Focus on Health:
Getting Reacquainted With the Gym – Floor and Mat Exercises
By: Dr. Trina Ting
In this second part of our series Getting Reacquainted With the Gym, I’m going to discuss a few types of floor exercises and core strengthening options. The core refers to our abdominal muscles but also the smaller internal abdominal muscle, more specifically the transverse abdominus. This particular muscle is very important to stabilize the lower back, and it is the muscle we engage when we talk about pulling your belly button in. The traditional sit-up can actually compromise the transverse abdominus, and therefore the safety of the lower back. It is a myth that we all need to do a hundred situps to have a six-pack abdomen. The goal should be to minimize abdominal fat through a diet low in refined sugar and processed carbohydrates (sorry!) and to decrease the stress and toxins placed on our organs. Abdominal fat has actually been shown to produce toxic enzymes that may place more stress on our blood vessels and increase inflammation, which may then increase risk of conditions such as arthritis and heart disease. If we then do exercises to work the abdominal and torso muscles, we can have a strong centre of gravity to prevent injury and the back pain that often results from weaknesses there.
All you require for equipment is a regular gym mat, or a yoga mat. A gym mat is padded and great to offer cushioning and support. A yoga mat is much thinner, but has the bonus of being portable as you can roll it up and take it with you anywhere. There are companies that make foldable lightweight mats for when we travel. As for what exercises we do on the floor, it is important to strengthen the core muscles to improve overall balance, stability, and give you the ability to do daily tasks with better endurance. Some of the following options include:
Traditional Sit-up: As mentioned earlier, this can be particularly stressful on the lower back. Avoid if you have a recurring back problem. The best way to do a sit-up is to place your hands in the small of your back to maintain the slight curve in your low back, and to lift your upper shoulder blades gently off the floor. Keep in mind not to strain your neck, gently pull your belly button in, and do not hold your breath. Nothing below your shoulder blades should lift off the floor. One leg can be stretched out straight, and the other knee is bent with the foot flat on the floor. Switch legs halfway through your repetitions.
Reverse curls: There are various modifications of this so-called reverse sit-up, intended to focus on the lower abdomen, which is simply the lower part of the rectus abdominis muscles. I prefer this to the traditional situp as it protects the lower back. It is done by keeping the upper body stationary while the legs start curled up off the floor at 90 degrees, and the exercise is to extend the legs outwards. It is imperative you keep a stable abdominal brace while doing this exercise, but it can an effective and safe way to strengthen the abdomen.
Plank: One of my favourites to test core strength and stability. Ensure your arms and shoulders are safely positioned. If you are doing the regular or side plank, your elbows should be placed directly beneath your shoulders. Imagine a string in your belly button pulling your torso off the ground. Start by holding for 30 seconds; advanced positions hold for up to two minutes. A side plank involves propping your upper body and hips off the floor, stabilized by your shoulder on one side. Always ensure you are breathing the whole time.
Yoga: No longer a niche exercise, yoga is now mainstream and it is big business. There are many different types, from vinyasa to hatha, not to mention the Westernized “modern” versions. Yoga can be a safe and effective way to stretch and to also build overall strength. The beauty of yoga is that they involve mostly dynamic stretches, which means they are done with movement. This can be easier on the joints than a static stretch (done while still). Many yoga positions incorporate reverse curls and planks, so you get a full body workout. A proper studio that emphasizes the tradition of yoga and well qualified teachers is a good place to start. You may have to experiment to find the right style of yoga that works for you. And even if you don’t like the idea of yoga, it is worth taking a couple of classes to learn a few good stretches that you can incorporate into your regular exercise routine.
These are just a few of the most popular floor exercises. Keep in mind that 10-20 reps of these exercises are all that the average person needs. Again, it is not necessary to do 100 situps in a row; you may just injure yourself if you do. Some stretching for the upper and lower body is advised after a workout. Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.
How to Select Athletic Shoes
Too many people choose fashion over function when purchasing athletic shoes, not realizing that poor-fitting shoes can lead to pain throughout the body. Because footwear plays such an important role in the function of bones and joints—especially for runners and other athletes—choosing the right shoe can help prevent pain in your back, hips, knees, and feet.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the very best athletic shoe—every pair of feet is different, every shoe has different features, and overall comfort is a very personal decision. For this reason, it is recommended that you first determine your foot type: normal, flat, or high-arched.
