Friday, December 31, 2010

We Can Do It - The House Hold Objects of Health

The best part of a hotel room for working out - at least my favorite item? The ottoman.  Yes the humble foot rest. Why? Leg work; butt work and DOMS to go.

pistol about mid way down
To be more particular, i'm talking the ottoman meets the single leg squat, aka the pistol. The pistol move is where one puts out one leg in front and - in the complete move - drops down to a full squat and stands back up again. This is an awesome move. But unless one is steve cotter, doing 50 of these may be a bit of a stretch.

Enter the ottoman. It makes pistols accessible, practicable and fun. Here's how. One can sit down with the leg extended, butt right to the middle of the ottoman and rest, and then stand up on the one leg. One can also just use the edge of the ottoman to touch down as lightly as possible - using it more as a safety stop than a rest - and come back up again.

As for set styles, one can do right leg then left leg for say ten total in a set. Or five and five (or two and two).  Rest and repeat.

Full butt on seat - but can go
just to the edge, too
A lovely Move. There are some really nice bits to this movement: knowing that the ottoman is there to limit the range of motion and to act as a catch enables one to practice control of the descent - we can work on going super slow or faster. We can go down with both feet on the ground. Sit, and come up on one leg.

Butt and Quads A very nice thing about this move is that the position works the butt and the quads in particular - but it also hits the all important core to keep oneself steady while moving down and then up.

Next couple posts we'll look at How the ottoman pistol works those muscle groups. In the meantime, to all those hotel warriors out there, happy new year's eve, and let me know if you give this move a go.

Follow up, Part 1: how the thighs (quads) work in the pistol.
Follow up, part 2: how the glutes (butt) work in the pistol
Follow up part 3: how the ankles work in the pistol

best for 2011.


if you'd like to learn more about the Pistol, lots of great places:
- beast skills site
- Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior
- Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol

Friday, December 24, 2010

When Free really means "trade ya; won't tell ya"

At this festive season, we know marketing tries to hit new heights to entice sales. There's one technique that has begun to grate. It's the promise of "free" that doesn't really mean free. Has this happened to you? You're sent a link to something that sounds super helpful; it claims to be free, but then here's what happens:

first step: - an email address is requested Hmm.  Why do i need to provide this email address? We are now moving out of the world of free and engaging in an exchange, are we not?

Second step: confirmation. It turns out giving an any email address is not sufficient - i must confirm the email address by clicking a magic link in an email, and then a link to the promised free material will be provided.
Why not just give me the "free" link?
Ah! there's something tied to the email address - a desire to use it?

Third step: mailing list . finally becomes apparent when the link is sent that one is really subscribing to an email list to get more mailings and "offers" from this person.

Is this exchange actually as promised, free? Well, no, it's not: it's a trade. The currency is my email address and willingness to be on an email list before i get the goods.

Of course (presumably)  i can "unsubscribe" from the list, but these terms aren't shared because we're not actually told that we're signing up for an email list. but have you tried to do this with any companies whose mailing lists you seem to be on? Some lists seem never to want to let go despite how much time one takes to go through the process.

But i stray from the point. What gals me is that FREE doesn't mean free. When i go to the store and am offered a "free" sample, it's given to me as an actually FREE sample - no strings attached. When i go to someone's web site, and i get information, that's FREE - no strings attached.  That's free.

What most of these mailings are about is not free, but is about a trade: my email (and subscription) in exchange for the item. My time to conclude this exchange for the item.

What also bugs me is the lack of transparency in these exchanges: the page that claims FREE STUFF does not say " once i get your email, you can have this thing." That's only a state one infers many clicks in that one finds out what's going on, and sometimes not until the mail starts pouring in after the fact.  And so how evaluate if this exchange (not free give away) is fair value? is worth the price?

There are alternatives. Why not simply make it clear that the vendors are keen to trade what they have on offer in exchange for a confirmed email address & free subscription to said vendor's mailing list? That seems both more honest and more engaging? The terms and conditions as it were?

Isn't this what reputable businesses do? I was fascinated recently by an "affiliate marketing" product (and yup this is an affiliate link) recently that went through long pages of detail about what's in the product, how it works and also went into human-readable detail about what this product would NOT do -  so that if you still wanted to get the product after that - fair warning. That was amazing.

Aside. Indeed, if you're interested in marketing at all - as a discipline and a demonstration of psychology and have some time, i'd encourage you just to move through this thing - it's Dan Brock's Super Deadbeat affiliate how to program/course thing 

All i can tell you right now is that i've bought it; i'm fascinated by the material and presentation, and look forward to some time in the first quarter of the new year to have a go with it. It's not free BUT i got as said more than enough information from the overview to make a decision about spending 29 bucks on the potential to get a return on that investment and maybe a bit more.

I can also say that from a brief look through the actual course/material, just as the warnings for the product claim, while the couase makes the steps easy to follow, it does take some attention to detail to have a good go. One may only spend an hour in the office with this, but it's going ot be a *very focused hour*
Ok, that's a for sale example. Another example of free stuff has got to be Brad Pilon's site on Eat Stop Eat - lots of value in the information posts about eating and working out. And yes, Pilon has stuff to sell, but you can get a ton from the web site. I'm happy to buy his stuff as a sign of gratitude for all the free stuff.

I go on and on about precision nutrition: it's 40 page overview book IS free: click the link. Ta da. download. Do they still sell product? Yes.

Now, i'm not going to blame these folks for bait and switch who use the term Free when they mean Trade. THere's a ton of marketing guidance that seems to suggest that this is exactly the way to sell stuff online. Promise FREE as a way to get a name on a mailing list, and build clients from there.  It seems that's become so common, we may even no longer expect "free" to mean "free" - it's more like "free, wink wink nudge nudge"

Me, all i'm saying is that that's not what Free means, and i'm sick of it. And perhaps folks who think they do well with their fake free may even do better with real trade. And wouldn't that be a wonderful gift for the holiday season.

All the best,

Related Links

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Drinkulator: fast liver risk test for alcohol consumption this festive season.

Did you know that our solid organs don't have pain sensors? So our liver and kidneys in particular can't tell us they're in distress in the same way a strained shoulder can. No direct pain cry. This lack of direct pain signalling is part of why we often don't catch liver and kidney diseases at an effectively early stage, unless they're caught indirectly.

One of the indirect ways to check our liver function is related to drinking. How's your drinking level liver health? Turns out this correlates rather strongly to liver disease risk - a surprisingly high killer - the only one going up still year on year (at least in britain)

Whether it's an evening tipple or a weekend head banger, alcohol does different things to us at different times and at different ages (one advantage to aging apparently is alcohol tolerance changing. Yes, up).

But there's also a lot of variables around what affects risks around alcohol consumption vs. tolerances. If we're not testing we're guessing. Would a liver check be a good idea? How would you know?

The great thing is, it's pretty straight ahead to check potential risk to see if you or a loved one may need to get a particular check.

Here's a fast and easy approach to a liver alcohol check colleagues over in Medicine developed that uses a simple traffic light evaluation: red get thee to your doctor; amber something to think about; green for good. It's called the Drinkulator. See where you're at. You may be happily surprised. It may also be another health link, too, to share with your pals this festive season.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fat don't make us fat - surprise, eh?

Do you see ads saying "fat free" or "fat reduced"? or read articles saying that fat is bad, especially if trying to lose weight?   Me too. Thing is, such approaches are sort of a misleading. Main thing: eating fat doesn't make us fat; indeed fat is essential to our health. Indeed, a blend of different types of fats is critical. And, believe it or not, that blend of fats helps us burn our stored fat better. This post is meant as a quick overview of these points. Later we'll look at some strategies to make fat work better for us.

