Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mobility and What Has Helped Me to Improve - Part IV

In my last post, I talked about some resources that have helped me make progress with my mobility. Recently, I had sudden leap forward with my progress simply by adding a few basic drills I learned from a Z-Health class I attended.

What is Z-Health?
Basically, Z-Health is applied neurology. As far as I can tell, it's all based well-established neurological principles and practices.

The back story
When I first heard about Z-Health, I was highly skeptical. My kettlebell coach, who happens to be a Z-Health Master Trainer, kept giving me eye tests and having me do strange exercises that didn't seem to have any direct relationship with my training goals, but then something happened that prompted me to take a closer look. I had a long term issue with tightness my left shoulder and neck. He was able to diagnose the problem with an eye test. Yes, you read that correctly. He used an eye test. After diagnosing the problem, he had me do an easy exercise with my arm, and my tight muscles immediately released. In the months since then, the issue hasn't returned.  So that experience got me thinking, "Okay, maybe there is something to this Z-Health stuff." I followed up by taking the Z-Health Essentials class in October (2015)

How did Z-Health help my mobility?

After taking the class, I randomly picked a few ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility drills to add my mobility routine. Within a couple of weeks, I was stunned my improvements.
  1. Of course, I saw significant improvements in my ankle, hip and thoracic mobility tested by squatting, pigeon posesseizas, and few other stretches.
  2. I had a long term and very annoying issue with cramping in my arches and lower calf muscles. That issue completely cleared up. I can now work on my mobility unhampered by sudden and severe cramps in those areas.
  3. Most surprisingly, I also had significant improvement in shoulder mobility. I reduce the length my shoulder dislocations by more than 6 inches. This improvement happened even though I didn't add any Z-Health drills targeting the shoulders.
I can't say conclusively my sudden gains were due to the addition of Z-Health exercises to my routine. But... I believe it's more that coincidence. Given my experiences so far, I certainly plan to experiment more with the Z-Health tools I've learned. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mobility and What Has Helped Me to Improve - Part III

In my previous posts, I discussed my problems with mobility and how I started working on my sitting squat. So what came next?

Well, naturally I began to do research. I've read and watched many books and videos. I've also had the pleasure of working directly with Dr. Nicholas Romanov on several occasions. After sorting through all this information, there were several themes that emerged for me. Unfortunately, I'm also sure I missed a quite a bit, but this an imperfect process at best.
  1. Dynamically working the joints through a full range of motion
  2. Statically holding poses (as I did with my squatting technique)
  3. Balanced strength development around each joint
  4. Avoid pain. Some discomfort is okay, but pain is counter-productive
  5. Mobility is as much (or more) about the brain as it is about muscles and tendons
Until recently, the most significant resources for me were the ones listed below. Now there is a third, but I'll talk more about that one in a future post.
  1. Dr. Romanov's flexibility series on YouTube - Flexibility Routines for Runners
  2. Dr. Kelly Starrett's books Ready to Run, and Becoming Supple as a Leopard
I liked Dr. Romanov's videos because they demonstrate very well ways to dynamically work joints through a full range of motion. However, as someone who is mobility challenged, I found these videos overwhelming. They lack much explanation about how beginners can adapt the techniques progressively. 

Dr. Kelly Starret's books do an excellent job of providing beginners a well-structured way to make progress and standards for setting goals. 

I built my program primarily around these two influences. With a modest time investment, I was incrementally able to make demonstrable progress.  Very recently, I've found a third resource, which seems to have pulled things together for me. I'll talk about that in my next post. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mobility: A Word of Caution - Part II

Before I continue with explaining how I've started getting results from my mobility training, I want to offer a word of caution.  Mobility, like any other single element of fitness, if overemphasised or taken to an extreme, can lead to injury (more on this topic in future posts).

There are apparently variations in hip anatomy. Some people may have structural limitations on what they can do safely. Ignoring those limitations comes with risks. Yoga clearly emphasises mobility and flexibility and is an excellent resource. Unfortunately, there are reports that many advanced Yoga practitioners require hip replacement surgery.

Keep in mind, I'm not discouraging people from doing Yoga or any other mobility enhancing activity; just remember more is not always better. Another point I'd like to make is that because of these variations in hip anatomy, people may need squat differently. What works well for one person may not work for another.

Here are links to discussions about Yoga and hip problems.

Women’s Flexibility Is a Liability (in Yoga)
Yoga Injuries (scroll down to "Yogis and Hip Injuries" )

Here are a couple of interesting videos about hip anatomy and squatting.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mobility and How I Started Getting Results - Part I Squatting

In my last post, I described my mobility woes. Now I'll discuss what I've done to "fix" my issues with mobility.

I started by working on my sitting squat technique. I could go in and out of the squat dynamically, with marginally acceptable technique, but attempting to sit in the squat was uncomfortable and required a lot of compensating movements.

Why the squat?

