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Category: Assessments (page 3 of 5)

Weekend Reads: The Finishing Touches, Introverts Part 2, and ADHD

Happy weekend, everyone! Here is some suggested reading for your next few days.

Zac Cupples at the Hruska Clinic

For those have been following, the third and final installment of the Hruska Clinic has been put up on Zac Cupples’s blog.

 

Confessions of an Introverted Strength Coach, Part II

I really enjoyed Tony Gentilcore’s posts on coaching as an introvert. One thing I’ve been saying for a while is that coaching is exhausting. I don’t understand how people can do it for hours on end, but my assumption is that they are just giving a different service than I.

 

Vision and ADHD

Lastly, here’s a not-too-science-heavy post about vision and how it can play into symptoms that seem like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you want to, you can extrapolate this to all sensory systems. The take home point: you don’t want to fight tone, whether it be caused by your visual system (eyes), vestibular system (balance), or any other sense (foot proprioception is huge here since we walk on two legs).

Don’t Let Your Squat Suck

I was at the gym the other day and I saw one of our clients, Ben, performing some front squats incorrectly. I decided to turn the camera on to show you guys how I might troubleshoot a problem like this. Watch the video below to see what I’m talking about. (If the words are in the way, turn of the subtitles by hitting the “CC” button in the player.)

 

Why Should I Bother Fixing This?

There are four types of forces that our joints experience:

  1. Tensile
  2. Compressive
  3. Shear
  4. Bending

loads

Tensile (b) is like what your shoulder feels when you hang from a bar. This is a lengthening force.

Compressive (c) is like what all your joints do when you brace for a heavy squat. This is the method that we use to stabilize ourselves.

Shear (d) is like when a running back performs a cut, but someone dives on his ankle. The lower leg is directed inward while the upper leg is moving out.

Bending (e) is like when an MMA fighter receives a leg kick in the middle of the shin.

So given this, teacher Lance has two questions for you:

  1. What kind of force would be the most detrimental at a joint like the knee?
  2. What kind of force is vastly increased when you collapse inward on a squat?

The answer for both is the same: shear force.

Lots of my coaching has the same objective: minimize the shear forces to increase longevity. I’d much rather have compression over shear because then the bones can help out – they are really good at handling compression. What handles shear? Ligaments and other soft tissue in the joint. Too much shear at the knee and these tissues blow out. How many people do you know with an ACL or MCL injury?

Keep in mind that a little bit of shear if I’m testing the amount a joint moves (known as “joint play”) is not nearly the same as when the running back we talked about earlier gets his lower leg pushed in. The latter is much more severe because in addition to the external shear force (a force from outside his body) there is also a ton of compression on the knee joint from the body’s weight, momentum, and from contracting muscles. Combining the two is what exacerbates the problem: the joints are not as congruent AND they have to deal with a bunch of other crap.

But I may not always cue the knee position first. It depends on the person.

 

The Individuality Principle

One of the first things that you learn in Exercise Science courses is that everyone is different. It’s hard to generalize findings across a population, so you have to get really good at observation. Each rep performed is an experiment that you must evaluate to draw a conclusion. You’re doing research in your head. This research differs from publications like Nature and Pain in that it is anecdotal evidence and results from amassing many n=1 case studies—and you didn’t need to spend a day going through IRB training. As you collect more data (i.e. experience), you get more confident that what you’re finding isn’t an anomaly. As I’ve learned from watching a countless number of people squat, there are six schemas in my mind in which I will place a client before I decide what my cues will be. These schemas make selecting cues nearly subconscious (my basal ganglia and I are reinforcing a habit), which allows me to focus on my interpersonal demeanor (which is arguably more important anyways).

  1. Females with prior knee injury
  2. Males with prior knee injury
  3. Female athletes
  4. Male athletes
  5. Children
  6. Everyone else

I want perfect knee position in everyone with whom I work. I would, however, triage each person a little differently depending on how they present and which group from above they fall under. Each of these groups elicits a different level of my concern for their knees. I’m not as wary of a non-athlete-but-still-athletic male hurting his knees during our time together as I am when I’m working with a middle-aged female who’s already had a total knee replacement. Let me explain why I make each distinction.