First things first: what's losing weight, anyway?
First up: when we talk about "losing weight" what most of us really want is to reduce the amount of stored fat - adipose tissue - we have. That's what it means to get lean: increase the ratio of lean tissue (muscle, bone - everything not fat) to fat.

When ads for weight loss programs talk about losing four pounds or more in one week, they are NOT talking about fat loss. They are usually talking about water. If we go on a diet that suddenly cuts out all our bread and pasta and rice - stuff that holds water - we'll drop weight pretty fast by dropping that water. Not the same as burning fat. It's harder to burn off excess fat than it is to drop water weight.  So let's stick with burning fat.

We'll look at why we call it "burning" another time, but it's about oxidizing, converting to fuel in the prescence of oxygen - as opposed to without oxygen, aerobic vs anaerobic.

Second, to lose weight, we have to take in less fuel than we use. Most of us get that food is fuel for the body. Everything we do - even thinking - takes energy. Energy requires fuel. We're designed to convert food into fuel for various processes, from, like said, thinking (electrical impulses in the brain), to digestion, to creating new tissue, to pumping our hearts, to moving our bodies.

IF we don't get enough fuel from food to run these processes, the body starts to cannibalise itself to get that energy. Generally speaking, it takes that fuel from stored fat (good), but under various conditions it will take it from muscle and other tissue like bone - even in the presence of fat - and that's not good.

Third, and this one relates to eating fat doesn't make us fat: we can really eat anything we want and lose weight. We could eat only butter and sugar and as long as we were in caloric deficit, we'd lose weight. We might feel like crap, because we wouldn't be getting the stuff we need like vitamins minerals protein etc from just eating butter and sugar, but we could do that as long as we're in caloric deficit.

What's caloric deficit? The energy it takes to burn food is measured in calories. We usually see these measures as kcals (a thousand calories). When we talk about dieting to lose weight, we  are really saying that calories in must be fewer than calories out. This is one of the laws of thermodynamics.
 When we are in caloric deficit, that means that we are not providing enough calories from our food to fuel our energy requirements that day.

Effect of Caloric Deficit.  When we don't take in enough calories to meet our energy requirements, the body starts that self-cannibalisation process. If the caloric deficit is not too great (above 60% of its requirements), the body will usually take that fuel from stored fat.

A The main thing to think of in losing weight is that we want to be in caloric deficit. Caloric deficit is achieved by nutrition/diet first and foremost and is assisted by exercise.

The main take away here, though, is that caloric deficit is not the same thing as saying "kill fat" from our diet. That would be bad. That's the next point.

Second, Fat is ESSENTIAL to every part of us. Fat is fantastic. Fat is fabulous. We need it to live. It's essential. It's everywhere in our bodies and it's wonderful. Love and respect the fat, as i've said here before. It is an AWESOMELY wonderful insulator, source of energy, protector of our cells. Our body can when needed fabricate fat into a variety of forms of fuel that different parts of our body need for energy that we usually get from different food stuffs. It's super versatile. This versatility is a big part of b2d friend Mike T Nelson's PhD work, and is properly described as "metabolic flexibility."

Types of Fat in Food. So now that we know fat is a good, important and essential thing, the other really really important thing about fat in food is that there are different types of fat, and these different types of fat are critical for different processes in the body.

We've all likely heard now about Omega 3's and Omega 6's. Well, turns out that we need a balance of these types of fats. They are *essential* - meaning we need them and the body can't synthesize them (unlike omega 9's which it can - from 3's and 6's).

Why essential? Fat types are really critical (i'm using really alot aren't i? that's because of how important stuff is) for inflammation. When we get hurt, we really really want our body to send Good Stuff to the injury to help protect it and to help it heal. That's a big job with Omega 6's - stuff we get from the main types of fats in meats. But also, we want inflammation to clear out effectively when its job is done, not keep going "eek, danger will robinson" - that's where Omega 3's come in as discussed in detail with RD Georgie Fear here at b2d. Main thing where we see omega 3's is they help reduce inflammation.

Balance 2:1 of the essentials.
With essential fats - the omega 3's and 6's - what we're striving to achieve in our diet is a 2:1 ratio of omega 6's to omega 3's. Western diets are anywhere typically from 6:1 to 20:1.  In other words, the goal is to significantly up the amount of 3's and cut the 6's. Getting to this ratio usually means two things: (1) reducing meat intake down from a couple times a day to a couple times a week (2) increasing veggies (especially greens like spinach and brocoli) and legumes to more like each meal, and supplementing with something like algae oil or fish oil.

Aside: Other ways to describe fats: saturated or unsaturated fats
A popular way to describe fats is also weirdly chemical: saturated, mono unsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Such descriptions have to do with the state of hydrogen present or not to go along with their mainly carbon structures. So what? one might say.  Indeed. Two quick notes on how to id these types of fats: naturally saturated fats go solid, like butter and animal fat (lard). Unsaturated fats stay liquid (more here at wisegeek). The fear of too much saturated fat in the diet is that it happily clomps up with itself, and doing this in the blood stream is not a good idea. Unsaturated fats have less tendency this way. Unsaturated fats for example are veggie oils.

The so called evil trans fats are where plant oils have hydrogen forced into them to make them solidify. So they have the effect of a saturated fat while being as cheap as plant oils. If you're thinking er, does that mean margarine is a transfat? you'd be right. It's a really cruddy transfat too because unless stated otherwise, the source of the original oil can be pretty poor.
The important thing about a mix of fat types - saturated and unsaturated - is sorta close to omega types: it's not about cutting them out (though trans fats are rather evil because they're often not real foods but largely crap); it's getting the ratio right. We could get into a whole conversation about cholesterol and HDL and LDL (why most folks pillory saturated fats)- there, too, it's about ratios - not that LDL is bad and HDL is good. Again, as with omega's, the guidance is kinda the same: eat less meat/dairy; up the plants and fish or algae. Please note i have not said saturated fats are evil. Best evidence seems to suggest best path is about ratios. About - surprise surprise - balance.
Update on transfats: talking with an expert clinician in obesity about transfats today, he made the point that the UK really doesn't technically have transfats having worked with industry and govn't to keep them out. We still have hydrogenated fats - like margarine - but the molecules are not technically what constitute a trans fat. I'm still not sure i grok the difference, and it may be a fairly nice distinction. I asked, but whatever, at best, that still creates these hydrogen-forced fats to behave like saturated fats, yes? The answer was yes. So, again, we want to reduce these in our diet in order to get the omega ratios into 2:1 harmony. He also said that in the view of himself and many colleagues that most dietary fat should come from monounsaturated sources once omega 3 ratios to 6's were fixed. Monounsaturated fats are nuts and seeds and plant oils and avacados. So again, less meat/dairy; more plants.
Fat as Fuel On the plus side as well, fat is our main fuel source. Just to breath - every breath we take - we're using up fat. When we're sleeping, we're burning fat.  When we're working up to a pretty high heart rate, in other words when exercising, we're burning fat.  When we're typing, we're mainly burning fat. Without fat to burn, and in the absence of food, we'd be burning up stuff we don't want to burn - like muscle and bone. 

Fat as Fat Burner There is even work to show that the ingestion of certain kinds of fats - like omega 3's in fish oil or fats like CLA's found in beef - actually help mobilize our stored (adipose) fat so they can be burned off more readily.

