NOT MOTOR QUALITIES

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 9.22.00 AMI saw an article recently about recovery from a back injury. It had all the usual suspects. There was a sequence to training so-called motor qualities…and training them would get your back, back.

There is a problem with this…ok there are a lot of problems. The first one is a misnomer. Motor Qualities aren’t really qualities, they’re quantities.

These quantities are easily defined. There’s a key term used in all of these definitions. It’s not motor, it’s movement.

Whenever we think about strength, speed, endurance, mobility, and flexibility, the definitions can be a bit divergent…and complicated. But when you include just one word to their definition, it simplifies things. That one word is: movement.

Speed is fast movement. Endurance is repeated movement. Strength is movement against resistance.

Power is fast movement against resistance. Flexibility is range of movement or motion. Mobility is the ability to differentiate movement. Stability is the ability to resist motion.

You’ll see some rehab or corrective strategies that try to order these movement quantities. First, you have to be stable: so we’ll do these bridges or planks. And once you can not move from these positions – we’ll move on to the next phase.

In the next phase, we’ll work on your flexibility, so you need to get yourself into these positions. And once you’re in those positions, you’ll need to hold those for a set period of time, too. And once you reach those mile stones, it’s time to work on the next phase.

And in this phase, we’ll work on actual movement…but not the actual movement that injured you. You’re going to do this other movement…and you’re going to do a lot of it. Don’t get ahead of yourself…there’s a lot more phases to go through. Sigh.

Once you can do a non-related movement for a certain number or reps, it’s time to transition to the next phase. In this phase, you’re going to start assuming all of your previous activities…except of the one that hurt you. Good luck not hurting yourself.

When you’re completed this predetermined activity over so many days, it’s finally time to get back to the lift that hurt you…or that you can’t do. But can you really do it? What if it hurts?

Do you ever wonder if these assessments and phases of development are off? Way off? Isn’t the road back much, much simpler?

What if, instead of focusing on the whole of movement quantities, like speed, strength, stability, mobility, endurance, and flexibility….we focused on what makes up all those things: movement. And what if we focused on the specific movement we couldn’t do…instead of exercises that are “supposed” to help? What would that look like?

First, we would break down our pain inducing movement into its constituent parts. If it hurt to do a deadlift, we would look at the component movements of the deadlift…and not just the parts that hurt. Let’s say it’s a sumo stance deadlift.

Bare minimum, that would entail ankle dorsiflexion and extension, knee flexion and extension, hip flexion and extension as well as external rotation and hip abduction and adduction. And then we’d have to get more specific? Does this lifter move his pelvis when he deadlifts…does he move his spine?

When we’re looking at the parts of a deadlift, we have to look through new eyes. Just as a mechanic looks at a machine, we have to look at our bodies. We have to see like a BioMechanic.

All of these parts of a deadlift are movements. And we have to see which one is causing the problem. Is the ankles, the knees, the hips…if so, which one? Is it the back?

For a mechanic, he’s just take the old part out and put a new one in. But we can’t do that. But there is something we can do.

Most of the time whenever we have a part of our body that is in pain or restricted, we can’t just switch it out for a new part. Even when we can, the outcomes aren’t necessarily going to be good. We have to be more sophisticated about our bodies than a mechanic is about a car.

While a car only breaks down, our body can also build up. And when we have a part of our body that its broken down, we have to figure out to build it back up. And sometimes this is a simple process.

If we can figure out which complex movement is responsible for breaking us, and especially the parts of that complex movement which contributed most, we can simply do the opposite of those moving parts. What was flexed can be extended. What was rotated left can be rotated right.

Simply doing the opposite of a motion or components of the motion is often enough to resolve pain, but if we can’t do the opposite of the whole motion, how does we decide which part of the motion to oppose? And how do we decide when it’s time to start retraining the offending movement, or motor pattern? That decision is based on a binary.

How does it feel to do the motion? Does it feel better to do it…or worse? Our sensations should guide our actions.

This internal governor is far more reliable than any external government telling you how much of any particular movement quantity to perform. Not getting into pain or getting out of pain isn’t about motor quantities. It’s about a sensory response and how your movement practice should respond accordingly.

