Staying Grounded: How to Keep Your Feet & Ankles Healthy and Reduce Risk of Injuries

Do you have happy feet and ankles?  Yes, it may be an odd question and hard to define just what happy feet and ankles are.  For the purposes of this blog, happy feet do not refer to the animated movie or how you feel after getting a pedicure.  People that are unhappy with their feet and ankles are easy to pick out in a crowd.  They can’t stand very long, have possible issues walking or running, are prone to injuries, and may have swelling or inflammation regularly. 

Foot and ankle problems are not race, gender, sexual preference, age, or religious affiliation biased.  Many problems with your feet and ankles could be alleviated, or at least made less severe, by treating the muscles around your ankle joints a lot better.  Your knees could thank you also for being nicer to your feet and ankles.  Even your hips and low back benefit from heathy feet and ankles. 

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April is National Foot Health Awareness Month by the American Podiatric Medical Association.  Most people take the health of their feet and ankles for granted, or that pain will stay with them forever.  This blog is to educate you to change your thinking on both.  Your feet and ankles are the foundation of balance and stability for the body when standing.  The major muscles around the ankle joint are the soleus and gastrocnemius, which compose the calf, and the anterior and posterior tibialis, which are on the shin.  The calf muscle points the toes down and the shin muscles point the toes up.  It’s vital to keep them in balance to avoid injuries and dysfunction all the way up to your lower back.

Typically, most people have overly tight calf muscles and overly weak shin muscles.  The calf muscles are one of the easiest muscles to stretch on the body.  The first stretch is very simple:  stand in a staggered stance with your feet facing forward, the back heel on the ground, front leg slightly flexed, back leg straight, and lean forward slightly.  Do not bounce, ease into the stretch and hold for 20 seconds then switch feet.  The second stretch is to put your heel on the ground in front of wall and point your toe up high as you can, like your foot is on the gas pedal.  Lean forward into the stretch keeping your toes pointed up, do not bounce, and keep the leg straight.  Hold each foot for around 20 seconds.

Calf stretch with toe up
Staggered stance calf stretch

Strengthening the shin muscles is also simple and can be integrated into your normal lifting program or done at home for overall health.  Walk like you have swim fins on, exaggerating your toes pointing up with each step as your heel strikes the ground.  Walk 30 total steps for 1-2 sets.  Another simple, not always easy, exercise to do is practice standing on one foot for 15-20 seconds.  If your balance is bad, stand close to a wall or stable object you can hold if you lose your balance.  Balance is a function of proprioception, how your body reacts to various stimuli in space.  It is a use it or lose it skill and can be regained through consistent practice. 

Keeping proper length-tension relationships with the muscles around your ankles can go a long way towards preventing Achilles’ tendon injuries, ACL injuries, low back pain, and shin splints.  While this list is not inclusive of all feet and ankle injuries, nor is it a fail proof method to avoiding all feet and ankle injuries, keeping the mobility, flexibility, and strength of this important joint is crucial for Activities of Daily Living (ADL).  If you’re a runner or weekend sports warrior, healthy feet and ankles are mandatory for providing the enjoyment you get from participating in such activities. 

Strengthening the anterior tibialis

For people with structural issues in their feet and ankles, please see a medical specialist who can help with your specific problems.  Wearing proper footwear for your activities that is in good condition is also important for avoiding injuries.  Ladies, high heels look great, but they are not your friend for keeping the ankles happy.  Also, performing squats elevating your heels also increases your chances for injuries by shortening your calf muscles and restricting range of motion.  Do NOT believe magazines and websites that tell you this position is great for your glutes.

To help you with ankle joint health, I have written an online course just for you called Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening.  It provides pictures and videos for stretches and exercises that can help everything I mentioned in this blog.  I also guarantee or your money back after completing the course, if you do not see the results you desire.  Trust me, this can be life changing now and for years to come.  Check it out and also my website for more details and how to sign up today!

3 Moves Guaranteed to Reduce Low Back Pain

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).  Whatever you do to reduce this pain never seems to work right.  You take ibuprofen, try to stretch in some way, even stand once-in-awhile to take the pressure off.  All to no avail and the vicious cycle continues.  I promise you are not alone in this struggle!

