Some of the brain’s most important sensory input comes from our feet (as well as many other joints, our skin and our vestibular systems but for today we’re focusing on our feet). When the joints of our feet get jammed (from wearing the wrong shoe, having unstable arches or any number of other issues) the information flow from our surroundings to our bodies to our brains (and from our brains to our bodies in response) gets jammed. It’s like we’re stuck in traffic and the brain looks for whatever detour it can take to make movement happen. Survival is the brain’s top priority. It will always try and find strength wherever it can to produce the movement you are requesting of it and it’s not always pretty. Until we unjam these joints and free up that highway we’re stuck with poor movement that can lead to pain, injury and less than optimal performance.
I’m fortunate enough to work with some of the smartest, most educated and all around fantastic trainers in the world at Equinox in downtown San Francisco. Among them is Morgan McEvilly, a T3+ Trainer and Certified Yoga Instructor (RYT 200) who is an avid learner and educator. Among her areas of study is Z-Health, a fitness system that reshapes the way you train by focusing on and improving the connection between the brain and body. Click here for more information about Z-Health. (Side note: I’m stokked to take the initial Z-Health R-Phase Certification in January!)
So what’s the big deal? Well, I have tight hamstrings. Those mother &@^#%$ cause me all kinds of problems. They can limit my mobility, can pull on my lower back and just generally can be a pain. I work on them through SMR/foam rolling. I do static, dynamic and PNF stretching. I do yoga every week (ok, honestly not every week but most weeks). And still they feel tight. So I asked Morgan if maybe there was something else we could do to help. That’s when she started working on my feet and putting me through a few simple ankle drills.
Check it out. First we warmed up my hamstrings by doing a few toe touches. And once I felt warmed up we did an initial assessment. Here it is (Yeah, I know... Sexy sweatpants. eh?):
And then we did a basic ankle drill (a toe pull to be exact) to see if it could help unjam some key joints in my foot (caveat: there are many ankle drills to try, we just tried this one to start):
And then we reassessed. I see a visible improvement and I can tell you, it felt a lot better after the ankle drill. My entire leg felt more mobile and stable and that translated to easier movement through my hamstring and less tugging on my lower back.
So WTF just happened? That’s what I asked the lovely Morgan to explain. Here is her answer. (And now you know why she’s so amazing!).
The toe touch is just one example or assessment of how this practice can improve performance. Unjamming your highway through your feet (as well as other key joints such as your wrists, knees, hips, etc) can impact so many other areas of movement, from shoulder mobility to heavy back squats. When your brain and your body are in synch better movement across the board can be possible.
More to come in January after I get my Z-Health R-Phase Certification. In the meantime, if you’re hungry for more information about movement and mobility check out the resources below.