The Normal Foot: Normal feet have a normal-sized arch and will leave a wet footprint that has a flare, but shows the forefoot and heel connected by a broad band. A normal foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls slightly inward to absorb shock.
Best shoes: Stability shoes with a slightly curved shape.
The Flat Foot: This type of foot has a low arch and leaves a print that looks like the whole sole of the foot. It usually indicates an over-pronated foot—one that strikes on the outside of the heel and rolls excessively inward (pronates). Over time, this can cause overuse injuries.
Best shoes: Motion-control shoes or high-stability shoes with firm midsoles. These shoes should be fairly resistant to twisting or bending. Stay away from highly cushioned, highly curved shoes, which lack stability features.
The High-Arched Foot: The high-arched foot leaves a print showing a very narrow band—or no band at all—between the forefoot and the heel. A curved, highly arched foot is generally supinated or under-pronated. Because the foot doesn’t pronate enough, usually it’s not an effective shock absorber.
Best shoes: Cushioned shoes with plenty of flexibility to encourage foot motion. Stay away from motion-control or stability shoes, which reduce foot mobility.
When determining your foot type, consult with your doctor of chiropractic. He or she can help determine your specific foot type, assess your gait, and then suggest the best shoe match.
Shoe Purchasing Tips – Consider the following tips before you purchase your next pair of athletic shoes:
- Match the shoe to the activity. Select a shoe specific for the sport in which you will participate. Running shoes are primarily made to absorb shock as the heel strikes the ground. In contrast, tennis shoes provide more side-to-side stability. Walking shoes allow the foot to roll and push off naturally during walking, and they usually have a fairly rigid arch, a well-cushioned sole, and a stiff heel support for stability.
- If possible, shop at a specialty store. It’s best to shop at a store that specializes in athletic shoes. Employees at these stores are often trained to recommend a shoe that best matches your foot type (shown above) and stride pattern.
- Shop late in the day. If possible, shop for shoes at the end of the day or after a workout when your feet are generally at their largest. Wear the type of socks you usually wear during exercise, and if you use orthotic devices for postural support, make sure you wear them when trying on shoes.
- Have your feet measured every time. It’s important to have the length and width of both feet measured every time you shop for shoes, since foot size often changes with age and most people have 1 foot that is larger than the other. Also, many podiatrists suggest that you measure your foot while standing in a weight bearing position because the foot elongates and flattens when you stand, affecting the measurement and the fit of the shoe.
- Make sure the shoe fits correctly. Choose shoes for their fit, not by the size you’ve worn in the past. The shoe should fit with an index finger’s width between the end of the shoe and the longest toe. The toe box should have adequate room and not feel tight. The heel of your foot should fit snugly against the back of the shoe without sliding up or down as you walk or run. If possible, keep the shoe on for 10 minutes to make sure it remains comfortable.
How Long Do Shoes Last?: Once you have purchased a pair of athletic shoes, don’t run them into the ground. While estimates vary as to when the best time to replace old shoes is, most experts agree that between 300 and 500 miles is optimal. In fact, most shoes should be replaced even before they begin to show signs of moderate wear. Once shoes show wear, especially in the cushioning layer called the midsole, they also begin to lose their shock absorption. Failure to replace worn shoes is a common cause of injuries like shin splints, heel spurs, and plantar fasciitis.
Recipe: Asparagus Spears
Recipe from: rachaelray.com
Serves 4, asparagus make a great side dish to a variety of meals!
- 1 bunch thin asparagus
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons shallot, minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large, deep skillet. Salt the water.
- Hold a spear of asparagus at each end. Snap and use the natural breaking point as guide to trim the spears. Reserve the stems for soup. Simmer the spears in salted water for 3 minutes, drain and cool.
- Wipe the pan dray and return to the stove over medium heat; melt the butter. When the butter foams, add the shallot and lemon zest. Stir for 1-2 minutes, then add the asparagus and heat through. Douse with the lemon juice and season with salt; serve.
Did you know?
In the late 1890s a British company called J.W. Foster and Sons developed some of the earliest known running shoes with spikes in them. The company’s founder, Joseph William Foster, had a passion for running and wanted to develop a shoe that would help increase his speed. The running spike was born.