Functional Alignment

Belief and Butterflies

 I think a lot about belief,

how we shape our beliefs and

where those beliefs come from.

Believe Nothing.

You Are Your Own Religion.

Following the advice from the above quote is a lot more complicated than it first appears, because who we are, what we think and how we act (or react) is heavily grounded in our history, customs, traditions, who we look up to, what we read, see and have been taught.

What is your own reason?

What is your own common sense?

It takes practice to sit quietly ruminating on questions that reveal our true individual beliefs. It is difficult to set aside the beliefs that we have been taught as being correct (that gave us top marks), to settle on our true nature.

Can anyone really say that their beliefs are not affected by the world around them? We hold on so tightly to our beliefs. And it makes perfect sense to do so, because having strong beliefs is our natural link to survival. But there can be a point when belief becomes rigid and prevents us from growing and exploring possibilities. Beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Not all beliefs come in the form of a radical-life-changing shift. Sometimes when we make a small (as in microscopic – barely noticeable) shift to a long held belief, it at first may seem insignificant, but it is often these little ripples that offer the most catalytic potential. Think of the butterfly effect.

“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.”- Chaos Theory

Since before starting my blog/website in April 2011, I have been experimenting with consciously shifting my comfort zones, which I have come to realize is actually making micro changes to my beliefs – to my world, as I know it.

It takes practice to change,

and practice requires being consistent.

Here are two examples of what seems like very insignificant beliefs (beliefs shape our patterns and behaviour) that I resisted changing and how much I have learned and grown from adapting to these changes. A few months before I embarked on this hobby of writing a blog, I decided that I would, without fail, each and every night for the rest of my life…floss my teeth. Sounds life changing doesn’t it? It was my butterfly effect.

Butterfly

I have always been consistent with cleaning my mouth and teeth, to a fault I recently learned. I wrote about it here. And I have always flossed my teeth, just not daily :). I would go through phases of being consistent with flossing (like for a week), and then neglect the practice to a now and then or when I would remember kind of practice. Don’t we all do that for a lot of different things in our lives? When things seem to be going OK, we put off doing the jobs that take the least amount of time because we don’t value their significance or impact in the big picture.

“There is no ONE GIANT step that does it,

it’s a lot of LITTLE STEPS.”

It has now been over two years without missing a single day of flossing! My oral health has improved dramatically. Ironically, I have cut back on the frequency of brushing my teeth (the article I refer to above explains this in detail). And as a result of these shifts my self-discipline has improved dramatically too. I am becoming more accomplished at doing ten, twenty and sixty-second jobs that would otherwise be put off to another time. This butterfly effect has changed my patterns. It was a test you see. I tested myself with something that would have zero impact on anyone else. With something that literally takes sixty to ninety seconds. It was something that would make a big difference to my life and health, something that I could do or not do and no one would know whether I failed or kept my word, except for my dentist and hygienist ;). Don’t fool yourself if you really think that your oral health care practitioner believes you when you tell them that you floss regularly. If you have bleeding gums and oral health problems somebody’s not doing a very effective job and the end result is the obvious proof of the neglect. And we all know who that someone is. Hmmm?

“If what you are doing isn’t working, doing more of it won’t work any better.”

People come up with the most elaborate excuses for not flossing daily (or at all!) and are genuinely amazed as to why they have oral health problems. It is a lot like when I ask my kids if they have brushed their teeth in the morning (knowing they haven’t because I can smell their ‘morning breath’). Instead of arguing that I know that they have not done it, rather I tell them that they should do it again, because the job they did wasn’t very effective. And if they need help doing it properly, I would be happy to help.

“If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time.”

It is much like being overweight or having general health problems. The remedy is so obvious to everyone looking in but not at all to the person affected. And yet even to those looking in, though they can see what the affected person is doing wrong, they have the same difficulty seeing what isn’t working for themselves. Everyone is looking for a medical test to diagnose what it is that is causing his or her illness. Looking outside of themselves for answers, for someone else to do the LITTLE STEPS for them. May I suggest? Do the daily little steps; test your-self for a couple of years and see what happens. If you do it right, it will work.

