Weekly musings, 9/16/17 and 9/23/17: aging and trends

Weekly musings, 9/17/17
I work with a number of clients in their 60s and 70s that regularly inspire me.

These individuals are healthy, fit, and engaged with the world. They don’t view themselves as “old” and, aside from the occasional joke about their memory, don’t view their age as a defining factor in their ability to lead a fulfilled life.

Here are a few of the things I have learned:
Read. Read what interests you. It might be novels, non-fiction, or the news, but one thing all of my older clients have in common is they read regularly.

Push yourself physically, but respect your boundaries. My clients like to work hard. They enjoy feeling strong and aren’t afraid to try new movements. However, they also respect their physical abilities, such as missing ACLs, bone spurs that limit full range of motion, and other variants that creep up. Exercising for life is different than exercising to increase your deadlift 1RM or attain a particular yoga pose. Goals change, and that’s okay.

Travel. If you can’t afford to hop on a plane and go to Europe, travel new places by car. Don’t be afraid to explore the world around you.

Socialize. Similar to reading, socializing can be done many different ways. You don’t have to throw large dinner parties to have meaningful relationships with people, but make sure you regularly leave the house and have a conversation with someone you find interesting.

Laugh. Life is too short, and the world too unsure, to take yourself too seriously. All of my clients laugh often.

Be kind. The amount of volunteering and giving back my clients do is inspirational. Practicing kindness creates a meaningful life worth living.

*The idea for this week’s post came from a recent New York Times article on how to embrace aging well. Link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/smarter-living/aging-well.html?mcubz=3

Weekly musings, 9/24/17: trends
On the island of Maui, a Polynesian inspired fitness trend is emerging called Kiakahi.* It involves things like chanting, crawling, somersaulting, carrying rocks, performing partner work with sticks, and carrying sandbags through the waves. It’s a scalable group workout that is both challenging and filled with focus.

There are common themes that survive the test of time in the multi-million dollar industry that is fitness, an industry filled with more “new” classes and certifications than I can count. They include:

Workouts that elicit a sense of play resonate with people more than those that are simply doing the work. I see this with my clients all of the time. If I pose an interesting challenge, they become mentally engaged and more interested than if I just have them do reps and tedious stability work. Those things matter too, but many people like being mentally engaged beyond lifting a heavy weight.

Being outside benefits people’s emotional well-being. I have said this before, but I feel it’s worth repeating: we are meant to interact with our physical environments. Being outside is an opportunity to actually practice interacting. While not all workouts can be done outdoors, occasionally taking what you work on inside and using it outdoors creates a sense of synergy.

The benefits to community are far-reaching. I love training people in a one on one environment. It’s my favorite form of teaching. However, we are social creatures. When a group of people is working towards a common goal, such as accomplishing a physical task, it creates a sense of teamwork and improves social bonds, both of which benefit our psychological well being.

A little bit of hard is good, a little bit of focus is good, and a little bit of ease is good. It’s good to be challenged; it’s also good to do focused movement and breathe for a few minutes without interruption. Create workouts that use aspects of being hard, mindful, and easeful to increase strength but leave you feel energized, not depleted.

*I first read about Kiakahi here: http://www.cetusnews.com/business/Struggles-With-Depression-Lead-to-Polynesian-Inspired-Kiakahi-.HkU_qoR7i-.html

Weekly musings, 9/10/17: body parts as tires

Weekly musings, 9/10/17: body parts as tires
A regular client came in this week, feeling strong and healthy. As we chatted, she shared she had a massage recently with a therapist that hadn’t worked on her in several months. He was impressed by her change in tone and holding patterns in her upper extremity. “From the torso up,” he said, “you are in great shape. Your feet, however, are thin and will eventually wear out, like a tire. You should make sure you always wear shoes so they last a little bit longer.” 

This particular client likes to be barefoot. She walks around her house barefoot, she occasionally trains barefoot. She has no pain in her feet, and, as someone that incorporates a lot of foot training into people’s programs, I can attest to the fact that she has decent intrinsic foot strength. Her ability to interact with the floor continues to improve. “What do you think about that?” she asked. 

“Well,” I said carefully, “I don’t necessarily think that body parts behave like tires. We are constantly changing, getting stronger or weaker, depending on what we ask our bodies to do. I think if you like being barefoot, you should be barefoot, and I think keeping the foot strong is important in order for you to continue being barefoot.”

