They say man learns from experience, but a wise man learns from the experience of others.
In the interests of spreading the wealth, I am going to share the paltry things that life has taught me to be true.
Some of you may disagree with some of my conclusions. Feel free to do so, and I will explain why you are wrong.
The list is somewhat small concerning things I have learned as indisputable facts that are not common knowledge, and I will focus on these.
We will start simply, with things I have learned from long distance running.
Long distance running is a good way to learn things about yourself and your body in general because it is an extreme situation. The very nature of testing things implies that you have to take them to extremes. Out there on the bleeding edge is where you tend to figure things out. What you come back with is kind of interesting.
For example, it took me several years of running and two marathons before I actually learned how to walk properly. I now understand that almost nobody knows how to walk.
Though it was a difficult thing to figure out, and required a lot of sweat trouble and pain, I learned what is indisputably the correct way to walk. I will explain it and share it with you so that you can benefit for free.
And yes, you will benefit. I learned because I had to. As much as I was running I was hurting myself by placing one foot in front of the other the wrong way. I was hurting myself by doing this wrong before I started running long distances, just not enough to need to change.
So without further ado, here it is:
Almost everybody walks heel to toe. The shoes we wear are generally designed to support this with their built up and cushioned heels. The jarring motion of walking on your heels hurts your legs and back as it vibrates up your spinal cord. You get lower back pain and headaches, shin splints, and all kinds of trouble.
After running thousands of training miles, sometime towards the end of my second marathon, the great pain in my legs, back, neck and head, became such that I suddenly shifted.
I started landing on the outer edge of the front half of my foot, but lightly. As my weight continued to press down on that foot, the weight rolled to the inside, and I learned that the huge ball of the heel creates incredible moment arm with the achilles tendon, acting like a shock absorber.
The heel is like the elbow of a dog’s back leg. It’s supposed to absorb and spread out shock from the front of the foot, not be a landing pad.
This realization was one of those sudden enlightening experiences. “So this is how you’re supposed to be doing it!” I thought.
It was like the first time I rowed a rowboat, I was facing the wrong way, and was surprised how hard it was. Than somebody told me to turn around, and I went “A-ha! Now I understand.”
So try it this way: Stand up erect and straight. Put your right foot in front of you, and feel the ground with the edge of the outer pad behind your big toe. Roll your foot towards the big toe until the weight is distributed across the width of your foot, Now let your heel rotate down transferring weight to your foot. Now repeat with the other foot.
Try it. Go back and forth until you get the hang of it. Show it to somebody else and watch them. See how they move?
I have seen people move like this, elite athletes, martial artists, some of my Dad’s spooky Recon Marine friends. You wouldn’t guess that the walk is coming from the feet to see it. It’s a competant whole body thing from appearances. It’s almost effortless, quiet and low impact. It’s kind of how a cat walks. It’s how we were meant to walk. Before hard bottomed shoes, it’s how we did walk.
Don’t beleive me? Go find some woods and walk barefoot. Almost from the first step you will be forced to walk like this. Just slamming your foot down willy-nilly on sticks, rocks and crap hurts.
Callouses won’t make a difference. The arch of your foot is unprotected from protusions. Physiologically we were meant to walk this way. Watch and see how a two or a three year old walks barefoot in the grass. They walk this way. They learn to walk lazily when they get used to shoes.
Try it for a couple of days. Get the hang of it, and feel the difference. Feel it in your legs your back your neck. Feel how your center of balance has changed. Realize that all of a sudden, you are doing it right. Go buy some light, flexible, flat-bottomed shoes, like moccasins.
Of course, after I figured this out on my own, I learned that there are lots of sources that say the exact same thing.
But few people do it. Once you’ve got it down, it seems obvious.
The other thing I’ll talk about tonight is breathing. Almost nobody breathes right. Books on yoga and meditation will tell you how to breathe. Most people will only do this when they meditate or do yoga, but this is pretty much how you are supposed to breathe.
Most people put effort into the inhalation phase and relax on the exhalation.
In reality we are supposed to do the opposite. Force air out, then relax and let air come in. This is something else I learned while running.
If your effort is on the inhale, and you simply relax to exhale, then your lungs will always be half full of stale air, and you’ll have to breathe hard to get the oxygen you need.
Most of the time we are not in great physical effort, so you don’t notice this.
Running long distances, the effort on the inhale, and the defficiency of oxygen it produces becomes pretty damn noticeable.
I found accidently while running at speed as I was panting along, that I still felt out of breath even while inhaling. If I forcibly exhaled then the next breathe left me without distress. I started consciously doing this on every breathe as I ran, and within a minute or two I found that I was getting all the oxygen I needed and breathing with slower and with much less effort.
After a while I started naturally doing this all the time.
Try it. Breathe normarlly for a minute and time yourself and see how many breaths you take.
Now breathe for a couple of minutes the way I’ve described. Push out with effort, and make no effort on the inhale, just let your lungs fill naturally to whatever level they want, than slowly push it all out, and relax again. After you’ve done this for a minute or two time yourself and see how many breaths you take in a minute. Chances are, you’ll be taking about half of what you had to by making the effort on the inhale.
Now go do something physical and see how much your performance and endurance has suddenly increased.
Try it in good faith. Follow through on the experiment. For me it was like “Shit! I’ve been breathing wrong for thirty years! Why didn’t somebody tell me how to do this?”
Few people walk this way, and few people breathe this way. If you do, if you make the effort to get used to it, it will make a tremendous difference in the way you feel and your abilities.
Those two things are pretty much the sum total of what I’ve learned physiologically from running.
There’s a couple of mental things I’ve learned, and I’ll probably mention them tomorrow.
That’s enough for now. But I will assert strongly that the way I’ve described walking and breathing, are the correct way to do it.
Anyone care to disagree?