saw another post on Brett Jones' blog and I remember seeing a breakdown like this somewhere else. I am working on my feet, ankle, hip, knee and back and trying to figure out how they all fit together as they certainly do not work in isolation from each other. Brett writes about how some joints need mobility and some need stability. When one doesn't work right it affects the joints around it. He writes:

"Follow the trail:
Foot = stability
Ankle = mobility
Knee = stability
Hip = mobility
Lumbar/Core = stability
T-spine = mobility
Scapulae = stability
Shoulder = mobility

Now what happens if the foot which is supposed to show stability becomes mobile? The ankle has to become a stability joint instead of being mobile and the knee has to then become mobile (not what it was designed for) and so on..........

This is why you must follow the chain above and below an "injury" and find out if the problem is a mobility or stability problem because the opposite is waiting for you above and below where you are having an "issue".

And now you can see why a restricted shoulder can actually be a stability problem at the feet - just follow the trail....

Does that describe what my legs do? I don't know for sure, but it is the avenue I am pursuing. What if one leg follows a different sequence of mobility and stability than the other. Would you get a person like me whose legs cannot work as partners?

Another thing I am trying as a strength and flexibility move is to do a pistol or one-legged squat. Here is a guy doing a pistol without weights.

It is not as easy as it looks. Here is a tutorial by Steve Cotter on how to do one. He says, "What if I told you that by adding just one exercise to your training repertoire, you would be stronger, more flexible and more coordinated and be able to run faster, jump higher and have overall better health? Would it be worth investing the time to learn and practice? If you answered "Yes", then I have just the exercise for you. The one-leg squat, or aptly named "pistol", is one of the most demanding and beneficial exercises in existence , and the only thing you need to get started is your body and the determination to succeed."

You can find Steve's tutorial here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ankle Mobility Drills: Can they Improve Hip Function?

My ankles don't hurt. They are pretty solid and rarely give me problems, but can freeing up some mobility in them help my hips? As I read and understand more about joint mobility and how the body works, I am finding that there is a strong relationship between the ankle and the hip. Mike Nelson answers a question about ankle mobility on the Precision Nutrition website with this:

"There are specific points in the ankle/foot that refer up to muscles in the hip due to the gait (walking) pattern. So if your feet are all gummed up, it messes up muscles further up the kinetic chain."

I had a really awful track workout on Wednesday night. The workout was 200, 400, 800, 1200 and then repeat. I guess my awful days are the days when something feels "stuck" and my hips or leg cannot more correctly and everything is out of whack. I cut out of the last 1200 and tried to stretch and knock the "stuckness" out of my hip. I couldn't but I didn't want to quit the workout so after about 15 minutes of work just went out and did the last 1200 by myself: more as a mental effort than for a physical benefit.

Thursday I didn't run, more because I was at school or doing school related interviews from 7:30 am- 6:00 pm with only about a 20 minute break. I was bushed. Friday my hips were still off. Before running I came upon a different ankle mobility drill. I felt a release and when I went running I felt good. Nothing was "stuck" anymore, although things were not in alignment. I could shift around my stride and try to balance things out. Today's run was just the same, again after concentrating on the ankles. So two decent runs in a row and I am happy.

Here is where you can find the ankle mobility drill. It is on page 2 of a great article called "The Ankle Paradox: Building Indestructible Ankles" by Jimmy Smith, CSCS. Be warned it is on the Testosterone Nation website so be careful where you open it! The drill I did is under the dart board picture on page 2: It says,

"Another option is self-nerve flossing techniques designed to reeducate our nerve firing patterns. This movement is a reminder that any muscle stretch will likely be a nerve mobilization, especially if the movements that place load on the nerve are included. The flossing movement is a body weight-supported mobilization.

In this movement, you'll be standing with the injured ankle close to the opposite leg and rotated inward. Make sure the injured ankle is behind the opposing leg. Push the toes into the floor and twist the foot inward to begin the mobilization. To strengthen the movement, flex the low back and neck slightly

When performing this mobilization, be sure to hold the position for at least ten seconds, as you would during any stretch."

I also found these two ankle mobility drill videos on Youtube. It is easy to see how to do the drills and they are very similar to the Z-Health drills (or are they straight out of Z-Health?). The instructions are clear and the drills are done slower than on the Z-Health instructional DVDs (although it is suggested to do them slower at times). The first clip are beginner drills. The second clip is of intermediate drills. I suggest you look into Z-Health if you like the drills and want to learn more.

