Counter-Fit

interesting-fact-about-evolutionCounter-Fit

The new research about fascia and proprioception is fascinating.  The fitness industry should take notice and use this new information to innovate and develop new practices.

Unfortunately the fitness industry continues down the same path for the most part, s turning a blind eye to science based information that could transform our industry.

‘No pain no gain’, ‘Keep your knees behind your toes’, ‘contract your abs’, etc.–all things the modern day personal trainer might say in any gym in America .  The truth is that most trainers don’t know WHY they are giving these instructions.  Since there is no accountability at present in the fitness industry, most trainers will not take a chance of rocking the boat with change. The ‘fitness mafia’ as I like to refer to them, hang their collective hats on old dogma such as periodization for hypertrophy, static stretching prior to exercise, and the recent phenomenon, ‘muscle confusion’.    There is no rationale to support this dogma, and in an unregulated industry like ours, no mechanism exists to require trainers to update their practice to incorporate current science.

We now know that fascia connects everything, every tissue, and every organ in our bodies.  Fascia is the mechanism by which all physical movement is communicated from one tissue and one muscle and one joint complex to the next; faster than the speed of light.

We also now are fully aware of proprioceptors and proprioception.   Think of proprioceptors like a governor in a car that can be preset to control speed.    Proprioceptors in the human body can control or be preset to control much more than speed.   Some dictate lengthening of muscle, some twitch speed, and others determine things like tension and load.  (They are named either by their anatomical location or the researchers who discovered them.  Ruffini and Pacini, Muscle Spindles and Golgi Tendon organs, for example.)

Movement turns them on.  Movement sets and resets them.

Proprioception means ‘sense of self. It’s how you know where your hand is when your eyes are closed.   The most recent research reveals much much more about specific proprioceptors and their role in human movement.

Proprioceptive dictation has to be communicated through some physiological process and/or tissue.  That tissue is fascia, which connects everything to everything else.  Like a fabric or web our bodies have intelligently designed and evolved this communication process over thousands of years.

The Gray Institute, one of the bold leaders who are challenging the way we think about human movement coined this phrase, “Movement turns on proprioceptors, proprioceptors turn on muscles, and muscles control the movement.”

How can we in the fitness industry make use of the emerging science of proprioception to build not only strength, but to actually extend people’s lives.   Function is the key.   Our human function is to live a purposeful, meaningful, successful and pain free life.  Functional movement then must follow.

Most of us spend a purposeful majority or our day upright whether seated, standing or propelling ourselves in a direction we desire.

We’re designed and have evolved to move and for mostly upright movement in three dimensions.  A contrived environment that confines motion, such as working out in a static one-dimensional plane (direction), is not authentic.   Next time you walk by an elementary playground watch children move.  They move in all dimensions virtually unrestricted.

Now think think of these mechanoreceptors as the brains of each muscle and joint and that these little brains talk to each other constantly and they learn how to move by how we move.  The fitness industry is attempting motion replication in conflict with how we evolved.  Asymmetry, disfunction, and then pain typically follow.

In evolutionary terms the science of exercise physiology as we know it has existed for one second out of all the seconds that make up the last year (31,536,000 seconds to be exact).

The modern-day fitness industry trains clients counter to our design and counter to functional evolution.  As the science digs deeper, the fitness industry’s unwillingness to look deeper and question what we know dishonors our evolutionary design and its adaptive nature.

The mind is like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it’s not open

-Frank Zappa

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Purposeful Versus Contrived Movement

By Doug Petersen, June 2, 2016

Why 3D Movement?

Your body is craving it. I promise you it is.

Your body craves the three dimensions we live in because it’s required to sustain symmetry, mobility and balance. I believe this so much that I’m willing to stake my career on it.

We are 3D beings. We both evolved and were designed to move in multiple planes, in greater ranges of motion, with more speed and force, plus amazingly; to stabilize all that motion.

Over the past 75 years, however, we quite literally came to a screeching halt from a movement perspective. In evolutionary terms, in less than a minute we went from foragers to farmers to manufacturers to sitters — the average American sits 85% of their conscious day.

