We help busy men and women get what they want quickly, whether it's the look or the feeling, and we do this with intelligently designed, brief training options that work, without disruption or distraction to daily life.
So I’m at the gym a couple of days ago leading a group of hard workers through a routine and I notice one of the ladies kind of just going through the motions…again.
I approached her and said, “Hey Tina (not her real name), you doing alright? I mean…you seem like your mind is somewhere else this morning.”
She smiled, or something resembling a smile, and stated, “Yea, I know. I have a lot on my mind.”
She then began to give me a laundry list of things she was mulling over. When she finished I smiled back and asked, “Can you do anything about any of those concerns right now?”
She looked at me wide eyed for a second, dropped her gaze and said sheepishly, “No.”
I gently laid a hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eye and said, “This is YOUR time. Please don’t forget that. All of that other stuff will be waiting for you when you leave.”
I have a sign that hangs on my front door, and this is what it says:
I put it there because I see this as a growing problem with people: they’re losing the ability to focus or to simply be in the moment. I’m not sure if it’s a factor of social media, the advancement of technology or the disconnect we feel because of the seemingly constant barrage of information we get on a moment-by-moment basis.
“The best advice I ever came across on the subject of concentration is:
Wherever you are, be there. When you work, work. When you play,
play. Don’t mix the two.” — Jim Rohn
The Mystery Of The Mind
Despite all of the so called advancements and conveniences of modern day life, I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who has felt a little disparate with respect to good old fashioned human interaction and connectedness. I mean, when was the last time you went to lunch or dinner with someone and they didn’t grab their phone just to check….whatever it is they’re checking?
With all of the awe and wonder surrounding the physical marvels that allow for our existence, the one that is most intriguing is the mind. And the mind is more than the brain, don’t you know.
Although our actions are primarily controlled by our brain, there is more to the brain than just orchestrating the various functions of our body. It’s the center of our intellect; it produces our perspective of the world that we see through our eyes and in our mind’s eye. It’s been said that the brain is like a committee of experts sitting in a windowless room.
The brain generally operates on 3 levels:
The subconscious mind
The unconscious mind
The conscious mind
The Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind offers automatic control over the various functions of the body. This is the “hard wired” part of the brain , which works in conjunction with the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and controls the automatic functions of the body, like heart rate, digestion, breathing rate, salivation, perspiration, maintenance of homeostasis and so forth.
And thank God for it! Imagine if you had to consciously think about and control all of that stuff each and every day?
The Unconscious Mind
The unconscious mind is responsible for issuing the “pre-planned” actions of the body. You may not fully realize it, but this alone encompasses over 90% of our everyday functions.
Seriously, the huge majority of our everyday life is on autopilot, so to speak. I mean, do you really need to consciously think about reaching for and picking up your coffee mug from the table top while you continue to read the news on the screen in front of you and listening to the television broadcast in the background?
This is the illusion of “multi-tasking”… (more on this later)
Were you aware that the unconscious mind processes 200,000 times more information than the conscious mind? It has its memory only partially imprinted by our conscious mind through cognitive processing and sheer practice. It’s programmed through a sort of “neural imprinting” by our surroundings, genetic makeup, sensory input, cognitive processing and subliminal impressions and influences.
The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is responsible for our cognitive thinking. It is responsible for the decisions where our focus is placed and upon what we will contemplate. While this is occurring, the unconscious mind takes care of everything else.
Our conscious mind is fed by our sensory devices (which can be fooled), our memory (which is oftentimes flawed) and our imagination (which is frequently, shall we say…creative).
These various perceptions form the very building blocks of the world we perceive and navigate through in what we would term our “reality”.
Reporter to Dr. Alert Schweitzer: “What’s wrong with men today?” Dr Schweitzer: “Men simply don’t think.”
Experts in the field of human perception tell us that the only place we appear to cognitively operate is where we consciously focus and place our attention. The conscious mind is the gatekeeper of our unconscious memory storage. Everything else (our automatic brain reactions) guide us through the daily tasks of living.
This is seen in the many observations of mindful expressions by great thinkers over the ages who’ve come to the same conclusion: we get what we think about most, and have expressed it thus:
“A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” – Marcus Aurellius
“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
” If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” – Mark 9:23
It’s really very simple…we become what we think about.
We naturally suppress what we determine unnecessary. However, the more familiar we are with our surroundings, the more our conscious mind can focus on new information. Our cognitive mind can only address 4-5 pieces of information at any given moment.
