Category Archives: Rehabilitation

Why the F#$% Can’t I Sleep? The Most Effective Neural Recovery Methods You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

This isn’t another article telling you to darken your room, sleep in cool temperatures, and stay off your electronic devices – although if you’re not doing this already this might be a good place to start. This article is going to give you methods of recovery that start right from the moment you drop the barbell until the time where you go to sleep to optimize your recovery and get the most out of your nervous system so it can be ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum the next time you throw it into high gear.

The Autonomic Nervous System for Dummies

We’re going to ignore the conscious nervous system for the moment and focus entirely on the nervous system that just does it’s job automatically and thanklessly. The autonomic nervous system has two main branches: the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic system, also known as the fight or flight system, is the system you need to kick ass in the gym, at your sport, or mud wrestle grizzly bears in the mountains. The sympathetic branch kicks in whenever the body or mind is under significant stress or feels threatened. The other branch is the parasympathetic system, aka the rest and digest system, and is responsible for bringing you back into balance after your sympathetic system has gone bat shit crazy mobilizing energy stores, firing up adrenal hormone output, and redlining your proverbial engine for however long you were stressed for. When it comes to recovery and sleep, the parasympathetic system is the unsung janitor of your body, but in highly stressed people (hard training, Type A personality, athletes) the parasympathetic system is often overpowered by the intense signalling of the sympathetic system, and this is where we need to intervene if we want to be ready for the next session/competition/game.

Methods 

Inversion: Arguably the most powerful of the methods listed here, hanging upside down and taking pressure of the spine (which is a main component of the central nervous system) for about 10 minutes can shift the body out of a sympathetic state and kick start the recovery process. Anecdotally there seems to be an effect at around 5 mins, so even if you’re pressed for time, see if you can make time. Most people do not have access to inversion boots or tables, but most gyms have GHR’s or back raises that allow you to hang upside down from the hips down.

90-90 Breathing: placing your feet up on the wall by making a 90 degree angle at your knees, and a 90 degree angle at your hips (think sitting in an invisible chair but the back of the chair is the ground) and using a specific breathing pattern can also spark recovery and relaxation, and it’s very effective right before bed. you want to breathe into your stomach and avoid taking air high into the chest. Place one hand into the crease of your leg and abdomen, and the other on your chest/collarbone ares, and try to make the bottom hand rise and fall with your breath, while the top hand should remain stationary. Here is an example of 90-90 breathing, albeit without the hands in position to feel the breath.

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Since inhaling is governed by sympathetic activity and exhaling is governed by parasympathetic activity, you want to make sure your exhale is at least twice as long as your inhale. If you have trouble breathing low, try taking your thumbs and placing some light pressure just below your sternum on your abdomen (there are some key pressure sensors here) and you should find the breath becomes easier. Again, the magic number here is about 10mins, I’d recommend putting on a couple relaxing songs and tuning out, and don’t be surprised if you get up yawning and a little light headed. If you do further reading on 90-90 breathing you’ll see applications and activations well beyond the scope of this article, just remember, for the purpose of recovery, you don’t need a fancier set up or pattern of activation beyond what is shown above.

Foam Rolling: But not in the traditional sense of digging into super tight tissues and hammering away, here you’re going to focus on the big muscle groups: the glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, and pecs, and use long sweeping passes along the entire muscle belly. Try to avoid the temptation of digging into sore spots that you’re bound to find, not only will this help with lymphatic drainage if done post training, but if you stick with it for that magical 10 minutes, the moderate but constant pressure on the neural circuitry down regulates the sympathetic nervous system reflexes, and as a result, the parasympathetic system can kick in the recovery process and start recharging. Passive stretching can also accomplish some of the same effects, but ensure you use long exaggerated exhales while holding your stretches and stay away from aggressive tension.

Walking: or other low threshold aerobic work improves vagal nerve output which is like the master pathway to the parasympathetic system. You need to do this a little longer than the other methods, 20-30mins to really see an effect on the nervous system; however, like foam rolling, this one is also good for muscle recovery, but mainly for the lower limbs. This falls under the “seems too simple to work” category, but it’s powerful, and the increase in work capacity is always nice when your program requires you to bang out an extra set of squats beyond what you’re used to.

