biomechanics

Katy Bowman: Move Your DNA (LBP 020)

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist, the author of the award winning blog katysays.com, and the founder of Restorative Exercise. Today she talks with us about her most recent book, Move Your DNA. We get into what diseases of mechanotransduction are, the profound ways our environment shapes us, why exercise and movement are not synonymous, how cardio can be harmful in our sedentary times, and how we are animals who have put ourselves in our own cages. Plus much, much more. Oodles more. So much more!

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Show notes

Diseases of mechanotransduction: instead of looking at the chemistry precursors to a disease (like a blood lipid profile), it's looking at what are the mechanical issues associated with this disease. The category  diseases of mechanotransduction are any of those diseases known to be influenced by something mechanical.

Loads: If you're carrying 7 bags you are going to be loaded by them. It is a response to this load. You are always being loaded by gravity, but the loads that you experience depend on your position relative to it. Loads are the affect of applied forces. The way you orient your body dictates what load occurs.

There is a big interface between people who are thinking in terms of biotensegrity and Newtonian biomechanics. I think one of the reasons loads can be so hard to understand is that they have been reduced to the applied force- like when knees hurt and people ask how much you weigh- and then determine that is too much weight for your knees. That is a very basic way of looking at loads.

There are other things tha affect the load to the knee like what's on your foot, the position of your foot, and of your knee, and your ankle and your knee to your hip, and your position relative to gravity- so all of those things go into consideration when you consider loads. It's not the weight, it's how you carry it.

It's really impossible to calculate a whole body load because the applied force is experienced differently by all parts of the body. For example: The wind going through the trees. In biomechanics, you're looking at a problem and asking how is the wind affecting these trees, but there is no way to measure how the wind is pushing on every single tree because every tree is experiencing the wind differently. Because that math is overwhelming, we have to reduce it so we call the load the wind and quantify the applied force. It's kind of erroneous to do that because it really doesn't matter, what matters is the adaptation of the tree to the wind.

[I give the example of the Orca in captivity with its floppy fin which Katy uses in the book Move Your DNA] Structures that are not maintained by their environment- we don't see ourselves in the same "tank" as the Orcas in captivity in their tanks.

It's that generalization of quantifying things- like saying an Orca swims in the ocean, so the Orca can swim in a tank, that way the "swimming" box is checked, therefore this [the floppy fin] could not be  disease of mechanotransduction.

You need to break down swimming into something more specific. You can call swimming a macronutrient, but if you look at the micronutrients the questions are: What were the distances covered by whales in the ocean? What are the speeds that are normal for a whale to swim? What about swimming in a circle, is that normal?

Where we are with movement is where we were with nutrition 40 years ago. We say, "Just move more!" if a whale in captivity were to just swim more, it would make the flopped fin worse. Moving more might bring about even more of the forces that brought about the disease of mechanotransduction- in this case the flopped fin. It might make things worse.

At the end of the day swimming more wasn't really the problem. If you walked in a circle everyday, you would notice that your body became shaped to that.

Then you walk fast in that circle, it will highlight those diseases even faster.

When we say we need to move well or differently, often we say [in this example], "Walk in the circle in the other direction." You would offset some of the adaptations with that correction, but it's still treating the symptom.

Corrective exercise is spot-treating these nutrient deficits by creating something novel instead of pulling back and asking what is the actual problem here? What are my actual movement requirements and how can I actually meet those instead of taking the vitamin or pill equivalent?

I just got back from a book signing and people ask what are the programs they can follow, or what is the prescription. And once you are in the prescription-land, you are out of movement-land. The solution would be, in the most general terms, to consider all of the movements you would be doing with your body if you didn't have any of the things you have. You don't have a car, or food in your refrigerator, or cabinets... How would you move? You start to be surrounded by the conveniences but opt not to use them.

For example, when I'm making breakfast for my kids I will opt to make it on the floor. I don't want to reinforce that they need to bring a chair to the counter, and my standing at the counter is a kind of cast- always bringing things up to that level where I don't need to use my knees or hips. Not only are they practicing the movements that are natural to them, but surprise!, I got squats in in my busy workday this morning.

The more you want to find an exercise solution, the more you will struggle with trying to fit it in to your day. Exercise doesn't support the movement paradigm.

