Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crucial Conversations: ways to pre-vent for productive engagement

Do you know how to have a good productive conversation? If everything is skills based, there are skills, it seems, here too. After all, have you ever had someone say something to you - live or virtually - that just set you off? was condescending, presumptuous, otherwise inappropriate, AND you had to follow up with this person for some shared purpose - work or otherwise - and how HOW were you going to get around this slight, their stupidity and focus on the real heart of the matter, when all you want to do is focus on the noise?

If you are at all like me, for instance, you'd like the convo to be about them recognizing the horrible error of their ways, their failure to recognize my true value and worth, celebrate it fully and to prove that they will stop being such inferior gits - at least in their interactions with me. And that of course is before the real matter of the conversation (yes, i'd like the vegetarian option, thank you) gets under way.

OOO. The noise around some conversations - it's so fraught with the subtle subverting agendas of the mediocre - sometimes - or the very ocre who have their own stuff. We all have our own stuff. We of course do not use it as a bludgeon in any of our dealings.

Skills and Practice for Conversations. But lets say that we do occasionally either have to engage with folks whose discourse style triggers us and where we fear we may lose it and not stay on the true mission of why we need to have a Crucial Conversation with them.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are HighTHis how to get on track and stay on track is the subject of a jointly authored book and web site and consulting service called Crucial Conversations. In my world i did the audio book version of the text.

It's worth checking out - it's certainly an easy, fast and very reasonable listen to a suite of techniques that are clear to practice - especially when one learns to make the time to plan for a crucial conversation.

Fact from Personal Fiction: the safe place to begin. One of the key techniques i like from the text, and probably use the most, is to separate out and start with facts rather than our personal stories about the facts. I like this because i know i take data from a previous email of conversation and can so easily make a villain of  the other by selective reading. As a challenge, i'll now ask myself to invent the most positive story by way of contrast. Sometimes there's still an issue - the person is still a douche and at some point, that may actually become a show stopper  - or another Crucial Conversation.

But until then: is the Crucial Conversation actually to be about that person's style, or can it be about the Matter at Hand? Indeed, there are heuristics too, in the book, to help figure out what the right conversation is for the Crucial Conversation. And if it is to be about the Matter in Hand, what strategies can we use to help us get there? And sometimes, just as important, stay there? Hence, starting with facts about the matter at hand.

The advantage of starting from facts is that it's easy to check in with the other person to see if this is what they think the conversation is supposed to be about too: yes we want to meet about a project deliverable; yes we agree we need to hire new staff and yes we agree they need to start in a week; we need to figure out the best skill set, and the question does seem to be between X or Y being primary.

Other Strategies. The above is just one of my oft practiced strategies. I like it because it helps me stay away from overly personalizing stuff - even when things can feel very personal. It also helps me try to stay more respectful: if we can stay on task, then i can better stay open to the disussion rather than rolling back to my particular story or stories about the person or people invovled. There's an overview article of some of the strategies here called Crucial Conversations: where are you stuck? - for more.

Related Strategies. I find CC to be pretty synergistic with a few other practices i've overviewed before. One is the Sedona Method that is, i find, a practice of being able to get some distance from one'self to identify whether what i'm doing is what i want to be doing, or what i'm reacting to some sense of needing to do (that first overview is called "getting rid of crap around goals").

How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or LessThe other place CC seems to fit in is the wee book How to Make anyone Like You in 90 seconds or less. It sounds so corny and manipulative, but really it's about being able to put oneself in a position to hear an Other and engage with an Other. For a total myers-briggs introvert like myself, this is a goldmine of skills.

THe overview article, for more detail, is here.

I'd also suggest CC fits in with some motivation/coaching work quite well too.

All the best in your Crucial Conversation Practice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ottoman Pistol Part III: ankle bending

In the previous two posts about the Ottoman Pistol we looked at the main muscles that are at play in this version of that assisted version of the one legged squat: the quads (pt 1) and the hamstrings and butt (pt 2).

