Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Part II – Sequencing: Theory and Illustration

Heel’s system is designed to uncover compensation patterns in the body.  It revolves around posture, breathing and muscle recruitment, which all go hand-in-hand.  Every movement must start in the center of the body and move outwards, effectively expanding the body, instead of starting at a distal (far from the center) area and moving inwards, which causes a collapse in the body.  Heel divides the body into zones, pictured below.  1-2-3 is the ideal muscle sequencing pattern, anything else is a liability for injury or subpar performance.

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Zone 1: The Diaphragm, Psoas and Glutes:

Hip flexion and extension is the body’s primary priority – it cannot move without it. The psoas and glutes are designed to flex and extend the hip – they are in the best position to do so. The psoas will not be working properly if the diaphragm is not working properly, because the fascia encasing the diaphragm also wraps around the psoas.  If breathing is compromised, due to stress or bad posture, the functioning of the entire body will also be compromised.  If the glute/psoas can’t do their job correctly, another set of muscles will take over in order to move. I say “set” because no single muscle can do the job of either glute or psoas.

The diaphragm is involved because the fascia holding it in place connects to the psoas.  If the diaphragm shuts down due to stress, poor posture or other reasons the psoas cannot do its job.  Due to reciprocal inhibition, the glutes cannot fire if the psoas cannot fire. If the glutes cannot fire, the hamstring will do its own job AND take over for the glutes.  Because these muscles are supposed to fire first in any movement, if you can’t breathe deeply into your belly, you won’t sequence properly.

Sequencing should be 1-2-3. However, most athletes are firing zones two or three first – this means that they fire their quad and abdominals together to make up for a misfiring psoas (leaving those muscles unable to effectively do their own jobs) or firing their shin or even hand muscles first. I was surprised to see how many athletes cannot get their brain to fire a hip flexor without tensioning the ankle joint first – these athletes may have shin splints, Achilles problems, chronically tight calves or any other disfunction stemming from the way they compensate when their feet hit the ground.  The predictive value of an athlete’s sequencing pattern has been pretty on point in my limited experience testing this in my athletes.

What does a 1-2-3 look like in action? Here is Irving Saladino, Olympic long jump champion from Panama. In this picture, notice the lack of tension immediately after takeoff – you can see it in this slow motion video as well, fingers lightly curled, jaw lightly closed, toe mildly up, but there is no excessive tension in these areas when he raises his free leg upon takeoff. His psoas muscle is able to do its own job, the hands and face (which cannot add anything to the jump) are able to relax because they are not called upon to work. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbLZKY2CRk4)

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What does a malfunctioning pattern look like? Here I am, in two separate pictures. My pattern on the right is a 3-3-3 arm – this means that in order to flex my right hip, my brain sends tension to my left hand first. My psoas on that side cannot do its own job, so the brain tries to add tension in other areas to assist in hip flexion. This is why I make a strange claw with it as I jump. This need-for-tension in my hand explains how I could hit my head on the rim, but could not get anywhere near that high with a basketball in my hand – holding a ball forces my hand to open, and as a result, my brain cuts the amount of power it gives to my hip drive. This is a setup for injury as well, because my strength levels drop when I cannot/do not close my left hand. It also explains why I have injured my left thumb so often – my hand thinks it has to do hip flexion, so when it has to do its own job it is tired or out of position. My face is also holding a ton of tension, which is only hindering my ability to jump far.  My mind-body connection had blown a fuse, it didn’t know which muscle to fire when.  While I had some success this season, I also missed almost all of it because of injury.

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The way we get it working again is first by working with the breath – if the diaphragm isn’t working nothing will work properly – and rubbing neurolymphatic reflex points that cause our brain to wake up muscles that it has stopped using, whether because of stress, bad movement patterns, or other reasons. The result is that there is a measurable difference in performance in controlled tests. That difference can be flexibility or strength, depending on the area. The pre/post test differences are often shocking – 45* to 90* range of motion in the hamstring, two fingers pushing down a raised knee to my full bodyweight on said knee. It can resolve pain and optimize performance. It’s pretty cool.