There is some junk food exercise out there. [Using the food analogy] so many people survive on junk food or heavily processed food because it can satiate part of your biology. For someone who has no food, it is filled with positives. But the reason it's junk is that with some satiation of this biological signal of hunger, it also comes with a tax.

There's exercise that satiates many of the "you need to move" signals you are getting, but it may not support your health in the long-term. It's costing your body something that you will require in the future.

Exercise is becoming more nuanced. It's always going to be processed food, but you could be eating the equivalent of an organic, minimally process whole food bar. We're moving towards more high quality exercise in the same way that we did with food. People who know how to create something that is synthetic but better meets our needs.

In the next 40 years I expect I fully expect movement to be as nuanced as nutrition is now, and they will understand why a treadmill is really the equivalent to a Snickers.

So many people are out there doing a ton of work and taking time away from their families and crafting their lives around exercise for their better, and then they are getting this list of ailments, so I'm just trying to bring out the biological understanding so that people have a better context for why to fill in the movement deficits.

When you have sedentary populations- which we all are, even the exercisers- when they are still they are assuming one geometrical position. That is the bigger problem. I'm actually ok with people not bumping up their total movement as it relates to moving across the ground, even if you could just be still differently than you are always still, that would be a better nutrient.

If you are always sitting in the same chair, or how you sit in a car, you have this one specific body constellation. The bulk of your life is in this one geometrical position. Your mass distribution of your entire body has adapted to this shape. It becomes easier for you to do.

Then you have lots of kinks in your hoses of your arteries, and they are receiving a repetitive use injury because the blood is flowing in this exact same geometry, there are a lot more bends than there should be. You accumulate this arterial plaque, but it's secondary. You're changing the genetic expression of your lumen cells, the endothelial cells, you're changing some of the genes here because of this repetitive blunt trauma.

Plaque is put down to reinforce the walls. So then you take that structure and you do something highly intense for a short period of time each day and are accelerating blood through it, so you are compounding the problem.

We're trying to balance being sedentary by doing something short but high intensity, and I don't know that it has the payoff that we believe it to have. I think it would be much better for people to address that they can't be sedentary and in the same geometrical position for 98% of their lives. In the end that's what affects your arteries' ability to respond in the way they need to respond. In the same way you can't eat junk food everyday and then exercise to take it off.

Balancing out to zero is a mindset we have, but it's all input. Your body adapts to what you do the most.

I do think the purpose of getting your heart rate up is a skill that every human should have. I don't think that it is the thing we should be spending the bulk of our time training. If you are interested in your cardiovascular health there are many other things you need to do first.

If you look at people like Tim Noakes research on cardiovascular training and function. The notion that people have about needing cardio isn't really an evidence supported thing. It is understood in science, but it does not' trickle down to the health magazine that you read.

Brooke: I mention the Jeremy Morris study which is always presented as thig being the study that proves that cardio is good for us, when really they weren't describing cardio exercise.

There are a lot of conclusions that are extrapolations, and I always encourage people to go back and look at the actual data. Really what the conclusion is is that you should mimic the movements of the ticket conductor, not that you should exercise beyond what was measured.

I was just in a Reuter's piece (in resources) this morning and we were talking about how walking is really a superfood, it contains quite a bit of nutrition. And it's the thing a body would be doing the most of, it would be the most frequent vitamin intake. Then at the end a professor tosses on that it doesn't' maintain your bones as well as running. But that notion comes from a similar extrapolation. They found kids with strong bones and so put an accelerometer on them and noticed they were moving at 4 Gs. So we know that peak bone mass in kids comes at this high G. Then they had woman with osteoporosis wear them and they say they only got to 1 G. Then they had college students do a bunch of exercises to see what would get them up to 4 G, and running did. So then they just say, running gives you strong bones. That is not the scientific process. That is just everyone's need to be told what to do.

And the answer is we don't know what to do. We don't know how to take a whale in captivity, what kind of exercise program could you give it to have it be the same robust function as if it were in the wild? But the biologically plausible prescription we can give is to do the things you would have been doing in the wild. That's where it's at.

There is load science stuff that comes from physical therapy, we know that the position of your foot and the angle of your knee and the way you walk create load profiles that are likely to tear your ACL, and that's where therapy and correctives come from. We can know what exercises can balance out and distribute the loads well, those are great places to start. But if you're still swimming around your tank, your correctives aren't really enough to get you out of the diseases of your tank.