The Ankle. In this post we're looking at the last part of this series, and it's less about muscle work and more about movement. It's what happens at the ankles. Why bother to look at movement rather than muscle? It's the last key bendy bit of the move, if you will, and because we usually focus on the muscle side, we can kinda forget that the ankle joint is a key lever (with the knee and the hip) that lets that squat happen. Indeed in full pistols, you'll often hear folks talk about their ankles either a) supposedly not having enough flexibility or b) they cave into the side or c) can't stay down. Take a look at Franz Snideman's great video series on his revelations through the whole pistol for more.

So for today, it might be fun if not just interesting to take a look at what's going on around this wild joint.

Gastrocnemius and Soleus (S&G) First off, we're likely pretty familiar with the big muscles that work the ankle. They are the gastrocnemius (gastrocs for short) and soleus. They're what let us do calf raises, go on point, help control the foot kicking a football. These muscles are usually really strong in just about anyone. Indeed, if they actually test weak, it's likely sign of some other issue that problems with these the S&G.

Two interesting things about the S&G (well i think so): they both connect into the one tendon in the body most of us know by its nick name: the achiles tendon (or tendo calcaneus, formally). It comes from the base of the muscles down the lower part of the lower leg and into the back of the back bone of the foot, that bone being the calcaneus. Contract those muscles, we pull up on that bone, we point our toes. That's the first interesting thing: the achiles tendon connection.

Different Origins. The second cool thing is that while they both connect to the same place at their insertions, the origin of each (the parts closest to the middle of the body) are very different - which kinda helps understand why we have both an S and a G rather than just one big muslce. The design also reflects how important this movement is (technically ankle plantar flexion, or bending towards the base of the foot).

different origins of the S (on the tibia) and G (on the femur)
one crosses the knee (G); the other doesn't.
The Soleus tucks in underneath the gastrocs and it connects along the upper shaft of the big bone of the lower leg, the tibia. We'll come back to that in a moment. The keen thing here is that the muscle is dedicated to *just* flexing the ankle down, and it's a biggie. The gastrocs on the other hand, kinda like the reins on a horse, goes around to the frontish of the femur. In other words, it crosses at the knee joint and so not only has an effect on the ankle, but also pulls on the knee to help bend/flex it.

Bottom line, there's a lot of muscle to help flex the foot, and flex the foot down while helping bend the knee.

Super geeky aside: 2nd class lever. Plantar flexion of the foot when used to lift some or all of the body is one of the few examples in the body of what's know as a second class lever where the resistance (or load) is between the axis and the force. The usual example is a wheel barrow. The resistance is the load; the axis is at the wheel (ahead of the resistance) and the  force is in the handles (behind the resistance).

If we look at the ankle - where to we see these three things? It's kinda clear that the pull or the force is at the achilles tendon on the calcaneus, right? So where's the axis or fulcrum? This only really comes into play when the foot is actually being used as a lever - as something to move something else (in physics the definition of work is the movement of an object). So, the ball of the foot (unless we're going on point perhaps) is the usual fulcrum of this lever (analogous to the wheelbarrow wheel). The resistance or load becomes effectively the stuff up through the tibia. The tibia, as we see is between the force and the axis/fulcrum. Jeeze that's cool.

Action in Pistol: More Eccentric Contraction. Just as we saw with the muscles of the knee and hip managing eccentric contraction to control lowering of the hip and of the knee (flexion), we're going to see the same eccentric contraction in the S&G for letting the lower leg roll forward at the ankle into dorsiflexion - the opposite of plantar flexion. Dorsiflexion has the angle between the top of the foot and the top of the shin decrease - which is exactly the motion that occurs as we squat down and the shin moves forward relative to the planted foot.   The big soleus and gastrocs then pay themselves out under control to support the motion around the ankle. How cool is that?

the bumpy bits of the ankle
that we feel or see is really the
bumpy bits at the bottom of the TWO
bones of the shin: the tibia (big inside one)
and the fibula (leaner outside one)
Meanwhile, at the front of the leg, the tibialis anterior, peroneus tertius and related smaller extensor muscles are going to help by contracting at the front of the shin to help that forward action of dorsiflexon take place.

