Proprioception and Closing Notes on Physical Activity
Wow, that was fast. The NBA Finals were over in five games, the Tennis's French Open and Golf's US Open came and went, and we are already nearly through June, heading towards MLB All-Star weekend. We must be having fun! Can't wait to see who is named NBA MVP tonight (better be Westbrook!).
Quick Finals recap:
"May the most proprioceptive team win" isn't exactly a battle cry, but wow, the level of fine- and gross motor skills and agility is at an all-time high in the NBA, as well as in other sports. Thank you, Applied Sciences.
Back to the lecture at hand:
This article is by the far the hardest one I have written so far, namely because I have a hard time letting go of things I love. Today, we close a chapter on the physical activity portion of the Performance Pyramid in order to begin working our way up towards the top of the pyramid, into our nutrition. There will be some other articles that bounce us back into physical activity, though. We still have to touch on the role of inflammation in exercise and recovery, and some other articles that "ping" my brain every now and then. Besides, physical activity and nutrition are so intertwined, it is difficult to speak about one without mentioning the other.
Proprioception affects us all, all the time. Whether it be how we are postured, sitting at our desks, typing and talking, our handshake, walking out of a coffee shop and how we push the door open, as well as whether or not we are looking ahead to see if people are outside that door before we open it.
A big source of frustration for many of us New Yorkers is when people simply are not paying attention to where they are going. Boy, if those thought bubbles above frustrated New York heads were illustrated! However, that is just part of the game - like particles in chemistry, there are simply so many of us in one space that we are bound to bump into each other occasionally. Chalk it up to degrees-of-freedom.
To give perspective, Manhattan is roughly 22.82 square miles, or ~ 11.4 x 2 miles. My hometown of Brigantine, NJ is about half that at 10.36 square miles, a fair chunk of which is preserved for wildlife. Brigantine has approximately 9,336 winter residents (maybe 2-3 times that in the summer), while Manhattan has about 1.636 million residents, or about 175 times the population density. That doesn't even include the ~ 3.1 million daily MTA users and commuters to Manhattan's businesses. So, you can imagine why people in New York might not stop and hold the door for you (a lot of New Yorkers do, actually), or even notice you exist as they walk by and perhaps bump into you. The point here is, a little proprioception and awareness by us all goes a long way towards quality of living and environmental stress, not just our own individual quality of movement.
While in a training session two or three weeks ago, my client and I stopped in between sets to peep the TV. I find the news overstimulating and depressing, but she likes having some "gossip" on the tube as background noise. The news showed a woman walking around New Jersey while looking down at her phone. The woman did not see the open cellar door of a business, proceeding to bump into the open door and fall through the hatch, down about six feet to the floor. She was later carried out by EMS on a stretcher. Again, a little proprioception (or simply, awareness) goes a long way.
Awareness of surroundings can increase first with awareness, but also with the physical self awareness that comes with deliberate exercise and practice.
Now, you may think I'm crazy for comparing everyday tasks to the NBA finals, but the motor pathways are the same! It's simply how we use those pathways and how we arrive at our desired movement destinations that matters most. The first step is awareness, and the second is intent.
Recently, in a (Reticular Activation System) RAS-style occurrence (drive a blue car, notice more blue cars on the road), I stumbled upon Daniel Coyle's book, The Talent Code. (No relation, by the way)
Coyle explores the role of myelination in skills acquisition and specialization. Some examples are: the greatness of Brazilian soccer players, flight simulators teaching pilots, and a young student learning an instrument.
To boil it down here for this discussion, Coyle explores the patterns of intentional or direct, focused practice leading to examples of greatest skill acquisition via myelination.
"What is this myelination and how to I get some in a bottle?"
Myelination is the increased insulation around your nerves in patterns reflecting the motor pathways you use most greatly and most intentionally. You become what you practice (pause to reflect on all that you practice).
(article on RAS - http://www.dummies.com/business/human-resources/employee-relations/how-your-brain-controls-your-attention/)
Now, how does that translate into our training? Simply.
Let's do an exercise together about exercises. Ready?
I want you to think about an exercise. Now, imagine ten different personal trainers each telling their respective client to do that exercise. Each trainer has a history of experience and maybe education in getting them to this point in their respective training careers.
Have you ever stopped to consider why people choose certain exercises?
What is most important when doing any form of exercise is WHY you are doing it. How does it fit into the bigger picture of your health? If "fun" is one of the reasons you exercise, then great. I'm glad you enjoy being physically active. Many people do not, and that seems to be embedded deep in our genes - laziness, lack of physical activity, whatever you call it is great for survival because it prevents us from wasting energy unnecessarily.
