Dynamic Warm Ups and Dynamic Stretching [Ramblings]

There is a difference between a dynamic warm up and dynamic stretching.

A dynamic warm up consists of movements done with the intention of calibrating the body for the activity at hand.

Dynamic stretching consists of movements performed for the purpose of increasing range of motion.

Of course, sometimes dynamic stretches are included in a dynamic warm up, but still the intention is to increase range. If you lack full range of motion in your “unprepared” state, you probably ought to include some well selected mobility work in your warm up.

But having the right intent is key. It is important to realize you’re doing mobility training, else you might not pay attention to the right details. Set your mind on improving range of motion, on exploring your end range mindfully.

If one is a novice to physical training or has particularly limited mobility, slower mobility exercises that emphasize coordination will serve well. Many experienced individuals could draw great benefit from such a practice as well.

Slow, deliberate mobility training can be used to carefully map the excursion of different areas of the body and find out where the problems lie. If you find an area that moves in a choppy fashion, slow down the movement and polish it up. If there is restriction, focus in on it and ease in deeper. (Oh grow up.) In either circumstance, make sure you also pay attention to your alignment.

There are some individuals, such as The Great Jujimufu, who are strong advocates of the use of high-speed mobility exercises or “ballistic stretches”. These are typically undertaken as part of a dynamic warm up for activities which demand the expression of power in deep ranges of motion, such as tricking. Such things can clearly be done safely if approached thoughtfully with a sufficiently pliable body, but I wonder if the practice would benefit from a bit of rebranding?

I suspect that dynamic high kicks, for instance, when properly practiced, aren’t employed to increase range of motion, but rather to practice explosive use of one’s available range of motion before an activity. So, while you really are stretching the muscle ballistically, using the word “stretching” creates some confusion, because many people associate it with the pursuit of flexibility.

The idea, then would be to use dynamic stretching as part of your dynamic warm up in order to achieve peak range of motion for your ballistic stretching.

I don’t have any suggestions for what else to call it, though. What do you think?

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Harvesting Wisdom from Pain

Readers, I have spent the last eight months plagued by a very persistent right hip and lower back issue. As you might imagine, the long process of untangling this particular knot has caused me some degree of psychological strain. I feel like I’m halfway through a box of poorly stored Christmas tree lights. I’ve got some of the work done, but there’s still enough of a problem left that I’m getting discouraged.

In the midst of the frustration, however, I try to remind myself how much I’ve learned from confronting this problem. Over the years, investigating my aches and pains has provided me with more wisdom than any other aspect of my training. Not only that, but the lessons learned while trying to reconstruct my dysfunctional body have heavily informed my clinical practice, granting me insight into the problems others are facing and a head start on solving them.

I’m not going to tell you that you should celebrate you injuries and feel awesome about them, because obviously they still suck. But, it can be helpful and encouraging to look at every injury or setback as an opportunity to harvest new ideas and become even stronger.

This back and hip problem have made me painfully aware of how stiff my entire lumbo-pelvic complex really is, and how much potential I have to improve my movement ability through rectifying that stiffness. Even though the pain is still there, I’ve made huge gains in mobility and coordination through my hips and spine.

So, take heart. You may be caught in a fearsome storm right now, but it is through surviving great storms that great captains are made.

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The Future of the Manual

Readers, I’ve been away for some time. The academic commitments which have accompanied the end of my physiotherapy degree have been… well, demanding. I wanted to write this post both to ensure you that I haven’t disappeared, and to inform you about where I see The Manual of Primal Movement going from here.

My intention as I move forward in my career is for this blog to become a more prominent aspect of my professional voice. By 2017 I will be posting weekly updates on a set day, and soon afterwards I hope to begin putting out video content in addition to written posts.

There is a chance that the blog may undergo some re-branding. I feel that the word “primal” carries some degree of baggage, and I have grown concerned that it gives the impression that I might be an extremist dedicated to a purely natural-world pursuit of human movement, which is certainly not the case. In fact, movement practice in the context of the natural, ancestral environment has not even been the major theme in the content I have written thus far (aside, perhaps, from the past year or two since it first caught my interest). I intend for the blog to maintain a broader perspective on movement, training, and rehabilitation.

