5 Minute Routine at Work to Reduce Back & Neck Pain

The end of the pandemic is here!  No, it’s not.  Yes, it is!  No, it’s not.

Whichever end of the spectrum you choose to believe in, the truth is your neck and back pain from siting are here to stay unless you do something about it.  Every article on LinkedIn pushes a hybrid working from home and going into the office.  Whether that is true or not remains to be seen.

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A typical going into the office day:

  • 30–45-minute commute sitting each way (driving, carpool, public transportation)
  • 6-7 hours sitting at your desk, in a meeting, on sales calls, etc
  • 1 hour sitting at lunch
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A typical home office day:

  • 8-9 hours sitting at your dining room table, couch, or home office chair
  • Driving an hour for carpool or sports practice
  • 1-2 hour sitting while on devices/TV at night

Regardless of which method or combination of methods you choose for work, developing chronic pain from sitting is guaranteed!  What the pandemic did was increase the attachment to devices by requiring workers to be on more meetings than before as a way to ensure people are “working”.  If you were in denial of feeling the pain before March 2020, you probably aren’t now.

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How can you alleviate your muscle imbalances and pain while still being productive?  There are a number of stretches and exercises you can do standing next to your workstation, whether it’s in a traditional office sense or at your dining room office.  I’m asked in all my interviews by radio and podcast hosts how often should a person stand up and move around.  The answer is whenever possible.  Use that technology to set an alarm as a reminder to at least stand for two minutes every hour at the minimum. 

For those a little more ambitious that care about their health, here is a five-minute routine you can do twice or three times per day, without getting sweaty.

  • Arm flaps:  extend your arms at shoulder height to your sides, thumbs up.  With shoulders back, head looking forward and in line with your spine, raise your arms to touch thumbs above your head.  Lower them back to shoulder height in the starting position.  Repeat 15 times
  • Face pulls:  extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height palms facing down.  With shoulders back and head in line with your spine, pull your arms back toward your face, then return to the starting position.  Repeat 15 times.
  • 1 leg RDL with reach:  stand on one leg (use a wall or chair for balance if needed), extend the opposite arm at a 45-degree angle toward your head.  Reach across your body and touch the opposite knee of the leg you’re standing on keeping your arm straight and return to the starting position.  Do not lock your knee, keep it with a slight flex as you normally would while standing.  Repeat 10 times on one leg then switch.  As you get stronger and better balance, touch lower on your leg toward your foot.

These three movements can be done anywhere and anytime without weights.  All age groups (yes even kids doing online school) can do these and benefit.  The muscles worked are your hamstrings, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and mid trapezius.  These are muscles that get over-lengthened while sitting and typing on your laptop because you are hunched over.  Give them a try and email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com with how you feel after trying daily for a week.  You can also post on my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Want more help?  Sign up for my course Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening.  Guaranteed to make a difference or your money back!

On Your Butt and In Pain – From My Book The Athlete in the Game of Life

I have a client who has no choice — she has to sit on the job.

That’s because she’s an amputee who lost her left lower leg in a lawn mower accident as a child. She now works in medicine, assisting surgeries for most of the day and in her office for the remaining hours—and during all that time, she’s sitting. When she started experiencing pain because of it, she came to me. Since I’m a Corrective Exercise Specialist, I was able to assess and work with her in addressing the dysfunction in her hips and hamstrings, the result of prolonged sitting.

Many fitness trainers, however, ignore those particular muscles. They’re used to guys who want to bulk up the upper half of their bodies and women who focus on glutes, quadriceps, triceps, and anything abdominal related. So, I felt gratified and validated when my client showed me an article in a magazine dedicated to helping amputees in all aspects of life. The article suggested all the exercises I had her do in previous sessions to increase mobility and strength in her hamstrings and hips — and she was impressed that I knew to focus on those muscles, since I had never worked with an amputee before.  I told her it was simply a result of all my experience working with executives and other individuals who were relatively sedentary — I learned over time where the physical problems hit the hardest and how to correct those imbalances.

It all centers on the hips. From an evolution standpoint, we weren’t built to sit for long periods of time. Your muscles have to work overtime to support it, and you end up stretching hamstring muscles, tightening your quadriceps and remodeling your hips. Also, nerves can become compressed and common issues such as sciatica (back pain) can occur.

