The busier I get, the more I look to find ways to insert corrective exercise into my everyday life.
And as I continue to improve my body awareness and control, the more I notice opportunities to change habitual movements that could be negatively impacting my physical abilities or movement longevity.
While I don’t drive as much as most or nearly as much as I used to back in the mid-2000’s when I was doing in-home personal training, it’s still a regular part of my life.
And recently I’ve discovered the impact of driving on the hip and lower limb that you use to hit the gas and brakes (which is the right side here in Canada and the US).
After asking a few others to pay attention to the movement strategy they use to operate the pedals, everyone I’ve talked to uses this same pattern.
Unfortunately, the natural consequences of repeating this pattern over and over and over on this side include:
a) Diminishment of hip internal rotation mobility
b) Diminishment of tibial internal rotation mobility
c) Static posture of tibial external rotation aka “duck foot”
d) Weakening of the arch muscles and possibly flattening of the foot
e) Poorer 1-leg balance
Do you have any of these on your driving side only?
If so, you’re already suffering the effects of the phenomenon at play.
Let’s talk about how most people move to operate the pedals and why the results are a natural consequence of this movement strategy.
First of all, consider the environment, which in this case is the driver’s seat. Unless you’re driving a big bus or transport truck, you’re likely sitting slightly reclined where your heels are on the ground and your thighs, butt and spine are all supported.
Whenever you have external structures like chairs supporting you, you don’t require your internal structures to be active.
This is the reason exercises like Back Squats are superior to machines like the Leg Press – your core is developed along with your legs so strength is built in a balanced way.
Now when you’re driving you’re sitting there passively, perhaps singing along (poorly) with your favourite tunes. After a few minutes you settle in and relax, which often looks like sitting with a flexed spine, posterior pelvic tilt and hip external rotation.
Your body adapts to whatever you repeatedly do so the more you drive, the more slumpy and duck footed you get.
And because you use one side to operate the pedals, that movement and the corresponding muscles involved are overdeveloped.
Did you pay attention to how you work the pedals?
Because now I’m going to give you a biomechanical breakdown of how you likely do.
So, since your heel is on the ground, you use it as a pivot point instead of lifting the foot off the ground to hit the brakes. This movement is a combo of ankle inversion/eversion and tibial rotation, but without hip/spine involvement. [Remember what I just taught you about squats vs. leg press above?]
When you hit the brakes you apply pressure through the ball of the foot (1st toe metatarsal) but lazily – with your ankle in inversion – instead of maintaining a stable foot/ankle/knee/hip, which puts a passive torsional stretch through the muscles and ligaments of the bottom of the foot as if someone grabbed your foot with both hands and wringed it out like a wet towel.
We know that passive stretching causes muscular inhibition and when pushed at the end ranges, ligament laxity.
Combined with the hip external rotation position you sit in, this causes you to have a flat duck foot!
While subtle, these M/APs repeated over and over and over etch themselves into our neuroumuscular system as our default movement/postural strategy.
The neuromuscular pattern linking foot/ankle/knee movement with hip is diminished, so when you move the patterns that involve appropriate activation at ALL joints – patterns that are more stable, powerful and efficient – are lost in favour of a pattern that uses the lower limb only.
Here’s a real world example of how this can play out…
Let’s say you’re playing soccer and you’ve got to make a quick cut.
You’ll likely turn your head and body where you want to go, but then your brain will default to tibial (knee) rotation without appropriate hip activation or arch support, causing a huge torsional force through the knee and ACL and if you’re running really fast or you’re unlucky enough, you could tear your ACL in half.
If you think I’m full of it, consider the biomechanics I’ve just described and how most athletes get to their soccer games or practices and the fact that next to NOBODY is talking or teaching to restore movements like this as I do in Lower Limb Control (and the rest of the Control series for your whole body).
While I love squatting and jumping as much as the next guy, if your active life includes movement that’s not always in a straight line then restoring proper rotational mobility then integrating it into compound movement patterns in all planes of motion is necessary for a lifetime of sport and play.
And this is exactly why you’re here, isn’t it?
Yep, I know it is and for that I salute you and want to say that I’m honoured to be here to help you on this journey.
If you drive a lot and are suffering the negative effects I’ve described here, the Lower Limb, Hip and Spine Control courses should be followed to reverse them.