“If it is important to you,

You will find a way.

If not?

You will find an excuse.”

~Frank Banks

But don’t be misguided; I don’t believe that there is such a thing as perfect health. There is not a place to get to where we just float along without minor pain or discomfort from time to time. The human body is volatile. There is no pain-free life, just as there is no stain-free steel. (Stainless steel isn’t stain-free, it just stains less.) We may become pain-less, but to expect to have a pain-free life is quite the tall order to have for our existence. Perhaps we need to reexamine our expectations and the beliefs attached to those expectations. Apparently the snake-oil salesmen from years gone by are still doing excellent business selling false hope and promises. We need to walk away from those snake-oil salesmen and practice our own little steps.

Snake-Oil Salesman

So, around the same time that I started my flossing experiment, I started doing my 4-minute mornings, which was an interesting shift in beliefs, to say the least. Because what is most interesting to me is that I used to tell clients, twenty years ago about a study that showed that even ten minutes of exercise, repeated three times a day was shown to be as effective as doing thirty-minutes of exercise at one time. I used to dish out that study but I never experimented with it for myself and I doubt that anyone really gave it much credence. My world back then was all about teaching hour-long aerobic, step or cycle Reebok classes. Everything was based on time: hour-long one-on-one private training sessions, hour-long stretch classes, hour-long toning classes and hour-long Pilates classes. For those of us interested in supporting our health, we were willing to put in that hour a day and for those of us in the business, well, we spent all day being physically active. So, for me to downshift these theories (beliefs) in health and fitness to a radical drop in duration was a tough pill to swallow. Could 4 minutes of something really have any significant effect on the body? I decided to experiment for myself. I speculated that 4 minutes once in a while might not be very effective, but 4 minutes daily might…I was willing to see what might happen.

The results have been quite fascinating. I have learned about being disciplined with a daily short duration routine that would otherwise be very easy to dismiss or put off. Every morning for the past two years I have done the same routine, which has evolved from starting out as a few minutes of bed stretches into twenty minutes of a variety of stretches and calisthenics. The significant piece to take away from this is that it is not about the duration (the time spent doing these exercises) but rather in doing specific exercises to correct and maintain MY functional alignment. And the fascinating piece is that I don’t spend more than a minute or two on most of the stretches or exercises. Duration is not as relevant as is the focus and precision attached to each stretch or movement. In other words, what is more important is WHAT you do and HOW you do it.

Exercise is more than moving and perspiring for an extended period of time. Perhaps this is a long held belief that needs to be revisited and questioned? What do you think exercise is? Do you believe that by getting your ‘heart rate up’ for an extended period of time your body will automatically realign itself and by default magically transform into an Adonis?

Sorry, it begs repeating: “If what you are doing isn’t working, doing more of it won’t work any better.”

If we repeat a physical action misaligned, then our end result will be reinforced misalignment.

Losing body fat and having a functionally sound mechanically efficient body are two very separate actions. Losing body fat through exercise doesn’t automatically generate a functionally sound mechanically efficient body, however the opposite is more likely probable of igniting change.

“When you have eliminated the impossible,

whatever remains,

however improbable, must be the truth.”

–Sherlock Holmes

I have discovered that I really like to start my day like this (bed stretches etc.) and will make every effort to get to bed on time so that I can clock eight hours of sleep and still be able to wake up with enough time to do my morning routine before I start my mom-duty. “If it is important to you, You will find a way. If not? You will find an excuse.”

“If you believe you can or you believe you can’t – you’re right.”

~Henry Ford

My Weekly Body Maintenance

Post-Yoga Practice

Seems like once I say it out loud or write it down, IT changes.

The IT I’m referring to in this case, is my Body Maintenance schedule. I have taken to calling it My Body Maintenance because that is how I see it now. It’s not so much my workout anymore. The physical activity that I engage in everyday has more to do with the methodical maintenance of my overall physical health and functional alignment.

