Be Well Personal Training

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some quick thoughts on high intensity exercise, breathing, and a potential philosophy shift

Let me start by saying I love hard exercise.  I always have- there is nothing quite like a hard workout, where all of your muscles are fatigued, you feel physically tired, and like you can conquer the world because nothing is quite as challenging as the 40 minutes you just spent killing yourself in the gym.  Whether it's circuit training, spinning, intervals of some sort, or HIIT, there are many different ways to effectively accomplish this, and I think it has a place.  However, what I have come to realize in the last two years is that if we can't shut our sympathetic nervous system off and bring it to a place of calm, we are inevitably setting ourselves up for injury.

We live in a high stress world.  We are always on the go, we multi-task, our brains are constantly being exposed to stimulation.  We don't get outside enough to enjoy our natural surroundings, we don't play enough, and we rarely relax and breathe.  In fact, our breathing often feeds into this inability to calm down.  We breathe into our chests, following a more "fight or flight" type of pattern, with our ribs up and our mouths open.  I ask clients to take a deep breath and I see their chests rise high towards the sky and their bellies not move, or sometimes cave in.  These same clients have upper trap tightness, "tight hips," and low back pain.  There is a general sense of fatigue that follows them, although they aren't sure why.  For these clients, I am going to argue that stimulating their sympathetic nervous more by having them perform high intensity exercise would be a mistake.  It would feed into this pattern of hyperactivity and chronic tightness.  These clients have to learn how to shut their superficial muscles off, find a state of calm, and learn how to breathe.  This is going to benefit them far more than further activating their sympathetic nervous system.  Once they learn how to come down, how to breathe, how to activate their deep stabilizers to keep them upright rather than hold on for dear life with their prime movers, then they can benefit from higher intensity exercise.  However, it is critical to make sure they have returned to a state of calm, with ribs that aren't flared, a sternum that's not lifted, and a breathing pattern that's not feeding into a hyperactive state, both mentally and physically before they walk out the door.  I strongly believe that people should be able to alternate from a state of hard physical work and physical ease seamlessly, with little fanfare.  If you watch the good movers move, you will notice this is what they do.  Watch Ido Portal or Erwan LeCorre, or Kino MacGregor, and you will see an easiness to their movements.  Continue to watch them move and you will see their breath is even, their mediastinum is open, their diaphragm is fully functional.  This is what we should want in our own movement practices and for our clients.  On occasion someone who has been doing lots of high intensity work shows up in my studio.  It could be someone practicing for TacFit, someone participating in Crossfit, or someone who loves HIIT classes at the gym.  All of the individuals want to get back to their respective activity and the one thing they have all had in common is faulty breathing patterns.  I encourage all of these individuals to practice breathing before and after their workouts in an effort to get them out of this pattern that is doing them harm.  I am not suggesting that learning how to breathe will prevent injuries; however, I believe it is a good place to start.

Yours in health and wellness,

Saturday, September 7, 2013

5 things I have learned studying neurologically based training methods (specifically, DNS and PRI)

Over the last 18 months I have become mildly obsessed with neurologically based training.  My accountant (who is also a client), claims it's because I am bored now that graduate school is finished and I need something to study.  This is partially true- there is something inherently rewarding about studying and implementing concepts that are somewhat challenging to grasp.  I am forced to think, try, and apply until I figure out how (and if) it works.  On a more basic level, neurologically based training simply makes sense to me.  It answers questions about things I have always noticed, but never really understood.  It examines patterns, and it supplies ways to correct patterns that might be inefficient.  It speaks to my yoga background, where I have trained with amazing individuals that have taught me effective techniques, but never fully explained "why" the techniques work.  However, this type of training isn't for everybody, and it definitely isn't the easiest way to approach human movement.  Outlined below are 5 lessons I have taken away during the last year and a half, and I am sure there are many more to come.

  1. Breathing is important.  Not just important, paramount to good movement patterns, decreased pain, good shoulder mobility, and good hip function.  If breathing is dysfunctional and isn't corrected, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to get good quality movement.  I have sat through almost 40 hours of lecture on this topic, and am just beginning to sort of grasp it.
  2. Reciprocal inhibition is critical to good movement patterns.  Physical therapist and PRI instructor James Anderson says something along the lines of, "anyone can turn a muscle on.  An expert knows how to turn muscles off."  (This comes from the moykinematics home study course).  Certain things we see over and over again as fitness professionals- tight upper traps, overactive IT band, quad dominance, overactive lats...  The list goes on.  Over the years I have learned to train around things so that I don't flare something up.  A better solution is to turn things off so they aren't active, freeing up the proper stabilizers to do their job.
  3. There are many different ways to skin a cat (I think that's the saying.  I have always wondered where that phrase comes from- aren't cats pets?  And who wants to skin one?  But that's a different blog post).  Some people respond well to simply moving more.  Yoga works really well for some, probably because it activates several muscle chains, there is an element of focusing what you are doing and telling your body how to move (neuro training).  Pilates works well for others.  Primal movement, CST, NKT, z-health...  There are several acronyms that are effective at training the neuromuscular system.  DNS and PRI resonated with me.  This doesn't make them the end all, be all.  My clients are making very positive gains and many of my clients are suddenly practicing breathing when they aren't with me, moving better, and feeling better.  This is important to me.  As a result, I will continue to learn these two methodologies, but that doesn't mean I will discount other techniques or be unwilling to listen to experts discuss them.
  4. Just because you go to a workshop, you are not an expert in the topic.  These methodologies take time to learn.  And practice.  And a willingness to ask for help.  If you aren't willing to do these things, I recommend learning something else.  I not only do PRI and DNS regularly (it is not unusual to walk by my studio and see me with 2 or 3 manuals out, trying different things, figuring out how it all fits together), I attend workshops, ask questions of more advanced practitioners, and re-read informational material.  I am willing to sit through lectures multiple times in an effort to understand the material better, and am constantly practicing on my clients.  Again, this is hard, and more intensive than other training techniques I have studied.
  5. Test/Re-test is invaluable.  I know other methodologies use this philosophy. Prior to PRI in particular, and DNS to a lesser extent, I hadn't fully understood how valuable it is to know whether or not you are on the right track.  Watching someone improve in a matter of minutes is not only exciting to the practitioner; it boosts the client's confidence as well.  I don't test every session, but when someone has something going on or I am working on something specific, it is a good way to test progress.
Learning is a process, and I am hopeful that as I continue to deepen my understanding of human movement, I will be able to have positive impacts on my clients lives and share my knowledge and experiences with others in the human movement field.
"The secret to mastery in any field is to forever be a student." Martin Palmer

Yours in health and wellness,