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When you stop sitting and decide to get upright, you’ve got more potential problems on your hands — or more accurately, in your hips. When you go to stand up, you end up trying to put the pelvis back into a standing position and some of these muscles get irritated and strained in the process. Lower back pain is a frequent result. The hips, while often overlooked, are critical to your body’s alignment of your legs and torso. They must be strong to do that job — but sitting weakens them and gravity suddenly becomes your worst enemy. Your legs will collapse inward, put pressure on your kneecaps and eventually cause flat feet.

But at any rate, now you’re standing. When you go ahead and take a step, however, and the hips are no longer strong enough to hold themselves up, you end up with hip pain. Meanwhile, the lower back tries to take some of the burden off the hips — and that’s not good for the lower back. The pain that results travels up the spine and in your neck. And you can also end up throwing out your lower back.

All of this negatively affects your posture, because you’re twisting your muscles into positions they don’t much care for. Those muscles become strained and it creates more weakness in your body.

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The fact is mobility in the hips is key to movement in all directions. The glutes are the largest muscle of the body and responsible for producing power when you squat, lunge, jump, swing a golf club, pick up a bag of mulch, and all other movements related to bending at the knee and lowering your hips. All those movements become much more difficult when your hips lack the strength and flexibility to function properly. As you grow older, you begin to have basic balance issues and falls are the unfortunate result. I actually see this developing in people as young as their early 40’s!

To order my book, The Athlete in the Game of Life, go to my website mattpeale.com and click the banner at the top. You can also download my free report on back pain to enter for a free signed copy of my book. You win either way!

1 Move to Diagnose Your Mobility and Flexibility, Guaranteed

“I haven’t got time for the pain,” was the jingle for a commercial in the 80’s and maybe 90’s.  Granted, it was for menstrual cramps and this pain specific pain does not apply to everyone!  The mantra, however, is what most people live by as they just figure pain can be hidden, avoided, and swept under the rug.  While you think this is possible and will stick to your story regardless of how bad it hurts your quality of life, I know better as a Corrective Exercise Specialist! 

Am I a soothsayer, profit, or wizard?  It’s distinctly possible if you ask me.  The truth is I’m trained to look at your movement patterns and can diagnose why you have problems with your mobility, flexibility, and strength from one simple exercise.  Is it magic?  Well my one of my nicknames is Magic Matt, but the ability to slip into VIP areas unseen has nothing to do with helping you to relieve your chronic pain.

What is this unseemly exercise I talk about?  It is the overhead squat.  A simple move raising your arms straight above your head and performing a squat.  You can hold a PVC pipe or broomstick above your head to show more of what pains you if so desired.  How can this simple, not necessarily easy, move show all your postural sins?  The movement places you in an extreme, not damaging, position that requires motor control, mobility, flexibility, and strength from every joint in your body.  Because you have nothing to hold for balance and form, everything has to work in unison to function properly.

The main culprit that destroys overhead squat form is sitting for long periods of time.  It is easy for me to diagnose these issues by the way you lower yourself, raise yourself, and what happens to your fully extended arms in the process.  Here are three areas that cannot be hidden no matter how hard you try:

  • Arms falling forward – this shows me how tight your chest and mid back muscles are, in addition to the weakness in your upper back and shoulder areas
  • Excessive forward lean – this shows the tightness in your hip flexors, calves, and quadriceps, in addition to weakness in your hamstring, shin and glute areas
  • Knees caving in – this shows the tightness in your groin muscles, in addition to the weakness in your hip rotator area

Performing the overhead squat is one of the first assessments I do with clients and is the basis for their exercise program.  Nobody is perfect, and that’s okay.  We all have tight and corresponding weak areas to work on.  The pros and cons are that this struggle never ends.  Humans are creatures of habit, and we like to be efficient to use minimal physical and mental energy in all we do.  Your job makes you do the same thing for hours daily, and yest, sitting is a repetitive movement through lack of movement.  This repetitive pattern produces overuse injuries and pain when not dealt with properly.  Humans don’t like change, even though change is where growth happens physically and mentally. 