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Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” – 4 Week Reflections – Part I

This system has completely changed the way in which I look at the body and mind – posture, body language, breathing, recovery, focus, and performance.  I now activate almost every point we were shown every day, in the morning and/or before training.  I have many of my athletes do a smaller version of activation before practices/workouts.  Our reactions are below:

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What’s changed for me?

Running/jumping feels effortless

Used to sleep with a pillow between my legs because hip pain would wake me up at night, and have avoided playing basketball to avoid aggravating my hip’s FAI impingement/damaged labrum – pain is completely gone at rest and during intense activity

Low back (SI joint) pain gone a few hours after bothersome activity (heavier weight training) instead of a few days. This recovery time is still getting shorter as well (update: have not had pain in several days, for the first time in a year)

My usual head-tilted-to-the-right posture has diminished significantly

Left hip can raise up above 110* while standing, when it could not go much past 90* previously

Significantly less soreness in hamstrings after sprinting/doing posterior chain work, more soreness in the glute

Passive range of motion of the gastrocs (calves) went from barely 90* to 15-20* past that – if the calves can only get to 90* the whole body will have to compensate

Previously fractured area of my right foot no longer goes numb in the cold/with tightly laced shoes – felt a serious rush of blood in there during one particular treatment

Right knee pain can be reduced/almost entirely eliminated immediately by rubbing a particular point and repeating 1-2x daily for a few seconds – and every time it comes back it comes back less

Neck and shoulders no longer stuck in forward position – feel taller, more confident, with significantly less tension

Jaw finally jiggles while sprinting – gotten rid of harmful tension there

Have not gotten my usual monthly migraine, even with a more stressful month than usual

Butt (glute muscles) have grown significantly relative to others

Maintaining posture feels easy/effortless by focusing on breathing – in slouching I am aware of how much it restricts my breathing!

Can breathe into my belly with no extra effort

I can get out of fight or flight stress response much more quickly than before to make rational choices while under stress

I do almost no stretching now – once the right muscles fire, your body removes the tightness it created as a way of protecting itself from your dysfunctional movement patterns

What’s changed for my athletes?

I have tried the technique (mostly zone 1 – diaphragm/glute/psoas) on friends, family and a large portion of my collegiate track athletes – their reactions listed below. The first few are almost universal, while others are more specific; although I may have included a specific quote all reactions I list here were mentioned/seen in more than one athlete/client:

Improved strength – ability to contract zone 1 (psoas/glute) without tensing jaw, shin, or other distal areas to assist – meaning changed order of sequencing – more on that in part II

Ability to breath into belly more easily/more deeply

Changed posture – taller, reduced head forward/rounded shoulders position

“I feel lighter”/”like I lost 20 pounds”

“Effortless” feeling while walking/running/sprinting

“I didn’t notice much until halfway through my run – my legs didn’t feel heavy where they usually do”

Improved mechanics while running – greater push through hips, knees appear to pop up without extra effort

Relaxation – at rest, and seen while running (ability to relax jaw)

Improved ranges of motion – as drastic as hamstrings going from 45* to 90*, calves from 0* past 90* to 25* past 90* in one 10 minute session

Reduced/eliminated pain in back/hip

Reduced anxiety during strength test after treatment (less feeling of “things about to snap”)

Feeling “cleansed”

And my favorite reaction, from an athlete that was clearly not sold after treatment, halfway through the toughest workout of the week: “I just feel so loose right now. I feel amazing.” Then he proceeded to crush the rest of the workout.

The Story:

The morning of the Super Bowl was a little manic for me – our local Patriots were playing that night, and a blizzard was scheduled to hit before work the next morning. But both of those things were not really on my mind, as I was trying to reserve a spot at Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Level One seminar the following weekend, looking into the last-minute travel arrangements that would go along with it.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – the videos/articles I saw showed results, but since this system didn’t fit into my previous knowledge – touching points on the stomach to gain flexibility in the calf, for example – part of me was not sold. We worked in partners on both days, one partner for each day, to learn activation. My partners were novices in activation work, as I was – one had experience with manual therapy as an osteopath, the other was a high school track & field coach. Video from another course, but similar to what we saw (and experienced) while in Chicago.

