With the time for New Year’s resolutions upon us, there’s talk everywhere of what people want to change about themselves and accomplish in 2017. While this is no doubt a wonderful time of year to reflect and set the stage for some positive transformation, there’s a common trend that I think brings more suffering than joy, and my hope for 2017 is that you’re able to observe and transcend this tendency.
This subtly poisonous trend is to set our New Year’s resolutions strictly from the mind, from a place of thinking that we “should” do something, and ultimately having our goals grounded in self-judgement, self-criticism, and guilt about everything we’ve done wrong. These goals carry a type of expectation, a harsh voice that tells us we need to be better, can’t fail again, or need to prove something to ourselves or others. I have no doubt that by this point you can tell this is not my favourite type of goal to set…
It’s no surprise that these type of goals that stem from comparison, judgement, or feeling that we’re not enough in some way don’t tend to produce lasting changes in health and happiness. There is a much more effective style of 2017 resolution that is sure to take you much closer to your goals, and open doors to step into a more peaceful, joyful, and meaningful version of yourself.
Set goals from the heart.
What does this mean? Beyond what your mind tells you, beyond what you think you “know” you need to do – what do you FEEL? If your mind is busy, if your environment is hectic, if you don’t have any time to rest, you’ll believe that how you feel is the same as what you think – but I invite you to look a little deeper.
Within each one of us is a Divine spark, a part of us that knows exactly what we need, what’s best for us, and what is true.
This is our intuition, our “gut feeling”, the pull that we get to some things that we can’t quite explain, but that permeates our being. This aspect of each of us is our true nature, and it never steers us wrong. It accomplishes this infallibility by only ever advising from a place of love and compassion. Here there is no urgency, no rush, no panic. There is peace and gentleness. There is endless tenderness and encouragement. There is an indescribable amount of hope and trust. This place within us lives deep in our heart, and speaks in a quiet voice, emerging at times of stillness and when we reach towards it.
When we can connect with the subtle intuition that arises from deep within our heart we get the sense of how to move in the New Year to truly bring more love and joy into our lives. And if for even a second you have a sliver of doubt that that’s what is at the foundation of any goal – have a look deeper!
So my most sincere wish for you in this transition into 2017 is that you’re able to take a few moments to connect with that inner voice in whatever way works for you. So many things can help us with this connection – and you’ll know which one is best for you because it will put the biggest smile on your face. Music, dance, nature, art, meditation, yoga, journaling, and reading are all common examples, but the list goes on and on!
Immersing ourselves in the stillness and beauty of nature in Winter can be a wonderful way to connect us to the voice in our heart.
With this guidance from your true nature, your inner being who resides deep in your heart, I can assure you that your 2017 New Year’s resolutions will be immeasurably more productive, more enjoyable, and more attainable. Our true self knows that we can’t simply try to strip away aspects of our lives that we want to change without first cultivating the love and purpose that sustains our motivation, so don’t be surprised if the guidance involves a hearty dosage of fun things that make you smile and reconnect to laughter and childlike joy!
As always, if you find yourself in need of any help implementing the steps needed to make your resolutions a reality, my health coaching services are ready and waiting 🙂
Wishing you a beautiful 2017 guided by your heart!
Over the past couple of months I’ve had a number of really amazing conversations with some incredible coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and a wide variety of my friends and colleagues in the “helping” professions. I’ve been excited about some new things I’ve been learning, and I kept getting the feeling that what I had been studying was showing up at just the right time to shed some new light on a variety of issues. It’s happened frequently enough that I now think it’s deserving of a blog post!
Sometimes getting results can feel like an uphill battle – but it shouldn’t have to.
What’s been guiding these interesting conversations is reflection on why some of our patients/clients/athletes tend to have so much success, while others struggle to get over certain roadblocks. Certainly there is a huge aspect of how any sort of treatment or intervention is directed – is it the right solution at the right time, applied correctly and in the right amount? That’s the usual conversation in our health, wellness, and performance industry – we get excited when we find a new exercise, a new drill, a dietary change, or a new treatment that makes an amazing change.
However, in a refreshing twist, these conversations moved beyond the typical topics, into considering what could be standing in the way of profound transformation for those who seem to continuously be struggling with similar problems.
Common to our experiences was the feeling of being occasionally baffled that what we know should be working has much less of an impact then we’d hope for. A physiotherapist friend of mine brought up a great point that unless his clients already had an engrained exercise routine in their lives, it was really tough for them to consistently apply the strategies necessary to overcome whatever injury was causing them grief. Treatment might produce great results, but consistent change between sessions was hard to see. Of course none of this is an issue for clients who can book 4-5 sessions/week – but that’s simply not feasible for most.
As excited as we might feel about changing our lives to feel happier and healthier, making that shift comes with a whole host of challenges.
The easy Functional Movement Systems answer to the above problem would be that there needs to be better re-inforcement of whatever issue has been solved during the treatment, to upload new software so to speak. I’m also a firm believer that this is more than an approach to improving movement and performance – the concept of re-setting (cleaning house) and then re-inforcing a new pattern is really the process of replacing anything old with an upgraded version – be that a habit, thought, action, diet, movement, etc. I’m fully on board with that logic, but as our conversations were revealing, it’s often not quite that cut and dry – there is the overarching and often overlooked concept of adherence, compliance, application, follow through, whatever you want to call it – basically doing the thing that we know will help.
Framed in this way, the whole concept of achieving great results with clients is then no longer solely a question of the best solution, the best information. No matter how perfect the exercise, the diet, the mental strategy, or the lifestyle change, none of it matters if the client can’t apply it.