When I was learning Egoscue ankle rotations last year. I found that my left ankle could not rotate freely. It was still that way when I started doing Z-Health drills this year. They have restored some mobility and movement beyond what I previously could do, but they are no way as free moving as this guys ankles!

Besides making my stride so I can run more balanced and free, maybe someday with all these drills, and work on mobility, stability, flexibility, balance, and coordination I can do something like this:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stretching the Hip Flexors (Psoas)

Today's run went pretty well. My hips felt very well balanced (compared to normal) and I enjoyed the run because of it. I have changed a lot of things (even in the past week) so here are things that could be helping.

#1 My body is adjusting to using the sof sole inserts. They don't bother my feet - in fact my feet feel more solid and strong in them, but the changing of angles during footstrike and I think a lessening of pronation has changed the angles of legs, knees, hips, back and how they relate to each other. Whether this is good in the long run has yet to be seen. It could just replace one pattern of disfunction with another.

#2 I have been doing the "indigenous squat" for a couple of days. I think this is loosening up things in the hips and back. My hips felt more "in the socket" (I know that is not what is happening - but they seemed to be moving more in sync with each other. I also noticed that my lower back was tight, not in the muscles but more near the surface. I think this is the fascia that may be adjusting to changes in movement and balance as I readjust things.

#3 I noticed the other day that while doing the "FlowFit" DVD that my quads were tight. Today when running they felt like they were working better. Maybe I am strengthening and loosening them a bit.

#4 Maybe I just had a good day of running and it will all fall apart again tomorrow. Today I did use a pair of lightweight Saucony Kilkenny Shoes. I always enjoy running in minimalistic shoes the most. I have only done a few runs in these but they are similar in weight and profile to the Puma H-Streets that I like. They are a bit tighter around the forefoot however. I have also continued doing the Z-Health Neural Warmup before running.

#5 I did a some overhead lunges yesterday. I like the explanation on this site.

Hip Flexor Stretching

I like the reasoning on for doing overhead lunges. Lauren writes:

This is possibly the best exercise you can do for opening up your hip flexors. It is basically a normal lunge, but you hold a medicine ball, or a light plate above your head. Out stretch your arms, keep them straight, directly above your head, and complete the lunges. You have something that is called fascia; it’s basically a sheath that runs over your muscles. Your fascia is a big issue in hip flexor tightness, and often when that is loosened, the muscle is too. Holding something above your head whilst lunging stretches this fascia out, and you get the added hip flexor stretch.

I know the fascia is an important and overlooked part of what holds a body and its workings together. Rolfing works on the fascia system. I had never heard that doing an overhead stretch can help the fascia of the hips and if so that is an extremely tight area on my body and if I can ease the tightness of the fascia maybe the hips will loosen up too! There are some other good stretches for the hip flexors on Lauren's website.

So I have lots of stuff to add to my arsenal and to continue to work with.
Here is another stretch I have not tried that I saw today on the Slowtwitch forums today. It is posted by someone from New Hampshire (yeah!)named "chief". I'll give it a try some day as it sounds like a killer so heed chief's warning to go slow.

The world’s greatest hip-flexor stretch.


Start on your hands and knees with your feet against the wall. Slide your right foot straight up the wall, toes pointed to the sky, while letting your right knee slide back against the wall. Place your left foot flat on the floor for leverage and lean your torso back toward the wall. Your torso should be close to vertical (maybe not the first couple of times). Your left ankle, knee, and hip should be at 90 °. This is where it starts to get uncomfortable. During the entire stretch suck your bellybutton toward your spine. Slowly reach for the sky with your right hand and hold the stretch for 20 – 30 seconds. After this, switch hands and reach for the sky with your left hand and hold for 20 – 30 seconds. Finally, place your right hand on your right hip and allow your hips and left knee to move forward, all the while keeping your torso vertical, hold for 20 – 30 seconds. Repeat for opposite side.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Indigenous Squat: Loosening up the Hips

I have been able to do two days of running without calf pain so it looks like it is time to get back into shape. I went to the Gate City Striders track workout Wednesday night intending to do some light running on the trails but once I got on the track I decided to see what the workout would bring. The workout was 4 X 1 mile (really 1600 meters- I still think of a track as 440 yards not 400 meters). I wanted to see what could happen if I tried the intervals so I dropped down from my usual group and hoped to make it a lap or two). I wore the Sof Sole inserts for the first mile and my right leg (with the calf issue) felt OK but my left hip felt funky. I made the mile and took the inserts out for the second mile. I felt faster but not as stable in the right foot and my calf felt more stressed. I put them back in for the third interval -the first lap was not good and I was about 15 yards back off the pace but then things calmed down and I caught back up with the lead runners. My left hip got real out of whack and I couldn't stride on the fourth interval so I stopped after 100 yards and called it a night.