The Seminar

**Part II of this article will explain some of the theory behind why this works**

Felt cleansed afterwards – endorphins out of this world, perhaps partially because some of the points were so painful – but I also felt that I had let go of things that my body and mind had held onto for years. Difficult to describe, but profound and worth mentioning, since I am not the only one who mentioned feeling that way.

I have studied Zen, tai chi, and chi gong for 7+ years…I thought I knew how to breathe into my belly. After that day I took breaths into my belly that I don’t think I had taken since high school, if not longer – activating the diaphragm and psoas made an impact on the quality and natural depth of my breathing.

I visited a friend that night who is living in the area – he remarked that I seemed “really excited” about my work as we talked – I had a ton of new energy, that’s for sure.

SINCE THEN

As a former athlete recovering from several injuries, a couple in particular combining to end my college athletic career early, I have always felt a feeling of the wheels about to fall off while sprinting.  It’s not a happy feeling, it is my brain receiving signals from my body that something ain’t quite right.  Upon returning to practice, I noticed myself running back and forth between coaching venues the way a kid runs – getting somewhere serves as an excuse for the joyous activity that is running. I was bouncing off of the walls with energy. That feeling of the wheels falling off being imminent was completely gone and I felt freer than I had in a long time. Later that week, there was a day in which my car’s battery died and I had to wait at the shop all day, missing both of my jobs for that day – despite the initial stress, I was able to return to a state of acceptance about missing work by focusing on my breathing and my posture. The next day, I had too much energy and a blizzard was threatening after I picked up the car – I didn’t have time for a workout at the gym, as the snow had already started to fall, I knew my sanity for the next two days holed up in my home was at stake. So I laced up my trainers and ran. A couple minutes in I noticed that I didn’t feel any tightness, so I turned it up for a stride. Before long, my “run” turned into sprints on pavement at about 85-90% intensity. In 30* weather, with the snow falling – without any tightness, without the usual anxiety accompanying maximal effort. It was awesome.

While the initial rush has worn off, I am in significantly less pain on a daily basis than I have been in at any point in the past 6 years, and my posture is effortlessly so much better. Perhaps just as important, my relationship with stress has changed – I am much more able to address situations calmly, with an open mind. By changing my posture, I can change the way that I feel and think for the better – perhaps because our posture influences the hormones our body releases. I really buy into Heel’s saying that “what’s in the body is in the mind, what’s in the mind is in the body.” Look in a mirror, close your eyes, then picture your most embarrassing moment in vivid detail. Open your eyes again. From demonstrations I’ve done with my athletes, 100% have adopted a forward neck, rounded shoulders, hip-out-of-alignment posture, sometimes even with crossed arms. How can you perform in that position?? Any trainer, coach or mom can tell you that a body looking like that cannot safely and effectively perform. On the flip side, the posture that kids adopt on their best days – a light, open posture – is exactly what Heel’s system builds. This is the position that trainers dream about their athletes getting into, and coaches picture when they picture their team succeeding. Don’t take my word for it, watch people on their best and worst days. Change the body and you change the mind, change the mind and you change the body.

To learn more about activation, and to try it yourself, contact me at swuest22@gmail.com,

check out this article (http://www.joekelly.me/pdfs/Muscle%20Activation.pdf) in Runner’s World UK,

or check out this list of US practitioners (http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/)

I have to thank Joel Smith, Tony Holler, Dr. Tom Nelson and Chris Korfist for providing enough information/excitement for me to fly out to Chicago to learn from Heel in person. Smith, at just-fly-sports.com for posted an interview with Chris Korfist in which he mentions Heel’s Activation work – causing me to google around and see Tony Holler’s articles on Activation, Nelson’s videos/website (activateanddominate.com) on the activation work he does with Nazareth’s football team, along with actual injury statistics and player/coach reactions.

