Do You Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Food?

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Your attitude towards food, affects you more than you realize. 

By Raymond Onyango.

That the vast majority of us understand the connection between good heath and nutrition, is not in doubt! Almost every one of my clients invariably asks for nutritional advice. What should I eat? What should I not eat? How much food should I eat?

Usually what they expect from me is a definitive formula, a few ancient words of wisdom perhaps, “Eat this, in this quantity, cut that out, drink that, and you will certainly loose 5 kilograms by the end of next month!” But unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. There is no secret formula. No one – size – fits – all, healthy eating prescription that will guarantee weight loss or magical relief from disease.

What there is instead, is a virtual avalanche of information. Millions of diet formulas – The Hollywood diet, The Atkins Diet, The Raw Food Diet, The Juice Diet…Diets that have you eating only before 6 pm in the evening and others that have you color coordinating your food!

So how do you sort the wheat from the chafe? How do you know what works and what doesn’t. How do you separate scientific fact from old wives myths? Where do you begin?

You begin by changing your attitude towards food. The vast majority of us have a very ‘transactional’ attitude towards food. We see food as something external to ourselves, a means to an end. Food is something we eat simply to obtain nourishment. Some foods are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad. In our minds, healthy eating involves cutting out the ‘bad’ foods and eating more of the ‘good’ foods. Against this backdrop, we easily begin to perceive food as the enemy and though we may make huge efforts to control our eating habits, resist temptation and walk the narrow path  – inevitably we fail spectacularly; diets fall by the wayside, weight loss targets go unmet and despite our best efforts, our waist lines remain unchanged.

 Self-Denial Does Not Work!

It is said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Despite our best intentions diets inevitably fail, because nothing can stand up to the inherently rebellious nature of the human spirit. Tell a person that they are forbidden from eating chocolate and those very words will set off a latent craving, which slowly grows and grows and until they can take it no more, and they are compelled to succumb and surrender to an all out chocolate binge – and then the craving is gone!

The lesson to be learned here is that craving is as much about your attitude towards food as it is about your taste buds. We always want what we can’t have. The moment we set out to correct our eating habits, by denying ourselves certain kinds of food, is the moment; we go to civil war against ourselves. Mind against body. Body against mind. Body craving, mind resisting in a tumultuous tug-of-war, where one side is bound to loose!

This kind of transactional attitude towards food, seldom works because it tries to deny the fact that food is much more than just nutrition. Our most basic human needs are food and shelter, and so we have a very strong relationship with food that is set in motion, from the very moment we reach for our mother’s breasts as infants, to the day we breath our last. Throughout our lives, food takes us places; invokes memories, provides comfort and affects our emotions in ways that run much deeper than we may immediately comprehend. For instance I love chapatti and dengu, a local Kenyan delicacy, because it invokes fond memories of sitting around the Jiko (charcoal stove) with my siblings waiting for my mum to feed us hot chapattis straight from the frying pan. Even now, decades after I moved out of my parents house and became a parent myself. I still love chapatti just as much as I did in my childhood.It does not matter that my professional training, has since taught me that there are a few thousand calories worth of cooking oil in every chapatti! This is still the once place where my head always defers to my heart, where reason always yields to emotion – it’s a battle I cant win and I am sure each one of us has similar experiences, where food and emotion are so intangibly intertwined!

Learn To Love Your Food!

So, if self-denial does not work, then what does? What works is to establish a relationship with your food. A ‘relationship’ is different from a ‘transaction’ in the same way that shopping in a big supermarket chain is different from shopping at your neighborhood grocers’. In the big supermarket, the experience is highly impersonal; the teller does not know you. He will never extend a line of credit or honor your personal cheque. By contrast your neighborhood grocer knows you by name and maybe your children too. You can call in advance and get your order packed and ready because they know exactly what you like; and on those occasions when you happen to forget your wallet at home – no problem! You can always pay at your next visit! That is a relationship!

