Weekly musings, 6/17/18: backs and standing up

I was recently watching someone whose back was acting up move. She looked uncomfortable transitioning from sitting to standing, and it took a few steps for her walking gait to even out. She’s athletic, and didn’t seem overly concerned about- it was obvious she saw it as a nuisance, not a permanent situation.

Back pain happens. Professional organizations estimate that up to 80% of the population will have back pain at some point in their lives. Usually it’s temporary, like a cold, and disappears quietly without fanfare. If you wake up with a back ache, there are a few things you can do to try and ease the discomfort during the healing process.

Move. Walking usually helps. So does gentle mobility work in other places. (I usually stay away from the spine for the first few days, and then introduce easy movement in the parts of the spine that aren’t painful).

If it hurts to do a certain movement, like standing up out of a chair, see if you can figure out a way to load your skeleton a little bit differently. Instead of standing with your feet parallel, for instance, try staggering your feet a little bit. You can also shift your perspective and see if you can feel your abdominals and your legs supporting you when you transition. This tends to help.

Make sure you breathe. Long exhales occasionally will help calm the nervous system down and change the position of your thoracic spine. Inhaling into different places can change how you are loading the skeleton.

Do something relaxing. Massage, acupuncture, floating… Anything that you enjoy that takes your mind off of the discomfort can be beneficial. 

Give it time to heal. Your body is intelligent. If you move in a way that hurts, don’t repeatedly move in that way. And when you are healed, if you aren’t already doing some form of general exercise, either aerobic exercise or strength training, consider implementing a consistent exercise program. While nothing is a guarantee against low back pain, research does show that aerobic and resistance training improve outcomes in people with chronic low back pain that doesn’t appear to have a specific cause.*

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29889056

Weekly musings, 6/10/18: Synergistic movement

Weekly musings, 6/10/18: Synergistic movement
In the book, “Human Motor Control, second edition,” by David Rosenbaum, he writes, “Simultaneous flexion of the wrist and elbow is easier than flexion of the wrist and extension of the elbow, or extension of the wrist and flexion of the elbow.” Simply put, it is more natural to bend the elbow while the wrist bends the fingers towards the upper arm than it is to bend the elbow while the wrist extends the fingers away from the upper arm.

You are structured to move via a series of synergistic movements. When you step, as the body moves over the foot, the foot flattens a little bit, the lower leg rotates in, and the upper leg rotates in. As you prepare to toe off and propel your body forward, the situation reverses. It happens automatically, without you thinking about it. 

Sometimes, traumatic injuries happen, or we are told to hold ourselves a specific way, or we stop doing specific movements and our bodies lose touch with these synergistic patterns. These patterns allow efficiency for things like walking and reaching, but moving the uncoordinated way occasionally is okay, too. It’s just that when the uncoordinated way becomes the default pattern, efficiency is lost, making basic activities a little more challenging. 

How can you determine whether you are moving in ways that are synergistic or not? Try doing the opposite of what you normally do once in a while. How does it feel? When you straighten your elbow and bend your wrist, what happens? What about when you straighten your elbow and extend your wrist? How does it feel to let your weight be in the outsides of your feet when you are standing? What happens if you place the weight on the insides of your feet? How does your lower leg rotate when you place weight on the outside of your feet? What happens if you move your lower leg the other direction? How does that feel?

Slowing down and feeling the different ways the bones can organize during movement tasks gives your nervous system options. It helps the nervous system determine what the most efficient way to perform different skills actually is, and it reminds you, the participant, that there is more than one way to perform a task. 

Weekly musings, 6/3/18: expert, chunking, and patterns


In the book, “The Athletic Brain,” Amit Katwala explores what makes professional athletes more proficient at sport than amateur athletes. Two key ways professional athletes are able to react more quickly and more efficiently than the rest of us are their ability to chunk information and their ability to recognize patterns.

When you look at a Parkour athlete moving with ease through the urban environment, what do you see? Probably a flurry of movement, with parts that don’t look distinct. If you were asked to repeat back what you watched, you would be able to pick out one or two moves, (“he vaulted over something,” “I think he somersaulted at some point”). The Parkour athlete, on the other hand, would probably be able to repeat back the whole sequence, but not because he sees individual moves strung together- instead, he sees sequences within the sequence, chunks of skills strung together.

