Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why I? Loading for the Real - an Overview/Review Z-Health I-Phase

In life we have physical things that we do that we'd like to do better. It may be as complicated as getting a technique down for a wicked lick on a guitar or as simple as getting off the steep stairs of a bus with a little more grace. Our goals may be a little more serious: we'd like to move more smoothly, and perhaps take fewer falls when going for a run or even walking about the house. Z-health's i-phase approach provides a suite of strategies to help with these real life movement goals. Before we get into i-phase a bit of z-health context

In an overview i did of Z-Health, focusing on R-phase, i wrote about how Z-Health (Zed for short in this article) focuses on communicating with the nervous system, and why that's important for improved well being, whether that's getting out of pain, or moving better for daily life or an athletic pursuit. For a quick review, R-phase focuses on moving each joint in the body through its range of motion. It does this not just because moving joints about is good for the health of the joint, but because joints have a TON of two particular kinds of receptors in them: noci- (detecting noxious stimulus - not just pain) receptors and mechano- receptors (excellent article overviewing joint mechanoreceptor types).

The mechano's in the joints are in large part communicating about where that joint is in space, as well as how fast it's moving. The brain processes all the inputs coming in from these joints to create a microsecond by microsecond map of where we are in the environment. Help all the joints move through their whole range of motion, and at least two key things happen:
  1. more options to respond to the environment because there's more mobility;
  2. the brain gets a better picture or "map," as Z-Health founder Eric Cobb puts it,of where we are because more signals are firing;
Options. I need options! To expand point 1, remember that wild scene in the matrix (that was ten years ago oh my god) where Neo first dodges an agent's bullet? and how he bends way way back to do this? WHile speed is obviously important(talk about that when we talk about S-phase), being able to bend back the way he did, showing pretty good ROM, means that his nervous sysetem had more options to respond to the environment, and respond quickly - due to that mobility. Without that flexibility could he have gotten out of the way?

(ok you too may have wondered why he didn't just step aside, but heh, that means there were a few options rather than just one).

The pay off here is that the more ways we can move the more choices we have to avoid a crisis. The more we practice moving, the more we work our balance and visual system to connect to those movements, the better our coordinated responses, or reflexes have in a given situation. This range of options and heightened reflexes that comes from such agility/balance work has been shown to be an important component as a strategy for people at risk of hip fractures, for instance. Enhance the signals as to where one is in space, practice using them, we give the body more options to adapt and remain vertical, lessen the chance of a fall.

It's a Map - a Map of the World. Eric Cobb talks about what our bodies do in space as Navigation. "And navigation is an action." The better information coming in from the body about position in space, the better off we are. When joints can move, they're sending off more points of information.
Think about the "light bulbs" that people wear on motion capture rigs for computer graphics. Only a few points are needed around the major limbs to be applied to a model of a human form in order for the computer to integrate those points and model to render a pretty convincing motion (movie, 275kb). But look closely at the foot. How "mobile" does it seem in the model?

Thus, entire strips of sensors have to be used to map finer joint movements accurately, like those of the fingers (movie 2.6mg). Way more sensors to give finer detail of movement - but check out how well or not even here, the fingers unscrewing the cap are mirrored in the computer model of same.

In other words, a few points certainly give a general sense of movement, but more points of information are necessary to get a truer picture of the movement. And that's just for a computer trying to render a passable realistic sketch of a anthropomorphic character. My fave work in this space is Mike Chat's from Discovery's Extreme Martial Arts, and mapping the skeleton onto the form (check about a minute into the clip).

Very convincing approximation from gross motor movements.But notice that the light suit to get that degree of movement detail has many more points (the white dots on the skin suits in the image below)

It's these multiple points of information of course that feed into why Zed heads talk about freeing your feet, getting out of non-bendable, twistable, overly squishy shoes: their "support" stops your joints from moving as they're designed, and hence lessens the signal back to the body about the foot's location in space.