You can read Smith’s articles here:

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/epic-speed-training-interview-with-chris-korfist/

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/chris-korfist-interview-on-ankle-rocker-speed-and-vertical-jumping/

You can read Holler’s articles here:

http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/

http://itccca.com/8430/2014/10/you-only-know-what-you-know/

http://www.freelapusa.com/3-reasons-why-activation-is-a-game-changer/

http://www.freelapusa.com/hamstrings-activation-and-speed/

http://itccca.com/8163/2014/09/speed-never-sleeps/

How do you make improvements in athletics? It’s not during your workouts. So then when does it occur?

I put in a lot of work on this track. However, my gains occured while I was recovering from the grueling workouts.

I put in a lot of work on this track. However, my gains occured while I was recovering from the grueling workouts.

You may read the title and say wait a minute, Pavan has really lost it. Is he really audacious enough to posit that improvements do NOT occur during workouts? YES I am.  Do not get me wrong, workouts are a vital step towards achieving your full potential in athletics however, they are NOT everything. So if it is not your workouts where improvements occur then where do your improvement occur? It’s during your recovery time in which improvements occur. This occurs for a whole host of reasons, which I will not delve into in this post (but a future posts will talk about specific ways to modulate things in this cycle to speed recovery), but it is absolutely vital you internalize this concept.

I never understood the importance of recovery during my high school career and it is what single handedly halted my progress towards achieving a life long dream of playing division one basketball and worst of all it sapped my intrinsic love and joy for the game of basketball. As I began my collegiate track and field career I thought I had understood this concept but I really hadn’t until our Coach Gabe Sanders (follow him on twitter @CoachGSanders) gave an absolutely inspiration speech after probably one of my hardest practices during my entire career at Boston University.

During the pre-season in the Fall it is almost a rite of passage for the new members of the team to complete the “Summit” workout. Summit Avenue is a really long and steep hill in Brookline Ma. However, a hill does NOT do justice to the absolutely monster that summit avenue. If you live in Brookline or surrounding areas I implore you to check out Summit Avenue if you want a great workout.

Sometimes the coaching staff is feeling generous and lets us just finish workouts with a lift. However, this day we also had a tempo pyramid of 100-150-250-150-100. Afterwards all of us were absolutely spent. We finished our 3 hour marathon workout as a team completing a general strength circuit. Afterwards we were all laying in the infield (tennis courts) in the Track and Tennis Center when Coach Sanders began to address the team. I was absolutely floored by what he said.

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“Hey I am really proud of you guys today, but you did NOT get better from today’s workout. The workout does not result in the improvement. You are going to run faster, jump higher, and become stronger by appropriately recovering from the workout. It’s the small things, such as making sure you get enough sleep, eating enough food, spending that extra 5-10 minutes foam rolling and/or stretching that will allow you to improve.” 

It was not until this moment that I truly internalized the importance of recovery. The fact I only understood this 7 years into my athletic career is what motivated me to write this post. It seems so counter intuitive in today’s day and age that taking a step back and taking time away from what you want to be great in will actually help. Society conditions us to believe that we have to constantly be doing more and more otherwise we are being complete sloths. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Recovery is the most important aspect of any training program. 

To further re-iterate the point he made in his speech Coach Sanders sent another very uplifting email accompanied with the video below. However, I was stunned why such a profound video was not more popular on YouTube. Then it hit me that people would much rather watch one of the typical motivation pump-ups which gets one feeling super pumped to go out and accomplish their task. However, that is just a feeling, and like all feelings it is just a fleeting experience and will not fuel sustained excellence. Like the video below re-iterates it is the small tasks day in and day out that lead to success. Most important are the small tasks that ensure that you are adequately recovered that will allow you to maximize your athletic potential. This concept is very similar to what is extolled in the compound effect, and if you have not read it check out the book review of it here.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

What is Wiggin’s secret to his crazy athleticism? The power of learning HOW to Run.

It is an understatement to say that Andrew Wiggins is an athletic specimen. What is the cause of his unparalleled athletic ability? (leaping ability, speed, and body control). Obviously genetics play a huge role as his Father (Mitchel Wiggins) is a bona fide NBA veteran and his Mother (Marita Payne-Wiggins) an Olympic track and field sprinter for team Canada. However, genetics can not account for the entirety of his athletic ability as his older brother Nick does NOT display the same jaw dropping athleticism Andrew exhibits on a daily basis.

