Get Stronger Part 3: The Anti-Sit Up

Many people interested in strengthening their abdominals turn to sit-ups. And they do not do just a few sit-ups but rather, hundreds of them. Yet this methodology rarely builds strong abdominal muscles. Why? If you have done a sit-up lately (or were traumatized by them in your past), you may have noticed that traditional sit-ups involve a lot of jerky motions such as your feet lifting off the floor or straining your neck. Some people solve that problem of their feet lifting by having a partner hold their feet down. Other people solve that problem by putting the soles of their feet together with their knees pointing out in a diamond shape. While both of those solutions will keep your feet on the floor, they do not solve the root problem, which is that you are using your hip flexors rather than your abdominal muscles.

By doing hundreds of sit-ups, you are really building terrific hip flexors (which will eventually become tight and cause imbalances in your posture) when what you are really trying to do strengthen your core. To curb the excess use of the hip flexors and move the focus to the abdominals, I recommend Wall Crunches instead.

To perform Wall Crunches, lie on your back with both feet on a wall, knees at a 90 degree angle. The feet should be in line with the knees, and knees in line with the hips. Clasp your hands behind the base of the head. Let the head relax in the hands while looking at the ceiling. Lift the shoulders and head off the floor while exhaling. Lift as high as you can using only the abdominals, not the hip flexors. Keep your lower back flat throughout the motion. If you notice the hips or knees moving up and down, the feet coming off the wall a bit or that you’re really pushing hard on the wall with your feet, then you’re using the hip flexors rather than the abdominals. Make sure you don’t yank on the neck, and that the shoulders lift off the floor. Another way to ensure that the hip flexors are neutralized is to concentrate on keeping eye contact with the ceiling, When the eye contact is broken, it means that your head and upper back are off the floor to the point that the abdominals have handed off the lifting motion to the hip flexors.

Start with as many as you can do and build to 2 sets of 50.

Would you like to move with more ease, comfort, and joy?
Would you like running, walking and hiking to feel almost effortless without the huffing & puffing and wear & tear on your joints?
Would you like to develop more self-confidence and confidence in your body?
Join me for Bliss with Your Body, three 1-hr sessions on body awareness, posture, and body mechanics starting August 12th.

Get Stronger Part 2: The Plank

You know what you need to feel strong, have stamina, and go the distance? A strong core. Yup. They call it “the core” for a reason, and it’s so important to your whole body! As a matter of fact, the core comprises more of your body than you may realize. It’s not just your abs, but also your back, your glutes, your hips, and all the muscles in your trunk. Having a strong core is what enables you to stand upright, move, sit down, and is involved in almost every total body movement you perform. While there are many ways to ensure a strong core, one of the easiest and most common is the plank.

The plank is an isometric exercise (meaning static, no movement) which works your entire body while increasing your metabolism. “Planks focus primarily on your core, but also [work] the stabilizing muscles in your upper body, like your shoulders,” says Judine Saint Gerard, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach based in New York City. “But, believe it or not, if you are performing the plank properly, your quads, pelvic floor and glutes will also be engaged.”

“Planks recruit the rectus abdominis — those deep muscles in the abdominals which are responsible for that six-pack,” says Heather Fletcher , an exercise physiologist based in Tampa, Florida. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. Doing a couple of planks will not give you instant six-pack abs. But practicing planks regularly will give you a stronger core, which will reduce fatigue, increase endurance, and improve stability.

The improved stability comes from the fact that planks also strengthen the transverse abdominis— the deepest layer of abdominal muscles that are responsible for spinal stability — and the obliques, which help with rotation. While accidents do happen (did I mention I sprained my ankle at that last trail race?), the stronger your core, the more likely you are to be able to stop yourself from falling if you trip on something. And being able to prevent yourself from falling is an incredible superpower you’ll definitely want to develop!