Have you ever taken the time to look at your credit cards? Did you ever notice that the numbers on them are broken up into 4 digit blocks? This is because we can only retain new information in small chunks or blocks.
We live in the information age. I personally refer to it as the “information overload age”, but that’s another matter for another day…
Virtually anything you want to know is just a few clicks away via the internet. That has both benefits and drawbacks. Film producers make movies and shows with more and greater visual stimuli that take us seemingly anywhere in space or time. Media types know this and use it to draw our attention to what they have to sell at virtually every opportunity in our lives. The question then becomes: how discerning and perceptive are we really?
Information or Illusion?
Attention diversion is the key to illusion. Watch any good illusionist (sometimes called a magician) do a trick and you’ll notice a common theme: distraction or attention diversion.
Discerning the difference between helpful information and harmful illusions is key. It really boils down to managing your perceptions. Attention is like mental money…be careful where and how you spend it.
Illusion is caused by what is known as “Change Blindness.” In other words, we really only notice change when it occurs within the field of our narrow focus. We simply do not notice change where we don’t think a change should appear. Watch this video to see what I mean:
The pickpocket relies on this principle of the victim being distracted to accomplish his goal.
It is therefore that I state that we are all (and do best when we are) basically “single processors” or in other words focus on one function or task at a time. In essence we all suffer from a sort of multi-processing blindness, or “in-attentional blindness.” Anything less than true focus on the task at hand and in the present leaves us vulnerable illusion, misinformation, endangerment or outright deception.
As I stated earlier, the distractions of the day have left us weak in the areas of true focus on tasks that really mean the most in life. Entertainment and information (infotainment as it is commonly called) has become the opiate of the masses.
I constantly see people with their faces looking downward at their mobile world, either as a form of escapism or diversion, from the real world around them. I think this has a carryover effect for many who enter the arena of the gym.
Don’t be one of those. Look up, pay attention to what you’re doing and get the most of your time while you’re there.
Sitting here at my computer, I thought I’d free form some thoughts that have, at least for the past few days, been rolling around in me noggin…
1) The speed at which you MAKE progress in the gym is inversely proportional to the DESIRE you expect or wish to see with respect to said progress.
2) The power of the mind to either accelerate or to circumvent and prevent progress is in direct proportion to this quote: “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.”
3) Your words have power. Stop letting them hold you back and keeping you from that which you want, desire or already possess.
4) Gratitude is an action verb.
5) Give more, for what it makes of you…not the other person.
6) Expect less…for the same reason.
7) I heard a lady tell another with respect to a question about health and fitness that she needed to ask a lot of people and boil it down to one answer that fit her. That was some of the dumbest advice I’d ever heard. More isn’t better. Better is better. How about asking someone qualified to answer the question, working with them to customize it for you then actually sticking to it?
8) You never know what some people are going through that makes them act the way they do. You may never know, and that’s OK. Love them anyway, if they are important to you. Or move on. You have to decide which is more important to you.
9) True friendship or relationship building is built upon trust, and it takes time. Getting to know people (and I mean REALLY getting to know them) hinges on these three criteria:
Things they will tell you about themselves, because they’re comfortable talking about them. These are easily discoverable and sometimes referred to as “surface level” acknowledgements.
Things they won’t tell you, because they’re either uncomfortable or embarrassed to share them. It will take time and trust building on both parties part to get here.
Things they can’t tell you, either because it is blocked psychologically or is simply too painful to divulge. These take extraordinary patience and time to get to. Getting someone to share these things is a measure of trust beyond blood or genetics.
10) You need to laugh more. Not some immature, silly or dopey nonsensical type of laughter. Genuine, heart felt and true appreciation laughter. We’re all born with a death sentence, and no one get out alive. Lighten up a little…
In my previous article I made the assertion that, for probably 80 to 90% of the general population who suffers some sort of discomfort or pain during their exercise routines, it isn’t their exercise routine that is causing their issues. The exercise routine is merely revealing the issue.
Please, before you go any further with this article, make sure you understand that distinction…
I’m not alluding to some vague issue, or trying to state that I don’t think the discomfort or pain isn’t real. Just that the exercise(s) themselves aren’t the crux or cause of the issue.
Rather it is something else, like a muscular imbalance of some sort, muscular weakness or poor posture, or in other words, the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not in the gym.
I can practically guarantee that, barring a damaged or ruptured joint, tendon or ligament, if you’re hurting when you’re working out, it’s because you have one of the aforementioned issues stopping you, or at least inhibiting you, from training to the fullest degree you so desire.