Chunking is frequently taught as a memorization trick. If I asked you to look at the following sequence of numbers for a few seconds, cover it up, and repeat it back, you might struggle: 741031214116

If, on the other hand, I asked you to remember the following dates, it might be easier for you: 7/4 10/31 2/14 11/6

Why? The numbers are the same, but the context is suddenly different. Chances are high those dates have some meaning to you if you live in the US (Fourth of July, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, election day). That wasn’t always the case. First, you had to learn your numbers, then you had to learn about dates, and eventually, through repeated exposure, you learned to associate those days with different things.

The experienced athlete begins by learning individual parts, really, really well. For instance, the Parkour athlete works on the pieces of the precision jump by working on landings and small short target landings. He learns the components of a forward roll, progressing to a somersault by practicing, slowly at first, and then faster, over and over again. Eventually, he learns to perform a precision jump to a somersault. The individual parts becomes a sequence of movements. He still practices the parts individually, but he no longer sees them as individual entities.

Chunking allows a practitioner of any discipline to take in information at a faster rate. Skills blur, because the individual parts simply become a way to create a bigger picture. However, even the most advanced practitioners are always refining the basics, becoming smoother, and looking at the smallest parts with curiosity. 

For a little morning Parkour inspiration: https://youtu.be/NX7QNWEGcNI

Weekly musings, 5/20/18: the shoulder, proprioception, and co-contraction

Weekly musings, 5/20/18: the shoulder, proprioception, and co-contraction
During a webinar I hosted recently, an attendee wrote afterwards and asked me to further explain why proprioception seems to be diminished in people with hyper mobility. (Hyper mobility refers to the ability to move the joints in extreme ranges of motion. One of the causes is ligaments, which provide stability to joints, are stretched, potentially leaving the individual with a sense of instability). Research shows a correlation between hyper mobility and poor sense of where your body is located in space, but the reasons why that occurs isn’t fully understood.

A paper by Scott Lephart and Rajesh Jari* suggests the ligamentous structures of the shoulder may provide sensory feedback to the brain about joint position, which causes a reflexive contraction of the muscles that stabilize the shoulder. Proprioception, or accurate sense of joint position, is required for the brain to tell the muscles to contract- it’s a feedback loop.

When you take hold of something heavy, like a kettlebell, barbell, or suitcase, before you grasp the item, the brain is figuring out how much strength you need to hold on to the weight. Otherwise, the shoulder wouldn’t stay in place- the weight would pull the arm down out of the shoulder socket. I wonder if strength training tunes the feedback mechanism, making the output a little more accurate based on the input? Regardless, strength matters and having a sense of stability can make many things in life a little bit easier.

*https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/1060187202800120

Weekly musings, 5/20/18: Fitness for a living versus fitness as a part of life

Weekly musings, 5/20/18: Fitness for a living versus fitness as a part of life
Last night, I finished watching “The Redeemed and Dominant,” the documentary covering the 2017 Crossfit games. Regardless of what you think of Crossfit, the athletes competing at the highest levels are incredibly versed in a huge variety of events, making them the ultimate generalists. They were required to swim, run, cyclocross, lift heavy weights, jump over bales of hay, carry, do handstand push-ups, pull-up, use hammers, and jump rope, among other things.

As they were highlighting various athletes, my husband looked at me and said, “they really aren’t very interesting as people. All they do is train.”

People whose livelihoods depend upon on fitness spend their days fitness-ing. They train, they eat, they recover, and they train. This isn’t just limited to professional Crossfit athletes. It extends to people who have built brands around fitness. In order to be taken seriously, you have to look the part. Looking the part involves training. A lot.

Training all day is unrealistic for most people and it takes away from the rest of life, which, again, for most people involves more than fitness, especially if it’s not your career. Instead of setting unreasonably high expectations based on a fitness professional’s abilities, take a realistic assessment of where you are today and ask yourself how you can move things around to make fitness a part of your life without it taking over your life. Most people can devote 20-60 minutes daily to some sort of practice and still have time for work, family, and other hobbies. 

The amazing thing is 20-60 minutes daily is enough to improve strength, mobility, and skills. You can become more fit by training in a smart, progressive way that will enhance the overall quality of your life without impeding upon it. Your fitness is one small piece of you.

Newsletter, June 2018: disconnecting

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In late April, I attended the Movement Exploration Retreat in Costa Rica for the second time. It was a wonderful experience, filled with movement, great people, nature, and a bit of work.