And because the plank recruits your entire core, it targets your lower back and hips, too. By performing planks regularly (and properly), you will build the core strength to support your spine and help prevent back pain and tight hip flexors. You will also experience better balance because an engaged core helps you stand taller and maintain good posture.

Of course, good form is important to getting the most out of the exercise and not cause any unnecessary strain. Here are some tips to ensure you are planking properly:

  1. Fully engage your middle
  2. Tighten your quads
  3. Tighten your glutes
  4. Tuck in your pelvis
  5. Push your shoulders away from your ears

According to certified personal trainer Rozalynn S. Frazier,  this allows you to evenly distribute your weight throughout your body, instead of shifting it all through your shoulders, which can cause strain.

The tighter you squeeze your lower body, the “easier” the plank becomes. This is because “realistically, the more control you can exert, the longer you can maintain proper positions,” according to Andia Winslow, master certified fitness professional, pro athlete and founder of The Fit Cycle. By engaging your glutes during a plank, you hit the trio of muscles in your rear: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

The stronger your glutes are, the less pressure that will be put on your lower back, and the more stable you will feel during other activities, such as walking, running, hiking, and cycling. Your hips will also generally function better with a more solid backside because weak glutes force you to compensate with your hips. Strong glutes are also the recipe for better overall power, speed and athletic performance.

Engaging your quads prevents your lower body from sinking. Your quads are also a source of strength, so engaging them in isometric movements like planks enhances your stability, especially in the knees. Weak quads not only wreak havoc on your overall knee function, but a June 2011 study in ​Osteoarthritis Cartilage​ shows that it can also contribute to loss of cartilage in the knee joint, which in turn could lead to osteoarthritis.

How to perform a plank:

  1. Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your hips directly over your knees.
  2. Keeping your neck in line with your spine, step your feet back, one at a time, forming a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your quads and glutes. Press your heels back slightly to evenly distribute your weight from head to toes. Pull your shoulders back away from your ears and corkscrew your hands into the floor by gripping with your fingers.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you’re not able to hold a high plank on your hands, modify the exercise by coming to your forearms.
  • The closer your feet are together in a plank, the greater the challenge.
  • Avoid pressing your butt into the air or sinking your hips below your shoulders. You want your body to be straight as a (well, you guessed it) plank…
  • Start by holding a plank for 10 seconds and slowly work your way to a full minute by adding 10-second increments. Duration should be directly proportionate to form control. Holding a plank for longer than you can maintain proper form is ineffective and may even stress the body to point of injury.

Get Stronger: All About the Squat

Walking is a great way to increase your cardiovascular fitness. But walking does not necessarily increase your muscle strength, especially if you primarily walk on flat paths. This has become very apparent to me over the past 18 months. In addition to walking, running and hiking, I used to do Crossfit several days a week until the pandemic forced my gym to close for a surprisingly long time. At first, I tried to continue doing crossfit-type workouts at home alone, but eventually I just stopped and increased my running instead. What I have noticed over that time is that while I may be getting fitter from a cardiovascular perspective, my muscles have atrophied. Yes, despite running 150-200 miles each month, my leg muscles are not maintaining the strength they used to have because running without strength training does not build muscle mass. So why do I care about muscle mass?  Muscle mass is important for overall strength which is important for getting up (and down) hills and for going faster. And good overall body strength is important for so many things we do in our daily lives. So lately I have been thinking about how to re-incorporate strength training into my routine.

According to Heather Fletcher, an exercise physiologist based in Tampa, Florida Doing squats will help you build strength and improve muscle mass. She says, “You will recruit a high amount of energy and burn fat, and this will help you become stronger in your activities of daily life.”