Let’s face it, your job description is not changing to give you more freedom away from that laptop, phone, and tablet.  So you have to do something different for pain relief than before or it is the definition if insanity.  Only because you haven’t studied like I have, do you understand which muscles to strengthen and which ones to stretch.  Luckily for you I took the guesswork out and created a self-paced course you can follow online.  It is simple to follow, easy to understand, and guaranteed or your money back after completing it, if you do not get the results you desire.  The course is Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening.  Click on over to it and take a look.

Today, I’m sharing a little secret from it and giving three movements you can do from home to help alleviate that nasty low back pain! 

Erector Spinae Stretch
  • Prone floor cobra – lay face down on the floor, your arms are at your sides with palms down.  Slowly raise your chest off the floor, squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades together.  Keep your face looking down and head aligned with your spine.  Hold for a count at the top of the movement and lower yourself down in a controlled motion.  Some people also lift their legs to activate their glutes, and that is fine also.  Perform 15-20 reps for 1-2 sets
  • Erector spinae stretch – sit with one leg out in front of you, the other leg crossed over with your foot flat on the ground next to the knee of the extended leg.  Turn your body towards the up leg and place your opposite arm against the outside of the up leg.  Push slightly on that leg as you rotate your upper body as far as you can.  Feel the stretch on the outside of your glute and in your lower back.  Hold the stretch for 20 seconds then switch.  Perform this 1-2 times per side
  • Plank trio – get into a plank position with your forearms and toes supporting your body weight.  Hold this position for 20-30 seconds depending on your strength level.  Immediate turn to one side with that forearm supporting your weight, your legs are straight with one on top of the other.  Hold this for 20-30 seconds then repeat on the other side.  Place your hand down for support if needed, and stagger your legs with each foot on the ground if more help is needed.  Perform the sequence three times with 60-90 seconds rest between each sequence
Prone floor cobra
Side plank

Some of the muscles you my know involved with low back pain are the piriformis, psoas, and erector spinae.  Sitting keeps the erector spinae and piriformis weak and overlengthened, while keeping the psoas constantly contracted and overly tight.  The muscles in your abdominal region:  obliques, transverse abdominus, and rectus abdominus, are shortened/contracted, further pulling your low back muscles into an overstretched position.  What a person has to do is stretch the ab muscles and strengthen the low back muscles.  Doing sit-ups till you can’t move after sitting on your couch with your laptop only makes the problem worse.  By lengthening and strengthening simultaneously with the plank trio, you are helping to stabilize and reduce pain in your low back. 

These three movements can be integrated into your existing workout routine or become the start of a daily healthy lifestyle regimen to feel better overall.  Your golf swing, tennis serves, squats, gardening, etc., will all benefit from these simple exercises.  Remember, my course goes over these moves and more that can make a major impact on your quality of life.  I guarantee your satisfaction after completing it or your money back, I promise.  Click Overcoming Chronic Pain Through Stretching & Strengthening to sign up today!

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
Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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!

3 Tips to Reduce Hypertension for American Heart Month

Have you heard of someone being heart dead and still living?  If so, you have witnessed a true miracle!  You have heard of people being brain dead while their heart still beats via life support.  Once the ticker stops ticking, life is over.

February is American Heart Month endorsed by the CDC and the American Heart Association.  Valentine’s Day may be about pleasing the emotional heart of your significant other, making sure they take care of their biological heart is of the utmost importance first. 

According to the CDC, around 500,000 people every year die from heart disease, which makes it the top killer of Americans.  Stroke is number five, and often a result of hypertension, which also is the cause of heart disease.  Let’s talk hypertension, shall we?  Hypertension affects half of the adult population in the United States, yet only 25% have it under control.  That’s not a lot of people considering the amount it affects daily.  Hypertension is blood pressure higher than 130/80.  Do you know your average blood pressure?

The major problem with hypertension is most Americans either don’t know they have it or ignore it.  Of the 108 million people who have hypertension, 1 in 3 do not treat it, and 3 in 4 leave it uncontrolled.  Where do you fall in this classification?