Quick explanation: Let’s say your elbow hurts every time you perform pushing or pulling exercises like pushups or rows. Do you really think the elbow is the problem, or is it more likely the point of stress and therefore where the pain is localized?
Let’s look at it another way: if I grab a credit card by the ends, and bend it so that a crease forms, and then keep bending it back and forth until the card breaks, what is the likelihood of it breaking at one of the ends I’m holding?
Of course it wouldn’t, because that isn’t the point of stress, is it?
The same principles apply to the body. Just because you have pain in one point, doesn’t necessarily mean the pain originates from that point.
Fixing The Issue…Or Can You?
“So, Uncle Steve, what can we do to get free from this pain and back to training hard again?”
That’s a very good question, and one that deserves some honest answers. What I’m about to tell you may anger you.
No…seriously. If you’re one of those that is injured, and you read the following few paragraphs, you may get very, very angry with me for what I’m saying. And that’s OK, as long as it makes you ask some hard and important questions of yourself like:
What are my barriers to a healthier lifestyle?
What am I fearful of?
Could my pain stem from exhaustion?
Am I feeling even a little bit of self pity?
Or is it regret or remorse for my unwillingness to put resources and time towards my own health?
My hope is that by reading this you’ll come to realize that exercise alone won’t cut it, especially if your goal is physique change or fat loss.
Please let me encourage you to do an honest inventory. Then take action on what you learn.
O.K.? Here goes…
First, and foremost, someone has to actually want to get better to get out of pain. I understand that no one really prefers to be in pain, but what if that pain, or the appearance of it, somehow is perceived by the individual as a reward of sorts?
Look… I’m not always the touchy-feely type when it comes to telling someone the truth. I learned a long time ago just to present what I have to say and let the other party digest it. How I get the message across and communicated adequately is up to me. How the other person perceives it is up to them.
What I’m about to say is hard. For some it’s hard to hear, so I’ll make this as brief as possible: fundamental psychology informs us that the main way a certain behavior continues is that if it is reinforced. And when said behavior ceases to be reinforced, it most probably ends.
In other words, give Scoobie Doo a Scoobie snack for performing a behavior, even occasionally, and he’ll do it again and again. If the Scoobie snacks stop, Scoodie Doo stops doing the behavior.
Humans ain’t no different.
Here’s the hard part: sometimes the behavior(s) “reinforced” (think pain) may be harder to distinguish. We all have obligations, responsibilities and things in our lives from which we’d occasionally or even often like a little escape. It could be a dead end job filled with boring and monotonous routines, or maybe an unfulfilling or unproductive relationship of some sort, whatever.
And for some, when there appears to be no end or other form of relief in sight, it is possible that an “illness” or “disability” takes root in their life as an alternative. And if you’re a little older like me, a very socially accepted one at that. (Wink, wink)
“I can’t do _____ …I guess I’m just getting old!”
Simply put, it’s a form of removal from the acceptance of personal responsibility in your own life.
“Oh that’s just bull snot, Uncle Steve!”
Let’s say that you visit an orthopedic specialist, podiatrist or even a massage therapist for the issue you’re experiencing, and she makes her assessment, diagnoses or recommendations and labels you with “X” syndrome, disorder, disease or other such moniker. From there on out, “normal expectations” are lowered for you, aren’t they?
You’re ordered to “take it easy”, “don’t push yourself”, “slow down”, etc. All under the guise of protecting you from further injury or pain. The problem often is that the “advice” carries over to other regions and aspects of life.
I fully understand that boatloads of people in various stages of so-called “debilitating”, “crippling” or “life threatening” infirmities are often predisposed and pre-occupied with the difficulties surrounding that issue. I also know that they are insulted by any mention or impression of secondary gain in their lives from their diagnoses.
However, when someone’s “infirmity” lessens their work responsibilities, obligations or other real life “carry your own weight” expectations, the logical and acceptable consideration therefore is that this is some form of possible reward or payoff for them.
It must at least be considered that this reward is a relief of sorts from the toil and grind of the aforementioned daily life.
Please hear me now: I am not saying this is always the case, but when an individual is given, buys into and then identifies themselves with this “label”, the possibility that the “reward(s)” from it create a victim mentality, such that the individual becomes hesitant and resistant to change.
Does that make sense?
So it stands to reason that if a person dealing with pain during exercise or activity says they want to change, they must prove they want to by becoming an active participant in the process to correct what is causing the pain.
There is no back seat or passive path to the healing process.