As with any activity, it is important to maintain proper form while performing your squats. Here are tips to help you perform the perfect squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Allow the big toes, pinky toes and heels to grip the floor like a tripod.
  3. Take a big inhale. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees, slightly leaning your chest forward while keeping you back straight.
  4. Lower yourself down as if you are sitting into a chair. Make sure your knees are in line with your feet and are not moving forward past your toes.
  5. Try to lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. If you cannot get down that far at first, no worries! Just go as far as you can. As you continue to practice, your mobility will improve.
  6. Press into your heels to stand back up, exhaling as you reach the top.
  7. Do not let your knees cave in at any point during the movement
  8. Do not let your heels come off the floor at any point during the movement
  9. Do keep your core engaged during the entire movement

As with every exercise, if you do these regularly you will find they get easier. In fact, doing squats may get so easy that they no longer feel like a challenge. Never fear! I have a solution for that! And no, it does not mean you have to do a gazillion of them to continue to reap the benefits. Rather, you can add challenge to your squats, for example by adding weights or doing “jump squats”.

If you do not have “official” weights like dumbbells handy, you can perform weighted squats by holding a bag of cat litter or a big bag of dog food close to your chest while you perform squats.

To perform :jump squats”, in Step 6 above, when moving back up, push off from your mid-foot and “jump” up.

Squats are a compound movement, meaning they tap into multiple muscle groups across multiple joints. According to Judine Saint Gerard, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach based in New York City, squats work the entire body. And doing them consistently with correct form can help build everything from strength and power to balance and flexibility, she says. The lower body bears the brunt of the motion, specifically your quads, which run along the front of the thigh, and all three muscles in the butt: the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. In addition, other muscles in your legs such as your hamstrings and hip flexors are activated, explains Saint Gerard. And performing squats also activates the stabilizing efforts of your core, which keeps your torso upright during the movement and reduces stress on the lower back.

If you have any questions about form, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will be more than happy to help.

The Real Key to Productivity

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal in March 2021, Annemarie Dooling points out how important timeouts are to help the brain reinforce long-term learning and productivity. According to the article, the secret to achieving more each day is finding time to do nothing. Here is her article:

How Being More Productive Starts With Doing Nothing

In our efforts to squeeze every second from the day, it seems counterintuitive to watch a pot of coffee boil or gaze out the window. But your brain uses those free periods for important cleanup work, neuroscience research indicates. And during the pandemic, as the boundaries between work and home have blurred, it has become harder to create mental breaks.

Even brief timeouts help the brain reinforce long-term learning and productivity. You come out of downtime able to learn more, and can access that learning faster. “When you take a break, you may want to do something mind-consuming to help with motivation, but technically your best way of taking a break is to do something mindless,” says Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan who teaches a popular online course on how to open your mind to learning.

To ease into allowing yourself to do nothing, start with something familiar. Here are some techniques.

Take a long shower

A natural place to start slowing down is a habit that’s already built into your schedule, such as taking a shower. Letting your mind wander here can be a stepping stone to quieting more hectic environments. Or try blocking off time to look out your window. In her book “How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” writer Jenny Odell describes how bird-watching became her favorite slow-down activity: Exhausted after pulling an all-nighter, she had gazed out the window and noticed a cluster of yellow birds. “I burned out, and in that state of forced relaxation, that happened to be when I noticed,” she says.

Play a game without keeping score

Dr. Oakley points out that while our body’s dopamine reward system might encourage tasks, keeping score is labor. Instead of competing against your crossword best, find a puzzle game on your phone that requires simply swiping.

Take a walk

Leave the Fitbit at home, and free up an hour to absorb the scenery. Being in nature has been linked to a multitude of physical and mental benefits. But be sure not to create a competition, which can take the relaxation out of the activity. “We get fixated on taking 10,000 steps,” Ms. Odell says. “Yes, it’s good to go for a walk, but this isn’t a job.” Enjoy the meandering, rather than the race, she suggests.

Cook a big meal

Borrowing from the downtime that the Italians call dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), the act of cooking a meal can encourage a wandering mind. It can be tempting to create a culinary masterpiece to make the time worth it, but fight the urge. Ms. Odell suggests trying to “see the nonwork time as something other than the negative space left after work.” Try a simple recipe that requires slow preparation. Not only is the activity downtime, but bonus points for resting at the table between courses.

