Hi everyone! Just wanted to leave this short video right here so you can all get a little glimpse into what we do at my studio, Koa Fit. Enjoy!
We all know our feet are important. They are our foundation and help keep everything above them safe. But weak feet can lead to aches, pains, and injury. So, here are 6 exercises you can do using a rolled up yoga mat (I use a 1/2 roller in the videos). That’s it! That is all you need to help strengthen your feet and simultaneously improve your balance, strengthen your hips, and take stress off your spine.
With the days getting longer and the temperatures getting a bit warmer, Spring has invited to me to start walking more. I am a person who loves to stack things, so I have started walking to my weekly Yoga class. I have to leave only about 15 minutes earlier than I usually do, and I get a nice 25 min walk there and back through my local parks.
Last week, I walked to class and it was fairly pleasant outside, but after class, the temps had fallen a bit. I mention this because this lead me to put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. I noticed about 15 minutes into my walk that my mid-back was getting stiff and my neck and shoulders were a little achy. I tried to think about what we had done in class that would have caused this to happen. I thought “I just took a Yoga class. I should feel awesome!” when I realized my hands had been in my pockets this whole time.
With my hands tucked into my coat pockets, my arms were unable to swing in their natural movement.
No swinging = no natural rotation of the spine = pain in my mid-back and shoulders.
When we don’t swing our arms when walking, we lose the subtle rotation of the spine that needs to happen for proper movement. That rotational force needs to go somewhere, meaning we rotate too much at other places, including the low-back. In my case, not only was I putting extra force through my low-back, but my mid-back and neck were also bracing against the rotational force that should have been happening. Hence, the tight back and shoulders.
So the quick lesson of the day is Swing Your Arms! And make sure you are swinging them with a whole-body movement. None of this moving from the elbow BS (more on this later).
The world is a heavy place with a lot of responsibilities. You have responsibilities to your family, to yourself, to your work, not to mention simple responsibilities like taking out the trash and washing the car. It seems everyone right now is weighted down with this sense of responsibility. I normally add to those responsibilities with solutions of how to take better care of your body, but today, lets take a breather.
Today, I want you to approach your day with a little more play. This doesn’t mean you have to skip the office for the playground (but you should skip instead of walk), just add a sense of joy and lightness to your day. I will even make this post brief so you don’t have to be so adult and READ, you can just DO!
Here are just few easy ways to bring some play to your day-to-day:
- Play games – Busy at the supermarket? See if you can duck and dodge your way through the crowd without bumping into anyone!
- Notice what you like – The sky, the color of the car next to you, some ladies hat, the wagging tail of a dog. It doesn’t have to be a lot.
- Engage with strangers – When you lose the game in #1 and you bump a stranger, smile, laugh, make eye contact, or give them a compliment. You can do this with people you don’t bump into (and probably get better results) as well.
- Enjoy music – Sing or dance or just carry the tune in your head as you go about your daily errands. When you notice someone belting out Whitney Houston in the car next to you, don’t you smile and think that person is having the BEST time!
- Smile – Just cause.
- Move – Exercise is great, but as adults, we have even taken the fun out of that. Challenge yourself to skip, hop, crawl, chase (children and dogs are excellent playmates), instead of just going for a jog.
- Laugh – At how much we take ourselves seriously when we have absolutely no control over anything.
Have a happy day my friends! If you feel like it, let me know how you found play in the comments below! Also, let your friends know so they can start playing too!
The great debate – treadmill walking and running versus outside. Well, you can tell by the title, I have my own clear winner. But, if you are still reading past the headline, I bet you want to know more…you want to know the WHY.
In a nutshell, when you run or walk outside, the muscles of the leg have to propel you forward. When you run or walk on a treadmill, the muscles of your leg have to catch you as you fall forward. So even though it looks like the same exercise, they are actually two different exercises using different muscles.
When you are on a treadmill, the floor is moving under your feet. With each stride your body is hitting this moving surface and getting pushed into a forward motion. Your opposite leg then has to get out in front of you and hit the treadmill before you fall forward. So with each stride you are literally just catching yourself from falling instead of running forward.
Outside, the ground is stable, so your foot has to push against that stable surface and push you forward. For one, this takes a lot more strength and muscle activation to do than running on a treadmill so you will actually burn more calories and get a better workout. Secondly, and my favorite part, is that it is safer on your body. By pushing yourself forward, you are using your body the way it was designed to be used, as well as using all the muscles of the back of the leg to help counteract the effects from all your sitting time. Total win.
When we go around catching ourselves from falling instead of propelling ourselves forward, we put a lot of stress on our hip, knee, and ankle joints. Not to mention the load we put on our feet. This extra load leads to some of the most common aches and pains among runners – plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy, and runner’s knee just to mention a few. Where as running (correctly, more on that below) outside can actually help strengthen some of the most commonly weak postural muscles in the body.