It can be easy to fall back on off-loading responsibility to the client, shaking a finger and reinforcing what they already know “you really need to do this”. The problem is that this doesn’t really work that well. If it worked, people wouldn’t still have problems. We now have access to SO much information about how to solve any problem. From anything from rehabbing from an ACL tear to reversing auto-immune diseases, you can Google it and get an endless supply of “10 things to do that will change your life!”. I’ve even written some of those articles!
However, with the advent of this information age, people know a lot more (or have access to more information), but not much has changed. As a society we’re more overweight, run down, stressed out, and injured than ever. So what’s missing, why doesn’t better information translate into better health?
I’d like to argue that it comes down to Habit Change.
Transforming your habitual actions and thoughts to ones that give you the results you want, and making them last.
It’s really easy to want to do something, to have the best of intentions, but actually sticking it out is the bain of modern society’s existence.
How successful are New Years resolutions?
How many dieters drop the weight for good?
How many times do we not do something that we know is good for us?
Have you ever spent hours reading articles on a health topic only to apply none of it because you’re more confused at the end than when you started? I know I’ve been there.
I for one see many of my clients struggle with changing their habits, getting derailed from building the life they long for and falling back to the patterns that keep them stuck where they are. So about a year ago I got fed up with that – not with my clients, with myself. Clearly I can’t be ok with getting amazing results with people who are totally motivated to do the work and create change, but ignoring those who can’t easily carve out the time, motivation, or energy to do what needs to be done. That would be a high form of negligence on my part, and unfortunately it took me a while to get to that realization.
Constantly struggling with will power to stick to a change you want to make? That’s a tough game – there’s a better way.
Creating sustainable change isn’t on the client – it’s on me.
When I woke up to the fact that I didn’t have the skills necessary to help my clients make the sometimes very profound transformations that their lives were begging for, I hit the books. This last year has been an eye-opening experience of studying a wide variety of coaching techniques specifically addressing habit change. What I found was amazing.
I am by no means one of the first people to ask this question – there’s lots of life coaching out there and tons of Tony Robbins-esque programs to change your beliefs, transform your life, etc. What I found was a MUCH more specific answer to my question of how to help my clients adopt the habits that allow them to reclaim their health. These answers came from a field I didn’t know really existed, called Health Coaching. Now if you know me at all, your immediate reaction was likely “wow that’s right up your alley!”
Yep, bang on.
So for the past 12 months I’ve been nerding out on some incredible perspectives around how to help people create new habits that actually stick, rapidly accelerating their progress in health or performance by gradually replacing the draining and negative with the nourishing and positive.
This transcends the outdated model of simply providing information and trusting that someone will apply it – we know better than that now!
Slowly my work with my clients has changed as well, and I’m staggeringly grateful that I was able to find such pertinent information and training on how to help those who work with me see much faster results that stick for good. One of the most astonishing parts of these new coaching strategies is how much change occurs that neither me nor the client were bargaining for!
I’ve learned how much more effective I can be as a coach when I use all of my knowledge about how to fix you as ONLY a framework, and allow you to guide the process to make changes on a much deeper level than just adding a bear crawl or a green smoothie to your daily routine. What consistently happens is that upon really diving into the process of self-observation and getting to know what makes you tick, the surface behaviours start to spontaneously transform and support the new, healthier, happier, all-star version of yourself. This allows your primary issue to melt away with much less effort than simply struggling with motivation and will power every day. Change becomes easy, exciting.
In the next couple of weeks you’ll see some new offerings from me, improving upon my existing personalized and holistic approaches to health and performance and weaving in new formats guaranteed to produce stellar results. I couldn’t be more excited.
Taking a holistic approach to creating lasting habit change is the key to bringing forth the happiness and success you’ve only dared dream of!
Thank you to everyone who made it this far in the article for listening to my rant. I feel blessed to have found part of the key to cracking the code of creating profound, lasting transformation in health, wellness, and performance – and most importantly I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it and help others transcend the suffering that holds them back from their goals.
A final note to all my clients who’ve had to put up with me simply giving advice on what will help, only to be left feeling like you weren’t applying it well enough – I offer my most sincere apologies. Hang in there, things are about to get fun… 😉
RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is a common but outdated protocol for recovering from an injury – new evidence shows it actually slows the healing process.
After missing a day due to some technical difficulties, I’m back with a quick tip for the “What you might not know you don’t know about your body” series! Today’s topic is a super interesting one and will definitely leave some people scratching their heads. If you’re like me and have had lots of ankle sprains, muscle strains, and all sorts of assorted injuries, you’ll be wishing you read this long ago!
So I’ll start by stating flat out that I am far from the expert in this topic. The physiological mechanisms that underpin the healing and regeneration process of various types of tissues are things I’ve studied many times, but the true experts in this field are the clinicians who know these processes in much more depth. Physicians, Naturopathic Physicians, Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Massage Therapists but to name a few are the pioneers in pushing this information forward, and I’m simply passing on the knowledge I’ve been fortunate enough to gain from amazing mentors. Knowledge that has helped my body immensely and has transformed the healing of many of my clients.
Alright, let’s dive in!
The real purpose of this post is to expose the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for post-injury recovery as the detrimental process we now know it to be and suggest a better alternative.
No doubt if you’ve had an ankle sprain or any other sprain or strain, you’ve gone through this protocol.
The basic premise was that with injured tissue you wanted to rest it to avoid further injury and to limit the painful inflammation that is always secondary to an acute injury. Icing, compressing, and elevating all stopped swelling and inflammation from fully setting in, so the damage thought to be done by inflammation would be reduced, allowing a faster recovery. Not an entirely far fetched thinking process, except for one thing.
Inflammation is a natural process necessary for healing!
So all of the inflammation that was kept at bay was a missed opportunity for increased circulation to the injured area and a natural cascade of all the body’s healing mechanisms. Enter the incompletely healed ligament or muscle that keeps causing issues years after the initial injury.