You, the interested reader, might be inclined to look into the work of Rafe Kelley (of Evolve Move Play) and Katy Bowman (of Nutritious Movement) for incredibly enlightening perspectives on natural movement. I’ve also been enjoying the YouTube channel Ancestral Movement lately, which offers many videos of a bearded fellow doing interesting movement drills.)

Expect great things. It’s time to get serious.

5 Strategies for Working on Movement Quality

Readers, I’ve had a rough time reconciling corrective exercise with my overall training program. I have a few movement issues that I feel are standing in the way of achieving my peak awesomeness, but I find it difficult to decide how to best incorporate my efforts to patch those holes into my movement practice. I’ve tried a few methods, and heard about others, and they have their good and bad points, of course. Today I want to share some insight into each approach so you can find one that works for you.

 

1) Full Focus

 Committing all your training time to corrective exercise.

Readers, I’ve tried this approach, and it’s not my favourite. When you put your training on hold and put all your eggs in the corrective basket, lots of stones are left unturned. Many movement patterns will go unexplored. The skills and capacity you have worked so hard to earn will rust and crumble. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go out of your mind with boredom.

Never go full physio.

There will be times when it is necessary to devote all your efforts to rehab, but that’s typically when you’ve sustained serious injuries or have fallen very ill. If you’re someone who is capable of a very singular focus and who has a high tolerance for tedium, you may find that this an effective approach to fixing your movement problems. Power to ya. It is my humble opinion, however, that most of us will be better served by an approach that melds corrective exercise into our existing movement practices.

The next few methods offer just that.

 

2) Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Implementing corrective exercise immediately before or after your workout.

You can slip your corrective work into your warm-up, cool-down, or both. The benefit of putting it in the warm-up is that you will be calibrating your target movements for better performance before they come up in training. The training, then, helps lock-down some of those sweet, sweet gainz. The benefit of putting corrective work in the cool-down is that it helps you reset your target movement to a more refined level after training. This is helpful if the challenge of your workout took you out of ideal alignment a bit too often. The benefit of doing correctives in both the warm-up and cool-down, then, is that you get the perks of each.

The only real downside of this approach is that your workouts will get a little longer. I would advise against trimming other important elements out of your movement prep and recovery to make room for corrective work, unless the correctives are logical replacements for those elements. (For example, you could replace Air Squats with motor patterning drills for squatting.) You could trim some non-critical elements out of your workouts to make the time for correctives instead, but you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of that for yourself.

Implemented properly, this can also be a good way to really refine your approach to movement preparation and recovery, even when corrective exercise isn’t a bit priority. A few drills that help you calibrate your skills for the training of the day can go a long way towards optimizing your workout.

 

3) Supersets

 Pairing a corrective drill with another exercise in your workout.

 Similar to the previous approach, using corrective supersets lets you optimize your patterns in the same session in which you challenge them. The difference is that you’ll be bouncing back and forth between the two. The benefit here is that you can immediately take any gains you make through your corrective and apply it to the challenge movement, bit by bit. If you do things right, each set will get a little cleaner, a bit more refined.

Supersetting your correctives will still tag a few extra minutes onto your training time, but probably not as much as the previous approach. You may also find it easier to tackle a few more patterns at a time, since this strategy piggybacks on the organization already present in your program. The downside is that you might not get the same training frequency for your correctives if you are trying to target too many at once. My advice would be to pick a couple patterns to work on, and pair those correctives up with other similar movements. (For example, you could superset your squat mobility drill with sets of deadlifts or L-sits.)

 

4) Stand Alone

 Planning a separate session for corrective exercise.

 The nice thing about this approach is that you get another little dose of movement through your day, and it’s good to move more often. Although your time commitment to training will go up, you may find it more tolerable since your actual workouts won’t get any longer. It may also be easier to convince yourself to do corrective work more often through the week, since it is a habit that isn’t tied to your training days.

