She was referred in by one of my long-time athletes.
An active triathlete (albeit much less so these days due to all the pain and injuries that were cropping up), she had heard enough about my coaching and the positive results folks she knew were getting, and wanted to check it out for herself.
What could it hurt right?
She’d tried everything else – massage, orthotics, changes in running shoes, in bike fit, in running style, in race distance – and still her feet and knees were hurting her. It had gotten to the point that she was in real pain & she was concerned about her future in participating in endurance events.
Maybe you’re not into endurance stuff, but if you’ve ever had pain bad enough that it starts preventing you from doing the activities you love, then you can relate to what she was experiencing.
So that August, we met for the first time so I could learn about her issues, evaluate her movement quality – and we both were hoping – have something I could recommend she do to address her issues. Like with anyone I consult with, I let her know I make no promises about anything, but I was willing to investigate and make any recommendations about areas for opportunity that stood out to me.
After I got her history, I watched her move through a variety of movement-quality assessments I do with clients to get an idea of the way things are currently working in their body, where they might not be moving so well, and how that may or may not fit into the picture of why this
particular individual isn’t feeling great.
She was in orthotics when she came to see me. I made it my mission to get her strong and durable enough that she wouldn’t need them anymore. She was open to the idea but didn’t have full faith that it would happen.
“It’s ok,” I said, “maybe we won’t get you out of them, but who knows maybe we will?”
Assessing The Situation
When we began working together, her foot and lower leg had opportunities for improving the movement quality of those areas. I had asked her to do a variety of movements and it was clear that the foot, ankle, and lower leg weren’t moving with and supporting her as well as they could have been.
For someone who wants to be able to run, having a foot and ankle that works well is ideal.
Her torso didn’t express excellent stability or mobility when we challenged it to see how those muscles functioned. When you ride a bike, go for a run, or take a swim, your pelvis needs to hold up specific positions, and when your pelvis and its muscles can’t hold those position, it’s possible to create compensations with other muscles and joints.
We also found that she had room to improve her ability to extend her hips using her glute muscles. When the glutes aren’t functional and strong, oftentimes the low back will jump in to help extend the hip. The spine isn’t built for being the sole driver of hip extension, and so we added this to our list of areas of opportunity.
As we talked at the end of the assessment, we agreed that we wanted to re-build the way she moved to be as efficient and strong as possible – and to make it automatic. We wanted her to be able to be out for a bike ride, or a run, and not have to think about how she was going to move her foot or her torso, or wonder if she was moving as efficiently as possible.
So we got to work.
Grooving New Paths: A Progress Timeline
I taught her mobility work that she was to do daily to start changing her areas where her movement was restricted. I gave her twice weekly strength workouts that, first, got her brain connected to her body again.
It sounds silly, “connecting the brain to the body again”…wouldn’t her brain always be connected to her body?
Of course her brain isn’t detached, sitting in some glass jar on the mad scientists’ counter, but if we put her body into a position where she needed to focus muscle activity to one section of muscles, she couldn’t do it.
And so we worked to improve her neural drive.
The feeling is akin to that of trying to learn to dance. You watch the instructor moving, flowing, their hips going one way while their torso goes another. You see it clear as day. Your brain takes it in. But initially, you try to find that same movement pattern in your body and it’s like you’re speaking an entirely different language than that of your body. You see it, you *get* it, but you can’t make it happen.
You’ve got to lay down neural pathways that make your brain move your muscles in a certain fashion.
There are a few reasons why you might not have strong, solid, controlled, neural drive currently:
- You got injured at some point and you created a compensatory movement pattern to adjust. That movement pattern, while it ‘worked’ as a band-aid, doesn’t help you have fluid, non-compensatory, movement later on.
- You do a repetitive motion sport and aren’t doing enough movement in other directions, planes, and ranges, and styles.
- You live in the 21st century, where life is just not built for optimal human movement, unless you proactively build it in.
Slow & Steady Wins The Race
Armed with her foundational strength and mobility work, my new client got to work. She was a diligent client with her check-ins, which I always save to look back on and use for future programming. Here are a few of them as we dove into building the movement quality of her body:
8/21/13 – (one week into mobility and strength programming) Tried to run/walk this a.m. Surprisingly the body parts feel pretty good. Running – which I haven’t done in 2+ months – felt OK…something new and different on my body. But the parts that previously hurt while running – didn’t. Just need to remember to ease into it…
9/13/13 – Really been sticking with 1 min walk,1 min run – but have gotten up to 3 minutes of running for about 45 minutes total time. My right foot began to hurt so I’d walk a longer interval. Anyway… I got home and finished up my exercises and my foot was really sore.
(Remember, we’d started in August. Running was a major issue when we started. Lots of pain, so we discussed giving it a short rest, then when she returned to trying running, to do a walk/run interval…leaning towards more walking than running.)
12/23/13 – Running is getting better – gradual – but all good. No pain or swelling in the feet afterwards.
4/22/14 – Had an ah-ha moment tonight while riding my bike. Really haven’t ridden a lot this winter – but riding against the wind pulling some other riders for a good 35 miles – felt great. The weights are paying off!!
5/24/14 – Thanks for a good session today. Always love to learn more to get the body in balance. I appreciate your insights. Glad I got that hip thrust PR today!
(this session in particular made my day…she’d been really nervous about pushing up the weights on her strength training and in our session I just kept adding weight to the bar with small, random-looking assortment of plates so while I knew how much weight was on the bar, she would likely not be able to add it up so quickly. After she hip thrusted the new PR weight I’d loaded the bar with, I told her how much was on it and her face was priceless. A mixture of smile and ‘woah, I just did that!’ And she didn’t look back. Her weights started steadily increasing on her lifts)
6/29/14 – Did a local triathlon…not sure how I would feel, but did well! Also…I signed up for a half ironman in October.
(I love the confidence having a strong body gives a person!)
8/15/14 – Running without orthotics. no issues. WOO HOO!!
(I had a feeling we’d get there, or I’d die trying to get us there)
9/7/14 – I’m feel good sooooo I’m signing up for Ironman Madison in 2015.
(HELL. YES. Talk about progress in one year’s time)
When we improve the joints and tissues of your body, when we improve the movement quality, when we build a solid foundation from which to grow further strength and fitness from, good things come.
When we build our foundational strength and mobility, we build up our bodies to become unbreakable.
Those ‘good things’ may include being able to cross bucket list items like triathlons or marathons off your list.
They might also include feeling free enough to go play in that rec soccer league because you no longer worry about your hips or back killing you for days after.
You could wake up in the morning and think of a million other things now that you don’t have to think about the ache you woke up with in your feet.
You could stop spending money on external support aids, like orthotics.
You’ll have the mobility and strength you need to live the life you want, free of aches and pains.
What It All Comes Down To
Everything is better when you’re stronger. Everything is better when have more usable mobility. Everything is better when you’re more connected to your body.
The way I approach this with my clients is by establishing their current capabilities in each of the Six Pillars, then guiding them on the path to improve the mobility, control, and strength, of each of the Pillars – in however much of each they need for the life they want to lead.
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