Just sit down

If you’re struggling to get enough rest at night, try a short nap. Simply find a comfortable chair, and breathe. While you’re napping, remember that your brain never is. Rest is one of the most important ways to enhance the neurological flexibility to build the kind of conceptual understanding that is related to identity and purpose, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Consider that a reason to lose the guilt over a daily rest.

Beat the Heat

Summer has definitely arrived! And, at least in California, it has arrived with a vengenance.

It looks like the heat is here to stay, so let’s get our walks, runs and hikes in earlier. Until the weather gets cooler, our virtual group walks will be held at

Mondays & Fridays 7am Pacific/10am Eastern
Wednesdays 8am Pacific/11am Eastern

Get the zoom link by filling out the contact form here

And be sure to keep these tips in mind throughout the summer:

☀️Start Early. It’s best to hike in the morning hours, when it is cooler.
☀️Hike with a Buddy. Never hike alone. It is always best to have a friend with you. Let someone know where you are going and your return time.
☀️Cover Up. Wear long sleeves to help shield your body from the sun. Wear a hat, preferably wide brimmed.
☀️Remember to apply sunscreen often, as recommended, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
☀️Stay Hydrated. Pack and drink a minimum of 1 liter of water per hour and drink often!
☀️Bring nutrition/food. Bring trail mix style packs, dried fruit or veggies and energy bars, chews, or gels.
☀️Remember to rest. Take frequent breaks and find shade so your body can cool down.
☀️Know the signs of heat related emergencies. Common signs are headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, and disorientation. If you experience any of these symptoms, turn back or call for help. Don’t hesitate to call 911.
☀️Take a cell phone/GPS. Make sure they are fully charged.
☀️Other Items to bring. Bring a map, first aid kit, flashlight, and additional water/electrolytes.

Walking Isn’t a Consolation Prize

I am a member of several online running forums and every few days someone will post:

“I’m new to running, what is a good pace?”

Or…

“I just ran my first 5K in X amount time. Is that a good pace?”

These questions come up a lot and I cringe every time. Why? Because whatever pace works for you is, by definition, “a good pace”.  I often say that running, walking and hiking are all the same sport done at different speeds on different terrain. There is no magical pace which defines you as a runner, walker or hiker. We all move at varying paces all the time.

As hard as it is to believe for hardcore runners, not everyone prefers running. “The connotation here is that running is superior and if we aren’t good/fit/strong enough to run then we must resort to the easier / second prize option,” according to Australian race-walker Jemima Montag. Montag won the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and is favored to place well at the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.  Montag says, “I like to run and walk every day and to be honest—I walk faster than I run, so it’s certainly not the lazy option.”

She goes on: “Unless you have an injury that prevents you from running, it’s really about what you’re in the mood for. Some days you may crave a sweaty, puffy run ending in that endorphin rush. Other days you might prefer a walk with your dog and a coffee. What I’d really like to get across is that everyone can run, and everyone can walk.”

“[Walking is] a great form of cardio fitness that is easier on joints than say running, or anything that you pound on the ground with, like high-intensity exercises,” says Lisa Herrington, an ACSM-certified personal trainer, fitness instructor, and founder of FIT House Davis . It strengthens the heart muscles, boosts energy, improves mood, and can support healthy weight management, she adds—among many other benefits. 

If you are walking as your main form of exercise, there are absolutely things you can do to boost the amount of fitness benefits you’re getting from your steps.

Perfect your stride

Anyone who wants to get better at their chosen sport works at it. They work on improving their form and developing good body mechanics in order perform their sport more efficiently (with more ease) and more effectively (with more success). Golfers do it, tennis players do it, runners do it. And yes, so should walkers. Walking is the one sport that so many people expect themselves to be able to do almost intuitively. And yet, these very same people often complain of sore feet, tight calf muscles, sore backs, tight shoulders and other ailments. SUPER TIP ALERT: there is a proper way to walk and many of us are not using it. It has to do with your posture and your stride and it is worth learning!