It's no wonder that so many runners get sprained ankles: the shoe wear designed to "support" their foot deadens its natural ability to communicate, hobbling the body's ability to respond and get it out of trouble. R-phase therefore is about openning up all the communication channels of the joints to enable a better map, better signal to noise ratio for letting the body respond to the envirnoment. I-phase is training the body to put that new information to work.

Building on the Information Flow: Putting the Map to Work

Eric Cobb talks about R-Phase as learning the vocabulary of movement; IPhase is getting into the grammar - building sentences. What does that mean, practically?

In R-Phase, by learning the drills that move each joint of the body through its range of motion (with the exception of the sutures in the skull - that's T-Phase), we learn about those ranges of motion. Speaking for myself, i started unable to move my thoracic spine in any meaningful, mobile way. Thought it was impossible for me. Turns out not. Lots of practice, et voila: thoracic circles like no one's business. Standing still.

So R-Phase we learn how to move these joints to send off that information with very little load on the joints themselves. Great for learning, and teaching the body to create new patterns of movement. The benefits of this practice alone are legion. I could write idyls of joy to how much R-Phase (with a little T mixed in) has helped my back. Likewise, in working with clients, R-phase drills have wrought out and out remarkable benefits for many clients, helping them either into better performance or out of pain or both.

Once that practice/knowledge is in place to perform perfectly in "neutral" posture and load, I-phase adds load. With lunges. And foot positions. A simple pelvic circle in neutral stance suddenly has a plethora of combinations from 6 lunge positions and 3 foot positions for each of 2 feet. Nice.

Train for the Sprain; the Kobioshi Maru of Movement
So why add all these positions to a given neutral stance posture? Cobb argues that this puts the body in positions that are closer to real life. Get used to working in these postures (80% load on the front leg, feet neutral; shift to 80% load on the back leg, feet turned out), the body is more ready to respond to unusual circumstances, ie, life. This is the magic of practice, or the learning effect of making reaction reflexive rather than cognitive.

We see this practice effect all the time. One of the greatest examples of it was in the early Space program, where astronauts rehearsed and rehearsed multiple variations of space maneuvers in the earliest simulators in order to have that vocabulary of options at their finger tips, but in order to be able to call on them in a variety of less than optimal conditions. Like going for a run on a muddy chip trail (in vibram fivefingers of course. no stupid squishy trail shoes that kill the proprioception here) and starting to slide, but being able to recover.

There is no Spoon: I-Phase as a Template
Another aspect of I-phase work is that "it's a template." Unlike R-Phase, while the I-Phase and Neural WarmUp II DVDs take one through a variety of combinations of the I-Phase movements, and while they introduce some moves not in R-Phase at all (like the powerful peg board drill), the DVDs are by no means exhaustive. Right elbow circles in a left lateral lunge with neutral foot position are demonstrated. But all the other lunge positions and foot positions are available, too.

To add even more dimensions, head and eye positions can also be part of the mix. How about practicing the elbow circles with a left anterior lunge, head titled left, eyes looking right (up). Sounds like a slightly wacky combination until perhaps looking at the picture on the right.

By following the guidance in the I-phase manual on how to learn and practice these loaded positions, one is not only working mobility, but adding strength/muscle work. The advantages are the same as in R-phase: signal is increased.

Adaptation for the Unexpected or the Fairly Usual.
If you've ever tried to hold a position that's new, you may feel your muscles shaking. That's a neurological adaptation happening: you may be entirely strong enough to hold the move but the muscles/nervous system are figuring out optimal firing patterns to adapt the muscles to that move. There can be quite a bit of initial shake in I-phase. But as the positions become practiced, neural paths are developed to get used to these positions.

What happens at the same time is again, more signaling information is brought to the body's central processor; better mapping happens. The muscles, like the joints have tons of mechanoreceptors too telling the body about limb position and the stretch position of the muscles. The more patterns practiced, the more the brain gets used to those new positions, the better it can navigate by putting just the right resources there (no more shaking) and having more available for elsewhere. Go from clutz in learning a move to grace in practice of a move; from conscious effort to unconscious response.

