Category: Article Posts

The RAW Approach For Change

When most people think about changing their body, they think of weight loss. But there are a ton of other reasons that someone might want to create a change, both inside and out. Maybe you’re tired of lack of energy or your stomach feeling terrible. Maybe you’re tired of aches and pains when you kneel or bend over. Or maybe you want to see a different clothing size on your body. Whatever it is doesn’t matter.

All of these things require one thing – change. And this article is all about the direct but effective way to create that change so that it lasts for a lifetime. Are you the type of person that has tried several times to change something and can’t figure out why the things you want to create never stick? Perhaps this insight will help.

I’ve been coaching people for over two decades and have managed to help hundreds of people create positive change. Through careful observation, tons of examples and lots of practical application I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what solid change takes.

So here’s the three things I’ve identified that break down the basics of what you need to think about. I’ve called it the RAW method for a reason. Part of it is that you have to really get into the raw details of what you want and what you’re currently doing. Here’s the list:

One: Recognize your Patterns

Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things pretty much daily, and when that routine becomes disruptive it is actually instinctual that it will cause some discomfort. Examples might be snacking in front of the television at the same point in the evening after the kids go to bed. Or right after work thinking about how nicely that glass of wine is going to feel, even if you know it might make your stomach feel terrible.

There can be positive patterns as well. A good bedtime routine. A good morning routine. Comforting yourself with a decent coffee in the morning which makes you feel good before work. Walking outside during your lunch hour. These things make us feel better, and we should also recognize that side of it.

When you wake up in the morning feeling amazing because of a good nights’ sleep, think about the positive things you did to create that feeling. It helps reinforce in your brain that it was a good thing rather than an inconvenience. Repetition creates new connections in your nervous system that can sometimes change things for good – or bad – depending on how you feel about it.

My point here is if you want to make a change one way or the other you need to recognize what that pattern is and acknowledge it. Once you identify what it is, if it is a negative thing in your life you want to change you can apply something towards it. Adjust it to something positive and keep reinforcing why you’re doing the thing you have changed.

Two: Adjust Slowly

We are also filled with a society of Type A personalities. People who are all in on whatever they are going to do and give it 100% of their effort. This is often a good quality, unless you are trying to make a permanent change.

As much as we would like to think it does, your brain and nervous system do not adjust quickly. Yes, there are mechanisms in place so that if you have to make a sudden decision or move your body quickly then you are able to, but then there is always a recovery period where your nervous system needs to rest. Think of it like almost getting into an accident and the adrenaline rush, then the subsequent crash afterwards.

My advice to people is always to adjust one thing, make it a proper change and then adjust something else. Don’t try to do three or four things at once. It’s kind of like dating. If you are involved with three or four people at the same time it becomes an exhausting juggling act where you’re like the cat with paws on several mice. Then you go after one more and all the mice escape.

Instead, work on one thing for a period of time until you’re confident it is solid and you’re able to have it as a permanent part of your routine. Then find something else and add on. This should ideally be something small – not big. Something that you will barely even notice like adding in a good food to increase your fibre or making a point of going to bed and getting up at the same time daily.

As an example, I recently got a client to start consistently stretching. How? We started with five minutes per day accountable. Ten stretches for thirty seconds each. Once that was good, we expanded the SAME routine to forty and then forty-five seconds and added some more one stretch at a time. But this took a period of weeks, not days. Now it is a part of his lifestyle, stretching ten minutes a day. The next step is taking on ten minutes of exercise on his own once a week.

Whether it’s five minutes or half an hour, it doesn’t really matter. Positive change is positive change. But if I’d tried to give him ten minutes per day right away plus a workout on his own it wouldn’t have worked. Slower adjustments bring on consistency, which yields results every time. Let me repeat that: Consistency yields results. Find a way to adjust slowly so that you can maintain consistency.

Three: WAIT and be patient

I tell my kids all the time when they are learning something new, just be patient and keep practicing. As adults somehow we forget this philosophy. Blame can also fall on our instant gratification society of course where we are marketed to by people who claim we can change overnight and make a massive change.

Think about examples of failure with rapid change in the fitness world. Biggest Loser? 90% gain the weight back. Those ads in magazines where they claim you can be shredded in weeks. Diving into a Crossfit box or group exercise program? Most people injure themselves quickly and never go back. Starvation fad diets. Supplements that waste your money all in the name of trying to make things go faster.