 

Prior Knee Injury vs. No Injury History

The brain changes itself with experience. This allows you to be better at the things you do more often. The plastic nature of this wonderful machine (called neuroplasticity) is what helps stroke patients recover function after their injury. It allows everyday people to become more athletic. It allows Leonardo da Vinci to dabble in everything. Your brain has a map of function similar to a topographical map. The peaks and valleys correspond to bigger or smaller reactions to stimulation.

Topographic map of Israel

During my internship in Indiana University’s Motor Control Lab, we had a project where we stimulated certain areas of the brain and measured the output in the hands. This gave us an initial map or the cortex. Then the subjects went and texted on their phones for a few minutes and were mapped again immediately after.

There are two points I’d like to make:

  1. If you don’t text at all, that area of your brain looks like flatlands and doesn’t change much after you introduce this novel stimulus. This is akin to the light colors on the map above.
  2. If you text a lot, that area of your brain is mountainous. You have more dark red areas.

So we could visualize the brain’s adaptation to a stimulus (texting) over the long-term by measuring how proficient you were at texting and the short-term by measuring the change in your cortical map after a trial. This demonstrates the plastic nature of the brain.

Needless to say, plasticity is a broad topic that I’ve oversimplified, but it is important to note that it doesn’t always work to our advantage.

Think about your daily habits. If you have ice cream every night, it gets easier and easier to have ice cream at night as those pathways become reinforced.

The same goes for people who have injured their knee(s). After an injury, the structural damage can heal, but pain may still persist because those pathways associated with the pain are still there. I can’t know what caused the injury or if there is still structural damage, but I do know that noxious signals (nociception) are neither necessary nor sufficient for pain. I need to empathize with my client so that I can understand how someone’s brain views its body. Nothing they feel is fake, but feelings between people are difficult to normalize.

It becomes easier and easier for those knees to hurt as the nervous system becomes more sensitive. If this is you, you could have less room for error when performing an exercise.

People with prior injury are psych patients.

I know it sounds wishy-washy, but the reality is that it’s not the same for any two people. This is just a red flag that I must be cognizant of as a coach. Experience tremendously shapes how you see each person.

If you want more, the following abstract from Moseley 2003 (full text) offers a great scientific summary of this. When he says “neuromatrix”, what he is talking about is the group of nerve cells that fire when pain signals need to be sent.

This paper presents an approach to rehabilitation of pain patients. The fundamental principles of the approach are (i) pain is an output of the brain that is produced whenever the brain concludes that body tissue is in danger and action is required, and (ii) pain is a multisystem output that is produced when an individual-specific cortical pain neuromatrix is activated. When pain becomes chronic, the efficacy of the pain neuromatrix is strengthened via nociceptive and non-nociceptive mechanisms, which means that less input, both nociceptive and non-nociceptive, is required to produce pain. The clinical approach focuses on decreasing all inputs that imply that body tissue is in danger and then on activating components of the pain neuromatrix without activating its output. Rehabilitation progresses to increase exposure to threatening input across sensory and non-sensory domains.

If you want to delve further into the topic of pain science, look up G. Lorimer Moseley on the internet. This DVD is fantastic and even comes with a list of references for you to find and read.

 

Females vs. Males

Gender is the next thing I process. Structurally, the two sexes are quite different, especially when it comes to the hips and knees, but also with hormonal make up.

The hormones, which fluctuate all the time, can also predispose a woman to winding up in an extension-based stabilization pattern because progesterone speeds up respiration. Suffice to say that this is undesirable. Women also tend to be more loosey-goosey from these hormones and the social stigma that they should be more flexible than men.

There isn’t a whole lot we can do about the hormones, at least in the short-term, and it doesn’t change the fact that I still need to clean up the movement, so let’s bring our focus back on the biomechanics.

The upper leg bone angles inward from the hip to meet the knee. The angle of the upper leg bone to the lower leg bone forms what is known as the Q angle.