Faster Learning?
Another benefit to the I-Phase template approach is enhancing the rapidity of being able to learn new moves/adapt to new situations. Cobb talks about this kind of learning as that of the "natural athlete" - someone who has such unconscious body awareness that they can readily move their bodies into the forms demanded of that work. With I-phase practice in its varied positions, the body habits of natural athleticism can be learned.

One might protest, but i am a desk jockey, not an athlete.


If one has to walk stairs, open a car door in a rainy oil slicked parking lot, shovel snow or sweep a floor, reach for something rolled under the couch, stay vertical on a moving British bus, then one needs these I-phase teachable athletic skills for simple survival (especially in the case of the British bus. sheesh!).

I've personally noticed that my reflexes have improved without consciously working on them - when i can catch a bottle that's coming off the counter towards the floor, grab my hat 2 feet in front of me as the wind's whipped it off my head, or beat my cousin at a video driving game without ever having played the game, something's funny here. Especially when my previous image of myself was always of the person who was lucky if the lid to the jam landed sticky side up.

So when do I do I?
Some folks ask "when should i do I-phase?" I've also heard some people say, after a year or more of focusing on R, "i'm not ready for I; i still haven't mastered R."

My view? based on my experience and working with folks? Really being grounded in R is a very good idea. Doing the 12 week program that's in R-Phase to learn R-Phase is a very good idea. I worked on R-phase for about 6 months before really getting into I. I also did the R phase certification 3 months into that cycle, so i got a lot of attention on how to do R properly (get a coach; it's worth it). This is not to say all that time was necessary; it's just what i did. Your mileage may vary, as a colleague says. What i would say is if and as you've been practicing R-phase, do connect with a Z-health coach to check your form. As with anything, getting the form right makes huge difference in performance/experience. Those simple toe pulls go from "oh ya, ok" to "ahhh. wow" when you really get 'em. And that's what you want every time.

That said, R-phase is not a martial art; it's not yoga. It's learning how to hit particular targets cleanly and effectively to recover function and "clear the map." While one can do R forever fruitfully, getting into I, as i hope has been shown above, is doing your body a favour to take that knowledge and get into some Astronaut Training Time. That is, I-Phase's addition of load and position challenge is prepping the body for Life; it's the simulator to train for the sprain. My opinion? based on my experience and working with folks? If you've been doing R for awhile, have gone through the 12 week programs, have met with a coach to optimize your target hitting, you owe it to your body to get into I-phase.

We can Work it Out
And if you'd like to work with me on some of that Zed mojo, either in person or online (yes that too is possible), please feel free to contact me. My email's in my profile, and there's some feedback here, mainly from other trainers with whom i've had the pleasure to work. Otherwise, hope you'll check out the I-phase Neural /WarmUpII package. As with R-Phase, the I-Phase DVD goes through the suite of I-phase Drills in some of the lunge/foot combinations. The Neural Warm Up II is a power boost subset version of I drills and is more of a work out. It also has several new (and intense) super chargers, body openers and eye drills.

Later, let's talk about S, too?

(update 1: review of S-Phase DVD, the Complete Athlete, vol.1, posted)


Almost Barefoot Richard said...

Great article as ever mc. Really getting interested in this whole Z thing! Time to focus in on my R phase stuff and then look to get going with I!!

As before if i can get back to old SOT i will definitely look you up for some training.


mc said...

thank you ABR

With I there's a really nice phasing in I plan, so you're not switching off R to turn on I; it's a transition; it's a template; it's only a spoon when you need a spoon :)


L. Wu said...

Have you ever thought about Z as a kind of Westernized "internal" / soft (rather than external / hard) martial art? That's what sort of makes sense to me, though I have yet to work directly with Dr. Cobb, just with folks who have trained with him (Rif / others at the SJ RKC).

PS I showed my VFFs to Ed Chi at SIGMOD the other day and he mentioned you :)


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