By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
January 31, 2016
As my date with destiny (a.k.a. Ragnar Del Sol) moves ever so close, I sometimes wonder about how far I have come. While I am still losing weight at a slow rate and trying to tone my body for the sake of getting rid of my excess fat, I have come to a bit of peace with those two aspects of my life. While I still get a little angry they are reducing at such a slow rate, I still have to be patient in my endeavor. What I really meant to say is how far my feet and my legs have come along this near four year journey of mine.
As far back as I could remember, there has always been something up with my feet or my legs. Of course, the biggest reason for all my troubles was the weight problems, but even before those days, I was always doing something to injure myself. I don’t remember when I hurt my ankle for the first time, whether it was a twist or a sprain or whatever. All I remember was it always seemed to happen playing basketball, which is why I don’t play it too much anymore. I think the fear has consumed me a bit, mainly because I seem to keep messing up my ankle from time to time on something as benign as a rock or a small abscess in the ground, mostly likely from a stupid prairie dog that somehow dug a hole that I was unable to see until I was right on top of it. Anyway, I can really remember all of the worst ankle injuries. I once felt like I broke my ankle in seventh grade, actually needing some crutches because I had sprained it so badly and could barely walk. There was more than a couple instances in high school where this happened, most notably my sophomore year where I somehow had to traverse the full halls of Salpointe Catholic with a pair of crutches….and people were not really forthcoming about getting out of the way or being stuck behind me (the downside of not being popular…people won’t put up with you for very long). That injury actually changed a lot for me that summer, for I didn’t get that chance I needed to make the basketball team and I ended up sticking with writing instead. Some days I believe I had actually had a small stress fracture in the ankle, for I kept reinjuring it that summer and it became a rather huge nuisance for me. Maybe I am exaggerating, but it sure didn’t feel like a really bad sprain, like it had been explained to me. Granted, working with your father on various job sites can be treacherous to all sorts of body parts, that was the only time in my life where I had an ankle injury that just wouldn’t go away.
It was kind of funny how in December of 2011, I should have had an epiphany in respect to my weight problem. I had badly hurt my ankle and then found out I had gained some 30 pounds six months, and it was clear my problem wasn’t stopping there. I remember the nurse at the old Kino Hospital telling me I need to lose weight and get my life in order (at least her sneering face said that to me). Well, I kind of blew her words off due to the fact I could smell the slight hint of tobacco in her scrubs. Having been around my father’s smoking for years and been exposed to smokers quite a bit, I brushed aside her hypocrisy and continued to believe I could change on my own. Well, that didn’t happen, for I kind of turned into a binging monster and was probably consuming up to 5,000 calories a day, maybe even 6,000 if the food was greasy enough. Either way, my feet have always been something of a sour spot in my life. They have always provided some issues that needed fixing. I have to say I disappoint myself in this respect, mainly because could have saved a lot of issues for myself down the line if I had just stayed healthy. Anyway, last year, I started a very intense self regimen where I worked on correcting my outward pointing right foot. I never really noticed how much it affected my running and just the wear patterns on my shoes. Not only did I start feeling better, I started getting better times and being able to last longer on the trails. A year later, I am much better, but I am still getting residual problems from my poor ankles due to the problems I run into at work.
I’ve mentioned a lot of times just how tough my job can be on my body. I suffered bad blisters on my feet during the Christmas season, which knocked me out for a month and pretty much derailed my goal for 800 miles running in a calendar year. And even though I am better, I am still running into floor impact problems. When I work the loading bay trucks, it is a nightmare on the feet. Uneven surfaces, small spaces and step stools that have multiple slippery spots on them. I have had to start complaining about them to my supervisors, mainly because I nearly fell off five times. And this the difference between myself now and myself four years ago. Each and every time, I was able to re-adjust my balance and not fall, whether I used the non-slipping foot to compensate or I used my overall balance to right my position. All instances resulted in me not even falling off the darn stool, but let me tell you, it would have hurt if I had. One time I did fall off, I caused my entire body to lose alignment…just from a three foot drop! As I try to run some longer distances these days, I’m starting to think more about my balance and my foot health. This past week, I managed to bang out a 9.45-mile run and did it in the middle of the day. Of course, that turned out to be my only run of the week, which angered me due to some other issues that cropped up during the week. On the other hand, I never felt sore or overly worked due to that run, which is a good thing since I am trying harder to make sure my running continues to move forward.