So then what separates Wiggins from the pack? His ability to run well. You may say wait a second, you are telling me NBA players do not know how to run? If someone had told me that before my I began my NCAA track career I would laugh right in their face. I used to get offended when track teammates would make fun of me during workouts and admonish me that basketball players can not run well. But as I got further along in my track career I really understood that these statements were true because I began to see the beautiful nuances and intricacies of running, which you can only appreciate if is your main goal to run faster.

For the vast majority of basketball players running is NOT something they are concerned about. I know this was the case for me and it is something I dearly regret. For any aspiring athlete, I would absolutely mandate they take part in some form of Track and Field training/competition. It not only will drastically improve your speed and first step (it is night and day for me) but it will also develop a more refined body awareness and teach you how to truly achieve proper hip extension.

Andrew Wiggins is a perfect example of the power of consistent and focused track and field training. The reason he is so night and day above his peers athletically because he is essentially a world class track athlete with basketball skills They are quite a few phenomenal track and field athletes right now in the world, but what separates Wiggins from them is his ability to display and use his athleticism in the context of a basketball game.

But how can you leverage this knowledge right now to start to take your athletic ability and therefore your game to another level? Well the first thing, is that the majority of this work needs to be done in the summer, while NOT competing in other tournaments in a structured and progressive manner to allow your body to adapt appropriately. But there is one thing you can being to do right now to begin to improve your athletic ability. It is walking. I have mentioned this in a previous post, and it may seem counter intuitive, but just like a baby crawls before he/she walks. You need to walk before you run. Walking is much more inefficient then running which allows you to rapidly build up strength and cardiovascular training. In addition, it does so in a very low impact way that also has great benefits for body composition and cognition. I recommend the first thing you do in the morning is go put on your running shoes and go walk for ~ 15 min. Then every day after try to increase the distance you walk. Once you begin to plateau how far you can walk then begin to increase the time you walk.

I unfortunately do not have rigorous double blind randomized clinical trials to substantiate that this will definitively help your athletic ability but in my experience instituting this ritual has had a super positive impact on my athletic ability, body composition and cognition. For those of you who are super keen I will be posting more detailed posts later on about how to build a structured program to improve your speed and therefore athleticism. However, in the mean time if you have any questions please feel to reach out to me on Facebook (Pavan Mehat) or LinkedIn.

New Directions for Training and Rehabilitation for Sports: Where We Are, Where We Are Going, And How To Stay Ahead Of The Curve

As always, a summary is included at the end of the article.

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Many athletes have knee pain, and are referred to a knee doctor.  This specialist has likely spent years on end learning all about the knee, problems it can have and how to correct these problems.  One recent revelation in both sports medicine and strength training is that fixing the knee by focusing only on the muscles across it (quads and hamstrings) doesn’t really seem to work!  During a squat or a running movement, the knee will only move in a direction that the hip joint and ankle joint allow it to – meaning that if you experience knee pain, it’s probably not your knee’s fault, and a doctor ignorant of what is going on above and below the knee can only help so much.  Looking at the above picture, if you put a healthy knee in those positions, you will be in pain.  A doctor or coach only looking at the affected area can treat symptoms, but if those symptoms are caused by something else, relief from those symptoms will be short lived.  The same trend can be seen in treatment of shoulder injuries, by looking at movement of the thoracic spine.  Where the spine is not strong or mobile, the shoulder will take more of the force.  Prehabilitation by strength coaches and rehabilitation by physical therapists and athletic trainers takes this into account.  We are headed in the right direction!

So what’s missing?  A look at a few fields of research relevant to athletes, where they are, and where they are going.

#1)  Food Combining – we are at a point where we have studied what to eat quite a bit.  While as an industry, we are by no means at a level of mastery about what is the best food to eat, American science has almost completely ignored the way that different foods interact within the body when they are eaten together, and what types of foods should be eaten at what time of day, and how the preparation of food influences not only the amount of vitamins and nutrients in a laboratory.  More importantly, the preparation and combination of food influences how the food is absorbed into the body.  Ask a sick person: nutrients don’t just go into your body and magically make you stronger, they must be absorbed!  With digestion in mind, the Ukrainians, Russians, Chinese and several other countries’ athletic coaches have strong opinions on when to eat what, what goes together, even when to drink water* (spoiler alert: they think we’re doing it all wrong).