The thing is, body parts don’t wear out the way we envision. If you never challenge your joints at different angles and don’t work on gaining strength in a variety of positions, habitual patterns can lead to tissues becoming sensitized. This sensitization is often accompanied by physiological changes, but it doesn’t guarantee physiological changes. Just like people can have bone on bone in a hip and have no pain, people can have pain in the hip and have nothing show up in their imaging. Pain is funny, and to assume thin skin will cause foot pain is a risky leap. Our structures are living, breathing, and constantly in a state of change. We are not the same as we were last week, and those changes, if the right stimulus is provided, can lead to more strength and coordination. Thankfully, we are not built like cars and don’t need to upgraded every ten years- we are built to last. 

Weekly musings, 9/3/17: Get outside

Weekly musings, 9/3/17: Get outside
The Finnish people are known for a handful of things: their taciturn nature, a tendency towards introversion, and a love of the outdoors. This love of being outside fascinates Finnish scientists so much, they decided to study the effects of nature on well-being.*

It turns out, being outside for 5 hours a month, preferably near water, positively impacts our emotional and physiological states. We are happier, have lower blood pressure, and are calmer when exposed to the natural environment; one with water appears to take the benefits up another notch. 

Committing to being outside 5 hours a month might sound like a lot at first glance, but it’s the equivalent of 30 minutes, three times a week. To achieve the benefits, it doesn’t matter how hard you nature- aggressively hiking the steepest trail isn’t any more restorative than slowly strolling by the ocean. 

Nature could be a starting place for those that feel anxious, depressed, or generally stressed out to begin restoring their emotional balance. It’s a way to achieve calm and the health benefits appear to match those of meditation. In any case, the health benefits from the outdoors shouldn’t be underestimated.

*The book, “The Nature Fix,” by Florence Williams is a wonderful romp through the science of nature. 

Weekly musings, 8/27/17: on editing

In the book, “Visual Intelligence,”* Amy Herman discusses how our ability to observe without imparting our own biases can improve outcomes in our careers and lives. In the chapter on communication, she writes, “how does [Amsterdam painter Jan Frank] know when a painting is finished? ‘When I get the feeling adding one more stroke would be too many.’”

There is a tendency in workouts, self improvement, careers, and personal relationships to make things complicated. It’s as though simplicity is too easy; instead, we complicate things like exercise in a way that makes solving a Rubik’s cube look easy.

For instance, consider the well read individual that is designing his own workouts. What does he do? Foam roll for 10 minutes, 10 minutes of joint mobility, 10 minutes of corrective exercise work, 10 minutes of HIT work, 10 minutes of heavy strength work, 10 minutes of skill work, and 10 minutes of stretching, followed by recovery boots and a cryotherapy session. Within that 70 minute workout what did he accomplish?

Probably less than he would like to admit. The problem with living in an age where information on any topic is available at our fingertips is it’s easy to get bogged down with everything we “should” be doing to get the “most” from our desired activity. 

But the thing is, like with writing, less is often more. Why do three exercises that perform the same basic function when you could just do one? This doesn’t mean don’t vary your workouts and ignore prep work before exercises, but in the example above, if instead of trying to do everything in one day, what if he made his workout focused on strength and cut out everything that didn’t help with strength? Or mobility or recovery or metabolic conditioning… You get the idea. Prioritize one thing during your daily workout, choose exercises that support that one thing, and see if simplifying the process makes the act of designing your workouts easier (and more enjoyable). Complicated doesn’t always mean better.

*”Visual Intelligence” is one of the more useful books I have read for coaching in the last 12 months. I highly recommend it.

Weekly musings, 8/20/17- On low back pain

Did you know:

  • 80 percent of individuals will struggle with low back pain at some point in their lives
  • Most clears up on its own within 6-12 weeks, regardless of what you do (chiropractic, acupuncture, exercise, massage…)
  • In 10-20% of cases, the low back pain becomes chronic
  • Most of those chronic cases don’t have a structural cause
  • Research suggests the most effective exercise intervention for chronic low back pain is one that increases proprioception and flexibility in the spine
  • Proprioception means sensing where your body is in space
  • Flexibility in the spine allows you to perform tasks in a variety of ways; research suggests individuals with healthy spines don’t just use one strategy to pick things up. There are small variations in the way they lift
  • Chronic low back pain is multi-faceted, meaning it’s affected by more than just the muscles being tight. Chronic stress can make it worse
  • Cardiovascular activity seems to help with low back pain; so does getting stronger and gaining confidence in your physical capabilities

*For those of you that like to read research, check out this paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934575/ and this abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24502841

September newsletter, 9/17: moving forward

When I finally became consistent with my handstands, I practiced them daily. Unvaried, at the beginning of the workout, the way I was taught. Maintaining a steadfast commitment to consistency allowed me to keep my handstand; however, I didn’t improve. I remained stagnant, and my hesitancy to work on variations that were challenging for me didn’t exactly move me forward in a meaningful way.

