Tag Archives: balance

Proprioception: Become A Better Runner

Proprioception is a big scientific word but learning to love it it can help you become a better runner.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Proprioception (n) as ‘the reception of stimuli produced within the organism’.  Dictionary.com give a slightly more friendly definition: perception governed by proprioceptors, as awareness of the position of one’s body.  Proprioceptors are sensors in all of our muscles and tendons that help control balance.  That second definition makes it pretty easy to see how improving our proprioception could help our running performance.  Better balance means after steps and the more aware we are of what, how and when our body is doing something, the more efficient we can become at responding to it.

Have you ever had an ankle injury?  Exercises to improve proprioception were probably part of your rehab plan.  Why?  Exercising the proprioceptors helps strengthen ankles and feet.  You never know what you’ll come across when you’re running, especially on trails and once we’re injured, the damaged proprioceptors have trouble functioning properly.  Failing to reteach them to work correctly can ultimately lead to more injuries on the same joint and new injuries on rocky, uneven or unpredictable terrain.  Unfortunately, injuries aren’t the only thing that gets in the way of hardworking proprioceptors.  Wearing shoes all the time takes our feet away from the ground, dulls our senses and makes us visually dominant.  Waiting for our eyes to see something and tell our brain what to do is a very slow process compared to an immediate response from the correct muscles.  A better response means better balance.

To test your proprioception, stand on one foot and close your eyes.  If you immediately start to wobble and put your other foot on the ground, it’s time to go to work.  Here are exercises to proprioceptionadd to your daily routine that will build better balance, improve proprioception and help you become a better runner.

Go barefoot as often as possible.  Take a few minutes each day to work on single leg balance exercises, progressing to do them with your eyes closed.  Eventually, add a balance board or a few BOSU balls.  Both are great additions to any workout collection.  The unstable surfaces challenge your body to respond quickly to what’s happening under your feet and are good tools for strengthening feet and ankles.  Once you can stay still for a period of time, try closing your eyes.  Eventually you can add ball tossing and other upper body exercises to the challenge.

Start practicing your proprioception today to feel stronger and safer on any running surface.

Coach Meredith

Strong Feet are Stable Feet

Your feet do lots of work every time you take a step.  Strong feet provide a strong base for every landing and takeoff your leg will need when you walk, jog, run, sprint or skip.  The 33 joints, more than 100 ligaments and 26 bones in each foot help you balance, engage your core and maintain strong feetproper posture.  But strong feet aren’t everything.  They’re not much good if the ankles they’re attached to aren’t strong, too.  Increasing the strength and stability in your feet and ankles will make you a better athlete regardless of your chose sport.  Here are three ways you can start working towards strong feet and ankles today.

Take your shoes off and practice standing on one foot.  Work until you can get to at least a minute without a wobble then try it with your eyes closed.  Practice keeping your big toe flat and foot long to exercise the foot’s muscles.  This will help develop balance and the strength of the tendons and ligaments that support your ankle as well.  You might be surprised how hard this is on your first try but it can quickly improve with a little work.

Spend as much time as possible barefoot and in flat shoes.  This will not only help you earn strong feet but improve balance and running efficiency.  Wearing a thick sole between the foot and the strong feetground prevents you from feeling what’s going on beneath your step.  This ends up making us all very visually dominant for feedback on what’s happening on the ground and that is a very slow process.  By not wearing shoes to earn strong feet you can increase your foot’s ability to respond to the ground it touches, even with a shoe on, making balance better and helping protect you from potential injuries.

Strong feet need to be taken care of, too.  Rolling the muscles of your feet on a golf ball, lacrosse ball, Trigger Point set or softball can keep them soft, flexible and relaxed.  After a hard foot workout of barefoot jump roping, sand running or balance work, massage allows blood and oxygen to start helping muscles get stronger by healing.  Remember that each step you take starts at your foot and rolls up through the rest of your body.  Taking good care of your feet can help keep all of your other muscles happy, too.

Start trying to stand on one foot while you brush your teeth and the other while you brush your hair, work on not wearing shoes at home and give them a little extra care each night to have strong feet that can carry you anywhere.