It isn’t something that just occurs. It’s something you must actively be a part of. Therefore we simply must take ownership in the fact that we are solely responsible for our choices, decisions and actions toward them. It’s called “free will.”
Like this guy did.
By that token it stands to reason that we must at least contemplate the prospect that some label or obscure opinion (often called a diagnosis) might in some way contribute to the mindset that we’re not responsible for our own direction from a health and fitness standpoint and can lower our expectations about performance, output, living or in obtaining our goals.
I’m sorry to be so blunt, but it must be addressed.
Do you need a hug?
“OK Uncle Steve, that doesn’t apply to me. I mean, I REALLY want to change and get free from this pain. What do I need to do?”
Correcting The Issues That Plague You
Disclaimer Alert:I’m not a doctor, the son of a doctor nor have I ever played a doctor on TV. If you’re really in a lot of pain, inside or outside of the gym, go see a real doctor.
That said, I’ve been in the iron game a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of the same, repetitive issues surrounding chronic pain in joints and I’ve got some pretty good recommendations for you in how to correct them.
Here is a list of 10 things that you can do today to start making a difference in reducing your level of pain in training, movement and everyday life.
1) Get more sleep. It’s your number one recovery tool. The less sleep you have, the less recovery from training you get. The less recovery you get, the more pain you feel.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Do something about it.
Whether that means buying a new bed, a new pillow, making your room darker, cooler or just not drinking alcohol…do something. There is a ton of information out there on the subject. Read it and apply it.
2) Clean up your diet. It’s number two in line from a recovery tool standpoint.
When you understand that eating foods that are C.R.A.P. (Completely Refined, Artificial, Processed) will make you feel like crap, you stop eating them…or cut way, way back on them.
You want to get free from the cycle of pain?
Stop eating C.R.A.P. like sugar, refined grains, chemicals and most any other processed or prepackaged thing and start eating foods like God made them. Fresh, lean protein sources, fresh fruits and vegetables and clean water.
It isn’t rocket surgery…
3) Correct your muscle imbalances. I told you in the last article that movement dysfunction was primarily caused by muscle tightness, followed immediately by muscle weakness.
This causes pain in the joints because the muscles are pulling them in ways that they either aren’t meant to go during movement, or they lack the stability of muscular control to move in a correct pattern to accomplish the movement correctly.
Quite simply, muscles tell bones what to do. If the bones (and by proxy joints) hurt, it’s because the muscles are in some from or fashion out of balance.
Correcting the issue has several approaches including:
Performing exercises with solid technique
Flexibility work with foam rolling, bands, etc.
Mobility work through movement, manual manipulation, etc.
Stability work, primarily a factor of strength gain
Relaxation techniques, like diaphramatic breathing, visualization, etc.
A great resource for relief from pain is the fantastic book by Pete Egoscue entitled, “Pain Free” Seriously, get a copy and read it. Three chapters of info, then the rest of the book is “fixes” for muscle imbalances. Plus, it’s like $10 in paperback form, and that’s a heckuva lot cheaper than a doctor visit…
Fix the imbalance, fix the pain.
4) Use proper lifting and training technique. Learning from the outset of your training life to move properly is huge. “Unlearning” poor technique so that you move correctly takes time, focus, consistency and great effort.
Hire a coach if you don’t have good technique, or are even unsure, then get to work making sure you’re moving properly. Freedom from pain in a movement may be as simple as tightening the core, “packing” the shoulders, or gripping the ground during pushups.
A good coach will know these things and point you in the right direction.
Bad technique means painful gym time, and ain’t nobody got time for that…
5) Drop the “light weights, more reps” mindset. It feels logical that if you have a nagging ache, pain or injury that you’d want to reduce the weight you lift and perform more reps with light weights…right?
Seems legit on the surface, but then the ugly truth arises.
Foremost, doing high repetitions merely improves your capability to move longer at a lower intensity. This is what we experts in the fitness field call “endurance.”
Next is the loss of muscle and strength, both of which are crucial for joint stability, correct posture, core strength, appropriate alignment of joints and joint stress reduction.
Finally, using those high repetition sets, and as time goes on, you can develop what is known “repetitive stress” or excess/overuse injuries. You see, excessive light weight and high rep training intensifies and magnifies your pain and injuries.
You want to be free from pain?
You need the great equalizers, conditioning power and strength.
“But Uncle Steve, I don’t want to pick up heavy stuff. Isn’t that how people hurt their backs and stuff like that?”
Uh…not really. Lifting heavy weights (unless it’s done with poor form and technique) does NOT cause injuries.
