Do You Walk Like a Duck?

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If you're reading this on your lunch break, take a minute to look up and watch people's feet as they walk by. It's safe to say a fair amount walk with their feet angled out (hint: they should be straight).

You and Your Feet

 Photo by  Imani Clovis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Imani Clovis on Unsplash

The foot is most stable when it is straight. When your feet are turned out, the integrity of your foot's arch is not being maintained. As you stress out the plantar fascia, which is the flat connective tissues (ligaments) that connects the heel bone to your toes, the transverse and longitude arch will collapse without external rotation. For example, when you sprain your ankle, the ligament gets loose which is a common way you end up with foot collapse.

It is important to keep your feet pointing forward when you're walking. If turned out, the knee and ankle will always be open and the hip will be unstable. Instability will lead to hip, knee, ankle issues or even skeletal problems like bunions or chronic knee and/or back pain.

Hips or Feet?

Is the root of the issue coming from your hips or feet being turned out? A simple test can be performed by looking at your legs:

  1. On a flat surface, lay on your back.
  2. Look at your knees. (really, that's it!)

Do your knees rotate out along with your feet? If so, the problem is coming from your hips.

Do your knees stay pointing up, but your feet rotate out? It is likely something below your knee. Possibilities include tight calves or an issue with your anterior tibialis (the muscle next to your shin).

The Good News

The good news is that you can fix muscular imbalances. Oftentimes when I assess someone with a toe out gait, their issue isn't their feet but their hips! Poor Posture and a lot of sitting can create an anterior pelvic tilt that sends your glutes and core into a deep sleep. This forces other muscles to pick up the slack, mainly your hip's external rotators. When those overworked muscles get too tight, they start to pull your leg outward. As a result, your feet turn out. 

The most common way doctors choose to remedy this problem is with the use of orthotics. This works because each time you walk, your feet aren't neutral, which means you're losing the arch in your foot and moving through a less than stable position which the orthotic is now doing for you. The orthotic artificially keeps your foot straight but like any good pair of sneakers, eventually they wear down and you need to purchase another. I'll let you in on a secret: Orthotics aren't cheap ($$$). 

Here are some examples: 
Have you ever sprained or broken your ankle?
Have you ever worn a cast or prolonged use of ankle wraps and/or athletic tape then seen the aftermath of what rigid supports do to your joints in the ankle/foot? 
Do you wear high heels daily?
Do you ALWAYS need to use weightlifting shoes to squat?

Rigid supports make them weak and atrophy; this making you MORE prone to foot and ankle problems. 

Practice standing, walking, and running with neutral feet.  Practice people watching in public places and see who walks/runs neutral and who has a movement faults.  If you can spot the error in others than you will be more cognizant of your own movements.

Organizing neutral feet is easier if you are in a braced position as well.

The simple four step activation process to achieve neutral spine position (good posture) is the following:

1)  Engage your glutes (pelvis rotates posteriorly)
2)  Engage your abs (ribs rotate downward)
3)  Move your shoulders back and down (palms should be touching the side of your legs with thumbs pointing forward)
4)  Tuck you chin backwards (like a turtle retracting its head back into the shell or double-chin)

Steps to Improve Gait

1) Improve Soft tissue quality

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  • Internal hip rotators: TFL, glute medius, glute minimus
  • Calves
  • Soleus
  • Peroneal complex
  • Plantar muscles

2) Work on static positioning

  • Improve general glute strength (glute bridges, single leg stance, clamshells)
  • Strength in plantar muscles
  • Strengthen dorsiflexors (mainly the anterior tibialis, shin muscle)

3) Begin Mobilizing and Incorporating gait patterning

  • Seated 90/90 mobilizations
  • Split stance kneeling adductor MOBS
  • Wall march iso holds
  • Bowler Squats
  • Single leg RDL

 

Carpal Tunnel Vision

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Every year, over three million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are reported in the United States (Mayo Clinic). True CTS results from irritation or inflammation of the median nerve as it passes through the tunnel in your wrist. This tunnel is a narrow passageway of ligaments and bones at the base of your hand. Pressure can build up in this tunnel, resulting in numbness or tingling in the hand. Continued strain can lead to severe pain in your wrist, making work and daily activities uncomfortable to accomplish.

However, symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and wrist pain are oftentimes resulting from musculoskeletal dysfunction (meaning: tight muscles), and not true CTS.

Sometimes, thickening from the lining of irritated tendons or other swelling narrows the tunnel and causes the median nerve to be compressed.  The result may be numbness, weakness, or sometimes pain in the hand and wrist, or occasionally in the forearm and arm.  CTS is the most common and widely known of the entrapment neuropathies, in which one of the body’s peripheral nerves is pressed upon.

Many cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are misdiagnosed for several reasons. One, we still don't truly understand the causes of Carpal Tunnel. It does however seem to be very related to overuse and correcting our daily movement has shown significant improvement. Another common reason is due to the median nerve itself. The median nerve starts in your spinal cord, comes out through your neck, and roots out from nearby vertebrae, before running down to your fingers. And because it crosses numerous muscles on the way, there are multiple factors that can cause CTS-like symptoms e.g. a tight muscle in your shoulder or neck can cause "tingling" in the fingers, but it isn't necessarily CTS. Lastly, it is commonly misdiagnosed because most doctors don't understand soft tissue related dysfunction and will often diagnose Tendonitis, which is code for "I don't know what it is, so just rest and I'm sure it'll feel better". Or they lean on reactive health care like injections and surgery as it's easier to diagnose and make a quick buck. 

Fortunately, carpal tunnel-like symptoms can often be easily managed with soft tissue work performed on the scalenes, pec minor, coracobrachialis, and several other upper extremity adhesion sites at the cervical spine.

Two very common suggestions to relieve CTS are cortisone injections in your wrist, or surgery to cut the transverse carpal ligament to release pressure. While it may seem like a quick fix, I am strongly against cortisone injections as they have been shown to speed up degeneration of damaged ligaments and cartilage. When having the choice between soft tissue work or injections/surgery, I don't know about you, but I'd try out the former first.

 

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Do I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Many cases of CTS are often misdiagnosed but can be resolved with soft tissue work and improving every day movement. The following tests will help gauge if you should seek help from a medical professional:

1. Phalen's Test

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  1. You can perform this seated or standing.
  2. Passively let your wrist flop into a flexed position as shown in the diagram above.
  3. Hold this position for 60 seconds or until symptoms are reproduced.
    Positive response: numbness and tingling occurs on the palmar aspect.
    Negative response: 3 minutes passing without symptoms reproduced.
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(The two hand version above is an alternative way to test, though I prefer the one hand version.)

2. Tinel's Test

 Tap where circled

Tap where circled

  1. Lightly tap over the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist.
  2. Follow your index finger from the tip, then down the palm and up the forearm looking for any sensation.
    Positive response: A sensation of tingling in the distribution of the median nerve over the hand or in the thumb or first 3 digits.
    Negative response: no sensations.

If either test returns positive, I recommend seeing a doctor. If both tests return negative, great! You most likely do not have CTS and can relieve symptoms without surgery.

What to do if both tests return negative:

1. Correct Your Posture

 great little infograph from The Art of Manliness on standing posture

great little infograph from The Art of Manliness on standing posture

  • Focus on sitting up straight, shoulders neutral, and keep the chin in and head straight. By making sure you're sitting and standing upright, it will take the tension of the muscles that might be causing your CTS-like symptoms in the first place.
    Releated: Thoracic Spine and Breathing to help unlock better posture
  • Keep your wrists in a neutral position, not bent backwards. This can help prevent a lot of the tightening of the muscles which can possibly entrap a nerve. 

2. Stretch

As stated above, something as simple as poor posture can give you CTS-like symptoms. Here are three main areas of the body and their stretches to relieve poor posture:

  • Upper shoulders and neck (upper trapezius, levators, SCM, scalenes)
  • Upper chest/shoulders (pectoralis major and minor, serratus anterior)
  • Forearm (numerous muscles, including pronator teres.)
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Upper Shoulders and Neck (Trap) Stretch: 

  1. Reaching your right hand down at your side towards the floor, let your head tip to the left.
  2. Slightly vary the angle of your head to feel different versions of the stretch.
  3. Hold this to each side for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times per side.
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Chest and Shoulder Stretch:

  1. Standing up straight with a tightened belly, reach your arms straight out to your sides at shoulder height (as seen above).
  2. Move your arms straight back as far as they’ll go without arching your back. You can do this with assistance from a doorway or wall to help your hands move back.
  3. Hold for 10-30 seconds, without pain. Repeat 2-3 times.
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Forearm Stretch:

  1. With your right arm held out in front of you, use your left hand to stretch the wrist stretching the hand up (shown above).
  2. Hold each for 15-30 seconds, 2-3 times. Repeat on other side. 