The goal of using the overhead squat is to quickly and easily assess progress through an exercise program to keep challenging you and giving you the results, you desire.  The cool thing about the human body is that change happens when you stay consistent to stretching and strengthening.  I see it daily in my clients and they comment about the pain they don’t feel anymore.  Can it work for you?  Absolutely!  I’m offering a free overhead squat assessment to the first 10 people who email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com, and put OHSA in the subject line.  What’s the catch?  You will be amazed how much I can tell about you!

Working with a trainer or corrective exercise specialist like myself can help you integrate these types of movements safely and effectively.  To learn what a comprehensive corrective exercise program can do for you, go to mattpeale.com.  Who is a corrective exercise program good for?  Everyone!  We are all athletes in the game of life, it’s time you treated yourself like it!

3 Moves to Relieve WFH Chronic Pain (Pain isn’t your new normal)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau as quoted by Monica Fike on LinkedIn, 37% of employees were teleworking in late October through early November, with the majority living in major cities.  Because numbers can be read in different ways, that’s about 74 million people, or one out of every three people you know.  This number does not reflect jobs that have pivoted to more teleworking as part of their usual routine, like pharmaceutical sales reps for example.  Do you think employers have invested dollars to help their employees with appropriate workstations at home?  The answer is very likely no.

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People are working at their dining room tables, on their couches and beds, and at small desks in guest rooms.  None of these are truly appropriate for 8-10 hours of sitting that being constantly connected creates in this WFH environment.  What is the big result on their bodies?  Remodeling to with weak low backs, rounded shoulders, and text neck (forward head position), all of which create chronic pain and discomfort.

As I am interviewed by podcasts and radio stations around the country, they all ask the same question, what can these workers do at home to counteract their ‘new normal’?  In this blog, I’m sharing three body parts to stretch and strengthen right at your makeshift office to help the 74 million people out there suffering in silence.

  1. Stretch your chest/Strengthen your upper back – put your arm at a 90 degree angle in an L shape, place your arm against the corner of a wall and lean forward.  Stand up tall with proper posture and activate your core.  Hold for 20 seconds on both arms.  To strengthen, hold your arms out straight in front of you at shoulder height.  Pull your elbows back like there is a string attached, keeping good posture with a tight core and your neck stationary.  Hold soup cans or light dumbbells if you have them, for added resistance.  Do this for 15-20 reps once or twice a day.
  2. Stretch your quadriceps/Strengthen your hamstrings – grab your left foot with your left hand in a runner’s stretch, use a wall for balance if needed.  Make sure to pull your left leg in line with your right leg and your upper body is erect, hold for 20 seconds, and do the same for your right leg.  Strengthen your hamstrings by lying on your back, knees bent like you’re doing a sit-up, feet almost touching your butt.  Push your hips up as high as you can, keeping your feet flat on the floor.  Slowly lower your hips and repeat for 15-20 reps.  If that is to easy, do one leg at a time.
  3. Stretch your groin/Strengthen your hip rotators – stand with your legs wide apart, toes pointed forward.  Shift your weight to one side keeping the other leg straight, and the knee your shifting towards directly over your foot.  Do not excessively lean forward, then shift the other direction.  Strengthen your hip rotators by getting onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders.  Keeping the 90-degree angle in your leg, externally rotate one leg to feel the side of your glute contract.  Do not shift your weight while doing so.  Repeat 15-20 times per leg for a couple sets.

You can do all three of these movements 3-5 times per week as you feel throughout the day.  It’s important to keep proper form to maximize the benefits of the stretching and strengthening.  Don’t worry if your range of motion and strength are limited at first, they will improve as you do these over time.  Your pain will subside, your energy levels improve, and your ability to do activities you enjoy, increase!  This is your PROPER normal, get used to it!

To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

3 Exercises for an Improved Golf Stance & Swing

The pandemic gave me an opportunity to renew my passion for golf.  I grew up playing it sporadically with lessons from my grandfather and father, who were close to scratch golfers themselves.  In my 30’s and 40’s, golf took a back burner to life and reduced to an annual tournament with my alumni Sigma Nu brothers.  Now as I get back into it, and have become the author of Athlete in the Game of Life and a Corrective Exercise Specialist, the importance of building mobility into your fitness and wellness regiment is crucial for a proper golf swing.