We only have limited energy, so I like to focus on the problem instead of treating the symptom.

Brooke: Would it be fair to say that our bodies are hunter-gatherer bodies that are undernourished by leading these lives of convenience?

Remember you are an animal walking around in a zoo. Reflexively your body is always trying to conserve energy. The decision to shuck convenience has to be a choice. You are going to have to choose to get out of your couch and sit on the floor. You're not really in a cage, you've put yourself in- there's no lock, it's habit. You can go outside whenever you want.

Movement is way easier to get in your life than exercise. Exercise takes time away from your family living. It takes a drive, a shower, a special outfit, equipment. It's not as easy as. "I'm making breakfast anyway, I can make it on the floor? I'm walking on this path anyway, why don't I just walk on the grass just 6 inches to the left? I'm going to the bathroom anyway, why not put my feet up on this squat platform?"

Because movement is not exercise, you have the potential to move all day long. I have no more time, I'm doing this podcast now so I could be sitting in front of my computer, or I could be standing and doing a calf stretch, and squatting a bit. Once you start thinking that way you can really move all day long even if you can't go anywhere.

Me: I think it's been diminished as valuable in our culture.

We've lost the understanding of the word movement. We are a non-moving culture. If you grew up in captivity, [for example] if we ask the Orca to figure out that it is in captivity, you are asking it to understand a concept of which it has no knowledge. We've never seen a person who didn't exercise.

The real difference between exercise and movement would be anytime you are doing movement for the purpose of reaping a health benefit, that's exercise. While movement is something that happens while you are getting something else accomplished.

You'll never have enough time to get all the necessary loads in your body if you are only exercising. In order to fit the time constraint you have to accomplish your life while you are moving. Movement has to be a part of accomplishing your life. I go for a walk every day and I need to accomplish something in my work or my regular life. I try to give my brain a reason for going out and doing some sort of movement that is about accomplishing something else that needs to get done.

Brooke: My son's school is about 6 miles from my house and we could walk it and he would get 6 miles in before school, and I would get 12 miles in, but these are the things we don't' think of when we've grown up in captivity.

I have a friend who did this and she didn't have time to do the full walk, so she drove to where they were 2 miles away. Then her sons had has a very nutritious movement breakfast before they went to where we all learn how to be still. She got the time with them and in a different context, and she also got a 2 mile walk to herself walking back, and she got them to school.

Brooke: What are you playing with in your own practice?

A lot of upper body hanging and playing is new and challenging for me.

Playing with surfaces is probably where my brain is as well as my own body. Looking at the difference between a set of monkey bars, which would never occur in nature, and then looking at trees. Not just their angles, but also the textures of the bark. All the things you would touch would not have been smooth, they would bite into your skin and require that your skin strengthen.

Our skin is a big limitation to our health. The muscles of the entire body has to pass through either the hand or the feet if you're doing something with body weight, and yet the skin has never been exposed to anything natural. Even if you are barefoot the nutrient you consume the most is a flat man-made surface.

I'm observing how everything is flat and smooth in my whole life. Nothing has asked the skin to the party. Nothing has asked the skin to participate in your body's way of moving. Walking on different surfaces just for the sake of the skin. Playing with grip, diameter, and how that changes muscle recruitment.

Our idea of cross-trainig is so small. We think about adding 2 or 3 things- how about adding trillions? The habitat we're in is really not conducive to health.

Home play!

Let's do as Katy suggests and imagine our lives stripped of all its conveniences. Where would you sit? Stand? Prepare and eat your food? ow would you get from point A to point B? See what new potentials for movement are revealed when you look at your life through this new lens.

Resources

The book: Move Your DNA

Restorative Exercise

Katy's blog, Katy Says

Timothy Noakes

Jeremy Morris

Katy in Reuters: Walking is the Superfood of Fitness

If you liked this episode

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Erwan LeCorre: Evolutionary Fitness

Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture

Darryl Edwards: Primal Play

Tom Myers: Mapping the Anatomy of Connection (LBP 011)

Ask and you shall receive! Many of you have gotten in touch with me to say how much you would like to hear Tom Myers, founder of Anatomy Trains and Kinesis Myofascial Integration, on the podcast. Well here you are! He does not disappoint. This episode is the proverbial kid in in the candy store moment for body nerds...

