I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Dr. Emily Splichal via e-mail recently. A podiatrist and human movement specialist, Dr. Splichal is the founder and CEO of Evidence Based Fitness Academy (EBFA), a Continuing Education Institute which provides cutting information about human movement and exercise science. She is on the forefront of helping transform medicine from a static, passive experience into an active one.
(Q) Thank you for the interview. I am fascinated with your company, EBFA. Why did you decide to start it?
(A) Thank you for this opportunity, Kelsey. I originally started EBFA (Evidence Based Fitness Academy) back in 2011, while I was still in Residency, however EBFA that is known today began in 2012. Initially I had the vision to create an education company that focused on evidence-based fitness programming, however it quickly took the form of the go-to education company for barefoot training, foot to core integration, gait assessment and what we call from the ground up programming. Now as we are about to enter our 3rd year, our (bare)foot science programming is in over 17 countries and has been translated to 8 languages. It is so exciting to see the growth in excitement about barefoot training concepts for fitness, performance and rehab.
(Q) Thinking about the term, “Exercise is Medicine”, how important is dynamic activities in treating and preventing injuries?
(A) The concept of dynamic rehab and preventive programming is everything to successful treatment. As humans, we were made to move. Our nervous system is developed, challenged and molded through the stimuli of movement. What good is a rehab program that is all done on the table and never gets the patient up and moving in the functional state of their daily life?
This also reminds me of a great quote from Anthony Robbins, “Motion is emotion”, which is so true. Our emotional state is such a huge part of recovery that even the simple act of teaching a patient to reconnect to their breathing pattern is a great first step. From here you expand emotion, breathing, motion and then recovery.
(Q) Why the emphasis on barefoot? What advantage does it bring?
(A) I first began speaking about “barefoot” at public health and fitness conferences around 2009. My focus was around fall reduction and diabetic peripheral neuropathy prevention programming. Coincidentally this was around the same time as the release of Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run and the launch of Nike FREE and Vibram Five Fingers. People really started to gravitate to this concept of “barefoot”, but they linked it only to running.
Like most trends, faux-experts were coming out of the woodwork to talk “barefoot science”, and it was all so one-dimensional and anecdotal. I happened to be finishing my Master’s around the same time, so as part of my graduate work, I started to further explore the science of the barefoot and the impact of footwear and surfaces on plantar stimulation. The research was and is absolutely fascinating. I immediately saw a greater power behind barefoot activation and let me tell you it is so much more than “barefoot running”. Now all my programs are built around using barefoot activation to tap into the neuromuscular system faster and more intentionally. Barefoot activation and the foot to core sequencing associated with plantar stimulation applies to movement prep, corrective exercise, power output, athletic performance, balance, loading of impact forces-the list goes on!
(Q) Due to your emphasis on barefoot training, I must ask about your views about barefoot running. How does a runner prepare to start?
(A) Before I answer this question, I want to emphasis that EBFA’s education is not focused on barefoot running, but rather the. Power of barefoot stimulation for neuromuscular control and efficient movement patterns. Having said that, this obviously covers running. I take a very unbiased approach to barefoot running, or a midfoot strike pattern. Many patients who come to me and have chronic injuries ultimately are switched to a midfoot strike pattern. However, if I have a runner who is not injured and has a great running gait (heel strike), I do not and will not switch their pattern.
If I do have a runner who is intent on switching, I ensure that they are timing their transition to barefoot running with adequate foot strengthening and foot recovery. If someone has been in traditional shoes for say 20+ years and now you switch to a minimal/zero drop shoe, there must be an adaptation period for the intrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as to how your nervous system perceives impact forces. So many of us are actually numb to the impact forces encountered with each step. Foot recovery must match this transition in foot strength. Some of my favorite foot recovery techniques include standing on (not rolling) golf balls. If the golf ball is too painful, someone can use Yamuna Foot Wakers, MELT method, Reflexi foot. There’s a variety of products which doesn’t really matter which they use as long as it is done at least 5 minutes in the morning, at night and before exercise.
(Q) What is the most common dysfunction you see in your patient population? And which exercises do you prescribe?
(A) That’s a hard one. I’d say the most common include shin splints, posterior tibial tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis-all of which I refer to as spiral or loading injuries. When we walk, run, jump–doesn’t matter what we do. If we are loading our lower extremity, we are moving though a loading spiral of subtalar joint eversion, tibial internal rotation and joint flexion. How we get injured in this loading spiral is not necessarily through faulty biomechanics, but more through a delay in the proprioceptive, fascial and neuromuscular control response to load.
As much as biomechanics were heavily taught in Podiatry school and everything seemed to revolve around excessive pronation, current studies actually show that improper biomechanics actually only dynamically shift joints by a couple of degrees. That it is actually much more in the neuromuscular responses and the timing of such which dictates injury vs. no injury. This may be a little hard to grasp (especially in just a few paragraphs), however I think this concept helps to understand: if say we take two runners both with the exact same foot type, degree of calcaneal eversion and internal rotation and one keeps getting injured, while the other has no injury history.
I’ve seen some top professional athletes with the worst pronation-pronation that every podiatrist would agree should be in orthotics. Yet these athletes do not get injured and can create high force output. So if it is not so much the biomechanics, what is it? I look much more at the timing of muscle activation patterns in my patients. I want them to be one step ahead of their movement versus responding to movements. This is where barefoot science comes in as the plantar foot is the gateway to sensory information from the ground up.
(Q) I see you have big plans in the near future. Tell us about them.
(A) I do–which I’m very excited about! In 2015, we will be hosting the first-ever Barefoot Training Summit both here in the USA as well as Asia. This 3-day educational event is designed for the health and fitness professional and will explore advanced concepts in efficient movements patterns, barefoot science, surface innovations. I am honored to have a great line-up of top international presenters, including Dan Edwardes (Parkour Generations), Rick Scrivener (Global Bodyweight Training), Stacey Lei Krauss (willPower Method) and Dr. Perry Nickelston (Stop Chasing Pain), plus many more!
In addition, we are launching our first product. I can’t say too much about the product yet due to patent applications, however it is a surface designed specifically for barefoot activation. It will have application in fitness, performance and rehab.
Finally, we are continuing our global expansion throughout Europe, the U.A.E and South America.
(Q) Thank you for your time. The medical community and the fitness community are certainly better because of your work.
(A) Thank you so much. Again, thank you for the opportunity to share additional information about EBFA and the power of barefoot science. If anyone wants to learn more about our courses, they can visit www.ebfafitness.com or check out our blog at: www.barefootstrongblog.com
Please contact me if you have any questions!
Health and happiness!
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