(IM)PERFECT FORM

Bn8vC4CCUAABfe7There is a lie in the fitness industry. It may be the greatest lie it tells. If you use good exercise form, you won’t get hurt.

Here’s the truth. What’s the perfect form for any exercise is somewhat different than anyone else on the planet. In fact, if we’re looking with enough granularity, perfect form for you is different every time.

What the industry tells you is the perfect form may be the perfect way to maximize leverage but it’s dependent on one thing. You have to be perfect before you do it. You gotta be sinless before you “come to Jesus.” Now some of you may be calling BS.

“I’m not taught perfect form, I’m taught to scale my exercise.” Really? Are you sure?

Scaling exercise usually entails doing a more leveraged version of that exercise. That could be a pushup from the knees instead of the toes. Or it could be a 1/4 squat instead of a full squat. But are those the only, or best, ways to scale exercise?

What if extending one’s spine needs to be scaled? What if standing symmetrically needs to be scaled? What if so much scaling is necessary that the idea of form needs to be abandoned entirely?

I think the idea of “perfect” form, at least, needs to be retired. And when that is retired, I think we’re going to find a lot of other elements of exercise that will naturally retire themselves, too. And things will return to a far simpler, yet more diverse time.

Whenever we retire perfect form, we stop looking outside for what an exercise is supposed to look like. We change our perspective and focus on what really matters. We look inside and see how an exercise feels.

If it doesn’t feel good, or right, we change our form. We change it until it feels right and good or we don’t do that exercise at all. And when we can’t do one exercise, we look for other exercises.

We stop looking currently in online articles as the best way to do one of the dozen or so exercises we already do, and start looking for other exercises entirely. We may look at alternative equipment like kettlebells or clubs. We may look at other fitness trends like calisthenics or gymnastics and start learning those. Or we may look to the past and see what exercises Old Time Strongmen performed before they fell out of fashion.

Whenever we start feeling how exercise affects us, we start feeling that aspects of a press may feel good, but not all of it…and so we modify it. These modifications leave the press looking less like a 1 Arm dumbbell military press and more like a side press or bent press.

Or our squats may look less like a PL SQ to parallel and more like a hindu squat. Our lunges may look less a forward step and may look we’re bending down and tying our shoes. And our deadlifts may look like how we carry furniture and less like how we are told to pick up a barbell.

And even more interesting things happen when we start lifting this way. The lifts don’t leave us with niggling pains or strange soreness. We don’t feel the need to warm-up, or prepare for the lift…and this does away with a whole segment within exercise.

When I was in youth athletics, we would “warm-up” with calisthenics and stretching (often static). At the end of our practice, we would “cool-down” with more stretching. Times have changed, though.

Warm-ups and cool downs have given way to pre-hab and recovery. But I don’t think pre-hab and recovery practices are all that more intelligent in concept or application than warm-up and cool down. I think they’re all based on a limited view of movement.

Every movement one does is either good or bad for the user. If that’s the case, why would we need to prehab or warm-up for those motions? And if we’re only moving for as long as its good for us, why would we need to recover or cool down?

When we look at a movement practice as something that hurts us, warming up, prehab, cooling down and recovering makes a lot more sense. But when we stop trying to do a movement a perfect way and just move in a way that FEELS perfect to us…and stop moving when it no longer feels perfect, we’ll find that exercise does what it was intended to do all along…it makes us better.

All movement, when done correctly for the individual is corrective exercise for that individual. Exercise has no universal perfect form. Exercise is only perfected when the individual finds the form that is perfect for them.

WHEN TO BE MINDFUL

MindfulIn Susan’s excellent book, EMOTIONAL AGILITY, she endorses the practice of mindfulness. She also frames it by its opposite, “mindlessness.” Mindlessness can be a problem.

Like when you walk in a room and forget why you walked in there. Or when I mindlessly put my powdered stevia in my mini fridge (when it goes on my desk). But those types of mindlessness aren’t the only kind that are problematic.

Habits are often described as “mindless.” And that’s exactly how we want them. But there’s a time when being mindless is the last thing we want.

A model I use (that I’ve erroneously attributed to Maslow) is Noel Burch’s Stages of Learning. Mindfulness plays a part in that model. Almost.