Fat as Replacement Fuel Likewise there are entire diet approaches - known alterternately as either protein sparing or ketogenic - that get the body to burn fat for what the body usually requires from carbohydrates. Now that's not a lot, really, but it's something. And when already in caloric deficit, it can be a *short term* kick start for fat burning in a decent diet. Not great necessarily forever, since we do prefer different nutrients for different jobs our bod does, for instance, like preferring carbs for exercise. We'll go into why another time.

So given this wonderfulness, why does fat have this bad rap as the nutrient to kill? Why does the government and the various process food producers get that fat free is a big diet win? Perhaps the former is ill informed and the latter is evil? Let's take a quick look, and you decide.

Some Food Energy Facts - Many diet approaches are focused initially on counting calories. Or more properly, trying to count calories, since calories assigned to foods are notoriously inaccurate. It also forgets about the roles of this nutrient. When folks focus exclusively on calories and they want to cut calories,  though, fat looks like an awesome candidate to cull: fat has "more calories" than anything else. Anything else what?

We're pretty familiar with the notion that there are three big groups of foods: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Of these, yes, fat, has the highest caloric density of any other food nutrient. What does that mean? If we put the same weight of these types of material on a scale - if we could get just pure fat, pure carbs, and pure protein, for that same weight, fat would produce more energy. In fact pretty much double the other nutrients
  • In one gram of carbs, 4kcals; 
  • one gram of protein, 4kclas, 
  • one gram of alcohol, 5kcals and 
  • one gram of fat, 9kcals. 
What do we mean by more energy? It takes more energy in what's called a bomb calorimeter to burn up all the fat than anything else.  Just looking at the numbers, sure makes fat look heavy duty: more than double the calories of carbs or protein. That must be bad then right?

Well, yes and no, really. And mostly no. Remember that caloric deficit is the big win for fat loss. Similarly, if we are in the opposite state, caloric surplus, we gain weight. Any material we ingest that doesn't get used for tissue building or related, or wasted as not usable once the useful stuff is removed - that stuff gets repackaged into fat storage.

Too Much of a Good Thing - or Anything
In other words ANY excess nutrient will be converted into fat as our potential energy store, whether that nutrient is carb, protein or fat.

From a real transformation post
And really, in our diets the biggest thing most of us do to excess is not fat, but processed foods like breads, pasta, pizza, stuff with sugar in it. These kinds of foods are nutrient light and calorically dense - high cal; low nutrient value.  I did a piece awhile ago about how important protein is, for instance, because while fat is the wrapper for most of the squishy stuff in our body, protein is often what that fat is covering. There's no protein in coke. There's also no fat. But one can get quite fat from od'ing on coke-a-cola. Calorically dense; nutritionally light. Bad combo.

So to sum up:
  • fat doesn't make us fat; caloric surplus makes us fat
  • fat is essential for our survival
  • no whole food based real fat is evil; it's the ratios of fat types that are important (eat less meat more plants and algae oil/fish oil)
  • transfat is an abomination - or at least a horrible adulteration of real nutrient rich fats
  • eat less of everything, but mostly reduce meats up plants. 
    Oh - quick note - if you see something like yogurt or mayonaise claiming to be fat free, check what else has been put into it to give it texture. Sometimes the list is downright gross.

      A note on complexity. Others argue differently than the suggested less meat/more plants and algae/fish oils as i've put it above. Some folks do suggest why not just up your saturated fats? And that's ok to explore for sure - but here's the thing - as some of you know who read b2d, i'm not a single factor person. I've said over and over we're complex systems, and complex systems require responses that are sensitive to complexity.  This post is introductory; not definitive, and the evidence on how to support complexity is getting better and more subtle all the time.
    In this space, i've become a fan of late of TEST OURSELVES - and so have ordered a HUGE blood/chemistry workup from Bioletics so i can check what's working for me - or what needs tuning, including my essential fatty acids.  I'll come back to that in the new year.  The goal here, tho, is to expose what's know about simple facts of fat as per the breakdown above, and hope you can put that information to good use - even if that means using is just as a stepping off point to ask more questions. Best on your journey.

    And All the best on this holiday feasting season. Love the fat.

    Related Link

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Improving the Squat: Reduce the threat (squat position part 2)

    Yesterday i just asked about how folks were doing with their squat position - just getting into and achieving a squat. The posts at facebook and here suggested that most folks of a healthy bent kinda think of the squat as the Big Squat - going up and down - rather than just sitting in a squat position. That's ok. The same principles apply. But right now, just being happy in a bodyweight squat position is a first start especially for folks just approaching health and fitness anew. So in this post we're gonna look at one of the higher order ways to approach a better squat: reduce the threat.

    And please, once again, let me invite comments from readers to speak about your own squatting-as-sitting experience (or related squat efforts) to help shape this mini series.

    Reduce Threat; enable movement
    The story goes that the reason a lot of us are challenged with our squat is that we spend too much time sitting and this does all sorts of things to our tendons from tightening them to shortening them to weakening them.

    Any of that may be true. But then again, maybe not. Hard to say, really *why* something happens in the body, as in really, is a muscle physiologically shorter than it needs to be to achieve this position? Or is it fine, it's just tense? or weak? or something else?

    One of the things we talk about in nervous system work in z-health in particular is that the nervous system is designed to respond to one state: threat/no threat. If there's threat, we get survival mode responses which means performance for anything not related to survival gets shut down. Less threat; better performance.

    Let's think about this for a sec with respect to the squat if it's a challenge.

    Strength: The squat requires a certain amount of strength to let us get down under control and back up under control. If our nervous system is wired for our survival, and it has some doubt about our capacity to get back up from being down, why would it let us get into a self-compromised position?

    Mobility: the squat requires a certain amount of flexibility around the joints: the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis all have to be able to move in a rather coordinated way. Note i said mobility, not stability and not flexibility - more on these distinctions here.

    Balance: when a bunch of joints are moving together that requires some balance work to be involved. Balance, maintaining it, is a constant dance between proprioception (where we are in space and how fast a limb is moving), vestibular information - that inner ear organ set that's telling the body if it's upright and how to correct to stay upright - and vision. Vision is our biggest input to the nervous system to keep us oriented against gravity. There are a ton of reflexes just in the back of the neck related to the eyes to keep us upright (wild, isn't it?). So the eyes and the inner ear are working together like mad all the time, along with info from nerves around the muscles and joints to coordinate where we are.  Balance is a big deal

    Familiarity: The squat may be a natural movement, but if we haven't been doing it since we were little, then, it's a lot to expect that it's going to still feel natural - as opposed to uncomfortable. We're plastic people - every part of us from our skin to our brains adapts to what we do regularly. And if squatting isn't part of our movement, then that adaptation will not be a big deal for our brains. It needs to be reintroduced as a skill - just like any other skill.

    And just like any other skill, if we try to do it and we don't feel super comfortable, that action itself can induce stress - which again privileges survival not performance; protection not openness. If we start breathing more shallowly as we descend into the squat, that's not a great thing for telling our bod we feel safe and happy doing this movement.

    Challenge anywhere affects everywhere: arthrokinetic reflex
    We've seen this before at b2d - how a joint jammed somewhere can affect performance elsewhere - we saw how cranking the head back so the neck joints were squished resulted in a weaker hamstring test, and as soon as the neck went to a neutral position, the hamstrings tested stronger again. There a physiological challenge at one point in the body which compromises performance affected performance elsewhere in the body.

    Given the above list of just four issues that feed into a large movement like the squat, i hope it's possible to see how a challenged squat may have more than any one single factor feeding into it.
    In other words, if there's a bit of a challenge in our ankles or pelvis mobility, if there's a bit of weakness in our thighs, or if we haven't been doing squats in a long time, or if perhaps we may have even a slight vision or balance issue, maybe that big drop down to the ground is going to be perceived by our nervous system as a threat - and for our own protection we're just not going to go there.

