Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why You Shouldn't Hang If Your Back is Tight

Let me rephrase: If you're only trying to decompress your back, there are much better options than hanging, and here's why: 

Hanging itself is a great exercise, if done right and for the appropriate reasons. It's great for grip strength, and you can work on various things like shoulder mobility, posture, pelvis stability, and a bunch of core stuff. However, if you're just trying to decompress your back, you could be doing more damage than good, or nothing at all.

Only one of these guys is smart enough to realize he's not going anywhere with that wheel....

When your spine is compressed, it's typically because the muscles that attach to it are pulling the vertebrae together in an attempt to create stability because there is a lack of stability in the other core muscles (like your abs, but as stabilizers, not movers, so we're not talking sit ups or crunches, here, folks!). 

These things all attach to the spine, and are capable of causing compression along the spine.
Oh, we haven't even gotten to the common muscles defined as "core muscles," either!

If you are hanging, it's also a good idea to activate your lats so your shoulder joint stays strong instead of decompresses as well (if you have rounded/hunched shoulders, your shoulders are probably TOO decompressed already). The thing is, your lats attach to the lower half of your spine, which is exactly what you're trying to decompress. So that's a little contradictory right there. 

See? There's more stuff that attaches to the spine!

Another thing about hanging is that when they're done, people tend to just let go of the bar and drop down, usually not landing like a ninja, but rather like Andre the Giant playing hopscotch. This puts the compression right back in your spine, and could cause even more compression, because of the shock and recoil from being stretched out for so long (you know how your hammies feel after you stretch them too much?). 

"I think I'm going to feel this in the morning...."

Grip strength and endurance is another thing many people lack. If you can't hang on the bar unsupported for more than 10 seconds, you have no business being on the bar for anything therapeutic. Your brain will be thinking about how to hold on for dear life rather than the specific instructions you'll want it to give the muscles in your body as far as relaxing/contracting. Your brain operates in order of importance, where survival is #1. 

Do you think this person is capable of doing anything other than scream and pee their pants? No?
Yea, that's what I thought, too.

Usually when people hang for decompression, they already have pretty terrible core posture, with an anterior pelvic tilt and posterior thoracic tilt, which is probably a decent contributor to why their back feels tight, since there is no anterior trunk stability, and posterior trunk compression. Hanging passively just exacerbates that. Add some bad shoulders in there, and you've got yourself a cocktail of "why does my back hurt all the time?"

Image result for wylie coyote
This guy will tell you how it feels to have a compressed spine.
Don't be Wile E. Coyote.

How should you decompress your back, then? 

Image result for finally


Well, hanging is fine, really. Just do it correctly.

First things first, don't be super high off the ground. You're going to want to have as little of a drop as possible, straight legged distance. Plan ahead. A few inches is enough. Also, you should already have the shoulder range of motion to support yourself with arms overhead and no rib flare. If you can't do that while laying on the ground, you shouldn't hang. 

Do like this guy before you attempt any hanging stuff. 

When you grip the bar, keep the elbows locked and grip pronated (if overhand), and keep your head in neutral. This is when you can let the rest of your body relax, and your spine can decompress. The next part is CRUCIAL to create stability in the decompressed state: Tilt your pelvis backward (so a super mini butt tuck, not arch back) so that you feel it in your lower abs a few inches below your belly button (you can also squeeze your knees together slightly or a yoga block between the knees). You should not be rounding your low back to do this. Hold that, tuck your chin slightly without having your head come forward much. Then, with arms still locked, tuck your lower ribs in towards your spine, and bring your shoulders down towards your butt and try to close your armpit with your upper chest and your upper armpit (yes, I'm aware of how weird that sounds, but try it, you'll see what I mean). All this should be done without sacrificing any of the previous steps. Hold for a couple nice breaths, and then either repeat the whole process starting with the hang, or just come down (remember, like a NINJA, not Andre the Giant!!), and then do it again when your muscles have recovered. 

Notice how the movements are slow and subtle, not quick or big movements. We're working core stability, not extremity strength (although you do need to have a pretty decent grip to be able to do this for several reps in a row). As mentioned before, you will also need to at least be able to hang from the bar in general for slightly more duration than one rep on the bar to have your brain be ok with you doing this kind of stuff (otherwise it freaks out because you're trying to do too much). So, if one rep takes, say, 10 seconds, you should be able to hold onto the bar as a free hang for 15, no problem. If you can't, then your first step is to build up your grip strength and hang time. It's important that when doing therapeutic type movements (like these), you need to be able to do them controlled, and not to fatigue (meaning you still have gas in the tank for more, but you're not going to use it.....80% rule, anyone?). This can mean just one rep at a time, rest for a minute or so, and then have at it again. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Allowing a Straw to Break the Camel's Back

Many little things go by unnoticed. They may be so insignificant that we don't pay much or any attention to them because we think they are not important enough to make a difference. Maybe it's the small annoyances of a partner that you put up with but haven't talked to them about. Or shoes that are a little bit too tight, but "they'll stretch out." Or hitting snooze every day so you're in a rush to work, arriving frazzled and maybe even a few minutes late. Maybe it's even just leaning on one hip or slouching because you don't feel like standing properly. Day by day, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. They become a part of your life, though unintended, and continue on. 