Hands on therapy as part of the “Treatment” step of the MEAT protocol goes a long way to help tissues recover fully.
What type of issues? Limited range of motion of the injured tissue becomes a major factor, because without restoring that movement, the compensation train begins and the body starts to adjust its movement, usually not for the better. Tissue that isn’t fully repaired is also weaker and prone to another injury.
So what to do instead of RICE? Try “MEAT” instead, popularized in the world of prolotherapy – a regenerative injection therapy which helps to rebuild damaged tissue by triggering inflammation and proper healing.
MOVEMENT: gentle movement within pain tolerance brings more circulation to the injured area which can speed up healing. This can also help the injured tissue to repair under a small amount of load, creating a stronger and more organized rebuild.
EXERCISE: as soon as you’re able, gentle exercise to increase circulation will help remove the by-products of healing from the injured site and infuse it with new blood and fluids to continue the rebuilding.
ANALGESICS: aka reduce the pain. High levels of pain can inhibit the healing process and be downright uncomfortable. But think twice before reaching for NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) like aspirin & ibuprofen (full list here) – these will inhibit healing just like any other treatment that reduces inflammation. Tylenol (acetaminophen) has painkilling effects without reducing inflammation, but can be very hard on the liver. This is where natural approaches like acupuncture, essential oils, arnica, and countless herbs and foods have shown great results with zero side effects.
TREATMENT: this is when the clinicians shine! Hands on therapies that restore range of motion and increase circulation will help a ton. Contrast hydrotherapy also works wonders to increase circulation – so there is a role for ice after all!. This is also where getting back into some stability and motor control work becomes very important to have the tissue develop back to its original strength. Many times there are secondary reactions to the initial injury – areas that become tight or imbalanced in an effort to protect the injured area – and those need to be identified and corrected as early as possible. Finishing off this treatment phase is the very important and under-appreciated step of restoring total function, not just getting rid of pain. Pain-free does not mean you’re ready to jump back into sport. Working with a qualified coach at this point is a crucial step to make sure your movement gets back to baseline in terms of mobility, stability, strength, power, and speed. Until all of these areas are back to normal and the injured tissue doesn’t show signs of guarding or compensation, the healing is not complete.
So hopefully next time an injury pops up for you or someone you care about you can remember these wise words – choose MEAT over RICE!
If you feel you have an injury that didn’t properly go through the phases above and is still holding you back, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free consultation and I’d be happy to share what I think may help. Until then I’ll be knocking on wood and hoping no phone calls means no one’s getting injured 🙂
Yesterday’s post on fixing shoulder pain was a doozy – it got pretty technical and quite long. So today we balance it out with a very simple “what you might now know you don’t know” tip that literally everyone can benefit from. Today we’re focusing low on the Performance Pyramid (more info on that here if it’s new to you), aiming to remember that we need to honour the basic functions of our body before adding the physical training and hoping for sustainable improvements.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all” – Vince Lombardi
Let’s talk about fatigue. This low energy state is more common in our society than we give it credit for – since coffee, energy drinks, and sugary drinks and snacks provide a quick fix anytime people start to feel that crash.
But band-aid solutions to low energy often come with long term consequences.
The health disorders associated with sugar intake are wide-reaching, everything from cardiovascular disease and diabetes to more subtle hints that your body is breaking down like decreased immunity and achy joints. Energy drinks and excessive amounts of caffeine wreak havoc on your nervous system and disrupt quality sleep, and while the cost/benefit of coffee continues to be controversial, most people feel better without it once they go through the withdrawal symptoms from their addiction.
This low energy epidemic has rightfully become a hot topic in Natural Medicine, with tons of talk about adrenal function and endless high quality supplements that can help your body regain the ability to produce its own energy.
But what I think is easily forgotten is that supplements are just what their name implies…they supplement the real solution. They are not called “cures” for a reason – because they can’t do the work on their own.
So why the need for all of these quick fixes and supplements? Simply because we easily forget to respect how our body naturally works to generate energy.
There are some very smart people who have gone into incredible depth about every metabolic process in our body and how we respond to every food, drink, thought, emotion, smell, etc. – and this information can be very useful when dealing with complex health disorders or working with people who don’t respond to the basic solutions. But complex information can also be a hindrance for some people – we can get caught in our head overthinking every single thing in our life and worrying about how it will affect us. This mental drain costs more energy and prevents us from living a whole hearted life.
So today I want to remind everyone of some very simple things that govern our bodies energy production. These are things you can take action on right away without spending money or reading anything complicated!
Hydration is key to helping your body generate energy to fuel your busy day.
all of the metabolic processes in our body require water, and few of us drink enough to have things running at full efficiency
recommendations for water intake are all over the place, but the general consensus is no less than 2 litres (8 cups) per day, with more and more recommendations coming in around the 3 litre mark. This can seem like a crazy amount if you’re only used to having a glass or two a day, so take the increase gradually and accept that as your body gets used to this new environment you might need a few more hall passes…
keep in mind that the above recommendations are for hydrating fluids ONLY – essentially just water and herbal teas. Milk, juice, pop, coffee, caffeinated tea, and alcohol all either take water to metabolize the sugar in them or act as a diuretic, and are actually a dehydrating stimulus for your body
2 super easy ways to monitor your hydration are:
the colour of your pee (pale yellow is ideal, bright or dark yellow is an alarm bell)
thirst – feeling thirsty means you’ve already started down the dehydration path, you want to stay ahead of thirst by drinking regularly
just like any process in your body, digestion takes energy. In fact it takes a LOT of it. So this means that the smoother your digesting processes run, the less energy you use on them
people often forget that just because things like bloating, gas, acid reflux, nausea, constipation, and stomach aches are common, it doesn’t mean they’re normal. Like anything else in your body it’s a sign that something is a little out of whack.