I find it interesting that most people I run into assume that I am training for something. Are you a triathlete? You must workout a lot! Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why I am posting this schedule. This entire website is about how to maintain our overall health with a healthy dose of moderate daily body maintenance. SOME focused daily body maintenance, not an extreme amount, EVER. Focus on precision of movement in every waking moment and lead an Active Lifestyle. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? I believe that it is, it just takes a little bit of practice and perhaps a whole lot of belief shifting to make it happen; more on the belief part another day.

Do something everyday.

Learn > Practice > Refine > Repeat.

A year ago my weekly schedule looked very different compared with the current one (below). At the bottom of this post I will write out what last years schedule looked like and what it looked like a year before that. Change is good. I choose to change and move forward towards better health. Doing more was not the answer for me.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

–Will Rogers

Since June 2012 this is what my current weekly Body Maintenance schedule has been:

Monday       Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Rest &Recovery Stairs Warm Up+1-mile Track Run(aim for 7min. Mile)+Max. Push Ups in 1 Minute

+Ashtanga Yoga

(~80 min. Total time)

30 Min.Swim drills Stairs Warm Up+4 Minute Burpees Tabata+400x Skipping+Ashtanga Yoga(~70 min. Total Time)
ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 ACTIVE LIVING  ACTIVE LIVING
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim drills Rest &RecoveryOrAshtanga Yoga(30 – 60 min. Total time) 30 Min.Swim drills
ACTIVE LIVING ACTIVE LIVING

ACTIVE LIVING

 

Current Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~60 minutes):

  • 5x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3-5 x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing Series
  • First 12 seated postures (Lift between each posture with the occasional vinyasa)
  • Working on Navasana up to Handstand (I will post a video of this progression, it is quite amusing)
  • 2 Backbends + counter pose
  • The Finishing Sequence (when not menstruating)
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana
  • No practice on full moon days.

25 – 30 minutes Swim Drills (20 meter pool):

  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths back stroke
  • 2 lengths flutter kick on back with arms overhead
  • 8 lengths breast stroke
  • 4 lengths dolphin kick w/board
  • 4 lengths arms only front crawl w/pull buoy
  • 4 lengths flutter kick w/ board
  • 8 lengths front crawl w/flip turn
  • 4 min. Vertical Treading Water Tabata
  • 4 lengths easy front crawl cool down
  • 10 – 15 minute stretch in whirlpool

Pool Lap Lane

Of course Active Living varies from day to day and season to season. My biggest House Maintenance Day tends to be on my Rest & Recovery Days but that is not set in stone – stuff comes up! Some house maintenance is done everyday, regardless. Rest & Recovery days vary too.

It also looks like my Playground Pit-Stops will be dwindling over the winter months, as they usually do – monkey bars and D-Rings need to be dry (and Vancouver is pretty wet), but with cold muscles my hands just can’t hold a grip. There is also the dog walk duty, which is shared between my husband and me; we don’t have a set schedule.

If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions.

If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.

~Chinese Proverb

This is an example of a week schedule from 2011:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Stairs Warm Up+ light stretches+My 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping+5 Forward GripPull Ups

Ashtanga Yoga

 

Rest& RecoveryDay 30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+1×100 skipping

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

Active Living Active Living Active Living Active Living
Friday Saturday Sunday
30 Min.Swim Drills Rest &Recovery DayOrMy 12 minute Workout+4 x 100 skipping

+5 Forward Grip

Pull-Ups

+Ashtanga Yoga

 

30 Min.Swim Drills
Active Living Active Living Active Living

2011 – June 2012

Ashtanga Yoga Practice (~40 minutes):

  • 3 – 4x Surya Namaskara A
  • 3x Surya Namaskara B
  • Standing series
  • first 12 seated postures (no vinyasa)
  • 3 backbends
  • Closing Sequence
  • Savasana

Swim Drills (30 minutes):

  • Same as above except only difference
  • Egg Beater Treading Water Tabata

In the years before the examples above, my workouts were much longer, over 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes in duration for BodyRock style workouts. I used to take a Masters Swim Group Class (not “masters” by definition meaning experts, rather all of us gained entry because we were over 35). And I used to go out for an hour of intense soccer with the ladies once or twice a week. When I think back on it now I can’t believe I used to do that!  I was trained to believe that we had to get our heart rate up to a certain number for a certain amount of time to reap any benefits. I used to believe a lot of “facts” backed up by scientific research written in esteemed text books and journals. Now I see that it is much, much more complex than all that. Everything is. For me, this says a lot about our belief systems and what we do because of them.