It’s easy to become complacent. When something works, why change it? However, complacency doesn’t make us better. It makes us stale, neither flourishing nor withering. Sometimes, it’s good to stay put for a while. If you are comfortable with one area of your life, it can allow you focus and expend energy in other areas. Eventually, however, boredom will set in. Or overuse injuries. Or a general apathy for the thing that used to excite you. Apathy feels different than boredom and can seep into different aspects of your well-being, silently poisoning your optimism.

I am working on changing a few things. It started with my studio, which I have now been at for four years. I got rid of things, re-arranged a few things, and am actively looking to expand by adding another trainer. The first two years after I opened were filled with a little bit of anxiety, a lot of work, and finding a rhythm. Eventually, I became comfortable. Over the past six months, the sense of unease settled in, letting me know it’s time to shake things up and grow in some way. Part of this means overhauling my website and doing that annoying thing where I make the business website just about the business and start another website dedicated to my teachings/writings/products. It will take a while to get all of that sorted out, but the momentum is beginning to build. While change always provokes uncertainty, it’s also exciting to see where I can go from here. 

As for handstands, I mentioned a while ago I hired a coach who did what all good coaches do- he programmed them in twice a week instead of daily and is making me work on variations that are challenging for me. My wrists aren’t sore any more and I am getting stronger. If you feel stuck and unsure how to move forward, either in your workout or your life, talking with a friend or mentor to get an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. So can writing about it. Tim Ferriss gave a great TED talk on fear setting.* Basically, if you want to do something but anxiety is holding you back, map out your fears- what is the worst thing that could happen? And if you have any control over the causes of that worst thing, what can you do to implement tools to minimize the risk. Embrace when life is easy, but remember that in order to move forward, eventually you have to get out of your comfort zone.

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn

My latest course on the shoulders is available for purchase on Vimeo. Check it out here: 
*The TED talk can be found here

Upcoming events:
I will be back in LA at teaching 360 FitHaus Saturday, October 14 from 12-4:30. We are covering the spine. If you are interested in joining us, registration can be found here: 

I am really excited to be hosting Jules Mitchell at Be Well Personal Training Saturday, December 2. For more information or to register, visit the link.
(Early bird pricing ends November 10). 

Suggested reading:
“How Emotions are Made: The New Science of the Mind and Brain,” by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She has strong opinions that are backed by science. Interesting view on things.
“The Stranger in the Woods,” by Michael Finkel is a fascinating look at the North Pond Hermit, a man that lived in the woods of north Maine for 27 years. If you like journalistic books in the vane of Jon Krakauer, this is a worthwhile read.

Two good pieces on back pain came out this month. The first is a discussion with Cathryn Ramin, whose book “Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery,” is out now. The link to the article can be found here.

The second is a short read by a writer for The New York Times who quieted his back pain down with medically supervised meditation. Check it out here.

Ryan Holiday wrote an interesting piece about being creative and selling. This is a struggle for me, and I think most of us that create would rather not deal with actually making money- except living is important, too. Here, he tries to reconcile the resistance creatives have against the s word.

Weekly musings, 8/13/17: tackling the hard stuff

Weekly musings, 8/13/17: tackling the hard stuff
It is hard to be productive. In his book, “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield calls this resistance, writing, “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony: I’m just going to start tomorrow.’”

People do this with diets, exercise programs, writing, budgeting, and a myriad of other tasks which might, in some way, alter life but requires effort. The easiest way I have found to maintain a high level of productivity is to do the things that are most challenging for me at the times of the day when I have the most energy. 

Three days a week, I wake up and go for a run. At 4AM. I love my morning runs. They give me time to think, I always feel better afterwards, but they aren’t always easy. Running is one of those things it’s easy to put off and say, “I’ll do it later.”

I run at 4AM because I am a morning person. By rolling out of bed and running, I don’t have time to talk myself out of it, and I don’t notice if it’s cold- I simply bundle up and walk, bleary eyed, out the front door to begin running.

I am able to do things like run, write, and create consistently because I minimize distractions during the hours I feel the best. I don’t have internet at work and my cell reception is spotty. This allows me to maximize my output. I am not distracted by web surfing. I use my computer for writing and my iPad for filming. I don’t check my phone during my workouts because there would be nothing to see. 