Ok Cool, But When Do I Do These?

Your two key times are directly post training and before bed. The faster you can get out of a sympathetic dominant state and recovering the faster you’ll be ready to do it all over again, and sooner you let the parasympathetic system take over at night the better you’ll sleep and the better you’ll recover, gain muscle, lose fat, and adapt to your training program. Since you’ll adapt to anything you repeatedly do, it’s best to rotate methods (arbitrarily around a month and I’ll use a different recovery protocol) or at the very least only consider stacking methods for periods of physical or emotional stress. Below are some examples of how to combine these methods for different periods of training stress.

Low Stress Load:

Post Training: Foam Roll for 10mins

Pre-Bed: 90-90 Breathing or Walking

Medium Stress Load (Start working from active to passive methods)

Post Training: Foam Roll for 10mins then GHR Hang for 5-10mins

Pre-Bed: Walk for 20-30mins, Foam Roll for 10mins with Deep Breaths and Long Exhales

High Stress Load:

Post Training: 20mins Low Threshold Aerobic Work, Foam Roll for 10mins, GHR Hang for 10mins

Pre-Bed: Foam Roll for 10mins, Passive Stretch for 10mins, 90-90 Breathing 10mins (do all this in as dark a room as possible). You can also make time to swing by the gym before bed if really needed to hang off the GHR or back raise, or you can attempt to rig something up at home.

As you may have noticed, all these methods are mechanical in nature, they’re very effective, require very minimal to no equipment, and assuming you already have a gym membership, they’re free. For those who have extreme nervous system imbalances and find they still need extra help recovering, the next time I visit this topic will involve the chemical/hormonal/supplemental side of the equation. Until then, train hard and recover!

 

 

 

 

The #1 Reason People Don’t Make Progress

Maybe this article is the wake-up call you needed, or maybe it’s going to tell you that what you’re doing now is perfect for you, but either way hopefully it helps you realize that action and inaction are both decisions!

People often ask me questions about certain aspects of fitness and physical training (which is awesome, keep doing it!) but often halfway through the conversation I’ll hear one of these lines:

  1. I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program
  2. I’ve tried everything and just can’t lose fat or gain muscle
  3. I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.
  4. I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old
  5. There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start
  6. I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

Now I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that all of these are unacceptable and everyone should be training for their sport or to achieve a healthier body image, but the reality is these are all legitimate life situations that can come up, some, in my opinion, are weaker than others, but all could happen to you. The real problem is that after I hear one of these lines there’s usually 0% ownership of the situation, and often the belief that this is happening to them as opposed to a result of their decisions. I’ll often make the incorrect assumption that they truly do want to improve their situation and that the reason that they stated is truly what’s holding them back, here’s an actual conversation I had with an athlete:

“Man I really miss hockey and want to play again, but I can’t play anymore because I injured my shoulder last year, i went to physio for 3 months but never improved”

“who was your physio?”

“______ from _______ clinic, I went for awhile, got an MRI that showed nothing, but I’m still in pain a year later, I’ve tried everything and it’s not getting any better”

“hmm well shoulders are a very complex and unstable joint, one of the physios I refer to helped fix Travis Lulay’s and Jake Virtanen’s shoulder after their team doctors failed to get any  significant improvement, did you want me to see if I could get you on his waiting list?”

“No there’s nothing he can do, my shoulder is messed”

Now if that the injury was the real reason that the athlete was no longer participating, the promising chance to finally fix what was ailing him should have been a welcome opportunity, but the real problem was the commitment to an injured mentality. Which leads me to this:

The number 1 reason people fail to see results, or even get started, isn’t genetics or life situation, injury status, age, or financial situation, it’s mentality and choices.