3. Manual Therapy & Corrective Exercise

In conjunction with the improving your posture, wrist position, and stretching, manual therapy from a Licensed Massage Therapist can greatly relieve CTS-like pain. After finding and relaxing the contracted muscles in the above mentioned areas, corrective exercises are performed to offset any problems associated with poor posture and poor breathing patterns.


Has a doctor suggested wearing a wrist brace for extended periods of time (all day and all night, even when you're sleeping)? Restricting wrist movement isn't a solution and doesn't even address the real problem. If this sounds like you and the tests above show you don't have true carpal tunnel syndrome, schedule a consultation and get rid of your tingling, numbing, debilitating wrist pain for good.

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I'm All In: What Poker Taught Me About Life and Business

The photo above was taken in 2010 I believe while I was playing in the World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino. 

I used to take playing poker very seriously. I spent countless hours playing out hands in my head, reading forums and books to go along with thousands of hours spent playing online (before it was deemed illegal). My best stretch was when I was 22 and cleared a shade under $10,000 in 4 months during a summer. I was pretty good but I really disliked the unhealthy lifestyle that came with playing for 8-12 hours daily to make a living.

Poker is a zero sum game. This means that in order for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. And at times the best play was to target those who would exhibit signs of addiction as those people aren't playing a sound game, mathamatically speaking, This is not something I feel particularly proud of but that's the game. 

And while I no longer play to pay my bills there were a lot of lessons I picked up playing cards.  Many lessons that translates over to life and business. Here are a few of them.

Expected Value (EV)

In probability theory the expected value of a random variable is the sum of the probability of each possible outcome of the experiment multiplied by the outcome value (or payoff). 

Simply stated EV (in poker) is the amount of money you can win or lose on your average bet. It's often explained by flipping a coin, which is an example of neutral EV. What are the odds it will be heads or tails? Over a small sample size it's 70% tails, extrapolated over 1,000 or 10,000 flips, it will be closer to 50/50. 

No one, not even the best players win every tournament, let alone every single hand they play. Whether you play well or poorly, you'll win some and lose some. Good players are profitable over the long haul because they maximize their spots when they're winning and minimizing losses when cards aren't running their way. They focus on making good decisions regardless of the outcome.

This rings true in business. If you continue to put yourself in the best position by playing the positive percentage plays, more often than not you'll be a winner. 

Which leads me to the next point. 

You can do all the right things and still lose

This one drove me insane. How can I be an overwhelming 95% favorite and STILL LOSE!!!

Because like in life, you aren't in control of everything so anything can happen. Yes you should've won, you should've gotten that business because you're better than your competition, but a'las they've decided to go with Joe-Trainer instead. That's completely out of your control and you need to accept the cards of life as they fall even if they're not in your favor. Move on to the next play.

Always Moving Forward

Piggybacking off the last point, even if you don't get the business, you can't dwell on it for long. Continually beating yourself up for mistakes isn't going to help you change for the better. It's only a complete failure if you fail to learn from your mistakes.

There were so many times I made the wrong move at the table which cost me tournament wins and money! I was angry/sad for a bit but ultimately I would reflect on what I could've done differently. There's no point in being upset with something that's now in the past.

Learn from the past, be in the NOW, and always be preparing for the future

Bankroll Management

If I bring in $1,000 and spend $900 of it on going out. I'm not left with much else for anything else. Let alone any unanticipated expenses. 

Knowing how to budget your money is an invaluable skip to learn. You need to stay within your means because you never quite know what might happen. In the case of Poker it might be a few dry months where your cards couldn't hit the side of a barn; in life it could be a car accident or broken appliance you clearly weren't expecting.

It goes without saying again: Always be saving and stay within your means so you can weather the bad times. If you take one too many risks, you might play yourself right out of the game. 