Photo by Thirdman on Pexels.com

Hypertension is a lifestyle disease caused by obesity factors and poor choices in eating, compounded by a lack of exercise.  It’s not rocket science to understand the percentages with 30% or more, depending on your area, classified as obese, to see why hypertension is America’s ongoing pandemic.  Drive-by Canes or Popeye’s, and you’ll see how this pandemic literally feeds itself to death.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

COVID-19 severe risk factors are also directly connected to obesity and those with heart disease.  To be honest, the math adds up on why the virus has killed so many people.  Unfortunately, it’s not news to tell someone to stop eating fried and processed foods and get off the couch or die.  I’m telling you now, change your eating and exercise habits to avoid being part of the 500,000 heart disease deaths annually.

Three easy ways to improve your heart and reduce hypertension risk:

  • Eat fried foods once per week or less aka fast-food chains
  • Elevate your heart rate to 65% of its max for 30 minutes, 3x per week
  • Park within the last 3 spots furthest away from the door when at the grocery store

Try my suggestions or use them as ideas that fit your likes and habits.  Besides some genetic factors, you are the one in control of your heart’s health.  Don’t be the victim of your own poor choices that land you in the hospital and on medications that could be 100% prevented.

The first step to any positive change is acknowledgment you need to make that change.  Do not beat yourself up over past years of treating your body badly.  Make the decision NOW to institute small edits into your normal eating and physical activity plans.  Small changes add up to big results at the end of the week and month.  Other positive side effects are weight loss, increased energy, and higher self-confidence.

How can you implement these ideas?

  • Use a fitness tracker for elevating your heart rate, not just step
  • Use a calorie tracker for your food intake (math is hard and this is a basic math problem)
  • Join an online support group with similar goals

If you need more assistance, please email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com.  I’m more than happy to give a few suggestions.  Also, go to my website and download my free report on back to register to win a signed copy of my book The Athlete in the Game of Life.

Reject the Resolutions in 2021!

Reject the Resolutions for 2021!  Am I crazy?  Well, yes, I am to an extent.  At least I now have your attention!

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Every January is like Groundhog Day for the same resolutions that go unresolved year after year:

  • Lose 20-30 pounds by February 2nd
  • Make 20% more income by March 1st
  • Run a marathon by February 30th

Why do we put ourselves through this process like a bunch of zombies who continue down the same road?  First it starts with a mindset of making small, weekly changes that are enjoyable.  If you don’t have enjoyment in some of the process, you won’t stick to the results.  Second, forgiveness of yourself if a day or two doesn’t go as planned.  You miss a day of exercise and have a piece of cake, so what.  Your resolution isn’t done and over, to wait for another year.  Tomorrow get back on your plan like the previous day didn’t exist.  Third, be a little vaguer in your steps to achieving a goal.  If you’re goal is to lose 20 lbs and you hate jogging and early mornings, don’t set the process to running at 5:30AM, four days per week.  Go hiking (an urban hike around your town also counts) with a friend twice per week at a time that suits your mood and schedule.

Here’s an example of what changing your mindset to a healthy lifestyle looks like:

  • Exercise twice per week
  • Drink water when I’m thirsty instead of soft drinks
  • Join a group for running a 5K

These new plans are FREE, have wiggle room if you miss a day or two, and can have fun in the process.  You may look at this new list and think it’s very doable, that’s the point!  Think about your goals for 2021.  How can you create them to be enjoyable, vaguer, and attainable?  There are many right answers.

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In a study by Per Carlbring in Sweden, he analyzed two groups who made resolutions.  One group was specific and had support from friends and groups to achieve their goals.  The second group was more uncertain and received minimal to no support from groups and friends.  Believe it or not, the second group was more successful!  55% of the second group’s participants achieved their resolutions.  Another factor that led to a higher success level was trying something new instead of cutting something out, or deprivation.  When you try something new, more happiness is usually involved than depriving yourself of something that previously made you feel good, even if it wasn’t good for you.

Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

Make 2021 a year of happiness and enjoyment to becoming healthier and more active.  2020 sucked, we all know and are ready for its continuation to end.  Start today, you don’t have to wait until Monday to add a smile to your daily ritual.  Smiling takes less effort than frowning, remember, and it matches every outfit in your closet!

For more information on how to be healthier and active in 2021, go to my website mattpeale.com, or email me at athleteinthegameofife@gmail.com.  To register for an autographed copy of my new book The Athlete in the Game of Life, download my free report on back reducing back with tips your doctor doesn’t even know.

