This is another success story I’d like to share with my readers and anyone interested in what I do. This case really illustrates the gradual use of resistance to create tension and hold positions for spinal issues and how they can be improved.
Randi came to me through a referral from one of my local MAT practitioners. Often when these people are receiving treatment they require someone who has my skills to help increase their strength once their body is able to fire muscles properly again. Having this combination is a really great way to enhance your gains in strength and allow your body to develop at a much more rapid pace. By the way, I highly recommend MAT to anyone looking to improve their physical self, you can find more about it HERE.
When I first assessed Randi it was a challenge. In a nutshell, everything we tried caused pain in her back, localized mostly around the right SI joint area which was indicated as the main issue. This had been going on for almost eight years and caused her to give up a lot of things she enjoyed doing, like hiking, cycling and even caused her problems while walking her dog. She had trouble with simply standing in proper posture, which put pressure in areas that her back “didn’t like”. This became a frequent gauge of her pain levels during our first few sessions.
Doing what I do, I will at first admit that I miscalculated and didn’t realize how much Randi’s back would react to my initial movement pattern assignment. After our first session she was okay, but after the next couple her back was sore for four days to the point where she couldn’t do normal everyday activities. This is after doing much movements as simple hip flexion, mild bracing, some basic extension (ie hip hinging) and trying to integrate her hips with her shoulder girdle. I was surprised, but glad that Randi (after she recovered) allowed me to try again.
The lesson here for both you and myself, is that you can reduce any level of force to an appropriate one for any person. So what did I reduce to? Randi started out most of her subsequent sessions with postural holds (bracing in a standing position), walking in proper alignment, and then going through various drills and movements unloaded in order to teach her body to facilitate coordination without any load. Loads were added eventually, but using angles of her body and longer ranges of motion, not weights. This Is a very broad description, but it worked. Before long, Randi’s body was to the point where she could endure long car rides, do sustained long activities she enjoyed like cooking and was able to think about buying a bicycle for her main goal.
Randi’s main goal was to be able to bike 26 kilometers for her trip to the Canadian Rockies, something she had wanted to do for a long time. The first step was to get her back on a bike again. She lasted for only 45 seconds the first time we put her on one. Then, through gradual application and increasing of mileage not only did we get her back onto a real bicycle (after finding one her body could tolerate) but we got her to the point where she could bike for over an hour (with breaks) and while her back was tired, she was able to recover quickly and function normally afterwards. Progressions were done weekly and she was also given specific technique rules and ways she could approach what she was doing on the bike to take tension off of her back. With some movements, it is a matter of reteaching the body how to move.
One interesting weekend Randi pushed herself a bit too hard, not realizing that a 15km route (which was prescribed) was actually a 20km route with hills. Her back reacted accordingly, but the great thing was that she recovered fairly quickly. Recovery time is always a great marker for performance improvement. Normally what would have done her in for a week had her sore for a couple of days, which is fairly normal when you’re doing something you haven’t done in eight years.
I’m happy to say that Randi has made incredible progress. Not only did she successfully ride the trail in the Rockies, she is now dead lifting up to 50 pounds, performing movements like lunges and pulldowns and planks, and is able to recover from workouts quickly. Her MAT therapist has seen a significant change in the way her muscles hold onto position. This is all in a period of about six months.
Once of the best parts of my job is helping people like Randi and sharing in the results. Here’s a picture she sent me of her on the bike out in the Rockies accomplishing her goal:
Randi’s goals have moved away from reducing pain and into more typical goals like weight loss and strength gain, which is fantastic. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the great benefit that I tell my clients is that if you can teach your body to tolerate forces, then it will always improve. If you have any specific questions about my work with Randi (or anyone else) feel free to contact me through this site or at email@example.com. I’m always willing to help if I can.
Over the years, one of my clients’ frequent struggles with weight loss is the concept of a number on a scale. Unfortunately in our society we have been taught that this number means something, when really it is a function of gravity (when you come right down to it). While there are some considerations that need to be taken when you’re dealing with obese people, for those who are within a healthy body weight range the idea of how much they weigh can still be an obsession, and not a healthy one.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard “I just need to lose another five pounds.” No you don’t – you need to get into a smaller pant size or you want to look better at the beach. Or there’s another fundamental reason that you want to be thinner, smaller or have visible abdominals. I want to be more attractive. I want to have people pay more attention to me. Or, on the flipside they want to stop the negative thoughts they have running through their heads constantly about themselves..