For example, Justin Meissner, a NASM-certified trainer, says one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to walk for exercise is taking huge strides to walk faster. “Too long of a step can put too much force on the knees and lower back,” he says. Instead, he says you should stick to your natural stride length and just increase the number of steps you take per minute (commonly called your “cadence”).

Strengthen your core

Your body’s core is much more than just your abdomen or the front of your body. Your core includes your back, your “butt” (glutes), your chest—everything other than your head and neck, legs and arms. Your core is responsible for your ability to stand upright, maintain stability and keep your balance. Having a strong core is important in everything we do, especially walking. However, according to Joanna Hall, MSc, a walking coach and creator and founder of WalkActive, “So many people with all good intentions pull every muscle in,” she says, from the glutes to the abs and arms. “This creates excessive tension in the body, leading to compression and lower back pain, and can contribute to increased knee and ankle strain and compromise good postural alignment.” Instead of tensing your muscles, you should work on building strength in your muscles. For example, try some of these core strengthening exercises.

Mix up your routine with interval training

If walking is your exercise method of choice, know that there’s one thing you can be doing after you lace up your shoes that not only makes your walks more interesting but it can also help with weight loss (if that is your goal): You can perform walking intervals—or varying the pace of your walks by working in shorter bursts of more intense walking. 

“By varying the speed of your walk, especially adding in some faster pace interval work, you will raise your heart rate and increase your caloric expenditure, helping you lose more weight over time,” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and author. “Remember that your body is an intelligent machine that adapts to your workouts. By adding variation into your walks, you will keep your body challenged and ensure you avoid the dreaded weight-loss plateau.” And interval training also helps avoid boredom.

Walking does not have to be boring.  Walking can be time used for meditation, catching up on audiobooks or podcasts, or spending time socializing with friends and family. Walking regularly can reduce the amount of stress you feel, help you sleep better, and improve your overall physical health. And walking is by no means “a consolation prize”. It is a sport in and of itself, so go out and enjoy!

And if you would like to learn more about making walking (and running and hiking) easier on your body while improving your efficiency and effectiveness, join me for Bliss with Your Body. The next session starts this Thursday, June 17th.

Happy Memorial Day

I am always somewhat uncomfortable saying “Happy Memorial Day”. Memorial Day is dedicated to soldiers who left for battle and never came back, which is not something to be especially happy about. However, those brave men and women fought for the freedoms we have today, and of course, that is something to celebrate. As I am pondering this conundrum, I am also remembering my first and only visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, VA. I wish I could tell you that I ran 26 miles from Washington DC, past the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, to Arlington to pay my respects to fallen Marines, but that would not really be true. The finish line of the Marine of Corps Marathon is just steps from the memorial sculpture. But that fact does not diminish the awe I felt when I actually saw it.
 
According the National Park Service website, the story behind the sculpture is as follows:

The tiny island of Iwo Jima lies 660 miles south of Tokyo. Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that forms the narrow southern tip of the island, rises 550 feet to dominate the ocean around it. US troops had recaptured most of the other islands in the Pacific Ocean that the Japanese had taken in 1941 and 1942. In 1945 Iwo Jima became a primary objective in American plans to bring the Pacific campaign to a successful conclusion.

On the morning of February 19, 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima after an ineffective 72-hour bombardment. The 28th Regiment of the 5th Division, was ordered to capture Mount Suribachi. They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21 and, by nightfall the next day, had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, started the tortuous climb up the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 am men all over the island were thrilled by the sight of a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi. That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second, larger flag was raised in the same location.

The sculpture is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken on that day by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press. Thirty-two foot high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The flag flies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by presidential proclamation. The figures stand on a rock slope above a granite base. The entire memorial is about 78 feet tall. The entire cost of the statue ($850,000) was donated by US Marines, friends of the Marine Corps, and members of the Naval Service. No public funds were used for this memorial.