Until one day, one final day where those little things have accumulated into something that is intolerable. It is the final straw. Now you find yourself in some big trouble. You are in an unhappy relationship, your back hurts because your feet now have bunions from your shoes, your neck and shoulders hurt from slouching, you've gotten fired from your job because your performance has declined so much, and your health and sleep are screwed up because you're always stressed. 

That day comes, and you feel like you've been blind-sided. What did you do to deserve this? When did the relationship start to fail? Why are you in such pain? Why are you so unhappy? 

Because you didn't nip it in the bud. 

Change is easiest at the beginning, when the thing you want to change is minor. Change becomes difficult when that thing is big. 

Make it a habit to change things right when you notice them. Nip problems in the bud. Practice good habits. Speak up for what you want. 

This is how you shape your life, little by little. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Forced to Quit

There will be times in your life where you are forced to quit. You will not be given the choice of whether or not you want to continue, no matter how much you want to. It’s a cutthroat world out there, and you just didn’t make the team. What do you do then? Wallow in depression? Say mean things to yourself? Give up? Or do you use it to better yourself?

They'll never find me in here. I'll never disappoint anyone ever again.

As a youth, I was fortunate enough to have parents who saw the value in allowing me to try various sports, even if it was for just a short while just to see if I liked it. One of the sports I really enjoyed was soccer. I played all throughout elementary school on the community ed teams. I wasn’t any good, with my asthma, lack of limb-ball coordination, and great ability to get bored and distracted easily. I got moved from forward, to half back, to goalie, and finally settled in the fullback/defense position (as it put me in a position of the least amount of responsibility). I couldn’t control the ball while running, or even stationary. I had only ever made one goal in my entire soccer career, and that was during a practice with an open goal. I was terrible. But I really liked it. 

And then one day, I found out that in order for me to continue playing soccer, I had to play through the school system, on a team, because community ed activities were only for grades 6 and below. So of course, I tried out for the team. And of course I didn’t make it. That was the end of my soccer career. If I was allowed to continue, even on a remedial team, I probably would have still quite enjoyed myself, and developed my skills even more. 

On the flip side, another sport that I was actively participating in and enjoying at the time was martial arts, namely Taekwondo (turns out, I like to kick things). 

Thankfully I didn't have to defend my choice of wardrobe.

I also wasn’t great at it, but the difference was that I got a lot more instruction on how to improve my skills, and my progress depended solely on how much time and effort I put into practicing. It didn’t matter if the person next to me was better than me, or even if I was the worst person in the room. I was still allowed to stay, I was still allowed to participate. They never forced me to quit. Because of that, I was able to improve in a way that allowed me to actually be invited onto a traveling competition team, where I got to go to some fun places all over the country and the world, and experience things I never would have otherwise. Years later, I even entered in an MMA tournament last minute for fun while on vacation in Asia! This was all because they let the slow kid have an opportunity to continue. 

James Harrison and Michael Jordan are other great examples of kids who were kicked off teams in grade school, not allowed to play, and turned that into their motivation to excel. Albert Einstein was told he’d never amount to anything. 

You also don’t have to want to be great at something to do it. If you enjoy it, that’s enough reason. Isn’t that enough reason to do most anything? 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Everyone Needs Someone

If you want to be more successful, allow others to help you.

Coaches need coaches.

Teachers need teachers.

Therapists need therapists.

As a coach, educator, and therapist myself, I am a proponent of practicing what I preach. I move daily, play often, and try to take as good of care of myself as I can. But when I'm physically hurting to a certain degree, it can become difficult for me to retain the attention span and patience to be able to treat myself. I make a horrible patient if I am the therapist. I need help from someone else.

Over the weekend, I had the honor of helping my good friend and therapeutic movement guru Dr. Perry Nickelston from Stop Chasing Pain with a shoulder injury that quickly worsened throughout the day on his last day of a 4-day teaching event. Of course he could have probably done something about it himself, but teaching for 4 days in a row is draining, and he had some excellent therapists who were right there and were willing to help. After being asked, and assured he wasn't taking up others' time and energy, he succumbed to offers of treatment. Instead of going back go his hotel feeling drained, irritated, and in pain, he pushed any ego he had (which isn't much to begin with) to the side, opened himself to receiving help, and felt much better, more energetic, and happier.