I arrived on Saturday, but it took me until Wednesday to fully relax and be in tune with my environment. Though I felt present during the movement sessions, the thrum of my to-do list in California prevented me from disengaging with my work life before then. However, once I finally finished the thing that was hanging over my head, I was able to embrace not doing anything work related, other than moving and learning.

It’s hard to disconnect. There is always something that can be done, a newsletter to write, a website to update, an e-mail to respond to… It is remarkably easy to create work when you are self-employed. 

However, disconnecting leads to a brief sense of calm. I was often without my phone while I walked the beach or ate lunch with my fellow attendees and, while I missed an incredible picture of an iguana, I felt more free than I had in a very long time. 

Be productive, but remember, balance is created when there are moments of no productivity. I came back more focused and with more enthusiasm for my work. The key to preventing burnout, I’ve been told, is to step away once in a while. 

Wishing everyone a wonderful June!

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn

Upcoming events:
World Virtual Posture Summit, May 24-27. I was invited to present on movement, along with several other movement people whose names you might recognize. The basic lectures are free. To register: https://world-posture-month.app.virtualsummits.com

The Psychology of Mobility Training, May 26. A free online webinar. This 45 minute webinar will cover why mobility training can impact more than just the physical experience. We will discuss the impact increasing mobility has on proprioception and overall sense of self. We will also cover how to determine the appropriate mobility intervention for the individual in front of you. To register: https://pilottij.yondo.com/webinar/the-psychology-of-mobility-training/4402

Unlocking the Power of the Hips through the Feet and Ankles Saturday June 2, 10:30-2:30, Carmel. $90 until 5/20; $100 after. Register here: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2018/6/2/unlocking-the-power-of-the-hips-through-the-feet-and-ankles

Unlocking the Power of the Hips through the Feet and Ankles Saturday, June 16, 1-5, Move-SF, San Francisco. $90 before June 1; $100 after. Register here: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2018/6/16/unlocking-the-power-of-the-hips-through-the-ankles-and-feet

Recommended reading:
I promise, this list will get back to its former glory next month (I haven’t been keeping very good track of the articles and books I have read lately). However, Walter Isaacson’s biography on Leonardo Da Vinci is wonderful. If you don’t want to read the 500+ pages, The Guardian gives a good overview here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/16/leonardo-da-vinci-the-biography-walter-isaacson-review

 

Weekly musings, 5/13/18: Change and posture

Weekly musings, 5/13/18: Change and posture
I was working with a client recently, watching him as he rested supine on the floor. His mid-back was flat against the ground, his head looked comfortable on the small blanket. His knees pointed straight up towards the ceiling, parallel.

This wasn’t always the case. When I first began working with him, just bending his knees was enough to cause the his left hamstring to send twinges of pain. His feet would angle in, and his weight would primarily be on his right side. His middle back, near the junction of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, would hover off of the ground. His neck would appear strained, no matter how much I propped him up. 

Slowly, with consistency, strength, and awareness, his resting posture changed. It didn’t just change in supine, but in standing as well. As he felt more of himself and became aware of his patterns, he learned to shift to places that were more comfortable. 

The curious thing is I never once told him to hold himself a certain way at rest, or during movement, for that matter. Instead, I made suggestions, asking him to feel certain parts of himself or place load in different aspects. It started with feeling his ribs when he breathed and when he reached, and moved quickly to how he used his feet. 

When you shift awareness and try loading your limbs a little bit bit differently, you feel different parts of yourself. The sensation usually shows up as muscular work, since you are suddenly placing a demand on your musculoskeletal system that is different. The sensation reminds you there are options for moving.

What if you stopped trying to sit or stand a certain way and instead just let yourself be in a comfortable place? What if instead of trying to correct resting posture, you acknowledged that improving your general awareness of your body and your habits during movement were enough to change your physical self, including your resting positions? Let go of managing your resting posture and see what happens- you might be surprised.

Weekly musings, 5/6/18: pain and tomorrow

Weekly musings, 5/6/18: pain and tomorrow
I was chatting with a friend recently that I hadn’t seen in a while. He asked me if I was still running. I responded yes, and as our conversation continued, he looked at me and said, “you don’t ever have anything wrong with you, do you?”

I paused, unsure how to fully answer. “No, but I have a lot of tools.”

Later, I thought about my response and wondered if I should have told him that I had pain issues for years. That at one point I thought I would have to give up running because my joints used to ache afterwards. That I struggled to reconcile the fact that movement was my work, but the pain I felt on a daily basis made me feel fraudulent, as though I were selling something that didn’t really work. 