 
I find the part about the private funding of the memorial to be especially poignant. The lives we honor on Memorial Day were private lives. They were not public figures, but rather private individuals who paid the ultimate price for our ability to live in freedom. They were people with families: parents, spouses and children. Those families too paid an enormous price for our freedom.


The United States Marine Corps War Memorial represents our gratitude to Marines and those who have fought beside them. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the memorial in a ceremony on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, “in honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.”
 
I had the honor of having my picture taken in front of the memorial in 2013, as did all the approximately 24,000 Marine Corps Marathon finishers. I remember that race. I was not feeling well—I had a bad cold or some other seasonal respiratory ailment. The weather was frosty in Washington, DC at that time of year—much colder than I was used to training in Northern CA. And I had just run the Berlin Marathon 28 days earlier. I was planning to take it slowly—even slower than the 14-minute miles I usually ran. The race had a seven-hour time limit (an average of 16 minutes/mile) so I figured it would be OK to run/walk a 15 min/mile pace and still finish before the cutoff.

Early on race morning (around 5am Eastern time, which felt like 2am to my West-Coast body, despite what my watch said), in the cold and in the dark, I approached the starting corrals. As I found my place at the back of the crowd of runners together with the other expected 7-hour finishers, I overheard people talking nervously about “beating the bridge”. “Beat what bridge?”, I thought to myself.  I had not read anything about “beating a bridge” on the website when I registered for the race (or if I did, I had since forgotten about it). It turns out, that while you have seven hours to finish the whole race, you need to reach the bridge at mile 20 within five hours or they pull you off the course. This has to do with permitting and how long they can close the bridge to vehicle traffic. With only 1 hour to go before the race start, I realized my plan was in jeopardy. I quickly discovered that if I ran a comfortable 15 minute/mile, I might miss the cutoff and not have the opportunity to finish the race. And the race was starting…now…

So off I went, trying to maintain a sub-14 minute/mile pace, more than 30 seconds faster than my average pace of 14:31 in Berlin, when I was feeling healthy, not suffering from a respiratory ailment and had not run 26.2 miles less than 4 weeks prior. I do not recommend this methodology! In fact, this is an excellent example of very, very poor planning. To make a long, painful story short (actually, it was like a 4-hour, 59-minute story), I beat the bridge with just seconds to spare. The last 6.2 miles seemed to take an eternity as I walked slowly, feeling dejected and physically nauseous across the bridge to Arlington and the finish line.

This was no ordinary finish line. A Marine flag bearer in dress blues waited just before the final hill that would take runners to the finish line. When he crossed the finish line carrying the American flag, the race would be over. And anyone behind him would not be considered and official finisher and would DNF (“Did Not Finish”) the race. As I walked toward him with that sad-but-relieved-to-be finished face, he did what Marines do.  He told me to run!  I thought to myself, “Was that supposed to be encouragement, or was that an order?”  I told him that I had a few minutes left. And believe me, I was planning on making the most of them—I was completely spent! He then pretended to step onto the course in front of me, threatening me with a DNF, and encouraging me to give my best effort up the hill, which I did. And when I reached the top, I saw not one, but two rows of Marines (both men and women!), on either side of the approach to the finish line arch. As I ran toward the finish line, I ran between the two rows of Marines who were applauding, cheering, and giving high-fives to each of us as we finished the race, crossed the finish line arch, received our medals, and approached the Iwo Jima Memorial.
 
Races are not easy, and freedom is not free. And that is what is the Iwo Jima Memorial symbolizes. Thank you to all who have served, and may the memories of those who did not come back be blessed forever.

A Different Approach to Running

Ladies who ran track or cross country in high school and have participated in my programs have mentioned that my approach to running is completely different that what they learned from their high school coaches. For me, running is about wonder, gratitude, and self-acceptance.  