The four stages of learning are:
-Unconscious Incompetence
-Conscious Incompetence
-Conscious Competence
-Unconscious Competence

We all want to work our way down the model. We want to be good, competent, without having to be conscious of it…without having to be mindful of it. We want to be mindlessly good…but we don’t want to be at the top of the model.

Whether I’m teaching BioMechanics or BioPsychology, I try to highlight that all things become unconscious. And we want those things that are becoming unconscious to be effective. It’s when we’re ineffective that we want to be mindful.

We need to consciously practice an effective intervention. Eventually, we’ll be unconscious again. And when we’re unconscious, we gain speed.

Speed leads us to greater levels of efficiency. And efficiency is another concern. I not only want to be effective, I want to be efficient.

These wants lead me to be mindful in a specific manner. Around the time I’m performing, mainly before and after (I only want to be mindful during if I become slow or ineffective), I ask myself a few questions. Can I be (mindlessly) more effective? Can I be more efficient? And how?

For everything there is a season. There is a season to be mindless and a season to be mindful. And we don’t want to be in either season for too long.

WRITE WHAT MAKES YOU ANGRY

angry_hulk__ai__by_ytflexor-d84fqhlI break articles into serials. Usually weekly serials. Four to five parts or more.

My least favorite time is when one series is ending and I don’t have the foggiest as to what the next will be. It’s at times like these I focus on inputs. I’ll watch documentaries and listen to podcasts. I’m foraging for ideas.

One such idea I use over I got from a podcast was when you’re stuck as to what to write, write what makes you angry. That’s something I usually stay away from. As Banner says, “I’m always angry.”

I usually try to limit my writing to thinking, feeling, and doing better. But in this article, I’m going to talk about the opposite. I’m going to look at fitness, nutrition, psychology, martial arts, politics, science, academics, and who knows what else…that makes me angry.

What characterizes my anger in any area is usually not the merchant of that area. It’s the consumer. It’s no different in fitness.

FITNESS
Consumers are somewhat easy targets for what fitness is selling. And what fitness is selling is “look like this.” Intrinsic to that is, “it’s not ok to look the way you look.”

For so many, the superficial never changes because the depths are never reached. There is no depth in their understanding of fitness. And there is certainly no depth in their understanding of what drives their personal need for fitness, or rather, how they just just want to look better naked. Yes, that makes me angry.

NUTRITION
In much the say way as exercise, nutrition is often relegated to fat loss or muscle gain aka “the way you look.” But even that isn’t what makes me the angriest. There are two things about nutrition as sold sticks out to me.

Again, these things are due to superficial understanding of nutrition. The first is that to be ripped is to be healthy. Having low levels of body fat is the furthest thing from health for the majority of us. And in order to most us to achieve fitness model leanness, we have to take unhealthy measures.

The second thing is that people relate leanness to fitness. Low levels of body fat can correlate to higher levels of speed. They can also correlate to higher levels of endurance…but you can get lean without either. You can be lean without being specifically fit. If you want to be fit, focus on what you do…and not how you look.

SOCIAL MEDIA
At our inaugural BioPsychology course, I asked our students, “How many Psychology books have you read?” I thought the average answer would have been in the 1-5 range. The average was less than 1.

And it’s not that my students were unintelligent. They were likely of above average intelligence. But they were ignorant.

And ignorance is acceptable, but ignorance of ignorance is unacceptable. When I look at my social media feeds, I see people so sure of their opinions, it makes me angry. Their confidence is inverse to their competence.

How can people think well if they don’t know what they’re thinking with? Short answer, they can’t. And the fact they think they’re thinking well, well….makes me angry.

MARTIAL ARTS
Beyond my wife and kids, probably the greatest love of my life is the martial arts. While I could write volumes about what I love about martial arts, this is about what I hate. There’s plenty to hate, too.

What does a Star Trek convention, Comic-Con, and Martial Arts have in common? It’s a lot of people that like playing dress up. Some are playing dress up because it’s easier to pretend to be someone of value rather than becoming someone of value.