Getting ready for my next round

To hit a golf ball where you want and the distance you want is almost counter-intuitive.  It’s not a baseball swing requiring a massive amount of swing speed and torque.  With technology, golf clubs can be purchased to match your natural swing speed to hit the ball competitively regardless of age and gender.  Obviously getting lessons from a professional is a big help, yet that can only take you so far if you have back pain, neck pain, and poor mobility to execute even a fundamentally sound swing.

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Working from home and being more sedentary since the pandemic started, has created more problems for older adults, executives, and golf enthusiasts.  While golf courses have been deemed essential and a “safe” activity, preparing yourself to execute a good golf swing has become harder.  Everyone thinks about working your rotational muscles as the only way to hit the ball farther.  If your posture, grip, and address aren’t right, it doesn’t matter how good your rotation is.  I’m going to share three exercises to help with your posture.

Dumbbell scaption
  1. Dumbbell scaption – Being able to retract your scapula and keep your upper back straight in address sets your rotation up for success.  Most people bent over a laptop all day have a weak upper back because your shoulders are rounded.  You can’t bring the club around into its on-plane position in a full back swing with rounded shoulders.  The dumbbell scaption strengthens and mobilizes your upper back and shoulders to stay retracted and in position to bring the club up to parallel to the ground, and positioned with your lever arm straight.  To perform, stand up tall with your shoulders retracted.  With or without light dumbbells held in a thumbs up position, raise your arms in front of you at a 45-degree angle from your body.  Bring them to shoulder height and lower in a controlled manner.  Perform 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions.
  2. Glute-hamstring bridges – Sitting lengthens and weakens your glutes and hamstrings, contributing to low back pain.  Addressing the golf ball with proper posture requires strength and mobility in your hamstrings and glutes to generate the power you need.  Your upper body hinges at your waist with knees slightly flexed depending on the club you’re using.  If your low back is in constant pain because it’s weak, you can’t even address the ball properly, and no golf lesson can fix that.  Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent as you would for doing a sit-up or crunch.  Your arms are at your side palms up to prevent them from helping you perform the movement.  Push your feet into the floor and raise your hips to fully extend them.  Keep your knees in line with your feet and don’t let them flare out or rotate inward.  Slowly lower your hips to just above touching the ground and repeat the motion.  Perform 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
  3. Straight leg/Romanian deadlifts – For the same reasons mentioned with weakened hamstrings, the ability to hinge at the hip is vital to maintaining proper posture in your stance.  Performing straight leg deadlifts requires you to practice hinging and strengthens your hamstrings, glutes, low back, and abdominals.  This exercise brings the benefits of dumbbell scaption and glute-hamstring bridges into harmony.  You can use a barbell or dumbbells, I suggest a broomstick or PVC pipe for beginners and I’ll explain why.  To perform the movement properly, you must half a straight back with retracted shoulders, knees slightly flexed (I call it soft), head in neutral alignment with your chin tucked, and push your hips back allowing your weight to be on your heels.  Hinge your upper body without bending your knees more into a 45 to 90-degree angle.  You will feel this in your hamstrings and possibly calf muscles if they are tight.  Raise your body up into full upright position again after the hinge.  For those beginners, hold a broomstick behind you with the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and at the bottom of your back all touching it.  Keep this contact on all 3 points and hinge.  If any of the points come off the broomstick, adjust your range of motion or posture.  Once you master this, move to a barbell or dumbbells for more resistance.  Beginners practice the hinge for 3 sets of 15-20 reps, more advanced lifters do 3 sets of 8-10 reps with resistance.
Glute-hamstring bridge

You can integrate these exercises into your regular workouts if you’re not doing so already.  The golf swing is about tempo and rhythm, not raring back and being out of control.  Unfortunately, most of us rare back with poor posture at address and we’re doomed to only be lucky when he hit a good shot.  Putting everything together: lessons, mobility, strength, and practice, yields you the results you want.

