It’s been a while since Part 1 of this post, so I’m going to do a quick review. And then I’ll give you the first instalment of my suggested key exercises to start your own Restorative Exercise™ practice.
You want to start getting healthy, learning alignment, and practicing RE™, and you don’t know where to start.
This is reasonable, as there are a lot of Restorative Exercise™ blogs out there, including this one, firing off recommendations to you on a regular basis, and now you don’t know whether to stretch your hamstrings, roll your eyes more often, burn all your shoes, or focus on taking the playground back from all those kids so you can hang more often. And you don’t have time to do it all.
So in these posts, I am giving you my recommendations for the heavy hitters – the changes you can make that will be a great place to start your RE™ practice, but also changes that will improve your lifelong health even if you never make any others.
From last time, then:
1. Transition to ‘zero-drop’ shoes – get out of heels, even small ones. Bonus points if your zero-drop shoes have a wide toe-box and flexible soles – you want something that lets your feet move as naturally as possible. Do this slowly and do foot exercises too – more on this below.
2. Stop sitting in chairs. When you want to rest, sit on the ground. Use a bolster as desired. Get a standing workstation and use it. If you have to sit, take movement breaks, even if this is annoying.
3. Start practicing the basic Restorative Exercise™ stance points:
– Feet straight ahead
– Ankles pelvis-width apart
– Knees straight, not bent
– Hips back over heels
And for bonus points, legs externally rotated so that knee pits are neutral.
So hopefully you’ve done all this already and that brings us to right now. Without further ado, here is Part 2 of my recommendations for the top corrective exercises and daily movement practices that everyone can do to start being way healthier.
#1 – Calf stretch
This stretch is super simple, easy to fit into your day, and delivers huge benefits. It creates length through the posterior line (which has been shortened in most of us by….wait for it…sitting and wearing shoes with heels), improves lower leg circulation, and helps get your body into the perfect position for walking. Do it at least 3x a day on each leg – but you could do it 3x an hour (at your standing desk) and that would be even better (by better, I mean it would create more changes faster).
First, you’re going to find a half dome, or a rolled up yoga mat, or a rock – something big enough and stable enough that you can rest the ball of your foot on it with comfort. I’m going to use a half dome in the picture (and yes, I realize that it is in fact a half cylinder, and not any part of a dome. That’s just it’s name).
Next you’re going to stand behind and to the side of it – using your best Restorative Exercise™ stance – with your right foot behind the left side of the dome.
Place the ball of your right foot on the top of the dome, making sure your right heel stays on the floor.
Then, check in with your right hip (see picture) and make sure it is directly above your right ankle – this means your leg is vertical.*
Do you feel a stretch in the right calf? If so, you are good – hang out here and skip the next step – and while you’re hanging, check in with your other alignment points – are your feet straight? Are they pelvis-width apart? Is your weight fairly evenly distributed between both heels? Is your pelvis straight, or has it rotated so that one side is leading the other? If anything is wonky, fix it – you want everything to be nice and even.
If you don’t feel a stretch, you can start inching your non-stretching foot forward until you either a) feel a stretch in the right calf or b) lose the vertical alignment of your right hip over your right ankle.
If you lose your alignment, you have gone too far, even if you don’t feel any stretch, so you need to move the non-stretching foot back. This is one of the biggest lessons of Restorative Exercise™ – what you feel doesn’t always tell you what you are actually doing. It’s a mind bender, so don’t worry about it too much – instead, work with the alignment points so that you can actually see what your body is up to (and of course, if anything ever hurts, back off. Because sometimes what you feel does tell you important stuff!).
Once you’re in your stretch, you’re going to hold it for a minute or so then switch sides.
For bonus points:
1. Can you relax your quads when you’re just standing around? If so, then try adding it to your calf stretch. If not, then keep working on it in standing.
2. Walk More
It’s not fancy, but this is the best thing you can do for your health. In a perfect world, you’d be averaging 5-6 miles of walking (for me, about 14,000 steps) – unevenly distributed, so that one day you might walk 10 miles and another day 4 and another day none. Alas, we all know that the world is not perfect…
So I suggest you start by establishing your baseline – figure out how much you already walk. I use an app called Moves to help me keep track of my daily walking but any app or tracker will do. Get a tracker, and turn it on, and then a week later take a look so you can see your daily patterns.
Then, on week 2, ask yourself what you can do to increase the amount that you walk daily by a small amount. Can you add a 1o minute walk after lunch? A five minute walk when you get your morning coffee? Meet a friend for a walk instead of that coffee? It all counts. See if you can increase your weekly walking by 5-10%. See how you feel. See if you think you can add more. Keep going – and eventually you will amaze yourself! (You can do this without the tracker too, but it’s pretty satisfying to see the increases and I recommend it).
(A note – tracking can be a useful tool – but it’s good to remember that quality counts as well as quantity, and tracking doesn’t help with that. At the outset of your RE™ practice, it is often wise to spend a bit more time on the correctives that help improve your walking, and then as your gait gets more aligned, to transition to fewer correctives and more walking. It’s all about balance. Also if walking hurts you – for instance, by triggering foot or knee pain – then you definitely should focus more on correctives before increasing your mileage).
For bonus points:
1. Go for a walk immediately after doing a few rounds of calf stretch. This will improve your gait pattern naturally and easily because you’ll have additional length in the backs of your legs.
2. Walk on uneven terrain – hills, trails, anything that isn’t flat and level pavement.
3. Give Your Feet Some Love
You will enjoy a safer and healthier transition to minimal shoes if you add corrective stretches and exercises. Your feet are the foundation of everything else you do, so taking 5-20 minutes a day to work on them is time very well spent, in my opinion.
Here are some great options for foot work. Try them all out, not necessarily on the same day.
This is an amazing stretching and mobilizing sequence – plus it feels awesome! Use a tennis ball, a yoga tune-up ball, or something similar – you want a bit of squish.
Movement is not exercise. And your whole body needs it. So even though you have to start somewhere and set some priorities, it’s also nice to add something a bit more random so that you remember the bits of you that aren’t top priorities. In my own practice, I usually focus on a couple of body parts or skills at a time, but I also have about 200 little cards, each with a different RE™ corrective written on it. I like to pick a few at random and work my way through them – just to make sure that I distribute the movement love. That’s my final recommendation for this week – on a daily basis, try out a new and different RE™ stretch. Check out Katy’s awesome Advent Calendar for daily suggestions this December, work your way through this or any of my RE colleagues’ blogs and try out whatever strikes your fancy, or try an Alignment Snack from the Restorative Exercise Institute (which is a lot more than just one stretch, I confess) – it’s entirely up to you!
Whew. That was a long one. This should give you lots to work on until my next and (probably) final instalment. Have a great Wednesday!
*Umm, so I’m totally not a photographer, and apparently I went and took pictures that show my left leg stretching instead of my right leg. Just pretend that I’m stretching my right leg, since the basic instructions are the same on both sides.