When you have a relationship with your food, it stops being your enemy. It stops being something you try to control. It starts being something you enjoy and engage with, something that picks you up when you are down, energizes you in the morning, calms you down in the evening and powers you up for those long weekend runs. Healthy eating becomes less about ‘”cutting this out and cutting that out” and more about achieving a broad balance in your eating habits in real time, from one meal to the next.

There is really no such thing as ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’, what really matters are your eating habits themselves. I believe in eating anything I like under the sun – provided that I exercise moderation. If I have a glass wine at lunch, I wont have another one at dinner. If I eat out one night I will eat at home for the next several days. When I go to party and indulge one evening, I go out for a run the next morning. That is how I have successfully kept myself together for well over a decade since I got into the fitness business. I have never in my life sat down to contemplate how many calories are in the ice cream cone I am about to have for desert, because I have always maintained balance in my lifestyle habits– the balance between eating and moving.

Healthy eating Rules To Live Your Life By!

Rule number one. What goes in must come out! Food is energy. If you eat and you don’t move, your body stores that excess energy as fat. One of the first things you want to do in your quest to eat better; is to move more.  For me, regular exercise does two important things – it frees me from the guilt of eating the foods I love, such as chapatti, and it provides me with an outlet for the calories I take in from those chapattis – and that is what keeps my waistline in check.

Now, I am not saying that you should go out there and gorge yourself silly on junk, just because you exercise everyday. What I am saying is that because you exercise everyday, you can afford yourself a glass or wine here or a plate of fries there, provided that on the whole, you don’t over indulge. I call this the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time I will eat healthy, wholesome nutritional food, and twenty percent of the time I will indulge in the foods I eat for comfort and taste rather than nutrition. It’s a win – win situation for both my body and my mind!

The second rule is to go easy on processed food. Obesity was never been widespread health challenge for the human race, until the advent of Urbanization and Food processing. For instance, Fresh tomatoes are just that – tomatoes.

Processed Tomato Sauce (ketchup) on the other hand, contains the following ingredients – Tomato Paste, Cane Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Vinegar, Salt, Spices, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate as preservatives! The difference between the two is clear for all to see. It is a prime example of how most food processing generally strips away nutritional value, and adds calorie value, not to mention chemical preservatives designed to prolong shelf life.

The more processed food you consume the more likely you are to be obese, malnourished and slowly poisoned by the chemical preservatives. The evidence is to be found in the astounding rates of both obesity and cancer in developed nations such as the United States of America, versus those in less developed countries like Gambia or Burkina Faso.  Here in Kenya, medical professionals have already raised the alarm with regards to the growing prevalence of lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, especially amongst Kenyans newly affluent and growing middle class. It is clear sign that over consumption of processed food makes us both fat and sick!

Perhaps I should leave you by pointing out that, when it comes to healthy eating, the simplest solution is often the most effective. No need for complex calorie calculations. No need for fancy color coordinated or carbohydrate free diets. Humanity has thrived for eons without any of that!   You must remember that you are in a slow race here, one that will last a lifetime. Don’t make war with your food; instead seek to modify your lifestyle habits. Walk more when you can. Eat more fresh wholesome food and less stuff out of cans and bottles. Schedule the time to work out as a priority and exercise moderation in your alcohol intake. Good words of advice indeed but for heaven sake, remember also to live a little! Life is simply too short to do any less!

Have a brilliant week will you!

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Run Like A Kenyan!

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Training Secrets of Elite Kenyan Runners.

By Raymond Onyango.

World beating Kenyan athletes

The year 2011 has proven to be a record year of sorts for Kenya’s top marathon runners. Even with the untimely death of our great Olympic Marathon Champion, the late Samuel Wanjiru; Kenya’s marathon runners have still managed to break the world record courtesy of Patrick Makau, who recently shattered Haile Gabreselasie’s previous record at the Berlin marathon.  Even more revealing is the fact that as at this moment, Kenyans occupy no less than 25 of the top 30 positions in the world marathon rankings. This year alone we’ve won  all six of the major World Marathon Majors, including – Boston, London, New York marathons, not to mention the hitherto elusive World Championship marathon Gold in Daegu Korea, where we promptly swept up all the medals on offer in both the men’s and women’s marathon races.