The next day my calf was tight (as well as my running muscles) so I did some Intu Flow work and then a kettlebell routine (IronCore 1). Friday I did the Z-Health R-Phase Neural Warmup and then ran 7 miles (finally a workout). I am still feeling my way around with the Sof Soles and wore them. The bottom of my feet feel more stable but I am not sure it is putting me in a better stride. I was a bit tight after the run so I did the Ageless Mobility DVD (over an hour of work) before going to bed.

Today my left hip has been cranky and tight. I did a short Flow Fit routine, Flow 1 on the DVD, then did the Z-Health Neural Warmup R-Phase before doing the Flow Fit routine a second time. I noticed that my quads were tighter than normal throughout the routine, probably from yesterday's run. Then I ran 7 miles again- no calf problem but was really awkward and was constantly trying to even out my stride the whole time and I never could - it was a very bothersome run. I am happy, though, that I can get some miles in again.

I did Mark Sisson's Indigenous Squat a few times after the run to try to loosen up around the hip area. I found it while searching around for some extra Z-Health information but I am well aware that many people think that squatting around like this is very advantageous and something missing from modern life that may be causing the back and hip problems that many people have. I guess other cultures squat like this a lot. Some people call it the "latrine" squat! I remembered seeing this website with a lot of information about the gluteal muscles a few years ago. {And while looking at the site again I see a lot of good information including a section on Tibialis-posterior Rehabilitation. This looks like it causes a dropped ankle, flat feet, calf problems, knock-knees, and an outwardly rotated foot: sounds like me. I will have to check this out more later, including a look at the realigning the leg, and corrective exercises.}

Here is another video (somewhat out of focus but Lauren has a cool accent) from a volleyball player with a neat blog with lots of good info that I have to check out. It shows two simple and different ways to work on glute activation. I will add these before working out to see how well they work.

I was actually commenting to another teacher, during a concert held at our school this week, about how one student was sitting. Actually he was squatting on the floor just like the indigenous for over 10 minutes. We were laughing as his head was swaying and bouncing to the music, but I did point out how well he held the position that most people would find challenging.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shaking things up a bit

My running hasn't been going well. I got a knot or tear in my calf while running in Hawaii two weeks ago. I ran on it last Monday and at 4 miles out it starting hurting again and I had to limp the 4 miles back. I didn't run until Sunday. I almost made 4 miles on the treadmill and stopped as soon as it tightened up, yesterday it tightened up before I completed 2 miles. This is the 5Th time in a little over a year that the right calf has created a problem. It is the second time in a couple of months. The last time it was the inside part of the calf, this time it is the outer side. I am being as patient as I can be, but I do miss running and getting back into shape (particularly with all the nice weather).

In the meantime I have been doing a little more work with kettlebells, clubbells, and joint mobility work. I was a bit too frustrated last night after the less than two mile run. Before the run I even did a new DVD workout from Scott Sonnen called "Flow Fit". I was feeling good all around but the calf just hadn't healed yet. I had been thinking that maybe my feet might be contributing some to my problems, but I don't want to go the prescibed orthotic route. I have spent good money before with not real positive results. So I headed out and found a 3/4 length orthotic from Soft Sol. I tried it in my shoe and it felt lightly supportive and it didn't take up much space so I decided to buy it.

My thinking it that my feet do pronate and my right heel has been giving me some problems and that my be related to the right calf. I also think through years of running the muscles and ligaments in my feet have become lax. The orthotics made my foot feel more stable and straight. I wore them while teaching today and they felt fine so I decided to try them running (usually not a good idea- I know). I tried a new warmup routine and decided to try a 4 mile run outdoors. My calf was fine for 2 miles and then it tightened up but I managed to keep running on it. I noticed my hips felt more imbalanced while trying to get used to the orthotics, but no harm seemed to be done so I will continue the experiment.

I did try some orthotic type devices by Aline last year after a few months using the Posture Control insoles (they would burn up my feet- too many blisters). The Aline devices felt OK but they were too bulky for running so I stopped using them. I honestly don't think orthotics will help the funky way my left leg works but it may serve as a distraction for awhile until I can get up and running again.