Being one of the former camp, I got into exercise science out of a genuine interest. Two of my favorite things in the world are exercise and science. As a youth, I was in constant motion, often at full speed.
However, every now and then, I have to admit I become jaded with health, wellness, fitness. At thirty years old, I'm in a unique class of practitioners. I teach graduate-level physiology at a local university. The peers and connections I have genuinely made thus far are incredibly enriching. I say these things here not to brag, but to remind myself to be grateful when I get tired, impatient and become hard on myself.
Similar to the manner in which I train and teach my clients as much as possible so that they can be self-sufficient, I have a very specific goal and desired effect for the industry I wish to influence. That goal is this:
Everyone becomes self-sufficient in their health and fitness so that we can move on to the next thing. (People are talking seriously about moving to Mars!!! Space travel, by the way, is one area aside from the military that has really pushed physiology ahead over the last 50+ years).
I also have some ideas on how to achieve this total self-sufficiency of health, including preschool- and kindergarten-level courses in physiology and nutrition (it is do-able! I may open a charter school one day..). Knowing how your body works ought to be a basic human right and necessity at our current point in understanding of the human body's processes.
Everyone who improves her/his fitness experiences this "leveling up" where their energy, their confidence, work performance, and a cascade of other physiologic occurrences improve, even quality of sleep. It's all about focus. Even Tony Robbins discusses physiology in his motivational speaking. After years of listening to Jim Rohn (Tony's mentor) and exhausting those speeches, I have moved on to Tony. Inspiration must be replenished daily, no matter how much of a self-starter you are. After a while, in my experience, it becomes more about a different lens or "ping" to your brain, a different angle of inspiration, that helps keep you on track. Just something fresh, like a good, juicy piece of fruit in the summer.
A website that is always fresh and ripe for inspiration: http://greatday.com/
I once wrote an email to the website's curator, Ralph Marston, years ago, and he wrote me back within a day. Super cool! He writes all of his own material, and has a new, inspirational quote every single day. Wow!
At times I get really bored in my day-to-day, and that can only be cured by a complex patient who really needs help and to understand their situation. In a world full of ignorance, this doesn't happen too often, but when people experience pain or discomfort they quickly become interested in figuring things out. I wish it would happen sooner for them. While I would never wish for a person to have medical complexities, it is human to want to feel needed, to have a purpose. So for now, my purpose is to "fix" the fitness industry that doesn't realize it is broken. Like JAY-Z or Michael Jordan would do.
It is human to get tired on occasion, and begin thinking tired thoughts which end up being more negative than positive. And we should entertain those thoughts, but not allow them to consume us or drive us. The negative can be used as short term fuel like jet boosters, but I believe we must have something positive to drive us in the long run or else we run the risk of burning out. As Buck Knight mentioned in his book "Shoe Dog," I believe my mission is to use health and wellness to "connect" to the outside world - it is the best way I know how. It was really inspiring to read that it was his desire to connect with the world around him that led the charge for what eventually became Nike. He just wanted to express what was inside. I believe we all aspire to connect in our own, unique ways, but the path can be tiring and trying at times.
For example, I try to pay attention to the fitness industry to "keep an eye on the competition," and watch for trends, and that may truly be the most draining aspect of my work. Several times I have tried to "follow" the popular sources people use for their health and fitness news, but with no luck. I die a little inside every time a "health news" source pops out a post featuring a quote on Rosé. What is the logical endpoint people will arrive at after these Rosé posts have all been exhausted? That's what I'm after, the deeper meaning.
Again, I'm all for having fun, but the industry has become so incredibly superficial that I can't stand being associated with it. I got into this game for the love of it, and I still don't see how attempting on a daily basis to entertain people who will never be your customers is good for business. All of those articles about "6 Things to Do for Your Business's Social Media" are the "Invest in an ETF" for marketing. It seems to grab eyeballs, but could it be that those eyeballs were "already there?"
One thing I have noticed about my loved ones - people check their social media when they have that impulse of "bored." I simply want to know what else we can do with those moments to enrich our lives. Does anyone else out there think of this? Or are we truly steering towards "Idiocracy" via a succession of dopamine squirts?
Sometimes I wonder if our lives have become one giant meme. Have we all enveloped ourselves into one giant, digital, leggings and meme-t-shirt-wearing being and become each other? In order words, has my sacred world of fitness become, dare I say, "basic?" Has this industry has become "The-Fat-Jewish-Betches-Love-Avocado-Toast" version of itself? What used to be funny t-shirts in boardwalk sundries stores has now fully invaded our lives. The only question I have is, "Is anyone keeping it real anymore?"
Now, we cannot be too uptight. Dave Chappelle hilariously showed us years ago how badly things can go "When keeping it real goes wrong." There's a balance to strike.