optimal hydration can often help digestion a ton, but I’ve already lectured you on that, so let’s move on
if you experience any digestive upset, you can be sure your body is spending your precious energy working to break down and digest something that it doesn’t like at that moment. Naturopathic Physicians are a great resource for full food sensitivity testing, but often people find success by cutting out some of the common allergens from their diet. Try a week without gluten, a week without dairy, and a week without soy and notice how your body responds. Some symptoms take longer than a week to resolve, but if you notice a positive change in a few days, you could definitely be onto something pretty simple
#3: Nervous System Relaxation
Spending some quiet time in nature can elicit profound relaxation responses to rejuvenate your body and mind.
as much as everyone intuitively knows this, applying the principles of relaxation are easier talked about than practiced
there is an incredible amount to be gained in every aspect of your life by slowing down and getting out of the stressed, sympathetic nervous system tone (fight or flight response) in which most Westerners live. Calming ourselves down brings us back to parasympathetic dominance of the nervous system which allows digestion and tissue rebuilding to occur
relaxation can mean a lot of things, but let’s work with the simplest form of it. Slowing down or stopping activity. This means activity of your body and your mind. Screens disrupt this process immensely so getting away from the phone, computer, and TV is a necessity if you really want your nervous system to be nourished. Time in nature is basically the opposite of screen time – it expedites the relaxation response and has been shown to be more effective than anti-depressants.
don’t make the mistake of making a relaxation practice another item on your to-do list, this kills its essence. Treat it as something nourishing, a way of expressing love and gratitude towards your body, your mind, your spirit. A little appreciation goes a long way and you will be greatly rewarded for your actions.
At this point you’re probably thinking “SLEEP!! What about sleep!?”. Yep, you’re right. Sleep quality and quantity (in that order of importance) is paramount to regenerating energy for the next day. However any discussion of how to improve sleep quality would start with the 3 topics above! So start with the basics and then evaluate how your sleep responds.
There’s nothing I love more than working with a client and seeing their energy levels return to their ideal level, so if you want to dive deeper than the basics covered above I am always happy to help conquer that invisible demon known as fatigue!
Since I started my strength & conditioning role working exclusively with volleyball players, I had no choice but to get good at dealing with shoulder pain right away. Since then I’ve come to see that while shoulder pain is wildly prevalent in overhead and throwing sports as expected, it is also a major concern and limiting factor for a ton of other people. So I’m hoping today’s post will shed some light on what I’ve found to be the missing link in creating bulletproof shoulders.
So let’s start with the basics.
The Joint by Joint Approach gives a roadmap for how to understand the roles of different parts of the shoulder.
If you’ve been reading along with my posts you know by now that I’m going to preach something about the importance of mobility, but that mobility doesn’t solve the problem, it will only allow the body an opportunity to upload a better movement pattern etc, etc. You’re damn right I’m going to do that.
Because shoulder pain is SUCH an easy fix if you stay true to the principles of how your body works and deal with them in the right order. But it can be an ongoing struggle if you cut corners.
This is a good time to understand the Joint by Joint Approach if you don’t already. This is a beautifully simple theory put forward by Gray Cook and Michael Boyle that explains how each joint in the body is built for either a primary role of mobility or stability, and if one joint messes up its role, the joints above and below have to switch their roles as well. This is particularly important when we get to the shoulder, because when we think we’re dealing with the “shoulder” – what we’re really dealing with is the thoracic spine (upper back, should be mobile), scapula (shoulder blade, should be stable), and the glenohumeral joint (the actual shoulder joint where your arm attaches to your shoulder blade, which should be mobile). Actually there’s much more to look at because this area wouldn’t be attached to your body without the clavicle and sternum, but we’ll take those for granted for right now.
So when we have shoulder pain – say it pinches in the front or hurts when you lift it up overhead – most often the pain is right around the glenohumeral (GH) joint. This joint should be the most mobile in our body, and when it has that full range of motion we rarely see many issues right at the shoulder joint. It’s when the GH joint starts to get tight and limited that we see a host of issues. This is the case outlined in the Joint by Joint Approach where a joint built for mobility starts to assume a stability role.
This shoulder mobility test gives you a general view of how your shoulders are moving. You should be able to easily touch fingers on each side without pain!
So “bad shoulder!” right? Or…smart shoulder? Why is it getting tight?
More often than not it’s because the aspect of the shoulder girdle that should be providing stability – the scapula – doesn’t do a very good job of that. This is basic, well known stuff and anyone who’s had a shoulder injury can attest to the fact that they always need to improve “scapular stability”. However we know this doesn’t always work. In fact I frequently see it fail if the mobility restrictions on either side of the shoulder blade aren’t addressed. Do all of the TWYL patterns and wall slides you want, but if the thoracic spine is still tight and not rotating, the shoulder blade will always give up its stability role to produce movement, which leaves stability to the muscles surrounding the glenohumeral joint – muscles that are not built to do the role of stabilizers and constantly be “on”. This is when we find a chronically tight neck, chest, biceps, triceps, and lats.
So this pattern is just one common example that I see a lot of – of course I’ve left out the essential need to look at the whole body and see why the thoracic spine might be tight, but that will have to wait for another post.
On to the fun part – how to fix it once and for all!
First make sure the thoracic spine is moving well (lying rotation type stretches)
Next clean up the mobility limitations at the glenohumeral joint that we know are secondary to an instability elsewhere
Finally, reset the stability around the shoulder blade and the torso, starting with closed chain, weight bearing stability exercises like sphinx pose and crawling-type patterns. This is how your shoulder first learned stability and what it’s most receptive to to relearn it. Then comes all the typical scapular stability exercises.