The ankle joint: wild bones wild bones. One of the amazing things about this joint we tend to take for granted is actually how sophisticated, articulated and mobile it is. When we think about a joint like the ankle we might think about something like a horseshoe with a bolt across the open bit and something like a block with a hole drilled through it hanging off the bolt. Ok, maybe that's just me.

The ankle joint is intriguingly more intrigued. The first bit of the ankle is that the bumpy bits that we feel and bang have names: malleoli. The malleoli are the bumpy bits at the base of the two bones that make up the shin: the bigger tibia that the femur rests upon for knee action with all that meniscus cartilege and acl/mcl joints, and the fibula, the smaller, thinner balance bone. The structure is similar to the lower arm's radius/ulnar double boning.

So ok, we have the malleoli that act as kind of connectors from the leg to the foot.

Talus/Calcaneus. Now it seems to me things get really impressively remarkable. The malleoli move atop a bone that sits atop a bone.
Let's go slowly (at least for me): the part of the foot that hits the ground at the back is the calcaneus. The bone that sits on top of this - doesn't touch the ground at all - is the talus. The malleoli articulate around the talus. The ankle joint therefore or what we think of as the ankle is actually four bones and three joints: bones are the tib and fib and the talus/calcaneus. The joints are the lateral malleoli with the talus, the medial malleoli with the talus and the taleo-calcaneal joint.

From all these connections, we might get a bit more clearly why the ankle may be vulnerable to sprain.

Just take a look at how intriguing the lacing is of the bones of this joint.

It Moves! It's ALIVE
the lacing of the malleoli with the taleo/calcaneal
An important thing to note, i think, to help conceptualize the ankle that goes beyond the first part of this post is that we're talking a complex mechanics here, not just a hinge joint.

When we say the achiles tendon conncects to the bone at the base back of the foot, pulls it, and the ankle bends, that sounds pretty simple. And it's a true statement, for a given granularity of truth. But those three joints in just the ankle - never mind the rest of the foot - suggest that the motion may be a little more suble. The achiles does pull on the calcaneus, but it's wrapped atop the talus, which is slotted between the malleoli - which as we see in the illustrations above is way forward of the tendon and also way above that pull point.

We're not even touching on the talus/calcaneus being the back stop for the little tarsals of the foot before getting to the bones that end up through multiple joints into the toes.

What's my point: with this many joints, that's a whole lot of movement going on.

Why have this much movement that we need three joints in the ankle alone?

The foot is how we usually first encounter the world. It lets us stand with the feet in full contact with the earth while we get our butt back and move our knees in, in our athletic ready stance. The foot can do this because its multiple joints support multiple angles of movement while still wrapping around some uneven surfaces and especially while distributing load from the rest of the body across some spingy shock absorbers.  I could just go on and on about the miracle of the foot with 24 percent of the bones of our body in those two feet.

multijoint action allows for sophisticated
movement around the joint
while staying vertical - when
we don't practice these movements
we can hurt the lacing that has no
practice with the strain at end
range of motion
Since we're focusing on the ankle for the pistol, though, an important part to bear in mind is that the talus doesn't simply pivot like there's a bolt through one end of the malleoli to the other. There is give, movement as we move the joints in their capsules. For instane, As we bend the knee forward towards the foot on the floor, someone putting their fingers on our malleoli should feel the malleoli roll back - a wee bit - but back nonetheless. The two shin bones move back on the talus. IT's movement we can feel, especially as we practice ankle movements for mobility. Likewise, the lateral (side to side) movements of the ankle happen becuase of the shape of the bones, and also because of the flexibility of the tendons. Tendons are not always pulled up super tight. Muscles pull on them; different positions relax them and so on.