15 Minutes of Stretching and Strengthening a Day Preserves Your Back and Brain, Guaranteed

The virus rages on across the globe doing exactly what a virus does, spreads and mutates.  What also rages on is the push to work from home and not go back into the office.  Some companies like Google, are offering a split work week to compromise on the benefits of both.  While it’s not my place to opine on how a company needs to manage its workforce, I can take an expert position on what constant connectivity can do to your physical and mental health.

There’s a popular commercial that says, “15 minutes can save you hundreds on your car insurance.”  My phrase says, “15 minutes of stretching and strengthening a day preserves your back and brain, guaranteed.”  How can that be you ask?  Let’s look at this from a simple time standpoint:

  • Hold a stretch for each leg @ 20 seconds each twice a day = 1 minute 20 seconds
  • Perform a strengthening exercise for each leg for 15 reps twice a day = 2 minutes
  • Repeat the sequence for a similar stretch/strengthen on the shoulder area = 3 minutes 20 seconds
  • March in place at your home “desk” for 4 minutes twice a day = 8 minutes
  • Total time is 14 minutes and 40 seconds
Glute bridge activation
Dumbbell scaption

You don’t need a gym, health club, or heavy dumbbells to do any of it.  You can also break it into a morning and afternoon break.  No athletic skill, talent, and coordination is required.  Gender equality also exists because these benefits apply to all HUMANS! 

Here is the research that supports my guarantee:

  • The effects are found across a variety of forms of physical activity, including aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking), muscle-strengthening activity, yoga, and play activities (e.g., tag or other simple low organizational games)*
  • A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, and improve cognition on the day that it is performed.*
  • Strong evidence demonstrates that acute bouts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity have a transient benefit for cognition, including attention, memory, crystalized intelligence, processing speed, and executive control during the post-recovery period following a bout of exercise.*
  • The largest positive effects are observed from 11 to 20 minutes after the bout of activity.*
  • *Source: 2018 CDC Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report

I called said insurance company to a quote to reduce my current rate, they couldn’t do it.  On the contrary, when you follow these CDC guidelines in conjunction with specific exercise I can provide you through my programs, you are guaranteed to reduce risk factors for diseases, improve your mood and boost productivity.  For more information on how 15 minutes a day preserves your back and brain, guaranteed, email me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com TODAY!

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.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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 Muscles to Strengthen for an Improved Squat

You hit a plateau at the gym.  Don’t worry, we all do it.  The question is how do you overcome it?  Let’s talk about one of the mainstays of all lifts for everyone: squats!  If you’re a typical 9-to-5 worker who sits all day (yes WFH also), you have a constant battle of tight quadriceps (thighs), calf muscles, and hip flexors.  What you don’t realize are their weak counterparts that need strengthening to help you push through the plateau.

“I really don’t warm up except for a light stretch or 10 minutes on the treadmill, if that.”  Again, you’re a typical gym goer trying to maximize an hour away from kids, spouses, errands, and reality.  While you don’t really push yourself for fear of injury, you know there’s a hole in your heart because you’re capable of more.  I’m not talking about doing a 405lb max lift.  If you can get another 3-4 reps or add 20lbs more, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.

What are those complementary muscles I previously mentioned that need strengthening?  They are your hamstrings, anterior tibialis, and glute medius.  You’ve heard of hamstrings and glutes, but what are the anterior tibialis and glute medius?  The anterior tibialis is the muscle in your shin, they contract when you point your toes up.  The glute medius is on the side of your butt muscles and help pull/rotate your leg out/away from your body.  All these muscles become weak and lengthened as we sit for hours each day.  True, there are more muscles that could be strengthened, we will stick to these as a foundation.

Starting with the ground up, the anterior tibialis is rarely thought of much less worked.  A very simple exercise to increase mobility and strength is to do ankle flips.  Ankle flips are walking like you have swim fins on.  Take a step and put your heel on the ground and point your toes up high as possible.  Walk about half your normal stride, repeating this process with each step.  Perform 24 steps total (12 per foot) for two sets as part of your warm-ups.  Or, have a friend hold a band or tubing around your toes and pull your toes towards you without lifting your leg.  Strengthening these muscles reduces your forward lean and helps you stay balanced and get lower on your squat descent. 