#2)  Fascia – The current assumptions that any western coach, orthopedic doctor, trainer or therapist uses is based off of Da Vinci’s belief that the structure within us (bones, muscles) can be explained by the structures that we have built (bridges, etc.)  We say that the quadriceps contract, and act upon the patella tendon to straighten the knee, much like a pulley system.  This understanding of the human body is finally being called into question.  And for good reason:  If it explained the way we worked, modern sports medicine would be a whole lot more effective than it is!  The contracting and lengthening (concentric/eccentric contracting) of a muscle does not explain how we walk, or we would be exhausted every time we went grocery shopping.  We rely on the elastic nature of the fascia to hold our body together* – that’s how Shaolin monks can hold their fighting stances for hours on end – the stances that their grandmasters decided upon were carefully selected based on an understanding of the body’s tensegrity, rendering something that looks as inefficient for fighting as a horse stance an extremely stable combat stance.  An understanding of fascia helps one to understand that literally every part of your body is involved in every movement that you do – if you’ve ever broken your arm, you will notice that your whole body is sore as you walk around in a sling, because a small change in the way you carry one area of the body has an effect on every other part of the system.

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An interesting thing to note is that Chinese fighters are taught to use Qi to hold their poses – Qi flows along the Chinese Meridians, which line up almost perfectly with the Anatomy Trains along which fascia run that Thomas Myers and other researchers have called attention to in recent decades.

If you need further proof that this is useful, here is a picture of World Athletics Center (a track & field training center responsible for many Olympians, American and international) athletes using fascial stretching:

WAC stretch

#3) Putting it all together – If you’ve read up on fascia already, you know that nutrition and hydration (NOT the same thing as how much water you drink – diet and lifestyle have a huge effect on how much body your body needs/uses/how efficiently it uses water – but that’s for another post) have a HUGE effect on the quality of the body’s tissues.  Fascia, muscles, tendons, ligaments, even bones act differently when you give them different building blocks.  Certain nutritional deficiencies can show up as tight muscles – for example, a deficiency in magnesium causes athletes to “feel” tight, and are often found stretching like their lives depend on it even if they have normal or above average range of motion.  Certain foods, supplements and herbs can change recovery times from injury, and actually aid in the elasticity (speed, jumping ability implicated here) of parts of your body.*

Connecting something like the amount of stress an athlete is under and how that will necessarily have an effect on the way that athlete recovers from workouts is very difficult, but necessary.  Did you know that cortisol (the hormone released by chronic stress) actually blocks calcium’s absorption in your gut?  I’m sure I’m not the only athlete whose injury woes coincided with other major life stresses!!

Also, did you know that the mineral content and quality of your diet in general affect how your body will react to stress?  I never realized how calmly I could sit in traffic until I had completely overhauled my diet.

Summary:

-The symptom (i.e. an injured knee) is not necessarily the cause (i.e. the knee pain is caused by a dysfunctional hip)

-One must look at the whole system!

-“Specialists,” doctors or coaches that only specialize in one area of the body or in one skill, will often misunderstand a problem due to their narrow lens

-How we absorb the nutrients of food is more important than the nutrients of food as tested in a laboratory*

-The nutritional benefits we will gain from a food can be exponentially enhanced or completely diminished based on what we eat it with*

-When we eat also matters*

-Looking at the human body as if it were a series of isolated cables and pulleys has proved incorrect

-The “stuff” that holds us together is elastic, and this needs to be accounted for in any working model of the human body, especially for athletes

-Anatomy Trains, or patterns of fascial recruitment in the body, match up with traditional Chinese Meridians.  Shaolin Monks have used knowledge of these meridians for thousands of years to pull off jaw-dropping feats of athleticism

-Although manual therapy and stretching can help improve the quality of this fascia, nutrition and hydration play huge roles as well

-Nutrition, lifestyle, training, mental health, social lives…Everything is interconnected!