I also could have told him that these issues sent my on a quest that has enabled me to help many people, including myself. That I learned it doesn’t have to be hard to feel good in your body, but it does require work and patience. That moving in ways that are gentle and feel good is just as important as gaining strength and mobility. That yoga, or strength training, or Pilates might not be the answer if you aren’t in a good place mentally. That how you feel today doesn’t have to reflect how you feel six months from now. That I feel far better today than I did ten years ago.

Pain is real. It affects every aspect of your life and can make you feel unsure about your future. Regardless of the physical cause, you will not be the same person you are in a year that you are today, and that includes how you use your body and what you experience physically. You can make progress towards a pain free existence, filled with movement, strength, and mobility if you are willing to look at your relationship with exercise and life a little bit differently.

Weekly musings, 4/29/18: driving and moving

Weekly musings, 4/29/18: expertise
As I was sitting on a bus up the airport last week, at one of the stops a man got on who was acquainted with the bus driver. He sat up front, next to him (it was one of those small shuttle buses), and they chatted about driving. They both talked about driving the same way I talk about  movement- with a sense of genuine interest that made it obvious they were more than competent at the skill of maneuvering large vehicles at high speeds.

I use a car on a daily basis, in a pretty minimal way. My commute is about 9 minutes, sometimes 20 if traffic is heavy coming home. I am definitely not an expert driver. If someone asked me to drive a bus of any size, I would struggle with how much space was required to navigate the vehicle safely from one point to another. This doesn’t mean I couldn’t learn how to be more proficient at driving, but I would need a bit of training and a lot of practice to learn how to be better.

Movement skills are kind of like this. Everyone has a body that they use to some degree, every day. Some people use their bodies a lot. In fact, they regularly study movement skills with a teacher and practice regularly in an effort to improve their ability to navigate how their bodies move in space. These individuals are akin to professional drivers- they have a level of competency the average person hasn’t developed. However, this doesn’t mean the average person can’t learn how to be more proficient at using his body. It will take study, time, and maybe even a little bit of training with a teacher to become better acquainted with specific skills and the internal sense of feeling that allows movement to be strong and capable. 

Weekly musings, 4/22/18: the princess and the pea

In the old children’s tale, The Princess and the Pea, a prince determines whether a young woman is actually a princess by placing a pea underneath several mattresses and featherbeds. When the young woman is unable to sleep because something hard is in the bed, the prince knows he has found his partner- only a princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea.

I found myself thinking about the princess and the pea yesterday while I walked, barefoot, across the rocks along the ocean’s edge. I didn’t feel any discomfort, and my feet shifted over the ridges to disperse the pressure from the rocks across the soles. 

I regularly have new clients roll their feet out on the bottom of a very small ball. I don’t do this to break up fascial adhesions, or to roll out trigger points, but to have them feel their feet. The sensitivity the first time is often uncomfortable; with repeated exposure, the sensitivity lessens. 

If you aren’t used to feeling a specific area, the first time pressure is applied to that place, it’s like information overload to the nervous system. The brain senses the change in pressure in this unusual place and sends lots of information in the way of sensation back to the area. You are left feeling like you want to pull your foot away from the ball, or for the princess, her back away from the mattress. 

However, with repeated exposure, the sensation lessens. Eventually, sensation of the uneven ground against your feet is no longer deemed a foreign threat by your nervous system. The benefit of this is when you can feel more of yourself, you begin to use the area during everyday movement. It’s like your brain is filling in the lines of a picture, showing which parts of yourself are available for activity.

So maybe the goal is to not be like the princess in the children’s tale. Expose yourself once in a while to different surfaces and fine tune your sense of self.

Newsletter May, 2018: the sum of the parts

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I recently posted a video of me doing a depth jump to a forward roll on Instagram. My philosophy with Instagram is if I post something that either teaches someone something or inspires someone to look at movement in a slightly different way, I am (hopefully) providing a useful service. Someone commented that she didn’t know anyone else who would try that particular move.

I replied that what she didn’t see was the work that went into doing that. I did drills for my depth jump. I practiced forward rolls. I practiced a depth jump to an all fours landing. I worked all of these pieces, until eventually I could jump down to an all fours position and go right into a forward roll, ultimately eliminating the all fours position. It took months of working the basic pieces, over and over again. I posted the finish product because I feel like if someone like me, who has no high school or college athletic career, isn’t naturally flexible, and spends hours each week practicing alone, can learn how to use my body in an interesting way at age 38, anyone can with the right amount of dedication and practice. 