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

bustedtees.0d49a65f-d4b2-454b-b6d1-5b4b07a1“Hindsight is twenty-twenty” was one of my Father’s favorite sayings. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it means that it’s easy to know what the right thing to do was…after the outcome had been determined. The idea is congruent with, “Well, what I shoulda done was….”

My Father’s favorite subject was History. As a minister, he himself, was a history teacher of sorts. While I focus on science, I believe it’s important to know history.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain. He said, “History doesn’t repeat itself…but it does rhyme” (adapted). I believe that’s true. I also believe others’ hindsight could help our foresight.

Like me, my Father had physical issues starting in his early adulthood starting with his weight. His weight was a lifelong concern for him…as it is for many people of color. And he heard plenty of ideas about how to lose weight.

As far as diet goes, Dad did a couple things common for people his age. He did the grapefruit juice diet (a type of restrictive fasting). He did low fat (And OD’d on Snackwells).

As far as exercise goes, he did LSD (long slow distance). He did this first around the track and then later on the treadmill. This was “by the book” for my Dad’s time…but it didn’t do him much good.

He put off taking medication for as long as possible. He let things go far too long…things that medication would have helped, if not “solved.” Avoidance has major consequences.

He was hypertensive and it contributed to congestive heart failure. He had chronic tophaceous gout that not only deformed his connective tissue but likely his organs, as well. Both of these conditions could’ve been better managed with sooner and better with pharmacological interventions.

His health conditions left him less functional so he wasn’t able to exercise without bringing out more dysfunction…and this hastened his end. Towards the end, he was just trying to squeeze what enjoyment he could out of life. And a lot of his enjoyment came through food.

Most of the time, Dad put off eating until the evening and then feasted. Many others have utilized this same approach of a fasting and feasting window to great effect. But it didn’t work for Dad.

Most of what Dad did that didn’t work was by the book..but it wasn’t his book. Dad’s heritage probably made it to where he needed higher fat, low protein, and very low carbohydrate diet that would have satiated him. But you won’t find that in many, if any, books.

Dad’s body needed to exercise intensely for short periods of time most of the time. Maybe he needed to go a medium intensity for medium duration of time. And he probably needed to go low intensity for a long period of time very rarely…but again, it would be hard to find that in a book.

Now I could take everything my Father did and try to do the opposite. Instead of doing Long Slow Distance, I could do High Intensity Interval Training. Instead of having 1 large meal, I could have 5 small meals. I could go to the Doctor right away for every ailment.

I sort of tried that approach once. Whenever my Father developed Chronic Tophaceous Gout, I decided I would put my health first. So I followed a prototypical Corrective Exercise Approach.

You see, I was a by the book guy, too. Everything the author said to do, I did…to a “t.” 11 months later I developed a Chronic Pain issue that forever changed my life. If you’re going to be by the book…you better get the right book.

I’m no longer by any particular book. I’m by something greater…and far more dynamic. I’m by my body.

When I feel good, I eat higher fat, moderate protein, and lower carb. But when I feel bad, I eat higher carb, lower protein, and moderate fat. When I feel good, I do medium duration higher intensity exercise but when I feel bad, I may no do nothing or very low intensity short duration.

It all depends on how I feel…on my body. And if you follow my body, it’s like following a book. Don’t be by the book, don’t be by my body.

My Father was by the book. For a certain period of time, so was I. It cost us both…gravely. Let our hindsight contribute to your foresight. Don’t be by the book…be “by your body.”

Expect Evolution

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I am a Martial Artist. I’ve had multiple teachers and even been a teacher myself. I’ve been better than some of my teachers…but not all.

Most students aren’t better than their teachers. But if a teacher teaches long enough and more importantly, teaches well enough, the student will exceed the teacher. And some of those students become teachers themselves.

There is a mythos in the Martial Arts along the lines of this, “If you think I’m good, you should’ve seen my teacher.” Except that isn’t how nature works. That isn’t how evolution works.

Not every iteration nature makes is an evolutionary step forward. But over the long view of time, those things that work…last. The trend is always in the direction of more adaptive.