Our bodies are suffering so much that entire industries have developed to deal with the cumulative trauma that flows naturally from a mostly motionless body.

And the one industry positioned perfectly to help, instead continues to promote and condone more and more demanding and dangerous forms of what they love to categorize as “exercise.” Sadly, the health-Fitness industry remains completely unregulated and like the supplement industry can say and sell anything that might bring a profit. They are praying on our naiveté, relying on our ignorance and counting on our lemming-like fear of missing out on what “she’s having” to generate profits not necessarily your success.

Look forward and our kids’ kids will no doubt say things like, “You ran 26.2 miles through pain?” or “You would go to a place called a gym, a Box, or a club and challenge each other to flip tires, throw weights up over your head, and use a bike that doesn’t move!?” or “ You went to yoga classes with the heat turned up to 105 degrees for a 90 minute challenge?!”

We will painfully shake our heads and say we didn’t know any better… but we did, and we do. Our bodies are the first to tell us when what we’re doing to them is wrong.

And I’m here to tell you there is another way that is not only better but it’s free.

But in exchange, you’re going to have to let go of that “perfect body” mentality because it’s a watering hole you will never get to. Hanging on to that mirage can cause irreparable physical and emotional damage is study after study reveals that it is not the perfectly fit body that lives the longest and healthiest, it’s the Amish-like body that out lasts them all. I can’t sell you that body, nor can the fitness industry.

But here’s what you can do: cut your own lawn, shovel your own drive, walk your dog, clean your own house and embrace the three dimensional movements that leverage literally what life has gives us for free in terms of mass and momentum, ground reaction forces and gravity. I promise that you will burn as many, if not more, calories than all those contrived forms of “exercise.” Evolution has equipped us to sustain this activity, and it’s all free!

Walk by a play ground and watch kids move, they don’t think about proper sequencing, neutral spine, or keeping their knees behind their toes, they just move, naturally and intuitively.

For those of you who are quite literally tied to your chair, and don’t have a playground at work seek out opportunities to move freely or professionals who offer less rigid and traditional methods.   My attempt at replacing all that free-motion and child-like activity is a 3D series of classes that attempts to leverage all those things given to us for free . This is my gift of pain-free motion to each participant.kids playing

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High Intensity Training….the rest of the story.

ape to desk image

High-intnsity workouts got a boost back in December when the New York Times published a piece about them in its popular “Well” blog. The journalist, Gretchen Reynolds, examined a study suggesting that the amount of exercise needed to show increased health could be crammed into just 10 minutes. The story led to lots of lively discussion in the gym and got me thinking about our perceptions of movement. While Reynolds’ point was that lack of time should not be a deterrent to working out, I’m concerned about the physiological implications of this approach to movement.

Ten thousand years ago our ape ancestors sat around most of the time, walking a couple miles a day at most. But they spent the next 5,000 evolving into hunter-gatherers, becoming capable of ambling for several hours a day in a quest for nuts and berries, with occasional bursts of sprinting in pursuit of prey. To survive for long stretches without food—periods that also might have included traveling great distances searching for it—those proto-humans became incredible energy-conservation machines. As they evolved out of trees and into the savannah in search of food, their bodies traded the quick burn for the long haul.

Fast forward 5,000 more years, and today we find ourselves spending our days more like those apes from 10 millennia ago than our more recent hunter-gatherer predecessors. Instead of lounging in trees plucking fruit from nearby limbs, we lounge on our sofas munching on Hot Pockets and Doritos. This time, however, the shift happened in the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, and we are clearly mal-adapted to our new environment.

Now place yourself in any gym in America, mal-adapted and more concerned about your creditworthiness than running down a rabbit on the Savannah (which you are wonderfully adapted to accomplish, by the way). You do what the majority of Americans do—you have a routine, you attend a spin class, lift a few weights, or do yoga, and then you shower up and head home or to work to sit the remainder of the day. But here’s the kicker: Your body is still wired to conserve energy in preparation for that long walk, run, and inevitable short sprint to chase down the rabbit—even if you never actually get around to that chase.