Straight leg deadlift

To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

Low Back Pain: The Silent Killer From Sitting

Back pain.  What does your mind conjure up when you read those words, someone says they have back pain, or you hear about it from an advertisement?  The back is a large general area on you body and pain can radiate from all areas.  I have hurt my back a few times lifting weights on maximal type lifts, and moving in the same manner I do on a daily basis in the gym.  Where do most people who sit all day experience pain?  In their low back, and that’s also precisely where I injure myself also.

The presence of low back pain is significant in U.S. society with up to 35% of individuals experiencing reduced activity due to chronic back conditions and approximately 7% of that number with back issues that persist for 6 months or more (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).  What executives, professionals, and older adults don’t often understand is their posture from sitting all day is the main culprit to their back pain.  You don’t have to sling heavy loads on a farm or construction site to put your low back at risk for chronic pain.  Overuse injuries are also based on posture and position, not just physical actions of the same repetitive motions.

Low back pain is very complex with several potential causes, which include but are not limited to muscle imbalances, decreased mobility, disc pathology, facet joint dysfunction, joint degeneration (spondylosis), and spinal instability (Cheatham & Kolber, 2016).   Let’s take a person who sits an average of eight hours a day between the commute and their career.  The muscles of the Lumbopelvic Hip Complex (LPHC), take on the brunt of sitting sins, which manifest themselves into low back pain (LBP).  Sitting weakens the glutes and hamstrings while tightening the quadriceps, hip flexors, and adductor complex.  In short, this means a person cannot bend their knees to lower themselves down into a squat position.  Whenever they bend down to pick up a box, bag of mulch, barbell, etc., they use the muscles of their low back instead of their glutes and quads in unison.  The low back is not built to take on such loads and is now compromised for high injury potential.  The weight of the load itself also does not need to be of a maximal resistance.

In my upcoming book, An Athlete in the Game of Life, due out in late 2020, I specifically discuss how these types of muscle dysfunctions in your 40’s can negatively affect life 20 years and more into the future.  Let’s give one example in my blog of the how and why LBP can be detrimental.  The body likes to be efficient in all movement, using the path of least resistance.  When one muscle group dominates another, it creates dysfunction and altered length-tension relationships.  In normal language it creates what I explained in the previous paragraph, one muscle group substitutes doing the work of the primary group because the body is used to moving in that way from tightness and weakness.  This in turn makes other joints of the body compensate for the dysfunction and imbalances leading to pain in say the knees or neck because everything must shift just to pick up that case of water.  Over time, you repeat this process as the “new normal” and the nerves reroute everything to this altered pattern.  One day you shift a little differently and BAM!!!  Now you’re stuck hunched over in extreme agony and out of work.

Did that scenario ring a bell for you or someone else you know?  Hopefully it rang an alarm also!  Hurting your back once makes you prone to hurting it again worse the next time unless you stretch, strengthen, and relearn the proper movements for picking up that case of water properly.  Obviously, you’re very successful in your career and don’t have time to workout hours daily.  This is where involving a Corrective Exercise Specialist as myself can assist you to be your best while not compromising your career and income.

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Suffering silently and thinking LBP is part of the sacrifice you pay for being a successful executive is false.  You don’t need surgery as the first responder.  Stretch those quadriceps and hip flexors a few times a day and add some hamstring and glute strengthening exercises before or after work in your bedroom. 10 minutes a day can pay big dividends now and 25 years down the road, guaranteed!

To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

Get Your Ass Into It! – Glutes Are Not Just for Sitting On

“Get your ass into it!” yells your coach as you half heartedly go through the motions of a workout or practice.  Does he really mean to use your butt muscles, or more metaphorically to put more effort into your movements?  The answer is likely a little of both, and you know that from way back when.

Let’s drill down into why “using your ass” in sports and gym exercises is critical to power, strength, and speed.  Regardless of your age and talent level, being able to successfully incorporate the glutes can transform your workouts, give you more distance off the tee, and allow you to hammer that ace first serve.  Unfortunately, most executives, professionals, and older adults use their glutes for resting their body weight on, aka, sitting a majority of the day.  Obviously sitting does nothing to make the glutes stronger.  Sitting makes your glutes lengthened and more difficult to generate power for working out and playing any sports.  Most people don’t know the potential that lies in the biggest muscle on their body.