Tom talks about the history of Anatomy Trains and how he came to chart connections through the fascial fabric, where Newtonian biomechanics fall short and how fractal mathematics might illuminate new understandings of the body, fascia as the 3rd big autoregulatory system,  what Kinesthetic IQ is and why it matters, common misconceptions about fascia, and more. Phew! Lots of good stuff!

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Show notes

Anatomy Trains started as a game.  All of the anatomy books, then as now, were looking at origin and insertion of muscles and how muscles worked by pulling those 2 ends together on the skeleton. That's only one thing muscles do. Much more emphasis in recent research is now being placed on the isometric or stabilizing functions, the eccentric or braking function of  the muscle, and more than that it turns out the muscles are attached to the muscles beside them, which we cut away with our scalpel. That's the work of Huijing and van der Wal [in resources].

My work was to say, "Well, why stop there?" The fascia is continuous with the next muscle, and I wanted to see the connection through the fascial fabric, yet all the anatomy books were written in this origin to insertion way. I started this game suggested to me by an article that James Oschman gave me by Raymond Dart, an anthropologist in South Africa, who was also a student of Alexander Technique.  It was about the trunk and these double spiral arrangements [it's in the resources] and I thought again, "Why stop there?"

With my students, we played a game; If you keep going in a line, how many muscles could you find connected? There were other rules- they had to be fascially connected, they had to be able to transmit force from one to the other without intervening walls of fascia in between, etc, but that game soon was built into a system.

The book Anatomy Trains was really an outlier initially, but it's turned out to be a bestseller in the world of textbooks.

We understand when we have a nerve problem that that nerve is a part of a whole system, and we have to consider the effect on that whole. We understand when we have a hematoma, or some other problem with the circulatory system, that it's going to have systemic effects. Yet if you go to physio or anyone working in this kind of field, and say you have a problem with your Achilles tendon, they are really likely to focus on your Achilles and not see it as a part of the whole system.

So I've put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600's has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.

After 500 years of anatomy we still don't have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam roller rolling out their iliotibial band. It's really of limited value, and it's really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people's minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it's a really inadequete view.

There's a lot we don't know about fascia. I've spent 40 years with it and I don't understand it. A couple of the misconceptions:

One from the medical point of view is that you can't move this stuff. Fascia is understood to be fixed, and this is because they did their dissections on cadavers fixed with formaldehyde. But in a real, living human being it is very dynamic.

Another misconception is the idea that it is the saran wrap around the muscles. It is so much more. There is saran wrap and that's called the epimesium, meaning the outside the muscle. However there are structures inside the muscle called the perimesium and endomesium which have different characteristics.

We don't actually work the muscle. The mind doesn't' think of it as training the deltoids or biceps. It thinks in terms of individual neuromotor units, of which there might be a hundred in the biceps. Each of these neuromotor units is wrapped by fascia, called the fascicles.

The idea of a muscle is something that we created because of the way we took apart the body with the blade. If you go after anatomy with a blade you're going to come up with some structures. But now that we can see inside the body, we see that really the body is not organized that way.

I think people are jumping on the bandwagon and saying fascia does all sorts of things, but we really don't know so many things. We don't know how much fo this is neurological change vs. fascial change- and the neurological system and the fascial sustem are so intertwined.

It's very exciting that it's this framework that holds all of our cells. If you think that you start as one cell and proliferate to several trillion cells by the time you are born, and somewhere around 70 trillion cells by the time you are an adult.

So your 70 trillion semi-autonomous cells are coursing around in your body either staying still and doing their job or going around with the blood and doing their job and somehow the whole thing works.

It has to work biomechanically and it has to work at every instant. There is no point at which you can put it up on the shelf. The body is continuously working all the time and it goes through amazing biomechanical changes.

The cells are held together by this amazing system of fibers- by all different forms of mucous and a fibrous network embedded in that mucous. It's an amazingly adaptive system.

Recent work with Dr. Stephen Levin (who pioneered the idea of biotensegrity- in resources) about how Newtonian biomechanics have fallen short. When Einstein came along with his theory of relativity he didn't overturn Newtons laws. Newton's laws still work. They are included in a much bigger picture.