In a nutshell?

Do less at one time. But do it well; with precision. Be active throughout the day.

Burpees

Learning Series:

Do You See What I See?

For the uninitiated, the word BURPEES sounds more like something a newborn does.

Burpees, in fact, is a compound exercise. A compound exercise, is an exercise that involves more than one major muscle group and more than one joint at a time, such as the Squat. Burpees is a four or five part exercise involving different compound exercises. In contrast to an isolation exercise, which focuses on one muscle group and one joint at a time, for example: the bicep curl.

an exercise of biceps

an exercise of biceps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have not been following a regular exercise program or feel very out of shape, I would NOT recommend starting with Burpees. I would direct you to my 4 Minute Morning Progression Series, which teaches the foundation exercises for Burpees over the course of 14 weeks. As a result of following the graduated program, the body’s joint systems (ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage) will adapt to these movements. Learning this way allows us to focus on each part of the compound exercise, which will ensure good alignment so that when we put all the parts together, we won’t become sloppy.

When we exercise with good alignment, our movement becomes more efficient. When we move efficiently, we reduce wear and tear on our joints and muscles, which in turn supports a faster reaction time and optimal performance. Exercising longer, while out of alignment – though it may feel good mentally to know that we have burned a certain amount of calories – the end result, being the attack on our joints and muscles and skeletal system will have negated the effort in the first place. Exercise, whether for weight loss, maintenance or for peak sport performance, requires a delicate balance in many areas.

We may be able to fool our MIND,

with supplements or secret training practices,

but the BODY cannot be fooled.

Train smart, right from the start. Less is more. If we exercise with precision of movement as our primary focus, and be consistent, the results will come.

 “Build it, and they will come.”

-(Field of Dreams)

I’ve put together a little instructional video, which explains a common mistake that I was making. But I only realized that I was making this mistake once I started filming myself. Once again, I would like to encourage you to film yourself so that you can start to analyze how you are moving through your exercises.

I’ve tried to edit this video to keep it as short as possible, but as you may have noticed, I have a lot to say. Also, it is a lot harder (and time consuming) to make instructional videos than it first appears. I used my phone to record this video, though I had both my good camera and phone set up – but would you guess that I didn’t press record on the camera! Anyhow, I hope that it is the content of the video that will provide you with some useful information as opposed to judging it based solely on the lousy quality of the visual product.

For those not able to view the video, I am discussing the breakdown of Burpees. The most common error is to NOT do a complete squat but rather pass through it. The reason most will pass through the squat is due to restricted range of motion at our joints, i.e. tight musculature and fascia. Not performing the squat can lead to rounding from the back, which is not ideal.

There are two squats in Burpees. I have come to know Burpees as detailed below; though some call it Burpees Push Up (because it includes the Push Up). A classic Burpee may be done without the Push Up.

1. Squat

2. Plank

3. Push Up

4. Squat

5. Jump Squat

6. Repeat sequence

Also, I’d like to talk about the placement of our legs during the squat. There is a tendency to do a lot of exercises in a wide stance. This is OK from time to time, but important to understand that in order to develop a well-balanced body, our exercise program has to also be well-balanced. Always doing exercises in a wide stance or that are always recruiting the same muscles is not a well-balanced approach. There really is a science to exercise prescription. Though it can seem unlikely for some, anyone can muster up the drive to work hard. Working hard and for long duration alone, is not what will deliver a functionally fit body. So in my video, I venture to explain, (though very briefly and with basic language in an effort to be understood by everyone), how we should focus on parallel alignment, being the alignment, which is essential for our joints to function optimally. When we walk, the ideal placement is to have our feet and knees aligned in parallel. When we deviate from this tracking, our joints encounter wear and tear. By doing exercise OUT of alignment, our muscles become stronger in this unbalanced pattern, which further contributes to misalignment.