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The main function of your glutes is to extend your hips.  The easiest way to explain it is standing up.  When you stand up from a seated position, your glutes contract along with your quadriceps, to get you off the chair.  Most people over rely on their quadriceps for these movements, which are shortened and tight due to sitting hours daily.  The quadriceps cannot generate the power and strength of the glute muscles when they are shortened, and often lead to knee-cap pain when they dominate in pushing movements. 

Training the glutes to be the prime power generator is not simply doing squats, lunges, and deadlifts till they fall off.  It starts with smaller isolated exercises like lying face down and raising your straight leg high as you can off the ground.  Another move called a bird dog helps to activate your glutes and your rear shoulder muscles.  Being able to contract your glutes for full hip extension takes the strain off your quadriceps and knees, allowing for more range of motion for any squatting movements.  This also means picking up a bag of mulch or dog food from the ground easier and putting less stress on your lower back.  Being an athlete in the game of life isn’t always about lifting weights or playing sports, it’s about doing life’s activities easier and more often.

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For women, they love training glutes for that curvy look.  Aesthetics are important and I’d be telling a lie saying I don’t look at a woman’s butt that’s shapely.  Ladies, you look at women’s butts too AND men’s.  Everyone knows it. From a functional standpoint, learning how to activate your glutes helps you to stand up taller, shift your weight in a golf swing for more distance, explode into an overhand smash and serve, and sprint faster in a race.  Look at a Thoroughbred’s rear legs and glutes.  That’s what powers those amazing animals to run at the speeds they do.  Once you learn to activate the glutes in a lunge, squat, and deadlift, your lifting amount increases while chance of injury decreases. 

To learn how to train your glutes as part of a total body exercise program, sign up for my executive or active aging coaching program at mattpeale.com.  I just scratched the surface in this blog on why getting your ass into it is the game changer your posture and athletic performance need.  You can take any tennis or golf lessons you want, unless you learn from me how to activate the muscles you sit on all day, you’re missing out on your potential.  Go to my site and invest a few minutes into what Competing as an Athlete in the Game of Life can do for you!

Attention Ladies Who Wear High Heels: Do Your Ankles Hurt? Let Me Tell You Why

Ladies can spend ungodly amount of money on shoes.  It blows my mind, honestly.  Heel sizes of all heights, shapes, and styles for a plethora of outfits to be worn once, multiple times, or a permanent fixture in the wardrobe rotation.  Not everyone has a separate closet dedicated to shoes, those that do are very proud of it.  Why do I choose to write a blog post on high heels?  Because the damage high heels can do for a woman’s ankles, knees, and hips can be detrimental to their fitness goals.

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Elevating your foot in a high heel shortens the calf muscles and weakens the muscles of the shin (anterior tibialis).  Good posture begins where the body contacts the ground, and that’s at the feet and ankles.  Proper ankle mobility allows you to squat with more power, push off for running and cutting, and reduce potential injuries like a torn Achilles tendon and plantar fasciitis.  Often ankle joint dysfunction is seen in the position of the knees when doing any type of squat movements.  The knees turn inward putting pressure on the outer connective tissues which can lead to ACL injuries and pain in the knee cap.  Bet you didn’t know any of that!

When the ankle joint doesn’t work right, other areas of the body must compensate to produce normal movements.  Over time, these compensations are seen in how a person stands (static malalignments), and in their movement patterns (dynamic malalignments).  According to the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist textbook, “Joint dysfunction is one of the most common causes of pain in an individual.  Static malalignments are frequently the result of pattern overload from either chronic sedentary positioning or repetitive stress injury. The most common example of this is seen in people with computer-based jobs.”  If you’re reading this blog, typically that means you.  Pain felt in one area of the body does not mean it originates from that spot.

As a personal trainer, I see many women perform squats with their heels elevated on a weight plate or other small platform.  Why?  Because they read somewhere in Shape Magazine, or another women’s focused source, that raising your heels can activate the glutes more.  Women love working their glutes!  The truth is elevating your heels with already tight calf muscles, reduces the amount of weight you can squat, increases potential for injury, and exasperates already tight and weak muscles from your daily routine.  Typically, you shift forward during a squat and your feet turn out, which causes pressure on the knees and hips to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility.  These issues are not mentioned in said periodicals and media sources catered to women.