(Getting out of pain can be fun!)

It takes a lot of courage and humbleness to be able to not hide a chink in your armor, show vulnerability and ask others for help in fixing it. Remember, you're not in this journey alone. There are people who are willing and ready to help you, just as you are them. Don't forget that accepting/receiving is necessary with giving.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Do You Really Need to Warm Up?

I haven't warmed up or foam rolled in over 2 years, and yet I feel fantastic physically. I move well, I lift heavy, and I enjoy my workouts/playtime more because I don't have to spend extra time doing things that aren't conducive to my workout goals. In fact, my movement quality has increased dramatically in the last 2 years, and I contribute not warming up or foam rolling to that.

Let me explain.

It started with the idea of experimenting with getting my soft tissue to a higher quality tone (so, as few knots, sticky spots, etc as possible) without the use of massage (whether it be from a therapist or a lacrosse ball/foam roller). After all, old school martial artists (especially Kung Fu-type martial arts) never had these tools, nor did they get regular massages, yet they can move like none other! I began exploring different ways to manipulate my soft tissue through movement, and found that foam rollers, though useful with the right implementations, aren't necessary about 95% of the time.

How the hell am I supposed to travel with all this shit??

The key: Mobility work with attentiveness and intention.

I prepare my body to do what I want it to do later. I'm making sure the joints move as they should. Muscles follow joints. Joints follow muscles. I get them working as they should, and then they can be used correctly during my workout. If your joints and muscles work correctly during your workout, you get much bigger gainz, no matter what your goal.

Before any planned strenuous workout that I do (anything from hand balance stuff/stupid human tricks, heavy lifts, martial arts, mobility, flexibility, etc), instead of just going through a series of movements that will "get the blood flowing" or smashing my soft tissue with round objects, I'll do mobility drills, focusing on the parts of my body that will be worked (which 99% of the time is everything). I don't do any stretching, physical warming (ie jump rope/jog in place/jumping jacks). Only mobility. If I feel like my breathing needs attention, I'll give a couple minutes to breathing, and then be conscious about that while I do my mobility. If my back ("Stega") is feeling funky, I'll get it back in line and be conscious of that during my mobility and my workout. But the rest of it is simply just good quality mobility (NOT flexibility) work! The whole thing takes maybe 2-5 minutes before I start with my actual workout. I'm not sweating, I'm not tired, I feel refreshed, and ready to use my energy towards my workout, and not on my warm up. My brain and body also have a much better connection because of it, making my actual workouts even more effective.


(edit: If I'm lifting heavy that day, I'll do a set or two of lighter lifts after my mobility and build up to heavy....but that *should* be common sense to any experienced lifter)

After my workout, I might do some more mobility stuff if I feel like my workout would make me sore anywhere, or if something in my workout made Stega upset (it's pretty sensitive, despite what's depicted on social media). Making sure my body is working properly before and after my workouts/playtime allows me the freedom to not have to rely on outside sources to take care of my body, and is a more complete approach to soft tissue care.

To be absolutely transparent, in the last few years, I have gotten a few full body massages (for self-pampering purposes, not therapeutic), and each time, the therapist would assume I had regular bodywork done because of the quality of my soft tissue.

Since then, many of my physical capabilities have gotten better than they ever have in my life, I don't have to explain to airport security why I have a ball with metal in it (lacrosse ball) in my carry on every time I travel, and I don't have to look for "something to foam roll with" when I want to get a workout in. Less is more. Mobility is the the perfect movement prep. Ironic, isn't it?

Move it or Lose it. 

Move With A Purpose

There are many reasons for movement:

- Cardiovascular health
- Therapeutic (emotional/mental/physical)
- Strength
- Skill
- Energy management
- Mood elevation
- Creating an energy deficiency (ie, fat/weight loss)
- Transportation
- Survival
- Fun
- Etc...

If you move without purposeful intention, you will be less successful with your goal.

Example: If you want to increase active range of motion in your shoulder, but just swing it around as you would for fun, it will take you longer to increase your active range of motion than if you were to perform AROM-increasing-specific movements.

The "Wacky Wild Inflatable Tube Man" Workout Program won't get you very far in your shoulder rehab, sorry.
...But it'd be a great way to entertain!

Or, if you want to move for transportation, get from Point A to Point B quickly, but all you do is running high knees (like you would for cardiovascular health), it won't be very conducive to getting to Point B quickly.