The trick with this approach is that it requires you to find another chunk of time in your day for exercise. If you’re someone who already finds it challenging to schedule a training session, this approach might not be for you.

 

5) Hybrid

A blend of the other approaches. (Except the first one.)

A hybrid approach, I think, has the greatest potential. You can mix a little corrective work into your movement prep, pair it up with relevant parts of the training session, and give it a little extra focus outside of the session when the opportunity arises. One of the biggest factors that will influence the success of your movement correction strategy will be frequency, and here the hybrid approach shines. How often are you exposing your body to the new movement habit you want to build? How often are you taking your tissues into that new range of motion? How often are you practicing to refine that wonky movement pattern?

A word of caution towards the hybrid approach: Don’t let it take the consistency and organization out of your efforts. It doesn’t mean use each method as it strikes you, doing some correctives in your warm-up here and a superset there. That may still work, but you run the risk of giving yourself a pass too often and losing that ever-important element of frequency.

 

Readers, I have to admit that writing this post has really helped me organize my own thinking around implementing correctives and given me some fresh insight into how my current efforts are falling short. (Funny how that happens.) I hope that this has given you some ideas on how you can keep training and work on improving your movement quality at the same time. You don’t have to trade one for the other.

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Lower Body Pulling

CrowReaders, I’ve always been a bit confused as to why hip hinges (such as the deadlift and its variants) are considered lower body pulling movements. As I see it, the legs aren’t really doing any pulling. They’re pushing. Pretty much how they push in a squat.

(Yeah, settle down, I know there are myriad technical nuances that distinguish squatting from hip hinging, but hear me out.)

Think about the barbell deadlift for a second. It looks a whole lot like a barbell back squat. The only glaring difference is where the bar is. In the squat, you’re holding the bar across your chiseled, rippling upper back. In the deadlift, what has changed is that you’re now hanging it off of your meaty gorilla arms. Sure, your arms now have a huge pulling load to deal with, but your lower body is having an experience that is not all that different from the back squat (hip and knee extension). What a deadlift looks like, to me, is a lower body push combined with an upper body pull.

That’s not say I don’t think deadlifting is useful (*cough* Naudi Aguilar *cough*), or that I don’t think it’s useful to train both the squat and deadlift. I just don’t think you can really call it lower body pulling.

So what would I consider to be lower body pulling movements?

Thank you for asking, readers. In my opinion, a true lower body pull would be those movements that draw one into a more compressed position. This could include gymnastics skills like the L-sit, yoga poses like Bakasana, CrossFit’s toes-to-bar, or common exercises like leg raises. These are movements that are heavy on the hip and knee flexion, but I would consider active ankle dorsiflexion to be in this category as well, like the bat hang in bouldering. (Plantar flexion, it seems to me, is an obvious expression of pushing.)

When you think about it, loaded hip and knee flexion are movements often missing in the context of strength and conditioning (which, again, considers hip hinging to be the functional expression of lower body pulling). It makes sense, since athletes need explosive hip extension much more often for field sports (for movements like running and jumping), but I wonder what the potential impact of this strength imbalance might be on an athlete’s movement ability and longevity.

(I can see hip flexion being emphasized in sports like gymnastics, since it is critical for many skill progressions, like the manna. I would be very interested to hear from coaches in these disciplines concerning their definition of lower body pulling.)

Knee flexion comes up more often than hip flexion in typical training, I think. Hamstring curls and glute-ham raises are established mainstays of hammie development; but there always seems to be this debate raging on about whether it’s useful to train knee flexion, or whether efforts should focus on the hip extension and knee stabilization roles of the hamstrings. My own opinion would be that, in the context of complete human movement, you should be able to express competency in loaded knee flexion. I think it makes sense in the context of natural movement. If you think about climbing, the isometric version of a hamstring curl comes in really handy when heel hooking (as in the sport of climbing) or hanging from a tree by your legs (as in being an ape). Not only that, but any BJJ athlete can tell you how important a strong hammie curl is for locking down certain positions when grappling. What it comes down to is that you should probably be competent in pulling at the knee to have a well-rounded movement foundation, and if it’s important to your sport or activity give it more focus. (Typical message, right?)