To ensure the muscles around your ankles work in good order, begin a workout using a foam roller on your calf muscles.  “The myofascial roller (or other myofascial tool) should be held on the tender area for up to 60-seconds then perform 4 – 6 active movements. The intensity should be such that there is some discomfort felt, but the user should be able to relax and breathe. Lastly, total rolling duration should last for between 5 – 10 minutes, with 90-120 seconds per muscle group,” says NASM. 

After foam rolling, stretch the calf muscles lightly.  You can hold a stretch for 20 seconds.  Besides stretching the tight muscles, it is important to strengthen the weak muscles of the shin (anterior tibialis).  You can use an elastic band tied around a bench and around your toe area.  Pull your toes toward you and away from the bench to activate the anterior tibialis.  You can also do ankle flips, which is like walking in swim fins.  Walk your regular stride and point your toes up as high as you can with each step, pausing briefly to only have the heel contact the ground before completing the step.  Integrating these stretches and movements into your warm up and/or cool down routine can give you the results you’ve been missing in the gym and in any sport you play.  Don’t believe the hype of women’s fitness magazines.  They write articles to sell magazines, not necessarily to help you truly get the most out of your fitness routine.  Want more specific help?  Sign up for my coaching program at mattpeale.com. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

Why Your Hips Hurt From Sitting at Your Desk

Men and women exercise very differently even though the biology and anatomy of muscle functions are exactly the same.  Men focus on the upper body, and mostly the “show’ muscles of chest, shoulders, and biceps.  Women focus on glutes, quadriceps, triceps, and anything abdominal related.  The real story relates to the muscles often forgotten, hamstrings and hips.  For older adults, and successful executives and professionals, sitting dominates a large portion of the day.  The muscles that become weak and cause pain in other parts of the body from hours of sitting are the hamstrings and hips.

I have an amputee client who is a successful medical professional.  Her left lower leg was lost in a lawn mower accident when she was a child.  In her medical profession, she sits while assisting for surgeries the majority of her day.  Even when not in surgery, she’s sitting a lot!  As a Corrective Exercise Specialist, I can assess and work with the dysfunction in her hips and hamstrings that result from prolonged sitting and a propensity to not be as active with her prosthetic left lower leg. 

After a training session in her home, she showed me an article in the magazine Amplitude, which is dedicated to helping amputees in all aspects of life.  The article, “Which Muscles Are You Forgetting?”, discussed all the exercises I had her do in previous sessions to increase mobility and strength in her hamstrings and hips.  It was validating and refreshing to read from a corrective standpoint, the importance of hip and hamstring mobility for amputees.  Without previously researching specific movements for amputees, I used my knowledge and experience from people who sit long periods daily to correct her imbalances and dysfunction. 

Foam rolling the priformis

Mobility in the hips is key to movement in all directions.  The glutes are the largest muscle of the body and responsible for producing power when you squat, lunge, jump, swing a golf club, pick up a bag of mulch, and all other movements related to bending at the knee and lowering your hips.  Without proper mobility, your lower back and quadriceps take on the load.  Have you thrown your lower back out?  Probably because your hips lack the strength and flexibility to function properly.  If you’re an avid gym goer and do deadlifts without good hip mobility (as I see most people do), your low back is a ticking timebomb to blow out.

Working from home over the past few months and sheltering in place exacerbated this already dangerous problem.  Older adults begin to weaken naturally, and hips become brittle from lack of use.  Balance issues are huge for older adults and anyone who sits for hours daily, which often stems also from weakness in the hips.  Pain can be felt in the knees and low back, even though it originates from weakness in the glutes, hamstrings, and hip rotational muscles.  One fall leads to another, and I see it in people starting in their early 40’s.

Bird dog

“Weak glutes can contribute to many issues such as tight hips and lower-back pain.  When we sit for long periods of time or hold poor posture, these muscles disengage,” says article writer John Pope CS, CSCS, MPO, in Amplitude.  Additionally, you can’t stand up straight and fully extend your hips because they are to tight.  Have you seen older adults shifted over and lose height?  This is a prime reason why, and it started decades ago in their 30s and 40s. 