Q angle

Since women have wider hips that are more suitable for child-bearing than male hips, the upper leg bone starts further out and this Q angle gets bigger. This is normal, but it also predisposes women to a type of shear stress called valgus stress. As we talked about before, more shear means more bad.

Again, this doesn’t mean anything on its own, but you need to be aware.

 

Athletes vs. Non-Athletes

Why do I care if you’re an athlete? Athletes are constantly pushing themselves to the limit. I want my athletes to choose the right movement strategy whenever possible. I don’t want them to blow out a knee without anyone around them (in sniper fashion). I need to make sure they are reinforcing the safest positions possible in the gym. Gradual exposure to these safe positions makes their brain used to finding this pattern and gives them the ability to access it subconsciously. Remember plasticity and habits?

Said another way, I will cue proper knee position because I want athletes to have sufficient variability to adapt to the demands imposed upon them. I want them to be antifragile. Open environment sports are games where the outcome is determined by more than just your personal performance. These sports require you to react to the changing environment – avoid the other team’s defenders and neutralize their attackers. Different athletes need different levels of variability, but if you consider our running back again you realize he needs to have many different movements available to him to avoid being tackled. If he can’t turn left as well as he can turn right, then the smartest opponents will force him to turn left every play.

If you’re an athlete who plays a closed environment sport, then you need less variability to perform your sport. A powerlifter doesn’t need as much variability as a football player.

 

Children vs. Adults

The last distinction I make is whether or not the person I’m training is fully developed or not. Children are more resilient, yes, but they are also more susceptible to change.

Wolff’s law says that bones will remodel themselves based on what type of stresses they encounter. This law suggests you can view Osgood-Schlatter disease as a results of overuse rather than something you were destined to develop, but remember that both genes and environment play a role.

Training kids is all about development. I want them to learn how to deal with all types of forces (remember that neuroplasticity from above), but if I’m going to give them any sort of load in the gym, those knees best be in the right position.

Remember rule #1: do no harm.

 

How Can I Tell if My Knees Are in the Correct Position?

So I’ve been talking about all this position stuff and you’re thinking, “Uhh… I had an ACL injury. Do I need help?”

I gloss over it quickly in the video above, but what you need to look for is the knee’s relationship with the hip and foot. If you draw a straight line from the hip to the foot and it intersects the middle of the knee, then you’re golden, Ponyboy.

If the knee falls in or out of that line, then it’s worth fixing.

Different possible knee positions during a squat

After you look at the picture above, go back up and watch the video again. Can you see what I’m talking about in Ben? With valgus, you’ll see the arches of the feet collapse (like in the video). With varus, you’ll see a rolling on the outside of the foot.

 

Okay, My Knees Suck. How do I Fix It?

The simplest way to fix it is to think “turn the knees out”. This, however, doesn’t always get you what you want. Sometimes a better cue is “open the hips”, and you’ll see in the video that I use a combination of these two for Ben.

My favorite cue, however, for fixing hip, knee, and foot alignment is an all-encompassing one. Imagine you’re standing on a towel, then spread your feet like you’re trying to stretch the towel apart. If I’m working with someone, I’ll first explain the cue like I just did with you, then make it so that I can just say, “Spread the floor,” during a set and they know what I’m talking about. This cue is so great because it accounts for the hips shifting, the knees rolling in or out, and the foot’s contact with the ground. If you want to be stronger instantly, you need to try this cue.

My experience is that usually the hip is driving the knees and feet inward, but sometimes the feet are behind the proverbial wheel. If either of these cues don’t work, I would attack the feet next. Cue their foot into the right position and make sure they are in appropriate footwear. Below is a video on each of these two subjects.

If all of these cues have failed, squats are the wrong exercise for you. Choose a better one or hire a trainer to do it for you.

 

Summary

Here is a list of things to do to start cleaning up your squat:

  1. Take a video of yourself squatting with a view from the front or the back (side views won’t work). Do a couple reps.
  2. Look at your position at the bottom of the squat (knee instability is more pronounced at the bottom). Are your knees inline with your hips and toes?
  3. Spread the floor.
  4. Re-evaluate to see if it worked. If it didn’t, change up your plan.

