Weekly musings, 11/18/17: the power of tricks

I was working with a client recently, trying to come up with ways to get her to look out when she walks, rather than down. While her balance has improved significantly, she has double vision, which affects how steady she feels. When she is working with me, I encourage her to look out, since she knows the floor is free from obstacles. However, her habit remains to look down, just to make sure nothing gets in her way.

This week, rather than continue giving her the same cue, I handed her a ball and instructed her to toss it in the air and catch while she walked across the room. Her gaze immediately lifted and her overall steadiness improved as she focused on catching and tossing the ball.

Internal awareness is important. It allows us to feel our body and get in touch with our habits. Awareness, I like to say, is the first step to change.

However, the world is external. At some point, our awareness needs to move outside of ourselves so we can interact with the environment. The ability to look out rather than down while walking not only improves posture and balance, it let’s us take in our surroundings and actually see the world around us. 

Asking people to perform tasks like throwing a ball forces them to use their bodies reflexively. They stop worrying about how they are doing something and instead work on what they are doing. Interestingly, often these types of activities also make more present, due to the fact their attention is focused. 

If someone is struggling with embodiment, try moving their awareness externally. It may improve their internal awareness more than you expect.

Weekly musings, 11/12: Floor strength

Weekly musings, 11/12: Floor strength
A 72 year old client came in recently. She began working with me when she was in her late fifties. We basically grew together, with her getting stronger as the years went on and me gaining the necessary knowledge to help her meet her goals and move well into her later years.

We were chatting about push-ups, a staple of her home program, when she said, “I really like doing the push-ups, but it’s getting harder and harder to get up and down from the floor.” 

Getting up and down from the floor is an action we take for granted when we were are younger. The strength and flexibility needed to interact with the ground is readily available to most of us throughout our thirties and into our forties. However, like with all things, if it isn’t practiced regularly, it becomes more challenging. Frequently what happens is people begin to lose the strength required go from the ground to upright because they don’t use those ranges of motion very often; if you add in constraints, such as not using the hands, a task that was challenging but doable becomes nearly impossible.

The problem for this particular client wasn’t lack of strength or flexibility; she just didn’t know how to do it in an easy way.  After cueing her to reach forward as she was standing up from a half kneeling position and watching her fly up, I quickly realized we don’t work on floor transitions and she simply hadn’t given them much thought in the last decade.

We played with a couple of seated rolling variations, discussed hand position, and voila! She was getting up without using her hand on her knee or experiencing any sense of effort. When it isn’t a strength issue, it’s usually an “I don’t fully understand my options” issue. Strength is necessary; so is being able to move easily, without effort. We need both to perform everyday activities well.

Weekly musings, 11/05: Active Flexibility

Weekly musings, 11/05: Active Flexibility
I am often amazed at what clients accomplish by repeated exposure to an initially challenging movement.

Impressive improvements in flexibility are made through moving in and out of ranges that originally seem inaccessible. The great thing about training positions that could potentially be uncomfortable in this way is it reduces the perception of threat. The nervous system, instead of tightening up (because that’s what we do when things get uncomfortable), learns to relax and embrace new patterns, gradually allowing the individual to move further and further through the active range of motion. 

This is the basic premise behind several techniques, including nerve flossing and Feldenkrais. Move towards something and retreat away, only to find you move a little closer the next time. As confidence grows, so too does the ability to move freely.

I have watched clients increase the ability to move their arms, sit back on their heels, and turn their heads. They learn to reach behind themselves, get their heels on the floor in downdog, and move their spines, all without forcing themselves into uncomfortable positions. Eventually, they learn to hold their new positions, building strength in a place they couldn’t previously go. 

I don’t believe getting stronger and more flexible always needs to be miserable to be effective. It’s not a matter of avoiding the sense of work- after all, learning to feel contraction in the muscles increases body awareness and creates a sense of strength, both of which are good things. It’s just when you are initially learning how to do something or exposing your body to a place it’s never gone before, give yourself permission to not have to stay in a place that is initially uncomfortable. Moving in and out of new positions can eventually lead to the ability to access an entirely different way of being. 
*There was a great article in the New York Times about Feldenkrais that can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/well/trying-the-feldenkrais-method-for-chronic-pain.html

Weekly musings, 10/29/17: basic strength

Weekly musings, 10/29/17: basic strength
I was chatting with someone recently with a background in dance and yoga. She is a beautiful mover. She drops into the splits easily, can fold forward and place her head on her knees, and moves into poses like pigeon and camel with a sense of ease and grace.

Yet she has low back pain. She also lacks basic, integrated strength, despite being lean and muscular from years of manipulating her body into shapes.

The experience that comes from working with people of all different shapes and backgrounds has taught me there exists a Yin and a Yang when it comes to moving well without pain. The ability to breathe easily and move fluidly, without tensing or bracing is extremely powerful. It leads to mobility and a sense of embodiment.