If people would just be patient and adjust things as I’ve discussed, you can see a big change. It just takes time. Another client recently eliminated the cream and sugar from his coffee and dropped seven pounds in a couple of months. I’ve had people lose ten pounds in the same time just by cutting out alcohol. Increasing your bench press is done two pounds at a time, not twenty all at once. Trying to do things fast is a road to either setback or failure.

When I first talk to someone, I try to get them to think long term. Like a year long term, and where they want to try to be. Not six weeks. Not two months. I’m not saying you can’t make a change in six weeks – you can make a massive one – but if you are only thinking about that six weeks you’re missing the bigger picture. Then plan accordingly for whatever goal you have. This should be broken down into smaller chunks to make it manageable with smaller goals along the way.

This process is why people hire professional coaches. To have someone else think about the big picture and what they are doing in broad strokes, then dialing down to explain small steps that will work. And it should be someone who has examples of people they have successfully helped, not just themselves.

And again, give it time. Make note of the little changes that you see or feel, or even comments that people make around you. Think about how much better you’re sleeping, feeling inside or moving. Every marathon runner I’ve ever met began with a run around the block.

I hope this article gives you some perspective and tools towards lasting change. If you truly want to do something positive, take the time to recognize, adjust slowly and wait. The RAW method works if you implement it properly. Just take it one step at a time.

If you’d like to talk further about what it takes to change, feel free to reach out and have a conversation with me. I’ve been helping people for years find out what it takes and put together a proper plan to achieve positive things.

Until next time!

The Big Three Muscles of Pain

Recently I had a day where I was doing a lot of evaluation on clients. I do that a lot. People come to me with aches or pains and are trying to figure out where it comes from. One of the favourite parts of my job is trying to figure out the actual source of the issue rather than where the pain is coming from. If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.

I’ve been doing this for twenty years. Thankfully over that time I literally have hundred of examples of where pain comes from, and many of the places are common sources. So I’m writing this article as a starting point to where I often find the major source of an ache or problem is in the three main parts of the body. It might not be where you think it is!

As I’ve said before, pain is just a signal. There’s something wrong with the body or it’s alignment or movement that needs attention. And with most people when it comes to aches and pains, there are three areas they manifest most. Those parts are:  

Shoulders or upper arms

Lower Back

Feet and ankles

Pretty common, right? I’d say the majority of people I see have one of these areas affected. Which is why it’s been so easy over the years to figure out what could be going on.

I almost labelled this article as “Most of the time it’s BLANK” because that is absolutely what happens. Ninety percent of the time pain in one of these areas comes down to one main muscle. So if you’re having pain in one of these areas, read on and I’ll be able to give you some insight.

As I’ve said before, this is not a diagnostic process. These are simply the first locations I will go to when discussing pain in a particular area, and through my years of experience I find that they are most often the culprit towards stiffness, pain, or dysfunction. There are over six hundred muscles in the body, and it is incredibly complex. So what you’re experiencing could be from somewhere else. These are good places to start checking.

What I’m going to do is go through all three areas, the muscle involved and then what you can do about it. The next part of this article will deal with the solutions and what you can do to help yourself if one of these areas is affected. Let’s get started:

AREA OF THE BODY THAT HURTS: Shoulder or upper arm, sometimes when rotating or lifting.  

MOST OF THE TIME IT’S: Latissimus Dorsi, most commonly called the lats.

This muscle is one of the largest in the upper body, and originates in several different places. The reason that this is on the list is because it directly affects several different areas of the body in movement. This list includes the shoulder blade, rib cage, upper arm and even the lower back. It is even assisted in some movements by other muscles.

When working with people pain will most often manifest underneath the shoulder blade or mimic rotator cuff issues where pain will travel from the upper back down the upper arm. This is because of the way the lat helps to stabilize the shoulder blade along with some of the muscles of the rotator cuff. It is also the prime mover for a ton of physical movements that require pulling.

If you’re doing a lot of things like rows, pullups, deadlifts in the gym it can become an issue. For regular people, doing externally rotated movements and having them loaded or even things like sitting with your shoulders around your ears can cause this muscle to become overactive (trying to pull your shoulders down) and painful. So desk workers, take note.

I always advocate that people emphasize pulling movements over pushing movements, especially if they are recovering from postural issues. This is a massive part of addressing these problems.

Lat muscles cover a lot!

AREA OF THE BODY THAT HURTS: Lower back or hips.

MOST OF THE TIME IT’S: Quadratus Lumborum

This muscle in my world is called the QL, and is part of a system of deep abdominal muscles, even deeper than ones like your abs and your TVA. And it does a lot of stuff. Not only is it a muscle that affects inspiration because of attachment to the diaphragm, but it is used when laterally flexing (ie bending sideways) and extending the spine (ie leaning back).