So you are now convinced to take your run outside. Fantastic! Just a quick word…It is also possible to do the “fall and catch” outside as well. This usually occurs because the mobility in our hips and ankles restricts our body’s ability to move our legs in the appropriate way. So make sure you spend time opening up your hips (try these hip openers) and your calves. In fact, you can start right now with the exercise below!
I know I know. You are probably sick of me talking about the thoracic spine, but I can’t help myself. A few months back, I talked about the thoracic spine in my post “Exercises for a Tight Neck and Shoulders“. Today, I want to dive a little deeper and talk about the whole spine and the importance of movement and fluidity especially in the thoracic spine.
For an array of reasons, your spine needs to move fluidly. Proper movement in your spine not only allows you to move properly and avoid injury, but it also helps nourish the discs in your spine and move cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to and from your brain. Today, due to high levels of stress, constant sitting, and working on computers, our spines do not get a lot of chances to move forward, back, side-to-side, and in rotation. The place this shows up the most, is in the thoracic spine.
The thoracic spine is the the middle portion of your spine. The spine should move like a snake – flexible but strong. Imagine you are holding a snake (I know it’s gross, but it’s just pretend), if you hold onto the center of the snake, his head and tail are going to move like crazy! The same thing happens to your back. When we lose movement in our thoracic spines, our necks and low backs become hyper-mobile. This excess of movement puts huge forces on our vulnerable discs and vertebrae and can lead to muscle soreness, nerve pain, and bulging discs.
So, now that I have scared you into moving your spine (I am totally proud of that by the way), let’s give you something you can actually use to help yourself. Below you will find videos to move your thoracic spine in 3 different ways – flexion and extension, lateral movement, and rotation. Do the whole set or pick one from each movement and get your mid-back moving!
Thoracic Mobilization – Flexion/Extension
Thoracic Mobilization – Lateral Shift
Thoracic Mobilization – Rotation
The Squat – it is the epitome of a gym exercise, the king move amongst gym rats, the foundational move for all athletes. Anyone can do a squat. It should be a no-brainer, right? Sorry, not so fast.
When we were kids, squatting was a part of life (think of the kid in the diaper who you know is doing his business because of the squat position he is holding). As we get older and we spend more time sitting and working and trying to squeeze in a workout here or there, the tighter our hips become, the more our squat goes awry. Once our hips have become off-kilter, the squat work we were hoping would sculpt our hammy’s and glutes is actually putting pressure into our low back, knees, and other vulnerable joints.
Focusing on the position of your pelvis and hips during a squat, can not only help you get stronger in the areas your are trying to target, but it can also help you retrain your hips into a balanced position. Watch this short video and learn how to squat to help you balance your pelvis, remain injury-free, and get the most out of your squat.
This year, one of the things I wanted to do was try new things in the fitness world. I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio. I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.
So, I worked my way around local and online classes that I had always wanted to try. It was a fun year exploring the different class options that are around Boulder. Even if the class did not sit well with me, I always learned something, saw things from a different perspective, and, usually, I had fun.
Below is a quick summary of the experiences I had over the last year. What I loved and what I wouldn’t try again.
Outlaw Yoga – The best yoga class I have ever taken. I had the added benefit of doing it outside, on a beautiful, Colorado morning, with friends, but Mark still rocks no matter what setting you put him in. This class was fun, challenging, and Mark’s organization and cueing were spot on.
Boulder Movement Collective – My exposure to BMC and the movement training of Ido Portal has made a lasting influence on my own training. Fluidity and rhythm are now as much a part of my training as alignment, balance, and strength. It has been a fun and challenging year adding these new elements into my training and I continue to get into the BMC studio whenever I can.
Not My Favorite:
Yoga for Athletes – If you have read my reviews, this should not be such a surprise. I was deeply disappointed in this class. I thought I was walking into something that would focus on alignment and posture specifically for an athlete, instead I got an unorganized, very informal class on a cement floor.
- Pure Barre
- Orangetheory Fitness
- Mecha – Resistance
- Mecha – Hybrid: Core + HIIT
- F45 Training
Knee pain. It has happened to most of us. 1/3 of Americans will experience knee pain at some point in their lives. It is the 2nd most common cause of chronic pain and new reports show it is affecting more people each year. So, if you are experiencing a “twinge” or maybe a “tweak” in your knees, it is time to take some action before bigger issues occur.