And adaptive, often but not always, means better. That means that over time, we should expect better. In sports, we see that.

There is often a phrase, “we’ll never see another _______.” For me, that was Michael Jordan. But since then, there’s been Kobe, Lebron. Given enough time, nature always produces better.

Evolution produces better in a few ways. And it produces better in a few ways for us, personally. But there’s one way I want to focus upon.

There are what is called adaptive mutations. Light colored skin (in the geographical area in which is was adapted) is an adaptive mutation. This allowed people to absorb more Vitamin D from the Sun. But this adaptation, or more accurately described positive mutation, wasn’t random.

There was a stress on the body, a need so great, that mutation occurred (not random). Not just one mutation occurred, but many. It just so happened (or what was random) that among a subset of people one of those mutations was light skin. It worked so well that this mutation became a part of their genome. In evolutionary terms, what works, especially positive mutations, lasts.

Evolution is about change, long term change, over time, a long time, that allows organisms to survive. It requires those organisms to alter their environment to make their lives easier. If they cannot do that, they have to change themselves to make life easier.

Sometimes this personal change is so drastic that they change all the way down to their genetic blueprint in order to live better. The premise of the text, EVOLUTION, A NEW TESTAMENT is this: in order to be happy (in all ways), you have lived in accordance with your blueprint. You weren’t just a product of evolution, you were built to produce evolution…thus, you should expect it.

This leaves you with two major edicts. Change your environment to match yourself. If you cannot, change yourself to match your environment. If you cannot, you must change yourself all the way to the core…or risk extinction.

EVERY NEW THING

you0acontain0amultitudes-defaultI had a dream realized in 2010. Under the guidance of the gifted Adam Glass, I saw a gym full of people applying the Gym Movement Protocol. And not a one of them knew who I was…perfect.

What once was in my head, Adam helped others realize without any additional effort on my part. The Protocol had a life of its own. But there are more things in my head.

Some people, like Darryl, have been able to extrapolate more complete applications from the partial ones I’ve shared. But it’s incumbent upon me to share as much as I can. My mind is built to help your body (and mine, too, of course).

A big part of life (should be) acquiring new skills. And for every skill, even a more mentally oriented skill, the musculoskeletal system reshapes itself into the shape of that skill. If you’re learning computer coding, your body will reshape itself into the shape you were assuming as your were learning.

You were probably sitting down, leaning over, looking at a computer screen. This will make every successive time you sit down to code easier to do so…more comfortable. But this comes at a cost.

Any movement that deviates from that position you were in is now harder. You’re more stuck. You’re less of a human…more of a coder.

This informs your approach to learning new skills. You can’t just learn the skills. You have to unlearn the bad parts that come along with it.

The bad won’t be bad right away. You’ll have a window where you’ll be able to specialize on the new skill. But about the time it starts to get easy, you’ll need to start balancing your body.

Everything new thing you do requires you to do another. If you’re a new coder, then you’ll need to newly practice moving towards the opposite position you’re always in. Doing only one thing will keep you from being able to do everything. In order to become one thing, you have to become multitudes.

THE ELASTIC LIFE

elasticityWhen I was coming up in fitness, staying in the fat burning zone was the thing. So joggers strapped on heart rate monitors and limited their activity by staying within these narrow parameters. They didn’t know how limited they were about to get.

Once runners started stabilizing their heart rates, the ultimate limitation emerged. Their mortality rate increased. WTH?

How did active people die…from activity? Here’s another one for you. The most active person I know, someone who was active probably using all energy systems…developed diabetes. Why? For the same reason the joggers died.

Even though he was active for 10 hours a day (and eating “clean”) the rest of the time, he still developed diabetes. Why? My hypothesis is his routine.

He was the most “disciplined” person I knew (and many consider me disciplined). But this discipline came in the form of routine. Routine, no matter how good it is, is the freeway to the graveyard. Why?

Why would consistently doing the “right” thing lead to the ultimate negative consequence? Let’s focus on two possible reasons. The first is adaptation.

Adaptation can be understood as the ability to change directions. If we’re routined, we’re moving through a limited number of directions. When we have to get out of our routine, we’re negatively impacted.