And it’s easier pretend they have powers instead of doing the work to actually get what powers they can have. It’s easier to become part of something else than it to become more than what one was before. And easy shouldn’t be what the Martial Arts are about, at all.

POLITICS
For regular readers, you know I’m very libertarian leaning, even minarchist. There’s a good reason for this. It has to do with the science I teach.

BioFeedback teaches people how to follow their own inner compass…to allow their sensations to guide their actions. BioFeedback maximizes localization of power. In doing so, it minimizes centralization of power.

When people allows their sensations to guide their actions, they get more sensitive and more active. When they feel something needs to be done, they do it. When peoples’ actions are guided by something outside of themselves, like a strong central state, it disrupts their motivation…and both activity and sensitivity go down. People can’t sense what needs to be done and can’t do what needs to be done, either…this makes me angry.

SCIENCE
I am a scientist. I say that without irony or grandiosity. But I say in it the same way someone might say, “I’m a Christian.”

Like religion, science is a belief system. Science is a belief in a set of principles and practices. Just as many people say, “I love Christ but hate Christians,” I often feel the same way about other so-called scientists.

I find the minority of scientists perform good science. They overestimate their understanding of other sciences, they poorly design their own experiments, misinterpret their experimental results, they don’t understand the limits of empiricism, under value both anecdotal and outlying evidence, and don’t sufficiently question the premises of their respective science, and more importantly, their own assumptions. Many scientists are giving science a bad name…and that’s something that angers me.

ACADEMIA
I love learning. I love good teachers. But unfortunately learning and good teaching is a rare feature in academics.

In what should be a meritorious environment, upper learning is ruined by those who frame it. What’s behind the facade of college is high school. It’s politics and those who can play it best teach the rest of us.

Education and Knowledge/Wisdom/Intelligence are at cross purposes. It makes sacred profane. This is something that makes me angry.

ANGER
All of these areas that make me angry share one thing in common: they’re all products of human beings. They’re flawed because we’re flawed. It’s the flaws that anger me…especially my own.

Every emotion evolved and remains because it serves a purpose, anger included. Anger likely iterated from the simpler emotion of rage. Rage was the emotion an animal felt when fighting for its life.

For most of us, if we’re angry, it’s not because our life is in imminent danger. There may be an impediment to what we’re trying to accomplish or avoid…and not being able to overcome it or navigate it “makes us angry.”

But us to change the conditions that make us angry, we can’t remain angry. We have to calm down, get our wits about us and take a different tact. And that’s why I so rarely write about what makes me angry. I don’t want to be any more angry than I have to be. I want things to change…for the better….and that’s why I usually don’t write about anger.

Don’t Be A Wuss

dont-be-wussWe do something most people don’t. We quit before it gets too hard. Many people would say we’re being wusses.

For some of us, I’d agree. We’re being wusses. But we’re not being wusses for the reasons most would attribute.

I think we’re avoiding the physical hard work…and that’s good. We’re not trying to do what we can’t. But we’re avoiding the mental hard work…and not doing work where we can.

Following this path isn’t easy. It requires physical discipline. But the physical discipline we use is the opposite of what others use.

Most people feel they need to push on the gas more. They need to find some way to wake up earlier, get off the couch, go the gym, start that new business. Physically, this isn’t what we do.

We learn the discipline of the “brakes.” We learn when to stay in bed, stay on the couch, don’t go to the gym, or not start the new business. Progress can not be made by acceleration alone.

I think for many of us who following this “braking” path, we stay on the brakes too long. To continue with the car metaphor, we’re not adept at turning our steering wheel. If we can’t go our primary direction, we just stop when we could be look for the “back way.”

We can’t go the way we want…but we can keep going. We need to brake when we’re heading the wrong direction. Then we need to steer to the right direction. Then we need to press on the gas for as long as we can go in that direction…then do it all again. Let’s unpack that metaphor.

Let’s say we want to get good at bench pressing. But when we go to bench press, it doesn’t test well or feel right. We have the discipline to not bench press…but do we have the discipline to find what exercises we can do?

When we can’t train what we want, that makes us feel like a wuss. Feeling that way may motivate us to train what we want anyway possibly injuring us…making us more of a wuss. Or it may make us be a wuss…and not train at all…that’s being a wuss, too.