It’s extraordinarily unlikely that I’m the first person to voice this opinion, but it’s been a satisfying revelation nonetheless. The definition of lower body pushing and pulling as it stands in strength and conditioning is the paradigm I’ve subscribed to for some time, but it now seems obviously inaccurate to me. Prior to now, I’ve always found it difficult to classify those movements like the L-sit which I listed above, but now they have such an obvious designation. For someone like me who thrives off of systems thinking, this is excellent, because now I can more clearly understand how to effectively fit my programming framework.

Please comment below, readers. I’d love to know what you think about this.

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Stair Climbing Mishaps…

marcpro_crutchesHey, readers. I sprained my ankle.

I don’t even have a cool story or anything. Do you want to know what happened? I was texting while going down a flight of stairs and missed the last step. I highly recommend you avoid doing that particularly foolish combination of tasks.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem that bad, and as a physiotherapy student I have the skills (and access to fancy gadgets) to optimize the healing process. Even still, my idiocy is probably going to cost me a week or more of good training.

For the first time, however, I think I’m handling this injury pretty well emotionally. It probably helps that it’s just a minor sprain, but I think what is really helping me deal with it are the consistent ten weeks of training I got in before it happened. In a way, I would assume it would feel like the opposite, that I should be bummed out that I got derailed when I’m finally on a roll. But the consistent practice up to this point has just made me determined to really focus on optimizing my recovery and working around the problem.

It’s so easy to let an injury like this be an excuse to, I don’t know, sit on the couch all day playing Monster Hunter instead of moving. After all, injuries need rest, right?

WRONG!

Well, kind of right. It’s all about relative rest. Protecting the delicate healing tissues. Avoiding stuff that provokes pain or comes with a risk of arriving in joint positions that may compromise this little meat construction project I have on the go. But total rest? That is nothing more than stagnation. That would be just inviting the capacity and skill I’ve earned in the last couple months to slip away, leaving me way worse off than I would be just avoiding the things that might upset my ankle. Also, not moving means not pumping powerful healing juices through my body or pumping waste out of the injury site. Those things both really help push the recovery process along.

So, lessons learned:

Don’t text on the stairs. Or crosswalks. Or other places where doing so might kill you or others.
Work around injuries. Maintain your practice instead of becoming an incredible Monster Hunting slug! (Well, I mean, monsters are going to get hunted, but training still has to happen, too.)

Injuries are just a temporary setback. Learn from them, and get stronger in spite of them!

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Coiling the Spring

Readers, I love a good coaching cue. There is something poetic in being able to condense a mechanical goal into a few tangible words. Last summer, Gray Cook uploaded a video about how to choose between the squat or the deadlift as a training tool (and whether you should choose based on your movement ability). One of the concepts that came up which really intrigued me was “coiling the spring”. (I’m going to talk about this in the context of the squat, but keep the deadlift setup in mind as we go forward.)

The idea with this coaching cue is that as you descend in a squat (or when you’re setting up for your deadlift), you envision your body as a spring being compressed. This creates a lot of focus on how you’re performing that eccentric portion of the movement. It’s not just about lowering down, but chambering energy in the hips, knees, and ankles. For me, this cue has done wonders to tighten up the bottom position of my squat by helping me load the hips and keep my spine braced. The goal of coiling the spring may seem obvious, but don’t underestimate its usefulness until you try it. After all, that’s the whole point of a good coaching cue, right? It is an elegant phrase that converts the desired mechanics into a single thought, a single feeling.

This cue strikes me as useful outside of the squat and deadlift as well. There is obvious transfer to any movement that falls into one of those categories and has similar mechanics, like jumping or kettlebell swings; but it could also prove useful in teaching pressing. For example, you could envision coiling the springs of your shoulders as you descend in a push-up. (Boing!)

Next time you are are working on your squat or deadlift, give this cue a try. Even if you think your squat and deadlift are pretty solid, this cue might be your ticket to tightening it up just a little bit more.