Figure out when you have the most energy and schedule your hardest thing for the day during that hour. Whether it’s lifting weights, balancing your checkbook, or something for work you really don’t like doing. When you get into the habit of overcoming your resistance during your most energetic times, it makes it easier to deal with resistance at other points in the day. I can proof a blog in the evening, for instance, knowing the hard part of writing is done. Start the hardest part today when you feel the best; the rest will seem easy.

Weekly musings, 8/6/17: incorporating mindfulness and movement


When I first begin working with someone that is trying to make a change, I make suggestions that, to the outsider, seem small. Whether the individual wants to increase the amount of physical activity he’s getting, pay more attention to his breathing, or simply be more aware throughout the day, I find the smallest changes often make the biggest difference. Below are five suggestions I regularly give for clients trying to increase awareness and movement.

 

  1. In the morning, before you get out of bed, check in with your breathing. Lie on your back, with your legs either long or your knees bent and inhale for a count of four through your nose, exhale out your mouth for either a count of six or eight. After four breaths, roll over on to your side and get up. (If you remember, do this before bed as well).
  2. Walk on your lunch break. Even if it’s just for five minutes, walking on your lunch break will give you a little more energy for the afternoon. If possible, walk outside.
  3. Set your food (or fork) down between bites. Don’t pick your fork back up until you have finished swallowing.
  4. Set a timer to go off once an hour; when the timer goes off, either shift positions or get up. Take a couple of breaths at the same time. 
  5. Once a day, lean against a wall, so your hips and mid-back are against the wall, the feet are away from the wall, and slide your hips down the wall. Keep the feet flat with most of the weight in the heels. Feel the pelvis against the wall and the ribs against the wall as you breathe in this position for four breaths. Press strongly through your feet to stand up.

Changing habits is hard. However, building a little bit of awareness into the day can lead to long term change.

*Though not necessarily about habit change, I found this article about increasing physical activity in rural Kentucky inspiring: https://www.outsideonline.com/2195101/one-mans-fight-change-fate-rural-appalachia

Weekly musings, 7/30/17: exercising discomfort


During one of the opening scenes of “Atomic Blonde,” Charlize Theron’s character is submerged in an ice bath. It was memorable because a) the thought of being in an ice bath, let alone underwater in an ice bath, makes me quietly cringe inside and b) the movie takes place in 1989, well before Wim Hof was touring the world, teaching people how to overcome their discomfort through mental practices, reminding me people have probably been taking ice baths longer than I realized.

Building resiliency is a topic that has been garnering a lot of attention. We live in a comfortable world, with climate control, a surplus of food, and cars that transport us. We are rarely physically uncomfortable in any way. Jack Groppel says in a recent New York Times article on building resiliency, “You have to invite stress into your life. A human being needs stress; the body and the mind want stress.”*

The idea of seeking out discomfort seems counterintuitive; why would we make so many advances to ensure all of our needs are met, only to ultimately realize we thrive on discomfort? Maybe it’s because discomfort in small doses builds our mental strength, reminding us we are designed for survival. (This might explain the recent Cryotherapy fad. Three minutes of feeling cold is, after all, just another way to build resiliency). After I finish 4 reps of a challenging exercise, there is something reassuring that whatever else I face during the day probably won’t be quite as hard as what I just did. And even if it is, I know I am strong enough to deal with it. 

*The New York Times article can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/well/mind/how-to-boost-resilience-in-midlife.html
**Catherine Cowey wrote an excellent guest post for my site on this topic a few months ago. Check it out here: http://www.bewellpt.com/blog/2017/4/27/resiliency-training-daily-discomfort-vitamin?rq=resiliency

Weekly musings, 7/22/17: confidence and sharing

I posted a blog recently, quietly, with little attention. Few people read it, which fortunately isn’t why I write. A business associate, whom I have a lot of respect for, messaged me after reading it, encouraging me to be more visible. “You seem almost shy about it,” he wrote.

