We 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.
I 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.
For 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.
I 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.
It’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.
Doctors 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.
I go to the track two or three times per week. I love seeing all of the people at the track exercising their function, expressing their ability to walk, jog, run. I hope they’re enjoying it as much as I am.
Running hasn’t tested well for me in years. Jumping is back, too. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have functions restored.
For quite a while, functional training was en vogue. But it never quite captured what was actually “functional.” I want to talk to you about what function actually is…and how you can be more functional.
Our basic function is to move. For many of us, our interest in movement starts musculoskeletally. But it can’t stop there.
We aren’t just made of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and what connects them all. We have to include the parts most central to us. Organisms are made up of organs.
Organs move, as well. Like muscles, they have a range of motion that is dependent up on their range of function. Our goal should be to utilize the entirety of their function…or we’ll lose the entirety of our function.
The lungs are an organ. One way to look at this organ functioning is how full a range of motion is used. Do they fully inflate? Do they fully deflate?
While that is an accurate depiction of lung function, it isn’t complete. To be complete, we would have to look at every function of the lungs. We could look through at through the lens of gases and how well they handles CO2 and O2. Or we could look at it in terms of liquid and how well it deals with deoxygenated blood and oxygenated blood.
We could adjust out lens to look smaller and smaller at function. But even that wouldn’t give us a complete picture. We need to look less microscopically and more macroscopically.
One way to focus on lung function is to look at the upper and lower limit of breathing. We could work on breathing as often as possible. We could also work on breathing as little as possible.
I recommend this. But I don’t recommend making it an isolated practice. Each organ system supports the next…and exists in a context.
Why circumstances would occur that would require you to breathe fast? Experience that. What would you have to do in order for you to breathe slow? Practice that. In order to optimize the body, you can’t think of it in an isolated fashion. Context is king.
For every organ system, we can judge health by its upper and lower limits of their function. If an organ system is judged to be hypofunctional, a surgical, pharmacological, or behavioral intervention is prescribed. But something is missing…something in our perspective.
Our organ systems have specialized functions. But what’s allowed them to specialize is the cooperative specializations of other organ systems. The lungs can do their job because the liver does its job…and the same goes for all the other organs. But even viewing the organ systems as part of an organism isn’t a full enough view.
No matter how much we focus on the internal environment of the body, the body never makes sense unless you take into account the environment from which it evolved. We evolved specialized functions in order to better navigate the external environment that selected us. And in order for that body to work, we have to turn our eyes towards the past.
We have to not only function in the world as it now. We have to perform enough of the functions selected by the world of the past.
We have to walk/travel enough, run enough, eat enough of historical foods, be around other people enough…some analog activity from emergent modern man. To live in the present and to become more functional for the future, we must maintain the functions of our past.
What if every time you used a computer, the computer got faster? What if every time you used a knife, it got sharper? What if every time you ran the washing machine, it cleaned better?
This isn’t what happens at all, is it? What I’ve described are non-living machines. And non-living machines degrade. But living machines, or systems, do something entirely different.
While all things eventually yield to entropy, for a time, living systems don’t. Living systems periodically develop more complexity and more order. Living systems get better. And one way in which they get better is transfer. We’re going to talk about the “magic” of transfer.
When you lift 65 lb., you’re not just getting better at lifting 65 lb. You’re getting more than that. If 65 lb. is close to the top of your strength for that movement, you’re getting the ability to lift more than ever before. By lifting less, you can lift more.
When you’re training endurance, you’re not just getting better at the duration you’re training, you’re training for more duration. By training shorter, you can go longer than ever before. When you’re training flexibility, you’re not just developing ease of range of motion in the range of motion you’re training, you’re training will result in more range of motion. By training through a lesser ROM, you get greater ROM.
That’s the magic of transfer. But the magic of transfer doesn’t stop there. There is even greater transfer.
Not only can you get the ability to lift more by lifting less, you can get strong in ranges of motion you aren’t training. There is what I call a “transfer perimeter” to where strength is gained 10 degrees in every possible direction of joint motion from the trained position. There are two implications to address.
The first is that this transfer isn’t likely just strength. The fact that there is transfer is likely due to the nervous system. Strength is largely mediated by the nervous system.
And strength isn’t the only movement quantity mediated by the nervous system. Flexibility is at the top of the list, too. But the nervous system plays a role in all of the movement quantities.
Whenever we train through a range of motion, we aren’t just affecting that range of motion. We are affecting range of motion all around it. It’s a “transfer perimeter.”
And when we train a range of motion (especially one that tests well), we are gaining motion (and strength) beyond what we trained. This transfer perimeter is magic. And the real magic is what it promises.