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Fuel Logs

spoon_forkReaders, what I have learned in movement has been, as you might expect, largely influenced by personal interest. With my history of moving poorly and accumulating aches and pains, much of my (informal) research has focused on how to improve my training. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve started putting more effort into improving my nutrition. That’s not to say that I eat poorly in the general sense, or that I haven’t soaked up any information on the subject through my years of schooling, but I certainly haven’t gone after it with the intensity that the fitness world promotes. I’m now starting the process of fine-tuning my nutrition game, and one of the first targets in doing so has been to develop a habit of logging what I eat.

I should preface this by saying that I don’t think daily food logging is necessarily a long term habit that you need to cultivate in order to eat well. In fact, for some people it probably has the potential to create unhealthy fixations. But while you’re trying to establish a degree of dietary regularity, a food log gives you a clear picture of what your eating behaviours really look like. I’m logging my food daily so that I can build behaviours that will keep me eating well when I stop logging.

Using software is a good idea if you want to take a truly objective look at your diet. Gone are the labour- intensive days of jotting meals down and referencing little booklets. I having been using Under Armor’s ever-popular MyFitnessPal app since the summer, and it has served me quite well. You can search from popular foods or scan barcodes (I unfortunately did not realize the latter until I had used the app for a couple months). Once you’ve been using the app for a while you will have built up a nice little library of the foods you typically eat, so the process of logging becomes easier as you go. You can also enter recipes to get a nutritional breakdown of what you’re cooking and make it loggable.

Having a quantitative analysis of what you are eating can be an eye opener. For instance, I thought my diet was way higher in carbohydrates than it actually was. (There is some debate over whether high fat or high carb is the way to go, but I basically start sweating ammonia if my carb consumption is low, so going high fat for me would require more research.) I also wasn’t eating as much protein as I needed to for my goals, except on rare occasions. In most cases, you don’t need to have such a precise estimate of your macronutrient intake, but when you’re trying to change your body composition (i.e. put on muscle or lose fat), the ratio of carbs, fat, and protein in your diet is quite important.

Now that I have a better idea of how I am eating day to day, the next step has been to start planning better. It’s time to get proactive with my diet instead of just being reactive. I can log my lunch for the next day and see what the nutritional breakdown looks like. I can see on which days of the week I’m consistently missing the mark and figure out why. If lunch was light on the meat, I can plan for a higher protein dinner. Honestly, this is the stage of the process I’m currently at, so my planning still needs some work, but it’s coming along.

It’s important not to underestimate the impact that your diet has on your training. Good food means good fuel, and keeping a record of how you are fueling your body could help you tighten up this important lifestyle factor. If you are a numbers person, like I am to some degree, you might find an app useful to get a detailed nutritional breakdown. If numbers aren’t your thing, even just keeping a paper log of what you’re eating and when could be enough to help you evaluate and improve your habits.

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Isolation

Readers, I am fascinated by the concept of movement nutrition. Some big names in the movement game, like Katy Bowman and Ido Portal, have been talking for a while now about the idea that movement is another form of nourishment. Much as we need a certain things in our diets to be hale and healthy, we need to regularly experience physical loads in a variety of positions to keep our bodies functioning optimally. I find this concept of a movement diet helps me understand how training tools like isolation exercises fit into a complete movement practice.

The true utility of  isolation exercises is in supplementing those nutrients that are lacking in our daily movement experience to address our movement deficiencies. Just as lacking certain dietary nutrients comes with predictable physical consequences (pirates who don’t eat their limes get scurvy), when we aren’t exposed to certain natural movements we start to run into trouble after a while. Our bodies are powerfully adaptive machines, and to fail to use a function is to adapt to its non-use. If we aren’t up standing and walking enough to balance the time we spend sitting, for instance, we end up with issues like stiff hips and ankles, floppy glutes, and angry spines.

