Constructing Catenary Curves

Photo by Hao Zhang on Unsplash

“I think I am at the end… I can’t do it anymore.”, he said.

I took a deep breath hoping for words, creative words to create strength and change. I have had the right words build me, the wrong words kill me and I was keenly aware of their power, the effect of tonal control, cadence and delivery.

“ In the beginning there was the word…” John 1:1

Need I say more, all of our words are creative.

“Would you be willing to try one more and let me talk you through it?”, I asked in a neutral tone.

“I think so…” , he let out a deep sighing breath, “just give me a minute…”,he sat up, grabbed his water bottle and took several long drinks.

I start a spiel. “Arches are the strongest shape in the world and we need all of yours back! Visualize your lower back curve, push it up, vacuum in your stomach to meet the lower back arch, draw your sit bones together, pull up the pelvic floor. You have just created your organic, internal weight belt. Engage the glutes, make them rock hard, roll your front pelvis towards your toes. Now, exhale push the bar up.”

My words came out, traveled to his ears, and I paused to let them soak in. I had said a lot. Suddenly the weight went smoothly up, not too fast, not too slow. He had gotten in his body the power of total core engagement. His movement, timing and tempo had integrated, increasing flow and fluidity.

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

“I feel like I could do 10 more.”, he said in a firm tone of victory.

He pumped them out like a champ. The moment felt blessed and at the speed of light. An extended(arched) spine helps lock shoulders in place for a bench press. The arch increases full body tension which means you can move heavier weight which results in more strength gains.

The next day we worked on foot suppleness, strength and control. The arches of the feet that bear our weight ideally are like a gentle catenary arch or a deeper one if you are a ballerina. Catenary actually means an idealized chain, curved, hanging between two points in Latin, weight perfectly distributed to each link. Flip a catenary curve upside down and you have a catenary arch. We have arches all through our body. The roof of the mouth, the back of the neck, the lumbar spine, the feet and probably more I am not aware of. The feet are the foundation of our kinetic chain, they are our anchors and our rudders. Plagues of our modern lifestyle,the fallen longitudinal arch of our foot, contrary to popular belief can be restored. Creating more awareness in the feet and increased proprioception can be gained through good programming and repetition.

In World War One the soldiers had an exercise regime for their feet and then it dropped away for our armed forces and we rejected people with flat feet and collectively forgot about the ability to cure flat feet. We started buying more supportive, thick soled shoes and our feet grew sleepy and deconditioned. Knowledge and awareness of helping our feet almost vanished as they hid in padded beds of shoes.

Below is a link I found fascinating, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I had hoped with the program below to continue to strengthen all the muscles surrounding the arches of the feet, the lower back and the back of the neck and the front core.

Alex’s program was as follows: DO WHOLE WORKOUT BARE FOOT

  1. Reverse crunches ( lay on back , legs in air at 90 degree angle to torso. Lift pelvis and legs in air approximately six inches by contracting lower abs.) 20 reps

2.Prone bird dogs ( Lay on stomach, lift opposite leg and arm at the same time keeping them straight) 20 reps

3.Russian twists ( balance on sit bones, torso and upper thighs at a 45 degree angle, knees can be bent, feet off ground, hold ten pound weight and twist torso to touch it to the ground on either side) 20–30 reps

4.Fire hydrants (start on hands and knees, arc knee toward ceiling using the side of the butt to do it, keep leg bent and foot flexed) 30 reps total alternating sides

5.Kettlebell crunches ( lay on back, knees bent, feet on floor, arms extend toward knee caps while holding in hand 10–45 pound weight, keep shoulders off grounds as you crunch up by contracting abdominal muscles)20–30 reps

6.Ceiling stompers ( start on hands and knees, lift whole bent leg as a unit, foot flexed as if you could stomp the ceiling with the sole of your foot)30 total alternating sides

7.Push-ups hands up ( descend from your push up,then drop all the way to belly lift hands from floor for a hot second and push all the way back up, the whole body moving in one unit)10–30 reps

8.Shin touches ( lay on back, knees bent, feet flat on floor , heels close to butt, lift shoulders off floor, and bend side to side to touch same side fingers to same side shin)30–40 reps

9.Block Alphabet drawing in the air with pointed toes. ( while lying supine on floor with point your toes, draw the alphabet with your foot in block letters)

10.Toe towel crunches ( spread a towel on the floor, put heel on corner of towel and use your toes to pull opposite corner towards heel)

11.Supine inversion/eversion ball of foot on yoga belt (lay on back legs and feet in the air, place yoga belt over ball of foot, roll towards big toe pad so more pressure is on that side, then roll foot to little toe side)10 reps

