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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Stretching Doesn't Work (The Way You Think It Does)

This is so interesting and it does makes a lot of sense. The body will lengthen only the mind is ready.

Original post here.


Does stretching make you more flexible? I know the obvious answer to this question, based on what we’ve all been told about the merits of stretching, is, “Duh! Yes!” But it turns out that might not be the case. But it might be the case. At least a little. But not totally. Okay, let me explain.


Stretch Your Bits or Stretch Your Mind?

I’ve had a few things come up recently that have me rethinking the common stretching belief that goes something like this: stretch tight bits in your body and they will get longer/more flexible/more supple.

The things that have me rethinking this are:

  1. An interview I did on the Liberated Body Podcast with Jules Mitchell who is writing a book (and just finished a thesis) on the science of stretching.
  2. A guide I am putting together on how to resolve short hamstrings (it’s out on Liberated Body in October), which had me immersed in the research about how hamstrings specifically manage to return to a more functional length.
  3. And last but not least, I am reading Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA where her insights on sarcomeres have my attention (plenty of other things too, but I’m already trying to keep this post from becoming epically long).

I’ll do my best to summarize the a-ha moments that have sprung out of these three things.

Your Nervous System Runs the Show

In her interview with me, Jules Mitchell* talked about how she began her thesis with the intention of taking a biomechanical view into yoga asana, which is exactly what she does. However, because she started her work from the perspective of a yoga teacher- with all the training that had told her that stretching leads to increased flexibility, she was surprised to discover that the research on stretching did not bear this idea out.

She discovered this idea - that if we stretch more and stretch harder that our tissue will change - was untrue. In reality, we are not lumps of clay that can be molded by persistently tugging on things. This is because our nervous systems are running the show.

So what does that mean? That means that unless you are under anesthesia (where you will miraculously gain full and even excessive range of motion, but I do not recommend attempting to go through life under full anesthesia simply for its flexibility gains), your ability to stretch at any range is determined by your nervous system’s tolerance to that range.



As in, when you have super short hamstrings and you try to forward fold and meet rigid resistance, it is not that you need to pull on your hamstrings like they are inanimate taffy, because you can’t. Your nervous system is the thing giving you that firm end range, and it’s basically saying, “Nope. Sorry buddy. I don’t feel safe there, so I’m not going to let you go there.”

Getting pushy about it and trying to force your hamstrings into ever deeper end ranges will have one of three outcomes:

  1. Nothing will change
  2. Your hamstrings will get shorter
  3. You will injure your tissue (which, P.S., has about a two-year healing period if we’re talking about a tendon injury).

I recommend not trying to force override your nervous system on issues of flexibility. It will win. It will be unpleasant.

Your Body's Emergency Brake

Why would the nervous system not feel safe and therefore limit your mobility? Because that range is unfamiliar, or because compensatory patterns in your body have determined that certain parts of you need to function as an emergency brake in order to hold it all together (and of course these two things are not mutually exclusive). Both boil down to issues of motor control (plenty more to chew on here) and of Davis’ Law, which can be (over) simplified to, “use it or lose it.”

While working on the Liberated Body Short Hamstrings Guide, I kept coming back to the issue of how the hamstrings function, in some chronically short-hamstringed people, as an emergency brake. This kind of compensatory pattern happens for plenty of reasons, but top among them might be under active deep core musculature, too rigid core musculature (yes, underactive and too rigid can come together), weakened adductors, and more. If these or other key stability structures can’t fully do their job, the hamstrings are at the ready. They sub in for a lack of support elsewhere by battening down the hatches.

To go back to the emergency brake analogy - if your car were parked on the edge of a cliff and was held there only by its emergency brake, would you release it? Not if you are sane. This is the same decision your nervous system is making when you attempt a forward fold and are stopped prematurely.

brooke thomas, stretching, flexibility, mobility, stretching doesn't work


Those Naughty Sarcomeres

In regards to the use-it-or-lose-it part of the flexibility equation, let’s talk Katy Bowman**, moving your DNA, and the sarcomeres. Bowman has been a champion of getting people to understand the difference between frequency and intensity. In short, that what we are doing with our bodies most of the time thoroughly trumps how hard we may be capable of working out (or stretching) for a small portion of our day. In relationship to flexibility, this means that if we, for example, sit in a chair with our hamstrings contracted from both ends all day long, we will gradually develop short hamstrings.