Ok, so I apologize for having gotten a little off track today, this isn’t meant to be a technical blog post series about how to fix everything all the time forever (not a bad idea though…), but I had to lay down the basics of shoulder repatterining to give some context for my “what you might not know you don’t know” topic. If you didn’t know all of the info above, no worries, now you do.
Kettlebell Armbar – a great way to teach the shoulder a neutral position and generate reflexive stability.
When the above guidelines are followed well, I’ve seen one thing that can make a near-quantum leap in how the shoulder integrates all of the work you’re doing for it. This is joint centration – which effectively means where the head of your humerus (arm bone) is sitting in your glenoid fossa (part of the shoulder blade it attaches to). Go ahead and poke around your shoulder if you’re not already doing it. With sitting and using our phones being the new black, most of us have some nasty forward shoulder positions going on, and the joint has a tendency to get temporarily “stuck” in this position. Certainly if you see a therapist to open up that shoulder movement this is one of the things he or she will do for you, to get the joint sliding well again, but often it returns to its old pattern quickly. This is why I want everyone to be aware of the exercise that my athletes and I have been calling “Shoulder Sorcery” for quite a while: the Kettlebell Armbar.
Not only does the proper execution of this exercise stretch out the anterior part of your shoulder and return it to good posture, it also requires reflexive stabilization for your shoulder to stay in this new position, which uploads that new stability pattern right away. 30 seconds of this can often create changes that days of stretching and tubing exercises fail to produce.
A few rounds can leave the shoulder back in its ideal position, taking pressure and stretch off of the areas that were painful, and giving the go ahead for the shoulder to generate more strength through larger ranges of motion. That sounds ok, right?
One of the reasons it’s not super well known is because it’s quite technical to get into, and it’s high risk if you don’t know what you’re doing. Generally done with a kettlebell for the off-centre loading factor, a light dumbbell is a good way to get started and teach your body the position.
Here’s a video of me walking an athlete through one round of it.
So before you jump into trying the Kettlebell Armbar, remember that its strength is in being applied to a larger picture of shoulder repatterning. Don’t forget about the thoracic spine mobility and ground-based stability for the scapula, and don’t forget to address weak links elsewhere in the body, especially if they are asymmetrical.
Increasing cardiovascular endurance can come down to more than simply training harder.
Happy Easter everybody! This post is for the people who saw the advent of another Sunday as synonymous with “long workout day” 🙂
Whether it’s the ability to get to the top of the stairs without being hopelessly out of breath, or going from an 11.5 to a 12 on the beep test, many of us have cardiovascular fitness goals as part of our training. As you get started with this type of training, you’ll notice how plastic your body can be – what was exhausting just a few days or weeks ago can often be done with ease. You can access these quick improvements by manipulating a few commonly understood variables in your training: frequency (do it more often), intensity (do it faster), duration (do it for longer) and rest (take shorter rests if you’re doing interval training).
While the majority of people will reach the results they want by progressively overloading themselves on any of those principles, there will always be some outliers – that’s when it gets interesting. I frequently see National and International level athletes who have been training for years at high intensity reach frustrating plateaus despite increasing their training load and intensity.
Often creating the opportunity for progress comes down to two things – movement efficiency and breathing patterns.
The movement efficiency side of things is pretty straight forward but is often overlooked. All you need to do is accidentally drive down the street with your parking break on to experience what it’s like to try and go faster with poor movement patterns. Effectively having the “breaks on” and fighting against your own body when you’re trying to run, bike, swim, or do anything else will require a ton more effort and increase your metabolic demand for a given task. The simplest example is something like tight hips – if you can’t effortlessly achieve hip flexion and extension through your full ranges that you’re using in your sport of choice, then you’re going to be using up extra energy to battle for those end ranges. This can also lead to recurring soreness because your muscles aren’t only working against the ground, but also against yourself.
But the movement efficiency component isn’t the super juicy stuff – any quality coach will help you clean this up pretty quickly if you haven’t already done that.
The really fun transformation comes when we start to focus on breath.
The quality of our breath can affect more than our mental state – it can also dictate how far and how fast we can go.
Ancient movement traditions like yoga and martial arts have known about this from the start – but we’re just waking up from our profound Western sleep of arrogance to realize they had some stuff pretty figured out. Turns out we didn’t really need the Shake Weight and calf raise machine to improve our fitness…
Breathing patterns are a whole world unto themselves, with some amazing resources out there, but I’ll just scratch the surface here. The fundamental thing to grasp for endurance training is that we want our muscles receiving the most amount of oxygen possible to be able to produce the most work. Decrease this oxygen supply and we feel fatigue, simple as that. Along with this, we also want to be using the fewest number muscles at the lowest intensity possible to accomplish a certain task – the less work muscles are doing, the lower our demand for oxygen (back to the movement efficiency argument).
So how do we do this? Effectively, a killer strong diaphragmatic breathing pattern (through your stomach) and calm state of mind.
I can also tell you how we fail at it – by shifting to a chest-dominant breath whenever we get stressed. As soon as we begin a chest dominant or “apical” breathing pattern, we start using a ton of accessory breathing muscles in our chest and neck instead of just the steady rhythm of our diaphragm that is involved with relaxed breathing. Chest breathing helps us get more oxygen at the highest levels of exertion, but if we switch to it too quickly we fatigue faster.
What makes us breath through the chest? A poorly conditioning diaphragm, perceived stress, or both.
So as with any skill, breathing needs to be trained in a variety of scenarios – at rest, under load, under stress, under fatigue, at speed, and with complex tasks distracting you. As you gain competency in maintaining a relaxed style of diaphragmatic breathing under greater physiological demand, you’ll find your body able to accomplish a lot more at your current level of cardiovascular fitness.
Start by checking in with your breath in the morning, while driving, and definitely when you start your workouts – if you’re stuck in a chest dominant, stressed style of breath, fatigue will be tapping on your shoulder sooner than you’d like.