However, basic strength, the kind that comes from moving an external load or pulling your body up to a bar, creates a coordination and sense of cohesiveness that just practicing softer forms of movement can’t really achieve. Creating total body tension and feeling your muscles work together allows stability from which ease can flow. 

If you strongly dislike strength training, once a week, commit to one set of push-ups, one set of bodyweight squats or a wall sit, one set of hanging from a bar, and one set of bridging, focusing on using your heels to press up so you feel the posterior leg muscles. Don’t make it complicated, and think of it as an experiment to see if it makes the other activities in your life feel a little bit better. Do it for 8 weeks. If, at the end of the eight weeks, you feel stronger, consider adding a set or progressing one of the exercises, doing single leg squats instead of double weight squats, perhaps. Be consistent, and think of basic strength as a fundamental aspect to moving well. 

Weekly musings, 10/21/17: Physical activity and dementia

When I was a a very new, very inexperienced personal trainer, fresh out of college, one of my first clients was a man named Joe. Joe was kind, personable, and in his late 70s. He arrived for our sessions more or less on time and was always clean and well kept.

Our first six months together, occasionally Joe would seem a little forgetful, but I didn’t think much of it. He was, after all, older, and forgetfulness happens. 

As time wore on, the forgetfulness turned into something else, something involving the cessation of driving, a care giver, and a vacancy in his eyes that began to exist more often than it didn’t.

During that time, I was forced to evaluate my communication skills. I had to be clear, concise, and I needed to offer easy instructions that required little interpretation. “Face the warning sign,” I would say, when I wanted him to face the equipment. “Turn and face the ocean,” I would say, when I wanted him to move in a different direction.

I learned that if he thought it was Christmas time and the hanging pot near the clock was a wreath then by golly, it was a wreath. Who cared that it was July. I would carry on conversations with him about the holidays of his past, listening as he spoke of his time on the east coast with his family. When he told me he had to leave early so he could be the best man in his best friend’s wedding, I learned about his friend from Yale, the one who bunked with him all four years.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are devastating diseases. While physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise, may play role in preserving cognitive function,* exercise does not appear to slow the onset once it manifests.**

One of our last sessions together, Joe, who hadn’t recognized me in months, looked at me and said, “are you going home to Napa this Christmas?” I was shocked he remembered anything about my family. “Yes,” I responded. “It’s lovely there this time of year.”

And just like that he was gone, singing old songs and staring out into the water. He died a month later.

There are so many types of exercise, it’s easy to get bogged down with what’s right or wrong, but don’t undervalue the benefits of a 30 minute walk, every day. It’s not only good for your body, it may very well be good for your mind. 

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5611799/
**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4005962/

Newsletter, November 2018: Keep moving

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I just got back from listening to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Vonda Wright speak to a room full of educated, affluent women (and me. I was there as a guest). She researches the effects of what she calls mobility on aging. Based on her talk, she was using mobility in a somewhat generic way to simply mean movement. 

The numbers are staggering. A sedentary lifestyle will cause 2.5 million Americans to suffer from premature disability or death in the next ten years. Sedentary people decline twice as fast as people that are active. 67% of baby boomers report weekly muscle or joint pain.

There was more, but you get the picture. The thing that struck me while I was listening was while a large portion of the US continues to struggle with meeting the minimum suggested requirements of physical activity (20 minutes of moderate physical activity, most days of the week), the fitness/movement/yoga/strength training/Pilates/aqua aerobics community is busy squabbling over a) who has the best method or system to maintain fitness and flexibility over time and b) how “other” forms of fitness are inferior. People are dying from inactivity and the professionals who chose careers to inspire people are making it difficult for people to feel good about their choices. 

It’s been said the best exercise is the one you will do. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just move. Because if you move a little bit, chances are high you will start to feel a little bit better and you will want to move a little bit more. And if you find you enjoy a specific modality, great! But don’t build a wall around yourself that prevents you from trying other physically activity things. Variety, after all, is the spice of life, and it’s a little bit freeing to think there is no perfect exercise. They are all good. 

This same philosophy can be applied to learning. I am perplexed when people in the movement industry decide to only learn one system or methodology. It’s great to have a sense of mastery, but so much can be learned from listening to other masters explain a similar movement in a different way, or approach a movement from a completely different perspective. No one system has all of the answers and no one form of movement is better than the others. Study the method that resonates with you, but step outside your comfort zone once in a while with an open mind. And keep moving. 

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn

Upcoming events: 
Foundation training continues on Thursdays, level I from 4-4:50; level II from 5-5:50. Contact Mia Hurst at miahust@sbcglobal.net.