But what is it that makes Kenyans such great long distance runners?  And what can the rest of us mere mortals learn from these elite runners about how to run better, safer and faster?

Run Barefoot or Jump Rope

Go Barefoot!

It has been argued often, and rather controversially so; that  many of Kenya’s greatest marathon runners were inadvertently launched into their careers out of the sheer necessity of running several miles everyday, often barefoot just to make it to and from school. Whether or not this is actually true, is a moot point, but it does not negate the fact that  human beings are actually designed to run barefoot and have mostly done so for millennia i.e until the advent of the modern running shoes. One of the things you will very quickly discover about running barefoot, if take the trouble to try it for yourself; is that it forces you to land very lightly on the balls of your feet rather than much more heavily on your heels. This fact is what makes it such a saviour for your joints, in terms of minimizing impact and therefore injury!

Douglas Wakiihuri

When I first started out in my career as a fresh faced rookie fitness instructor about 15 years ago, one of the people who mentored me and took the time to teach me valuable lessons about keeping fit and running in particular was none other than Douglas Wakiihuri, the 1987 world marathon champion in Rome and a silver medalist at the Seoul Olympics the following year.

It was Douglas Wakiihuri, who first taught me how to skip consistently to the rhythm of music – an activity he would indulge in for hour after hour in the gym, stopping only to crank out a set of pull-ups here and there.

Skipping as it turns out is one of the best activities you can do to help your running, precisely because skipping, just like running barefoot, is all about how you land on your feet.

Muhammad Ali

Your legs are actually designed by nature to be excellent shock absorbers. When you are jumping rope and you land lightly on the balls of your feet, all of that force travels via the bridge of your foot, through your achilles tendon and up your calves into your hamstrings, quadriceps, and ultimately your hips, where it is again released back down the other leg as the kinetic energy which powers your very next step. This allows you to stay light on your feet, incurring relatively little impact on the body, a fact which will improve both your running speed and reduce your potential for injury.

By contrast when you hit the ground heel first, that force is transmitted straight up into your knees concentrated in  your lower back and other weight bearing joints with rather painful and many a times disastrous results, such as shin splints, worn out knee cartilage, torn menisci or displaced vertebral discs – all of which are avoidable injuries, but ones that far too many runners are never the less all too familiar with!

Control Your Fall

Once you have learned to run silently on the balls of your feet, it is time to incorporate another very important concept in running – The Controlled Fall. One of biggest mistakes made by many novice and experienced runners alike, is to increase their stride length in a bid to go faster, but this actually often produces the exact opposite effect.

Running is actually a controlled fall!

When you watch some of the world’s elite marathon runners, such as the Kenyan greats pictured  here above, you will be immediately struck by one thing – the turn over rate of their feet. One study that examined several of the world’s best athletes over the marathon distance concluded that the majority of them take an average of 180 steps every minute! The reason behind this is that taking smaller steps allows them to place their feet right below, or other wise behind their body’s natural center of gravity, which lies three or four finger widths below the navel.

Why is this important?

Notice how far forward they lean!

Your body has 3 main weights, the head, the chest and the hips all of which are stacked one above the other. When you attempt to run with a very drawn out stride length which essentially places your feet ahead of any of these weights, your immediately  incur a very significant breaking action with each and every step. This absolutely unnecessary breaking action not only wastes energy, it also compounds the direct impact on your joints ultimately leading to injury.

You should feel like you are literally falling forwards!

By contrast, learning run while leaning forward just to the point where you begin to feel like you are falling forward, allows you to initiate movement using nothing but the force of gravity alone. This saves you tons on energy and allows you to focus on maintaining turnover at the feet rather than literally throwing your entire body-weight around!