Sitting lengthens the hamstrings and glutes, tightens the quadriceps, and hinders external rotation of the hips.  Focus on strengthening the hams and glutes while stretching the quadriceps.  Most people stand up after long periods of sitting and stretch the hamstrings, further pulling themselves out of position.  For more specific help, find a Corrective Exercise Specialist like me.  We can work with you to stretch and strengthen the proper muscles for improved movement quality in all your activities.  My website, mattpeale.com, has great info on the programs I offer for older adults, and executives and professionals.  You only have one body, and investing in it gives you the highest ROI for everything you want to do in life.

Social Distancing Can Be a Risk Factor All Its Own

Adult screen time is a term most adults don’t acknowledge as a problem. Ask a parent about their child’s screen time and frustration begins immediately! Has adult screen time during work from home and shelter in place negatively affected the physical and mental health of American adults?

Humans, as part of the mammal species, are social animals. Mammals live in families, packs, and herds, which make up a community support system. Any four-legged mammal taken away from its family, pack, or herd, doesn’t live very long. “… social species struggle when forced to live in isolation.”, says a study in Science Daily. As humans were forced to isolate themselves and use screen time more than ever, loneliness and physical health problems reared their ugly heads.

Brain scan of depression vs normal

Working from home was the dream for everyone! Wake up when you want. Wear your pajamas all day, maybe not even shower? Play with the kids at any time because the boss or your direct reports aren’t around. Have a lunch cocktail or two and start happy hour at 3:30. For the first week or two the vacation mentality was on, then reality set in and the same fun opportunities became fatigued and depressing. The same study from Science Daily says, “Loneliness directly impairs the immune system, making us less resistant to diseases and infections.”

Forward Head Position

From a postural standpoint, more adult screen time pulls your neck and head into a forward position. “Text Neck” is the term given to this dysfunction of the neck muscles and resulting muscle imbalances that cause headaches and disc compression. As an NASM certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, I’m trained to assess and provide an exercise type prescription helping people overcome these types of imbalances. A forward head position from looking down at a screen also contributes to rounded shoulders and a hunched over appearance. You know exactly what I’m talking about because you see it in the mirror every morning.

Gaining weight is a simple math problem, more calories in and less used equals a surplus of stored energy called fat. People don’t like to see themselves when they’re overweight. They have low confidence and self-esteem which can snowball into depression. Being overweight also wreaks havoc on knee, hip, and ankle joints to support the extra mass. More postural problems result for the low back to stay mobile for normal movements. Sheltering in place provides the perfect lab environment for math complete its natural equation and add 10 pounds or more over three months.

Excessive adult screen time while working from home and sheltering in place is becoming its own pandemic. Zoom call after Zoom call with additional emails and presentations to make are now the new normal for executives and professionals. Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon Prime dominate the days for the over 65 population who aren’t working as much or are retired. Age accelerates the problems mentioned already, now cognitive decline is a serious concern added to the physical atrophy happening.

What about isolation and screen time for your children or grandchildren? A similar story results for them. Study coauthor Valerie Hruska from the University of Guelph writes, “Previous research has shown that high screen use is linked to health issues in children, including lower activity levels, obesity and even language delays in younger children because they engage in less back-and-forth conversation.” Can children take on the same postural issues as adults? Yes, absolutely. Look at the slouching junior high and high school student, forward head and rounded shoulders from staring down at their device hours upon hours daily. While teens are a different beast than adults, they are the same mammal.  

Working from home isn’t all it originally thought it would be. The mental and physical health effects are months and years away from being finished. Whatever your views on social distancing, science shows it is not a healthy mid and long term option for humans mentally and physically:

  • “social isolation is a significant predictor of the risk of death;
  • insufficient social stimulation affects reasoning and memory performances, hormone homeostasis, brain grey/white-matter, connectivity and function, as well as resilience to physical and mental disease” – The Neurobiology of Social Distance

Get out and meet people again. The economy is reopening, use your judgement on the extent of social interactions. Life is more fun with friends and your loved ones. If you need help with your postural sins and joint pains, go to my website and get a free report, “3 Tips to Reducing Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.” My coaching programs could be the answer your looking for to fix adult screen time pain. We all need each other face-to-face, make it happen!