Know Your Numbers

What are the odds of flopping a third Ace when you have two of them in Texas hold em?
Odds of flopping a straight?
How about completing a flush on the river if I only need one last card?

I know these numbers off the top of my head like the back of my hand. I'm not rain man, I just memorized them. But knowing your numbers is just as important in business. 

What's your conversion rate for free consultiations to paid clients?
Run any marketing campaigns? What's your CAC (customer acquisition costs)?
What are your food costs? 

You don't need to know these things at an accountant level, but you should know what's going on behind the scenes. Knowing the lingo helps you communicate with experts and understand what's going on in your business. 

In case you were wondering:
Flopping 3 of a kind 8.5:1 or 10.5%
Flopping a straight about 1%
Completing a flush on the river, assuming you have all 9 remaining cards of that suit, is roughly 18%. 

Understanding basic human psychology

Most people have watched high level poker on ESPN and imagine that pros can detect any facial tick or lean which gives them an edge. While this is sort of true, what great players pick up on are patterns. I would often pay close attention to deviations in patterns:

How did they play after losing a hand?
Does that change if it was "unlucky" versus playing poorly? Do they even think that was a poor play?
Are they more talkative when they're nervous? Do they always take a sip of water when making a borderline decision?

It comes down to understanding how people normally act and if or when there's a change, deciphering what it means. When dealing with clients who are resistant to change, knowing how to pick up on non-verbal cues has been an invaluable skill to have cultivated.

Implied Odds

This is calculating the odds of completing your hand and the future bets you would collect if you do. You need to take stock of the percentage chance you have to complete you hand versus the amount of money already sitting in middle of the table. 

Simply stated: Calculating risks is a little more cut and dry in poker since it's all math. But the same basic principles apply where you need to take stock of what an investment of time or money will cost you, and whether or not it's going to be worth doing. If you make decision"x" what will be your return on investment? And how long will it take for you to break even?

Poker is a game that's easy to learn but hard to master. There are only a few of the lessons I've picked up from this game. I believe poker is a fantastic training camp for those looking to cultivate skill necessary for business and critical thinking. 

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Are You Ready For Your First Pull Up

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The ability to perform a pull up isn't simply a feat of strength but a byproduct of a structured balanced training program. Before we go on any further lets be specific on what a strict pull up is:

  • From a dead hang
  • Arms are full extended at the start
  • Chest/sternum to the bar
  • Minimal swinging

Where To Begin

Can you get your arms in the right position to perform any sort of vertical pulling motion? I would begin here against the wall in a back to wall shoulder flexion screen

  1. Begin with your back from head to tailbone against the wall.
  2. Flatten out your lower back (slight posterior pelvic tilt)
  3. Lift your arms straight out in front of you towards the wall

You pass if you can reach the wall comfortably without losing contact of the wall.

This screen shows us a few things:

  • Good core positioning
  • Adequate shoulder mobility to an overhead position
    • Limited external rotation (Including short pecs, lats, and subscapularis)
    • Lack of upward scapular motion (including weak lower trapezius and serratus anterior along with synergistic dominance of the levator scapula, rhomboids, and pec minor)
  • Poor thoracic spine extension
  • Lack of anterior core stiffness

This is important because if you can't get your arms overhead at rest what makes you think you'll be able to under full bodyweight load hanging off of a bar?

If you didn't pass, I would address the soft tissue restrictions listed above and improve mobilization in the thoracic spine and improving upward scapular motion.

Here are a few video to help you get started with that.

Related: Thoracic Spine and Breathing

If you passed congrats you can physically get into an overhead position safely, but now where do you go from there?

That Pull-Up Machine

Yeah stay away from the counterbalance machine that most commercial gyms have. My main beef with the machine is the lack of stability required to perform this version (hint: it's zero). I've seen it many times, a lifter works their way down to the lightest setting, only to barely be able to get anywhere close to an actual pull up. But why?

The main cause is poor tension throughout the body along during the movement. You spent so much time building strength in a stable position, a free standing pull up is anything but. I would say it's akin to push ups from your knees, you may get the big muscles strong but you aren't stable enough to express your strength.

Which is why I start all my clients with...

Inverted Rows

The inverted row allows you to learn how to properly engage the right muscles while having to actually stabilize your bodyweight. Most every gym has at least one of these TRX straps  hanging in their facility so just about anybody can do these. 