All levels Vinyasa class Wednesdays, from 6-7 with Andrea Woodhall. For more information, please contact Andrea at woodhall.wellness@gmail.com

Mobility Training: understanding mobility practices, Saturday, October 28 from 9-12.
Join Jenn Pilotti for this three hour workshop on mobility training. Why: Mobility should be trained progressively and systematically. In order to fully understand how to improve mobility, individuals needs to be able to sense the area they want to move and then consciously move the area. Once people can do these two things, basic principles can be applied to improve strength, control, and mobility at certain joints. This workshop aims to clarify these concepts. It is appropriate for personal trainers, movement professionals, yoga teachers, and individuals that are looking to deepen their understanding of how mobility works and why it should be trained in a thoughtful way.

We will discuss concepts specific to mobility, and will apply these concepts to the spine and lower extremity. Programming will also be discussed. To maintain quality instruction, a maximum of 10 spots are available.

Cost: $60
More information or to register: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2017/10/28/mobility-training-a-3-hour-workshop-on-understanding-mobility-practices

Jules Mitchell workshop series, Saturday, December 3
Join Jules Mitchell, M.S., at Be Well Personal Training for Applied Asana: A Scientific Approach to Stretching in Yoga from 9:30-12:30 and Hip Dynamics from 2-5. Cost: $60 until November 10, $75 after per session or $95/$125 for both.

Jules Mitchell MS, CMT, RYT is a Los Angeles based yoga teacher, manual therapist and educator. She combines the tradition of yoga with her background in biomechanics to create yoga programs designed to help people move better and achieve individually defined physical success. Her approach to asana is multi-modal and skill based, balancing the somatic (moving from within) aspects of yoga with exercise science principles to achieve movement goals – from simply aging well to sport specific outcomes.

Registration: http://www.bewellpt.com/events/2017/5/7/jules-mitchell-workshop-series-saturday-december-2

Recommended reading:
I am almost finished with “The Gene,” by Siddhartha Murkajee. It’s a long, beautifully written tale about the history of the understanding of the human gene. Other than research, it’s been my reading material for the month. 

Speaking of research…
Timothy Noakes paper on how fatigue regulates exercise behavior is brilliant. So is the research paper on the U-shaped curve and its effect on chronic low back pain by Huech, et.al. The research challenged my bias and changed my narrative (which is why reading is good. It challenges perspective. In order: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3323922/pdf/fphys-03-00082.pdf
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827170/

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Pete Hitzeman for the Breaking Muscle podcast. Check it out here: http://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/the-endless-pursuit-of-mindful-movement

Assessment excerpt:

A fair amount of people initially come to see me for issues surrounding pain and discomfort. Often, it’s an area that has bothered them off and on for a long time, with doctors left shaking their heads, suggesting another cortisone shot or another round of physical therapy. These individuals are usually extremely active and frustrated they can’t resolve the issues on their own.

I am a fresh set of eyes in these situations. I don’t look, exactly, at how the muscles fire. I dislike hands on work, so I don’t do any manual muscle testing. Instead, I watch people move in a variety of ways. I watch their posture as they move in and out of positions, not because I think there is a perfect posture, but because transitions reveal habits.

Take the flexible dancer, for instance. I watch her move with ease and grace, as though she is barely grazing the floor with her feet. When her arms lift overhead, the motion is big, encompassing. Her ribs lift, her eyes lift, and energy fills the room. When she walks, everything is in front of her, preparing her for the next step. Nothing extends behind her. When asked to squat, her heels lift and her back arches as she moves into a deep plie.

To read the rest of the 1500 word article, click here:

Build ankle awareness excerpt...

Recently, a client arrived for his appointment, armed with a research paper on the golf swing.1 “I want to discuss this paper before we get started,” he told me.
 
It’s not unusual for clients to walk in with questions regarding research or media reports on fitness topics. I am always happy to oblige with my thoughts if it’s an area I know anything about, as long as we get to moving around eventually.

I listened as he described the analysis of the golf swing. “There is a section on soleus mobility and its affect on the club swing.”
 
“If the soleus is tight, you will get out of your backswing early.”
 
He looked at me curiously. “That’s what the author concluded. How did you know that?”

To read the rest of the 2000 word article (with videos), click here: 

 

Weekly musings, 10/14/17- minimum dosage

Weekly musings, 10/14/17- minimum dosage
A research literature review I read* showed that eight weeks of an eccentric training program was enough to cause a change in hamstring fascicle length. Muscle fascicles are bundles of muscle fibers, encased in a sheath called a perimysium. Fascicles get longer when they are exposed to resistance.

Here is what is incredible about this (to me). Eight weeks isn’t very long. In fact, most people can stick with something for two months. It’s just short enough to not feel like it’s drudgery. The subjects performed three sets of eight repetitions, three times a week over the course of the eight weeks. 

Let’s assume this took 8 minutes (subjects were performing 5 second contractions each repetition, so I am padding in extra time for rest and checking texts). 24 minutes of work each week was enough to cause tissue to change. 