I want to be on record as saying that I have zero problem with the person who decides that fitness training isn’t that important to them right now, that’s their choice and I 100% respect that, it’s not my job, or anyone else’s for that matter, to decide what is best for them. My point is that “I can’t” is almost always “I won’t”. So with that in mind I want to go over the most common reasons I hear that people can’t achieve their fitness goals, how it relates to mentality, and how you could fix them if you’re in a similar boat

I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program

Don’t have time to go to the gym? no problem! If you’re strength or performance oriented check out Pavel Tsatsouline’s naked warrior manual, it requires zero equipment other than your own body, and revolves around 2 movements.

Time limited and need to train for a sport or activity? Get a single kettlebell and a customized program – an experienced coach could produce a national level athlete with nothing more than 16kg bell for most women, and a 24kg bell for most men in as little as 45 mins 2x per week for most sports (yes you read that correctly).

Physique oriented or just for general health? do a 2 Tabata intervals a day for a total of 8minutes invested, 20 minutes if you want to factor in the shower and changing clothes. No one is going to convince me that they don’t have a single 20 minute block in their day – you could drop a netflix show, spend less time on Facebook, get up 20mins earlier, shorten your lazy morning routine, cook larger quantities of food so you can reheat instead of making every meal from scratch, watch less cat videos, spend less time texting, make phone calls instead of emailing. If everyone took an honest look at their day, I’m positive they could come up with 20 mins to get some physical activity in. Maybe netflix is more important to you right now, that’s ok that’s your choice, but realize it is a choice, own it, and don’t complain that you don’t have time.

For the ones that say they don’t have the time and even if they found it, they’re too tired to do any physical activity, you just have to start. Energy is one of those paradoxical things where you have to spend it to get more, and there’s no short cut, so start slow, go for a walk, or dive into one of the options above and get going, in 4 weeks you’ll be wondering what took you so long to get started. Oh and all those things that were making you too busy and too tired? You’re now more efficient at them and they don’t drain you as much.

I’ve tried everything and I can’t lose fat or gain muscle 

Well since we’re being honest, no you haven’t tried everything. Not even close. Sure you may have been sucked in by some sleek marketing and bought into a pop-culture fitness program with a paid fitness model on the front who’s never used the device or done the program other than the one time in the photoshoot, and you might have even committed 100% to that program and seen very few if any noticeable results. So are you doomed to look like you do forever and now have no chance of ever achieving your body goals? No, that’s horseshit. I’ve never met a single person who couldn’t improve their physique barring serious medical conditions, and no, diabetes isn’t one of them. Next time research the product or program thoroughly, and find a system that works for you, or work with someone who understands physiology well enough to come up with a truly customized program (shameless self plug, I know). Thomas Edison is famed for taking 10,000 attempts to create the lightbulb, and after 9,999 he is quoted “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work”; take this mentality and I guarantee you will reach your goal.

I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.

Basic disclaimer: I’m not telling you to ignore your medical professionals advice, but I can tell you that there’s definitely some merit in getting a second opinion. Do your research into your professional, my criteria personal criteria is as follows:

  • Take any chance to see a sports medicine doctor over your GP, ask for a referral
  • When selecting a physiotherapist (or physical therapist for you Americans) look for someone who deals with athletes, who won’t be shocked by what you’re doing (I still remember the chiropractor who told me I shouldn’t deadlift after I told her I was a competitive powerlifter), unless they are new to the field, they should have at least one or more professional athletes as clients – for these people their body is their paycheque and they rely on the best mechanics to keep it in order. If you live in BC Here are the therapists that I refer to:
    • Soft Tissue:
      • Grant Kim – Spine and Sport, Port Coquitlam
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Spine alignment and loading issues, Concussions, Nerve-related issues:
      • Donald Grant – Catalyst Kinetics
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Nervous System Imbalances, Adrenal Issues, Overtraining
      • Jonathon Berghamer – Catalyst Kinetics
    • Eye tracking or Visual Issues/Training
      • Kevin Loopeker – Fortius Sport and Health
    • Keep in mind some of these people have extremely long waiting lists (up to 9 months)
  • If you’re having trouble with a certain issue even after seeing one or two very qualified physios or sports medicine doctors, start looking into ones that specialize with your specific joint or area of discomfort. Inherently some will be better with disc herniations, while other with shoulder impingments, be prepared to travel (within reason)
  • Never take no as an answer. If they can’t help you, they can’t help you, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t