Here is an extremely pared down, Cliff’s Notes version of Bowman’s writing in Move Your DNA on the role the sarcomeres play: Sarcomeres are the basic contractile units of our muscles. Muscles move because sarcomeres generate force and move. When you are often in the same position - as with our contracted-hamstrings-in-the-chair example - your sarcomeres change on the cellular level in a way that makes it easier for you to do more of what you are already doing. Yes, those naughty sarcomeres will actually cannibalize themselves and grow themselves to set your chair-shape as your new normal.

brooke thomas, stretching, flexibility, mobility, stretching doesn't work

That said, the way to approach rehabilitating this would be to move with more normal hamstrings length more frequently. For example: to use a standing desk for all or part of the day, to sit on the floor with our legs outstretched in front of us (if we can accomplish that without rounding our backs, another symptom of short hamstrings), wearing neutral-heeled shoes, and to walk and to take frequent movement breaks, among other things.

The road to rehabilitation would not look like stretching the bejeezus out of your hamstrings at their absolute maximum end range for somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty and ninety seconds per day.

Bringing Mitchell’s and Bowman’s work together, this kind of rehabilitation accomplishes a few key things. First, it reminds your little sarcomeres what length you would like things to be by gradual, incremental loading of your body in healthier ranges of movement. Second, taking more opportunities for natural movement more frequently (oversimplified definition alert: natural movement = accomplishing the movements that our ancestors used to need to do to survive - like walking, or bending, or climbing - with proper alignment) develops strength and adaptability. This allows your nervous system to feel safe about testing out new ranges of motion, while simultaneously unraveling the compensatory patterns that make your nervous system put on the brakes in the first place.

A Tale of Two Feet

What might this look like in practice? Let me tell you about my feet. Last summer I still had to slap on my rigid hiking shoes in order to get out on the rocky trails here in New England. Whenever I attempted to wear a more flexible-soled shoe, I was one sore-footed girl. Determined that my feet could be more supple, I spent the year wearing only neutral-heeled, flexible-soled shoes, taking plenty of barefoot time, increasing my walking mileage, and intentionally seeking out as much diverse terrain as I could find.

Fast forward to the end of this summer and I have been hiking daily - up steep inclines, on slick shale, on rocky ground and tangled stumps - only in my UnshoesAnd what’s amazing is that these hikes also manage to feel like a delicious foot massage no matter how long I’m out on the trail. I find myself intentionally stepping on the rockier areas of the trail because it feels good on my feet. What happened there?

I incrementally - over one year - loaded my feet differently, and as a result the 33 joints that live in my tootsies are now much more supple and flexible. My feet are also stronger. Flexible and strong like to show up to the party together. Go figure.

Some Stretching Movement Rules to Live By

So is stretching the devil? Nah. Frequent, intermittent stretching that is within your range and not red-lining it for your abilities helps you to explore your movement ranges and therefore helps you to (very gradually) remodel yourself at the cellular level to a more mobile version of yourself.

This is a complex issue for which much more could be said, but I have already written a short novel, so in closing here are a few bullet points that we might want to consider so that we can re-frame how to become more flexible. Perhaps we should:

  • Stop with the no-pain-no-gain crap and instead accept that The Goldilocks Principle holds true for human tissue: not too much, not too little, but just right amounts of input keep us healthy and mobile.
  • Stop with the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” and “we are inanimate lumps of clay” models. We are alive. Our nervous systems are in charge. We need to have a long-term dialogue with it, not pretend we can boss the CNS around.
  • Stop pretending we can put movement into a bento box of “exercising” and “non-exercising” time when what we are doing all the time - movement not exercising -is what is determining our shape and mobility.
  • Stop stretching at extreme maximum capacity at rare intervals and instead take kinder intermittent stretch breaks.
  • And while we’re at it, let’s altogether drop the idea that being bendy is somehow better. Functional length is better; hypermobile is trouble.

*It’s worth noting that I am not trying to speak for Jules Mitchell. I can only report my take on our conversation, she may very well disagree with the way I phrased something here, so these are not Jules’s words, they’re mine. To read her words, you can visit her blog.

