Years ago I had a client who had torn his rotator cuff during a simple movement. The funny thing was, he didn’t even know it until he got an MRI on the area. He had come to me with some shoulder pain and I did what I do and strengthened the area, thinking he had simple tendonitis and it resolved in a few months and he went back to regular lifting.
The “holy crap” moment came when he got the results of his MRI, and his orthopedic surgeon said that he actually had a full tear in part of his rotator cuff. What the surgeon also said was that his shoulder was so perfectly strengthened to within millimeters of the tear that his shoulder could function without a problem even though he had an injury that should have required surgery.
Over the years I’ve had many examples of this type of thing within my practice. Hip replacement? Golfing within four months. Achilles tendonitis? Took four weeks. Massive spinal trauma due to getting hit by a truck twenty years prior? Resolved issues and can perform at work and home without issue. Four herniated discs? Skating and lifting things again within six months. Powerlifter with a chronic hip issue that wouldn’t allow her past parallel? Competed in provincials several months later. I had a woman come in with a diagnosed tennis elbow she had for over a year and resolved that in 40 minutes by popping it back into place. She’s still good months later. Bodybuilders who have shoulder issues? Retrained and fine after a couple of weeks.
I actually got an email a few months ago from a client with two knees that were essentially destroyed due to lack of cartilage I worked with three years ago – who said she is still walking 20 miles a week and her knees are totally fine.
Here’s the funny thing – sometimes I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I know a lot about the body and how it responds to force and how to strengthen things really effectively. This is simply a confidence issue stemming from years of bullying and neglect at home where I had to fight to prove that I was good at anything and even then got ignored so gave up a lot.
Recently though I’ve had a bit of a mind shift. I’ve taken a look at the success I have had over the years with clients of many shapes, sizes and ability levels and realized that while sometimes I keep putting myself down, I have actually affected and helped a ton of people in a very positive way when it comes to “fixing” injuries and getting people moving without a problem again. I’ve also encountered some incredibly rare conditions that I have had the luck to be able to work on and gain experience with. My brain just seems to work in line with movement and force so that I can make logical sense of things and actually get to the root of the issue.
So what’s the point of this? I guess it is a simple statement that I’ve realized that I can embrace this skill. It is something that I was meant to do. Something I’m really good at and can help people with.
Last year in a course they asked us to generate something called a “sankalpa” which is a yoga word for a simple statement that you use to focus yourself and discover your inner being. The first thing that popped into my head after thinking about it was “I am a healer”. My other inner voice pushes that away and tells me I’m not good enough, but recently I’ve been able to shift into another way of thinking finally.
So there is is: I am a healer.
The exciting thing about it is that there are still many avenues I can explore, directions I can take and methodologies I can learn in order to increase the level of skill I already have. I’ve gone down a couple of those paths, but now it is time to make it a direct focus and really get into the practice (not that I wasn’t already). It feels good to have that type of mind shift, even though it has taken a long time.
We are all on the Earth for a reason, and as much as I tried to push it away and ignore it, this is simply my calling. I’ve known it for many years but now I’m just declaring that it is time to stop that and embrace it instead. Expect to see some changes to the practice in the near future.
Got a problem? Injury? Strange condition that you want to improve? Come at me bro. Want to feel better, move better? Tried everything and nothing seems to work? Try this. And the great thing is that it can be applied to many communities from heavy lifters who tweak something to the elderly who have been living with problems for years.
With the support of my amazing family and community and clients I know that I can make some changes that will only enhance my ability to help people and make them well physically again. And with any luck help more people that recently thought that there was no help for them. Wish me luck and of course, if you know of anyone that might need help please just let me know.
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.
Recently I was provided with several examples via clients and just various internet sources of people who are “fitness experts” on YouTube throwing up videos on various topics. Most of them centred around exercise and technique for the best possible application for whatever body part they are focusing on. I’m not even going to get into the amount of nutrition videos that exist (and have information that would make you laugh) because we would be here all day.
Just as an example, one was provided by an IFBB Figure Pro and was talking about changing the angle of the leg press in order to “isometrically” stimulate the glutes. Not only did she realize that isometric doesn’t mean isolation when it comes to exercise, but she also stated such gems as “this is all glute – no quad and hamstring at all” (hmm, I wonder what was helping your knee extend and flex during that press?) and also had you positioned on a leg press lying on your side – something that is not only risky, it could also be really harmful for somebody’s back if the load was high enough. A gimmick position designed to take a regular movement, and make it fresh and new – and potentially dangerous.
Another was a video about bicep curls. Very slick, very well produced and of course full of buzz words like “kinesiology” and “biomechanics” and “concentric” but at the end of the day, it was about bicep curls. Barbell bicep curls. And it was over 6 minutes long. The person who produced it used pretty much every buzz word they could pronounce, and made it seem like something as simple as using a barbell to perform elbow flexion was something that required a ton of attention from the average gym person.