One of the things I picked up from CrossFit was just how fundamental the squat is to athletic movement. Both the position of the squat and the fact that it requires decent ankle, knee, hip and thoracic mobility. Clearly, you get a lot of bang for you buck by working on your squat.

How I went about it. 

Basically, I just started hanging out in the squat position for extended periods of time. For the first two or three weeks, my hips complained loudly, but after that, the discomfort was minimal. Over time, I began to experiment with leg and foot position, and the use of a counter-balance.

Using a counter-balance was the key in my opinion. When I held a weight, in my hands, I was able to obtain and hang out in a "proper" squat position. As my body began to adapt, I was able to progressively decrease the weight until I could hang out in a reasonably good squat position using no counter-balance.

What did I learn?

By experimenting with my squat, and observing the squatting technique of others, I believe, for most people, the biggest squatting issue is ankle mobility, followed a distant second by hip mobility. Although it's not one or the other, because many people have issues with both of these and more.

What's next?
I'm employing this basic technique to seiza (Japanese sitting style) in order work on my ankle mobility in plantar flexion. With good results so far!

Some resources

  1. Here is a concise overview of what makes a squat "good, bad or ugly" - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly PART 2: Squatting
  2. For those of you who wish to work on your squat, there is the 30/30 Squat Challenge. It's essentially the same approach I used, but this page contains many other techniques to help get your squat in order.
  3. There are a lot of other resources out there. I'll be listing some more in upcoming posts. So, stay tuned.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Oh Mobility! Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?

I don't remember a time in my life when I had good mobility and/or flexibility. As a competitive runner in the late 70's and early 80's, I did my half-assed stretching like everyone else, not fully convinced it was important. Later on, when I got into martial arts, where good flexibility has definite benefits (even if you aren't a kicker), I stretched religiously every day for years. I also research and applied available information on stretching methods and techniques. Unfortunately, the net result was that I was only slightly more flexible than when I began. At some point, I gave up, figuring that I just was built to be flexible.

Fast forward a couple of decades. I started doing CrossFit. Again, my limited flexibility/mobility was an issue. Only it had gotten worse from years of neglect. Although now CrossFit has a mobility guru, when I was doing CrossFit, they didn't seem to have much helpful advice other than, "Fight for it!" Again, I started stretching regularly and again, not getting results.

I believe my lack of results were from attempting to address the wrong issues. I was focusing on the muscles (flexibility), but not the joints (mobility). Lately, I've begun to get results. I'll discuss how in more detail in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Obsessive Exercise or the Problem with Investing Too Much Ego

In an earlier post, I mentioned that people who stick with an exercise program, usually "invest some ego into the activity." In other words, they are invested in getting results and reaching their goals. However, investing too much ego into one's workouts can lead to obsession, and obsession can lead to some unhealthy behaviors.  Of course, what looks like an obsession to one person, can look like a
commitment to another. So it's not always clear when someone is being obsessive about their training. Below are some symptoms I usually see.

Refusing to rest when needed. If someone rigidly sticks to their training schedule, even when their body is clearly showing signs that they need more rest and recovery time, that's obsession in my opinion. This behavior will impede progress, and often lead to injury. An example I've seen regularly are runners who absolutely must reach their weekly mileage quota despite any sickness, injury, or fatigue.

Refusing to change one's workouts when change is needed for improvement. Obsession can blind people to what they should focus on for improvement. Being overly focused on one thing can be self-defeating and counter-productive. Another running example is runners who have clear strength and technique issues and who refuse to work on either. Almost invariably, they will only listen to advice prescribed in more mileage, which is the last thing they need.

Individuals who have modest talent and abilities living to exercise rather than exercising to live. If someone has a great deal of talent and natural ability, it's fine for him or her to explore that ability. Developing their talent may require seemingly "excessive" levels of commitment. However when mere mortals do this, I have to wonder what's wrong. A hundred miles a week for a 2:30 marathoner would not usually be considered excessive. That kind of mileage for 5-hour marathoner should raise a red flag.

Monday, December 28, 2015

That's No Fun

In my last post, I discuss what I believe to be the most important factors for sticking with exercise. I specifically left out "fun". Here is why.

  1. If exercise were "fun", everyone would be doing it regularly.
  2. Most people I know, who stick with an exercise regiment, enjoy the benefits of exercise and/or the feelings of achievement. They are driven mostly by those benefits and by achieving their goals. 
  3. Even people who exercise obsessively don't enjoy exercise. Don't confuse obsession with enjoyment. More on this subject later.
If you are someone who actually enjoys exercise, you are lucky. However, for most people, exercise is a chore, and it always will be. I recommend embacing that reallity. Rather than looking for something that's "fun" (only to figure out that it's still a chore once the novelty wears off), focus on the benefits and goals. Preferably, don't do something you absolutely hate, but you don't have to love it either. Also, find a community. A community can make exercise less of chore via socializing. 

My previous post - Sticking with it