This is basic biomechanics that I wish were common knowledge, not just among trainers but everyone. If you have a friend who had knee surgery (or is a woman), help them out and share this article with them.

What questions do you have? Leave them in the comments below.

WTF is this PRI?

Most of you who read my blog already know what it means when I say PRI. There is some misconception around the internet as to what PRI can do for you and where it fits into your treatment model as a strength coach, personal trainer, chiro, physical therapist, or whatever you do.

PRI comprises the bulk of my assessment and reassessment protocol for new clients. It is the base of my methodology. Eric does a great job of explaining the thought process in a way that is much more articulate than I could ever hope to convey.

The foreword below is Bill Hartman, and the information is courtesy of Eric Oetter, who writes from the perspective of physical therapy and strength & conditioning. The post speaks for itself and I share it here because the content needs to be disseminated to the masses. Pass it along.

———-

BH: “This a post from our boy Eric Oetter. It’s probably the best written synopsis of therapeutic intervention with an understanding of the role that Postural Restoration Institute methodology and other tools play in the process. It needs to be passed around to everyone especially those responsible for educating the next generation of clinicians and practitioners. Please share.”

———-

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the path to system variability and pain-free movement is gated by neuroception (i.e. limbic threat appraisal) and autonomic nervous system output. And its these two properties of the nervous system which govern the effects of the innumerable methodologies therapists use to expunge system rigidity.

Autonomous of discipline or method, clinicians intervene at the level of the receptor (rods, otoliths, mechanoreceptors, etc.), engendering unique signal transduction and transmission into a sea of equal status patterns which participate in collective summing within the brain.

We’d hope our therapeutic inputs contribute to a modification in the perceptive capabilities of the patient, though (as we all know) this is not always the case. Some inputs never reach the level of perception while others exceed the adaptive capacity of an already rigid system, perpetuating chronic limbic hijack and sympathetic dominance.

But a positive change in perception opens valuable cortical real estate for neuroplastic remapping via graded exposure, which is the substrate for system variability. This is really the goal of any physical therapy intervention.

So, how do we know we’re dealing with a rigid system in the first place? And furthermore, how can we evaluate the efficacy of our inputs with respect to restoring system variability?

Beyond many other “systems” I’ve experimented with, PRI seems to provide the most cogent answers to the above questions. And it’s the “umbrella” which explains, to me, why other methods work.

What PRI provides is a means to identify a predictable pattern of ANS-mediated anti-gravitational motor output for a collection of systems held in some degree of rigidity. The perspective they bestow is quite comprehensive; PRI is a unified system respective of ALL sensory inputs capable of influencing reticular output (mechanoreception, vision, audition, etc.).

But woven through its complexities, their simple orthopedic testing and treatment algorithms provide a reliable means to assess this aberrant output, as well as evaluate the systemic and perceptual perturbations that might follow any therapeutic intervention (PRI, Mulligan, Maitland, MDT, ART, etc).

Because interventions can be both synergistic or antagonistic to the pattern PRI presents, utilizing a withdrawal A-B-A study design during a treatment session (with the patient functioning as their own control) upholds an element of internal validity beyond what other systems might be able to provide. I’d argue this makes PRI a powerful adjunct to anything you’re already doing, as we scrounge for external validity in a increasingly heterogeneous population.

PRI treatment aims to recapture reciprocal and alternating movement in three planes across the three girdles of the body. And PRI is never about fixing posture – it’s about restoring system balance, variability, and adaptive potential.

Defining Neutrality

One of my goals for my non-athlete athletes (the teachers, moms, doctors) is neutrality.

But what does that even mean? What’s not neutral about me?

It’s reminds me of the intro in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”. I don’t feel asymmetrical.

I don't FEEL asymmetrical

 

Asymmetry is Natural

Forgive the morbid visual, but if you cut yourself right down the middle and looked at your right and left insides, no part of your rational brain would think, “I’m a perfectly symmetrical human being.”