The ability for an individual to get good scapular motion, pull and engage their lats, traps and rhomboids is key to being able to have that carry over to performing a pull up. This move should be the main bodyweight motion until you're able to perform them with your feet elevated.

Really any row variation is great at teaching engagement of the proper muscle, a favorite of mine is the chest supported variety which keeps you honest from momentum. A chest supported T-Bar works well too. 

Negative & Isometric Pull Ups

After some time working on strengthening the proper muscles, I would then begin both negative only motions and isometric holds.

This is an intelligent way to overload the motion because as the muscle lengthens under tension, it is able to produce greater force. Unlike the concentric (think pulling yourself up) the joint is pulled in the direction of that contraction whereas the eccentric (lowering) contraction the muscle slows down the joint at the end of a movement. 

In plain english: Your body is significantly stronger from an eccentric stand point versus a concentric only. 

I would have the client jump up, sternum to the bar and contract the lats, stick the shoulder blades into their back pockets and slowly lower themselves back down to the box. The most important aspect is control. If you can't come down at a 3-5 sec count, then I would go back to inverted rows until you are able to. 

Band Assist Pull Ups

From there I would also incorporate the band assist version. This would be done in conjunction with the isometrics and negatives only. The only problem is not everyone has access to these bands but they are very useful (also they can be a little pricey for a full set of bands).

And then it's simply a matter of patience. Put in the work and soon you'll be knocking out pull ups like a champion. There are many other variations I use with clients but this is at it's simplest the most straightforward progression that most individuals can follow. 

You Get What You Pay For

"I'm sick, can you please direct me to the cheapest doctor that will do the job?"

"My car is making a weird noise, can you recommend the least expensive mechanic?"

"My roof is leaking, will you please call the cheapest repair man?"

"I need a personal trainer, do you know anyone cheaper than the guy at the gym?"

Of the four statements I bet most people would say that number four is the one they would likely think or say. Why is that? 

Standards in Fitness

It's a catch 22--you don't know what to do and you want to hire someone. The problem is that a $30 per hour trainer may not know how to work around your specific injuries, compensations and/or lifestyle so they may in fact do more harm than good. But no one bats an eye after you get hurt because they say it's part of the process. No pain no gain, right? (No, it's not.)

Do you have to seek out the most expensive trainer around? No, and in fact there are fantastic coaches available at all price points if you look hard enough. The problem isn't the consumer being educated but the industry as a whole. Whether you hire a commercial gym trainer or an independent seasoned vet, you should be able to get results and be better off having hired said coach, not worse. Unfortunately this isn't the case across the board.

Why Do Some Trainers Cost $100+ per hour?

Why do some trainers command over $100-150 per hour if all should be qualified enough to help you out with any straight forward goals, like adding on muscle or losing 15 pounds?

It comes down to specialization and likelihood of remaining safe. Price often acts as a filter for quality, though not always the case. 

Lets use a doctor's analogy: If you have a cold, you would likely visit to a general practice physician. But if you have a broken leg and needed surgery, you'd likely go to an orthopedic doctor and surgeon. It makes sense that the person who specializes in that specific area of medicine would be the person to cut you open, not the general practice doctor. But both are doctors! Yes, but one has a bit more knowledge about the matter at hand. And since a surgery is a much more dangerous and intricate procedure, I'm willing to bet they will cost more. 

So can the $30 per hour trainer help your daughter with her ACL post-physical therapy outpatient rehab? Maybe, but I bet that $200 per hour trainer who has testimonials of similar cases and the background to aid her can. Yes, it's a lot more money, but if you want the job done right, you hire once and you hire right. For me, I'd rather spend three months with a more knowledgable, more expensive trainer than 8 months with a less expensive, less knowledgable one if it means I'll get the best results possible. In this scenario I'm also willing to bet you'll remain safer with the $200 per hour coach.

Too often the fitness industry writes articles about how the consumer needs to become more educated, pushing the onus on them. While I don't disagree that a more educated customer is beneficial, I also feel that the industry as a whole needs to take more accountability on raising their own standards of practice.  Only then will telling people you're a "personal trainer" actually mean something more than just a guy who counts reps and grabs you a towel.