While I participate in many official races (or at least I did pre-COVID, and I’m hoping to get back to it soon!), for me participating in a race not at all about competing against the other runners. It is not about going “fast”.  I see racing as participating in a really fun, outdoor party. Races are social environments full of people enjoying themselves, making friends, and reaching for their own personal bests. For me, racing has nothing to do with winning the overall race or even winning my age group.

For me, running, walking and hiking are also about mindfulness, self-care, and creating a sense of calm in my very hectic life. According to Kriste Peoples, who is both an outdoor guide and women’s running coach as well as a meditation teacher, “Mindfulness invites us back to the experience in our bodies.” Peoples believes that mindfulness can help any runner get in tune with his or her body and stay immersed in the moment.

I recently read an article by Jenny McCoy in the online edition of Runners’ World magazine about Peoples’s approach to mindful running. The article really resonated with me, and I want to share with you some of the concepts she discusses:

Mindfulness Is… Curiosity

The first tenet of mindful running, walking, and hiking for Peoples is encouraging yourself to be inquisitive about what is happening when you run, walk and hike both around you and within you. This, in turn, can cultivate a broader sense of awareness, wonder, and appreciation for the world.  Sometimes it can seem that the whole world is falling apart. Every day we are exposed to disruptive politics, violence, and natural disasters. But mindful running, walking and hiking can help us put all that aside—even just temporarily—and focus on what is going on inside of us and around us.

Mindfulness Is… Presence

Another core tenet of mindful running, walking and hiking is simply accepting what is.

Peoples gives the example of running in cold weather, where a natural reaction might be to clench up, resist the inherent discomfort, and think, “This is terrible.” A mindful approach, by contrast, involves acknowledging that it is cold—and then relaxing into the experience. This small change in mindset can make a huge difference in your experience of running, walking and hiking. Instead of spending the whole time wishing it were 75 degrees and sunny, the mindful runner, walker and hiker notices how beautiful the trees look when they’re dusted in snow, or how strong his or her quads feel tackling a big hill. Learning to accept what is can also help you develop more self-confidence in your ability to roll with life’s “punches”.

Mindfulness Is… Freedom

Beyond helping you simply enjoy running, walking and hiking more, mindfulness can “help free us from self-imposed rigors that we don’t really need to be abiding by,” says Peoples. Despite what you might think when you scroll social media or observe other people in your community, there is no “right way” to run, walk or hike just as there are no rules on what an athlete “should be”.  For example, consider 250-pound ultramarathoner Mirna Valerio. Valerio is a very successful trail runner and all-around athlete that defies every traditional stereotype. In her own words, “[she is] good with [her] big body.”

Mindful running, walking and hiking can be an excellent form of self-care. Engaging in these activities can help you focus better, cultivate a sense of calm and well-being, and increase your self-confidence as well as your strength, stamina, and joy. I encourage you to give it a try!

Goldilocks’s Running Shoes

Remember Goldilocks? She broke into the Bear Family’s house, ate their breakfasts, sat in their chairs and then tried out their beds. The first bed was too hard, the second bed was too soft, and the third bed was….well…you know…

How are your shoes? Are they just right, or not really? Too hard? Too soft? Too small? Our feet change over time and the style of shoes you have been wearing for years may not feel as comfortable as they used to feel. Not all running shoes are the same, which is a great thing because, neither are we.

Two different trends in running (and walking) shoes are maximal and minimal shoe styles.

Maximal Running Shoes

Two longtime mountain runners from Salomon footwear, started HOKA One One in 2010 based on what they’d found spending time in the mountains –full suspension mountain bikes, oversized tennis rackets and oversized skis provide a better opportunity to find the “sweet spot” that would maximize performance through stability and comfort.

