The best way to improve your deadlift, squat and down dog all at the same is by learning to activate your golden arches.
As a child when I heard the term “Golden Arches” it meant happy meal time! As I transitioned to elementary school it meant tackling the big mac and a super sized fry.
Since beginning my optimal health journey 15 years ago I haven’t eaten or even acknowledged the golden arches of McDonald’s. But there are still some golden arches that will always have my attention. The arches in my hands and feet!
Once you master activating your arches, you can sprinkle a little external rotation on top and your dead lift, squat, push up, down dog and up dog will all improve exponentially. (See my blog post “Spring Training” to learn more on external rotation)
What are the “Golden Arches”?
I’m sure we have all heard references to the arches in our feet but yes we also have arches in our hands which help with grip strength, catching, grabbing and core stabilization.
In yogic text, there are numerous references to the feet and hands being of similar function when it comes to the functionality of providing stability and proper body alignment. I believe the arches are one of the most overlooked fitness secrets, especially when it comes to maintaining healthy wrists, shoulders, ankles and knees.
Learning to properly utilize your arches will keep you resilient and be a game changer at any fitness levels. The name of the game with arches is ACTIVATION, and the yogic technique for activating your arches in both your hands and feet will give you the tools to progress exponentially in your strength training routines and yoga flows.
Think of your arches like a foundation for a building. If the foundation of a building isn’t set correctly things will begin to fail over time. If your arches aren’t functioning properly then you aren’t functioning properly.
While the body is incredibly resilient to our daily usage habits it is our obligation to set up our appendages up for success, because they are doing everything they can to support us.
The hand is a miraculous appendage. It is attached to and assists in controlling the chain of muscles beginning in the upper posterior and anterior chains.
The hand acts as a proprioceptor constantly relaying messages to our brain about our body position and the environment around us keeping us safe and properly functioning.
When our hands experience different positions and objects in our environment the messages being relayed to the brain can either tell our body to work or not work. It’s important our arches are functioning properly so we do not send mixed signals to the brain when working out or flowing through a yoga series.
Hand arches are a very interesting subject, and a wonderful compliment to our opposable thumbs! The hand contains 3 arches: the distal arch and proximal arch, which run across the hand, and the longitudinal arch that runs along the length of the hand.
These arches are responsible for executing many vital functions, such as precise grabs, grip strength, cutting, writing, and the list goes on. In my experience, all three arches working in concert provide the ultimate strength, stability and mobility.
For the context of this article, I would like to focus on the stability and resilience our hand arches provide our wrist when crawling (crab or bear) and pushing up (pushups, down dog, up dog) and how we can begin supersizing our golden arches to provide maximum support.
The How (TRY THIS FIRST WITHOUT APPLYING ANY PRESSURE)
When placing your hands flat on the ground to enter a push up or down dog position, it is important to focus on activating the proximal arch (closest to wrist) and longitudinal (wrist to finger) arch. Once you activate them, the distal arch will naturally follow suit.
To begin, place your hand flat on the ground or a table top, spreading your fingers and thumb wide and flattening them out as much as possible not to compensate strength once pressure is applied (later on).
Begin activation of your arches by focusing most of the pressure into the tips of your fingers and thumb. Once you are comfortable with this idea, maintain the pressure and then focus your attention to your index finger and thumb.
Pretend as though there is a ball between your finger and thumb and apply pressure to the ball without moving (No fingers should be moving in this pose, but you will notice a shift in the feeling where the pressure is applied).
This will naturally allow your proximal and longitudinal arches to raise, creating some space between your palm and the surface. You should notice much of the pressure is dispersed away from the heel of your hand. This is how you keep your wrist from becoming jammed over time.Step 2
Now that you have those first applications under control, simply add a tad more pressure into the tip of your pinky. This will continue to increase your arch support and evenly disperse weight throughout your hand.
Depending upon the current strength of your new activation awareness you may not feel as much weight being removed from the heel of your hand as you will after a few weeks of practice. Remember the difference will be subtle. You will be able to feel the change more than see it.
Play with this gentle process for a few days before going full pressure into a plank. This is the first step to building a versatile foundation for any application where your hands and wrist are involved.
The future step will be “developing your springs”. See my blog post “Spring Training” to learn more about external rotation and wrist development.
Much like tires on a car, you need your feet to stay balanced and aligned to ensure a smooth ride throughout your life. And it all begins with the golden arches in your feet.
Sharing many commonalities with the hands, the feet are also highly receptive proprioceptors for the brain relaying messages of the terrain we walk and the movements we make. See my blog, “Back To Barefoot” for more information.
Depending upon how you look at the equation our feet can be considered the most integral part of our posterior chain, which is responsible for the majority of our athletic prowess, power in our heavier lifts and our flexibility and mobility in yoga asanas (poses).
The posterior chain of muscles runs from the base of the skull all the way down the back to the calves and under the heel through the arches of the feet to the tips of the toes. Learning to activate your foot arches is one of the first steps to creating a proper functioning posterior chain.
This practice will also support you in developing resilience to overuse injuries of daily movements like walking, hiking, running and standing. Everytime I stand, I am practicing engaging my arches.
How To Activate
Begin by standing with your feet parallel about hips width apart. Imagine you have 2 points in the front of your feet where you will be applying pressure. One spot under the ball of the big toe and another under the ball of the pinky toe.
Keeping your toes spread apart, press the ball of your big toe to the ground. You may notice your arch begin to activate some. Releasing the pressure of your big toe, now focus on pressing the ball of your little toe to the ground. Again you should notice your arch activate. Now try putting both points down together.
This may take a little practice so don’t get discouraged it will come quickly over the course of a few days.
A great side practice for conditioning toe independence and activation is to alternately raise your big toe up while keeping the other 4 down and then raising the other 4 toes up and placing the big toe down. This is a great and fun thing to do with friends to test their coordination and you will develop a better sense of awareness.
Once you master applying pressure to both toe points simultaneously, it is time to lock in your new structure.
Having both toe points pressing into the earth pretend you have a ball between your heels. Apply pressure to this ball without moving the position of your heel. You should notice your heels move a fraction in toward each other and your arches fully engaged.
Practice this for several weeks and then you can begin using it in your your strength training and yoga poses. And if you want to see how this technique will dramatically improve your squat, deadlift and down dog all at the same time then check out my blog “Spring Training”.
The coolest part about learning this technique is that you can literally build your arches if you were born with flat feet or if you have fallen arches from improper foot mechanics over the years. So the next time someone tries to sell you hundreds of dollars in arch supports or orthotics just tell them you have golden arches.
I trust you were able to follow these simple steps to begin developing a strong foundation to build any house you desire. “Arch” you glad I told?
Josh was born and raised in Lexington, KY. He played collegiate soccer at Transylvania University where he also studied business and psychology. Upon graduating college in 2002 he chose to begin a professional career as a restaurateur. Josh watched his business grow exponentially over the course of a decade, while he watched his health steadily declined. In 2011 Josh developed a mysterious disease, that modern medicine could not explain. He decided to embark on an optimal health journey to discover a cure. His journey lead him to receive his certifications as a personal trainer, RKC Kettlebell instructor and Yoga Alliance instructor. Josh’s unique combination of business, personal training and ayurvedic nutrition experience organically spawned a system that is guaranteed to upgrade the life of everyone from office executive to professional athlete. Josh now pursues his passion in teaching others to find their perfect work, life balance.
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