Hi again! Today’s “what you might not know you don’t know about your body” topic is a controversial one! If you missed yesterday’s post on Knee Pain you can find it here, or if you haven’t read the background on why I’m doing these posts you can read that here. Hope you enjoy today’s nugget!
Weight loss is obviously an astoundingly pervasive topic in health & wellness, medicine, and sports performance. Certainly the consequences and risk factors of carrying extra weight are well understood, and all of us feel better and perform our best at our own “set point” that our bodies determine is right at that given moment.
Constantly feeling stressed about your weight can actually be the factor keeping the weight from falling off.
Sadly this is also one of the most distorted areas of health & fitness – this shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone. The media is absolutely toxic in how it portrays the ideal body image and the ideal diet, leaving nearly everyone feeling inadequate and overloaded with advice and promises about what new diet will work for them.
In fact the whole concept of “dieting” is deeply flawed from the outset – bound to have people invest their time, money, and hope in short term, unsustainable, often calorie-restrictive diets from which the vast majority of people regain weight quite quickly (but as pure fat instead of the fat and muscle that they lost).
So if you’re feeling a bit depressed now, I apologize. But I truly hope that anyone pursuing a weight loss goal is not simply following the latest popular diet – you need to know that there’s such a better way!
In working with clients with weight loss goals, I’ve been amazed at how well-researched and well intentioned they usually are – otherwise they probably wouldn’t be seeking me out. Additionally, the people who typically come to see me have tried a lot of things and are frustrated, which is when the “holistic” approach tends to catch their attention.
So my role with any of these amazing, courageous clients is not to provide more information or tell them about the latest superfood or supplement that will keep them in the same cycle of looking for external solutions. Instead, what they often don’t know they don’t know is that weight loss is about so much more than diet and exercise. For sure those are important, but on their own they often fail despite people’s best efforts. It’s far too broad of a topic to really go into in a short post, but essentially people need to understand that their bodies are holding onto the weight for a reason, and often this comes down to the nervous system.
Anyone who is chronically stressed (ironically enough, this stress can even be about the extra weight, as cruel as that is) will have a very difficult time losing or keeping weight off.
Chronic stress can create an internal physiological state that doesn’t allow you to achieve the waistline you’re shooting for.
A stressed out nervous system creates all sort of dysregulation in the body and effectively creates a survival mode where it seems safest to keep some extra fat on us. Remember that our nervous systems are rookies at living in the modern world – stress still signals to them that we might not get to eat for a very long time, not that our Instagram post didn’t get any likes because we looked “fat”. Here we could go into tons of detail about the role of cortisol and the thyroid in metabolism, but hopefully this basic concept already makes sense.
So the answer is simple, right? Just don’t be stressed. Problem solved. Yeah not so much, especially if that source of stress is highly intertwined with the actual weight itself…
Working with stress and anxiety is another extremely popular topic certainly worthy of another post in the coming week. So until then, I’ll leave with you with the encouragement to get curious about your body and what it’s doing – appreciating that everything it’s doing is to try and protect you.
Hopefully if you’re feeling frustrated about your weight loss attempts and you haven’t looked into your nervous system health yet, you now have a new door open in front of you. Because once you get back in tune with your body and build a healthy relationship with the food that you eat and why you eat it, everything can change for you. The days of punishing and restricting your body because you’re not happy with it can come to an end once and for all 🙂
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments! This is a super broad topic and there is so much more involved than what I can share in a single post, so if I’ve left you confused I would be happy to clarify anything I can.
Hi Team, here's my thought of the day on things that might open your eyes to a new aspect of your training that you could be leaving out. If you missed my intro to why I'm doing it you can read my first post here.
I started my Masters degree wanting to study knee pain in runners and jumpers, because nearly everyone gets it at some point, and lots of people say they understand it - but just as many people are getting it! What I learned in my first year of researching all the best rehab medicine and strength & conditioning protocols is that no single approach works for everyone. This is because knee pain is always a symptom of dysfunction somewhere else (unless you fell on your knee…).
Fortunately people now understand this concept of regional interdependence pretty well - so if you’re struggling with or rehabbing from knee pain, I’m going to assume you’ve been exposed to the fundamentals of restoring normal hip and ankle mobility (eg/ you have a toe touch and full deep squat with little to no effort).
From there most everyone is pretty good at identifying that hip stability and motor control is an important factor in knee pain - so you’ve probably done your share of clamshells, glute bridges, band walks, single leg squats, etc. This stuff alone goes a long way in cleaning up a ton of knee pain - take care of mobility first, and immediately train stability and motor control through your full range of motion.
The component I want to talk about today is the technical component of running and jumping that is often overlooked and under appreciated. I’ve worked with a number of athletes who have a great training base - they have all the range of motion they need, have a good amount of stability and strength, and yet still experience knee pain. Because running and jumping are such repetitive movements, technique (the “skill” level of the performance pyramid) becomes a major player not only in managing tissue load, but also in determining performance.
The super common issue that people tend to forget about cleaning up once they’ve done their basic rehab is to get out of knee dominant running and jumping patterns. What do those look like? See below:
Loading and landing from a jump with more knee bend than hip bending (flexion) tends to overload the knees and underutilize the hip musculature. This is where performance comes in. You’re much more powerful in a hip extension movement than a knee extension movement, so if you’re not maximizing that aspect of your jump, you’re not getting everything you can from your performance.
For running it shows up in the long-striders who heel plant, decelerating and overloading the knee every step. The ideal gait has a mid-foot plant with the hip actively extending (think pulling back) so that your very strong glute and hamstring muscles take up that load instead of your quads. This corresponds with about 180 strides per minute - a faster turnover than most of default to. Again this translates directly into performance - heel planting and decelerating under-utilizes the hips and slows you down every stride.