We are adaptation machines, and to think otherwise is futile. Ask any competitive body builder, power-lifter or champion cyclist, and they will tell you that your body only responds to greater workloads. It will continue to do so right up to another point of maladaptation: extreme overload that can lead to damaged bone plates, torn tendons, ruptured discs, and even heart failure.

Muscular, or exercise, regression studies reveal the following: Put identical workloads, whether aerobic or anaerobic, on the human body over periods as short as 30 days and as long as five years, and your body responds by finding the path of least resistance. In other words, it gets more efficient.

Think of adaptation as an orchestra learning a new piece of music. The more orchestrated or practiced it is, the more lovely it sounds. Muscular coordination creates equally beautiful human movement, one muscle seamlessly transferring energy to another in nanoseconds, allowing our bodies to move beautifully through space against gravity. All the while, these increasingly orchestrated movements become patterned in our neurological pathways, conserving more energy each time we re-create the movement. Which is ultimately nature’s way of nurturing our survival. Adaptation demands conservation.

So let’s plop onto the seat of a stationary bike in Any Gym USA. Your instructor is your maestro, and you dutifully perform your high-intensity intervals. You huff and puff and suffer a small amount of anaerobic burn or bump up against your lactate threshold to be more metabolically specific (accurate), and your body does exactly what it was designed and evolved to do: it adapts. But instead of burning X amount of calories as the metabolic equation says you should, your body searches out that path of least resistance and burns less each time (if in fact your high-intensity intervals remain the same, and likely they will). Your body is still chasing down food and sprinting to survive.

“Adapt or die” was literally the case for thousands of years. And even though we aren’t confronted with death while sitting on the bike, we might as well be—because that’s what we evolved to do, and that is what our bodies perceive during each painful 20-second high-intensity interval.

As I sit here writing this I speak from experience. For about a 20-year stretch—from around age 25 to 45—I often pushed my body to its limits, trying to force it to continue to adapt in order to continue to burn the same number of calories I did the week or month or year before. And I’m paying the price for it today, facing shoulder- and possibly knee-replacement surgery. I maladapted, and I can with complete clarity see that when I ran, I should have walked. When I lifted, I would have been better off mowing the lawn or shoveling my driveway instead of paying someone else to do it. Unlike my ancestors, I had unlimited access to densely caloric foods and found myself caught in a movement dilemma. I opted for the extreme instead of moderation, and chose the way of the hare instead of the tortoise, ignoring pain as a part of the process of being healthy and well.

What all the proponents of high-intensity workouts—or any workouts, really—fail to tell us is that our bodies will adapt. And if we want to continue to burn the same number of calories, we must continue to increase our workloads and intensities. At some point, our bodies will not be able to keep up, at least not without serious physical consequences such as crippling joint pain.

We are at a tipping point in terms of maladaptation and while we could wait it out a couple thousand years for our bodies to adapt to this newly created highly sedentary environment I’m guessing we won’t so the question is, are we prepared to venture back to the modern day “Savannah” in terms of every day movement and make a conscious choice to only consume as much energy as we’ve adapted to require.

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On your Terms

Dorothys red shoes

Your Sweetest Blasphemy

“Your sweetest blasphemy is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world is freed.”

Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing

Jill was like so many people who have sought my services over the years. She had gained weight incrementally, and now, at age 49, she wanted to “get healthy.” In other words, she wanted me to help her lose weight.

As I sat opposite her all fit and trim during that first meeting, I suppose she assumed that I had a solution for her. After all, I’m a personal trainer. At the time, I owned my own gym, and by all accounts I was successful. My classes were almost always full, and most people who attended them were in fact very fit—certainly not overweight. So I must have had all the answers, right?

My conversation with Jill went pretty much like these sorts of exchanges always did: I told her a compelling fitness success story. Psychologists might say that I employed the tool of transferred experience, framing concepts and instructions around stories. But at the time, I didn’t put much thought into it. I just knew that my clients liked my stories and often responded to them by signing up for my classes.

And the truth is that I did have some great fitness success stories from my decades-long career. But more importantly, I had the power to convince people to follow other people’s paths, to chase someone else’s dream. What I didn’t recognize at the time was that I was projecting other people’s ideas of happiness onto my clients, without considering whether or not it was their own deepest desire to lose weight.

