Friday, January 11, 2013

The Trojan Wars, Achilles, and Exercise

While reading The Song of Achilles, a captivating novel by Madeline Miller, the idea came to me for another blog post. Being the Literary Leotard, I enjoy weaving my two sides together though there are some posts where I focus only on exercise and others solely on writing. This one is a beautiful marriage (if I do say so myself) between the hero of the Trojan Wars, Achilles, and an exercise for a body part that takes his name.  

In Miller’s novel Achilles, the central character in Homer’s Iliad, shares the limelight with his lover and sole-mate Patroclus. During the siege of Troy, an arrow pierces Achilles’ heel and causes his death. From this event we get the phrase Achilles Heel, a term used for a person’s principle weakness, a weakness that can potentially lead to one’s downfall.  In my novel, Flourish, Dick is Liz’s Achilles heel. But does he succeed? You can read more about that in previous blog posts or on my website

So, what about the marriage between literature and exercise I referred to in the introduction? I’ll get to the point now.  The Achilles tendon takes its name from the Greek warrior. It’s the tendon that runs behind your ankle to your heel attaching the calf muscle to the heel – the thickest and strongest tendon in the body. Injuries to the tendon are 1. soreness or stiffness due to overuse, wearing high heels (throw away those stilettos!),flat feet/over pronation, tight calf muscles, and/or increasing your level of exercise too quickly and 2. rupture (that hurts!)Rupture is more likely to occur in sports requiring sprinting.

 Baseball fans will remember Ryan Howard’s Achilles tendon rupture in the deciding game of the 2011 National League Divisional Championship between Phildalphia and St. Louis.  Howard, a star hitter for the Phillies, came to the plate with two outs and a chance to tie the game. He hit a weak ground ball to second, slipped and fell out of the batter’s box attempting to beat out the throw, got up, limped down the line, then fell again clutching his ankle, never making it to the base.  His Achilles tendon had ruptured and he missed the rest of the season and the beginning of the 2012 season. (In case you’re thinking I’m a Phillies fan, let me put that erroneous assumption to rest. I’m part of a family that suffers each baseball season with the Amazin’ Mets.)

Another famous person also ruptured his Achilles tendon. In 2003, Brad Pitt played the role of Achilles in the movie “Troy.” He had gone through extensive physical training for the role (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember he was very buff) and spent months training in the ancient art of Greek sword fighting and martial arts. Ironically, during filming, he ruptured his Achilles tendon which delayed the filming several months while his tendon healed.

You may not be paid as well as Pitt or Howard, may not be as physically active, but your Achilles tendon is at risk if you use your feet -if you run after a ball in tennis, pivot to make a shot, cut and run down a soccer field or basketball court, dance, jog, or walk (even in flat heels). Below are exercises to keep your Achilles tendon supple, to strengthen your calf muscles and keep them flexible to avoid injuries.


Heel-Toe Rock
Stand with your feet comfortably apart. Gently contract your abdominals and glutteals (belly and seat)
Rock up onto your toes, then rock back onto your heels
Repeat 10x

In addition to improving the integrity of your calf muscles and Achilles tendon, you will be engaging your core muscles which bring them added strength – and improving your balance. Watch the video to see how the exercise is done. I even give you another fun one to try and suggestions for while you’re sitting.
If you are having any pain performing any of these exercises, STOP. Consult your doctor. Do not work through pain.

I want to give credit where credit is due. A friend of mine recommended Miller's novel, The Song of Achilles, the inspiration for this blog and a book I've thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks Roz. It was a great read. Fellow readers, you will enjoy Roz's website with its lists of recommendations, plus her blog is extremely informative. Here's the link to her post about Miller's novel.
Check it out.

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