I do challenging physical skills almost daily. I think of myself as physically competent, resilient in many ways. However, the hardest thing I do on a regular basis is hit “publish.” I am never fully happy with anything I create. Whenever I re-read a blog or re-listen to a class I have crafted, I find myself critiquing my words. “I should have said it this way,” “it would have read better if I gave it more context,” “I should have used less words…” 

If I waited until my work was perfect to share it, I wouldn’t share anything. And maybe that would be okay. The fitness industry is riddled with noise, people asserting their opinions about why specific exercises are “the best,” and what people should do to become more fit. I am just one more voice in the sea of “experts,” and I often find myself confused about where I fit. I believe in strength and mobility; I also believe in the mind/body connection and the power of breath. I read psychology and motor control textbooks, but appreciate a good paper on biomechanics and tendinopathy. Trauma fascinates me; so does the shoulder. I think the fitness industry doesn’t spend enough time teaching people how to fully be in their body, but many coaches have better progressions to more advanced exercises than I do. 

So I write about these things and create content around these things, the ones that fascinate me and help me be a better teacher and coach. I write for me, so I can dive a little more heavily into the research; I hit “post” because I spend so much time thinking about things and trying to understand that I feel like others shouldn’t have to work so hard. If I help one person see something a little bit differently, I have saved him time and maybe made a small difference in his life. To me, this is valuable. 

Steven Pressfield writes in “The War of Art,” A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul. The Bhagavad Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.” When you create something, anything, you have a choice- either share it or keep it for yourself. My grandmother used to sketch, pencil drawings. When she died, I felt a sadness that her ability to perceive the world around her and interpret it on paper was kept hidden from all of us. She did not share her work, save for the occasional cartoon when we were children. Perhaps she was afraid it wasn’t good enough to share. But that’s the thing. It’s never good enough, and there will always be people that judge harshly. 

If you are creating for someone else, you are destined to feel inadequate. You will never feel like you have a right to share your work. You will find yourself comparing your creations to others, paralyzed by their thoughts and judgments. 

If you create for you, even though your work will never live up to your standards, it makes the opinions of others an afterthought. Rather than feel lesser because of a critique, if it’s a critique you haven’t already given yourself, you are less defensive and more open to how your work can be made better. Through practice and consistency, you will improve, but it will never be perfect. You don’t hit “post” because of the amount of likes you might get, but because you are sharing your imperfect creation. If your creation taught you something and made you better in some way, it is worth sharing.

And so I will continue to quietly hit post, knowing that if one person learns something from my words, it is enough.

Weekly musings, 7/16/17: Experience

This funny thing happens when you are “the teacher,” or “the trainer.” Your clients assume you know all. They come to you for advice, they assume you understand how the body works, and they trust your knowledge. They are, after all, paying you for your expertise.

As teachers, we are only as good as the sum of our experiences and our knowledge. Experience can’t be bought. Watching people move, observing what cues work, and noticing how people respond to specific exercises comes from doing, from being the teacher or trainer. 

However, if we rely only on experience and we don’t value learning from others in our field, we get stuck. Listening to others explain things and seeing how they put things together opens doors to new vantage points. It keeps our brains engaged with the material of human movement.

It also keeps our brains involved with our bodies. If we aren’t continually playing with movement, seeing what happens when we do x, y, and z, the connection with our subject lessens. 

Whatever field you are in, taking the time to listen to what other experts have to say is invaluable. Interacting with the material on a deeper level, through coaching or a long term course, can have a profound impact on how you experience what you are teaching. If you don’t value what you do enough to spend money on it, how can you expect others to do the same?

Word minimalism and cueing

I spend a lot of time thinking about cueing. More specifically, I spend a lot of time figuring out how to give people the minimal amount of instructions to get them to fully experience a movement in a way that feels strong and easeful. 

This is opposite how I used to teach. So many words would fly out of my mouth as I struggled to tap into what worked for someone that I was often exhausted at the end of the day and tired of the sound of my voice.

I am still tired of the sound of my voice at the end of the day, but I have learned how to be a more effective communicator. (At least, I think I have. I may, however, suffer from personal bias). Below are a few thoughts regarding how to improve a person’s overall movement experience. 

Learning styles:
But first, I think it’s worthwhile to say a quick word about learning style. When I was in graduate school, my motor control teacher told us there was no foundation for the idea of kinesthetic/visual/auditory learners. Sure enough, evidence shows the classification of learning styles is a myth, with studies regularly showing people learn from all three styles of teaching in an education setting (1).

I struggled with this for a long time. Working with different people, it seemed people were more likely to absorb information if it was given to them in a specific way. Some clients seemed to respond to me demonstrating better than me explaining, while others did well if I gave them a tactile cue.

After sitting with this idea for a while and reading a lot about motor control, I began to realize it wasn’t necessarily the format in which the material was presented that mattered; rather, it was whether the person (or people, if it’s a class setting), had a frame of reference for what I was saying.