Of course we are. We’ve been practicing a routine. We haven’t been practicing adaptability.

The second reason the “right” thing could lead to the wrong outcome is how organisms respond to stress. Organisms with too much stress predictably die. But also consider those organisms with no distress at all, die, too. This points us in the direction we need to go.

Mechanical systems break down through use. Friction wears away the parts. Not as much in living systems.

Living systems build themselves up through use. Hypertrophy, right? And they break down through disuse…atrophy.

Whenever we don’t experience distress, we lose the ability to deal with distress. But too much distress and the system breaks. How do we navigate this conflict, even paradox?

If we don’t use, or use it enough, a bodily part or area breaks down. And if we use it too much, it breaks down, as well. But that isn’t the whole story.

Each part of the body affects the rest of the body. How it affects the rest of those parts is movement. But even the movement of one part affects the rest of the movements of that same part.

Let’s take the shoulder, for example. The shoulder flexes, extends, adducts, abducts, internally rotates, externally rotates, and circumducts. But here’s the kicker – when the shoulder flexes (with all other things being equal), it makes the rest of the motions harder to perform.

Why would moving your shoulder in one way make it harder to move your shoulder in all the other ways? It has to do with how our tissue adapts. Our tissue reshapes itself with use.

Like a living clay, the body reshapes itself in the shape of movement. That’s why we can often tell what a person does or doesn’t do by their posture and their gait. So when we have tissue that loses function if we don’t use that function, we’re left with one biological command: use everything.

We have to use every musculoskeletal motion of the body or we’ll eventually lose every motion of the body.  But we can’t just look musculoskeletally, we have look organically, as well. If we don’t utilize the upper and lower limits of all function, those functions become limited…until we cannot function, at all.

Our joggers lost physiological function because of how limited activity limited their hearts. No longer was there as much variability in the heart rate. It only went so far up and so far down. It purposefully stayed within a “zone.”

But to stay in this zone changed the organ tissue. Because it physiologically, or functionally, didn’t go up and down as much, it lost the analogous anatomical quality. What is that quality? Elasticity.

Our tissues are all elastic in nature. Our anatomy is elastic. While form follows function, in living systems, function follows form, as well.

If we want to maintain our elasticity, we have to live elastically. We have to breathe really fast…and really slow. We have to eat a lot and nothing. We have to drink a lot and nothing.

Periodically, life has to be be about the extremes. It’s not as though one day can be feast and one can be famine…at least from day to day. But a flat line is just that…life needs its ups and downs.

For many of us, life provides enough downs, so we spend our free time working on going up. But we forget that the climb is indefinite, it foreshadows a fall…at least on one front. But life is lived on many fronts.

When we’re down in one area, we can be up in another. But if we’re so focused on where we’re down, we’re missing the opportunity to find an area where we can go up…and then actually go up. And if we can’t find a place to go up, we have to remember that our anatomy is elastic, so our physiology is elastic, so then our life is elastic….and the only way to move forward is to go both up and down.

WHY FEDERER?

federer-australian-open-2017-sunday-1I think it’s undebatable that Roger Federer has proven himself to the be the best (male) tennis player of all time. Why is he the best? What is it about him (physically) that has allowed him to amass the most grand slams wins of all time?

We could (and should) look at athletic attributes like accuracy. He is among the most accurate (1st & 2nd serve %s, unforced errors, etc) of all male tennis players. And accuracy is of prime import in all sports.

Federer is fairly fast. While he is fast, he’s certainly not at the top tier of speed. He has good foot work, though…and we’ll see this technical expertise across all aspects of his game.

Why is Federer the best of all time? Is it his: forehand, backhand, serve, return of serve, lack of unforced errors, or his footwork? I don’t believe it’s any of those things.

I look at athletes through a Biomechanic’s and Anatomist’s eyes. And Federer looks very different than other tennis players. The easy comparison is Rafael Nadal.

Half of Rafa’s body – even his face – is “muscular-ized.” Federer almost looks devoid of muscle. He is muscularly unbound.