We've been using Newtonian biomechanics for the last 450 years which is basicaly the lever model. If we go back to the biceps, your elbow is a fulcrum and the biceps are the lever force which exert force on your arm. So it talked a lot about vectors, and force couples, etc. Every anatomy book you ever read is all based on that kind of mechanics.

The dynamics of all these cells holding themselves together is much more fluid and is better explained by fractal mathematics, or chaos mathematics; the mathematics of complexity. If you think of things rolling, tumbling, and flowing, it's a lot more like that than like levers.

It doesn't' negate the idea that the elbow is like a lever, but if you actually go in there and look at the body it doesn't explain movement. If you had to describe swinging a baseball bat simply with Newtonian mechanics it's very hard to do. We think of the nerves as these wires, like telephone wires, that snap the muscle on or off, and again that's way too simplistic and industrial a point of view.

Your fascial system is constantly adapting, It adapts in some ways very fast. When you catch a baseball, the synovial fluid in your hand is solid, but the moment you catch the ball, it becomes quite fluid so that you can manipulate the ball.

There's the gel- the mucopolysaccharides or proto-amino-glycans that lubricate things to almost zero friction.  If you have zero friction environment, you have to be holding the body together not one single muscle at a time, but considering the whole system.

So if we imagine the fabric holding it together, the first is under the skin and very movable in any direction, but if you try to tear someone's chest open like you did in Indiana Jones it's very hard to get through the skin without a blade. Under that is the adipose or fat, but under that is the first fabric that really holds us together- the fascia profundus. Then you have the sections inside just like you do in an orange, everything you own inside you is wrapped in fascia.

When you consider that as a  system you begin to see this different idea that bones float in a sea of soft tissue. Your brain doesn't organize movement in terms of parts, it's a response of the whole body [when you move to catch a ball].

Tensegrity is the balance of the body determined by  the tension in the soft tissues. In other words, of you want to re-position the bones you need to address the soft tissue.

Now everyone agrees that no bony manipulation will stay put unless you address the soft tissue, this has completely changed from the viewpoint when he started working in the field.

Why he's working with movement and fitness professionals a great deal these days: If I do wonderful work on people in a session, and they go back to sitting in their same chair in the same way, what I did won't hold. So we need to address changing habit.

Trainers are on the front lines of health care these days, as massage therapists are. People come to them and are asking all kinds of questions. We're really looking at a different approach to healthcare in the next 20 to 30 years as our healthcare system changes- I don't think the system is going to survive all that much longer. What we call the healthcare system is sick-care, not healthcare. And we have  a number of people in our society that need sick-care, they have any number of diseases that bodywork isn't going to cure.

The trainers, the massage therapists, the yoga teachers, they are all on the front lines of healthcare, and people are turning to them for their health-care and this crew needs to be educated more.

Kinesthetic literacy- we have a real idea about what IQ is and how to measure it with tests. With the help of Daniel Goleman and the rise of the feminine in culture we are getting an idea of EQ- emotional intelligence. We really have not defined KQ- physical or kinesthetic intelligence.

In today's society people are no longer required to do physical work. My European friends say an American is someone who drives their SUV around and around the parking lot until they find a parking spot close to the gym.

So we go somewhere to exercise, and that's annoying to me. We should have a life that engages our bodies completely. But we don't. We have energy slaves- things working out there for us in the form of light-switches, and new cars- I don't have to lift the lid of my car anymore, so that's one more way I don't have to use my muscles. And kids are pretty much focused 40 cm away on their screens.

As we move from the Industrial Society to an Electronic Society, we need to define Kinesthetic Literacy, what do kids need to know, what do older people need to know? What are the certain set of movements that they should have to know? Physical education doesn't give an idea of how to be competent inside the body. We need to educate the kids of this generation or we're going to have mental problems because of the physical issues.

We haven't even mapped this out.We don't even know what the topology of movement is.

A lot of the intuitions that we have about people are coming up from our kinesthetic self. Things that we call "hunches" I think are body based.

What is Tom playing with in his own practice? Tom is currently enjoying his sailing season. What he describes as his delight in life- every sense is engaged. I [Tom] wish that for everybody- that you find something that really engages you as a whole.

For his work he is currently really interested in how does a 1 celled ovum grown into a 70 trillion cell adult? [He references the Inner Life of a Cell animation by XVIVO which is in the resources] they have shown the biomechanics inside the cell. All of us a-fascia-nados and a-fascia-nadas are interested in what's happening between the cells that allow the cells to be perfused- I [Tom] want to know how that works, because if we know how that works then we can get every cell in the body into their happy place.