Running in place definitely won't get you to the grocery store very quickly, 
but you might end up driving there because you're so hungry from using all that energy!!

Of course, there are some purposes that can overlap/be paired if done properly. Let's say you wanted to get from Point A to Point B quickly, you could sprint. Sprinting would qualify as efficient transportation as well as increasing cardiovascular ability and explosive power. You could also focus on sprint techniques/mechanics while you're sprinting to get to Point B, and use transportation as a secondary purpose that comes as a result from a primary purpose of improving a skill.

You can work on your sprint techniques while being chased by a hungry mountain lion. 
Bam. Multitasking.

Combining purposes of movement can be pretty fun, as long as you put some educated thought behind it to make them successful.

Find your purpose, and then structure how you move around that purpose.

What's your purpose for movement?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Preventing the “Gradual” Disaster

The most dangerous thing we can do to ourselves is to let things happen to us gradually. It’s the little things over the long run that shape us, physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally. If you’ve ever heard the anecdote about the frog that got cooked in a pot without even noticing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been or known someone who put on 15 pounds in 3 years, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been or known someone who’s been in a shitty relationship for a long time, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been or known someone who went bankrupt after years of keeping their head above the water, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I swear, I just walked in and the dog was just there. 

How the hell did this happen? definitely wasn't overnight, I'll tell you that much.

It’s easy to overlook or ignore the little things we do or allow to happen to us in daily life. An extra snack or meal once in a while is fine, but on a regular basis can turn into an extra 3 lbs gained a year. 5 pounds doesn’t seem like much, nor a year seem like an inappropriate amount of time to have weight “fluctuate” 5 pounds, but after 5 years (which comes sooner than we realize, as we all know), and 25 pounds later, we’re wondering how that much weight “snuck on” when we didn’t have any changes to our lifestyle. 

Getting in 5 hours of sleep versus your necessary 7 or 8 is ok once in a while, but when it becomes a habit and your body adjusts, it will start to increase in cortisol levels, leading to higher stress levels, cravings, weight gains, weight loss, and possibly other hormonal issues. A couple years later, and you find yourself 15 pounds heavier, digestive issues, moody, and always tired. But you didn’t change anything. 

Allowing tiny irks from your romantic partner that you know bother you might be ok at first, but if not addressed, could turn into a relationship filled with resentment and annoyance that is hard to get out of, simply because of convenience and amount of time already invested. Even abusive relationships start out fun an innocent, and the first instance of abuse may not have been very severe, or just brushed off, but allowed to continue, can turn into years, decades, or even generations of abuse.

Spending the $5 on a coffee might seem like chump change because it’s only $5, but do that on the weekdays equals ~20x/month, $100/month, and $1200/year. Just on coffee. Add other regular small purchases, like a subscription you never use for $10/month ($120/year), the occasional pair of shoes ($100 avg) once a month ($1200) that you probably will either only wear fewer than 5 times if at all, gym membership you never use but is just too cheap to cancel ($14.99/month = $180/year), an extra meal out a week because you were too lazy to cook ($15x50 weeks = $750/year), and then you find yourself at the end of the year with no money for Christmas presents (which to me is a whole other blog-worthy topic), even though you effectively wasted $3,450 on just the said items above. 

It’s the little things, done regularly, that shape who we are, and what situations we find ourselves in. So, like we would do for children and puppies, we want to keep things in check for ourselves to prevent future “not sure why/how it happened” disasters. Do a regular “check in” with yourself. This way you can identify any issues early on, and choose to be proactive to prevent the continuation of those issues. Perhaps it’s once a month, once every 3 months, or even once a year. I like to do a bit of each. Every month, I do my financial P&L for my businesses, goals/projects progress check, and personal life check. Because one month is only a small snippet of time in the year, I will also take a quick look at the past 3 months while I’m doing those checks. I’ll look at trends along with evaluate what reasons things might be fluctuating or continuing at a steady rate (good or bad). Then I’ll decide if I want to take action on those items, and then go from there. It seems like a lot of work, but it’s kind of like keeping the house clean. Do a little bit frequently, and you won’t end up waking up to a house that looks like 100 people had a party in episode of Hoarders. 2-3 times a year, I’ll do a little more serious of an evaluation of how things are going, to see if I need to change my big plans of actions/goals. And at the end of the year or beginning of the new year, I’lll use those results from the previous year to make new goals and plans of actions that are realistic and measurable for that year.

Try keeping yourself in check this year, frequently, and you won’t likely find yourself in those frustrating “how did this happen?” situations. 

Happy 2017!!