**I also can’t speak for Katy Bowman. So this is my take on her writings, and she may very well disagree with how I have presented the material. To read it straight from her fingertips, you can visit her blog.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Plateaus Rule! Why Plateaus can be the best thing to happen in the pursuit of your fitness

It also helps if you treat fitness as a lifestyle so that it becomes your 'norm' =)


Courtesy from ACE


You summon the strength to lift your foot one more time. Your leg feels like it is made of lead. Your foot collapses to the ground and you’ve taken another step. Time to repeat on the other side. Your heavy backpack means the sweat and heat have nowhere to go and you can feel every bit of the burden as you prepare to lift your foot, your breathing heavy and fast yet still seemingly inadequate. If only you could stop for a moment to gather your strength…
Welcome to the all-uphill, all-the-time-climb! If only the terrain would level off a bit. If only you could hit a…plateau! If you are backpacking, hitting a plateau is awesome. However, with fitness, hitting a plateau is universally seen as a negative. That’s about to change.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a plateau as:
  1. A large flat area of land that is higher than the other areas of land that surround it
  2. A relatively stable level, period, or condition
There’s nothing negative in this definition. Climbing is hard work. If you come to a “plateau” or any leveled-off spot after a period of climbing and hard work, it can be a great relief as you have the opportunity to stop and rest. This rest recharges you for the next part of the climb and gives you the strength to continue your journey.
Why then is a plateau viewed so negatively with fitness? Let’s take a look at this from a slightly different perspective.

THE ASCENT OF MOM

Here’s a story about a woman—let’s call her “mom” because she is, in fact, my mother. Mom is 370 pounds (168 kg), hasn’t been living healthfully in some time, has sleep apnea, high blood pressure, a long commute to work and family responsibilities that occupy her energy. One day, not long after my father died of a heart attack at 424 pounds (192 kg), mom decides she’s had enough of living this way and that it is time for change. Deciding to change doesn’t mean it will be easy or that it will happen overnight.
At first, although the general desire for change is there, the specific desire for taking action each day isn’t quite as strong. This is quite common. She has little willingness to start physical activity and decides to make changes to only her eating habits at first. She starts her climb.

A SERIES OF PLATEAUS

A couple of years of nutrition-only changes, and mom loses 90 pounds (41 kg). She hits a plateau and isn’t losing any more weight, but still wants and needs to. She decides she is now ready to pursue some physical activity. She begins adding a couple of walks at a park and a couple of water fitness classes each week. As a result, she starts losing more weight and, after a while, hits another plateau. She feels ready to now start adding resistance training. Her son—let’s call him Jonathan—is early in his fitness career and spends some time training his mother. Again, she hits a new round of progress, hitting a total weight loss of 170 pounds (77 kg) and is now feeling fantastic with a feeling of a new life.
What is the pattern here? Progress, then a plateau, followed by more progress. This disrupts the “plateaus are bad” establishment. Every bit of progress came from making difficult changes and sustaining them for a period of time until they became sustainable. In this case, the plateau is actually a place of gathering the mental resources to make the next change—it is a form of rest. She never lost the progress she had gained. She just hit a plateau and gathered strength for the next change, the next climb. It looked a little bit like the blue line below.
plateaus
If we view the two graphs above as a long hike up a large mountain, which journey looks more fun to you? The red line looks positively awful as it represents making a lot of hard changes at once and sticking with them ceaselessly. Sure, you get progress in less time—but that’s only if you survive the journey. Yet, when it comes to fitness, this is the path most often chosen.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?

When people hear mom’s story, they most often ask “How long did it take?” with a look of hope in their eyes. Seven years, I tell them. And then I see their eyes drop and shoulders slump. She made progress and then levelled off, made progress and levelled off, and so on. She could have made progress a little faster (it would still be measured in years) if she’d taken the hard road—the red line in the chart above. That’s what most people do—and most people fail. They do too much, too soon or go on a ridiculous juice diet to try and take a short cut. It’s often miserable, short-lived and ends in failure. Those who chose the red line approach rarely reach the peak.  
Here’s the key point to remember: The pace and amount of change must be big enough to make a real and lasting difference and keep you motivated, but it must be small enough to be manageable and realistic. This is different for everyone, which is why knowing exactly what to do and when can be so challenging.

CALL TO ACTION

This is why the world needs caring and competent health and fitness professionals who will coach people through the change process rather than loud, obnoxious, shirtless, showy social-media fitness stars, whose posts actually demotivate more regular people than they motivate.
On any long, difficult journey, plateaus are your friend—a chance to rest up for the next push and reflect on the progress you’ve made to that point. Let’s start viewing them that way.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

“How do I build the perfect glutes?”

So I get the question all the time..EVen I wana build it if I can hahaha...