Jill bought my story. She handed me a check. And she dutifully attended one of my small-group training classes 3 days a week.

Six months later, and long before she hit her fitness goal, Jill quit. She had multiple reasons for stopping—kids at home, concerns about money—but certainly nothing insurmountable. She might have lost a little weight, but it wasn’t noticeable and didn’t come close to her target.

When clients quit without achieving their goals, I always feel a tinge of guilt. But those of us in the fitness industry are pretty good at pushing the blame off on our clients. We hang personal responsibility over your heads, and we use pat phrases like “calories in, calories out” or suggest that you “will power” your way to success.

But deep down, we know that you will probably fail and that when you do, you will blame yourself. We also know that you will hop on and off the “fitness wagon” time and again, apologetic and guilt-ridden whenever you slink back into the gym to sign up for a new series of classes. We count on this. In fact, your guilt-tangled failures keep us in business.

This truth has long troubled me. Why is losing weight so difficult for people? And why are Americans willing to pay so much for what in many other industries might be called out as fraud?

Early in 2013 a close friend, who also happens to be a psychologist, asked me what happiness looked and felt like to me, and to then describe it. Initially, I did what most of us probably do. I described an image of me that was mainly one that people held of me—a person others would be happy with, but not necessarily someone I would be deeply contented with. Finally (and sparing you the details of my own road to discovery), it hit me that what I desired most was freedom. Freedom from any boundaries of what I am or will become. Freedom from judgment.

With that revelation, I started to see life differently. To say that my perspective had changed is an understatement. I looked deeply at the choices I was making and questioned the authenticity of those choices in relation to my own happiness.

Jill told me that she wanted to lose weight. But was that her authentic desire, or a desire projected on her by others—myself included? I suspect that Jill had come to me chasing goals dictated by family, friends, and our image-obsessed consumer culture. And rather than help her discover her own path, I added to the problem. Had I been armed with the tools to help her discern her readiness, I would have shown her kindness and empathy rather than usurping her will power to achieve goals that did not match up with her true desires.

Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz could have gone home at any time, but the good witch told her that she wasn’t quite ready. This message should resonate with all of us. At any moment we can click our shoes three times…. on our terms.

We each have a unique purpose. And it’s in that purpose, in its own time, that success, happiness, and true contentedness is found. Look around you, and you will recognize those among us who are truly happy. It’s not a coincidence that they smile often and complain infrequently. They have tipped the scales that measure lack and contentment. They have an honest perspective on personal happiness that defines their choices.

Freedom of choice for so many of us is hindered by our environment. Our social networks, our friends, and even our families hold an image of us they prefer, and this often isn’t an image that resonates with us.

A shift in awareness leads to personal transformation, and that shift in awareness must be directed inward, without consideration of what is happening outside of us.

“To thine ownself be true.”

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Putting Method to the Madness

vintage_excercise_7

A shift is happening, albeit slowly. You see it reflected in gyms across America—small steps away from the overly processed and back to the prime movements the human body was designed for, and in many cases evolved to perform.

 Distal Movement Memories

The other day someone asked me, “Functionally Fit? She essentially was asking me what the purpose of the class was, and whether or not she should participate. I gave her my standard answer that went something like this: Unless youre a professional athlete who can justify training in a specific manner, you should challenge your body to move in all ways possible within reason. I told her to watch how her kids move, because in many ways society is set up to steal those patterns from us. My goal, I said, is to get your body to remember how to move like a child again. For lack of a better title I came up with the class name Functionally Fit. The prospective student played along with my “quick answer” and joined, but I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied, and I’d like to give it another shot.

Downward Dogma

For the past 30 years the health-fitness industry has mastered the commodification and compartmentalization of movement so subversively that, like lemmings, we run to the latest fad, hoping to leap into that perfect body. The reality is that the health-fitness business is a for-profit commercial endeavor.   From the moment consumers began sitting in chairs all day the industry quite literally grew legs, stood up and began to package our movement neatly into“sessions”and “classes.”It’s very much the same way processed food was the precursor to selling us water in bottles. Like free water, our free time is now bottled up into convenient segments called “classes.”In both cases there’s an obvious “chicken”that preceded the “egg,”but no matter how we try to package movement and water, we’re faced with the reality that they are now for profit products. Owner of gyms and water bottling companies rely on your per-session purchase to pay their mortgages, and as a result may not have your best interests in mind.