The second part of the equation lies in learning to take smaller quicker steps. You can do this by visualizing the ground as a bed or smoldering coals so hot,  you can barely let your feet touch its surface. This will force you to focus on quickly lifting up your feet from the ground as soon as they touch down. You will now have the force of gravity doing the work for you as you move forwards, with your stride opening up behind you and  your heels flicking up towards your buttocks, making for a very low impact running technique that will increase your speed and endurance while  helping to keep you free of injury.

Run Like A Kenyan

  • The further you lean forward the more speed you will get. Your lean is literally your speed.
  • Keep your stride short. Your foot should always land below your body, never ahead of it. Remember that the longer your stride the greater the impact on your joints.
  • Land on the balls of your feet. This transmits minimum shock to your joints and allows you to draw on gravity for propulsion
  • Keep your feet moving. Elite athletes take about 180 steps per minute; this reduces the amount of time you spend on the ground and therefore you loose less momentum.
  • Focus on picking your legs up when running rather than pushing off the feet as many of us do. Your major running muscles are actually your hip flexors and extensors, not your legs
  • Keep your whole body relaxed to help you save energy.
Have an injury free run this week will you!

What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

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Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!

Super Slow Training!

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Blast Your Muscles Into Better Shape!

By Raymond Onyango.

Shawshank Redemption

“The world went and got itself in such a big damn hurry”, so says Brooks Hatlen, in the closing scenes of The Shawshank Redemption; one of my favorite movies of all time. The Shawshank Redemption is a story of perseverance, purpose and determination. Patience is of course  a value that comes in short supply in the world today. Like  spoiled children, we want things and we want them right now!

"6 weeks To A Beach Body!"

This need for speed permeates our consumer culture to its very core, and we in the Fitness Industry are right at the center of it. Browse the covers of many Top Flight Health & Fitness Magazines and you will be confronted with titles screaming, “Get Ripped In Six-Weeks”, “6 weeks To Your Best Beach Body” or “ See Results In 10 Days”. This is exactly the kind of mass media reinforced mythological perception that sets many of us up for failure right from the beginning. It is also the reason why I would like to introduce you to a rather unlikely concept in this digital age – Super Slow Training, and the bounty of progress it can open up in your path to better health and fitness.

Super Slow training, as the name suggests, involves slowing down the pace of your Strength Training Movements, literally to a crawl. There are several benefits to moving slower including ironically, faster results and greater overall muscle tone. Lets us take a closer look at why this is so.

Eliminate Momentum

Eliminate Momentum!

I was first introduced to the concept of Super Slow Training When I attended my first Pilates Class about eight or so years ago. The class instructor, Lisa Campbell, made us do a set of regular Push Ups on our knees, but the catch was that each Push Up was slowed down to a staggering eight seconds. At that slow speed many factors change, the most significant of them being the lack of momentum. Without momentum just your body weight alone feels like a ton of bricks, and that is just the beginning.

Less Speed, More Gain!

Eliminating momentum most importantly increases the level of neuromuscular integration. Neuromuscular Integration is simply the level of conversation that goes on between your nervous system and your muscles when they are subjected to workload. By slowing down your movements, you broaden this conversation by recruiting a much larger cross section of your muscle fibers, directly resulting in greater muscle definition as seen from the outside.

Of course Super slow training isn’t easy, and especially as you reach the point of momentary muscle failure, when you can no longer get the muscle to contract any more. At this point the lactic acid buildup can be excruciating enough to discourage the majority of us from keeping up with this method, but the intelligent and well-read exerciser knows that this is precisely the point at which the higher end motor units and muscle fibers are recruited and the greatest adaptation and therefore progress, takes place!

Prevent Injury

Many Women Shy Away From Weight Training!

Beyond producing better muscle definition and tone, Super slow training makes it possible to use very little weight, but still strongly challenge the muscles, This is important because the vast majority of women shy away from the lifting heavier weights, for fear of building muscle, but they can still use Super Slow training to tap into the benefits of Strength Training while simultaneously subduing their fears about developing unwelcome bulk.