Not everyone wants to put in that amount of work, and that’s completely okay. Not everyone has to be an aspiring Parkour enthusiast to appreciate novel movements; practicing physical skills once or twice a week in a class setting can bring a person’s ability to perform specific skills to a new level. 

The crux of all of this is the basic components of the skills that are being sequenced together need to be practiced, over and over until the student doesn’t need to think about it anymore. So if you want someone to actually be able to perform higher level skills, they can’t be introduced to the basic pieces once on a Monday in February and once more on a Thursday in April with the expectation that the student will have adequately learned the necessary parts to perform that thing. 

I have a client in his early 60s who isn’t naturally flexible. The first time I had him come into a tall kneeling position, he struggled. When I had him try and sit back on his heels, he could barely go down.

Over time and with repetitions, he was able to lower to his heels, but only with the foot perpendicular to the floor. Any other position caused cramping or discomfort. We practiced every time I saw him, which is about twice a week. I added in standing ankle work to improve his ability to flex his foot and get the top of the ankle moving down, towards the ground. We practiced this regularly for a month.

Today, he sat back on his feet, toes pointing behind him. He looked surprised and excited as he realized he could do this elusive movement for the first time in his life. 

The total amount of time each session devoted to this is probably less than four minutes. But moving in and out of positions with control, and allowing pauses enables the nervous system to adapt to new positions. And while the position itself doesn’t matter, he realized a new way to sit on the floor which, arguably, is a good thing. It also highlights the fact that, at 62, he is able to gain flexibility and control that he has never had before. Learning happens throughout life, and using the physical practice to reinforce this fact can have a positive impact on the client.

Upcoming events:
May 23-25:
World Posture Virtual Summit
In addition to 11 other professionals in movement disciplines, I will be speaking (albeit, virtually), at the World Posture Virtual Summit on what it means to move well. For a limited time, access is free with registration. Link here.

End of May: Studio location change! I will be moving into my new space sometime at the end of the month. It’s exciting, and worth noting.

June 2:
Unlocking the power of the hips through the ankles and feet. Location: Be Well Personal Training Studio, The Barnyard, Carmel CA. 
Information and registration:

June 16:
Unlocking the power of the hips through the ankles and feet. Location: Move-SF, 2863 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94115, time and registration: TBA. 

Learn how the feet and ankles influence what is experienced in the hips and glutes and how pelvis position influences the feet. We will discuss proprioception from the ground up, and still utilize sensing, isolating, and integrating as a framework for improving movement efficiency and creating a deeper sense of embodiment. Gait mechanics will be touched upon, as well as how the feet influence common foundational movements such as the squat and hip hinge. This workshop is appropriate for movement teachers, personal trainers, and those interested in deepening their knowledge of how this area works. Class format will be lecture, practical application, and partner work. Please bring a notebook and dressed to move around. 

“Please download all your information into our brains!! The clients are loving the exercises we did at the workshop and they all say their feet feel stretched out/flatter/more grounded and they are fascinated by it!” A.G., recent workshop attendee.

July:
Learning Opportunity
I am looking for three curious movement/fitness professionals that are interested in honing their assessment skills, deepening their knowledge of movement and how to work with individuals with injury or pre-existing conditions, and are curious about how to combine strength, somatic work, and mobility work in an individualized setting.

I am launching an online mentorship/coaching program. The beta test group will consist of one month of weekly web chats, homework, and a dive into spine mechanics, proprioception, assessing what you see, and breathing. We will also how to address specific client needs or questions around programming and troubleshooting. (Future programs will be longer, but I am keeping this short and small to get a sense of how it feels for everyone). Cost is $100 for this group only. If you are interested or know someone that might be interested, please e-mail me with a bio or resume, why you think this might be a good fit for you, and career goals. pilottij@gmail.com

August:
Open House! If you are local, celebrate the opening of the new studio space with us August 4 from 11-2. 

A slight change in location, a much bigger space, and an opportunity to take classes, look around, consume refreshments, and ask questions. Join Jenn in celebrating the new studio location, still in The Barnyard, located upstairs, directly above Patrick James and next to Yolanda's Hair Salon facing the courtyard. 
12:00-12:45: Mobility and game play
1:00-1:30: Restorative
Cost: Free!