So how did someone so un-muscular as Federer become the best tennis player of all time? Whenever you think of tennis, you may not think of muscle, but what about Serena Williams?

Or from an earlier era, Andre Agassi, or even earlier Martina Navratilova? Pete Sampras had quite a bit more muscle than Roger, too.

He doesn’t have much muscle, but what about height? There are people with greater height (Federer is only 6’1”). Surely reach plays a factor. Nope, nothing special about his wingspan.

The fact that Federer isn’t heavily muscled, particularly tall, and not the best in any one area tells us a few things about why he’s the GOAT in tennis. What if not being the best at any one thing…is the key to being the best? From a BioMechanical POV, I think that’s exactly right.

Whenever we’re the best at any one thing, we favor that one thing. We do it more. And whatever we do the most, changes us the most.

Our body’s tissues adapt to make the movements we make easier and the rest of the movements harder. To have an incredible serve requires us to siphon motion from other parts of our game. A well rounded game leads to a well balanced body.

And a well balanced body allows for longevity. And that’s what really makes Federer the GOAT. He’s had more opportunities to win because he’s been injured less while playing much more. The lesson is this: Aim towards being better at everything not just the being best at any one thing…and you’re one step closer to being the GOAT.

COD EROM

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I teach a lot about the nervous system. Biofeedback based training utilizes nervous system function. But THE MOVEMENT in no way is neuro-centric.

Whenever we think of the central nervous system, especially the brain, we think of a central controller. I think this in inaccurate. It would be more accurate to think of it like a central “server.”

I don’t mean how computers have servers, so to speak. I mean like a servant. But what is the brain serving?

If your brain was exposed and cut into, would you feel pain (in the brain)? No, you wouldn’t. And that interesting factoid speaks to the relationship the apex of the Nervous System has with the rest of the body.

The nervous system is more referential (and deferential) to the body. All of its sensations and motions help to protect the body (through facilitation and inhibition). It isn’t a homunculus, running the show behind bony armor. It’s a specialized communication center with centralized control that bows to localized decentralized control (we could all take a lesson here politically).

Part of the local controls have to do with protecting the MSK system. If you get to close to your end ROM, the local nervous system puts the brakes on…requiring you to change directions. Because if you kept going, it’s not that you’d necessarily damage the nervous system (although eventually you would), it’s that you’d first damage what the nervous system is protecting: the rest of the bodily tissue.

When your tissue is approaching its maximum range of motion, it requires a change of direction. Another way to say it is: Change of direction at end Range of Motion. Thus, COD EROM.

COD EROM should be the primary focus on your training. Changing direction at (relative) end range of motion. Here’s why.

While the body has absolute ranges of motion, what we most often encounter is our relative EROMs. They’re not only relative to everyone else’s, but relative to themselves. You know this intuitively: you can lose ROM…or gain it.

How do we lose ROM? It could be injury but usually it’s something less nefarious. Your next answer might be “age.”

Age is one of the ways in which we lose ROM. In fact, age might be best looked at as a progressive loss of ROM, not just in the musculoskeletal system, but the organ systems, as well. But that ROM loss might have a simpler explanation.

There are arthritic changes in a joint within days of immobilization. Structurally, the joint becomes less mobile. This points us to a simple principle.

Whenever there is disuse of a ROM, we lose that ROM. “Use it or lose it.” As our ROM shrinks, so must our end ROM.

How do we gain back that ROM? Is it forever lost? No, going in reverse can be reversed.

But before we get to how to gain ROM, we have to revisit the last way we lose ROM. Whenever we move out body too much out of balance, the body puts on the brakes.

We cannot take off those brakes by trying to force our way past our own relative limits. That creates a conscious push against an unconscious pull. We have to be patient and simply work with what our body gives us. And as we work within our relative limits, the body lets periodically lets off the brakes.

We can regain what once was restrained. And regaining ROM comes down to one simple, yet seemingly counterintuitive practice. As we approach our (relative) end Rom, we have to change direction.

We can move directly back from whence we came. Or we can go back indirectly. But we can only go so far in one direction at any time. And if we want to ultimately go further in one direction, it requires us to change directions over and over again.