The weight on the scale actually has little to do with it. When I’m judging fitness competitors, do you think weight has anything to do with it? One person who is the same height could weigh ten pounds more – and actually look a lot better. I have many friends who are high level performance athletes who don’t think twice about what a scale says – it’s all about how they can do the things they need to do in order to win a race or lift what they need to lift. Runners aren’t classified by weight, they are classified by speed. Fitness models and bikini girls are based on height. Even different clothing manufacturers have different sizes based on demand – you can be a size 4 in one store and a size 8 in another.
Your body changes day to day and month to month. This is a good thing, and it is based on how you move, what you put into it and even how much stress you allow yourself to experience. The good news is that these are all things you can affect easily if you simply make a decision to do so.
So my main point to people who obsess about a number on a scale is simply this: do you walk around with that tattooed on your forehead? Of course, the answer is no. And even if you did, do you really think that the people who care about you would judge you based on that number? I can only imagine a horrible society where if you drifted into the upper range of BMI you would be labelled with a red flag and your coworkers, friends and family would shun you because you are a horrible person. Some people seem to think this is going to happen to them.
This just doesn’t happen. Fundamentally, the only person that really cares about how much you weigh – is you. And you’re insecure about it because at some point in your life you decided that words from someone else or a number on a scale meant more than feeling good about yourself. Or you think that by dropping that number you’re going to look better to yourself and other people. Here’s a news flash – they don’t care. Or at least they shouldn’t, and if they do then you’re probably hanging out with the wrong people.
Your conversation with yourself about that is usually based on what you have been told by other people, some of whom are too stupid to realize that when you were a kid or an adult or they were supposed to care about you they were actually beating you down. I have a very blunt way of dealing with that: forget them. You should always be trying to improve, but in my opinion it should be for your own reasons, not one that another person gave you.
Too much today we focus on what other people think, and in a book by Dale Carnegie I read many years ago he summed it up best: Why are you letting other people decide how you are going to feel? Let’s be happy with who we are and what we have before we allow any type of words (which mean nothing) to affect our daily lives and how we feel about ourselves.
Let’s focus on the right things:
Feeling better every day.
Performing better every day.
Maybe looking better (for yourself, not someone else).
Come from a place of support for yourself.
Every day try to make yourself and the world around you a little bit better.
If you feel like it, take a picture of your scale weight and post it on your forehead for the world to see. Maybe we will start a trend so people will figure out how silly it is that they are defining themselves by a number.
Often my first few encounters with people are met with trepidation and fear. These are people who are injured, and have been for a long time without getting any type of improvement or change in their condition and they are tired of it, or often have just resigned themselves to feeling a certain way for a very long time.
I’m of the opinion that if you do the right things to tissue, it is a living thing and it can change to adapt and get stronger given the right stimulus. I’ve managed to prove this to myself and my clients over and over again through the years by giving their tissue exactly what it needs – more capability to handle stress under load without overtaxing the nervous system and causing pain, which is more often than not a defense mechanism or warning sign that something isn’t quite right.
My most recent example happened just two weeks ago. I began working with a woman who has had what was diagnosed as “tennis elbow” (by a sport medicine doctor) over nine months ago and has been living with daily pain since. She’s been doing physio weekly and has had not one, but two trainers working with her as well. She was actually referred to me by a colleague in another city after moving to mine.
So I’m doing my assessment and taking a very careful look at her elbow and notice that there seems to be a lot more laxity in the joint than on the opposing side. Her shoulder, elbow and wrist were also quite weak and unstable (unable to hold force without deviation) on that side. So as a result I spent a lot of our first full session together increasing her elbows’ ability to hold position, and also did a movement designed to apply force directly through the radioulnar joint into the humerus. Isometric elbow extension, limited range elbow flexion, and finally a simple direct push isometric into the joint with a lot of force. Result? Immediately after a simple 20 second isometric application she stated that it felt “better – strangely better” as she proceeded to fully extend her elbow (which she couldn’t do 2 minutes previous). As we proceeded with the rest of the movements things continued to improve.
Three days later she said that she had slept through the night previous, something she hadn’t done in months due to pain, and suddenly her elbow was a lot stronger – strong enough to do weighted pulling movements, which is something else she hadn’t done in months. All from a very simple – but deliberate and intentional – application of force to an area.
Now two weeks later we can do upper body pulling movements with load – something she couldn’t do two weeks ago and was afraid of doing when she walked into my studio.