Saturday, October 20:
Free your neck and the rest will follow
Location: 36o FitHaus, 1400 Colorado Blvd. Suite C., Los Angeles, CA 90041. Details and registration coming soon.

Happy days!
Jenn

Weekly musings, 4/15/18: Rigidity and posture

Weekly musings, 4/15/18: Rigidity and posture
Have you ever been told you “should” hold yourself a certain way because it’s better for you? Or that if you round your spine, you are loading the discs too much and you are certain to cause imminent damage?

The spine is designed to move in order to respond to perturbations, or outside forces that act upon it. Rigidity during movement doesn’t allow for any sort of response and it doesn’t feel good. Think about a metal rod. When you hit it, how does it feel? Now imagine that you are hitting a water balloon that doesn’t burst with the same amount of force. How does that feel and which object do you think is more stable? A spine that works well is one that is strong enough to return to its resting position, but supple enough to give when there is outside force that acts upon it.

In fact, in a 2013 study, researchers examined how well subjects were able to recover from an unexpected perturbation when their lumbar spines were in a corset that held them rigidly. This was contrasted with how well they recovered from the same unexpected jolt without the corset. The corset hindered the subjects’ abilities to recover their balance; without the corset, the subjects recovered more efficiently and in less time.*

A client came in recently who struggles with low back pain. She has made dramatic improvements, but still struggles with occasional bouts of discomfort. We were discussing her tendency to hold herself rigidly and her fear of moving her lower back. “I was told I should keep my lower back a little bit arched at all times and never let it round because of my disc extrusion,” she told me. 

“Does it hurt when you let your back round a little bit when you bend over or does it cause your symptoms to flare up?” I asked.

“No, it feels really good.”

“Then it’s okay to do occasionally,” I responded.

Fearing movement isn’t helpful, just like always moving the same way limits mobility and strength going the other direction. If it hurts, don’t do it, but while strength is one of the best things you can do for your body, rigidity and strength aren’t necessarily the same thing.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24036601

Weekly musings, 4/8/18: Slow and steady

I have a client I’ll call Megan. We have been working on a lot of strengthening exercises on the floor, loading her arms and her legs in different, dynamic ways. I regularly have her hold positions that are uncomfortable for a moment, just long enough to feel a sense of struggle before she moves away from the discomfort, back to a place that’s more familiar. She moves through positions that, to an outsider, might not look like much, but when done slowly are challenging. She does low reps, 4-6, before moving on to something else.

I recently had her perform a move that she initially balked at, unsure she had the strength. She tried it and successfully completed it four times, surprising herself with her ability.

I have another client I will call Jessie. She had a vague goal of doing a chin-up, so I started having her hang from her arms while doing different things, building up her endurance and grip strength. She did rowing variations with suspension straps, holding in different positions, not always performing very many repetitions, instead focusing on the quality of the movement and finding a sense of work before slowly moving away from the sensation.

I recently had her jump up to the top position of a chin-up and hold it there, using just her arms. She, too, was skeptical when she realized what I was asking her to do. “Do you think I can do that?”

“Yes,” I replied, and with that she jumped up and held herself in the chin-up, before slowly lowering herself down. Her eyes were big, and she was clearly surprised at her strength. “I did it! My arms held me!”

Building strength doesn’t necessarily require performing 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions, though that’s definitely one way to do it. What matters more, perhaps, is consistent exposure to various aspects of the skill you want to accomplish, becoming adept and strong in a multitude of ways. I find, too, when people feel supported by their structure, it matters less how many reps they perform and more that they acknowledge when something hard becomes easier through practice. 

Weekly musings, 4/1/18: Handedness, strength, and motor control

A 77 year old client came in recently, excited about a book she is reading on cognitive health. “I am using my left hand to do things around the house that I would normally do with my right. It’s supposed to be good for my memory.”

How we use our hands impacts strength and coordination. Which hand we prefer also influences how we use our brain,* so it’s not a stretch to assume learning how to use the hand that’s more awkward to do functional tasks might improve cognitive function.