It also greatly helps with stabilizing your pelvis and when it is affected, has trigger points that hit the back outside of the hips and also the middle of the lower back just above your butt. So when you’re experiencing lower back pain, it’s a big player and very common for me to see in pain when people are having problems bending, rotating and sitting.  

Because it is a very deep muscle it gets used a lot in combination with your other trunk and core muscles, especially because it attaches to your lower lumbar spine. Now, your “core” (or trunk muscles) have not only many layers but they all work together to create movement and protect your spine and hips. So isolating one muscle is difficult, but it is possible to address it while dealing with a few other areas.

If a physio has told you to “strengthen your core” then odds are they meant this muscle.

QL – the main link to your lower back

AREA OF THE BODY THAT HURTS: Ankles or Feet.

MOST OF THE TIME IT’S: Soleus

The soleus I like to call the forgotten stepchild of the calf. Many people know about the big meaty gastroc at the top of the calf just below the knee. However, the soleus is below it. It ties directly into the ankle because it inserts as part of the Achilles tendon and it travels all the way up the lower leg on the outside.

It is a massive contributor to things like walking, running, jumping and even climbing stairs. Part of the reason for this is because it takes load off the larger calf muscle when the knees are bent. In fact, at a 90 degree bend (ie sitting down) the soleus takes over completely.

The issue here is that most people don’t strengthen this muscle properly. So you end up with a very strong gastroc and then when the soleus needs to work, it can’t as effectively. This can lead to ankle pain and even lower limb issues through the knee. Remember that your feet and ankles take an incredible pounding if you are active, and it is easy to have one part slightly out of alignment or weak.

Many people forget about calf strength and foot strength, and for any athlete or lifter it is important to take care of these areas. They are your link to the ground!

Take care of your ankles!

SO WHAT DO I DO?

In my next article I will discuss the solutions to these areas and what you can do to help yourself with stubborn tissue and chronic problems. Until then, do a quick self assessment of these areas. Are they tender when massaged? When you’re stretching them, do you feel a restriction (especially on one side)? Is there a movement I’ve described that gives you pain?

As I mentioned, this isn’t a definitive list. It’s a good starting point. These three muscles are incredibly common for contributing to pain and stiffness, which is why I call them the Big Three. I could probably have called this article the Big Ten, but there’s only so much room. These are the top.

Remember that finding the source of the problem by isolating it should always be a first step towards recovery. As always, if you need any help, or have any questions feel free to reach out. I hope that you found this useful and stay tuned for my next article!

Woke Up This Morning…Got Myself a Pain

So this year due to the pandemic I decided to take up a new sport. Well, at least one I haven’t played since I was thirteen. Soccer. Which has been an interesting journey to say the least.

After a partially torn quad, vertigo and now yesterday I can say that my body is definitely not used to the forces involved and has had a hard time adapting. Which is what prompts this article.

I’ve been working with injuries for two decades now, and one thing that people don’t realize is how often I have hurt myself. Usually through sport of some kind, but sometimes just doing stupid things that happen. One example is when I tore a meniscus falling in my driveway on an icy day because my dog pulled me the wrong way. Stuff happens. But sometimes when I go over the laundry list of musculoskeletal things I’ve done to myself it actually boggles the mind. There actually isn’t a part of my body that hasn’t been injured at one point or another except my head and neck and I had three concussions as a kid so maybe that doesn’t count. Active child, go figure.

So what do I do when I actually hurt myself? I realized this could be a good guide for those of you who still happen to get aches or pains and while I love our medical system, waiting for service isn’t exactly an option sometimes – even seeing your GP these days can take months. I decided to put together this quick summary of my thought process and how I approach things. I hope that it might help the next time you do something dumb and aren’t sure what happened. Here’s an easy checklist to follow:

Step One: Find the source.

Usually this is pretty easy. Ow, that hurts. But sometimes it can be a movement or a type of pressure that hurts. For example, this morning when I got out of bed my right leg couldn’t bear much pressure, and definitely couldn’t experience shear in the knee. First thing I always do is check other places. Ankle? Good. Hip? Good. Back? A bit stiff from diving around but still okay.

Press on the area – is it tender? Is there swelling? Is the pain continuous or only during movement or load (ie standing up, lying down or a certain position). Are any of my muscles around it stiff? Make a list and see what you can isolate to investigate further.

