Skip to main content

How staring at your phone could be causing your weak ankles.

Our bodies are incredible.

They are mad feats of improbable engineering with bone, muscle and connective tissue working in balance to move smoothly and with accuracy.

We have pretty much the same bones as a llama, a bat or a seal. Variations the lengths, tension and kinematics mean that we move and function completely differently. That's awesome.

I've been fascinated by movement since I was a teenager. I remember being a precocious 17 year old at my university interview. I had taken a trip out to the Equine Sports Medicine Centre to look at the high speed treadmill. It's an amazing (and very expensive) bit of tech that allows a horse to gallop while being relatively stationary, so accessible for all kinds of diagnostics. My interviewer asked what I thought of it. I said it was pretty impressive but I wasn't sold on how the horse moved on it. They still offered me a place. I still don't like to assess movement on a treadmill, you don't see natural locomotion.


I'm supposed to be telling you what that title was about.

Your body is amazing, when you shift your gaze down, say to phone level, or squint to read something on your computer screen, a very funky little reflex acts to correct your centre of gravity by tilting your pelvis. You hollow your back and stick your bum out. This is automatic, try it.

Due to the relationship between the pelvis and lower leg (and a bunch of other stuff) this movement transfers downwards. Your leg muscles aren't the correct length to accommodate this shift, so you rotate your knees inwards to compensate.

That is going to throw out the balance of your foot and ankle. So you roll your ankles.

If you adopt this posture chronically, your muscles are going to start working with it. Some muscles will overtighten and shorten, some will stop working so well. You won't be able to use your glutes properly in this position, so you lats might take over to stabilise your lower back. It's not a stable or healthy position to be moving from and you might end up more prone to injuries, like ankle sprains, or back pain. Injuries mean less mobility around your joints as your body protects itself, this leads to more compensations, more injuries and a pretty uncomfortable cycle.

I'm not suggesting you stop using your phones here. So don't panic!

Hopefully you are starting to see how a small issue can lead to a cascade of dysfunctional posture or movement.

Once you have rolled your ankle a couple of times, you are likely to become prone to it and assume it is "weak". This is because during the process of healing, you will adapt the way you move, and that sticks, making your movement patterns even less healthy. And that is what I often encounter with personal training clients.

Everybody adapts in different ways. If I see a tilted pelvis, I can't say from the outset whether it's from a forward head position, weak core, or if it comes up from the feet or knees. Without investigating further I can't tell you if your "dodgy knees" are a result of your tilted pelvis, or if both are a result of your flattened feet. And I kind of love the "detective process". Our bodies tell incredible stories.

We are all a bit wonky.

Healthy "general-population" people (especially those who have lived a bit more) almost always present with an issue:

"I've got a bit of stiffness in this shoulder from an old rugby injury".
"My ankles have always been weak".
"My lower back is sore after I exercise".

Or I see it in the way they move:

Their knees turn in when they squat.
Their shoulders shrug when they reach overhead.
Their ankle rotates on a lunge.

But why are we all so wonky?

It took our bodies millions of years to become the lanky falling machines we have become, yet our lifestyles change quickly, and because humans are such delightfully weird creatures, we do really surprising things with our bodies like:

Sitting at desks for a lot of the day.
Carrying bags.
Wearing shoes, particularly those with a raised heel.

We chronically carry ourselves and move in ways that are not optimal for our anatomy, and our brains and muscles adapt to compensate for this - but not always in helpful ways.

We also do things like have babies. I have yet to meet a postnatal woman who does not carry the impact of her pregnancy somewhere in her body - even the ones who stay really fit and active through pregnancy.

Sports also have an impact. If you train for a sport you probably use a lot of sterotyped, one side movements (like a tennis swing) and training hard on one kind of movement can leave other parts of the body behind. Or you become more prone to a particular injury and board the train of the cumulative injury cycle.

I'm not really a sports person, but I see this a lot as a dancer. In fact I am presenting a workshop at the Majma Dance Festival this year where I will be working with Arabic dancers on techniques to counter the body imbalances that can occur with intensive dance practice.

Lastly, some of us were just made that way. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which makes me naturally hypermobile and poorly coordinated. When your joints are wobbly and keep dislocating, your body finds ways around that, or just moves  inefficiently. I also have fibromyalgia, and like anyone with chronic pain, a tendency to avoid movement that might result in pain. When I train people with chronic pain my goal is to teach their body that movement can be safe, and build patterns of movement which make managing their condition easier.

So how do we sort this out?

Correcting unhealthy movement patterns is a process that should be addressed before pushing into any demanding programme. There are too many people who aren't being active in ways that they love, because when they try to do so, they end up injured, but it doesn't have to be that way.