Curiously, the hand that is more competent at specific tasks isn’t always the hand you write with; in one study, grip strength in 10.93% of right handers was found to be stronger in the left hand. In left handers, 36% had a stronger right hand than left, suggesting strength isn’t always correlated to hand preference. A number of factors could be at play, such  as injury and the fact the world is set up more for right handed individuals. As a left handed individual, I open jar lids with my right hand because it is easier to grip and twist to the right with the right hand as opposed to the left. Conversely, I would open a box with my left hand, since the task doesn’t require a specific direction. If I am seated next to a right handed person, I will often use the fork with my right hand so I don’t bump the person next to me, and I can cut with either hand.

Does my ability to perform tasks with both hands matter? Probably not, except that it allows me to feel fairly balanced in strength and coordination on both sides of my body. If a person so strongly favors one side of his body that he doesn’t feel secure supporting himself with the other hand or arm that will limit how he chooses to use his body during movement. An easy way to begin feeling more coordinated in the non-dominant hand is to consciously use it.

Try doing basic tasks with your non-preferred hand. Things like brushing your teeth, opening a water bottle, or opening a box are safe ways to see what it feels like to use your body in a different way. If you use ball exercises for hand eye coordination drills, use both hands to throw and catch. Do single arm strength work in the gym, observing how it feels to grip a weight and move it with your non-dominant hand, A little bit of awareness and conscious change can improve your sense of self and maybe even create a little more balanced strength.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153632/

Weekly musings, 3/25/18: the feet

Weekly musings, 3/25/18: the feet
The feet live (mostly) in shoes, but are designed to interact with uneven terrain. They respond to the terrain by moving in a variety of ways, making them adaptable to most environments through an impressive network of sensory receptors, bones, muscles, and ligaments. They propel you forward when you walk, alternating between rigidity and flexibility. 

Like all body parts, when they aren’t used, they atrophy. When they aren’t asked to walk on uneven surfaces, their responsiveness lessens; coupled with the fact there is usually something between them and the floor, it’s no surprise people feel less grounded and secure on the two structures that are meant to hold them up.

Have you ever wondered why the bottom of your feet are sensitive when you walk on natural terrain without shoes? Maybe it’s because they aren’t used to being exposed to contact with the earth, so the feedback from the ground acts like sensory overload- the nervous system responds by yelling, loudly, that the ground is uncomfortable and potentially painful. With repeated exposure, the discomfort decreases and the foot and ankle become more responsive.

If you don’t want to walk around without shoes, consider walking around barefoot once in a while. Try balancing on balance beams or walking over different surfaces in the house. Which parts of your feet can you feel? Which parts of your heel can you feel? Where is your sense of center? Your feet support you regularly. Acknowledge them occasionally by feeling them.

Weekly musings, 3/18/18: Constraints and movement

Weekly musings, 3/18/18: Constraints and movement
When a flock of birds flies, they follow three basic rules.* They maintain separation by not crowding their neighbors. They maintain alignment by steering towards the average heading of their neighbors. The maintain cohesion by steering towards the average position of their neighbors. Another way to look at the three rules of behavior (separation, alignment, and cohesion) is in order to fly, the birds must satisfy these constraints.

In mathematics, a constraint is a condition that the solution must satisfy. Applying constraints in a movement setting allows analysis and problem solving (“how am I going to perform the task while obeying the rule imposed”), and removes the idea that there is a certain way you must move to accomplish a specific task. 

Introducing a constraint makes a movement interesting. It begins to look like game play, rather than “exercise.” Examples of how a constraint might be applied to an exercise setting include:
Move across the room with two contact points always in contact with the floor.
Set a timer for two minutes. Lower a body part as close to the floor as you can without actually touching the floor with the body part.
Set a timer for two minutes. Place your right hand on the floor. Move as many ways as you can without letting the right hand come off of the floor.

Constraints can involve using outside objects as well. Asking someone to place a yoga block flat in the left hand and draw a picture on the ceiling keeping the yoga block and the hand flat would be an example of using an object as part of the constraint. 

Not only do constraints make movement interesting, they also engage the mind and the body together in a way that allows for embodied cognition. Cognitive psychologists believe that from an evolutionary perspective, we evolved to problem solve by using our mind and body to deal with issues in the environment. What if you were walking along and there was a huge tree that had fallen down, blocking the path between you and your food source? You would have to critically think about the problem, using the mental and physical options available to you. Could you climb over the tree? Is there a different path you could take? Could you make tools to cut a section of the tree out? Before we could ask Google to problem solve for us, we relied on a different set of cognitive strength, one which was deeply intertwined with the physical self.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569617/

Weekly musings, 3/10/18: C-sections and movement


Approximately 31.9% of births in the US will be performed via Cesarean section. The two incision techniques most frequently used during a C-section require slicing through an abdominal area innervated by two nerves, one of which, the ileo-inguinal, contains sensory fibers to the groin and motor fibers to the large abdominal muscles.* The second nerve, the ileo-hypogastric, pierces through the transverse abdominis and passes through the abdominal obliques. During surgery, the abdominal fascia is cut and the muscles are pulled apart by the surgeon.