Additionally, we were designed to receive information from our visual world, auditory world, and proprioceptive world during movement (2). We process all of this information at once as try to effectively complete a specific task. It stands to reason that whatever additional feedback is given from an outside source should be done in a way that isn’t overwhelming to the recipient and is appropriate for the task at hand. 

For instance, if I ask someone to move his shoulder blade a specific way and the person doesn’t know where the shoulder blade is or how it functions, this cue is useless. If I touch the shoulder blade or demonstrate the exercise, the person has a higher chance of “getting it” because he either feels the body part I am talking about or he has watched me move a specific area so his mirror neurons can do their thing and mimic the movement. It’s not that he’s a visual or kinesthetic learner; he just didn’t know what I was talking about because he was out of touch with that specific part of his body. 

Once I understood this, I began to see more clearly which form of communication would work best for the client, based on the person’s body awareness, pain patterns, and exercise history. Choosing became more situationally dependent, rather than based on the idea the person learned best in a particular way.

Self bodywork:
In the exercise science world, we love to attribute a variety of movement “dysfunctions” to hypertonicity of a muscle. A muscle is considered hypertonic when it is contracted while in a passively stretched state (3). Basically, if the muscle feels hard to the touch when the person is relaxed, the muscle would be considered hypertonic.

In years past, the coach or teacher’s solution probably involved a long, cylindrical apparatus or a hard ball (or a soft ball) and rolling, or smashing, or melting, or maybe even Super D’s version: https://youtu.be/kQM5-Uwui0o.

There was eventually a backlash against all of this self body work that was taking up half of people’s workout sessions, with people arguing that moving (for most people) was more important than “releasing.”

While foam rolling and its cousins probably don’t do what we originally thought (chances are slim fascia is being re-modelled and adhesions are breaking up while we impose discomfort to ourselves), it can be a handy way to increase our overall awareness of a body part. It also temporarily increases range of motion, improving proprioception (4). 

Let’s say I am trying to teach someone to press his feet into the floor. (This is much harder than it sounds. It’s almost like modern day footwear and ground surfaces enable us to levitate, barely grazing the surface of the earth ). I can cue this individual to press his foot into the ground a variety of ways: like he’s pressing a nail into the floor, as though he were spreading his foot like a glove, etc., etc. There is a small chance one of these suggestions might work, but more than likely, this approach will find me (and the client), frustrated because he isn’t able to “get” what I am asking him to do. Instead, a much easier (and faster) method would be to have him roll the bottom of his foot on a golf ball or press various parts of his forefoot into a small, folded towel (the same can be done with the heel). Now, when I say press into the ground he will actually understand what I mean and be able to feel his foot pressing into the ground. Why does this work?

When pressure is applied to the skin, the stretch receptors located in the skin send information up to the brain via the afferent nervous system. This information, along with information from the muscle spindles and the joint receptors, creates an image in the brain about how joint and its associated limb are positioned in space (5). When he places his foot on the golf ball, he feels the pressure of the skin on the bottom of his foot change. This acts as a reminder that his foot consists of tissue that is pressing against the golf ball. The brain map of his foot becomes a little less fuzzy as his somatosensory cortex begins to color in the lines of exactly what his foot looks like. 

I am not suggesting everyone needs to spend all of their time rolling out their body before they start moving; however, if you are going to work on a specific area and the person struggles with sensing that area, 2-4 minutes of self myofascial release or directed tactile awareness drills can go a long way.

The stuck shoulder blades (and other confused body parts):
As movement teachers, we love to tell clients what they should do. “Relax your shoulder blades,” we say, anticipating they understand a) what their shoulder blades are and b) how to relax them.

Neither of these statements is guaranteed. In fact, chances are pretty good the person you are working with that has her shoulders up by her ears isn’t quite sure what her shoulder blades do and has no idea what it means to relax them. 

This leads to mild irritation and a little bit of panic (“why isn’t she doing what I asked? I can’t be more clear. I suck at my job,” you might find yourself thinking. The poor client is wondering, “why is her voice getting more pitched? I moved my arm. Isn’t that what she wants me to do?”). 

There are actually a couple of easy tricks to improve the client’s ability to understand what you are asking without using very many words, otherwise known as the art of word minimalism. (Totally made that up. But minimalism is a thing, and I sometimes think word minimalism should be a thing. As my husband say, “there is great power in silence”).

Trick #1: let the person do what he wants to do (but exaggerate it)
I originally learned this when I began studying Feldenkrais. The lessons routinely take the person into the position he habitually goes. Ortho-bionomy does the same thing, but it’s done in  a manual therapy setting, with the therapist taking you into the position. Why does this work?