If we simply train what we can (especially what tests well including when it tests well), we get more than before. If we’re missing any movement quantity, flexibility, strength, endurance, you can get it back…by doing what you can. That’s the magic of transfer. That’s the magic of being alive.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This informs my training. It has to.
I used to have a chronic (what I more specifically call an omnipresent) pain issue. I no longer do. I have an intermittent pain issue. I have a co-occurring movement issue. Pain and movement are highly associated.
How I’ve been able to acquire more performance, more movement function, is not by “playing to my strengths.” Playing to one’s strengths is a sound business, athletic, even life strategy…but it carries major risks. Perhaps the biggest risk is applying that strategy in physical training.
In this article, we’re going to explore your weakest link. We’re going to talk about how to progress the training of your weakest link. And, of course, we’re going to look at why you developed a weak link and why this type of training is the best solution.
How can you tell where you’re weak? When you truly understand movement, every movement is an assessment. And in every movement, you’re assessing, you’re looking for a particular condition.
What’s been en vogue in movement assessment has been looking at hypermobility, or what’s moving too much. And that does have to do with your weak link. But not directly.
Think of a weak link. This is a muscle, muscle group, or more specifically, a movement muscles generate. If it’s weak, does it move too much…or too little?
Weak links are too weak to move much. That’s when other muscle groups kick in to try and produce the desired movement. But how should we deal with what’s moving too little…and what’s moving too much?
Within the fitness industry, the majority view on the breakdown between hyper and hypo mobility is to focus on hypermobility, or what’s moving too much. The believe that in order to address it, stability needs to be trained. But does it?
In BIOMECHANICS 1, stability is defined as “resistance to movement.” And strength is defined as “movement against resistance.” Which one does it sound like needs to be trained? Stability or strength?
What’s compensating, or what’s moving too much, is moving too much because the weak links aren’t moving enough. Should we train our strong parts, the ones that can move, NOT TO MOVE??? Or should we train our weak parts, the ones that cannot move, TO MOVE?
What is the solution to Weak Links? Strength? Or Stability?
Whenever we train stability, we are intentionally practicing not moving….or at least not moving very much. The carryover effect in training usually 10-15 degrees to the motion trained. But beyond that, there is little to no direct positive transfer. That often means we’re getting weaker through the motions we’re not training. And that’s the problem with stability training.
Stability training creates more Ranges of Motion where we don’t move. And where we don’t move, we get weak. Stability training is the fast track to more weak links.
But strength training (along, often combined with speed training) gets us more strength, more speed, more motion…and of course, less weak links. But how do we know what our weak links are? And how do we train them?
Training our weak links is pretty straightforward. We take our weak parts and make them strong. But what are our weak parts?
If any movement can be an assessment, pick a movement. If you go the gym, pick an exercise. In fact, pick an exercise where you’re weak.
Now in this exercise, there is a ROM where you feel particularly weak. It may be at the bottom of a Bench Press, or the top of a pull up, or the middle of a Deadlift. These weaknesses are what you’ll train…but there’s a caveat.
Weak Link training, or strength training, needs to be pain free. Correction. Strength training should feel good. So if a weakness doesn’t feel good to make strong, find another weakness.
In a weak ROM, your body is going to want to come out of position in order to produce more motion. Lower the resistance so that doesn’t happen. And if you lower the resistance all the way to bodyweight and it’s still happening, add some assistance to the motion as you would in an assisted pull-up or dip.
After you’ve sufficiently regressed the challenge so you can actually train your weak ranges of motion, you have options for progression. Don’t feel that increasing the load is the only factor. An increase in reps, sets, rep speed, rep ROM, and load are all wins. Take the wins when you can where they are.
And don’t feel you have to give up your strength to train your weakness. Train your strong movements through their strong ROM…with the same caveat. They must not only be pain free but feel good.
Don’t think that you’re necessarily widening the gap between your strengths and your weaknesses. It’s likely you’ve never trained your weaknesses before. And there’s a good reason why you haven’t.
What gives us weak links? It’s the same thing that makes us weak. Not training. More specifically, not moving. But why we don’t move? There are two major culprits: opposition and position.
By opposition, I mean that the directions we’re most often moving in is making the opposite of those motions weak. Over time, flexion makes extension weak. Left rotation makes right rotation weak.
By position, I mean the positions we are finding ourselves in…mainly sitting (the american average is 9 hours per day). Sitting is mainly flexion. This makes extension weak but also makes further flexion weak, as well. What we are training is making what we’re not training weak.
This points to a very simple and very obvious solution. Train it all…movement at least. Because you’re only strong as your weakest link.