We can’t just take our ball and go home. There is still a game to be played. We have to look for what we can do.

If we can’t train bench, can we train components of the bench press like a shoulder raise or triceps extension or can we need to do the opposite motion, like a row? Or can we work our lower body? Being a wuss isn’t about avoiding what’s hard, being a wuss is when we’re avoiding what we could do. Do what you can do. Don’t be a wuss.

IT HURTS WHEN I DO THAT

knee-painI made an awful mistake years back. It’s a mistake a I see many experts and trainers recommend their clients make. It has to stop.

When I was learning various forms of corrective exercise, I gave up on more traditional exercise. I only did rehab and prehab work. After all, I didn’t want to build on a broken body.

Here’s what I was missing then that experts and trainers are missing now. There doesn’t have to be a division between traditional exercise and so-called corrective exercise. There is really only exercise. When it’s done correctly, it’s corrective…when it’s not, it’s destructive.

When I first started hurting, all traditional exercise didn’t feel particularly good. I was dealing with a progressive chronic pain disorder and I abandoned other pursuits and focused only on getting out of pain. That was a mistake.

I didn’t know that pain most had to do with movement dysfunction. Pain can be brought about with something moving too much or too little. And moving too much leads to moving too little in another area…and vice versa.

And so giving up traditional exercising net-ted me less movement…which gave me more opportunity for pain. This is opposite of the approach I’m an advocate for now. Move as much as you can…even with traditional exercise…with modifications.

Let’s say it hurts when you perform a particular exercise. It doesn’t hurt during the entire exercise, right? It hurts during some part, or phase, of the exercise?

And if it only hurts during a particular phase, can you stop doing that phase. For many of us, that translates into partials. It may be upper most or lower most portion of the lift that gives us issues. We simply do what phases don’t hurt.

For others of us, the setup of the exercise is painful. It may hurt our elbow, our back or our knee just to get into position. What do we do then?

Whenever we’re setting up for an exercise and it hurts, too many of us just abandon the lift. Instead, try a different setup. I’m not talking about exercise variations.

Exercise Variations are all well and good but nearly every variation shares one factor. They’re symmetrical. And this, of course, ignores two variables.

The first factor is that most of our pains and injuries aren’t symmetrical. Even with our spine, it may feel more like one side than the other. This same goes for our limbs.

The second factor is that we may need to vary only on one side. We need to position and possibly move differently on one side. But that requires us to know more movements, not exercises.

It makes sense to me that people quit particular exercises. The paradigm behind exercise is there is a right and wrong way to exercise. If it hurts when you’re trying to do it the right way then don’t do the exercise.

But what if the paradigm is wrong? What if there isn’t one right way to do exercise? What if what makes an exercise right or wrong is not how much leverage one has over the implement…but what effect the exercise has on the exerciser?

What if we only judged exercise based on its effect? Then we’d have everyone doing the “same” exercises just a little differently. And we’d have everyone designing their exercises based on two things.

There are two main considerations when altering exercises. The first and most important factor is your response to it. Does it feel good to do it?

The second is less obvious. Are you addressing a needed or missing movement? If you’re missing a movement, you’re missing something else.

You’re missing the knowledge of movement. Before you can train all movements, you need to know all movements. And when you know all movements, you can know how to modify exercise so that it won’t hurt when you do that.

Should You Test Every Exercise?

home-exercises_0For many who start using the Gym Movement Protocol, testing can be a little daunting. When someone thinks in terms of exercise, the challenges can seem insurmountable. After all, you have to test EVERY exercise, right?

Isn’t that the only way to find the best exercise for you? Don’t you need to take into account every exercise variation? No, you don’t need to think in exercise terms.

You need a modification. A modification in thinking and a modification in movement. It isn’t at all about exercise and it’s entirely about movement.

Exercises, like all sports and movement disciplines, are limited sets of movements. And practicing a limited set of movements invites all sorts of problems. And all those problems result in more limitations.

The body has multiple movement maps. When our movements stop matching those maps, we experience pain and restriction in movement. But what started the mismatch was restriction, as well.