Both of these technical errors have easy fixes once you identify the problem - but you need to know what you’re looking for. Then it’s a matter of training that new technique in various stages of motor learning and skill acquisition so it becomes your body’s default pattern.
So that’s my quick insight on the knee pain trends that I’ve seen - hopefully this can help anyone struggling to find the solution they’re looking for.
As always I am more than happy to answer questions or provide some more guidance if that doesn’t work for you - there are certainly outliers to this approach as well, but I’ll leave that for another post 🙂
Over the past decade I’ve worked with a broad range of clients of all different ages, with wide-ranging goals and starting points. While I can’t emphasize enough how everyone is completely different (and by the same token how two totally different people with different goals can respond to the same training approach), I’ve definitely seen some interesting patterns emerge.
Normally I see these trends in the “what you don’t know you don’t know” area of people’s lifestyle and training – simply because it’s not well understood or talked about in mainstream media. For people just getting started with a training goal or recovering from their first ever injury, the standard, popularized approaches to training and rehab tend to do a pretty good job at eliciting results.
But for those who have been training for a while or had a longstanding injury or health complaint, often the meat and potatoes of training and rehab options have been milked until they’re dry.
That’s a lot of analogies all at once, so what I’m really talking about is the principle of diminishing returns – that changes are harder to make when you’re already a trained athlete (or rehab-er). Partly there’s a physiological aspect to this, but I think there’s more than meets the eye to this phenomenon.
If you’re familiar with the concept of the Performance Pyramid (here’s my article if you’re not), then you know there’s always a reason why we reach a plateau or struggle to overcome a certain barrier. It’s not that our body is stupid and is being difficult – precisely the opposite. The body is always doing the best possible thing to deal with it’s current circumstances. This is a very important concept to grasp, as it opens up a world of possibility to work with the body instead of forcing it into submission (something you never win at for long).
The body is undeniably an expert at keeping you going, using whatever compensation strategy necessary to help you accomplish what you want to – it’s your friend, remember?
Unfortunately, the body is also pretty short-sighted and very trusting – it will do whatever it needs to to help you out right now, but expects that you’ll help it pick up the pieces later on. Rarely do we remember to do this (hint: Empowered Athletes know how to do this), and when we don’t, those short term compensations can develop into bigger issues or limitations.
When this is the case, adding more of what we’re already doing doesn’t serve the body in helping it regain balance and equilibrium – and so the body enters protection mode – it loses its trust in you. This is when the timeless wisdom of Einstein comes into play: “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. This is really what I believe is at the source of most of the diminishing returns that people are seeing. The body is an astoundingly complex, dynamic, sensitive creature, and can be asking for something totally different from one day, week, or month to the next.
Applying the same basic principles of diet and exercise that are widely discussed and understood leave certain gaping craters in personal health, wellness, and performance. Sometimes we need to take a quantum leap in understanding what might be the root cause (and therefore the solution) to whatever we’re dealing with.
One of the most important paradigms of intelligent training (and intelligent living) is to avoid the frustration that comes from banging your head against the wall, trying the same thing over and over. With the danger of this becoming an Einstein-heavy post, I think he’s worth quoting again here: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
So I would encourage you to frequently ask yourself – am I literally being insane right now?
If I’ve stretched this every day for the past month and it’s still tight, is stretching working?
If I’ve eaten the same diet and consistently have low energy, am I nourishing myself properly?
Or if I’ve been doing a workout and my body and performance isn’t transforming, am I making efficient use of my time in the gym?
Every day for the next 7 days I’m going to give a “what you might not know you don’t know” tip from my experiences with thousands of clients. These are some examples of the low-hanging fruit that can often create very quick transformations in health and performance, but that the majority of people who come to see me have never been exposed to.
I hope I can spark an “Aha!” moment or two, or at the very least an “ohhhh…what?”. Then I will have done my job.
I would love to hear people’s comments, questions, and experiences as I post – hopefully some of these concepts are getting more mainstream now and I’m going to be forced to move further outside the box to keep making drastic changes with my clients…that would be my utopia.
One thing I always felt as an athlete, and now hear from a lot of my clients, is confusion about all the types of popular fitness training out there – what’s good, what’s bad, what’s worth it, etc.
My answer is always (frustratingly, I’m sure): “it depends”.
One thing that the fitness and strength & conditioning world definitely has enough of is ego. There are a ton of people out there who will tell you in a heartbeat why their methods, their system, their approach is the best, and how everyone doing something else is wrong and stupid. This is red flag #1 – anyone offering advice or promoting a certain system who doesn’t respect other approaches in their own time and place has a closed mind and a limited amount to offer you.
Very fortunately, there are also a lot of coaches and trainers who have got their egos in check and are truly working for the benefit of their clients. These are the people who meet you where you’re at, picking the appropriate tools and systems that will help you, instead of putting you into the box that they’ve created. I’ve had the great fortune to learn from a number of these humble leaders, and I can now proudly say that I’m not a believer in any one system, but in a combination of systems and approaches that continue to offer efficient, lasting results.
This last bit about results is crucial – a system of training is only as good as the results it delivers for you. It doesn’t matter if thousands of others have improved their verticals, dropped pounds instantly, or radically transformed their bodies – what matters is what works for you.
So, admittedly the first part of this was a little bit of a rant because I’ve seen too many clients get tunnel vision for an approach that they love and start listening only to what others tell them works – forgetting that they, and ONLY they, are the experts on themselves.
Coming to comprehend yourself by frequently checking in and seeing what gets you results will tell you exactly where you need to be focusing your training.
To decipher what any type of fitness trend or workout system is going to deliver for you and whether or not it’s a good fit, start by checking back in with your goals. Every system is going to deliver some results in some aspect of your training, the important factor is to decide what you need to accomplish, and which system is the best tool for the job.