    Dialing in Threat Reduction - one system at a time
    The job of a movement assessment is to check in on these factors - have actual tests for them - and be able provide ways to deal with these factors quickly. That's an option i like cuz it's personal, fast and efficient. (Why i'm having a holiday sale for online assessments, too: see link upper right corner of page)

    But since we're not looking at each other face to face right now, let's take this one step at a time.

    Preflight Check: how's your squat right now?
    • By all means, check how far you can go down to sitting into a squat. 
    With that check in mind, let's try a few light drills and recheck

    Proprioceptive Assist:
    •  if you have shoes and socks on, if you can take them off, by all means, do. 
    • rock back and forth on your bare feet. bounce on the heels a bit. roll up to the toes if that feels safe. do this a few times.
    • bend over on your ankle - stay standing up straight while you do this - grab a table or chair if that helps you feel more upright - little movements is all you're looking for here while keeping your body nice and tall and relaxed. 
    • breath in, pause, breath out for longer than you breathed in - go for twice as long out if you can staying relaxed.
    • now, try your squat again and see if either you got deeper or it felt smoother
    • let me know in the comments
    Balance/Proprioceptive/Strength Assist
    Whether you need to do this next one or not, please try it to have the comparison.
    • After doing the above drills and re-test of your squat, 
    • find a door way with edges you can hang onto or a pole you can hang onto or a bannister and now letting your body feel that you're taking some of the load with your arms (that's important),
    • breath in, pause, breath out slowly
    • let yourself down into the squat, and come back up.
    • only go to where you feel comfy going - this is all to be stress free.
    • did you get any deeper? did that feel any easier?
    • let me know, please, here in the comments.
    Visual Support: near far jumps
    Vision is a mental process. It's cognitive. We have to take in info from a lens in our eye and blend it with info from the other eye, flip it so it's upside right and then interpret what the heck it means. That's work. Practicing vision, and so reducing the load, can often open up performance.
    Near Far Jumps. Here's a quicky exercise i've written about before with a zhealth video called near far jumps, of focusing close then switching focus to look far - so the eyes have to work at re-focusing and doing that as fast as possible.
    Eye Position. Another one? look down while going down; up while going up. Eye position triggers those postural reflexes that helps movement.
    Try that, and retry your squat. Let me know
    Results? Individual
    That's a really itty bitty bunch of stuff to try, isn't it? The thing is, if our bods are perceiving threat, sometimes that's all it takes: a little thing to us can be a big thing to the nervous system to help it move out of survival "must protect" mode, and letting us take the breaks off.

    If any of the above helped a bit, or better than a bit, that's great. You might also find that one thing helped and another thing may have seemingly made the squat worse - that's all valuable information.

    None of the above is getting into strength or flexibility particularly - it's getting into opening up some nervous system channels to help reduce threat perception to the body.  This experience of getting further or feeling smoother, or for that matter something feeling worse, i hope, shows that there's a lot going on perceptually within us, and that we respond very quickly to information shifts in that system.

    This rapid response to shifting stimulus also shows us why we need to test something right away so see what affect it's having because the effect IS so immediate.

    If none of these drills seemed to  help, that's information too, and i'd like to hear from you about what you noticed or didn't notice after either any of these drills individually or putting them together.  That suggests that there's something else we haven't hit on yet that may be keeping your body from feeling safe to take the next step.

    Complex Systems. To state the obvious, the variety of responses to these protocols also shows that we're really individual. What flips the switch for one person - even someone who seems so similar to another person - may be entirely different for that other person. We are COMPLEX systems - tons and tons of things are intertwining. It's this complexity that keeps me from saying "if you can't squat you just need to do X and you'll be fine" - if i hear someone say "just stretch" one more time, well, i'll get over it. Never mind me.

    Ok, that's it for today.

    I hope to hear from you - or your questions - so in the next couple days we can move towards a path for YOU that will help your squat. Love yourself today as you practice.


    Related Links

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Can you Squat? - that may be worth fixing - part 1

    Yesterday we looked at how one can start "working out" simply by putting in some quality cycles on breathing, with particular attention to breathing from the belly rathe than the chest, breathing through the nose, not the mouth, and getting exhalations from time to time to be double the time for inhalation - working up to breathing out for 50-60 seconds.

    you basic squat
    Today the question is: how's your squat? What i mean by squat is the "squat position" just sitting comfortably in with one's feet on the floor and one's butt down to the ground. Is it possible to squat down like this without falling back on le butt?

    This position is well known globally as how quite a lot of the population supposedly sits - for just about anything requiring sitting. The position is lauded as better than a chair because of the way it affects nerves and in particular our guts so they can do what they're designed to do without be squished up by us hunching up in a chair.

    Indeed, the squat has been given pride of place in various movement systems. Paul Chek lists is as one of the 6 "primal patterns." Gray Cook uses the overhead squat as the first movement and greatest validation of progress in the functional movement screen. 

    The squat has also been pretty reified in "real gyms" as part of the powerlifting and strength scene and as a beautiful all-round strength move as illustrated here in Mark Rippetoe's excellent Starting Strength.

    Intriguingly an awful lot of the men i work with in particular have a hard time with the squat, with getting their butt down and staying stable.

    There can be many many things going on to make the humble squat a challenge. And there are lots of ways to help make it easier to access.

    The main question in this wee post is - how's your squat right now?

    Here's another quick question: if you're someone who's having a hard time getting down into the above illustrated squat position you might want to try this simple check: if you can grab onto a doorway or a banister or post - or something solid - can you let yourself down to the ground while hanging on?

    Why not check this out today and post some comments below about what's hard or easy in your own squat and - and tomorrow when i'm off this 10 hour flight - we'll get back together again about how to help make this core super fine movment part of a gift to yourself for this holiday season.


    Part 2: reduce threat; improve movement in the squat  is here


    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Are you breathing comfortably? fast tip for immediate performance improvement

    This post is about a fast simple cheap way to improve health and well being pretty much, yup, right this minute. Literally. Simply by tuning what we have to do and are doing right now. Yup it's breathing, every breath we take, where amazingly, less can be more, especially the right less. So when you hear your pals say they don't have time to workout - why not offer them these few tips? They will actually be improving a key marker in health and for that matter athletic performance.

    What this post proposes is a quick series of exercises that we can do any time of day, pretty much anywhere. Once or twice a day, no more than a few minutes a go (and that's remarkably few breaths) research/practice shows, such deliberate breathing is a fabulous stress buster, may help reduce asthma symptoms, balance blood pressure, enhance sleep, digestion, energy - all this before. By deliberate breathing we mean we pay attention to it.

    So let's take a look.

    How's your breathing right now? 
    Fast check - when you inhale right now, is your chest moving our your belly? Here's another fast check: is your mouth ever partially opened or closed? This next one needs a timing device - how many in and out breath sets do you have in a minute when sitting still?

    Now, why should you care about any of these questions?

    Quick facts: how we breath has a tremendous effect, especially, on whether the body thinks we're stressed or not. We literally perform better when we breath better. This isn't hard to imagine: if we can't breath we die; if we have strange breathing - like hyperventilating (too much breathing) that's a pretty good way to say that our system is in distress, and is going to be concerned about survival rather than performance.