When we have limitation in our joints, our movement is restricted. When our movement is restricted we (unknowingly) compensate, which leads to overuse and contributes to faulty biomechanics.

What can you do?

  • Be consistent with stretches that are specific to YOUR restricted range of motion.

  • Do exercises that will support optimal range of motion in YOUR body.

I have found that when I practice my exercises (be it stairs, swim drills or Burpees), if I focus on precision then I am not able do as much; my weaker muscles will fatigue sooner. This is a good thing. This means that I am strengthening my weaker links. If I continuously train out of alignment and with brute force, then I am just repeating patterns that are only going to take me further from my goals. My goals being: having a body that is aligned and runs efficiently with the least amount of wear and tear.

Please note: when lifting very heavy loads, it is a good idea to take a wider stance for the squat.

Below is the video of me showing how to do a

4 Minute Tabata of Burpees.

8 Rounds of two intervals.

Interval #1 =  10 seconds REST + Interval #2 = 20 seconds Maximum # of Repetitions of Burpees

I was able to complete 4.5 – 4 Burpees during each 20 second interval. Which translates to doing 32 Burpees in 4 Minutes. 

That’s:

  • 64 Squats
  • 32 Planks
  • 32 Push Ups
  • 32 Jump Squats

Wow! I never thought about it like that before! No wonder it does the trick!

Also, I notice that as I get more fatigued I tend to lift my hips UP as I jump back to plank. See if you can spot that. So I will work on keeping my hips more level with the ground as I jump back into plank.

Chin Ups

The Jenkins film camera

Do You See What I See?

I started filming myself doing some exercises shortly after I started my website, with the intention of developing a series of how-to videos to complement the written instructions that I was posting.  It was quite a shock to see myself. I thought my alignment and technique was better than it is. It just goes to show that knowing something and applying the same principles is very different.

Needless to say, if you are interested in making change and improvements, I highly recommend filming yourself. Watching in the mirror is helpful, and getting corrections from an expert is helpful, but to truly analyze and critique we need to view ourselves from the outside – a bird’s eye view. And practice, practice, practice.

I have years of experience helping other people correct form and technique and in the old days, could only dream of using film as a teaching tool. I knew, that for my clients to be able to understand and apply the corrections I gave them, they really needed to see for themselves what they looked like and what they were doing. Today, with easy access to media, this tool is at our fingertips…amazing!

But what if you don’t even know what you should be looking for once you’ve made your video? Well, you have to start somewhere.

Posture types (vertebral column) classificatio...

Posture types (vertebral column) classification by Staffel. Русский: Типы осанок по Ф. Штаффелю. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Analyzing how your body looks will give you a starting point. Are your shoulders level with each other? Do they round forward? Does your upper back look hunched over – does the head poke forward? Do your feet point outwards? Are your knees knocked together or bowed when standing straight? etc…When we look at other people we naturally and subconsciously critique proportions and symmetry. It is these proportions and balance or lack of, that is pleasing to the eye or not. And it is this alignment, proportion and symmetry, which defines functional movement patterning.

Yet, we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, I have decided to put myself out as an example. I don’t mind showing my faults or where I’ve gone wrong. Sometimes, a bad example is as effective as a good example!

I’ve experimented with a lot of different training techniques over the years and have learned a lot from my mistakes and from many A-Ha!, moments along the way. So here goes…

Take me for example: I am just under 5’5”. I have a very small head in relationship to my frame. So when I was bodybuilding, I looked pretty ridiculous! But I couldn’t see how ridiculous I looked because my focus was to get as muscular as possible (naturally); hence the term muscle head. The first time I noticed how silly I looked was when I saw this photograph of myself (the day I won Ms. Fitness Canada – Toronto – 1994). And this is when I was much less muscular. I had toned down the muscle building when I discovered Fitness Competitions and decided that it might be a more balanced and feminine look for me.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but laugh, because it looks to me like the head just doesn’t belong, as if it has been photo-shopped in.