Seriously, let’s consider this a moment…
My dad once “threw out” his back bending over to tie his shoe. I know a lady who tore her rotator cuff (supraspinatus muscle) while swimming.
Can we infer from this that these “light weight” activities caused the injuries?
Of course not. There was a muscle imbalance there that was not corrected and the movement pattern cause the damage.
Therefore I submit to you then that lifting heavy weights will not, in and of itself, cause damage. That’s a result of poor technique or weakness. As I mentioned to you previously, injuries are primarily the result of muscular imbalance, improper lifting technique and/or poor conditioning.
Please understand that while I am an advocate for heavy lifting, that doesn’t mean you need to attempt a world record bench press or Herculean effort dead-lift. Rather, do your level best to select and lift weights during exercise for 6 to 10 solid, crisp and good technique repetitions.
Heavier weights recruit more muscle fiber, which in turn builds strength, as well as musculature, and by circumstance ensures joint stability. And as an added bonus your total fitness level increases to boot.
6) Take another plane at the gym. If you’re like most people you probably perform most of your exercises in one plane or direction of motion. Things like biceps curls, triceps presses, leg extensions, front shoulder raises, calf raises, hamstring curls, leg presses, crunches, sit-ups, leg raises and most machine-based exercises are performed in such fashion. This movement pattern or motion is what is known as the “sagittal” plane.
And only working out in that plane is a huge problem and mistake…
See, God designed us to move in 3 primary directions or planes: bending forward and extending back or sagittally, moving from side to side or frontally and twisting/rotating movements or transversely.
Using exclusively or primarily one motion and not the others inhibits your body’s overall capability to move effectively, which really hinders your options for movement availability.
In other words you get stiff, less flexible and just place more and more stress on your joints. Subsequently, when you do position or move your body into that unfamiliar range or plane of motion, it isn’t fully capable. Compensation in other joints or muscles takes place and “OW”…pain and/or injury proceeds.
Listen there are only 5 basic movement patterns in the body: push (either horizontally or vertically), pull (again, horizontal or vertical), quad dominant like a squat, hip dominant like a deadlift and moving with stuff, like pushing a sled or carrying a dumbbell in each hand and walking.
Each of these movements can, and should, occur in all three normal and functional planes of movement, as much as possible, in each and every training session. Doing so means better overall mobility, strength, stability, flexibility and, yes…freedom from pain.
7) Can we please stop with all of the cardio? You want make sure you lose much of your hard earned strength and inflict mayhem on your joints? Then do like millions of uninformed or misinformed people do each time they visit the gym… hop on a treadmill or stationary bike and ride that puppy for thirty to sixty minutes in the so-called “fat burning zone!” Heck you can even read the daily paper or watch the news while you do it. You get caught up in what’s going on the world, but that’s about it.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s also as boring as watching grass grow?
I’ve told you plenty of times (like here and here) that long and boring steady-state cardio is not only worthless in terms of fat loss or getting in better physical condition, but it’s a great way teach your body to become a sloth and un-athletic.
Don’t believe me? OK, here’s 2 more reasons…
When you perform extended sessions of cardio, you cause your body to release the hormone cortisol into your system.
By the way, this is the hormone that not only increases the fat in your belly, but also causes the breakdown of precious muscle tissue.
What this boils down to is you develop a Buddha belly, get weaker, slower and more susceptible to injury.
Doesn’t that sound inviting?
You have 3 primary energy systems in your body, and long, boring cardio only utilizes one of them. If your goal is better overall health and fitness, you’ve got to train all 3.
Steady-state cardio trains the ‘aerobic’ system which conditions you to be able to tolerate lower levels of intensity.
But, you won’t be prepared to handle anything that challenges you like moving something heavy, playing sports or having to move quickly, which will leave you prone to injury.
I know, I know…you need to improve your cardio right?
Well, here’s how you still can do that without doing all that excess and ridiculous cardio…
You perform brief periods of higher-intensity exercise.
Lots of smarty-smart research types have proven again and again that shorter sessions of high-intensity work is way more useful at getting you lean, strong and in better shape than low-intensity aerobic-centered training.
At Firestorm fitcamps! we use a variety of training methods that combine strength training, cardio and mobility work in each training session through the use of higher intensity effort. This way folks build strength, endurance, stamina and overall fitness.
It’s also a way to avoid boredom, those overuse injuries I mentioned earlier and your body just feels better because it’s working in ways it’s meant to, so freedom from pain is accomplished.