But what brought about the restriction is even more strange. Movement itself can bring about restriction because each movement changes us. That change can be for the better or for the worse.

Movement changes us. Whatever movement we do, we get better at. Whatever movement we don’t, we get worse at.

If someone sits in a chair all day, it starts to look like they’re sitting in a chair all the time. They’re stooped and never extend their body. In fact, extending their body is really hard.

This is due to a quality all animal (and some non-animal) tissue shares. Via Wolff’s and Davis’ Law, the body reshapes itself into the shape of what’s moving. So how we move can limit us if we’re only moving through a limited ROM.

A movement remakes us so that it’s easier to make that movement and harder to make every other movement, especially the opposite of that movement. Many would take that to be the formula: also do the opposite of every movement you make. That would be too superficial an approach.

That approach like nearly every other ignores the most important part of the equation: you. How do you respond to your movement? Every movement either makes you feel and move better or feel and move worse. That is your compass for how you select an exercise, or a limited set of movements.

You don’t need to test every exercise because you don’t need to do every exercise. But over time, you should be moving in every way. When you tune in to how movement affects you, you’ll be performing less and less exercise…and more and more movement.

GIVE UP ON EXERCISE

Give-Up-SMI want you to give up on exercise. Yes, you read that correctly. Let me explain.

Exercises are limited sets of movements. In fact, I bet you can tell just by looking at someone if they’re an athlete or if they only go to the gym. You may take that to mean I want you to be an athlete.

I don’t want you to be an athlete, either. Like exercise, sports are limited sets of movements. But most sports are less limited than exercise. In this series, I wanna tell what I want you to be…and how I want you to get there.

I don’t really want you to be a gym rat, or an athlete, or a yogi…or whatever. If you are one of those, then you are as limited as the movements you practice. I want you to be less limited.

And in order to be less limited, you can’t be limited by any one movement practice. You have to practice all movement. But not just in any way.

A lot of physical culturists have recognized the limitations of any particular movement practice and have expanded their movement practice. They’ve incorporated one or more approaches to “joint mobility.” There are two main issues with that.

Joint mobility isn’t really the practice of all movement. It’s often practicing curvilinear transitions between close to end range of motion. That is like drawing an outline of a person thinking you’ve drawn a person…two dimensional silhouette versus three dimensional photorealism.

Moving that curvilinearly isn’t that specific to life. We move more linearly than we do curvilinearly. Our body takes the most direct path available.

But that isn’t the biggest issue with joint mobility or any movement practice (and any movement practice mobilizes the joints) including manual manipulations such as chiropractic and massage. The biggest issue is that people practice it non-discriminately. They may often ignore even pain when practicing or having it practiced on them. Pain is a great reason to stop, but there are even earlier indicators of problem movements.

Whenever we practice any movement discipline, we are usually aiming to perform those movements correctly. These movements may need to look a particular way or perform a specific function. It certainly is that way in traditional Martial Arts.

Kata, or forms, need to look a particular way. There is a right and wrong way to perform a technique. And in Kumite or Randori, we see if the techniques accomplish their intended function.

In Martial Arts, our techniques aren’t meant to hurt our opponents. But what we forget in all movement disciplines including lifting weights, soccer, yoga, and manual adjustments is that our own movement can hurt us, too. But Biofeedback helps protect us from ourselves.

Stopping when something hurts is good but it’s not optimal. It’s what we tell our children. But we can stop our movements, no matter what they are, at the first sign of trouble.

Trouble often starts when speed slows. Speed slowing can be when our nervous system is braking our motion. The brakes tell us we need to apply the gas in another direction. We need to move in another way other than our current limited set.

And that’s why I want you to give up on exercise or any limited set of movements…because I don’t want you to be limited. I want you to learn and practice all movements. And when you do, you’re going to find out how unlimited you really are.

THE COMFORT OF GROWTH

hand-outreachIt’s a New Year and many of us are looking to do things we’ve never done before. But we’re going to have to change in order to do something new. We’re going to have to “grow.”

I want to talk about growth in a few levels. We’re going to start talking about growth in more of specific, albeit mundane way. But then we’re going to generalize and explore growth in a more interesting way.