Stick with me, please.
Enjoyment, in my opinion, ought to be at the forefront of as many of our daily activities as possible. Nowhere should this be more true than for our health, fitness, wellness. But what if we "leveled up" a bit?
What is broadly obvious in popular culture and especially in places like New York City is that we rely heavily on the "fun" aspect of fitness to keep people motivated - extrinsic motivation. To me, this appears patronizing and paternalistic in its approach (or maybe I'm the oddball!).
The formula (from source to product) in motivating people to exercise who might not otherwise do so appears to be:
1. Healthcare is expensive
2. Chronic diseases contribute a huge portion of healthcare costs
3. No one wants to pay for healthcare, or for anything that is good for them, for that matter (money is for fun, right?!)
4. Influence more people to exercise (media, entertainment, individual influencers)
5. Wellness / Fitness industry (in this scope, it is quite a bit Keynesian in its economics)
So, that appears to be the broad consensus of our cultural "taste" towards fitness and health. For now.
It is our passion, our mission to change that.
How? Well, I'm going back to work to help the individuals who have claimed spots in my schedule.
But, before we close the chapter on exercise for now, I leave you with some platitudes and (fairly well-educated, but may be disproved) theories on fitness that you can use in your life.
Please excuse my passion:
1. Current fitness industry: your body is simple and explanations are black-and-white, fitness is difficult, complex, hard.
The truth: your body is complex, but once you understand it, fitness is very simple. Know yourself, know your body. Until "bionic" or "Wolverine" becomes an option, we only get one body, one vessel!
2. Burpees are basic - it was cool doing these with the rookie lifeguards who were 16-18 year-old athletes. Most weekend warriors do not need to be putting that stress on their bodies. There are better, safer ways to get your heart rate up. Any trainer who employs burpees is basic and either lacks imagination, education or both. I am open-minded, but diametrically opposed to the prevailing mentality in which burpees are often employed. Just sayin'
3. Certifications don't mean much. Education, experience, certification. Certs get your foot in the door; the other two make the professional. Go back to school. With that said, I am keeping an eye on the competition - steering towards a Precision Nutrition certification later this year just to ensure there's nothing I'm missing in the industry. I've been receiving John Berardi's emails for years now, and I appreciate his hustle. I remember one article he wrote long ago about the slow-cooking effect on starches. He is someone who gets nutrition (more on that later) and he has a passion that I admire.
4. Follow the money to understand the industry. Speaking of education, continuing education credits are good for marketing tools, but don't hang your hat on 'em. Way too many people use gimmicks like TRX and battle ropes to hook people. The industry is currently all about appearances. But most people whose bodies are new or becoming reacquainted to fitness are not ready for body-weight exercises or explosive, upper-trap movements in fitness class. Their stabilizer muscles are far from ready.
5. Train for movement; muscles do the bulk of their work in adaptation during recovery. Speaking of appearances, unless you are actively becoming a bodybuilder, the whole "3 sets of 10" era is dead. Don't follow the magazines that tell you to train like a celebrity - it's misleading. It's an actor's job to appear a certain way. Unless that is also your job, it is a waste of your time to copy that. If you train for power, strength, with the right dose of conditioning, you'll look far better in beach or pool attire than you would following that bodybuilder template. Just sayin'
6. Women and men are hormonally different, and thus should train differently. Men are more hormonally linear (over time, not daily), and directed chiefly by testosterone, and thus their fitness effects are more easily studied, traced.
Women - weights and short bouts of intense exercise are for you. Hour-long fitness classes are 30 minutes more than you need. Also, if you want a timeline for tracking your goals, use each week of your cycle on a month-to-month basis instead of day-to-day, week-to-week like the guys. You are the leaders of this wellness movement - don't follow the boys.
7. Pilates is WWII physical therapy. Frequently, I come across a new client (usually female) who loves having Pilates as part of her fitness regimen. I'm all for it, if you need to "find your core" or have some reservations about trying something more risky. Once you can do most of the basic maneuvers, seek something where you can exercise with more power. It's more beneficial in the long run and can improve your performance even in Pilates.
Break out of your fixed mindset and into one of growth. Almost no one spends their entire lives on their backs, so get up off the reformer and get on your feet to move.
Logically speaking, Pilates is a core-focused precursor to power training. In other words, Pilates is what (good) industry professionals would call a regression series of exercises. Every movement or exercise is on a continuum in terms of difficulty for the joints and muscles involved. There are exercises that are more difficult, progressions, and those that are less difficult, regressions. That's not an opinion; that is a definition.