Take away: ankle movement is a complex interoperation of joints. To dorsiflex well in our ottoman pistol, we need to be sure our foot feels comfortable supporting dorsiflexion without collapsing (everting - the opposite direction to the movement shown in the image above).

One of the best ways to help the ankle is actually to work with all the joints: if there's an oddity in hip movement or knee movement or shoulder movement, that might show up in the ankle. The site of an issue isn't always the source.

That said, unless we have a movement practice, most of us don't do movement practice with our feet.  Leaning in and out on the ankles from a tall spine - without having to involve the hips - is a potent practice. So is placing our foot behind us and resting on the top of the foot from multiple angles. Each of these motions helps lubricate the joints and tendons, but also practices the movements we need to control in our squat. Shoes that pass the twist test with mobile soles, and that let our ankles move more while walking are also great aids to better foot and gait practice.

Muscularly, at the ankle in the pistol, the big players are the calf muslces, the soleus and gastrocs, as they eccentrically contract to help let the knee bend forward by braking that forward action by paying out the musculo/ligamentary line at the back of the leg/foot to let the shin come forward towards the ankle.

Joint Wise.  The ankle is an interesting set of joints that are ligament to bone to musculo-tendonal levers.  It acts like a hinge and like a ball in socket and like an inertial damper for load.

Improving that Base of Support. Sometimes just some simple movement work can improve the action of the joint *just* because they give the joint some practice in moving and practicing its range of motion - with and without load.  Please note, we're not talking making the ankles either more stable or more mobile; we're talking simply about supporting whatever their movement needs are for the particular motion.

Recommendations. Please note: no one said that to improve dorsiflexion or ankle control, we need to stretch before squatting. No. We did not. A bit of a discussion around why not, here (threat and movement) and here (what's a warm up)

You're perhaps familiar with the approach i've found successful for myself and the folks i coach: i like z-health movement work for loaded and unloaded movement practice. THe movement template ensures that we get practice in a variety of positions/tensions/challenges. Doing this kind of joint prep work has been shown in some research to help reduce incidence of injury (see By Test Stronger section of this post). That's good. And decent control means better pistol.

Sometimes getting to that control may also mean some prelim practice work before going for the ottoman, both to reduce neuro-perceived threat and sometimes just plain old stress (tips for that one). If you'd like some help with dialing in what you need to succeed here, consider a coach - one who can do a movement assessment maybe even too. Master ZHealth Practitioners Ken Froese and Lou McGovern (remember his excellent tip for improving the press?) have pioneered using a movement with the sphenoid to help get people who haven't pistoled to pistol. We're just that complex and amazing.

yup, the sphenoid

Heres to enjoying our movement.

Pistol Resources:
- beast skills site
- Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior
- Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol

Thanks for viewing this series. Hope it helps you enjoy your ottoman pistol practice even more

Related Ottoman Pistol Posts

Monday, January 10, 2011

Main Muscles in the Ottoman Pistol, Part 2: the butt

In the previous post, we considered the quads' role in the ottoman pistol. This post we'll take a wee look at the butt and hamstrings. Remember the quads are largely knee extensors and hip flexors. The vastus group stabilizes the knee, and particularly helps us as we stand up - contracting the quads locks the knee cap for instance. The butt and hamstrings work the back of the leg and knee and hip to flex the knee and extend the hip, as in the runner's leg going back in the sprint.

SO let's take a look at how this muscle combo works in the pistol. 

The Butt - the Glutius Maximus

We know that the knees HAVE to straighten for us to stand up in the pistol. But there's another big body part that changes, too, and that's the hip. The hip extends as we move from the squat position where the pelvis is flexed, to standing up, where it's extending.  But the movement in the squat not only has the hip extending but the leg externally rotating (turning out) and moving away from midline, or abducting.

The muscles that extend the hip include the biggest muscle in the body: the gluteus maximus. Hip extension (and external rotation of the leg, or the leg turning out) must take alot of work if it has such mass associated with it.