    Better breathing - fewer, slower, deeper - helps redress not only hormonal levels that signal stress (or not) that get triggered by stress breathing (hyperventilating again) but also manages our pH balance which can also signal stress and is hugely important for cuing up the state of the body - too acidic; too alkaline. Indeed, any of us who have gotten nauseous when overdoing exercise are experiencing the effects of imbalanced pH levels.

    Without going into the gnarly bits of what's going on, here's a few things we can do at any point in the day that will help us feel better, sleep better, digest better - well almost anything better.

    If we're answering yes to any combination of chest moving, open mouth or greater than 20 sets a minute, we're ready for some practice.

    A Low Tech Breathing Practice Progression
    Moving Chest Breathing to Belly breathing: goal - regular breathing from the belly
     if you breath up in the chest, consciously think about breathing from the belly instead - simple practice - do it for five breaths, and then go back to your life. Any time you think about your breathing, just check: chest or belly? do a few belly breaths. As that become more frequently part of personal awareness, the more we'll be belly breathing

    Moving Mouth Breathing to Nasal Breathing 
    Nasal breathing is just breathing in and out through one's nose.  Sounds simple, but when combining nasal breathing with belly breathing it's is a powerful technique to help with stress, hyperventilation, and respiratory distress

    So as in the last exercise, getting to nasal breathing from mouth breathing is to do the work when you think about it: if you become aware of breathing through your mouth, practice a few breaths with a very deliberate focus "i'm breathing in through my nose i'm breathing out through my nose"

    Nasal breathing helps keep our co2/o2 levels balanced, and physically using the nose as designed for breathing means that we're filtering particulates out of the air that ain't going into us, the air also gets warmed which is less stressful for us to for performance.

    Nasal Breathing ++ (pursed lips exhalation)
    When the top two techniques feel more comfortable, try this on a daily basis and especially when feeling stressed. It's this: inhale normally, pause before exhalation, and then see how long you can breath out through pursed lips. A healthy person will get to 50-60secs of pursed lips exhalation.

    Now here's a cool thing: if you give yourself five minutes to focus on just this task, you will likely find that your exhalations go up significantly each exhalation.

    This latter practice in particular is a big big win: it will help reset the CO2 balance in the body. Doing this reduced breathing also is very relaxing and helps reset our hormonal/stress balance.

    Noting the Difference
    So it's very cool to put breathing awareness into our daily practice and watch how it affects sense of wellbeing in terms of sleep, rest, energy, digestion.  One of the practices colleagues and i have looked at it NOT to practice anything for a week and note how we feel about sleep, digestion, energy, and then give this practice a go for two weeks and track the difference - it's nice to see something's really having an effect.

    It's Cheap It's Easy It has a Fast Effect.
    One of the best things about breathing is that we have to do it all the time anyway, so it's awesome that doing so little in terms of deliberate practice (pay attention to how we breath a couple times a day and practice particular types of breathing a few minutes twice a day), we get such a big bang for the buck.

    Invitation: how's deliberate breathing going?
    Please give this a go, and as you do, please come back here and post your experiences over the coming weeks.

    Related Posts

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    unhealthy interest addenda: it's not about the gold standard; it's first about interest

    Yesterday i wrote up a wee post about what i'd learned about the creation of money as always being the creation of debt  in our monetary system. This fact isn't something promoted when we visit the Bank of England and go heft the gold bar (made in germany) that's on display. That fact is that money in our current international monetary system is always already debt. That the creation of a dollar is at first the creation of a debt. As such, the goal of ever paying off debt with money that is always debt first, is impossible.

    In the wee bit of notes i've seen about this post, several folks have argued our problems all come from being off the gold standard. If we could only create as much money as we have some resource to back it, then money would be limited to actual SOMETHING, right? and so we couldn't spiral into unending debt, right?

    Let's look at that.

    it's not about the Gold Standard - it's about interest (of debt)
    A few things seem to be missing in this argument - about the race that will always be on to keep plundering the earth of more gold; that value can be in other things that have real worth (unlike gold that's just shiny) - such as infrastructure from education to roads; that a fractional reserve system is questionable and that pulling the plug on interest that can just be used to create more interest rather than spent (or just killing interest) could pretty much solve this mess.

    actual goods growth (green) cannot keep up with the exponential curve of debt (red)
    To review a couple of these points, in a fractional reserve system even with gold, something can still been made out of nothing. Fractional reserve: i am allowed to make something of nothing; as long as i have One Bit in reserve, i can ACT as if i have Ten Bits, let's say (see money marketing mechanics pdf, in resources, below).

    Likewise, i'm making loans at interest on this fictional money, too. The debt of interest accrues against that fictional gold, too, and so debt, like cancer, grows much much faster than the healthy organism and will inevitably consume it. See the graph above. The curve of debt is taking an exponential hike against the more linear (and limited) growth of people and goods.

    It hasn't always been this way; it doesn't have to be this way. Check out tally sticks in Henry I's England and Greenbacks in Lincoln's America. See The Secret of Oz (or its 14 year precursor, the masters of money) as putting the boots to the so called value of the myth of the Gold Standard; it will make you ill. The benefit of the Gold Standard, when the gold is held by the private banks, is no benefit or change. It's all still debt and fractional reserve banking and private banks deciding to contract the money supply. So please, time to recheck the illusion that it's all because we went off gold that we have these problems. Gold backing historically has been the root control of central banks in the world's economy, and especially in the US.

    [W]e shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
    William Jennings Bryan on July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago

    Exponentially Impossible - that's just the inescapable math.
    Fundamentally it seems to me that it really really doesn't matter whether a standard is backed by gold or not, if the most fundamental concept, regardless of standard, is that to create a dollar, that dollar is toujour deja, always already, attached to interest,  that dollar + something - that is, it's always attached to debt, and that the interest of that debt does not have to be 100% recycled.

    On a system-wide level, it becomes impossible - as we see all around us - to pay off the debt because, in this system, the payment of one debt OF NECESSITY creates MORE DEBT.  Because loans are always attached to interest with a goal of creating never ending growth of interest which means more debt, and all the interest (that is 100% of it) does not circulate back into the money supply. It's not recyled; it's ponzi'd. Which gets back to money in our monetary system as debt.

    In the monetary system as a whole, of which we are a part, it's impossible with the current laws around interest and its use for 100% of the debt ever to be paid. Look at what's happening with Europe right now for instance, exemplified in this video's question "and where does the money come to pay off that debt?" "exactly; next question..." "but what's the answer?" "you're wasting valuable time"

    Alas, the bailout - the creation of more debt as some perverse kind of rescue - of COURSE sees banks becoming wealthy again, at the cost of everyone else because it's just more of the same, except accelerated. Loans when they can only ever be repaid as loans are perhaps the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. And the economic divides get wider and the process accelerates.

    As said, this process can start to get a little intrigued - but it doesn't need to be. We just have to start with the monetary system creates money as money + interest. Where's the money coming from to pay off that interest? It's a deliberately exponentially viscous spiral. If you want to go down the more intrigued path, here's a route via a very interesting discussion by Paul Grignon that still comes out to the same conclusion.  Here's a lovely 7min animation if you prefer that to text. Really really worth reading/watching.

    Once we know that fundamentally money = debt, there's no surprise - there's no question. What we see now of nations always responding to debt, and using debt as an excuse for everything, what is happening now is EXACTLY, PREDICTABLY what's going to happen. That we're surprised is the horrible sign of our own well fostered ignorance, and resistance to the desire that anyone could be doing this.

    "It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning." ~Henry Ford

    No Spoon. The crime is that we have been educated to think money has to be this way. But it has not always been this way. It does not have to be this way. There is no frickin' spoon, dam it.

