In the depths of my back issues the chiropractor thought part of my problem had to do with the relative positioning of the left and right sides of my pelvis. The pelvis is not one solid piece, and the two sides can rotate with respect to each other. Every time I saw him he would note this and give me an adjustment.
Once I started feeling better and was developing a new exercise program for myself, I decided I wanted to incorporate some sprint work. I went to a soccer field to run 100 m sprints. I took a couple of warm-up laps, and then I hit the first all-out sprint. Here's where it gets strange. As I was running I felt this movement in my pelvis... a slip and then a catch between the two sides... like when you switch gears on a bicycle going up a hill. I thought, "God I hope I'm not screwing up my back". I continued the sprint session, and the next day my back felt... AWESOME!
So, what does this mean? I can't prove anything, but I wonder if there might be a self-corrective mechanism in sprinting. I talked with my chiropractor about it, and he alluded to the scene in Forrest Gump when, running for his life, Forrest shakes off the shackles of his leg braces - his body's attempt to re-establish its natural movement pattern. It makes sense from a survival perspective that our bodies would be able to correct imbalances through movement since there were no health practitioners in primal days. As for me, I'm not going to overthink it. I'm just gonna run with it.
After working to correct my squat pattern and muscle imbalances, the next challenge was to craft an exercise program that wouldn't re-aggravate my back. I wanted to avoid loading my back, so bodyweight movements were the order of the day - air squats, push-ups, pull-ups, bear crawls, and lunges. High reps to achieve sufficient intensity. It felt remedial, but at least I was working again. The silver lining was that doing so many air squats allowed me to ingrain the new movement pattern I had been working on.
Next, a lot of research started to come together. I had read that sandbag squats were good for addressing movement dysfunction. When I felt I was ready to load my squat I started with those, and I felt the magic. Something about the low center of gravity of bear-hugging a sandbag reinforces good mechanics. Plus, those suckers kick your butt.
Simultaneously I had read that single-leg exercises were good for back issues, and also that one particular trainer, Mike Boyle, preferred them over standard movements like the squat and deadlift for the professional athletes he trains. So I incorporated Bulgarian split squats, single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, and weighted lunges into my program. Another trainer used sled pushes for his athletes with back issues, so into my program they went, too.
I've still got a few more stories to round out what has gone into my comeback program, but this post is getting long so I'll save those for a future time.
Nothing saps your spirit like low back pain. It takes the fight right out of you. When I got the MRI results it was definitely alarm time. I talked to my coach. I talked to my chiropractor. I read tons of stuff online. At times like this you feel alone in your little rowboat in the middle of 20-foot seas. The fear can be paralyzing, but as the saying goes, you have to stay calm and just eat that elephant one bite at a time.
I was fortunate enough to have access to a very good physical therapist, Kevin Lulofs-MacPherson of KLUMAC PT. He impressed me with his pragmatic, evidence-based approach that placed more emphasis on tangible measurements of movement and pain rather than radiographic imaging. He identified a problem in my squat pattern whereby I was engaging in a lot of lower back extension. He also found some weakness in my hip abductors.
He put me on a corrective exercise program that focused on strengthening my hip abductors and practicing the bottom portion of my squat. I took some video of myself squatting, and that was very helpful in correcting the pattern. It's one thing when you watch somebody else move, but when your brain can see you move it is much more impactful. One practice I've picked up from this experience is to occasionally video myself during exercise. Not for posting on Instabrag... but as quality control to make sure I'm not developing any bad habits.
My back didn't start feeling better immediately, but having a program and support goes a long way in terms of your emotional state, and as my physical therapist pointed out that's a big part of the game.
This post is a follow-up to my recent experiment of lowering my desk down to the floor. The idea was to eliminate chair sitting and introduce a lot of ass to grass squatting. It worked. The problem was I couldn't quite get comfortable down there. Then I tweaked my back in the gym at which point sitting cross-legged in front of the computer became about as much fun as going for a root canal.
It was kind of a good thing because I used the computer far less. It became a bit of a problem, though, because I actually have work I need to do on that sucker. If you're in the small and exclusive club known as my readership, you may have noticed a dip in the number of blog posts over the past month.
So when down doesn't work... try up. Up I went to a standing desk. I had to steal a shoe rack from my closet for the keyboard, and my monitor is precariously perched on top of an old speaker and a stack of textbooks, but I made it to standing height... and it is da bomb. It isn't so comfortable that I want to spend hours on the computer, but it's enough to allow for typing out a blog post or writing a few client programs. You've probably heard by now that sitting is the new smoking. It might take some office gymnastics, but with a little experimentation you'll find something that works for you.
My interest in minimalist shoes recently reached a tipping point, so I invested in a pair. Vibram is the most popular brand. They look like actual feet - a little too creepy for my taste. After some research I decided to go with TadeEvo. It's a company in Poland, and they make only one shoe. Now THAT'S focus! I liked their shoe because of the hyper-flexibility that mimics being barefoot.
If you recall, when Vibram first came out about seven years ago all these runners hopped on the bandwagon and promptly came down with foot injuries. So I took it slow - only wearing them on walks for the first couple of weeks. Gradually I started using them during weight training workouts. After about a month I gave them a whirl in high intensity workouts.