The fascia tugging on cells can actually change how the cells express themselves, change how their genes work, change the epigenetics, determine what gets switched on, this is new business. We can make physiological changes with bodywork. It's not just that you made more space in the ribs, it's that you made more space for the cells to do their work.

Home play!

Go for a walk, run, swim, yoga practice... whatever movement you do where you can get "inside yourself" better, and for the time of that practice- whatever it may be- let go of ideas of yourself as a collection of parts, and see if you can think about yourself as 7o trillion cells that are held together. Cells that are rolling, tumbling, flowing... You don't have to do your best impersonation of an octopus, it's not about changing gross movement patterns, but you can see if this little mental shift changes the experience of your practice.

Resources

Anatomy Trains website

Anatomy Trains book, now in its 3rd edition

Kinesis Myofascial Integration, Tom Myer's school for Structural Integration which holds trainings worldwide

Huijing: Muscle as a Collagen Fiber Reinforced Composite: A Review of Force Transmission In Muscle and Whole Limb

van der Wal: The Architecture of the Connective Tissue in the Musculoskeletal System-An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter as to Proprioception in the the Locomotor Apparatus

Raymond Dart: The Double Spiral Arrangement of the Human Trunk

Dr. Stephen Levin's resources on Biotensegrity

Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence

The Inner Life of a Cell- animation of cell biomechanics by XVIVO and for Harvard

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching (LBP 009)

I got a chance to talk with Jules Mitchell right after she turned in her Master’s thesis on the science of stretching. Jules’ work blends biomechanics with the tradition of yoga to help people move better, and while looking into the research on stretching she discovered some pretty eye-opening things! For example, the idea that we can persistently stretch a muscle and have it grow longer, it turns out, is not true. We get into many other myths of stretching- and it seems there are plenty- what really works, what’s really risky, and what a better model of viewing the body might be when we put aside the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” paradigm.

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Show notes

Exercise Science is a field of science with many different aspects. Jules focused on biomechanics in her Master's work, which is a science of forces and how the body responds to loads.

Yoga therapy can mean many things, but for Jules it means the application of biomechanics into yoga. It takes into consideration how the body is responding to loads, and how individuals have a loading history based on what they have done in the past, so you can't give people a blanket yoga practice.

Her Master's Thesis is basically the science of stretching.

About 1 year into the research she discovered that what she had learned from the yoga community was not supported by the science.

She went through a pretty big transformation from that and had to allow herself to unlearn and approach the science with a blank slate, and then to re-learn.

The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that's just damaging it [the tissue].

If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It's much more an issue of tolerance. It' s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn't understand it and doesn't want to go there. So your nervous system limits your range of motion.

That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length.

"Tolerance" means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that's their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.

For those who are dealing with limited range, or flexibility issues, what can they do? Gentle, passive stretching to the point of tolerance where they can relax into it and their nervous system feels safe there, and be there for 30 seconds to no more than 1 minute.

If you really want to see changes it's really about using it. Create muscle force at that range of motion. It's active, your body has to be in control.

Jules does more strength training at these ranges of motion than passive stretching and that's where you start to see the results, because your neuromuscular system starts to work in cooperation.

Pectoralis minor (images here) if that's my issue and I want it to get longer, what would it look like to do this with strength training?

Jules says she is not going to use the word "longer" because the range won't increase. And it's not just pec minor, it's all the connective tissue around it, the ligaments of the joint, all the neighboring muscles, etc.

How that would work, you would bring the shoulder into a range where the shoulder is limited, and then you would work in that range on flexing the muscle to get it as strong as it can at that limited range. It's kind of like resistance stretching. You are stimulating the fibers so that they can communicate with your nervous system back and forth, and that's one of the most effective ways because you are developing strength and control in that joint position.

At the opposite end of that she would refer them to Restorative Yoga which is based in props. You wouldn't try to stretch as hard as you can. When you stretch as far as you can what's already compliant is going to stretch first so you're not going to hit your target tissue. But if you properly use props now there's a more equal force distribution, and you can be in that pose for a long time and communicate to your nervous system.

We are dynamic communicating organisms vs. lumps of clay that can be molded. It's all about how our nervous system regulates our muscle tissue, which transmits a force to our connective tissue.