Depending on how deficient you are in a movement input (i.e. how long you’ve gone without exposure), you may be so adapted to the non-use that you have to take more refined steps to solving the problem. For example, if you sat in your office job for years and your hips are stiff, just getting out and doing some walking probably won’t be enough to undo the stiffness and movement consequences all on its own. This is where isolation exercises come in. You might need to do some targeted mobility work to unlock your hips in order to “absorb” all the nutrients from walking. Once you’ve got your lower body moving well again, natural movements like walking can help you maintain and reinforce those gainz.

Sidebar: By “isolation exercises” I mean to refer to any exercise that targets something really specific about movement. It could be a strength exercise like the back fly that you use to isolate shoulder horizontal abduction to target weakness. It could be a mobility exercise like a lunge stretch that you use to isolate structures limiting hip extension to target stiffness. It could be a basic movement drill like partial squats that you use to isolate the first part of the squat range of motion. They come in lots of flavours.

The idea that one should only engage in functional, full-body activities has some merit, but it assumes that the individual already has a perfectly balanced, well-functioning physical system. Yes, a wide spectrum of “real” movements should be at the core of our practices, but we would be remiss to neglect the importance of patching up the holes in our movement profiles. To some extent, large movements can help address our deficiencies (if you are missing overhead range of motion, hanging can be useful, assuming you’re not experiencing painful impingement), but supplementing those large movements with more focused efforts to restore the key limitation is likely to speed along the process.

I think this is important for fitness and rehabilitation professionals alike to consider. Too many people fill their programs with preacher curls, leg extensions, and shoulder rotations without a good reason to do so, and too often this is promoted as acceptable or ideal by those who profess to be authorities on the subject of human movement. Recognize that isolation exercises exist to fill specific needs, not to make the bulk of your training program. Use them to address the components of your movement profile that are holding you back so that you can build a physical practice that supports your life and your physical goals. Build a body with a broad and balanced capacity for movement so that you can explore greater complexity of movement in your practice.

 

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Science!

beakerReaders, I’m going to go ahead and piggy-back on someone else’s writing today, as I think it is important to share. Katy Bowman wrote a blog post in which she discusses how to use scientific evidence to inform our behaviors. If you’re not familiar with Katy’s work, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to all the fan-boying that goes on in my blog. She’s a biomechanist whose work takes the information we know about how individual cells respond to mechanical loading and weaves it all together to make sense of our natural human movement requirements. She is doing great things to legitimize natural human movement scientifically, and has a real gift for conveying that information to the masses. Her book Move Your DNA (one of many) nearly liquefied my brain.

I think this will be of interest to my physiotherapy classmates, as evidence-informed practice is heavily emphasized in our program. (We are taught to thoroughly consider the information available, with strong scientific research representing the gold standard.) The key term there is “informed”. We have to take into account the best available evidence, consider it with a critical eye, and then use our best judgement to determine the utility of the information. Because good science is typically very precise, sometimes you have to chase a bit of a paper trail to gather enough information to fully inform a practice choice. Each individual study is trying to answer a very specific question, and you need a whole gang of them to really get a clear picture of what is going on.

For this reason, I think that developing an understanding of movement from a more artistic perspective is just as crucial as accumulating classical knowledge on the subject. Information gained through science helps us constantly refine our approach to movement (when used carefully), but there is so much that a good physiotherapist needs to learn that science cannot teach; an intimate understanding of the quality of movement, of the experience of movement. The scientific community is doing important work to shine some light on the unknowns, but at some point you have to step into the darkness and light a candle for yourself.

An individual who takes their perspective from either extreme is immediately obvious if you take the time to observe. Someone who comes from a fully classical approach can talk about the minutiae of movement for days, but they often seem to miss the forest through the trees. They might not be able to weave their knowledge together into something “real”. Someone who comes from a fully artistic or romantic approach may have a highly developed feeling for movement, but their practice and teaching may be limited by their lack of knowledge of the underlying forms. They might have some misconceptions about why their practice works, or some “woo woo” ideas that are actually counterproductive.

I think, as with many things in this world, the most effective place to operate is in the middle. Strike a balance between research and experience. Reinforce your knowledge with understanding and experience. Use scientific evidence the way it is meant to be used – to refine your approach. Recognize that the picture is rarely complete.

 

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