Takeaways from Feet, Fascia & Function 2018

Had a great days learning at the Natural History Museum in London on Saturday with Evolution 101 and the Feet, Fascia and Function summit. The day consisted of a series of lectures and movement break outs and was the brain child of Adam Daniel, Steve Powell and James Earl.

In this quick article I thought I would detail a couple of the interesting takeaways from the day. As well as James Earls, speakers included the author of Primate Change: How the world we made is remaking us, Vybarr Cregan-Reid. The book is an exploration of evolutionary mismatches to agriculture and dietary change, urban life and changing activity and stress experiences in our 21st century environment.

Anthony Carey, a leading movement practitioner and inventor of the CoreTex from San Diego who specialises in chronic pain management and Dr Emily Splichal, a podiatrist from New York that has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to barefoot science.

So, here goes: some of my takeaways from the days learning.

Fascial Health for Performance

The fascia is like our 03rd skin, if you where to peel away your skin and your adipose layer, the appearance of your body would not be the perfect muscular form that we become accustomed to viewing in anatomy text books, instead we would appear to have been shot by Spiderman, a sticky, fibrous sheath surrounds and encapsulates us, this sheath is our fascia, its a hugely sensory and reactive system that has way more impact upon our health and performance than the publics consciousness suggests.

James Earls pointed out during his talk that a healthy fascial system will lead to 30% less work within walking and running gait cycles. This decreased work load is created via the co-ordination of the fascial system to be able to:

  1. Efficiently conserve work via stored elastic energy in the fascial tissue.
  2. Create force via contracting fascia and building pressure within our myofascial compartments (or bags as James Earls referred), and,
  3. Dissipate forces experienced during landing to absorb shock & vibration and take the burden away from our joints, specifically knees, hips and spines.

The ability of our body to properly take advantage of these functions requires that we move in a co-ordinated fashion, our co-ordinated whole body rhythm utilising gravity as our key motive force and maximising ground reaction forces upon impact. Efficiency will bring about faster speed over greater distances.

The enemy of this function is mindless movement, loudly thudding the floor in walking gait, jogging or over striding in running takes the forces out of the myofascial system and puts them right where we don’t want them, in the knees, hips and spines.

How to train this system?

  1. Hydrate. Our fascial system is sensitive to hydration levels.
  2. Vary Movement and Mobilise. The system loves to be challenged and manipulated, careful not to get stuck in static postures or repetitive and restricted exercise programs.
  3. Build Inner Unit Stability of the foot and trunk before Global Strength, see takeaway 3 below. A stable foot is a stiff, strong  foot.
  4. Practice: The quality, efficiency and the skill of your movement is as important than the volume you complete. We live in a society that is obsessed with volume and distracted away from quality practice.
  5. Include Bouncing and Rhythmic Movements in your practice. Especially for the tensile foot, ankle and lower leg complex… The ball of the foot is the perfect landing surface, your thick, super strong achilles tendon needs to be loaded and to train tensegrity you’ll need to ask your fascial system to store, dissipate and create force . Start these exercises with very simple variations on jumping and hoping drills, some basic POSE Method running drills or some light skipping is a great to start.

Huijing, P. A. J. B. M., & Baan, G. C. (2001). Myofascial force transmission causes interaction between adjacent muscles and connective tissue: Effects of blunt dissection and compartmental fasciotomy on length force characteristics of rat extensor digitorum longus muscle. Archives of physiology and biochemistry, 109, 97-109.

Earls, J (2013) Born To Walk: Myofascial Efficiency and the Body in Movement Lotus Publishing

Romanov, N (1997) Pose Method of Running Pose Tech Press

Short Sightedness is an Evolutionary Mismatch

I’m often thinking about evolutionary mismatches, but, this one was new to me. Short sightedness or myopia is on the rise, amazingly so in Asia, but, still drastically in Europe and the US. Vybarr suggested that by 2050, 50% of the worlds population will be short sighted.

The root of this sight degradation is founded in our modern environment.

Based on epidemiological studies, Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, estimates that children need to spend around three hours per day exposed to light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia. This is about the level experienced by someone under a shady tree, wearing sunglasses, on a bright summer day. (An overcast day can provide less than 10,000 lux and a well-lit office or classroom is usually no more than 500 lux.) Three or more hours of daily outdoor time is already the norm for children in Morgan’s native Australia, where only around 30% of 17-year-olds are myopic. But in many parts of the world — including the United States, Europe and East Asia — children are often outside for only one or two hours.

If you want to protect your eyes. Get outside more, have your kids in natural sunlight as much as possible and switch the light of your office, laptop or your phone for real sunlight.

Morgan: Myopia Epidemic Study

The Inner Unit of the Foot

As trainers we are often cueing a co-ordinated contraction of the deep lying abdominals before making movement, this area is known as the inner unit (diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus and the transverse abdominals). There is less cueing of the inner unit of the foot, or, the intrinsic foot musculature. Not only are these two areas equal in terms of there importance to stability and efficient movement, they are also intrinsically linked via the Deep Front Line and integration is needed to gain reliable proprioceptive feedback, you can feel this if, when standing put some weight in your big toe, you will feel a resultant stiffening of the pelvic floor and the TVA.

The Deep Front Line

As with the short sightedness epidemic, flat, weak feet are becoming more and more prevalent and are  caused by inactivity and modern footwear that encapsulate and crush the foot to the point that the small muscles are no longer able to operate.

There is a great correlation between weak feet and foot, lower leg, knee, hip and spine dysfunction.

Our feet are supposed to display a healthy strong medial arch and it is the intrinsic muscles of the feet that maintain this arch, much like with the inner unit of the trunk, the muscles of the feet require control and co-ordination to first activate the deep lying musculature to stabilise the complex before the larger global, movement muscles take over for movement. We can strengthen these muscles with the short foot exercise that you can see in this video, it is worth taking some time to perfect this exercise without raising the big toe or using the larger global muscles to drive the movement.

A strong foot resembles a complete functional half dome as you can see here:

As well as the short foot exercise, you can train the intrinsic foot musculature by:

  1. Choosing a flexible and wide minimalist shoe to wear all day, everyday.
  2. Incorporating foot and big toe dexterity drills into your activation sequences and the short foot exercise into your set-up for all your other strength training exercises.
  3. Go barefoot whenever possible and safe.
  4. Check out the Naboso insole, invented by Dr Emily Splichal who presented twice at the summit on Barefoot Science and Cognitive Training for Motor Coordination. I have my set on order and will let you know the benefit once I have tried them out.

The Foot Core System: Irene Davis: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/5/290

In Summary

This event was the first for Evolution 101 and in my opinion a huge success. The Natural History Museum proved to be a great venue and the content was stimulating and thought provoking. Looking forwards to next year already.


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