I only knew about this when I got out of bed and a bolt of pain shot through my leg. Going downstairs was also quite a challenge. No visible contusions (yet, those can take a day or two). No immense swelling. Pain is isolated to my right side.

Great. So it’s my knee. Now we move on to step two.

Step Two: How bad is it?

Can I put pressure on it? Sort of, just not stable. Can I move it through a partial or full range of motion? Yes, although there is a range that hurts more when I do that. Is there a particular movement or pressure direction that causes pain. Yes, acutely with forward shear and also lateral movement. Like holy crap that hurts.

Problems are stairs, any excessive range while walking or stepping (this is called forward shear) and it is really not happy if I plant my foot and rotate.

What parts of my knee experience that? Now, this may require some knowledge of anatomy, which I am lucky I have. You are all lucky enough to have a phone available with the entirety of Grey’s Anatomy available at the type of a button. So what’s on the outside and base of my knee? And what experiences pain with lateral movement?

With my knowledge I know that it is one of about three things: lateral meniscus bruising or tear (the spongy part between your knee bones), an ACL or LCL sprain (middle and outside support ligaments) or possibly a tibial plateau issue because the pain is in the top of my tibia. However, if it was a fracture I know pain would be acute and immediate so I can rule that out, as I can any sort of tear because that would have me almost immobilized.

So that narrows it down to a ligament sprain or a meniscus bruise. It would take me months to get imaging to confirm that so we treat that and go from there. Thankfully as knee injuries go these are relatively minor, just annoying.

Step Three: What do I do from here?

98% of the time the answer to this is rest it, elevate it and take ibuprofen for pain. Even if you go to the hospital. Avoid movements that cause pain and support it when you need to. Here’s a simple guideline: a strain or sprain will take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to go away. A serious sprain or partial tear more like 2-4 weeks and something really serious (ie a break or fracture) it can be six weeks plus. But if something was that bad hopefully you’d be at the hospital already and getting a cast.

Often over the first 24-48 hours swelling will kick in and things will change. Inflammation, contrary to popular belief, is not a bad thing – it is locking up the area so the body can start to heal it. Using things like ice has been shown to slow that process. After about a day or two, start with heat and massage for blood flow. This can easily be done with heating bags and self-massage. That’s always the first step.

If things don’t resolve in a couple of days or seem to be getting worse, then it’s time to get checked out seriously. But for what I think this is, it isn’t a big deal. It’s only been about sixteen hours so that may change this week.

Step Four: What caused it in the first place?

People forget this step all the time, and then for some reason manage to re-injure themselves. Gee, I wonder why.

I play goalie for my soccer team. It requires a lot of diving, sometimes onto my knees and yesterday I blocked a couple of key shots as well directly with my knees and also got kicked hard in the foot. Any one of these things could cause the issues I’m having today (we still lost, but whatever). So avoiding deep knee compression and forward shear through the joint is a good idea for a little while. In a couple of days, with any luck I’ll be fine. After next game my soccer career is done so with any luck I’ll be okay for next game. But I’m also not stupid, and if something hurts I don’t risk it at the age of 46. Neither should you.

I can’t say that enough – IF SOMETHING HURTS, DON’T USE IT. I put that in caps because athletes are stupid. Give it a day or two to rest and heal and try again later. Your life isn’t going anywhere and if you take a couple of days off, there are lots of other activities you can do. This morning I did an upper body workout because I didn’t want to use my legs. No problem.  

Now, just because you read this – please don’t be stupid. If you’re in a lot of pain and can’t move a joint or see massive bruising or discoloration, go to the hospital and get imaging. Something really bad is best treated early on rather than waiting. But in my experience, being proactive and at least trying to figure things out on your own is vital. Or, if you have a practitioner (I happen to know one) who can figure it out or at least suggest some options, contact them. They should be happy to help. Unfortunately most GPs have little knowledge about skeletal injury through no fault of their own and will simply refer you out anyway.  

Anyway, please wish me luck with my knee rehab and in the soccer playoffs next week. I hope this helps some of you think about things properly the next time you have an injury and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about anything! Also, feel free to share it with others if you find it useful.

Three Questions for The New Year

At this time of year, there are droves of people heading to gyms with a firm resolution to get in better shape and lose weight, get strong or finally run that race. New Year, new you – and this year you’re going to make it stick. I want you to be successful.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of fitness professionals and facilities who prey on these people and are trying to land them as new clients by any means necessary. They will promise free classes, free months, free back massages just to get you into the door of their place and try to sell you into a program or membership or package.