Let’s pretend you ask the hypothetical person above to bring her shoulder blades up by her ears. Since they are already elevated, they won’t have far to go. It gives the nervous system a chance to recognize the habituated pattern in a safe environment. Taking the person further into the position will theoretically make it easier for the person to find alternative movement strategies (6).

When people don’t realize they are tensing a muscle, they aren’t going to consciously be able to relax it. Imagine you are teaching someone how to do a single leg deadlift without weight. When the person hinges forward, his left index finger juts out, as though he were going to keep himself up with just the activity in that finger. You have asked him to shake his hands out and relax his fingers, all to no avail. As soon as the movement starts, so does his left index finger.

After observing a set, let’s say you have that same individual sit down and perform a few hand exercises. It doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as they address the fingers both together and individually, contracting and relaxing the hand musculature. What do you think happens when you have the person do his second set of single leg deadlifts?

Nine times out of ten, the excessive hand movement will go away without you saying a word. This, in my opinion, is extremely powerful. By allowing the muscles that wanted to contract to contract and relax through isolated exercise, the nervous system was able to figure out an alternative way to do things.

You could also have him purposefully tighten his hands while performing the single leg deadlift. Once he has performed one set while tightening his hands, have him try a set without his hands tense. Now that he understands what “tense” is, it will make it easier for him to understand what it means to be “not tense.” You have given him a context for understanding your words. 

Trick #2: Shift the perspective
Let’s say trick #1 doesn’t work. The person is still overusing his left index finger and left hand while balancing during the single leg deadlift. What now?

Shift the perspective. This is more standard neuromuscular training. Maybe you add in a bit of work on the feet and ankle, or perhaps you work on the lateral hip or abs. 

This can look a number of ways, but sometimes what I will do is create a little mini awareness/isolation circuit that might look something like this:
Roll bottom of foot with golf ball
Dynamically mobilize top of the foot in standing
Perform 4 supine partial rolls each side, focusing on breath
Perform external hip rotation with feet on wall, 4 per side with isometric hold on last one (focus on breath) (A video of this short circuit can be found here: https://vimeo.com/225732522)

When you return to the single deadlift exercise, the person is going to feel connected to his feet and his center. Chances are high his fingers will be quiet. 

Again, the goal is to minimize the amount of words used and let the person experience the change. If you ask the person how the deadlift feels and he says, “different,” even if he is unable to articulate how it’s different, the ability to acknowledge a shift increases the chance he will be able to repeat the movement in this new way.

Trick #3: “Can you feel…”
Finally, the third trick Is bringing awareness to the person’s habit. Instead of cueing the person to not do something, I simply ask the person if he can feel that he is doing a particular action.

In the case of the person using his index finger to help with his balance, I might ask, “can you feel what your left index finger is doing right now?” This changes the person’s focus from trying to balance to a completely different (though active), body part. 

This works really well for individuals that habitually tighten a specific area when they are responding to a new or stressful situation. For people that clench their jaw or narrow their gaze, asking what their jaw is doing or how they are using their eyes is often the cue they need to snap them out of their habit. When I reference things like this regularly throughout the session, it isn’t unusual for the person to come in a week later holding himself in a completing different way. When I ask what he’s been doing, the response is usually, “I have been thinking about how often I clench my jaw throughout the day. Every time I find myself clenching my jaw, I try and relax it.”

Again, instead of telling the person what NOT to do, I give the individual an opportunity to recognize his tendency and make a conscious decision to change it. This is far more powerful than me overusing my words.

References:

  1. Pashler, H., McDaniel, Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R., (2008). Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 106-116.
  2. Sigrist, R., Rauter, G., Riener, R., & Wolf, P., (2013). Augmented visual, auditory, haptic, and multimodal feedback in motor learning. Psychonomic Bulletic & Review, 20(1), 21-53.
  3. Masi, A.T., Kamat, S., Gajdosik, R., Ahmad, N., & Aldag, J.C., (2015). Muscular hypertonicity: a suspected contributor to rheumatological manifestations observed in ambulatory practice. European Journal of Rheumatology, 2(2).
  4. Kelly, S., & Beardsley, C., (2016). Specific and cross-over effects of foam rolling on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 11(4).
  5. Longo, M.R., (2017). Expansion of perceptual body maps near - but not across - the wrist. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11(111).
  6. Hiller, S., & Worley, A., (2015). The effectiveness of the Feldenkrais Method: a systematic review of the evidence. Evidence - Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2015/752160/

Weekly musings, 7/9/17: soreness and public speaking

When was the last time you were sore? Really, uncomfortably sore? Unless you recently started a workout program that is in some way different than your normal movements, it’s probably been a while. 