Over the years, I have trained several women who had C-sections performed on them during the birth of their children. Not only is surgery potentially traumatic (the majority of my clients who had C-sections spent time in labor, only to be told vaginal delivery wasn’t going to be an option), but in my experience, physical therapy is rarely prescribed after the 8 week recovery period. 

When women post C-section return to exercise, again, in my experience, there is generally a disconnect with the sensation of the abdominal muscles. When you consider the incision, it makes sense. A sensory rich area has been cut, and muscles have been stretched (not of their own volition). It seems logical what the individual experiences and feels in the abdominal region is different after surgery than what she experienced before C-section. It also seems logical that for some individuals post c-section, spending time becoming re-acquainted with what it feels like when the deep core muscles contract to provide support may be beneficial for proprioceptive feedback and an overall sense of strength and internal security.

Exercise should be encouraged for new mothers for a variety of reasons; however, recovery from surgery and all that goes along with it makes exercise post C-section a little bit trickier. If you have a C-section, don’t be afraid to ask for physical therapy, and when you do return to exercise, make sure you listen to your body. If you feel disconnected from your abdominal region or like you aren't supported in your center, find someone that can help. Taking a little bit of time to feel whole again can go a long way to ensuring a life filled with movement.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315586/

Weekly musings, 3/4/18: Bone and images

Weekly musings, 3/4/18: Bone and adaptation
I was chatting with a client recently, who mentioned how surprised she was we had been able to do so much with her feet. (Her feet had sustained several injuries over the years, and her imaging showed structural abnormalities).

“Bone is a living tissue,” I told her. “It can adapt and become stronger with the right stimulus. Just like people with osteoporosis can become less osteoporotic because their bones get stronger with weight training, the bones and muscles in your feet can become stronger with a slow and gradual exposure to force, assuming you are otherwise healthy.”

There is a concept called Wolff’s law, developed by German anatomist Julius Wolff in the nineteenth century which says if load on a bone increases, over time, the bone will remodel itself to become strong enough to withstand the load.* What this means is not only can you become stronger on the deepest structural level if you use your body under load consistently, but that an x-ray is a lot like a photograph. You know that a photograph of you today will look different from a photograph of you five years from now because you might cut your hair, your body might change, or you might change your diet, affecting how your skin looks. A photograph and an x-ray (or any other type of imaging), are a snapshot in time. They are not necessarily indicative of what you will look like later because you can (and will) change. How you change depends largely on your choices today.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15038485

Weekly musings, 2/25/18: Bodies, machines, and human capability

In 1926, English physiologist Archibald Vivian Hill declared in a Scientific American article, “Our bodies are machines, whose energy expenditures can be closely measured.”*

This mechanistic view of our physical selves permeated the beliefs of the twentieth century. “Body parts wear out, like tires” we were told, “you only have so much energy to expend- it’s like gas in a car. Once the gas is out, you will no longer be able to keep going,” endurance athletes believed.

The problem with this is pain can exist without structural damage and structural damage can exist without pain, which means in the presence of structural damage people can often still perform everyday activities in a pain free manner.** Unlike tires, which need to be replaced if they get a hole in them, our original parts can not only take a little bit of wear and tear, our structures adapt to the demands placed upon them, getting stronger and better able to withstand force. If an engineer were to develop a tire that adapted to the demands of the terrain and became more durable over time, he would be considered a genius (and probably be worth a lot of money). 

In a similar manner, the ability to endure is dependent on a variety of factors, including how well rested you are, your psychological state, and, yes, your nutritional state. However, it’s more than that, as tales of survival remind us. (Google “survivors lost in the woods.” You will find amazing stories of people lasting far longer than they physiologically “should” be able to keep going). 

We are multi-faceted organisms and are physical capabilities and experiences are predicated on much more than our physical parts. If we stop viewing ourselves as machines that break, we will tap into a deeper sense of resilience.

*From Alex Hutchinson’s book, “Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.”
**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464797/