We’ve all seen those guys (and increasingly women) at the gym in the squat racks lifting several times their body weight.  They hold the bar behind their neck (back squat) or over their collarbone (front squat.)  It can be intimidating to watch this, and we might easily conclude “that’s not for me.”  But I’d like to convince you otherwise, based on my own experience. First, let’s look at the squat and why it is considered by most strength and conditioning coaches the most complete strength exercise.  For starters, it’s a multi-joint exercise involving at least the hip, knee, and ankle joints.  The squat also builds our balance and flexibility.  In total, you get more bang for your buck – the squat is efficient!  In addition, the involved muscles get a dose of concentric, isometric, and eccentric contractions.  And speaking of muscles all of the big ones in the lower extremity are engaged: quads, hamstrings, calves, front and back leg muscles, as well as those in the ankle and feet.  And the back gets a quality workout too, assuming good form and depending on the type of squat done. With this kind of payback, why do most runners avoid squats?  It’s … Continue reading

It’s a Stretch!

In our Biomechanics of Human Motion class, we’ve been looking at the topic of flexibility and range of motion – i.e., stretching.   I thought I knew a thing or two about this topic.  In reality, I knew a smidgeon.  Humbling! Let’s walk through what we’ve covered in class.  As with most biomechanics, it’s important to start with the micro and build up from there.  In describing this, I’ll draw heavily on Joseph Hamill’s book Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement, 4th edition, p. 116-118.   This text is an amazing compendium of everything biomechanical, from anatomy and physiology to muscular force production.  Not an ideal nighttime read, but after a good night’s sleep and with a strong cup of coffee, this book has plenty worth exploring. Hamill defines flexibility as “the terminal range of motion of a segment,” such as a hip or leg.  This is comprised of both active and passive elements.  For example, during the running stride, our hamstrings actively engage to pull our leg behind us and then passively engage as we reach the top of the range to terminate the forward “swing phase” in preparation for the quads to pull the leg down.   If we are inflexible, then … Continue reading

Eccentric Heel Dips – The Magic Elixir!

We runners have some predictable issues and injuries. Starting from the bottom the most prevalent are plantar fasciitis (PF), Achilles tendinitis, calf strains, sore knees, tight hamstrings, hip and groin strains, and lower back pain. If you’ve been running very long, you’ve probably had bouts with all of these. I certainly have! What to do? Could there be a one-size-fits-all solution to these multiple maladies up and down the kinetic chain? Well, no. But I have found one rather simple exercise that both directly and indirectly addresses these issues – eccentric heel dips. I think some of my clients consider me eccentric and obsessive when I impress upon them the importance of doing them – day in and day out. Perhaps they are right. Meanwhile I take my own medicine and perform them multiple times each day. Here’s the basic description: Stand on the edge of a stair or any kind of a riser that allows you to dip your heels to a comfortable stretch. Supported only by the front of your foot, allow your body weight to stretch the heel downward, allowing one foot to take the majority of the weight. When you hit bottom, and just after a … Continue reading