HOKA shoes have more than twice the amount of cushioning compared to a standard shoe, which is designed to provide a broader base of support for shock absorption. The foot can sink a bit into the shoe rather than just sitting on top of it; and the shoes are also designed with a bit of a curve, called the metarocker, to assist with proper foot landing and improve performance.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hoka.png

Minimal Running Shoes

After the release of the book Born to Run, many runners became interested in barefoot running, which was suggested as a way to make our feet stronger and therefore, make runners less prone to injury. However, since most of us live the 21st Century-City-Life where broken glass and other dangerous obstacles are things we encounter regularly, minimalist shoes with a very thin, flat, foot-shaped sole offer a more practical take on barefoot running.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2021-05-08-5.png

Neither maximal nor minimal shoes have true long-term studies to back any claims they actually prevent injury. Nevertheless, both styles have tons of convinced and converted followers. Personally, I’m in Camp Minimalist. I love how they give me immediate feedback on the effectiveness of my gait, which allows me to improve my form regularly. That is my personal preference but, as with any trend, you need to figure out what works best for you.

When Should You Try a New Shoe Model?

According to Amanda Brooks, running coach and owner of Run to The Finish, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you suffering from repeat injuries that physical therapy isn’t resolving? It may be time to try a new shoe.
  • Have you been wearing the same model for years and years? Bodies change, be open to trying something new.
  • Are you running personal bests injury-free? Don’t change.
  • Have you lost weight? Gained weight? Changed your other workouts? Anything that might have caused a shift in your body could change your running gait and thus your trusty old shoe might not be your best choice now.

At the end of the day, no shoe alone (no matter how technologically advanced) is going to make you injury-free. To reduce your risk of injury, you should have a program that involves a well-developed, smart training plan, cross training, and strength training to keep you running and walking strong. But finding the right shoe that helps you feel good when you walk and run is definitely a step in the right direction!

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Do your shins throb and ache after your daily run, walk or hike?  

If you have shin splints (technically called medial tibial stress syndrome), you might notice tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner side of your shinbone and mild swelling in your lower leg. At first, the pain might stop when you stop exercising. Eventually, however, the pain can be continuous and might progress to a stress reaction or stress fracture. This a result of stress on your shinbone and the connective tissues that attach muscles to your bones that causes them to get inflamed and painful.

Shin splints are often the result of

  • Overpronation — when the impact of a step makes your foot’s arch collapse
  • Shoes that don’t fit well or provide good support
  • Skipping the dynamic warmup exercise or cooldown stretches
  • Weak ankles, hips, or core muscles

These are all common problems and, fortunately, they are easily solvable.

However, the most common cause on shin splints is an abrupt change in intensity or sudden increase in the distance of a workout schedule. Muscles are forced to work harder, which can lead to inflammation of the lower leg muscles and even those that are used in lifting the foot. A change in terrain or surface can also influence whether or not you experience shin splints. Soft terrain such as dirt trails is always the easiest on shin splints while hard concrete is undeniably the worst. If you do plan to run or walk on concrete, make sure to adjust the distance and frequency of your runs and walks to ensure you are not over-doing it.  If you can choose a different terrain, even better!

The best remedy for shin splints is rest. While you are healing, feel free to take up a no-impact activity that won’t aggravate your shin splints while they heal, for example swimming or cycling.  However, if your shin splints don’t get better, or if they come back, your doctor may suggest you see a physical therapist. They can treat issues in your legs or the way you move that could be the cause of the problem. A therapist can also help ease the pain and guide your return to more activity. Your doctor can also check to make sure you don’t have tiny cracks in your tibia, commonly called a stress fracture.

But of course, the very best solution to shin splints is prevention!

Stretching and practicing correct biomechanics are two of the most basic ways to prevent the development of shin splints. Calf strengthening and calf stretches are especially important. Tight calves pull on the tibia, which then causes pain in the shin. Remember, if you want to prevent having tight calves – you need to stretch, stretch, stretch!

And don’t forget about your shoes! It’s a great idea to have several pairs of good athletic shoes, and regularly rotate the pair you use. Having at least two pairs of shoes “in rotation” and any given time help you avoid stress on your shins and joints. Remember that running and walking shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles. And the harder the surfaces you run and walk on (i.e. concrete) the more likely you will need new shoes at 300 miles versus 500.