Now just because your ankle is injured doesn’t mean you stop training completely, you still have a perfectly functioning upper body and no excuse not to use it. Always find a silver lining; shoulder is broken? leg press, seated calf raise, sprint, leg curl, lunge, back raise, abdominal work etc. Lower Back injury? Lie on a bench, brace the back, and get creative, next article will be how to train around a lower back injury, so stay tuned!

I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old

I hate this one. That’s your own self-imposed limitation and it’s got almost zero foundation in science. Ya maybe your chances of making the Olympic podium have dwindled but that doesn’t mean you can’t play recreational hockey or ski until you’re done with it. Take care of yourself physically with some activity outside of your sport, do some mobility work, and don’t ignore your aches and pains. The body has an amazing ability to adapt, just take a look at the studies done on geriatrics who start weight training after the age of 70, all of a sudden they are walking around, generally being a pain in the ass, and doing activities they haven’t done in years. There are 3 members over 90 years old at the gym I currently train at, and I see one of them at the rink every once and awhile still playing hockey. That can be you too, so long as you take care of yourself

There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start

I actually sympathize with this one, the internet era is an awesome time, but along with all it’s benefits comes all it’s faults, and the amount of misinformation is beyond ridiculous. The solution? Hire a coach while you work on your bullshit filter (shameless plug number 2). Pick one or two sources of information and don’t branch out until you have a solid base of knowledge, by then you’ll be able to assess different sources and integrate what works. Here are some suggestions on authors to read:

  • Bodybuilding and Physique:
    • Easy:
      • Jason Ferrugia
      • Precision Nutrition
    • Medium:
      • Josh Bryant
      • Bret Contreras
      • John Meadows
  • Athletic Preparation/Strength and Conditioning
    • Easy
      • Dan John
      • Pavel Tsatsouline
      • Michael Yessis
    • Medium
      • Mike Boyle
      • Eric Cressey
      • Louis Simmons
      • Mike Robertson
    • Hard
      • James Smith
      • Yuri Verhoshansky
      • Mel Siff
      • Cal Dietz
      • Charlie Francis

There are more than I can list, but those are some great starts, many of them have blogs, but some of them are dead, so needless to say they don’t have active blogs, although some of them have active websites run by other people dedicated to their work.

I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

I can sympathize with this one as well, if you don’t have the money you don’t have the money, and fitness training is an optional expense, however, if you’re spending money elsewhere in the fitness industry and have nothing to show for it, then that’s where my sympathy runs out. Too many times someone will say “I wish I could afford a coach” and my next question is “how many supplements are you taking?”, and usually receive something along the line of “I take ____ pre-workout powder, BCAA’s, creatine, glutamine, omega 3’s, a multivitamin, and protein powder” some are taking even more. Now don’t get me wrong, supplements have their place, but they are the last 5% maybe 10%, so here we have people spending an average of $200-250 per month on the last 10% when they don’t have the first 90% covered. I guarantee you would get better results spending that money on a qualified coach, and eating a well balanced diet, and dropping every single supplement in your arsenal. So how does this relate to mentality? I’d like to think that most people know that there’s no substitute for hard work and a program designed specifically to you that adapts to your changing situation, and for the most part people understand this, but it’s all too easy to fall for the seductive marketing that the body of your dreams or that national championship is going to be sitting on the shelf at GNC for 49.99 and all you have to do is take it 2x a day with a meal.