Men Tend To Lift Too Much Weight!

On the other hand, far too many Men are fond of training with much more weight than they can comfortably handle. The combination of too much weight and high movement speeds, is in huge part responsible for the rapidly increasing rate of gym related injuries, whose prevalence constitutes a disturbing and fast growing trend within the fitness industry today. Torn Rotator Cuffs. Ruptured Cruciate Ligaments and Herniated Lumber Discs are all injuries that I see with disconcerting regularity in the course of my work. Many of them can be avoided through Super Slow Training, which by its very nature makes it virtually impossible for you to lift more weight than you can competently handle.

Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity Every Time!

To get the most out of your workouts, you must use proper form. How well you lift is far more important than both, how much weight you lift and how many repetitions you do. The primary objective of Super Slow training is to create more tension within the muscles while lifting the weight simply by slowing down the speed of movement. Physiologically this helps to bring about what are referred to as Plastic changes in the musculature.

Muscle tissue can go though both Plastic and Elastic changes. Elastic changes are temporary changes, either in length or size in the muscle as would be the case when you stretch your arm back to skim a pebble over the surface of a pond or the incredible blood pump and definition your seem to have right after a weight training session.  The key property of Muscle Elasticity is the ability to return its original shape, and therefore these types of changes don’t last long and are quickly lost with time.

Slower Movements Encourage Plastic Changes!

Plastic changes on other hand are much more permanent and refer to the muscle tissues ability to retain its new shape even after the stimulus is removed. When you look at a Fisherman, a Construction Worker or anyone who uses their muscles repeatedly at a task over a prolonged period of time, you are looking at Plastic changes. The Fisherman doesn’t have to hold his breath in order to display his abdominal muscles, because they have undergone plastic changes and are more or less permanently there. In the same token, you will be able to tell a former Athlete or a Soldier even years into their old age because their constant training brings about plastic changes that never disappear entirely.

Breath, Concentrate & Slow Down Your Movements!

They may get out of shape, they may get a bit rotund in the midsection, but even then you can always see from their overall physique that they were once very active individuals. It is this sort of permanent Plastic changes that yield forth from consistent Super Slow Training.

The very next time you are at the gym or working out at home try it for your self –  breath, concentrate and slow down your movements. These three important points will be critical to building the body and the muscle tone you have always desired!

Have a Slow Paced Week will you!

If The Shoe Fits?

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Everything You Need To Know About Athletic Footwear.

By Raymond Onyango.

If the shoe fits?

If the shoe fits, then wear it! So goes the old adage, but does this necessarily apply when you’re running on hard tarmac, or dancing your heart out in zumba class or even skipping rope in your house? Can you just strap on any old pair or shoes and ‘get on with it?’ or is there more to it than meets the eye?

Worn out shoes promote injury!

As a fitness professional i am often quick to stress that appropriate shoes are the single  most important piece of exercise gear, you should acquire,  prior to any kind of terrestrial exercise activity. Prolonged use of inappropriate athletic foot wear can lead to an incredible number of muscle imbalances and injuries including strained Achilles tendons, Plantar Fasciitis, Permanent Knee Damage, Hip Fractures and Low Back pain among several other conditions.  Think of your body as a sky scrapper, the entire weight of it resting on the tiny surface area of your feet. Now take that sky scrapper out for a walk, or even better – a run; have it bend, jump twist and turn – you can imagine what complex structures your feet must be, in order to cope with all your body’s random movements, without toppling over like a man-made structure would in a similar situation such as an earthquake.

Good shoes protect your feet!

It is precisely this incredible responsiveness added to the constant weight burden of holding up your entire bulk, that make injuries to the feet some of the most common exercise related injuries on the planet.  In biomechanical terms, our feet can only do four things: they pronate (roll inwards), they Supinate (roll outwards), they Dorsiflex (pull the toes up towards the shin) and they Plantarflex (point the toes away from the shin). All balances and imbalances in the way we stand, walk or run have their roots in the interplay of these movements.