And what does that make you? That makes you and I part of the same Homo sapiens family. That’s it. Asymmetry isn’t weird, it’s normal. It’s necessary.

The biggest internal asymmetries that I like to point out to clients are the size of the thoracic diaphragm, the side of the liver, and side of the heart. These make us really good at standing on our right legs and breathing into our left chest wall.

Where's the left liver?

 

And going back to Van Halen, most people I’m cuing won’t feel asymmetrical until I get them neutral. If you live a life on your right leg (hint: you do), you’d feel weird on your left leg, too! Remember the story I wrote about from that course a few weeks back?

 

 

The Origins Project

It’s impossible to say where or why or how this asymmetry has come about to be so prevalent, but I can make a guess (because that’s what the interwebz is so good for: speculation).

It makes sense to me that this asymmetry has come about from natural selection, just like, you know, everything else. The infamous Pat Davidson recently shared a quote with me that sheds some light on the topic from the point of view of a physicist.

“…right-handed DNA for all is the rule. Evolution plays an essential role in this. As only like spirals can link to make a double helix, there is no advantage if some of us had right and others left, or if we had a mix of both. It appears essential for effective procreation, that the half provided by the male matches that from the female, and the most efficient way is if they have only one and the same handedness. While this does not explain how and when the asymmetry in the amino acids of our DNA originated, evolutionary advantage aided by the vastness of time could be the cause.”
-Frank Close, “Lucifer’s Legacy”, p. 76

If you think about the beginning of life on Earth, making two sets of DNA would, at best, halve the chances of life forming. So these all-right-sided DNAs had a huge advantage in making copies of themselves.

 

Defining Neutrality

If I go any further on origins, I’ll be stepping out of my bounds of education, so let’s shift gears. What am I examining to see whether or not you’re neutral?

Well, as someone who works with bodies and weights, the best way I know how to attack the situation is through movement. Even though not every change is orthopedic, these changes are the most tangible to you and I.

So I do some tests. I look at the position of your lower body with an Adduction Drop Test. This will tell me a lot, but most specifically, it tells me the position of your pelvis. Can you adduct?

There are some other accessory lower body tests that I’ll do to confirm my findings because I mess up sometimes. Hip motion tells me a lot of things.

Then I do some tests to look at the position of your upper body. An Apical Expansion test is the first time I ask you to breathe for me. Can you exhale on the left side? Can you inhale on the right side?

Then I’ll confirm my findings, which I find is especially important for the Apical Expansion test because it’s hard to judge the results without tester bias. Shoulder motion tells me a lot of things.

I always look at the way your neck moves, too. This Cervical Axial Rotation test is important because your neck motion tells me a lot of things.

If I can get all of these tests cleared, you’re neutral. If you’re neutral, you can effectively move side to side. You can walk with two legs instead of a right leg and a left kickstand. You can aspire. You can create.

Based on the natural asymmetry I was talking about earlier, I’m able to make some test predictions. If all of these predictions prove correct, I would call you “classic”. A classic left AIC, right BC, right TMCC. A classic human.

Then I can give you an exercise or push on your ribs to help you get neutral.

 

The Epilogue

After you get neutral (note the wording; I’m not doing it, you are), I give you some homework to make it stick. Neutrality isn’t a forever-defined state.

This reminds me of a tenured client I’ve worked with many times at IFAST. She got neutral months ago and was so proud of the progress she’s made. I imagine me watching this is what it feels like when parents see their child walk for the first time.

Then she got busy at work, started sleeping less, eating worse, not coming into the gym consistently, and getting neck problems. I was able to look at her one-on-one and found out that she’s not neutral anymore. What gives?

The state of your system is dependent on so many factors: what you see, what you hear, the exercises you’ve been doing, what has happened to you in the past, who’s around you… Any perception of threat steals your neutrality and puts you into survival mode. What happens for someone like our client in this case is she forgets what it feels like to be neutral. My job is now to remind her. But how?

For some people who aren’t too far locked into the normal, asymmetrical pattern, the task I give you might be to find your left heel a few times a day while you’re at work. This could be enough to remind your body that you have a left side that likes attention, too.

