Soleus solution?

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  • JERRY HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock demonstrates a calf/soleus stretch exercise done from a platform that allows for the ankle to extend past 90 degrees. From this position, Jerry can also stretch his calves by standing on his toes.

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    JERRY HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs a squat pose that stretches the calf/soleus muscles. From this position, he can push up with his legs, raising the dumbells up and over his head as he stands up. This is a great full-body exercise.

  • JERRY HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock demonstrates a calf/soleus stretch exercise done from a platform that allows for the ankle to extend past 90 degrees. From this position, Jerry can also stretch his calves by standing on his toes.

  • 1

    JERRY HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs a squat pose that stretches the calf/soleus muscles. From this position, he can push up with his legs, raising the dumbells up and over his head as he stands up. This is a great full-body exercise.

In researching for the articles I write for this section, I often come across something that I’m excited to share with Coeur d’Alene Press readers.

The following subject is a case in point.

While looking for a different angle on achieving fitness, I came across a few references to “second heart.” Although it is true that we don’t actually possess a true, physical second heart, we have muscles in our lower legs that act in this regard, responsible for pumping blood back up to the heart.

The soleus muscles, which run up the sides of our calf muscles, are thin-walled and have tiny valves which have to work against the force of gravity to keep blood flowing correctly. Any built-up tension around these important muscles will inhibit the normal blood flow, with such results as tissue dehydration, starvation and suffocation in those areas.

A prolonged event of this magnitude can result in arthritis in the joints, and muscular and bone necrosis (death) is also a possibility.

A sedentary lifestyle will contribute to the loss of fitness of soleus muscles, and thereby the loss of circulation in the legs.

•••

Here’s where my research takes a historical turn.

In reality, the lack of strength of our second hearts was not a concern for our ancestors.

You may think that we are so much healthier than those that lived in caveman days. Oh, but you’d be wrong.

Sure, we have advanced health care and much more nutritious food available to us today, but the day-to-day struggle to hunt, gather and collect food (not to mention the constant threat of death from creatures much larger that humans) had the added benefit of keeping our muscle structure and respiratory system in good shape.

Furthermore, the actual lack of modern furniture also ensured our second hearts aided our fitness and blood circulation.

Huh, you say — how can this be?

Well, think about it. Back in the dinosaur days, humans tended to squat rather than sink in the La-Z-Boy. They squatted while hunting. They squatted while eating. Really, they squatted most of the time they weren’t standing or sleeping.

And what did this do? While appearing to be a resting position, it was actually the perfect position to aid the second hearts, flexing them and forcing them to deliver under a steady stress load.

•••

So what can be done to ensure our second hearts are healthy and strong?

Yoga and pilates exercises will aid in strengthening the muscles, and also aid in lessening tension in soleus and gastrocnemius (calf) muscles that are overworked in athletes who perform heavy running and walking activities.

The full (caveman) squat is actually easy to do, and provides a great benefit, as noted by the original performers. A squat with legs at the same width as your shoulders, bent down as far as you can go with your butt a few inches off the floor, with your body balanced so you don’t fall over. Holding this position for 30 seconds with return to the standing position (with 5-10 repetitions) on a daily basis will force the soleus to revert back to its optimal functionality.

Heel raises (and in this case heel lowers — think a diver reversed on the edge of a diving board) are also an important exercise for soleus muscles. I use a raised platform to allow for a stretch of more than 90 degrees. I hold these exercises for 15-20 seconds and then push up with my ankles to balance on my toes for another 15-20 seconds. Again, 5-10 reps works wonders with this exercise.

Be sure to begin heel raises on the floor, as it takes some time to gain the balance necessary to hold heel lowers without falling to a possible injury.

Other worthwhile exercises involve standing instead of sitting while watching television, and many office workers are now using “standing desks” to aid in circulation as well.

Strengthening the soleus will enable those trying to break out of a sedentary lifestyle the ability to endure longer workouts, with much less lactic acid buildup in the legs (enabling more comfortable, day-after-day workouts).

Whoever thought thinking and acting like a caveman would be beneficial in our modern-day world? They’ve shown that to be fit, you have to have a lot of heart — and in this cave, more than one.

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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at jhitchcock@cdapress.com, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.

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