We tend to (logically) avoid discomfort. If you haven’t moved for a long time, some soreness is to be expected when you begin an exercise program because more movement is greater than no movement. For those of us that exercise regularly, soreness is sometimes a bit of a shock, as though our current exercise routine should make us impervious to soreness that results from a new stimulus. 

The soreness that shows up a few hours after exercise and lasts up to 72 hours is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Scientists believe it is likely caused by the muscle cell damage that follows a bout of eccentric exercise. The body’s response includes soreness, inflammation, and a reduction in muscular force production while the cellular healing response moves in to make the tissue stronger, more resilient. Basically, a little bit of discomfort occurs so that next time you do that exercise, you are more able to tolerate it.*

When I first started public speaking during workshops and lectures, I would get extremely nervous, uncomfortable with how many people were going to be looking at me. I would gut through it, reminding myself to slow down, look at the audience, and keep going. The aftermath was draining. I was never pleased with my performance, and I would promise myself that next time would be better.

Slowly, as I continued to do it, I became more comfortable. The butterflies that used to sit in the pit of my stomach ceased. I began to connect with the audience better as I became more confident and practiced. The discomfort that used to occur eventually gave way to a sense of strength. 

Being a little bit uncomfortable sometimes is okay. Repeating the uncomfortable situation, whether it’s in the form of exercise or life, is even better because eventually, it does get easier and you get stronger.

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~Jerry Seinfeld

*A good, basic read on DOMS: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-lactic-acid-buil/
**For those of you that like research, this was a really interesting study on force production following an eccentric bout of exercise: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262141/

Weekly musings, 7/2/17: What if…

What if…
Exercises and movements no longer had labels associated with them regarding whether they were “bad” or “good?”
Instead of telling people, “lifting heavy things without proper form is bad for you,” we said, “lifting things when you are tired and not paying attention might not be the best idea?”
The recommendations for exercise were no longer, “30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week,” and were instead, “move a little bit more than you did yesterday?”
We stopped telling people their current lifestyle is killing them and instead encouraged everyone to get up and down off of the floor more?
We threw out numbers (the ones on the scale, the amount of time/weight/HR percentage needed for optimal exercise intensity), and instead asked people to pay attention to how their body feels?

 

Weekly musings, 6/25/17: on feeling

Weekly musings, 6/25/17: on feeling
I was chatting with a client of mine recently. She is a therapist that specializes in trauma and PTSD. 

One of her patients came in last week and was telling her about leg sensations he has had for years. He couldn’t quite articulate what he experienced with his legs, other than the fact they didn’t feel like they belonged to him. 

After asking a few questions, his therapist had him come into a wall sit position. This is a position I have been using with her to improve proprioceptive awareness of the pelvis in relation to the mid back. 

Once he finished a few breaths, he sat down. “How do you feel?” she asked.

“Aware of my legs,” he replied.

“Is this a good thing or a bad thing?”

“It’s amazing. I feel like they belong to me; I have a sense of control that I didn’t have before.”

One of the great values of exercise is it puts you in touch with your body. The sensations that arise during exercise remind of us that different areas support us. Tapping into these sensations and different areas can have a deeper impact than just on a person’s physical well-being.

*If you are interested in exploring the mind/body connection as it relates to trauma, this article touches upon the topic: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/06/20/the-body-keeps-the-score-van-der-kolk/

Weekly musings, 6/18/17: Efficiency

Weekly musings, 6/18/17: Efficiency
In the book, “Biophysical Foundations of Human Movement,” the authors write, “the human body is at most 25% efficient.” This refers to mechanical efficiency, or the amount of energy that is required to accomplish a specific task.

What struck me about this is how inefficient we actually are. Perhaps the reason we lack efficiency is because there are many ways for us to perform any given movement. Our central nervous system is constantly working to figure out what the best strategy is, depending on the environment and our current physical state. 

Anyone that teaches movement knows what a person skilled in a motor task looks like versus one that is unskilled. For those that lack efficiency, our job as coaches and trainers is to coax a greater sense of ease out of the movement. Understanding that we are only 25% efficient means there is always a different avenue to explore, to see if it’s possible to tap into a strategy that opens a slightly different path towards less resistance, knowing maximal efficiency will always be slightly out of reach.