While I was out I stopped at the Barnes and Noble book store. I saw a newly released copy of Eric Cressey's "Maximum Strength". It was co written with Matt Fitzgerald who wrote "Brain Training for Runners". I had looked at Eric Cressey's information before because he has a DVD called "Magnificent Mobility" which is another joint mobility program. I am in no way interested in the weight programs and have no access to the types of weights and machines pictured in the book. I am also doing kettlebell training to work on strength. I did buy the book to take a closer look at the "Warm Ups" section and the "Foundation" phase. The warm up section had foam roller work or tennis ball soft tissue , stretching, and mobility drills. I did the drills before my run today. I particularly liked using the foam roller again, and the Glute/Piriformis work with the tennis ball. I used my trigger-point massage ball instead. The twist that I liked was instead of just putting the ball under your glute and piriformis muscle you take the right foot and cross it over the left leg. This put a lot more targeted pressure where I wanted it and it was easier to find the tight spots. I also used the trigger-point massage ball on my calf muscles and this targeted my knots more directly than when I use the trigger point roller. There were some other drills that made sense for me and so made the book purchase worthwhile. I can also read about getting stronger but don't anticipate turning into anything resembling a muscular athlete anytime soon!

Tomorrow is track practice and I will have to miss a third weekly workout in a row for which I not too happy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why fast runners need good hip mobility

Matt Fitzgerald, the author of Brain Training for Runners, a book I highly recommend writes about the importance of hip mobility in his blog. He answers a question from a runner concerning why some runners seem to push-off more with their toes using extreme ankle flexion when running. Does a strong push-off create a faster runner?

Matt states that the ankle push-off is more a passive reaction to greater posterior hip extension. He writes that:

"Runners who exhibit extreme ankle plantar flexion at faster speeds are typically faster runners than those who exhibit moderate ankle plantar flexion, but it’s not because they push off the ground more forcefully through active calf muscle contraction. Rather, it’s because they have greater hip mobility. Indeed, a high degree of hip mobility, which enables runners to make large strides efficiently when running hard, is an often overlooked biomechanical characteristic of faster runners."

His suggestions to improve hip mobility include working on joint mobility exercises and a few all-out sprinting efforts during the week. I would also recommend getting a kickbike to work out the range of motion in your hips (as well as to have the most fun possible on two wheels!).

There are a few programs out there that focus on joint mobility. Most of these programs work on improving joint mobility. I use Scott Sonnon's "Ageless Mobility" and "Intu Flow" as well as Dr. Eric Cobb's Z-Health program. Z-Health is recommended as it works not only on joint mobility, but on reeducating the nervous system to use correct movement patterns.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Field Trip to Hawaii!

I just got back from a vacation in Hawaii with my wife (Thanks VH1!). I learned a few things there along with all the fun and relaxation that we enjoyed. We stayed in Honolulu at Waikiki beach. We got to visit Pearl Harbor, hike up Diamond Head, snorkle at Hanalei Bay (wow- to all the fish we saw and the sea turtle that we swam with and observed) and we went to the Polynesain Cultural Center among other things. I only got one hour plus run in as I ran below Diamond Head along portions of the Honolulu Marathon course. It was through walking around and visiting the Polynesain Cultural Center that I learned some new things.

I learned that the Vitruvian shoes I have been wearing are not good walking shoes for me. They may not even be the best for running either. I have done most of my running since the fall in these shoes and brought them along for running and walking around. I noticed that as I walked my body shifted into the horrible alignment that I sometimes get while running. My left knee started knocking in and the left foot rolled wrong as it pronated in. I couldn't wait to get them off after a day of walking around in them. I think it may have to do with the dual density foam under the heel. One half is softer than the other but my foot reacts weirdly to it. I don't think I notice this as much while running as I land on the ball of the foot with these shoes. I went back to walking with my minimalistic H-Streets shoes and felt better. I tried the Vitruvians later in the week for a mile walk and the same thing happened.

While at the Polynesain Cultural Center, we learned about the dance, music, and culture of the Hawaiian and other South Pacific Islands (Hawaii, Samoa, Maori New Zealand (Aotearoa), Fiji, Tahiti, the Marquesas, and Tonga). I found the differences in dance and music between the islands fascinating. I have never been a dancer or appreciated the art of it: however all I could notice and think about as I watched the different styles of dancing was that they were doing moves that were all similar to the joint mobility work I have been using. Of course the dancers movements were smooth, rythmic, and athletic while I am at the beginner stage at learning movements. I noticed lunges, squats, rotations, and other movements from head to toe (but upon reflection I guess that is what dance is).

I also wished I had used those clubbells that I bought a month ago. I got called up during a show to try to learn to beat the large drums that they use in Tongo. I had fun and played the perfect idiot as I couldn't quite get the simple directions. The crowd had a great laugh!