After ~ age 30, we all start to decline. Like life insurance and investing, planning for your physical health is a great way to ensure a good or even great quality of life. Once you get up to the level where you can support your body's weight in good form for any movement, grab some weights to lift and afterwards, do some sprints! Weights are also a good way to get up to the level of body weight for any given exercise, by the way, so there is a give-and-go effect with weight training.
The last thing you want is to be physically like my 85-year-old grandmother - one month you're walking up and down flights of stairs, the next you're stuck with a walker. Otherwise, you might want to be just like my grandmother - she's a saint.
8. Love and respect the game. A person I used to loathe once told me to "fake it til you make it" in my given industry. You can imagine my response to that. We should all dream, and aspire to become that dream version of ourselves the way a little girl plays dress-up in hopes of one day becoming a real-life princess or a little boy wants to be a superhero. But don't go too far in your projections. That's called being a hater.
9. Do yoga! Shout out to Katie, our yoga instructor from Saturday. She took our class outdoors and she emphasized proprioception. Yoga is amazing for keeping the ego in check (but I did a full bridge, twice!), as well as the helping manage the tension throughout our bodies. Want a different, quick way to find out what your current physical needs are? Take a yoga class. You'll learn quickly.
Two go-to books I use to try to keep my ego in check:
10. Have fun, but also have a plan. Develop your "health nucleus." At the center, either place your desires, your needs, or both, then build your plan around it. Like seeking out a guidance counselor, asset manager, or mentor, use health professionals to get good feedback that you can assimilate into your long-term plan. Keep the macro, "airplane" view in mind more frequently. Stay out of the trees, but if you do go down into the details, make sure you jump back up quickly into airplane mode. It helps you keep perspective.
11. Speaking of health professionals, no one to my knowledge is accurately tracking the proper Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) for health and fitness outside of professional sports franchises. That's also because an overwhelming majority of the industry has neither the tools nor any formal education. Could you imagine Business, Finance, Agriculture, Air Travel having their majority and top people with no formal educations?!
12. The proper KPI's
- Strength and power relative to body weight
- Cardiovascular endurance relative to body weight in the form of VO2max
- Flexibility, mobility, proprioception
- Body Composition via DXA
- Blood Tests and other diagnostics
*13. Value needs to go up; maybe prices will eventually come down.
People balk at my prices sometimes, but here is some simple math. By next year, there are expected to be 338,000 personal trainers in the US. There are an estimated 14,000 exercise physiologists in the US (I call bull, there are about 10 of us, the rest are cardiac rehab and pulmonary specialists). There are ~ 321.4 million Americans. That's one trainer for ~ every 913 American citizens, not including the >200,000 physical therapists in this country. So, there is still work to be done. I think we need more trainers, but also more genuine interest from average Americans. There's no reason, in the wealthiest country in the world, that every person cannot have regular physical activity, guided by a professional. Until now, the gym game has been one akin to real estate, but that is changing.
14. Be above the influence. Sure, like the anti-drug commercials, but also, remember to think for yourself. One day, you may wake up and realize that you are your own best influence, or most capable to serve in that role. Mentors come and go, but only you can take charge in your personal and physical growth.
15. Overcome your prejudices, overcome your environment, overcome yourself. Stay objective, ask good questions, and you will be amazed at what you can learn.
16. 4.76% - your investment. 1,000,000% - your return. Would you take it or leave it? If you were encouraged to put aside just under 5% of each paycheck and you were guaranteed a huge return, would you do it? Of course you would!
What if the consequences of NOT investing that 4.76% of your paycheck was that it decreased by a small percent every pay period until we got next to nothing? That is our health after ~ age 30, in a nutshell.
4.76% is 8 of your 168 weekly hours. If you can dedicate that time, or even half of that up front towards intentionally improving your health, the dividends can be enormous. (One day I'll read Tim Ferriss's Four-Hour Body; I'm sure he has some stuff in there on efficiency). Furthermore, if you perfect and automate your health steps, this time investment can decrease over time. Otherwise, you experience the slow-drip decline. On any given week, I spend about 3-5 hours exercising (because I like to) and get a few more hours from commuting on my bike. Probably a bit too much. In busier times, I can get away with three intense, 20-minute sessions a week plus commuting and it feels like a week off. Women can do two-to-three 30-minute lifts per week and three-to-four 20-minute HIIT sessions and be set for life. Some of these can even be combined within the same session. Men could do about the same. The individual needs and desires are the key variable here.
17. When you climb, bring someone up with you. Don't forget from whence you came - as you grow, plant and grow others.
18. If you have read this far and are not related to me, then bravo! You deserve an award. Hopefully I have informed or inspired you, somehow.
Next up, an intro to nutrition. See you sometime in July (or August)! Enjoy your Independence Day and remember, don't drink and operate motor vehicles or watercraft.
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