The first step is a thorough assessment, which can be conducted by a Corrective Exercise Specialist or physiotherapist, to identify the overactive and underactive muscles. This is really important. There's no point doing "ankle strengthening" exercises if the cause of the weakness is poor alignment that originates from the pelvis. That's just a sticking plaster.

Then we need to look at joint movement. If a joint can't move freely, it can't move correctly, so we need to look at those spasmed and shortened muscles. The root of this is actually in your brain. We need to let your brain know that it's OK to "let go", and we do this through myofascial release and neuromuscular stretching techniques, which are designed to "hack" the systems that control the activity in the muscle groups.

Once good mobility is achieved, we can look at activating the muscles that weren't previously able to do their job properly. We are simply training the brain to start "switching them on". Then we strengthen.

Now the fun can begin. The joints are moving, the muscles are awake, but not too awake, now we can start integrating them into larger, functional movements. In other words we practice moving better.

And that's how I can take someone from a point of not being able to exercise for fear of pain or injury to someone who can love being active again.

I offer training both in-person and online, contact me here for more information.


Popular posts from this blog

Step away from the scale. Why weigh ins and weight loss don't match.

I have a persistant bugbear when it comes to health coaching, and it's this issue of "weight". People are often talking about "losing weight", the number on the scale becomes a focus. "If only I could just get under 65kg" they say. Or worse I see advertised "buy this supplement and you can lose 20kg in a fortnight". I've found myself frequently sitting with a weight-focussed client and asking "if you were 2 dress sizes smaller, fit and toned, but you weighed the same as you do now, could you be happy with that?" You might be surprised how challenging a question that can be. For many people, particularly those who have struggled with weight loss, that number is the absolute key. They can wake up, feeling energised and full of life, slip into those jeans that used to live hopefully in the bottom of the drawer, check themselves in the mirror and love what they see... then they step on the scales, see the number is half a kilo

Managing Fibromyalgia flares

I've written before about living with EDS and Fibromyalgia ,  much of my personal fitness and health practices are geared around managing those conditions and keeping me as well as I can be. When managing a chronic health condition, particularly one that involves fatigue and potential flare ups, pacing, good nutrition, good sleep and generally taking care of yourself is always the first priority. Ideally we want to have as few flares as possible. But sometimes they still happen, and when they do, it's good to have a strategy in place. And I'm going to be talking in fairly general terms, because while EDS and Fibro are my personal experience, there is so little understanding of the mechanisms behind these conditions, that most strategies are going to be applicable to a number of conditions where crashes of exhaustion and pain are a feature. So what is a flare? A flare is a period where someone with chronic illness suffers increased symptoms for a short while. The

Is being polite sabotaging your weight loss?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the barriers that make it hard for people to stick to healthy habits, or even take them up in the first place. My personal training clients are a lovely bunch, and one thing I can certainly say is that none of them have come to me completely uninformed about healthy eating. Most people have done some homework before they get to the point of hiring me, and while I always go over the basics (never assume anything) I know that when I tell them stuff like this, it's not new information to them: Eat less to lose weight Eat protein with every meal Eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day Consume high sugar and fat treats rarely and in moderate portions Drink water with every meal or snack Exercise regularly That's not rocket science, so why are so many people still struggling with it? Is it because "the rules" are more complicated? Are they missing the "weird trick" (spoiler alert, there are no weird tricks

What's the deal with yoga and hypermobility?

I wanted to address a question today that keeps coming up on various hypermobility and EDS forums that I frequent. It comes up so often in fact that I feel like I have to write this all up in one place, to save me 1000s of key strokes of individual responses and distil some of my opinions and thought processes on the matter. It always goes like this. Someone asks a question like "I've just been diagnosed with hypermobility, I've been told I can't do yoga anymore..." The responses are always a mixture of "yes, my doctor/physio told me yoga was the worst thing I could do for my hypermobility" and "I do yoga and it's been the best thing for my hypermobility". So what gives? Well, I'm firmly in the "yoga is useful" camp, and I have to disclose that. I'm a yoga practitioner of around 20 years and a perinatal yoga teacher , as well as a personal trainer and bendy person. While I have the deepest respect for the medic

My top apps for supporting a healthy lifestyle.

The hardest part of making healthy choices and lifestyle changes is making it a habit. It's easy to make a decision to "eat better", "exercise more" or whatever your current plan is. It's a lot harder to stick to it on the rough days, for long enough that it becomes a habit and part of your life that you can't imagine being without. I love a bit of tech. I am a super geeky science nerd and finding ways to use technology to support my health and fitness makes me very happy. So with this in mind I thought I'd give a quick run down of my favourite smartphone apps for developing and maintaining healthy habits. Habitica I'm starting with this one because it's mad and I love it. Habitica is basically a to-do list app, but it's specially for the gamers among us. If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, and all the games that grew out of that system and fantasy world, you will recognise Habitica. The app allows you to create 3 t