Let’s start with something boring – dominance (no, not that kind of dominance). You have dominant limbs. These are limbs you often initiate action with. These limbs are stronger than the non-dominant ones…but why. The answer is just as boring.

Is our dominant hand stronger than our non-dominant hand because we take it’s strength, endurance, flexibility, and speed to the limit? No, in fact, it’s rare we ever do that. Then how does the dominant hand have more strength?

Use. Through simple use, opening a door handle, using a fork, touching our home button on our smartphone over and over again, we build strength. And yet strength in any other context must be developed through the most extreme of methods.

Strength isn’t the only measure that develops through use. The aforementioned speed, flexibility, or endurance is subject to the same rule. Growth in any direction is much the same.

Growth in any direction is much the same as the strength developed in our dominant hand. Everyday use, or practice, imbues us with growth. Doodling leads to being able to open the jar of pickles no one else can.

This same principle applies to any skill. Let’s say we want to become a better writer. The simple practice is to write…anything.

One doesn’t have to attempt the great American Novel…at least right away. We can take notes, write in a journal, even make a list. The everyday words add up and the skill can eventually become dominant.

Our everyday practices can add up to high level skill. But there are some tasks that are too big to master. For our dominant hand, whenever the task exceeds our strength, we look for help.

It may be the simpler help of a tool like a wrench, screwdriver, or dolly. We may even ask for help from our other hand or another set of hands. Whenever we don’t have enough force, we look for a force multiplier. That may be the biggest lesson for growth.

Everyday use leads to growth, no matter the skill. And when our skill isn’t up to the task, we don’t keep trying with the same level of skill, we look for help. That may be help in the form of information, looking outside of our everyday use. Or it may be that we have look outside of ourself to another. Growth doesn’t have to be painful and doesn’t always have to be an inside job.

Can You Coach Yourself?

your-most-important-coach-e1458939041632Doctors shouldn’t be their own doctors. Writers can’t be their own editors. So can you be your own Coach?

With all your biases, with all of your blindspots, with everything you’ve missed before? Don’t you need someone else guiding you? Dont’ you need someone else holding the reins?

We’re going to answer just that. We’re going to talk about the role of the Coach, or the teacher. And we’re going to talk about the role of the student, or athlete.

I think there is a time and place for Coaches. I have Coaches and I coach others, myself. But the roles I accept and the roles I assume are limited.

One of the tenets of BioFeedback is that the student or athlete’s body provides the answer. The best a Coach’s mind, or even the athlete’s mind do is design an experiment. And experimental design is what good coaching is all about.

But it isn’t enough to design a good experiment. A good Coach has to be even more experimental and predictive than that. A good Coach has to design experiments an athlete can actually implement.

When the athlete can implement an experiment and it works, he isn’t just being coached well. He’s learning a little bit more about himself so that he can coach himself. That’s the whole point of Coaching.

In many contexts, Coaches are needed because athletes lack the requisite skills. Coaches teach those skills. But a Coach isn’t just teaching skills, he’s making the athlete more sensitive, more aware of those things an athlete, or student, might not recognize.

You know the Coach / Athlete relationship must evolve when the Coach has no more skill or insight to offer the athlete than the athlete already possesses. That informs the trajectory of the Coach / Athlete relationship. The Coach is trying to make himself unnecessary, even obsolete.

Little by little, the athlete picks up the skills the Coach teaches. And in the process of being coached, training, and competing, the athlete learns more about himself. But no matter how much the athlete learns, the athlete can’t be aware of everything.

Many times, being a student or athlete requires almost a single-minded focus. Couple that with the athlete’s own biases and blindspots abound. That’s where the Coach comes in.

The Coach offers another set of eyes on what’s going on in the sport and inside the athlete. And if the Coach has really done his job, he’s turned the athlete into a coach, as well. This new coach is qualified to see for the Coach what the Coach can’t see for himself.

You can coach yourself. You can improve yourself. That’s what BioFeedback is all about. No one has the potential to know more of you…better than you. But what’s better than one coach? Two. Two people with the same goal: mutual betterment.

When done correctly, athletes become coaches and coaches become athletes. The collaboration never ends. And little by little, the sport, the athlete, and the Coach all improve.