    Kill interest; kill off any of the problems we see right now. Well ok, either get rid of interest or have very different rules governing how interest can be used (eg, it must be spent in its entirety), and problems iron out. No wonder all major religions of the world said usury was a sin.

    The idea of monetary reform is not crazy nut nut conspiracy based. Take a look at the section about monetary reform that talks about "govn't issued debt free money"(just scroll down the page). Quite sensible people talk about it. And if we were more sensible more of us would be demanding politicians to stop dicking around with debt and telling us to tighten our belts, and would be worrying about fundamental causes. Sheesh, since they're sadly around anyway, here's something a Monarch or Pope who doesn't have to worry about being elected could actually do something about meaningfully.  Never mind the dam architecture Charles. Get one with Money as Debt.

    Legal Tender. The most amazing heist that the private banks of the world have pulled off is to have govn'ts sign up to allowing banks to say "we'll handle the money supply" and that when a govn't needs money, they get it as  A LOAN with INTEREST from a BANK, a private corporation.

    One might argue (and others have) that US independence was to get away from just such monetary policy rooted in England/Europe. Or for that matter, in the forced return in the UK to - Guess what? - the Gold Standard (see the currency act of 1763). So the US went to WAR to get away from this control. That break lasted only till 1913. Who's doomed to repeat history?

    (money as debt II: the discussion of the gold standard - about 4mins in)

    Cui Bono? 
    We like to make things more complicated than they are or actually better than they are (as this argument against the claims of Money as Debt II shows) because we have a hard time accepting that a) something could be this simple and b) this corrupt and yet c) this legal. That we have empowered govn'ts to indenture us to banks in an impossible cycle doomed to collapse and suffering. This isn't a conspiracy; it's just the law.

    When, please, are the aliens coming?

    Thanks to the amazing work featured here by Paul Grignon off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada.

    Addenda to the addenda
    There are historical precedents for alternatives. I'd encourage you to watch the Secret of Oz, especially the last 45 mins if you're interested in previous and even recent precedents. It's not more debt (duh?). It's community banks, savings banks, state banks with debt-free money being created and spent into circulation for the "common wealth."

    The story of Iceland's pre-privatised banking prosperity and catastrophe of what happened when it privatised away from savings banks is amazing. Go Iceland in recovering your banking.  The US has done it six times historically. Do it again.

    Some monetary reform related resources

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Unhealthy Interest: why you, me, your kids are likely condemned to indentured servitude to debt

    This blog is about well being and quality of life. It's focused mainly on the four things i've learned are important for health: nutrition, fitness, recovery and social interaction. What i've missed is the implicit assumption that one can afford these assets, and that also one will have  afforded the intellectual tools to seek them out and operationalise them. Right now, that access is predicated on a monetary system.  And right now, it seems that monetary system is simply designed to keep everyone indebted to money - and of course those who control the money.

    Gosh that sounds conspiracy nut nut,  doesn't it? I would have thought so, too. Until i saw this elegant explanation of how money is not about what most of us think it is - value - but about debt.  And that's really what i'd like to share: what a surprise this is. Did you know this? What shall we do with this knowledge? Here's part 1. The other parts are on youtube, too. It's called Money as Debt (canadian, too, way to go)

    (full Money As Debt video)

    Money as Debt. This elegant vid clearly demonstrates the simple facts of our monetary system as, well folks, fundamentally corrupt. Money is created by banks out of nothing. That is the first key point. The second is that in our system, when money is created out of nothing it is created as a loan, as a debt. The third thing is that that debt is not just for the money itself but ALWAYS in our system as debt + interest. From where does the money - can the money - ever come to pay off the interest? In this system, it takes debt to pay off debt which creates more debt. IT's impossible to get ahead - and that's what we're seeing isn't it?

    If we model this algorithm of P=P+1 we get an impossible exponential curve, guaranteed to crash because the curve of P =P+1 is an abstraction based on an infinite supply of numbers - and it's applied to a system of finite resources. That's you, me, our kids and the planet.

    Cui Bono? Cicero asked centuries ago, cui bono? in whose interest is it for a situation to be what it is? This is where some folks say "conspiracy nut nut" if one answers "the banks and corporations" - that sounds so vague and monstrous.

    Then we see something like the third act of Zeitgeist from 2007 (i'd suggest watching Money as Debt and even Money as Debt II first) and we get names, policies and laws rather vagueries like "banks." Example: woodrow wilson in 1913, after generations of opposition to a central bank and a cb controlling the money supply, while most in the congress were away on holiday, rushed through the federal reserve act (which despite folk lore to the contrary, he never did regret creating). The documented role of banks in civil conflict is a bit staggering, too. But i digress.

    Though, today, at least around here where Ireland is only the latest casualty in melt down and the british govn't is cutting resources and services as if it actually needs to do so as if there actually will be no tomorrow, and yet the rescued banks are still paying out awesome bonuses, maybe it feels less like a conspiracy.

    Anyway this post is really only to ask "did you know this about money? that it's entirely fake? that it's about debt? and that as such it is always only going to cause exactly the debt we see governments trying to get out of - supposedly?"  It would seem - and i could be wrong - that the ONLY way to get out of such a catastrophic collapse based on this model is to change the model. Fundamentally.

    One of the things about Star Trek is that by the 23rd century it seems that we've arrived in a cashless economy that's wonderful - no disease, no biggotry; lots of technology. Rather like the Venus Project featured in zeitgeist the adendum. I wonder if there's any way to get to that place without hitting the crash and social catastrophe inevitable in the monetary system? Especially when combined with the post peak-oil resource dependencies described by Michael Ruppert in Collapse? In the UK right now, you can see the whole vid on the BBC 5 iplayer. License fees at work.

    What all these strategies come down to is that effectively to get away from financial greed is to get rid of interest. Usery. Hard to imagine, but maybe not impossible? I don't think it's socialism or communism because that's got a monetary system too that uses interest. The folks who did Money as Debt have an intesesting idea for a Digital Coin that doesn't need banks. Gotta think about this further. The retrun of the early 90's interest in anonymous, digital cash. Wouldn't that be something. No interst, and anonymous cash. It may be a step towards getting rid of needing money at all. Sounds ideal. 

    an exponential growth curve of an abstraction
    I'm just riffing now, and there's are many "ya buts" i'm sure. So i'll leave it at - knowing this about the monetary system - that it is indentured servitude to banks since money is alway money = debt - is quality of life only ever at best going to be a compromise of qualities? is that what we want? And once we know this to be so - that P =the imposible P+I where I can never be erased, then how do we see the doom and gloom (lies) of "we're all in this together; we mush tighten our belts to pay down our debt" - when debt is always already A PRIORI a perpetual effect of this system?

    The mind reels at the scale and timmerity of this bilk, does it not? Others perpetrate pyramid schemes, what happens to them? Only the govn't backed corps i guess have the monopoly on ponzi'ing with impunity? well dear readers, i don't know whether to cry or throw forks, but surely people of good will, who are also buff, have the wherewithall to do something about it? And i don't mean going back t the gold standard.

    I leave that for another post, but let's have a wee think, shall we? Thanks for reading.

    It's Not about Going back to Gold.

    Next Installment: b2d Addenda on the Gold Standard and why going back to gold really won't do anything as long as there's money as debt.

    Likewise, some may argue that interest isn't always evil - in an ideal world, where all interest is recirculated back into the populace for spending, maybe. But that means 100% recirculated, not leveraged for more profit. And 100% recycling of interest doesn't happen. Quite the opposite. That's in the next part as well. 

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    What's a "Movement Assessment" Why do we need one, and how does it help, RIGHT NOW?