To choose the correct shoes for you, you need to begin by understanding how your own feet behave.  You can do this through a simple method known as the Wet Test.  Simply step both into a basin with ½ centimeter or water at the bottom, and then neatly step onto a brown piece of paper, Step off without smudging the feet and observe your footprints. You should be able to glean a lot of information about  your foot type.

What is your foot type?

Normal Foot

Normal Foot: A normal foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inwards slightly, to aid with shock absorption, this will leave a wet foot print which is slightly narrowed at the arch but where the heel is connected to the forefoot by a broad band. Individuals with normal feet do not need any special considerations when buying athletics shoes, save for specificity of the purpose for which they are purchased. If you intend to run, buy running shoes. If you love to hike or go cross country running on uneven terrain – such as forests, coffee plantations or Nairobi’s famously uneven sidewalks, get trail shoes. If you are going to do a little bit of everything; aerobics, weight training, and the occasional outdoor run, invest in Cross Trainers. Having the right kind of shoe will improve your performance, increase your comfort and spare you tons of grief resulting from potential injuries.

Flat Foot

Flat Foot:  A flat foot, lands on the outside of the heel, but pronates (rolls inwards) excessively, leaving a solid foot print, with little or no discernible narrowing around the foot arches. Over time people with flat feet are likely to incur various overuse injuries including strain to the Medial Collateral Ligaments of the knee, that help to maintain stability in that crucial weight bearing joint.  Flat Feet may also present an added problem when the individual in question is overweight, placing the feet under even greater strain.What you need are shoes that help to provide stability to your feet and contain the over-pronation. Shoes labeled “motion control” or “stability” are probably your best fit!

High Arched Foot

High Arched Foot: A High Arched Foot is sure sign of under – pronation (inward rolling) and the polar opposite of the Flat Foot.  The fact that it does not roll inwards enough, makes it a poor shock absorber, which leads to a unique set of problems amongst individuals with this foot type including, frequent occurrence of the ITB syndrome, where the Illiotibial Band spanning the length of your leg and crossing over the three joints including the Hips, Knees and Ankles, becomes irritated, inflamed and morbidly painful, especially when walking down stars or steep slopes. Plantar Faciitis, where the foot arch is strained, collapses or detaches from its attachment at the heel are constant plague to the high arched foot type, as are the heel spurs or bony growth at the site of detachment that often follows in its wake.  You need shoes that are well cushioned and allow for plenty of range of motion in the feet. Look out for the words “flexible” or “cushioned” on shoe boxes and, avoid by any means athletic shoes labeled “motion controlled” or “stability” , as these are designed for the Flat Footed type and reduce mobility in the feet, which can only exacerbate your problems.

Cross Trainers

Other things to consider when purchasing athletic shoes include the time of day.  It is wise to buy your shoes in the late afternoon or evening, because your feet expand during the day and are at their widest at this point of the day. If you are running in particular, buy a shoe that is half a size larger in order to guarantee free movement for the toes, which can be a source or numerous attendant conditions, when confined in cramped and poorly ventilated conditions.  Some of us may also have imbalances in our feet that require the evaluation of a Podiatrist (foot doctor) and the use of specially designed shoe insoles.  Beyond purchasing the correct type of shoes for your feet, you can also look into forms of exercise such as Yoga, will be of tremendous benefit to your feet, by strengthening and gently stretching, the feet arches and Achilles tendons while enhancing your sense of balance and proprioception (awareness of your body in time and space), both of which contribute in no small measure to lowering your susceptibility to incurring  injuries of the feet.

Lastly, make sure you buy your shoes in person. Do not send friends overseas to do this for you. When you are present at the shoe store,  you can try on the shoes and walk around in order to get a feel of how your feet react to them, before settling on a pair that feels right, you cannot do this remotely over any distance, so be wise!

Have a lovely week will you!

Absolutely Flat Abs!

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3 Things You Can Do To Get There!

