I would like to take a few minutes to sing the praises of your lowly heel, and what it can do for you. It turns out that your heel is connected. It’s connected in strategic ways to the back of your legs, and even your butt.
Why is this important?
Let’s go up the chain for a minute. Turns out that there are some very important muscles that tend to all work together further up. They move your leg to the back. This comes in handy for walking, running, climbing stairs, getting up and down from a chair and tons of other moves. These muscles would be your calf muscles, the hamstrings at the back of your thigh, and your butt. These muscles will fire up in response to a push through your heel.
The problem is that in daily life, and in sports, the muscles in the front of the leg, your quads, tend to get in there are take over if you are not careful. For one thing, that group of muscles is larger and stronger than the back of your leg, by about 3 to 2.
When the front of your leg is out-muscling the back, it can lead to knee pain, low back pain, and trouble getting up out of chair or up off the floor. To be specific, when the quads are taking over, they can pull on your kneecap and cause misalignment and pain. The quads can also bring your knees too far back (hyperextension), and tip your hips forward chronically. When this happens, you are at risk for low back pain.
On the flip side, if you keep your backside working as well as the front, it creates muscle balance. Muscle balance is another way of saying that you have better coordination. This means you are less likely to get injured, lose your balance, and it keeps many aches and pains away.
So, let’s get back to the heel. In order to keep your backside tuned up, you need to use your heels. Pushing through your heels on many exercises or various daily activities will fire up the muscles on the back of your legs, keep them strong, and give your quads some much-needed competition. Often, you will need to focus on using your heel because chances are it will not happen naturally. This again shows how easy it is to neglect the muscles on the back of your leg and let the front ones do most of the work.
Let your heel work for you!
Here’s a few exercises that will give you much better results for your backside if you use your heel. As you do these, you may be aware of how easy it is to default to using your quads to get these exercises done. Remembering to make the switch to using your heel can turn these exercises into a muscle-changing event that can also be life changing. No kidding.
1. Bridge; One-legged Bridge
Lay on a mat, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Push down on your heels, activate your butt muscle, and lift your midsection straight up towards the ceiling. Bring it back down, and repeat this move 10 times, slowly. Challenge move: To make this more intense, put one leg in the air and do the bridge again. You will need to fire up the heel and butt even more.
2. Side-lying Hamstring Curl.
Lay on your side on a mat, knees bent. Lift the top leg towards the ceiling about 12 inches, keeping it bent. Leading with your heel and keeping the leg up, straighten the leg. Repeat this move 10 times. You will feel the back of your leg burning! This is good.
3. Split Squat.
Position yourself with one leg way ahead of the other. Come down so that the back and front legs are both bent at the knee. Feet should be far enough apart so that when you come down, the knees do not come forward over your feet. You can hang on to a chair for balance if necessary. Press down firmly on the heel of the front leg as you bring yourself up to the top position. Repeat 10 times, slowly.
You can try these exercises without pushing through the heel to feel the difference in how your muscles work, but don’t keep doing them that way! Instead, use these exercises as a guide to help you strengthen your backside. It’s for a good cause.
P.S. Remember to stretch the back of your leg too. See my blog, “What is Your Achilles Heel?” for one suggestion of how to do that.
All the best
Split Squat 1
Split Squat 2
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