8) Simple…drop some body fat. If you’re overweight and carrying excess body fat, you want to know one of the easiest ways to rid yourself nagging issues like plantar fasciitis, knee pain, hip pain and low back pain?
Drop some of the excess weight you’re currently packing.
I have witnessed it time and time again in my career. An individual is in pain, has been to doctor after doctor, with no relief. They begin an exercise program, clean up their nutrition, and as a happy by product drop 10, 20 or 30 pounds of excess fat from their system.
Miraculously their pain disappears.
Look, the joints aren’t meant to carry that load around day in and day out and not be affected somehow. If you’re too fat and you have pain in one of the areas I mentioned above, that’s your body signaling you to do something about it!
Let me ask you a question: When the red light on your vehicles dashboard lights up, do you get it checked out and corrected? Or do you just throw a rag over the light and keep driving, hoping it won’t lead to something detrimental?
That pain you’re feeling is your body’s own version of a dashboard red light.
9) Just get up and get moving. You may have heard that smoking is bad for your health. Well here’s something you may or may not know…so is sitting.
“Sitting is the new smoking!”
I know, it’s kitschy and cliché, but it’s true. Just read this article right here.
There’s all kinds of negative and painful things that can occur from an excess of sitting, like:
Painful low back
Pain in the shoulders, neck & upper back
Tight and painful hips
Swollen and painful ankles
And my personal favorite, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot in the legs that can kill you… (I did a video about it here with some video links on the topic as well)
It’s simple, get up out of your chair at least once every 45 minutes to an hour and stretch like this:
Stand with your feet firmly on the ground and about hip width apart.
Clasp your fingers, then push your palms upward toward the ceiling.
Reach both upward and backward while at the same time squeezing your butt muscles and slightly driving your hips forward until you feel a good stretch in your shoulders, upper back, mid section, low back and thighs.
Remember to breathe and hold this for about 10 seconds. Release the stretch for about 20 seconds, then do it one more time.
In less than a minute you’re ready to hit the keyboard again.
10) Be consistent, in whatever you do. Most people will do something that will bring them relief from the pain they are experiencing, and once relief is found, stop doing it.
Don’t be like most people.
Yer Uncle Steve
P.S. Here’s a quick note on the subject from fitness professional Bret Contreras: “If you have a nagging injury, you must find a way to let it heal. However, this rarely requires you to avoid the gym altogether, as you can almost always train around the issue. This is why it’s so important to possess a large toolbox of exercises consisting of bodyweight, barbell, dumbbell, resistance band, kettlebell, sled, weighted vest, cable column, and machine exercises. For example, if you have a knee issue, posterior chain (the muscles on the back side of the body to include the glutes, spinal muscles and hamstrings) assistance lifts come in handy, and if you have a back issue, single leg exercises come in handy. The body has many joints, muscles, and tendons, so if one is acting up, you can still train hard and focus on the healthy body parts. Quite often, you’ll learn something useful during these “down times,” implying that the nagging injury served a useful purpose and wasn’t all for naught. Training through pain is usually a terrible idea, but training around pain leads to greater results in the long run and is a vital skill for lifelong lifters.”
If you would like assistance in implementing anything referenced in this material, I’d be honored to help you. Write me, call or text me at 210-884-2072 or come see me, please.
I read a quote last week from a well known guy in the fitness business world that struck home with me, mainly because it’s an area that I’ve been thinking about for some time now.
Here’s what he said: “Broadly speaking, aside from contact injuries, athletes get hurt because of movement dysfunction and systemic stress. Posture impacts both.”
As a fitness professional, I can state emphatically that this same phenomena occurs with the general public as well, minus the contact injuries.
For the most part…
I hear people quite frequently tell me that their workout program is causing their shoulder, or knee or some other joint to hurt. They say the reason they don’t train, like to train or perform certain exercises is because “those ____ hurt me” or something akin to that.
I’m here to call bunk.
And before you say or think something like, “Uncle Steve, you’re just a nimrod”, let me state that I’ve been in this business for a very long time and have seen it firsthand as well as talked at length about this phenomena with countless fitness professionals, physical therapists and more than a few orthopedic specialist’s.
In other words, people who’ve experienced the same thing and come to much the same conclusions I have. Listen, unless you’re doing some boneheaded type of high repetition Olympic lifting or ballistic exercise programming at a place that rhymes with “Loss Mitt”, or you’ve got a vast degree of scar tissue from an “old war wound” I’ll bet you dollars to doughnut holes that it ISN’T the exercises you’re doing that are hurting you.
Rather, it’s what you do in the 23 hours a day you’re NOT at the gym.