For most people, I’m going to give you some exercises to do at home and in the gym. You may have years of adaptations and compensations that we need to combat, and those tests I listed above tell me which of these we should focus on. And if you’re trying to get stronger and healthier, these exercises can help mitigate the negative effects of weight training.

Most commonly, I see a locked up pelvis on both sides because I see people who like to lift heavy things. If this is you, part of your program is going to be opening up the outlet of your pelvis. As I tell my anatomy students, this makes it so you can poop. Though this is hilarious to tell people in public, it’s not the only side-effect. Remember Bob Ross?

Then we’ll follow up with a lot of reaching activity. If the butt is closed off, so is the back. Active reaching helps make things stick better.

Then I might give you an exercise that reminds your body how to work as one whole system; an integration exercise. Moreover, I’d like this exercise to be done while standing, because you’ll be standing when you’re going about your daily life without me. I want to teach my baby birds to fly.

This pathway isn’t set in stone, it’s just a blueprint. Some people get different homework. Some people get the same homework for different reasons. Some people get the same homework for the same reasons.

That’s just a quick primer on neutrality. If you know someone at the White House, can you suggest to them that we make the first 24 hours of winter Neutrality Day? Neutral people welcome the winter because they have bodies that can deal with change.

Do you welcome winter?

Before you leave, do me a favor:

  1. Send this article to the last person with whom you talked about neutrality.
  2. If you haven’t yet, subscribe to my newsletter to get the information I don’t put on the blog.

And as always, comments and emails are always welcome.

All the best,
Lance

So You Want to Start Lifting Weights

 

Recently I had a female friend tell me she wanted to get into fitness more, but has never touched weights. With all of the worthwhile and all of the less-than-worthwhile stuff out there, I thought a little guidance was in order.

The most ideal situation is to find a knowledgeable trainer to coach you through things. If this isn’t an option, keep reading.

The Basic Bunch

If you’re just looking for something cheap to flip through, you can pick up plenty of books like Starting Strength, which will give you an overview of the basic lifts, or the NSCA’s Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, which is kind of all over the place. Both are quite well-respected in the community.

The problem with these are that they aren’t the high quality stuff I would recommend if you want the best results.

Then there are books like Science and Practice and Supertraining that will give you a little bit more of the “behind the scenes” of training. These are a good bridge if you want to start training others, but it doesn’t give you a lot to act on, which is very important for newbies.

Plus, Supertraining feels like the longest book ever written with it’s 6pt font and 11×17 inch pages. Though it would show your dedication, you would waste a lot of time at this point.

The Bread and Butter

The best way to get what you want fast is through Bulletproof Athlete.

You need to get hands on, and BPA lets you do that. It’s a program written out that you can perform and tweak to where you want to go.

You want to lose weight? Get on the Fat Burner program.

You want to get after it? Get on the Monster program.

Somewhere in between? Get on the Weekend Warrior program.

To make sure you’re not lost, Mike takes you through his rationale for everything he programs (this is the first sign in identifying whether your trainer is worth his weight in salt).

There is a warm up included, strength/speed/endurance exercises, conditioning, and even coaching. There are dozens of different exercises you’ll be doing, and there’s a video for each one.

Not only does each week have the program listed out for you, but there are also strategies for improving your nutrition and recovery.

  • Nutrition is your fuel. Any exercise you do is only as good as what powers it.
  • Recovery allows you to realize your goals. If you simply beat yourself in the ground, your fatigue will forever mask your fitness levels.

This thing is riddled with actionable items – and you know how much I like actionable items. You’ll also get 9 bonus products (ridiculous, I know).

Plus, the thing is beautiful. And you get it right away since it’s an electronic product, so there’s no wait to get started lifting weights.

I recommend BPA over all of the other options because I trust the author, my friend and mentor, and because you’ll see the best long-term results. If you’d like to see some sample videos and hear from Mike about exactly why he made Bulletproof Athlete, it’s on bulletproofathlete.com.

Happy training!

-Lance

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