12.Ankle rotations(circle gently pointed feet clockwise then counterclockwise, done while lying on back)5 each way

13.Supine band squats (place long medium strength physio band on arches of very flexed feet, lay on floor with arched lower back, and legs bent as if sitting in a chair, hold physio-band in palms of hands with fingers and thumb wrapped around it palms face ceiling, extend arms up by ears, pulse back of hands toward the floor) 20 reps

14.Quadruped cat/cow ( hands and knees position, curve back and belly towards floor then arch spine and scoop belly up towards ceiling)10 reps

15.Quadruped side bends ( hands and knees position, curve your shoulder on the right and the right hip towards each other then do the same on the left) 20 total alternating sides

16.Bent knee down dog leg extensions with alternating dorsiflexion/plantar flexion ( this is like a quadruped with flexed toes replacing the knees on floor, maintain this position while lifting extended leg alternating right/left and alternating plantar/dorsiflexion position of feet.) 5 each side

17.Down dog with pedal feet ( lift and press heels alternating left/right) 6 breaths

18.Calf raises with ball of feet on board 30–100reps

19.Drop-ins ( face wall, support leg is on ball of foot with heel slightly lifted ,two inch thick board can be used to support heel, knee is bent and glute is engaged, opposite hand of the support leg is resting lightly on wall, other leg and arm move like you are running, the ball of the foot of the moving leg touching the ground and lifting up as if you step on hot coals for twenty repetitions, this is meant to teach body to engage rear kinetic chain for better running form, torso is upright parallel with wall) 20 on each side. Below is a you tube of a trainer I follow and this is where I got the above exercise.

20.Seated cross leg twist (sit in cross leg position, right hand on left knee, left hand walks behind spine)

21.Fire log pose forward bends ( very similar to sitting cross legged BUT ankles stack on opposite knee and shins are parallel to torso stacked like logs on top of each other)

22.Child’s pose ( base is front of shins and plantar flexed feet, butt goes on top of heels, torso lays on top of thighs, reach arms forward or back with back of hands on floor and fingers and toes going in same direction )

23.Supine twist ( hug knee to chest , extend other leg straight, place opposite hand on outside of bent knee and draw bent knee to opposite side till inner arch of bent leg is on floor, extend other arm at 45 degrees between torso and head, palm facing ceiling.) breathe for six counts , repeat on other side

24.Blades on blocks ( head falling back hopefully touching the floor while shoulder blades rest on yoga four inch blocks , block long side parallel to long side of yoga mat three to four inch gap between blocks to allow spine freedom)

25.Sacrum on block ( band or belt legs above knees , soles of feet on floor with heels close to butt, raise pelvis, put one or two yoga blocks under sacrum , extend legs to rest on heels of flexed feet and shoulders-breath deeply and extend for as long as comfortable. Arms extended by sides palms up . To come out, bring heels of feet back towards butt, push on soles of feet to raise pelvis and remove blocks. Cork blocks or very firm foam blocks are best for this)

26.Savasana , ( spine on bolster, or rolled up yoga blanket or large towel -this allows chest to open and collar bones to widen, neck roll supports cervical curve, butt rests on mat and calves on folding metal chair seat with a blanket on the seat for warmth, rest SILENTLY WITH NO MOTION EXCEPT BREATHING with 3 part exhale FOR 5–10 minutes)

If there is any part of this sequence you don’t understand contact me via facebook messenger or write a note at the bottom of this article and I will go through the sequence with you or give you a free assessment and training session.

Photo by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash

Alex and I had spoken of the Tehumare tribe in Mexico and their foot strike being a mid- foot strike with the foot held like a cat walks or runs on their back feet. Cats walk only on their pads, not the whole flat back foot. The exercises before the drop-ins woke up his body. The drop- ins were a progression of practice to get that cat-like tension in the foot and ripple it up the whole leg especially the glutes. Getting a smooth gait, and a stride that encouraged minimum movement in the pelvis which hopefully will result in smoothness of gait and less jarring of the bones. Really the whole body had to work together . All the catenary arches had the muscles supporting them in an engaged isometricity.

Alex’s whole hamstring lit up and glutes… took over from the normal quadriceps dominance of running. He was moving lots better. Suddenly, I could see an athlete emerging who could do a lot more than machines at the gym. I thanked COVID for forcing us out of the gym and off the machines. Machines are good but they need to be an addition to holistic integrated movement and whole body exercises. We are more than a collection of parts and isolated muscles.




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Wallace Mohlenbrok

Wallace Mohlenbrok

Yoga Teacher 500 hour yoga alliance certified, an admirer of flowers and trees, peripatetic autodidact.