Now a really good thing that happened to me this past week was the fact I had some one-on-one training with Parsons Training newest trainer, Hannah Farley. Since I knew I was going to be running a long distance on Wednesday, I asked her if we could focus on some balance exercise for my Thursday session. The previous week proved to be quite an eye opener for me. as I was being assessed and looked at, I really came to see just how poor my balance has been these days. While I did a little better without shoes on, I still struggled to really get anything going in my favor. I was wobbly and out of sorts, and for the most part, I felt a little embarrassed by the occurrence. I could go on and on about the anger toward myself, but rather than avoid the problem, I basically decided to take it on. Fortunately for me, Hannah was quite knowledgeable in regards balancing and the maintenance of such due to her days as a track athlete at Stanford.
Now it important to know that balance is not just something you can use your entire body to utilize (okay, you can, but you know where I am going with this). In order to make yourself good on your feet, you have to strengthen not just the larger muscles like the quadriceps, calves and ankles, you also have to worry about the dozens of other smaller muscles. Now the biggest problems for me always seem to exist on the outer part of my leg. A long time ago, I started doing regular work on my IT bands, which were the central reason why I would feel a burning tightness along the outer edge of my leg. But there is still some issues in the lower portion of the leg, closer to the ankle. Now from looking at a diagram of the extensive muscle groups in my leg, I have to believe my problems lies in a couple spots: the soleus, the fibularis brevis and the inferior and superior extensor retinaculums. Now I am now doctor and have not officially diagnosed myself, but this feel like the most logical collection of muscles that are giving me the trouble. I routinely lose integrity when my feet are on the ground, regardless of how rigid my body is. Now this could also mean my ankles and my toes are to blame, but I certainly feel the lack of rigidity coming from the areas on the diagram. I often times have trouble just getting my foot down and planting. NowI mention the soleus and the fubularis brevis due to an observation from Hannah during out workout on Thursday. One of the exercises she had me do was using an elastic arm band and turning my body while standing on one foot, keeping it steady the whole time. She remarked about how the muscles were bulging and desperately trying to maintain balance, which I did okay except for one instance where I lost my balance (which was predictably on my weaker left foot). Now, thesis is something I certainly want to work on, for the stronger these smaller muscles are, the better recovery I can have when it comes to running. Let’s face it, I want to get better, and the only only way around this issue is to make them stronger and more useful.
Now, the exercise Hannah had me do is just one example of what I can do try and fix the problem. I did a little work on the Bosus, which gave me a nice opportunity to see if I had lost much balance along the way. I did pretty well, maintaining okay balance along the way. There are some baseline tests you can do in order to see just where you are in regards to your ankle and leg muscle strength. The most popular one seems to be whether you can press you big toe down while lifting the other toes up. If you can’t this means you have some serious problems and need to start working on the ankle right away (as for me, I can do it). Another good one is whether or not you can bend your butt down to your ankles when you have your feet side by side. If you cannot do this without losing your balance then there is certainly a major stiffness in your ankles. Now there are plenty of exercises you can do to make your ankles and small leg muscles stronger. the most popular I saw was simply doing a toe stand in your bare feet, and subsequently doing a descent with your feet as well. Another good one, which may be frustrating as heck for anyone, is learning how to pick up stuff between your toes. Now this is the stuff of patience, for you must pick up a pice of cloth between you toes and lift it up. If you can do this exercise between all of your toes, the apparently you are doing much better with your feet than most people. There were some other simple exercises as well, like walking around on your toes for roughly 20 seconds and learning how to pick up a pencil with your bare foot. You can also do active tow curling, which is probably a good start for anyone that might a longer road t deal with in regards to their journey.
There are still plenty more things you can do, like get a Bosu training half-ball and start doing various exercises on it. Whatever you do, don’t do what I did and wait forever in regards trying to fix some of these problems. You’re body will thank you when you can get around and not have to worry about something on your foot hurting.
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Parsons Training is a Tucson leader in fitness and personal wellness training. Every personal trainer with this company designs and implements effective fitness programs for their clients; these programs serve as the foundation for good health, fitness, and wellness. Additional information about Parsons Training is available at http://www.parsonspersonaltraining.com
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.