THis massive muscle is interesting in the way it connects to the body: it attaches to the back of the pelvis - that makes sense since it has to connect with the hip. It also connects along the sacrum - the lowest part of the back, if you will.

The muscle connects into the femur at the gluteal tuberosity and into the iliotibial tract (IT band). That tract connects into the top of the tibia - in other words the butt effectively connects over the hip and past the knee into the lower leg. So the butt also helps support the knee via the IT band when the knee is extended (when we're standing up.

The Hamstrings: Biceps Femoris, Semitendinous and Semimembranous Muscles
Manual of Structural Kinesiology
great kinesiology resource
Along the back of the the leg run the hamstrings or biceps femorous, semimembranous and semitendinous muscles. .

Origins. The semimembranous and semitendenous muscles along with the long head of the biceps femoris all connect into the ishial tuberosity of the pelvis (into the sitting bones if you will).  The short head of the biceps femoris however does not connect to the pelvis. Instead it connects into the femur.

glute max joining
IT band into Tibia
Insertions. The Semis connect into the tibia or the medial side of the knee. The biceps femoris, to the lateral side of the tibia (top of lower leg).

With the hamstrings, then, we have a set of muscles that connects to the pelvis to pull it into extension (to straighten it), and likewise connects with the knee to pull it into flexion (to bend). In the case of the pistol, where the foot is on the floor and stays there, the main action of the hamstrings will be on the hip.
(Aside: It's in running and kicking for instance where the knee is working that we'd see the hamstrings come in more with the knee, but when the leg stays nailed to the floor, or the knee is immobile, the hammies will work the hip).

Working the Pistol
Going Down. As we saw, the quads help the knee, trunk and flexed hip on the way down into the bottom position of the pistol (eccentric contraction). In going down, the glute max and the hamstrings are also on, also eccentrically contracting, actively helping to let the hips flex.  That's their main action in the descending leg: eccentric contraction to assist hip flexion.

Coming Back Up. Once down, the glute max will get active to extend the hip (concentric contraction) as we start to come up, and the hamstrings will contribute to pull the hip into extension (concentric contraction) as well.

A note on Eccentric Contraction:
Just to review the knee/hip part of this movement, the quad group (the thigh) on the way down is doing "eccentric contraction" (ec) - controlling the speed of the bend of the knee: it is contracting muscle fibers while the muscle still lengthens to allow the limbs to move. The butt is likewise doing eccentric contraction on the way down to help control the movement of the hip into flexion.

Imagine someone lowering something on a rope: to pay out the rope slowly, one is applying some tension somewhere to control the descent, else the rope will just slide through one's hands. If one is lowering a piano from a building, the important ropes - the ones taking the strain - are the lowering ropes; there may be folks on the ground gathering up rope on either side of the piano to guide it to make sure it doesn't hit a wall on the way down, but the heavy lifting as it were is in the lowering, the paying out of the rope.

Two other points about EC: we're also stronger in eccentric contraction than concentric contraction: it's easier to lower a piano to the ground than pick it up. And finally - a reminder that eccentric contraction kicks off DOMS more so than concentric contraction.

Wrap up of the Butt (really glute max) and Hamstrings
So the pistol is certainly working the legs and butt big time: a lot of eccentric conrtaction for controlling the movement of the hip into flexion on the way down and conversely a lot of concentric contraction to help the hip get back up to neutral.

Plainly this move does a LOT for the lower body - by using one leg, bodyweight becomes a significant challenge for that first rep or multiple reps. Many other stabiliser muscles come into play in these movements; there's also considerable vestibular challenge in this movement as we must add more balance control to succeed. But for now, let's get the biggies figured out.

Next time, in the last of this series, we'll look at the last major bit of the ottoman pistol, the ankles.