We have to look at the tensegrity model where muscle fibers literally embed into connective tissue. If you think about it your muscles are contractile tissues- that's what they do. They produce force. the sarcomeres are literally transmitting force to the connective tissues all around, not just length-wise but also radially outwards in all directions and dimensions.

If you don't have the ability to control the muscle force in all dimensions you run into weakened muscle force. We want our muscle tissue to be strong enough to move.

[said another way] We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion "stiff" makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.

This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when reality those people have more trouble "holding themselves together".

How does someone get "tight" in the first place?

Jules does not use that word, because there is no definition for tight. It's not a mechanical term.

If we're going to go with air quotes "tight", or talk about limited range of motion- that you can only take your joint in certain positions- that happens, 9 times out of 10, because it hasn't been used there, so the nervous system doesn't put it there. The muscle fibers aren't strong enough to maintain that force regulation through the body. It will go to where it's safer. It's not a matter of tightness, it's more a matter of communication.

Jules mentions Van der Wal's article (which is linked below in the resources). He was groundbreaking in this research. He was an anatomist and he realized that our mathematical models for human movement weren't fitting in to how we viewed anatomy. We really aren't a collection of muscles. There's never any part of the body that's slack. His work was groundbreaking for understanding tensegrity. Force transmits radially through out the body, so everything is always under some degree of tension.

One of my favorite Dr. Rolf quotes of all time: "Wherever you think it is, it ain't"

Stretching an injury: we have a cultural misunderstanding of stretching. We have an idea that if it hurts, stretch it. People who are in pain should just leave it alone instead of stretching it and instead move it and use it so the muscle fibers will direct the loads where it's supposed to go.

If you have a tendon or ligament tear, that you want to wait before you stretch. A big problem is that the inflammation goes down within a few days and they no longer feel the injury and so are ready to go right back to stretching it. It's a good 6 weeks before the collagen can take stretching. And that's conservative; A safe measure would be 1 to 2 years.

Most often it takes some re-injury before people are willing to hear that advice about not stretching.

Nobody cares about stretching the way the yoga community does. In the research and in the Exercise Science community there is no interest in these extreme ranges. In fact, in the research Jules was looking at- in many cases people who practiced yoga did were excluded from the studies because they don't expect these extreme ranges.

The biggest surprise was that there was very little research on yoga and flexibility. She found one short study. The yoga community has done some great research but more on mental health and relationships.

However in 2012 Yoga Journal did a study on the 18 million Americans that practice yoga and the number 1 reason they were practicing yoga was to increase flexibility, so there' s a big disconnect [between the research and the reasons people seek out a yoga practice].

When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer.

Jules believes that is what yoga was meant to do- yoga is using your body weight in a bunch of different positions.

But we have gone in this "push harder, harder, harder" mentality and you have 80 people in a classroom, and some have been doing handstands for 10 years, and some just got off their couch, and you're giving them the same class. That's scary.

You can't expect a yoga teacher, or any other fitness instructor, in a group setting to be able to fully take into consideration how you have used your body for its whole history. And you have to keep that in mind.

In her own practice Jules is currently playing with decreasing her flexibility. She was never hypermobile, but she's learned that she was really flexible and she was really weak in these full ranges of motion. Increasing the muscle contraction at the end range has got her feeling better than she ever has.

Home play!

I am in the process of finishing the first Liberated Body Guide (short guides of what works for what) and the first one will be the Short Hamstrings Guide ("short" in air quotes, but Limited Range of Motion in Your Hamstrings makes for a wordy title...). Because my world is fairly hamstrings-centric right now due to the guide, let's play with load instead of stretching to see how the hamstrings respond. For one week play with swapping out any stretching protocol you might have for squatting, lunging, or a Founder (from the previous episode with Eric Goodman) and see what response you get. I'm talking about body-weight movements that are not high velocity or high quantity. This is good for both the "tight" types and the Gumby types, so everybody wins!

Resources

Jules Mitchell's site

Jules' most current blog post which covers in more detail what we talked about in the interview: Stretching and Muscle Control

Restorative Yoga

Jaap van der Wal article  (It's exceptional, print it out and digest slowly...)

Jules' post that I refer to in the home play section: Are You Really Stretching What You Think You Are?