The hamstrings are usually worked in a leg routine.  I’m going to discuss how to isolate and strengthen them as part of corrective exercise, not just your normal workout.  If your gym has a leg curl machine you can do with one leg at a time, use it.  Here’s the difference: you’re doing a 4 second down portion of the lift, 2 second hold on the bottom, and 1 second to raise back up.  Do 12-15 reps for 2 sets.  You can use a seated or lying leg curl machine for this tempo. This method is called eccentric or negative training and is very effective for overcoming muscle imbalances.

The glute medius is more worked by women in their attempts to get a shapely and/or bigger butt.  It is what it is, I’m not judging.  What most women don’t know is what muscle and why they’re doing it, only they read it in Shape magazine or saw a YouTube video.  From a functional standpoint of squatting, stable glute medius muscles are important to keep the knees in line with your toes and to counteract tight groin muscles.  You can put a band or tubing around your knees, squat slightly into an athletic position, and side shuffle deliberately 15 steps out then back.  Another option with or without bands, is to get on you hands and knees, then raise your leg like a dog at a fire hydrant/tree.  Be sure to concentrate on using the glute medius and not the leg muscles to raise your leg.  Keep your lower and upper leg at a 90 degree angle.

Integrating these three types of exercises into your regular routine or warm-up can pay big dividends in posture, reducing pain in the knees and hips, and increasing the amount of reps and pounds you squat. 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!

Text Neck: How to Overcome the New Pandemic in Neck Pain

Imagine a society where hardly anyone looks where their walking and is constantly staring down at an object in their hands.  They experience tension headaches and their bodies have remodeled themselves to look alien-like with their heads protruding forward and shoulders looking like Igor the hunchback.  Oh, that’s actually today’s current culture!

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

Pick up your head and look around.  Does your neck hurt just do that motion?  Do you find it difficult to hold your head up straight, ears lined up with your shoulders?  If you answered yes, then you have forward head position (FHP), which is also called “Text Neck”.  Spinal surgeons report an increase in young patients who are experiencing upper back and neck pain due to cell phone use (Cuéllar & Lanman, 2017). A new diagnosis, known as text neck, has been established to describe this condition (Cuéllar & Lanman, 2017). 

Muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be altered over time from postural malalignments and injuries.  The body adjusts its shape to compensate for how you move and don’t move on a daily basis multiplied by weeks, months, and years.  This action is called spinal remodeling, and can work positively to reshape yourself into correct position, and negatively, which is likely your current postural alignment. Spinal remodeling increases the risk for degenerative changes to occur in the spine over the lifespan (Pop, Mihancea, & Debucean, 2018; Stone et al., 2015). Similarly, adults can also develop pain and other musculoskeletal symptoms by maintaining poor posture when working at their desk or workstation for extended periods of time. For example, frequent computer users commonly experience pain in the cervical spine, shoulders, back, and wrist (Borhany, Shahid, Siddique, & Ali, 2018).

How does this affect you in these pandemic times?  People working from home are spending more time on their laptops and devices than ever before.  Work is stressful enough, and you may think that is the cause of your headaches.  Sitting with abnormal head and neck posture while using computers on a regular basis is also associated with higher incidences of headaches (Mingels, Dankaerts, van Etten, Thijs, & Granitzer, 2016).  Does this ring a bell for you? 

The more we rely on technology, the more we fall into these patterns I’m talking about.  The good news is you can overcome them without needing surgery and missing work in physical therapy.  An exercise prescription can be the best medicine, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than pills and potions!  Here are a few tips to help you deal with FHP:

Foam roll your upper back and shoulders (thoracic spine) 2-3 days per week.

Thoracic spine foam rolling

Stretch the muscles of your neck and trapezius by holding each stretch for 15-20 seconds in 1-2 rounds.

Stretching your neck muscles

Strengthen your scapula by practicing retraction movements.  Remodeling back into proper posture is not solely based on stretching.  Strengthening the corresponding weak muscles is critical.  Perform 2-3 sets of 15 reps with heavy enough weight that you can’t do more than the suggested reps.

Ball squat with scapular retraction

Whether you’re currently working out or not doesn’t matter to integrate these stretches and exercises into your lifestyle.  If you don’t belong to a gym, don’t worry about it.  Use what you have at home to do this simple routine.

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!