A couple of months ago, a gentleman was referred to me for lingering (self-diagnosed) piriformis syndrome. I chatted with him about what seemed to make his pain worse (he didn’t know), and the activities he enjoyed (walking, swimming, gardening). He had an interesting walking gait, and was hypermobile in his knee joints, something I don’t normally see in men that are 6’3”. I sent him home with a breathing exercise, a dynamic split leg calf stretch, and a wall sit hold. I told him to keep doing the things he enjoyed. He called me two days ago to thank me because his pain is gone. I don’t know if his pain would have disappeared without seeing me or not. It’s certainly possible, because pain is funny like that. But I do know the things I gave him were things that in my eyes, in that moment in time, it looked like he needed. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. As noted above, it doesn’t even have to take that much time to be effective. What matters is consistency. People don’t need six exercises to do every day at home. They need two to do most days, and then when they get good at those, give them a different two. Keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and appreciate the value of a minimum effective dose.

*Abstract here: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/12/838

Weekly musings, 10/8/17: the inverted U conundrum

Weekly musings, 10/8/17: the inverted U conundrum
For the last several years, I have been under the impression exercise and chronic low back pain correlated in the shape of an inverted U. People who are inactive have a higher risk of developing pain, moderate exercise has a protective effect against pain, and eventually, a tipping point exists where high levels of exercise are correlated with higher likelihood of chronic low back pain.

It turns out, I may have been misinformed.* A very large Norwegian study that spanned 11 years did not find high levels of physical activity correlated with higher risk of chronic low back pain (defined as pain lasting three months or longer). What the researchers were able to conclude was there is no added protective benefit when individuals get more than three hours of strenuous physical activity a week.

I regularly work with active individuals struggling with chronic pain issues. Pain, as I have noted before, is multi-faceted. Those of us that are already active tend to think we can exercise the chronic pain away through a myriad of self inflicted exercises and ideas we find on the internet. This doesn’t always work, and if my clients are any indication, can occasionally make things worse. The two interventions I can generally do to make things feel better is a) give them movement options that differ from their current patterns and b) calm things down, through breathing, rolling, or rocking. What I don’t do is tell people to stop the activities they enjoy; instead, I try and help them find alternative ways of doing them that don’t cause pain. 

Professionals that work with pain are often quick to vilify specific activities. It appears cyclical; one month, Crossfit is awful, the next, yoga is ruining your back, and the next, running is destroying your joints. What if it isn’t the activities that are causing the pain as much as it’s the sameness with which we perform the exercises? If we regularly added variability of movement into our routines, through different cueing and alternating periods of hard work with periods of moving easily, would pain in active populations decrease?

Maybe, instead of telling people, “if it hurts, don’t do that,” we asked them, “can you find a way to do it so that it doesn’t hurt?” people would feel more empowered and in control of their experience and their bodies. And that, it seems, would be a good thing.

*Article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827170/

Weekly musings, 10/1/17: Why

Weekly musings, 10/1/17: Why
Yesterday, while attending a workshop on locomotion and groundwork, I listened as the teacher explained his thoughts on flexibility. He basically said if your goal is to get into the splits, then there are specific things you need to work on flexibility-wise to get the splits. It’s going to take time, work, and consistency. It can be helpful to ask yourself why you want to attain this specific goal. If it’s to be able to do something cool on instagram, you are less likely to spend the time and work; if it’s a stepping stone to another skill, you are more likely to put in the work. When you think about the squat, the ability to squat allows you to interact with the floor in a more meaningful way. This makes the work it takes to attain the squat worthwhile because the purpose behind the skill enhances the quality of a person’s life.

Whenever I find myself wanting to do something, I ask myself, “why? Why do I want to do this thing?” If the answer is, “because I want to see if I can,” this is a perfectly suitable answer and the curiosity behind what I am capable of is enough to keep me engaged. If the answer is, “because I feel like I should be able to do this because I am a trainer/yoga teacher/female/someone else told me I should be able to” I have learned I am less likely to put in the work. The goal is external, it’s not coming from a place within me that will keep me motivated, day after day, waiting for the improvements to occur.

The clients I find most inspirational are the ones that come back from injury or surgery stronger because, on a very deep level, they have a desire to be strong and capable. They don’t want their lives impacted negatively by whatever physical limitation they had for a moment. They put in the work; it becomes their driving force to be stronger tomorrow than they were yesterday.

When fitness goals cease being about weight loss or looking a certain way, they become more enjoyable and sustainable. It enables us to adjust goals as our lives happen, and the work we put in has a more immediate return on investment. It takes time to get stronger, fitter, faster. Is it worth your time? Take a moment to think about why you are doing something and notice how the answer feels. Sometimes, that’s a more powerful compass than “because I should.”

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.