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

9b0e2cf754d619a68d4b0f8f5b536124--lao-tsu-writing-quotes
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.

Decoding My Acute Pain

cracking_the_code_image.width-800I’m coming out of an acute debilitating pain issue. I’m coming out of it because I understand it. But I’m only understanding it now…pain made me stupid.

It all started over a year ago…in Utah. I started wrestling but I lost a function. All of the sudden, my KB work was pain provoking.

A short time thereafter, running started testing well. More recently (approximate 2 years afterwards) I was gaining more ROM in my wrestling and could even BB front and back squat…until the squatting became painful. Then the pain started to spread and generalize.

My SI joints hurt as well as my right hip. Shortly after the onset of pain, I started feeling the pain almost all the time: when I walked, sat down, and laid down. It was starting to get scary.

This was how my original chronic pain started – a generalization of pain. Was it all happening again? I was so certain I knew why it was happening before…how could the same thing happen again?

Was my pain something less about my movement and more about some sort of organic disorder? Had I done all this work, had it made it this far only to be able to go no further? Were things going to get worse than ever before?

I started approaching my pain superficially. I didn’t want to have to think any more deeply about it than necessary. The squat hurt.

What movements made up the squat? When I did the opposite of (some) of those movements (protocol explained in THE PAIN PRESCRIPTION), the pain was lessened…but certainly not resolved. I had to go deeper.

What other movements was I doing that was similar to a squat? I did a Barbell High Pull (which I very infrequently do). What movements make up a high pull that don’t make up a squat?

The story was the same with the high pull. When I found moments especially those shared with the Squat (Protocol explained in GYM MOVEMENT ADVANCED ASSESSMENTS), I got additional relief but it wasn’t complete. What was I missing?

Those movements were a part of this acute pain process, but there had to have been another set of movements that were contributing. Unfortunately, I needed to go deeper. And when one is in pain, it’s hard to think deeply.

I was fortunate to have already done the work. I proceeded to use the most detailed protocols I’ve developed from the BIOMECHANICS III course (Pain Resolution). It’s very much a fill in the blanks kind of approach. The problem is that there’s a lot of blanks.

It’s often necessary to start at the beginning. My pain issue started after I was following a physical therapy protocol that had me putting 11 vectors of force through my body. Most pain issues only have a handful of vectors of force and far less of those forces are actually dispersed into the body. I have varying degrees of function regarding these movement vectors.

Whenever I am practicing other movement disciplines, many of these movements are utilized. The more of these movements are involved, the riskier the practice. And the more often, or the longer, or the more these movements are loaded, the greater opportunity for there is for a return to pain.

And yet, to get out of pain, these movements must be restored…in a very precise and progressive manner. Somewhere along the way, I broke the rules. Have you figured out where, yet?

My acute pain started with wrestling. Wrestling didn’t put me in pain, but kettlebell work after beginning wrestling did. And recently, with greater ROM in wrestling being practiced, wrestling itself didn’t put me in pain, but BB squatting, and BB High Pulling did. Now, none of these in isolation have or likely would put in pain, so why did they in combination?

The likely answer is redundancy of motion, either hip, knee, ankle flexion (with possible thoracic and lumbar extension, and anterior pelvic tilt contributing, as well). How would I find out the answer? Let’s recall a function that returned after wrestling.

Why was I able to start running after I did wrestling? Being in a wrestling stance is staying largely in triple flexion (hip, knee, and ankle). But running has an extension phase in it…and extension is what I needed…which points to a possible answer.

I can test all of the redundancies by trying a degree of the opposite motion in each implicated joint area….in insolation or combination. With most people, it’s one motion that relieves them of pain and they’re on their way to forgetting it altogether. With me, it’s going to be a bit more complicated.

I have multiple movements I have to balance. I also have to take into consideration the original 11 vectors that put me into pain. But there acouple things I garnered from all this that I haven’t written about yet.

The first has to do with the movements I was doing in the beginning of wrestling versus the ones I do now. Can you guess what’s the difference? In the beginning I was far more defensive which entailed more sprawling (hip and spinal extension). As I gained competency, I was doing a lot more changing of levels (flexing) in defense and offense.

The second is the major take away was a more specific practice of contra specifics. Whatever positions and motions I was in and had been doing…need to balanced. It was the lack of balance that brought about the acute pain…and it’s the same balance that will relieve pain…and that’s how pain is decoded.

 

(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.