By Raymond Onyango.

Flat Abs

A flat, toned abdomen probably ranks first, as one of the most desirable outcomes of engaging in a regular exercise regimen, and one of the most elusive, to say the least!  And yet whenever I go down to the coast, or my hometown of Kisumu, every single fisherman on the lake, has a perfect set of six – pack abdominal muscles worthy of a fitness magazine cover!  They are the living proof that you don’t need to pop pills, or accumulate silly gadgets in the pursuit of a flat abdomen, you just need to modify your approach to abdominal exercise. Here is how.

Improve Your Posture

The Major Abdominal Muscle Groups

Your body has three main weights – the head, the chest and the hips. Keeping these weights in alignment, is a function that is mostly executed by four main abdominal muscle groups namely:

Transversus abdominus: The deepest muscle layer. Its main roles are to stabilize the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure.

Rectus abdominus: Slung between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. This muscle has the characteristic bumps or bulges, when contracting, that are commonly called ‘the six pack’. The main function of the rectus abdominus is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis.

Six Pack Abs

External oblique muscles: These are on each side of the rectus abdominus. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist, but to the opposite side of whichever external oblique is contracting. For example, the right external oblique contracts to turn the body to the left.

Internal oblique muscles:These flank the rectus abdominus and are located just inside the hipbones. They operate in the opposite way to the external oblique muscles. For example, twisting the trunk to the left requires the left side internal oblique and the right side external oblique to contract together.

Sit Tall

Sitting for too much of the day, often with poor posture as is the case with the great majority of us, has everything to do with weak abdominal muscles and strained lower backs. Most of the work our abdominal muscles do on a day to day basis is low in intensity, but long in duration, such as simply holding the upper body upright for hours every day. If you can consciously begin to improve your workout by sitting and standing tall, you will have laid a firm foundation upon which to build that flat abdomen you desire.

Think Whole Body

Think whole body

A common misconception is perpetuated by several health and fitness magazines is that getting flat abs is all about, doing tons and tons of crunches, sit ups and other abdominal exercises. Not only does this approach not work, even worse it encourages muscle imbalances in the body that can lead to host of expensive and draining medical conditions. The Human Body is a study in balance, and the abdomen is no different.

Remember our fishermen in Kisumu and Mombasa. I can bet you my last shilling that they have never done a sit up or an abdominal crunch in their lives and they certainly don’t posses gym memberships. On the other hand, they spend all day Rowing boats, Hauling In laden nets and hauling heavy baskets of fish ashore. In a nutshell, they use their bodies, and that in turn is what gives them such incredible muscle tone.

To get a flat abdomen, you have to train, you legs, arms and all other parts of the body in equal measure, The more muscle groups you call upon, the more you rev your metabolism and the more the pounds will drop off…even around the waistline! Huge compound exercises such as Squats, Lunges, Pull Ups, Push Ups, The Plank And the Bridge should form the core of your strength-training program. Your abdomen will benefit from it!

Eat Better

Fresh Produce

As you well know by now, all your efforts in the gym will come to naught if you don’t follow though with some sensible eating habits. Counting calories is a grand waste of time and you don’t have to subscribe to any complicated sounding diet plan either. Generations upon generation of our ancestors were able to feed themselves competently without professional help. They did it by eating wholesome, fresh, unprocessed food, devoid of any preservatives of flavor enhancing additives. They did it by approaching food as a source of nutrition and sustenance, rather than today where we are guided by taste and convenience as opposed to nutritional value.

Unprocessed food is the way to go

Most importantly however, they did it by being simple. The most successful approach to healthy eating, is that which is simple and easy to maintain for life. If you go in for an expensive diet plan, or one that is overly restrictive in its scope, you will fail primarily because you will not be able to maintain it for a meaningful period of time. Simply cut out as much of the processed stuff as you can, and go back to eating the way our grand parents and their parents before them did. It might take you a little longer to prepare a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients, but it will also help you live longer!

Have a great week will you!