Pretty much every YouTube fitness “expert” has videos of the “best [insert body part here] workout”. These videos will typically show you a circuit of exercises that you could find in any magazine on a shelf this month put in an order that isn’t anything new or different than has been said 100 million times previously. Movement is movement, and Arnold was talking about bicep curls about 40 years ago – surprisingly, the movement hasn’t changed. If anyone ever tells you can that they have come up with a brand new way to stimulate a joint, they are full of it. I’ve read papers written over 2000 years ago about human movement – odds are, things haven’t changed that much. Elbows are still flexing exactly the same way. Force is force. What changes is the way people try to repackage fundamentals so that they can sell it to unsuspecting people who don’t know any better.
Now, before people jump on me for being critical, I’m not saying that these videos are wrong or that they don’t provide some good information for exercise variety for the average person. I’m saying that there is a TON of inaccurate information out there, and you have to be aware of it in order to be able to sift through all of the crap. Just recently a study was done on Wikipedia articles that dealt with medical information and it was found that across 20,000 articles, 90% of them had false information in them that could potentially lead to misdiagnosing an illness. Since most people these days get their information via the internet this could be fairly serious. I’m sure that I can spot inaccuracies in over 90% of videos on YouTube as well, making it also a potentially dangerous source of knowledge, especially when you consider that people will hop on there, watch a video and then try a movement without any real coaching. Many of these videos also encourage people to run through a very challenging circuit that likely they have no business performing at that stage in their fitness evolution. I’ve written before about people who push way too hard way too soon, and YouTube is a great place to get ideas for that.
I know that when I have a client come in and they tell me about something they read on the internet, my answer usually is that it wasn’t wrong – it was misleading and not totally accurate. Part of my job is to provide accurate information to people and explain exactly how things work – then it is up to the person to make their own decisions. One of my mantras is that there is no “good” or “bad” – there are varying levels of appropriate and how things are applied to whom, where and why. Are leg presses sideways bad? Probably – but it depends on who is doing them. Is there a better, safer way to do almost exactly the same thing? Yes. Are bicep curls being done wrong in every gym across the country? I have no idea. It probably didn’t require a six minute video to explain, but obviously this person thought that it did and is using it to market themselves as a “fitness expert”.
You also have to consider the motivation behind the videos that you watch. Are they just marketing fodder, sponsored by a supplement company and starring an attractive figure model? Are they telling you that a “revolutionary” new technique is going to get your results to you even faster (especially if you take/wear/drink their product at the same time)? 98% of the time that person is there to market themselves or a product that they sponsor and the more hits they get, the more money they make. Some of the videos know that sex sells so their model is wearing next to nothing. Again, more hits = more money. And a lot more people who might just believe that lying sideways on a leg press is a great way to isometrically use your glutes.
With all of this information being thrown at you, it is really not easy to pick out the accurate information from the inaccurate without having someone to point out what the truth is. If you sit and watch videos long enough, suddenly you start to believe that if you just try this new technique that your results will change drastically and that you will vault into the stratosphere of fitness without putting in the appropriate time and effort. That’s what makes you dumber. I’ve had fellow trainers message me asking “is this right?”. The point is that this inaccurate information makes people question if what they are doing is actually what they should be doing. This applies to both trainers and people who are looking to get fitter. Then someone watches a video, gets on a leg press at a sideways angle and wrecks their back (or hip or both) and wonders why.
Here’s my suggestion – get off of the internet and start reading books. NOT Dr. Oz books. Textbooks, manuals, journals with published research, things written by people with track records and credentials to match their publishing history. Odds are they are going to be a TON more accurate than somebody who looks great in a pair of tight pants or tank top and is showing you a nice booty exercise. There are actual web sites where you can open source whole courses on anatomy, mechanics and movement or at least the textbooks for reference – for free (if you want to know some feel free to message me). Be a little more proactive about your knowledge. Read books on workout routines written by actual coaches and people who have been doing it for thousands of hours with hundreds of people. Not someone who only has a fitness following because they are on TV or look really hot in a set of tight pants. And if you have a question – find someone who knows the right answer and ASK THEM. I’m always happy to answer questions for people even if they aren’t my client, because part of my job is to help people, and to me that means providing accurate information to the best of my ability. And if I don’t know the answer I can direct you to someone or somewhere who does.
The fitness industry is full of marketing ploys and terrible information and it can all be found just a click away and make you dumber as a result. Please, don’t fall for this stuff and don’t allow the internet to dictate what you do or don’t do in a gym or to your body (yes I realize the irony of writing this on a blog). Find an expert, consult with them and get it right the first time. Don’t let anything that affects your body be as simple as believing someone with a slick video on the internet is anything close to an expert on the body and what it does. I’m happy to help if you need it.
Feel free to like, share, but please don’t publish it on YouTube.