Movement Miracles

In 1994, in one unfortunate legislative act, Oren Hatch denied the government much oversight into “best practices”by deregulating the supplement industry. While it had more to do with supplements at the time it has been used broadly since then to protect purveyors of exercise programming as well. Without licensing laws in place Hatch essentially gave anyone the right to sell “movement”with little to no protection or reflection as to whether it really does any good for our bodies. Possibly more harmful than this snake oil free-for-all is the implicit message gyms attach to their product: By walking through our doors, by purchasing this package or by writing a check for this membership, you will get fit, lose weight and be happier. Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample of what’s being said in local ads in my small town today: Discover the fittest you, Reinvent yourself and change your life, guaranteed results, We keep you fit for a lifetime, and my favorite, We will provide miraculous healing abilities. The noticeable emphasis in those messages is the intentional highjacking of your own good intentions to make changes. I call this “power-tripping,”and I’m not sure if there’s an industry in America guiltier of this than fitness gurus!

Packaged with a Purpose

As I look back over my 20 years of training and leading classes you could argue that I have been as guilty as the rest, caught up in the latest fads from equipment to programming I’ve tried it all, read it all, and incorporated much of it. In 2011 however, a friend of mine, a local physical therapist, introduced me to the Grey Institute out of Adrian, Michigan. The Grey Institute provided, as they put it, “scientific truths”, as it’s foundation for all movement, and powerful strategies to guide the decision-making process when working with both healthy and unhealthy populations.It was if someone turned on a light switch; not only did the Grey Institute provide clarity, but their process was nurtured in a rehabilitation setting, so these principles would be perfectly suited for prevention or “pre-habilitation”in a class setting.For years I’d searched for a way to make sense of the variables in gym settings: How much? How far? How fast? How many? How often? You get the idea. The potential for variation is mind boggling not to mention individual variation that represents the uniqueness of each of us. These scientific truths now act as a road map to every session and every class I lead.

Methodology

The human body has four muscular bio-motor abilities that can be trained: muscular endurance, muscular strength, muscular power and muscular mass. Unless you’re that professional athlete who can justify heavy focus on one of the four due to the nature of your sport (aside from muscular mass, which I, personally, don’t focus heavily on), I could argue that we should all train equally for endurance, strength and power.

To allow for individual creativity I keep it simple and only select guidance via three variables. Pick a motor ability first, choose the directions you will work in next (north-south, east-west, or rotationally) and finally select bi-lateral (both arms and both legs working together) or unilateral (single arm, single leg work) movements. So it would look something like this on paper, “Unilateral Muscular Strength in the North-South and East-West. From their the instructor will choose tools to be used which ultimately will help in determining variables like distance, height, and speed. It’s this organization that brings meaningful order to the process, a process that through consistency I believe will bring great success for those who participate in our Functionally Fit sessions.

Yes, they are “packages,”but unlike a pile of empty water bottles, they are packages with purpose. Successful completion of a session feeds the success of the next session, and so on, until you can not only go into a full squat, but you can squat pain-free beyond 90 degrees and you can do it in multiple foot positions without compromising knee health. Functionally Fit sessions build basic, healthy movement back into our lives, so that we can bend and stretch and stop and start like we used to do when we were children. So, like a child, we don’t have to hesitate to squat. We don’t have to think about the surface we’re on or the position of our feet or head—we just squat! In a perfect world these classes represent the icing not the cake for you in terms of daily movement. The more we move the more well we typically are and certainly the better prepared our bodies are for classes of any type.

Finally I believe strongly in the group setting. We learn from each other, feed off each other’s energy and are inspired by others. This is never more true than when exercising together. I often joke and say “misery loves company,”but in this case there is some truth to that old saying.

“Coming together is a beginning; staying together is progress; working together is success.”—Henry Ford

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