In my opinion there are three main parts of the body you should focus on when starting to workout or starting the process of rebuilding your body, the feet, the core, and the upper cervical spine (C1, C2). These three specific spots on the body are the key to unlocking your true athletic potential that most people overlook. I believe these three areas are huge underdogs simply because they’re not “sexy” to post on social media, But you know what is sexy? WINNING, because you did the little things that everyone else wasn’t willing to do.
I think there’s no better place to start than the feet, it’s the base of your body and the chassis your meat vehicle sits upon. Think of it like building a house, you would start by pouring a solid foundation to build the house on. In our case we are going to bulletproof our feet to withstand the demands of everyday life. The first thing to determine when trying to rebuild the feet is to look and see if you have an arch in both of the feet or if you have what is commonly referred to as “ flat feet”. If you have flat feet that is high up on your priority list and should be given a good amount of attention. First let's start by ditching the socks and shoes and get back to our natural barefoot self, we'll start with a lacrosse ball foot smash that will help awaken the muscles in the bottom of the feet. The muscles in the bottom of our feet usually get turned off and become chronically weak because we now walk all day everyday in nice big comfortable shoes or sometimes (even worse) not so comfortable shoes. You see when we lace up the shoes first off we cut off some of the blood circulation to the feet which is not optimal, your blood should be able to flow freely as is pleases we don’t want to make our heart work any harder than it has too. Next squeezing your feet into shoes drastically decreases the range you can splay out your toes; you want to have space in between each toe! Also your feet should look like a triangle with the toes being the widest part tapering down to the narrower heel. If you wear nice comfortable foam bottom shoes, (like most running shoes now a days) you may thing because of the foam it’s a nice soft landing with each in every step when in fact the foam allows you to get away with producing more ground contact force without feeling the difference so your body produces the extra force assuming it’s the same amount but your joints are not fooled and can feel the difference. Lastly shoes often have a “slope” to them, higher in the heel tapering off lower in the front of the shoe. Think about walking around in high heels all day everyday, your foot begins to take shape of that position the Achilles tendon and calves become chronically short, tight and weak which will cause havoc on the rest of the body, that’s probably the worst thing you can do for your feet. Think about building a house on a foundation that had a slope to it and wasn’t level, it's only a matter of time before the building above the uneven foundation comes crumbling down. Same with your body!
So after ditching the shoes and smashing the bottom of the feet for at least two minutes each its time to prime our muscles and solidify the new found range of motion from the smashing with some toe CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations).
After priming the bottom of the feet I like to go into basic dynamic loading patterns pogo’s(jump rope), high knees, jumping jacks, and skaters. After this our feet should be really warmed up and awake to now produce some force!
When I ask people if they know any core exercises I usually get the same few answers over and over again, sit-ups, crunches and hanging knee raises/chair leg lifts. Which are all core exercises and great ones. But my problem is not necessarily with the exercises its with the exercise selection, all three of these common core workouts all fall into the same sagittal plane of motion. When you should be aiming to train the core in every plane of motion!
The Sagittal plane divides the body into left and right halves. When moving along this pane, you are using the muscles to move parts of the body forward or backward. Extension and flexion occur in the sagittal plane.
The Coronal plane (frontal plane) is a vertical plane running from side to side that divides the body or any of its parts into Front and back, Anterior/Posterior (Dorsal and Ventral) parts. The primary movements in the frontal plane are abduction and adduction (movement in line with frontal plane). Kettle bell windmills
The Transverse Plane is horizontal and divided the body into upper and lower parts. When moving in this plane you are using the muscles to move the body in a rotational manor (Think Russian Twists)
Along with training the core in all the planes of motion we should also be thinking about anti training, anti-rotation, anti-flexion, anti-extension, and anti-lateral flexion. These form of training hits the deep stabilizers of the spine that help protect us against spinal cord injuries.
Some great alternatives to add into your core routine are ground based movements, think crawls in every direction! Crawling is an essential movement to human life that we often ditch after learning to walk/run. However in my opinion it’s a foundation movement pattern everyone should be training, get back to your playful childhood! Another great addition to your core workouts could be Pallof Press, an amazing anti-rotation exercise that burns deep inside the core!
When rebuilding the body there are two main philosophies, top down and bottom up. Now I already went over the bottom up approach when I went over the feet, starting top down is a totally different way of thinking, but similar if you break it down. So the idea with starting with the top and working your way down is your typical waterfall effect, make sure the axis and atlas are sitting in position correctly and good posture will work its way down, along with good exercise selection of course. Sounds totally different approach than starting with the feet right? Well when you think about it the axis and atlas really are the “feet” that the skull sits on top of, so in essence you are still starting with the base just the base of the skull and not the base of the whole. The atlas is the topmost vertebra and with the axis forms the joint connecting the skull and spine. The atlas and axis are specialized to allow greater range of motion than normal vertebrae. They are responsible for the nodding and rotation movements on the head. If the joint between these two is not healthy is can seriously limit the range of which you can turn your head which can negatively impact your everyday life (looking over your shoulder) and we all know if we don’t move it we lose it so you want to make sure these joints are in proper position otherwise a stiff neck will turn into a stiff upper back, and eventually working its way down to a stiff low back.
My main go-to for the cervical spine is the Darwinian neck stretch, Lax ball Neck smash to relax some of the tension built up in the neck and Quadruped T-spine Rotations with cervical rotation, and neck retractions to help strengthen and restore motion to the cervical spine.
Overall I think everyone weather you’re new to lifting, been working out a few years, or an old time gym rat you should start to put more focus into these three areas of your body and watch your performance increase while pains and injuries begin to disappear. To really get ahead of the game don’t just pick one, start to work on all three and triple your results!