The Performance Pyramid – a way to categorize and understand a myriad of different training approaches
The organizing tool I frequently like to come back to is the Performance Pyramid. I find it an effective roadmap for deciding what aspect of your training can use some improvement. It’s worked for me and thousands of my clients, and I’ll keep using it until it stops getting results or someone can show me a more effective approach.
So first of all you need to check in with your basic health – how is your diet, hydration, digestion, sleep, mental state, stress, and relationships to family, friends, school, or your career. If you’re trying to use fitness or competition as a way to escape dealing with any of that your body will rebel until you’re forced to look at the issue at hand. However, if you’re aware of and willing to deal with whatever is in front of you and you want a type of training that will allow you to gain clarity, insight, reflection, and personal growth, then you get green lights across the board. So this type of training could involve yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, and endless other examples that will move energy in your body in a mindful, introspective way, allowing your emotions and thoughts to shift and transform. If you’re looking to start exercising for your health or are battling an injury or illness, this is a great place for you to start training.
Different types of yoga help on different levels of the Performance Pyramid
If you’ve checked in with your basic health and things are in order, you’re ready to look at your movement quality. Checking simple movements like a toe touch, a deep squat, the ability to fully rotate, reaching overhead, etc. will give you an indication of any weak links. If you feel pain or can’t continue to breath naturally in any of those positions, that is the place to focus first. Masterful coaches know that starting to deadlift without being able to touch your toes, running without being able to balance on one leg, or lifting heavy weights without being able to easily move your shoulders and hips through full range of motion will only result in injury and limited gains. As the Performance Pyramid shows, you want to gain your natural mobility as a foundation for developing really good stability and motor control. These two characteristics of movement are very interconnected though, so some of the most effective types of movement-based training will simultaneously develop mobility and stability, creating new ranges of motion with control that can be applied by your body right away. Again yoga shines as a way of improving both mobility and motor control, but the type of yoga matters. Slower paced hatha, Yin, and restorative type classes will help dive deeper into ranges of flexibility you may not have accessed in a while – but if you don’t seem to be making any physical progress (not to say there isn’t wonderful nervous system and spiritual progress being made) then your body may be craving more stability. In a sedentary population, this is more and more true – lots of people are tight, but stretching isn’t fixing it. A body that loses its ability to have proper muscle tone and activity will develop reflexive tightness to keep itself safe, to avoid going into positions that it can’t control and that may cause injury. So programs that promote lots of stretching or foam rolling are a great start, as long as stability and motor control are laid on right on top of that new range of motion.
Kettlebell training done properly is a great way to build full body stability through your entire range of motion – not to mention a fun way to gain strength and power!
How do you gain stability and motor control? Now you’re getting into the fun stuff – you’re back in the state you were in as a baby, rediscovering new movement patterns and feeling your body respond and transform. I can’t tell you how many times clients have come back after a movement-based session and are ecstatic that tying their shoes, taking out the trash, or turning around to look behind them in the car feels totally different.Here begins a very long continuum of training methods, as in my mind nearly every type of training should be helping to improve or maintain our control through full ranges of motion. The introductory and beginner levels of this type of movement training involves things like corrective exercises, Muscle Activation Techniques, neuro-developmental type patterns rolling and crawling around on the ground, and one of my personal favourites, MovNat – types of training that serve as a great warm up or movement prep for a more intense workout. From there you can quickly find great benefit in flow and skill-based movement and strength modalities like kettle bells, club bells, Indian clubs, gymnastics-style training, TRX suspension training, and calisthenics. These types of training serve a broad range of purposes and when applied masterfully by a talented coach can help develop mobility, stability/motor control, and even the components of the next level of the Pyramid – Capacity (strength, power, speed, endurance).
When your movement is dialled in, you’re ready to start looking at the “sexy” types of training that are super popular and make up the bulk of what people think of when they think “fitness”. Of course you can start these before your movement is perfect, but you’ll be limited in what you can do and at a higher risk of injury. A well designed program will introduce these types of capacity training gradually at low intensity, mastering the technique before going “balls to the wall”. The pinnacles of this type of training are things like Olympic Weightlifting, powerlifting, sprint and speed work, medicine ball training, bootcamps, any energy systems interval style workouts (think, work till you puke), CrossFit, battle ropes, P90X, anything with the word “extreme”, and the beautiful simplicity of just running, biking, or swimming faster and further and up steep things.
With strong fundamental movement patterns, Olympic Weightlifting is one of the most effective ways of generating superhuman strength and power without sacrificing movement quality.
If you have a specific sport or discipline in which you compete, you’re probably already doing quite a bit of training at the skill level – these are your technical practices. This is obviously a crucially important aspect of your performance all along the way, but what the Performance Pyramid shows is that you can only take your skill to the level that you’ve developed your foundation of health, movement, and capacity. Focusing only on skill and leaving the foundation on the sideline will get you an inverted pyramid which is a recipe for injury and crashing and burning.
So the next time that someone tells you about the “newest, greatest type of workout!” – look a bit deeper. What level of the performance pyramid is it developing? What is it missing?
From there you can compare the list of options to your specific training goals. Do you need mobility? Strength? Speed? Endurance? Match up a training style with what your body is asking for and you’ll find a highway to success. If you start (or stay) working in a discipline of training that isn’t in alignment with what your body needs, it will put up the roadblocks and red lights quicker than you can fall off of a stability ball doing single leg squats. Of course any of these training styles can be taught well, or taught poorly. So be picky about who you let coach you and guide your physical development – they should constantly be problem solving for you and offering solutions that work.
If you’re not sure where your low hanging fruit lies and what to focus on for the best results in your training, ask a coach, trainer, or therapist you know and trust, someone who has perspective on multiple training techniques.