Pistol Resources:
- beast skills site
- Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior
- Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Main Muscle Movement in the Ottoman Pistol - Part 1: the Quads

The (let's call it) Ottoman Pistol described yesterday - works a potent combination of muscles. We know what these muscles are because we usually feel them if we haven't pistoled in awhile: quads (front of leg), glutes (butt), sometimes the adds (adductors - inside leg), and some of that core goodness too. In this first post we'll take a quick look at what's happening with the quads - what those muscles are, and especially, why they're firing up in the Ottoman Pistol.

from the Beast Skills how to pistol tutorial:
a light butt touch for the ottoman pistol
The Quads
Often the most felt muscles in this abbreviated leg squat are those at the front of the leg, aka the quads  The quad group has four big muscles: the vastus set of medialis, lateralis, intermedius and the big front and top muscle (lies atop the intermedius), the rectus femoris. All four of these muscles meet at the knee cap - the patella and from there, hook into the lower leg.

The Vastus Group vs the Rectus Femoris. While the full quad group has a lot in common, there's a big distinction between the rec fem and the vastus group.  The vastus set cross the knee and connect along the top of the big honking top-of-the-leg femur bone. The rectus femoris on the other hand actually hooks onto the pelvis itself rather than the femur. Isn't that wild? These four muscles share common connections at the knee, and then diverge where they start: hip vs leg. In other words, the rec.fem. crosses two joints - in this case both the knee and the hip - while the vast group of vastus muscles only cross one joint, the knee.

From Grant's Dissector (ch6) the rec fem is reflected
so we can see the vastus intermedius underneath
and the lateralis and medialis to either side.
The Quad Job This difference in hook ups influences the main job of the muscles that make up the quads.

The vastus set acts on the knee to extend it or straighten it out; the rectus femoris, while it also crosses the knee mainly acts to flex the hip or to bring the knee up towards the chest. In the bottom of the squat, the hip is pretty durn flexed.

Integrating the muscle movement with the Pistol.  Since we feel the pistol the next day in the front of the legs, we know the quads are involved.  We also know now that the quads give us two actions in particular: (1) flexing the hip and (2) extending the knee.

Where's hip flexion in the pistol? IT's in two parts of the movement: the leg controlling the decent (that's going into flexion), and the leg that is extended out. That leg is being held in hip flexion.

In the descending/bending leg, the rectus femoris is stretched. We can see from where it attaches up on the pelvis that as one goes down, and that muscle is activated, it's going to pull the pelvis forward - the pelvis rotates around the hip as the angle between the leg and the pelvis closes down from 180 to 45 degress or less. The RF is not the only muscle involved here, but it's the biggie. 

In the extended leg case,  a couple core muscles - the psoas and illiacus - are doing more of the work to hold out the extended leg than the rec fem to keep that 90 degree flexion. That's because the RF is at its shortest when the knee is extended and the leg flexed, so it's not getting as big an advantage on the hip.
The more the knee bends, the more the rec fem comes into gear for flexing the leg/hip. 

Where's the knee extension in the pistol? When we go to stand back up, the knee extends. That's perhaps the biggest work load of the pistol. And boy do we know that that knee extension, aka standing up, is a challenge. Getting down takes a certain control, absolutely, but gravity guarentees that's the direction we'll move. Getting up is where the money is, and that means knee extension.

Summary: Why we feel the pistol in the Thigh. 
There are two big actions in the pistol: hip flexion and knee extension. In other words, going into the squat and coming up from it.

Hip flexion comes in two places:  in getting a leg out in front of us and in the descent into the squat position. In the quad group, hip flexion involves the rectus femoris in both of these positions, but in particular in the descent into the squat.

Knee extension comes in majorly as we stand up. The quads pull this off via the vastus muscles pulling over the knee cap by their connection at the top of the femur, the big leg bone. The rectus femoris pulls over the same part of the knee but gets reefed up by that muscle reefing up from the hip. Two big levers therefore pull up the knee into a straightened position.

Next Time
The other big player in the pistol is the butt, aka the glutes. Next time we'll look at how that group of muscles' actions of hip extension, external rotation and abduction contribute to those two big moves in the pistol: the squat and the standing up.

Happy New Year

Pistol Resources:
- beast skills site
- Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior
- Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol

Related posts:


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