The greatest cause of knee pain is, by far, poor body mechanics and poor mechanics are typically caused by a lack of mobility which leads to a lack of strength. For example, due to prolonged sitting, a lot of people experience a tightness in the front of their hips. This tightness in the front of the hips leads to decreased strength in the back of the leg (glutes and hamstrings), which decreases the support in the back of the knee. Without the support and strength in the back of the knee (posterior), force traveling through the knee joint is pushed into the front of the knee (anterior) and causes pain across the front of the kneecap (commonly called “Runner’s Knee”). This is not the only cause of knee soreness, but it is definitely one of the most common.
The knee joint is where the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) come together. All 4 muscles of the quadriceps come together to form the patellar tendon which starts at the top of the knee joint, adheres to the patella as it crosses the anterior (front) of the joint until in attaches at the tibia below. The patellar tendon lies within a grooved-out notch the allows you to bend and straighten your knee without irritation. A lot of knee pain is caused when the alignment of the patellar tendon and this specially made notch go out of whack.
The inside of your knees is referred to as the medial side and the outside of your knees is known as the lateral side. Imbalances between these two sides can cause the patellar tendon the shift towards the stronger side. For instance, if you have had an injury to your knee in the past, you may remember your therapist trying to get the inner-most muscle of the quadriceps to fire. This needs to be strong, so that your patella does not start to track to the lateral side of the knee joint and cause you more pain. If this imbalance continues, a person can start to feel tightness in the IT band and other soft tissue on the lateral side of the knee while also experiencing sharp pain on the medial side of the joint. The knee has to be balanced side-to-side (medial to lateral) to stay pain-free and happy.
Imbalances front-to-back (anterior to posterior) are the usual cause of pain in the first example of our Runner’s Knee. However, we also see in the example above, that imbalances medially to laterally can cause different, but equally annoying pain. The routine below starts with releases of the most commonly tight areas of the hip and lower limb that may cause imbalances at the knee joint. They are followed by exercises that strengthen the muscles that are commonly weak in people with knee pain. This routine will not help everyone with knee soreness, but if you have been experiencing sore knees after activity or “tweaks” and “twinges”, this is a great place to start. Even if you have not had knee pain, this routine will help your knees stay happy, healthy and pain-free.
This year, one of the things I want to do is try new things in the fitness world. I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio. I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.
So I have committed to trying something new each month and to write a review about it. By no means do I pretend that these are objective reviews. Think of this as more my opinion as a fitness expert (it does say opinionated fitness guru in the title). Also, there may be things I don’t like that you do. I am not here to debate, just stating my thoughts because my name is in the url.
Gaia.com – Yearly Subscription
I know I know, it is December and I am just writing my November review. Well, I have a really good excuse…November is my birthday month, so I am off the hook.
This review is also a little different as I am reviewing something I have been working on over the course of the year, not just in the last month. In January of this year, I decided I wanted to incorporate yoga into my regular exercise routine. I enjoyed not only the movement, but also the focus on connecting the mind and body. I am no Yogi and there is no way I could come up with a any kind of flow on my own, so I needed some guidance. The limiting factor for me was finding classes that worked with my schedule. It was hard to find so I signed up for a year with Gaia.com.
Gaia.com offers online yoga classes that you can stream from your computer anytime. You can choose the duration, the body part you want to focus on, the instructor, the type of yoga you want to do, and more. They have classes that are 2 hours long and classes that last only 25 minutes. This flexibility in the length of classes enabled me to squeeze in 30 minutes of yoga a couple mornings a week instead of committing to the 1.5+ hours it takes to go to a live class. This allowed me to take class more consistently and to easily fit into my routine.
I also enjoyed being able to chose the body part I wanted to focus on. After a bike ride, I would choose one of the yin classes that focused on hip openers. In the morning, I would choose a vinyasa that focused on opening the chest and shoulders. In the evening, I could choose something that focused on the spine. This allowed me to personalize my yoga practice and tailor it to what I needed.
I have done more yoga (both live and online) this year than in any year previous. The ability for me to have the option to practice on my own was a game changer. Being more regular in my yoga practice not only helped improve the overall strength and flexibility in my body, but also gave me more confidence and a better understanding when going to live classes at a studio. I also “got in the groove” by practicing regularly. Meaning that if I didn’t do it for a while, I noticed, my body noticed, and I would fire up a class ASAP.
Gaia.com is less than $100 for the whole year and great intro to a consistent yoga practice if you have no idea where to start. They have 1,000s of classes to choose from and also provide articles, special series, and even films and documentaries. There are free yoga websites out there to try, I just happened to choose this one. Below, I have listed a few of my favorites on Gaia.com if you are looking to increase your yoga practice.
Instructors: Bernie Clark and Clara Roberts
Episodes: Happy Yin Happy Hips, Surya Morning Flow, Deep Release Yin Yoga
Pros: Affordable, flexible, and easy. Also, you can do yoga in your jammies if you really want because you are the only one in class.
Cons: Nothing beats a live instructor and the accountability a class provides.