When I hear from a client or prospect that they don’t do squats, or lunges or step up’s because “they make my knee’s hurt”, the first question that pop’s into my mind is “How do you sit on a toilet seat or climb stairs?”
When a client tells me they can’t do pushups because “they make my wrist/elbow hurt”, I shake my head and die a little inside.
You see, it’s easy to blame the workout.
It can’t fight back.
Training is an activity whereby you’re putting an excess of stress or load on the body, (or at least you should be if you want to see continual progress) and sometimes a heavy load.
Sometimes when it is taking place, it’s uncomfortable or actually does hurt, from a ‘muscle usage and in a good way’ kind of hurt…so it must be the workout.
Maybe…but probably not.
Here’s why I say that: Let’s look again at the statement from my colleague above for some clues. “Broadly speaking, aside from contact injuries, athletes get hurt because of (pay attention now) movement dysfunction and systemic stress. Posture impacts both.”
“Uncle Steve, what the heck is movement dysfunction?”
Quite simply, movement dysfunction is when your body doesn’t move as it should in what would be a normal, expected and everyday range of motion through your joints. Quite frankly, you don’t bend right, or you bend too much or in the wrong direction, in your bendy parts.
Assuming you don’t have any advanced degree of degradation or damage to your joints, it’s primarily caused from one of two things: tightness of muscles or weakness of muscles. I can say that because muscles tell bones what to do…don’cha know. When muscles are doing what they’re supposed to do, the bones connected at those aforementioned bendy parts move correctly.
Since tightness is probably the bigger issue and one that I deal with ALL of the time, we’ll look at that one first.
Let’s take a squat.
Feet flat on the floor, weight distributed evenly on both feet, primarily focused on the heels but keeping the “tripod” (ball of the big toe, ball of the little toe, ball of the heel) of the foot in contact with the floor.
Bending at both the knees and hips and drawing the torso to the floor, pushing the hips back as if sitting in a chair while keeping the chest up (I should be able to read a logo printed on your shirt), shoulders flat and shoulder blades depressed (flat against the rib cage) and ears in alignment with the shoulders, squat until the tops of the thighs are parallel to the floor and while maintaining a slight outward pressure to the knees, return to the start position.
That’s proper movement function, and it looks like this…
But what if you are unable to do that, and look like this, or something akin to this, when you squat?
That’s movement dysfunction.
“Well heck Uncle Steve, what could possibly cause such a dang gone thing in the first place?”
I could give you a HUGE laundry list of reasons for it, but the three biggies are:
Sitting at a desk for hours at a time.
Driving in a vehicle often.
Sitting in a chair at home watching TV, at a restaurant or on a plane.
Notice anything similar between the three examples?
When muscles get short and stiff from too much inactivity in a locked and sitting position, they lose the mobility capability that God intended us to have. And if something isn’t done to counteract that “stiffness”, dysfunction takes place.
Sitting in a chair, hunched over a keyboard, or slouched behind the wheel of a car causes a great deal of disruption to the natural balance and flow of the body. And over time, it leads to movement dysfunction.
And that doesn’t happen to you in that 30 minutes to an hour you spend at the gym. It happens in the other 23 hours of the day.
As my friend and great strength coach Vince McConnell says, “For athletes (and “functional fitness” in real life), ‘mobility’ and ‘strength’ work in concert. Rather than try and isolate the two, best to realize that optimizing one positively effects the other.”
What Vince is eluding to is that strength and mobility work hand-in-hand, and if one is missing, the other is affected. This is where the other aspect of movement dysfunction comes into play: strength, or a lack thereof.
Oftentimes when someone can’t squat well, or move well in general, it’s because they are simply weak. Remember the second video from above with the crappy squat form and my knees “caved inwardly”? That’s typically caused from muscle weakness in the glutes.
That instability through ranges of movement is lethal, because you should be able to control how your body moves when you decide to move in a certain way. What good is being flexible if you lack stability, or the ability to control how your body moves when you want to move it?
By training intelligently, progressing through optimal and capability appropriate regressions and progressions of varying exercises, strength is gained and formerly unstable joints now have the necessary strength from the surrounding muscular structure to perform movements correctly.
In layman’s terms it means you can now do crazy stuff like, I don’t know… squat properly.
And for you newbies to the world of strength training, performing said movements correctly from the get-go therefore is of primary importance because it establishes a pathway of good habit that is developed toward positive, measurable and successful progress.
When you move correctly from the start of your training life, you don’t have to “un-learn” any bad movement patterns or habits.