Anyhow, I still have a pea-sized head! Oh well, some things we just can’t change! Like I say to my kids, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

This long explanation is meant to prepare you for a series of videos that will use me as a learning example. I will demonstrate what I was doing wrong, relative to my imbalances and how I have gone about making corrections.

The first in the series is the Chin Up. I realize that for many, the chin up is a non-existent exercise and may even seem unattainable. Think of it as a simple example to get the ball rolling in terms of looking at analyzing movement.

About three weeks ago I casually filmed myself (with my phone) doing 5 Forward Grip Pull ups. Complete and utter disbelief when I viewed the footage. No wonder I’m having such difficulty getting my ribs to sit in a neutral position. No wonder my waist looks so short, its like I have been literally sculpting my body into this shape – almost solidifying. Finally, with video, I was able to analyze my own technique. No amount of Rolfing or bodywork can correct my alignment if I continue to undo the physical therapy by repeatedly reinforcing this alignment with such exercises.

It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back.

In the video, you can see (especially pull ups, numbers three to five), each time I do a Pull Up how I contract my latissimus dorsi so much that I am simultaneously thrusting my rib cage forward. This is not helping with my functional alignment. So I then ask myself why am I doing this exercise in the first place? Well, I like to be able to pull my weight. I think it’s important. Ok, fine – but, I tell myself that I can’t continue on like this. So I stopped doing any pull ups for two weeks while I thought about what I was doing to myself. How could I continue to do this exercise without adding to the problem AND not undo the myofascial release work?

It finally dawned on me. I would do Chin-ups with my knees tucked to my chest. The effect of tucking the knees to my chest and attempting to round my lower back (slightly) in the process would cancel out the lats to some extent – IF done properly. Holding knees to chest is difficult to begin with. I can do five, then I take a break and do five more. You can see in the video when I do the chin ups with knees tucked to chest, that in the last two I begin to arch my lower back ever so slightly…as fatigue sets in I naturally revert to my most powerful source and habitual patterning. At this point I am better off to take a break, recover the strength needed to hold a slightly rounded lower back or stop entirely. I will follow this pattern for a while and see where it leads.

I thought about putting my feet on a high stool in front of me as an option if I couldn’t tuck my knees to chest or for when fatigue sets in.

Next is to consider how often I will do this exercise. I have decided that I will do only 5 – 10 reps, three times per week, with one or two days rest in-between. There is also a very important stretch that I have added to my repertoire which encourages the opening and releasing of the fascia around my ribcage. I’ll show that one another time.

But just quickly, while we’re on the subject, I wanted to describe the evolution of my Chin Up:

About three years ago I started working out at the gym, after a long hiatus. (I trained at the gym for about one year before I switched to training at home exclusively). I had gotten back into using weight machines. One day after having built up some strength with the Lat Pull Down machine, I started eyeballing the Pull Up Bar, just maybe I might be ready to try a chin up. I used to do them regularly in my bodybuilding days. But no – nothing. I just hung there. Not a chance. I was hooked, I love a challenge…I would teach myself to do a chin up.

So each time I came to the gym I hung from the pull up bar – and tried. And tried. That was it – nothing – I just hung there trying. Still nothing. After a week of trying, I was able to budge about one inch of the way up. Basically, just isolating my shoulder blades downward. Light bulb moment! This was the first sign of progress. So I kept on with it. Each time I went to the gym, I hung and tried to pull myself up one inch, then one quarter of the way. It worked. After two weeks of trying, I finally did one complete parallel-grip pull up. It just snowballed from there, until I was doing three sets of ten reps. Yes – Three Sets of Ten! But then one day, I looked in the mirror, and gasped…oops, too many pull ups…starting to grow wings. So, I had to have another talk with myself…what exactly are you trying to achieve, Woman!? Right. Why on earth did I NEED to do 3 sets of 10 chin ups every other day? I didn’t. I just liked to. So I re-evaluated and decided that doing five to ten pull ups, once to three times per week was probably sufficient. This way I got my ‘fix’ and still had the strength to do them, to pull my weight when I needed or wanted to, like when I’m at the playground with the kids and want to do monkey bars or D-rings. Oh, and the wings went down.

Which brings us full circle. Back to top.