Here are some tips and tricks :)

Courtesy of ISSA

When Clients Ask, “How Do I Build the Perfect Butt?”, Here’s My Response
You get this all the time from your clients, right?
            “My legs are bulging, but what about my butt?”
            “I really want to shape up my butt more; how do I do it?”
We want to be strong and fit, but let’s face it; we also want a perfect butt, glutes or backside. It’s by far the most common thing my clients ask for, and I have the answer.
I won’t give you all this “fluffy” stuff that you see from Instagram girls who post pictures of their booty all day. Some of them may actually give good tips, but this is the ISSA, so let me give you the science behind glute training.
First, you need to understand the muscles involved. Those that give us that nice, curvy bottom include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
A lot of our daily movements, like walking or running, involve these muscles, and yet, most people never train them specifically.
When you do train your gluteus muscles, it’s possible to achieve hypertrophy, or growth in the size of the muscles. The secret is to target each of the glute muscles and to progressively overload them with high intensity.
This can be achieved within any range of reps, but you get the best muscle hypertrophy results from a rep range of six to twelve and with a heavy resistance.

Can’t I Just Squat and Lunge?

From a lot of people who haven’t done their research, you’ll hear:
“Just squat more! And dead lift more!”
Squats, deadlifts, and lunges definitely hit the glutes, but they also target a lot of other muscles, like the quads, hamstrings, abs, and others.
Although some people may build a beautiful derriere from just squatting, deadlifting, and lunging, one size does not fit all and this approach may not work for everyone. For those who need a little extra help, or don't want to spend all their time in the squat rack, hit those glutes directly
If you want to really build an awesome tush, you need to hit it directly, with exercises that cause the highest percentage of muscle activation from the three gluteus muscles.
The glutes are most activated when the hips are near full extension, so focus on exercises that target the glutes and achieve this full range of motion.
Your Best Bets to Target the Glutes
Now, let’s get specific. What exactly are the best exercises for seeing growth in the glute muscles?
  • Side plank abductions
  • Single leg squats
  • Hip bridges
  • Kettle bell swings (with an emphasis on hip thrust with glute contraction)
  • Hip external rotations
  • Single-leg elevated hip thrusts
Side Plank Abduction
Glute Bridge
Most of these exercises achieve a 70% or greater maximal voluntary muscle contraction (MVIC). The higher that percentage, the more you’re working those glutes and the faster you’re moving toward bigger muscles.
Side plank abductions come out on top with 103% MVIC, and single leg squats are the next best with 82% MVIC .

Don’t Forget the Legs

From my own personal experience, I have seen the greatest results in glute muscle development when I added an additional, glute-intensive workout day.
But, I also include my legs because they are all related.
On Mondays I dedicate my workout to leg exercises that also hit the glutes:
  • Heavy barbell squats
  • Split lunges
  • Hamstring curls
  • Leg extensions
Barbell Squats
Barbell Squats
Leg Extension
I dedicate my Friday or Saturday workout to strictly “booty building” and I put my glutes through the ringer.
I attribute my progress to the progressive overload principle, which is the “gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.”
This is the most important principle in strength training, and it gives you the best results in muscle growth and strength.
This is because our muscles increase in strength and size when they are forced to contract at tensions closest to their maximum.
To achieve this you can either:
  • Perform more reps with the same amount of weight.
  • Increase the resistance load and perform the same amount of reps.
  • Add more sets of “work” to a specific muscle group.

Train the Glutes SPECIFICALLY

The takeaway lesson here is that squats and deadlifts are not a sure guarantee of a firm and curvy backside.  You cannot simply squat and deadlift your way to a firm and curvy backside.
It’s a pretty simple principle: If I want to grow big, strong biceps, I have to train my biceps, not my triceps.
So, if your client wants to build bigger, stronger glutes? Train the heck out of the glutes, not just the other surrounding muscles in the legs.
I’ve had clients who say to me:
“I’m happy with my quad and hamstring development, but my glutes are not up to par. I want to build my glutes up more, but keep my quads and hamstrings the same size.”
A tough goal to achieve for sure, but totally possible. Most of the women who say this to me will report that they squat, deadlift, and lunge just as much as the guys.
This is exactly why their glutes are lagging behind the development of their quads and hamstrings – because most of those exercises are compound movements. The other muscles of the leg take over during the movement instead of giving the glutes their highest percent of muscle activation.
Lastly, the most important thing I tell my female clients who want bigger butts: Squats and lunges alone may not do the trick. You have to add specific, targeted glute exercises and workouts at least once a week. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happiness is about overcoming unhappiness


A great wisdom for everyone