Most people equate fitness as something that has to be difficult in order to make progress. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. So when you’re about to start that new fitness program or change your habits, ask yourself these three things and you’ll be much more likely to stick to them long term and achieve the goals you set out:

Have I Done my Research?

When finding a new facility or possibly hiring a professional, everyone is offering bargains and deals. In fact, just a couple of days ago I received an unsolicited message from a spammer asking ME if I wanted to join his group classes for free for a month.

Your workout space should fit not only your personality (if you’re new to fitness, going to the local Iron Gym might not be a good idea), but also your ability to go as frequently as possible (ie close to home, work or in between somewhere) and your budget. Also, acknowledge to yourself if you prefer working out by yourself (so strength training or spinning at home might be for you) or as a group (HIIT training, Crossfit or yoga).

If you’re hiring someone, everyone is giving consultations for free. First thing I suggest is to trust a referral from someone who HAS GOTTEN RESULTS that are similar to your goals. Next you have to see if their philosophy and personality are things you will get along with. Last is budget – if a trainer asks you to sign up for a year of sessions on the spot, walk away.

Finding a good fit for you means you are likely to go more often because you enjoy it, not because you feel like you have to. If you don’t want to be there, you’ll find an excuse to stop going and that is what you want to avoid.

research

Is what I’m Doing Appropriate for Me?

Joining a new group exercise class that promises high intensity training and quick results is typically the first stop for many. Unfortunately, group classes are rarely scaled or supervised properly unless they are small groups (ie about a 4 participant to 1 instructor ratio).

You also might be put into a room with people who have been doing intense exercise for years and asked to do the same thing as they are doing. This can involve things like heavy dynamic movements, tons of repetitions using bodyweight, or complicated sequences that will exhaust you quickly, making you think it is good for you. You’ll sweat, feel exhausted and get caught up in the moment where you’re encouraged to probably do way too much, way too hard, way too SOON.  And then get discouraged and quit, or get injured and quit.

There is a period that your body goes through when it is introduced to new stimuli (like a new movement or environment) called neural adaptation. I call this subconscious competence, almost like riding a bicycle. At first, it is difficult and you fall or feel unstable. Then your brain and nervous system learn to adapt to the movements and you acquire more balance. This is also a fundamental principle of strength training. Think of it as gradual learning for your muscles, which are controlled by your brain.

As the difficulty of a movement goes up, the harder your nervous system has to work to recruit things, giving you less possibility to control any individual component. Again, this is where proper coaching comes into the picture and learning something that sounds simple like a squat, can be very important.

For experienced exercisers, this window is smaller. For new exercisers, it can be quite large. Far more than a quick explanation or watching other people doing it and trying to emulate it. In new classes, make sure you’re doing things that you can manage, and if that means every other rep then so be it. Go at a pace that you can manage and NEVER go to muscular failure.

Another quick mention for those of you who were “in shape” years ago. You’re not now. Therefore your body needs time to re-adapt to movements you haven’t done in a long time. You will adapt faster, but not instantly.

Barbell-Hip-Trust
A 400 pound hip thrust is great for this guy – not you.

Am I Listening to my Body?

As I’ve said before, pain is your body’s way of saying STOP IT. Especially acute pain, which is generally a signal that you should stop immediately, like putting your hand on a hot stove.

Even after a workout, if you feel shaky or lightheaded and have trouble walking to your car or more importantly, driving it – you may have done too much during that session.

Feedback to either yourself or whomever you’re working with is essential for this. My clients report to me the day after every session, even if they are fine. Recording what you did, how long and how much is also vital to make sure you can go back and adjust if need be.

This can also be a question you need to ask when it comes to your diet. If you’re considering making changes, start recording what you’re eating, but include a section where you write down how the food you eat makes you feel and when you’re eating it. Most people can progress quite well just by reducing or eliminating the big three (alcohol, sugar and starchy carbs).

Some need a more involved protocol or elimination diet. If a food makes you feel crappy – why are you eating it? If you’re eating because of the HALT method (habit, angry, lonely or tired) then reconsider why you’re doing it.

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If you ask yourself these three questions when you start back in this New Year, you’ll be set up much better for success. The last thing you want is another year of gym fees disappearing because you gave up in February. And as a professional, I want you to be as healthy and fit as you can possibly be. Just make sure you’re asking the right questions, doing the right things, and listening to your body along the way.

Have a wonderful 2020, and as always, if you have any questions, my inbox is always open at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com!