Here’s the thing – if a wall is falling down, do you let it fall part way, then stop it there and start repairing it? No. You shove it back into place and then put a bolt in it so that it doesn’t fall down again. That’s strength.
So many people have a misconception that strength means that they have to move a boulder or throw something over their head. That they will get big and huge overnight if they even look at a weight. To me, strength is the ability of the body to hold onto force through its’ varying joints without causing trauma that causes that tissue to degrade. If you can move a bit more force through that joint (picture your knee during a knee extension) without the joint being compromised and losing the ability to hold position – that’s strength. If you can run 500 meters further without causing your legs and back to degrade to the point that you slouch or start striking with the wrong part of your foot – that’s strength.
Stronger tissue also means shorter recovery times, meaning you can either train more or train harder. Stronger tissue means that simple everyday tasks don’t have to cause you pain due to a joint going way too far out of its’ appropriate range of motion. The great thing about your body is that if you stimulate it properly with just enough force, it will adapt. Every single time. And, it is so intelligent that it will learn how to deal with that level of force by laying down more tissue in order to deal with the requirements being put upon it.
The greatest thing about this concept is that you can literally apply it to anyone. Have an elderly relative who can’t lift a grocery bag? Find a way that they can lift one that’s half or quarter full, or weighs 3 pounds. Then, once they can do that, add a pound. On the flipside of that you might have an athlete who can perform explosive fast movements for 45 seconds, but needs to be able to do it for 60, or maintain strength after being on a basketball court for 35 minutes with little rest. Find out where their threshold is and take them just a little beyond (if they can handle it at the time) and then the body will do the rest.
And for pete’s sake – if you are dealing with a professional who isn’t working towards resolving the problem and still throwing money at them – stop it. There’s a thousand practitioners out there in my city alone. I’m not saying that I have all of the answers, but sometimes what is done to people in the name of “therapy” makes me shake my head. Here’s a very simple statement: If your practitioner can’t tell you what they are trying to do to make sure your problem resolves and doesn’t happen again – every time – then find someone else who can.
And the next time you’re in the gym, or on the field, think about what you did last time. Then do more.
This article was inspired by a little old lady I observed while in my car driving home today. The woman looked to be fairly elderly, walking slowly along the sidewalk holding a large bag. As I drove closer, suddenly she stood up straight, grabbed her bag tight and started to run. Not just run, sprint. I noticed that she saw the bus coming and really, really wanted to catch it rather than waiting for the next one, which is obviously why she made that decision. Suddenly this somewhat frail looking woman could become Usain Bolt just because she suddenly wanted to. She did catch the bus, by the way (good for her).
As a society we typically take the easy way out, unless it is something that we really want. Then we will beat ourselves up, lie, work ourselves into mental illness or neglect other important things simply to get it done. This all comes down to simple priorities and motivation. When was the last time that you missed dinner with your family or an event because you were working late? When was the last time you skipped breakfast in order to get an extra ten minutes of sleep? People tend to confuse “want” as opposed to “have to” more often than they need to. As Tony Robbins would say, if you can change your “shoulds” into “musts” then your brain will literally change the way it thinks about things.
Think about this the next time you tell yourself that you “should go to the gym”. Change the way you say it to “I have to go to the gym”. The intention completely changes. Just like we as trainers manipulate the intention of different exercises, you can literally change the intention of how to spend your day to day activities – without having to drop everything and sprint. Find that reason and everything suddenly becomes easier. I often tell people – what if someone was holding a gun to your head? Would you get it done? What if your children or family were at risk? What would suddenly change that thing from 4th on your priority list to 1st?
In short – what is your bus? What would make you drop everything and sprint, possibly sacrificing injury and losing your bags without a second thought? Is it your job? Your family? Or maybe is there another bus you should be running for – like your health? So often I hear stories from clients and people I know that they wish they had started to take care of themselves sooner, or just stayed consistent with what they were doing before another bus came along that they felt they had to start running for. The thing is, once that bus pulls away and you miss it there might be another one coming, but it won’t take you to the same place. You might have to travel a few extra stops before you get to where you want to go.
I’m obviously an advocate of taking care of your health and well-being first, and then everything else kind of falls into place. This can be as simple as meditation, finding an activity that inspires you or setting a goal that motivates you to get out and do something active. And the next time you think about stopping the momentum, just imagine that you look behind you and that bus is coming down the road. Maybe you won’t have to sprint to get there, but it might help you pick up your pace just a bit.