When I got serious about lifting many years ago, my good friend Steve Ricker hammered into me, “Always focus on technique. Everything good flows from there.”
This is one of the reasons I emphasize focusing on one’s movement patterns and lifting technique when training. Creating that beneficial and proper neurological pathway means moving well, and moving well means freedom from pain.
And I know that’s what you want…right?
“Alright Uncle Steve, now you’re just throwing around a bunch of $3 words. What the heck is “systemic stress?”
Quite simply, systemic stress is that influence (physical, emotional, environmental, etc) which affects the body (the system) as a whole.
Again, let’s look at sitting.
Let’s say you’re a busy office worker sitting at a desk, deadline on the very near horizon, pounding away at the keyboard, all the while feeling the hot breath of your boss on the back of your neck. You also have a mortgage due, your kid is sick, your husband is having “issues” at work and your aging parent has an injury that you have to oversee to ensure their continued health.
You’re hunched over, shoulders drawn forward, arms extended and neck craned outward, teeth tightly clenched and you’re breathing shallowly…for three hours straight.
Can you feel the “stress” creep into your neck, shoulders and low back as you read this?
Can you feel your eyes begin to burn like there’s a bonfire blazing behind them?
Can you feel the ache in the low part of your back, your hips or butt?
That’s systemic stress…
And it’s just one example. I’m sure you can envision, or have lived through or witnessed, several others. And that stress causes tightness, stiffness and pain.
Now, let’s look again at the final statement from my colleagues original quote.
“Posture affects both.”
If the above scenario’s are repeated daily (and they ARE) over a long period of time (and they ARE) then movement dysfunction and systemic stress, which leads to perpetually poor posture, are the eventual outcome.
And pain stems from there, not the workout. The workout merely REVEALS the discrepancies in movement capability, posture or lack of strength.
And if you’re unwilling to tackle those issues and correct the underlying causes of your apparent dysfunction, you’ll remain in pain and probably experience worsening cases of it as you age.
So please stop blaming the workout. It’s more than likely the one thing that has kept the advancement of pain progression from worsening over time, rather than caused it.
“Great Uncle Steve…so what can I do to fix all of this stuff?”
The other day one of my clients, we’ll call her Mary, made reference to another person from one of her training sessions, whom we’ll call Donna. She was lamenting her own figure and commented that she wished she could “be as skinny as Donna.”
I smiled and corrected her stating that “Donna is not skinny. She’s lean, and there is a difference.”
Words matter. Clarity and specificity is important in this matter because it allows us to hone in on that which we want, as well as stay away from that which we do not, or is less advantageous.
When you look in the mirror, whom do you see looking back at you?
Is that person lean, skinny, overweight or fat?
Who or what would you care to look like? Do you even know?
I’m a pretty black and white kind of guy. I look at people and can pretty quickly surmise, if even in my own mind, what their level of health and fitness is.
When I think of healthy and fit, I think of lean and muscular. Anything that deviates from this appearance means less fit and healthy.
Don’t agree? Please let me clarify.
When I see a male or female who exhibits an appreciable level of muscularity from head to toe, I pretty well know that they engage in some sort of resistance based training regimen. Because of this level of muscularity it tells me that they have a higher level of resistance to disease, better VO2 capability, more endurance and stamina, improved posture and better recovery capability than a non-exerciser.
When I see shapely and muscular arms, back, legs and a butt, I pretty well know that this individual eats a little better quality diet than the average person, is most likely not ill on a regular basis, handles the daily stressors of life pretty well and probably sleeps soundly at night.
Are there exceptions?
Of course. As with anything in life, there always are. But these criteria generally pretty well hold up under scrutiny.
You see, while someone who is “skinny” might look pretty good in clothes, they may actually have a higher level of body fat than someone who is just a little overweight.
I had a client tell me not long ago that she and her husband began a nutrition program with a registered dietician. She was worried about his health because, at nearly 60 years of age, he had developed an “old man gut.” At the start of their program the RD measured both of them for lean body mass and body fat levels. My client was shocked to learn that her husband had a lower body fat level than she did, even though he weighed 90 pounds more than her.
She was “skinny fat.”
She is now working toward becoming lean, instead.
Here’s the bottom line: if you have an excess of body fat on you, it isn’t really a sign of you over eating or under exercising. All it really means is that you’re living in an unhealthy body.
If you will stop chasing “skinny”, stop dieting and exercising to lose fat and change your mind set to just get more lean (muscular) and healthy, I can virtually guarantee your success.