Coach Meredith

Maintaining Healthy Bones

Bones serve lots of purposes.  They provide support for our entire body, protection to our organs, and storage space for minerals.  Keeping them healthy is an important part of everyone’s life, especially as we get older.  Our bodies go through several stages of bone and muscle development throughout our lifetime.  From 18-24 bones are their strongest and most dense, from 25 to 35 our muscles are they strongest they’re going to get, at 35 we tend to lose half a pound of muscle and gain one and a half pounds of fat per year, and when we reach our sixties, we lose strength by 20 to 40 % every ten years.  Menopause, with its loss of hormones, can increase the rate of bone density loss, and around that same age, both men and women’s bodies become less efficient at absorbing calcium for bone production.  Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help your bones stay strong for your entire lifetime.

Weight bearing exercise can help keep bones dense, and even increase bone density over time.  Lifting weights, walking, water aerobics, and even running can cause positive adaptations in joints, strengthening and prolonging their pain free lifetimes.  After you exercise your bones, stretching major muscle groups is important for many reasons, one of which is that stretching can keep ligaments, tendons, and muscles at their proper lengths.  Stretching also maintains joint flexibility and helps lead to a lower risk of injury.

While you’re exercising and stretching you also want to avoid food that’s bad for your bones.  Artificial sweeteners, soda, alcohol and table salt are all bad bones culprits because they bring the pH of blood down.  These acidic foods alter the pH to a point at which your body uses calcium from bones to neutralize their effects, instead of using that calcium to build new bone cells.  Smoking is another bad for bones activity for many reasons.  Smokers have been shown to recover more slowly than non-smokers from ligament surgeries, produce bones more slowly, and have weaker spinal ligaments (low back pain).  It’s also important that we drink in moderation.  Increase alcohol consumption alters your balance and can lead to bone breaking falls, not to mention the bone crushing possibility of car accidents.

The ability to properly manage stress will help your bones stay strong, too.  Cortisol regulates blood pressure and inflammatory responses; it also heightens memory functions and lowers sensitivity to pain.  As a result of cortisol being released at times of stress and chronic stress can raise cortisol levels in your blood, extended periods of stress ultimately result in weakened bone matrices. Combat this by having quality stress management strategies and eating vitamin and mineral rich foods such as milk, eggs, sardines, salmon, spinach, orange juice, and tuna.

One more way to protect our bones, especially as we age, is to work on our balance.  Better balance will make us less likely to fall, a major source of broken bones in older people.  Practicing standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or making dinner are great ways to keep your balance in top shape because they force the body to be keenly aware of what’s going on around it.

For more information on a program to help your bones stay strong, contact us at Info@FitNicePT.com!

Benefits of Stretching

There are three major components that measure fitness: cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility.  Flexibility is often the most overlooked and undervalued.  It is defined as the range of motion in a joint and the length of the muscles that cross the given joint.  While it varies greatly from person to person, the importance of including stretching in your fitness routine is undeniable.  Stretching should be done after your body is warm in order to prevent injury to cold muscles, and for the same reason, bouncing stretches should be avoided.  Add a little stretching at the beginning of a workout, a few minutes after, and you’ll see improvement in several fitness related areas.  Here are three great reasons to take the last five minutes of your workout to stretch:

1)  Stretching increases flexibility and better flexibility makes you less susceptible to strains, sprains, tears and pulls.

2)  Stretching increases blood flow to the muscle.  More blood and nutrients getting to the muscles aides with repair and cleaning out of any lactic acid build-up, which helps prevent soreness, and that’s always good news.

3)  Improve balance and posture by relieving tension in back muscles and releasing stress.  Having a larger range of motion allows your body to maintain its natural and proper alignment with less effort, helping to prevent falls and keep you sitting up straight.

So, whether you can touch your toes or not, give it a try.  Hold each stretch steady for 30 seconds, and remember not to bounce.  Stretch each and every time you work out to have fewer injuries, less soreness and better posture before you know it.