    What is a movement assessment? Cut to the chase, a movement assessment looks at how one moves. Why? if one's movement is hinky with anything from a slightly hiked shoulder to an over-prontating foot, to someone saying it hurts when they sit for awhile or their joints hurt, to someone else constantly hitting their golf balls to the left, or they're stuck at a plateau in a lift, there's something going on with one's movement that's not right and that IS having performance consequences, right this second. Right.This.Second.That performance hit may manifest as pain as plateau as poor target acquisition, but it's happening NOW.  It could also change dramatically, just as quickly. Right now.

    Why so fast an effect? the nervous system reacts that fast to shut down performance where a threat is perceived. Inflammation in the shoulder: restrict movement; vision problem - yes, threat - slow down movement.

    Neurons are very tiny: it doesn't take a huge BOO! of surprise to trigger an inner threat response and appropriate system power withdrawl.  Often that threat is so subtle we don't initially perceive it. But our nervous system does - have you seen this demo of the arthrokinetic reflex to underline this point?

    By the time we do see something - pain, performance, plateau, etc - the issue may be bigger, but there will still be an immediate response to threat reduction.

    The role of a movement assessment is that by looking at one's movement and one's responses to movement work, we begin to find a path to address what's happening that is having whatever the performance cost is - whether that cost is pain or plateau or whatever - and from there we develop active strategies  to get it sorted.

    A movement assessment uses a suite of tools to consider movement, including the visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems. It starts with the understanding that the nervous system drives everything; connects everything, so working with the nervous system as directly as possible is a fast path to immediately testable results. Right. This. Second. Movement is a Fast Connector to immediate change.

    The role of a movement specialist in this process is to look at and listen to what a person's movement may be saying about their performance. It lets the specialist begin a dialogue with one's performance to get that performance back. If a hip is not moving well, for instance, it might be that working with one's ankles and shoulders will help; it may be that checking one's balance or vision will help give back that range of motion to the hip; it may be moving out of a dark gym and into a better lit area that makes the difference. We see the effect immediately in movement.

    People who Would Benefit from Movement Assessments: all of us.
    I've seen folks who move very well - Dennis Frisch whom i interviewed a little while ago about bodyweight work has beautiful form. But alas none of us are perfect. But hurrah, the more perfect the movement, often the better everything else. Movement is Plastic! we can improve it - constantly. 

    Scenarios: as identified above, anyone who says "i get sore when i try this" or "i can't break past this weight for this lift" or "i get headaches sitting at the computer" or "my vision is getting worse" or "i'm having a hard time sleeping" - no exaggeration - a movement assessment can only help.

    Everyone is Individual. The intriguing thing is that while we all have a lot in common in terms of our physiology, the combinations of differences in our experience mean that what may be causing me the exact same pain in my shoulder may be utterly different from what's causing yours. A movement assessment is dynamic. By assessing and reassessing throughout the movement assessment, we tune in what's working; we chuck what's not. Immediately. It's also an active process - you are doing the movments, the work - which means the tools you get in an assessment you take home with you for your practice, benefit and continued self-assessment.

    Caveat: let's assume that anyone reading this who's thinking of an assessment has seen their medical professional and been cleared to rehab or to train. Going from there, let's look in more detail at the what and why of an assessment.

    The next bits here go over some of the things that happen in an assessment and why, then looks a bit at the rationale for the approach. 

    Assessment Overview
    The name movement assessment - at least how i'm talking about it - is very much short hand for a suite of evaluations that a movement specialist would carry out sitting down with you. And indeed, since there are good folks and better folks in any profession, this check list may help you determine if the person you're thinking of working with you is indeed right for you.

    Ok, so what would a movement assessment include?
    Client History. First things first is usually doing a written history and an interview about your history. This preliminary work can be super detailed or more concise depending on your goals with that coach/specialist.  For instance, if you're working on nutrition and fitness, and the movement assessment is part of a baseline view of you, that history may include a food log and a lot of info about eating practices; if you're going in because you have this pain in your knee, well the food part may be initially far more brief. In each case, injury history, medical conditions, current supplements etc etc are going to be part of the intake.

    Movement. At the heart of something called a movement assessment would be, you would think, an assessment of one's movement. Absolutely. The cool thing is, movement is informed by a lot of stuff, from the stresses we're experiencing  to the cast on the foot that may be currently limiting us.

    one of these  placed inside the mouth along the jaw
    changes a person's gait
    Bite Busting Effect on Movement. Intriguingly, research a colleague pointed out to me shows that something as simple as one of those rolled up cotton sticks dentists use, when put on the side of one's mouth actually changes one's gait. That simple can have that knock on an effect. So as i've echoed here many times, the site of pain is not the source of pain. Nor is the site of a seeming performance break necessarily the source of that performance obstacle.

    VPP. Because of this near anything can cause anything issue, a real movement assessment is going to have to be able to consider those factors that impact our movement. Fundamentally, these are the somato-sensory system or the visual vestibular proprioceptive hierarchy (VPP for short). I've written a bit about the VPP over here, by way of overview.

    General before Specific So a movement assessment will look at how you move naturally.
    It may also look at how you move specifically in whatever movement it is that seems to be causing an issue or is a movement you want to improve. It will look at these gross movements before getting into singular detail. So before looking at your knee, a specialist may look at you walk. Before looking at your grip of your golf club, they may look at your whole swing, from walking up to the tea to following through.

    photo: Butch Rovan,
    A movement assessment is actually a series of iterations. The specialist will do a baseline assessment, offer usually a movement drill for the person to try, immediately reassess the effect of the drill, and refine/reiterate the process of assessing, trying, reassessing.

    Pending the person's response to these drills, the assessor may consider other components of the VPP and do specific visual and vestibular assessments to see how these components may be playing a part in the movement response, and will add these as appropriate into the drill mix.

    Two big pluses to this approach:
    • the person knows right away if what's happening is making a performative difference
    • the person has a set of actions they can take with them to keep rep'ing in the improvements 
    This last point is a biggie, too: the person has a set of actions/drills they can keep doing for themselves after the session to keep improving.  The session dials in what works for the person so they can keep going with it, actively. They own their improvements.

      It sounds really simple this approach, doesn't it? Look at one's movement; do some drills to clean up that movement, test if what you've just tried has had an effect; keep tuning in what you're doing to get the best possible response. And in truth, it is a very elegant approach. But the thing about elegance is that it makes something amazingly rich and complex accessible, performable, or at least perceivable.

      E=mc2 is elegant. But in that simple expression one heck of a wallop is packed to prove it. That said, you may be interested in a bit of what informs this elegant approach of move, test, try, reassess move again approach to performance optimisation.

      The Difference: Theory And Practice Informing the Approach
      Higher Order Bits A movement performance based approach takes as given that the nervous system is the governing system of the body and therefore working with the nervous system will offer the fastest (proprioception operates at oh about 300mph) and biggest bang for the buck. Focusing on the VPP is one way to work with the nervous system.

      This speed of the nervous system is also why we can see immediate effects of what we're doing. Does this drill test better or not? If not, rethink, retune, redo, reassess.

      If we're not testing, we're guessing.

      Example "I have tight hamstrings"
      Because the assessment approach respects the neural hierarchy it's looking at what are the highest order issues in that system that may be causing this effect. The classic example here is tight hamstrings.

      One can wale away at stretching their hamstrings to "loosen them up" so they can bend deeper for whatever their sport movement is, but a few questions come up. First, is "stretching" if one's goal is to lift a heavy weight - say deadlifting - a great idea? Actually, no. Research again shows that stretching - getting the muscles not to fire up and shorten up as strongly and as quickly as they can - is really detrimental for lifting. So the therapy is not even a good match for the practice.