My main point with all of these common situations is that there’s always a way to achieve your goals, they will take some small or large sacrifices on your behalf, but there’s always a way. So next time you say “I can’t” realize it’s more likely “I won’t” and decide what’s most important to you at the time; it might be netflix, but hopefully it’s improving yourself. Don’t make excuses, make decisions! Henry Ford said it best “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” – it really is that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most versatile core exercises: the dead bug 



I’m pretty sure there are more core and torso exercises around than there are people in the world; some of them are excellent and some should be banished to the exercise graveyard, never to be seen again. I use a ton of different exercises for different purposes but today I want to talk about one of the most versatile core exercises: the dead bug. 

Here are just some of the reasons the dead bug is so effective: 

  1. Can be scaled to any ability 
  2. Instant biofeedback for errors
  3. Can be done bilaterally and unilaterally, can increase or decease the anti-rotational component 
  4. When proper breathing is cued, can significantly reduce tension in the lower back musculature 
  5. Zero compressive or shearing forces on the spine – one of the few core exercises that injured athletes can do comfortably 
  6. Can aid in the correction of pelvic tilt 
  7. You can do them every day 

First of all, how to perform the dead bug:

Lie on your back on the floor or mat, curl yourself up into fetal position and then flatten your back so that you can feel the floor touching your back all the way from the butt to the shoulder blades. Extend your limbs straight up so you look like a bug that has been flipped on its back (hence the name). Now you can start moving limbs one at a time or in any combination while maintaining full control, keeping the back and hips in full contact with the ground, then returning the limbs to starting position. 

Can be scaled to any ability: 

Some core exercises are incredibly difficult and although effective, are only suitable for advanced athletes. Beginners can start by holding the supported 3 months position and learning to flatten their back against the floor with their knees bent at a 90 degree angle (this position is named after the position that babies around this age tend to lie in). More advanced athletes can add fitness balls between the legs, add dumbbells to the hands, use ankle weights or bands attached to the ankles. Use your creativity and you will never run out of dead bug progressions. 

Instant biofeedback for errors

The dead bug is an anti-extension anti-rotation exercise, so if your back raises off the floor, or one of your hips twists/rises, you know you’ve made a mistake or are using a progression that is too advanced for your current abilities. You automatically know when to terminate the set. As a general rule you should be able to get at least 8 reps of your current progression before moving on to the next one. 

Can be done bilaterally or unilaterally. Can increase or decease the anti-rotational component 

You can change the amount of oblique involvement by how much you move your limbs to the side, and challenge yourself with different patterns of activation by moving limbs in different series: same side leg and arm, opposite arm opposite leg. This can very useful for those with hip impingements related to instability, and can be progressed slowly ensuring proper motor control. 

When proper breathing is cued, can reduce tension in the lower back musculature 

Deep breathing into the pelvic floor helps to activate the transverse abdominus, the lower fibers of the rectus abdominus, and the muscles of the pelvic floor to assist with pelvic stability. This signals to the central nervous system that it can decrease the tension in the lower back musculature, because the system is already stable and co-contraction is inefficient. 

Zero compressive or shearing forces on the spine

Ok, not zero, but drops of water in the ocean here. Because the spine is supported, alignment is maintained, and the forced contraction of the muscles surrounding the spine means that ligaments aren’t loaded to any great degree. All this adds up to a fairly comfortable core retraining method for those with injured backs or spine irritation. Of course, consult your doctor or physiotherapist before implementing this advice. 

Can aid in the correction of pelvic tilt 

Pelvic tilt probably deserves its own article, and will get it in the future, but for now the Coles notes version. Posture is very individual and reflexively controlled by the central nervous system, not everyone will fit into “reference posture” this mythical perfect posture position with 5-9 degrees of forward angle at the pelvis depending on gender; however, extreme anterior pelvic tilt is often produced from way too much sitting. This results in weak abdominals, weak hamstrings, and tight hip flexors and a tight lower back. If the anterior tilt is caused by muscle imbalance then dead bugs can help to alleviate the symptoms. 

You can do them every day

Abdominals are fairly quick to recover, and because you can use easier and harder progressions, most people can do a variant almost every day. A high/low method works wonders here: hardest progression one day, easier progression not done to failure the next. 

All this adds up to the dead bug being one hell of an exercise, and hopefully you’ll give them a shot in your own program