I like the shoes a lot. One thing I've noticed is that my knees feel a lot better. The theory is that going barefoot strengthens the kinetic feedback loop which brings about a more natural gait. These shoes have taught me that we are not meant to run on concrete. I can really feel the pounding that my feet take running on hard surfaces, so I do my sprint workouts on a grass field, and it's a lot of fun. Running on grass in these shoes makes me feel like a kid again.
I'm about two weeks into one of my latest experiments... floor sitting. I got the idea from a book about the Blue Zones - four areas in the world that have an unusually high number of centenarians (100+ year olds). One of the people chronicled was a woman in Okinawa, Japan. She had no chairs in her house.
So I removed the legs from my desk and set it on top of stacked books about 12 inches off the floor to make it the right height for sitting cross-legged style. My son came home and asked what had happened. I said, "We got robbed". He asked why they hadn't taken the computer. "They wanted to improve my posture", I replied. He gave me a pained, teenager expression to intimate that he didn't appreciate my nerdy humor.
The first effect was obvious. I did a lot more ass-to-grass squatting. But as often happens when you try something new, there were secondary effects that I never could have guessed. Sitting on the floor, I found myself constantly shifting around and stretching. The current advice for dealing with an 8-hour desk job is to get up and stretch every 30 minutes, but that's hard for most people to put into practice. The other secondary effect is that I spend less time in front of the computer because it simply isn't that comfortable, so it forces me to be more intentional about that activity which translates into less time-wasting.
Remember in The Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi has Ralph Macchio training by doing household chores? Just when Daniel is getting ready to tell Miyagi to go fuck himself, he realizes that the movements have become second-nature and are actually useful for defending himself against the neighborhood bullies.
I had a similar wax on wax off experience recently. My schedule has gotten a little jammed, and finding time for yoga class has become a challenge. One day in my living room I just started rattling off different poses. To my surprise, I could freestyle from one pose to another almost as if choreographed. Within a couple of minutes I had hit most of the basic poses (asanas)... almost as if Mr. Miyagi was barking commands at me.
Now I pepper the day with four or five of these micro-sessions. That's probably only about 15 minutes of total time, but I've actually improved versus when I was hitting a daily 60-minute class. Frequency seems to trump volume, at least for yoga. It's interesting... and in a future post I'll explain how I've leveraged this practice to yield an unusual benefit.
Mitochondria (the purple guys in the sketch above) are tiny, little organelles scattered around the cell body. They are the remnants of ancient bacteria. Back in the early days of life formation a bargain was struck between our cells and bacteria. Bacteria would be admitted into the cell body in exchange for performing the vital function of generating energy to power the cell. You can think of mitochondria as the power plants of the cell - ATP production.
Why should you care? Because there is growing consensus that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the heart of chronic disease and aging. Mitochondrial health is a function of quantity (number of mitochondria per cell) and quality (how efficient they are). In the sketch above there are only 3 mitochondria, but cells can grow more.
A recent study, The Pleiotropic Effect of Physical Exercise on Mitochondrial Dynamics in Aging Skeletal Muscle, shows that exercise improves both the quantity AND quality of mitochondria in muscular tissue. Furthermore, the combination of endurance and strength training improves mitochondrial health better than performing only one of those activities.
Here's the take-home message. If you want to stay young, hit the weights... and also hit the cardio. A training regimen that incorporates both will be most effective in maintaining your vitality.
Yesterday I listened to a really interesting podcast with the owner of a movement/posture clinic in Los Angeles called the Human Garage. I know what you're thinking... "I wouldn't get chiropractic adjustments in a garage!". They have no website and no advertising, yet they have no shortage of clients. Why? Because they're able to fix people who have suffered through years of debilitating pain while seeing an endless list of physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. They're like the A-Team. "If you've got a problem, and nobody else can help you... and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team".
Their approach has similarities with ELDOA, which I discussed in a previous post. The premise is that the fascia is not just a sausage casing for our muscles. Collectively, the fascia contains the majority of our body's neurons. It runs continuously around, inside, and between every muscle in our body.
The important point is that the fascia stores trauma - repetitive motion or bad posture (like sitting all day) that accumulates over tens of years. The fascia has natural lines of force. When confronted with dysfunctional movement patterns the fascia compensates by adjusting these lines of force - creating intentional imbalances. These imbalances then cause problems down the road that are difficult to diagnose and fix.
This post is already getting long, and I haven't even scratched the surface of all that they discussed, so check out the podcast on your own if it stirs your interest.
This has nothing to do with being single. I just like the beat and the way Beyonce is calling to all the ladies out there. It's in a similar vein that I'm writing this post. One of the most unfortunate fitness myths perpetrated on women is that lifting weights will turn them into bulky, musclebound freaks. This simply isn't possible. Women produce one-tenth of the testosterone that men do. Even men can't reach Schwartzeneggerian proportions without chemical assistance (steroids).
Now let's talk about why women should want to train with weights. And I'm not talking about the cute, little pink dumbbells either. I mean weights. "I just want to be toned" is the common battle cry. Here's the thing. Our bodies don't have tone. They have muscle and fat. When we say toned what we really mean is to increase the ratio of muscle to fat. Weight training is the most effective way to build muscle. It's also the most effective way to burn fat because muscle is metabolically active 24/7. More muscle, less fat... greater tone.
The hidden gem that many women find once they engage in weight training is that getting stronger is an empowering experience. It builds confidence that bleeds over into other parts of life.
All the single ladies
Now put your hands up
Oh, oh, oh... Oh, oh, oh