      Second, the higher order question a movment performance specialist will ask is WHY are these hamstrings so tight in the first place? Is there a higher order issue going on? What if it's the person's vision that's inducing a threat response such that the person's bod doesn't feel safe bending over, and would really rather not, is manifesting as restricted hip extension? Until vision is addressed, it's very likely that that restriction will keep coming back.
      Motor Learning: Active rather than Passive. Another part of the approach that is compelling is again, as part of the respect for the nervous system as governor of the body is that that system is always learning. We know from neurology that our movements induce motor learning (movement learning) patterns. What we rep is what our bodies "know" and we go to what we know.  So when we're trying to adjust a movement so that it feels better, lets us go further, then we want to give our nerves learning that new or newish pattern as much stimulation as we can.

      SAID That's "specific adaptation to imposed demand" - it's apparently how we respond to load. We adapt to exactly what we do. So let's imagine the usual passive manipulation space. We're on a table in a practitioner's office. That means we're horizontal. And now we're being held, told to relax, let the therapist do whatever.  Now keep SAID in mind.

      I've written about active and passive before, and there's a great video with that post over here, but in brief,  as presented in that video's summary of manual/active, in manual therapy - where something is being done to us - two things happen:
      • we're usually lying down on a table so we can be worked upon - which is not the position in which we perform
      • in being manipulated literally tens of thousands fewer nerves are stimulated than when we have to coordinate our movement ourselves
      Thus, our nervous system's limited learning is about how to feel while on a table and while being passively manipulated. That's not how most of us spend our days. Likewise, because the action is passive, also, the motor learning opportunity is substantially decreased. This is why *often* people have about a 40min window of feeling really great getting off a table, and need to be adjusted, massaged, whatevered regularly - and would do so likely daily if they could afford it - to try to keep that sensation of wellness.

      Combination of Benefit Effect Of VPP Approach
      By taking a primarily active approach to assessment with a nervous system lens, we leverage the nervous system's speed for accelerating performance improvement. So, by operating with natural and sports-specific active movements,
      • we respect the SAID principle, repping in better quality movement
      • we leverage motor learning's increased neuron engagement so increase speed of uptake
      • we respect the VPP hieararchy to ensure higher order systems are considered
      • we can do immediate, on the spot evaluations of effectiveness
      Whither Manual? None of the above is meant to say manual therapies do not have a place. Lots of good things happen when we are touched by another person. Stress can be decreased; there's evidence to suggest that healer's hands produce electromagnetic fields that non-healers do not and that these radiations have great effect on cells in the process of healing. Fabulous. And sometimes, it's lovely just to go for a massage - to enjoy the restorative pleasure of that moment and feel zen for the rest of the evening. Super.

      The point may be, howerver, just that: manual therapy has a role but not the sole role or perhaps not even the dominant role.

      Let's break it down: surrendering our own power? When we go to a manual therapist, fundamentally what are we saying? Often it's, i'm broken; i need someone else to fix me. That's understandable. That's what we're taught from an early age. Illness means someone else or something else has to *fix* us. Sometimes, for sure, some external intervention is a good idea. But how much intervention? Remember the old saw about give someone a fish, you feed them for a day, teach them to fish, feed them for a lifetime? With physical problems, it seems we're encouraged to beg fish rather than go fishing.

      You may say - heh! isn't there a contradiction here? you there mc are saying be all proactive and responsible about your health practice and this whole post is about going to get a movement assessment? Ah but i've also said repeatedly "everyone needs a coach." The best athletes may have multiple coaches for different aspects of their game, oui? Likewise grad students have supervisors. Colleagues have mentors. Teams have coaches. Why? does a coach do the work for the athlete?  No. Great coaches guide their charges to help them tune their performance - whatever that may be.

      Likewise many of the movement specialist colleagues i know prefer to see themselves as coaches. Or nudgers. Where we help guide movement to better functioning paths. But the work is still done by the person being coached. And it's that active engagement that fires up SAID, motor learning, and speedy effectiveness.

      The athlete does the work; the coach - by knowing how to test and reassess - helps find the path to tune up the process and make that process happen so much faster and more efficiently.

      A movement assessment is not just a tune up; it's a tune in, a dial in, a performance optimization boost.  The approach i've described focuses on movement performance optimization. Often, what we find is that when we help movement get better pain goes down or disappears too.  So folks with this training actually do see a lot of people who have pain. And we do see a lot of folks who are looking for that nudge to the next level.

      The value add of such coaches/specialists is the speed with which an effect is seen. When folks come in with pain, that's often - here's what's wild - the easiest part of the job. Really. What we'd rather be doing is saying ok, now that you've got that out of the way, can we talk about how to make your workouts, your work, your general well being that much better, too? Why be just "out of pain"? why not be exceptional?

      How can a movement specialist offer this kind of coaching? If you're really interested, take a look at the detailed descriptions of those assessments in each of the certifications offered for instance by Z-Health. We learn literally hundreds of assessments and drills to help tune people's individual performance. Individual. That's another word we'll have to get into another time, but this approach respects that we are complex systems and thus respond in a highly individual way to everything. So those assessments are likewise available to tune what's interesting for you.

      A movement assessment - where this whole post started - is the first step to helping a person optimize their performance no matter what kind of athlete we are from keyboard athletes - as Jen Waak calls some of us in the knowledge working field - to elite sport athletes whom we watch at the olympics. We're moving. Most of us can move better. Guidance to help find that path facilitates and accelerates that performance boost.

      VPP Resources

      Essentials of Elite Performance DVD mini course
      A lot of the drills that might be discovered to be optimal for the person will be in any of the three main z-health dvd's. Detailed descriptions of all of them are over in the Movement listing. These disks include drills for VPP work. So yes, in short, one could skip the whole movement assessment and work their way through these series and performance will improve. You betcha.

      Indeed, the Essentials of Elite Performance mini course on 3 DVDs offers over a dozen self assessments too. And that may be just the ticket for you.

      Why an Assessment then? The difference between a DVD and a live session with a coach is the difference a trained eye can bring to any performance: speed of resolution, refinement of process, acceleration towards the next level of performance.

      Take Aways: Movement Assessment as Tune In
      So what have we got?
      A movement assessment as described here
      • is an iterative assessment that looks holistically at how a person moves before specifically since
      • it recognises that the site of an issue may not be the source of an issue
      • it takes the nervous system as the highest order system, governing the body
      • it respects the somato-sensory hierarchy (VPP)  and can work with each of these systems because
      • it has dozens of assessments and drills within these systems that can be combined and brought to bare
      • because of its focus on the nervous system, it gets immediate feedback on effect
      • it is an iterative process of test, reassess to tune in the best effect
      • it is an active process - the athlete owns their own movement and is improving their own movement
      Getting Going
      IF this approach to movement optimization sounds great to you, and you'd like to investigate it, here's a listing of trainers.

      Working with mc: If there's no one in your neighborhood, some of us, myself included, do assessments via Skype: if you have a web cam and room to take a few paces, you have a set up for an assessment. Contact and related info here.

      If you'd like to learn these coaching approaches yourself, a great way to start is with the Essentials of Elite Performance workshop. Otherwise, i'd recommend just call the office (888-394-4198), let them know mc suggested you call, tell them of your interest and they'll get you going. 

      So there - that's why i suggest a Movement Assessment for whatever ails ya in pain & performance - doctor's approval to train of course understood.

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