-The mineral content and quality of your diet affect how your body will react to stress

-Cortisol (the hormone released by chronic stress) actually blocks calcium’s absorption in your gut

*Future post alert!

Kim Collins’ Secrets for Longevity: After 2 Decades of International Competion

Came across this interview with Kim Collins today from Spikes Magazine.

For those that don’t know, Kim Collins is an absolute legend, hitting a personal best this year in the 100m dash, 18 years after his first appearance in an Olympic semi-finals in 1996.

For any track & field athlete this is a worthwhile read, but especially sprinters – here’s a guy that has remained relevant in international sport for two full decades.

You first broke in to the world’s elite in 2000, and you’re still there. Kim Collins, what is your secret?

“I try to preserve my body. I think injuries are preventable. Sometimes I’ll race and I feel something, I just have to chill.”

“The problem is, when it comes to training, it’s what we call volume and intensity. It means: the distance you run, how fast you run it, and how many times.

“Both volume and intensity cannot be the same, but for some athletes it is – and it’s too high.

“One guy told me he was running 20 x 100 metres all out in a training session. I would never do more than 3 x 100 metres at high intensity.

“Very rarely, you go all out in training, and I think that’s the mistake most people make. They come to training every day and want to break a personal record or world record.

“You come to train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and then you compete on Saturday. And you wonder why you’re running slower in competition than in training. It’s a vicious cycle.”

You mentioned that a lot of sprinters overdo it in training. How do you do it?

“I start out slow, probably running 17-18 seconds for the 100m. You get your body accustomed to that. It’s low intensity, but high in volume. You look for form, you look for technique.

“When your body gets accustomed to that, you take it down a notch, and you go a little bit faster. As you get faster, you do fewer amounts of reps. What that does, it teaches your body to run 100 metres. It teaches you to run. And then you get faster, and faster and faster.

“People want to go on top of the top. We call it ‘top-a-top’. It doesn’t exist. If you’re on top, there’s no top on top of that top.

“You’re trying to ask for something that’s not there, and that is when your body begins to break down.”

When did you learn all this?

“Trial and error. Back in high school, you’d come to training and do 10 x 200 metres all out. For me, that’s not good. I was in pain for days.

“When I won [world 100m gold] in Paris, I was training three days a week, some people got upset and said ‘that’s not good’. But it’s about understanding, and not doing too much.

“Even when you go the gym and see the guys that live there, you cannot lift like them. But still people attempt to do it. When it comes to listening to your body, a lot of the time you feel a little tweak and instead of getting treatment, you want to push further and still wants to compete.”

Do you go the gym much?

For no more than an hour a day, about three to four times a week. A lot of people forget we are human beings. We’re not indestructible. There are days when you’re in bed and not feeling well. You say, ‘how do you feel?’ There are days when we have to say we’re not up to it. We’ll stay in.

Via spikes.iaaf.org

What is this, and why should I keep reading?

This blog is everything I wished I knew as a high school and college athlete.

Sustainable athletics is health and fitness for life.  This blog is designed to help you understand the key components of health, with particular emphasis on helping you live a competitive, happy, active lifestyle in the present, while planting seeds to help you to continue to enjoy that lifestyle in the future.  In order to make serious improvements as an athlete and as a human being, you need time.  You must learn be sustainable, to allow yourself to be able to put the work in necessary to improve.

How I got here:

In 2005, the track & field coach at my school saw potential in this tall, lanky, scrawny freshman sitting on the end of the bench on the school’s basketball team.  What followed was an absolute love affair with the jumping events – I gave up parties, desserts, and trained my butt off for years, and the work paid off – I came in second at states in Massachusetts and competed for both the University of Maryland and Boston University track & field teams, earning all-conference honors at the latter.  I went from being barely able to grab the rim and hang on my freshman year in high school, to being able to hit my head on it 8 years later.

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However, all of that progress came with a price – I missed more than half of the competitions that my teams competed in due to injury.  As much as I hated it, it became my story: a ton of potential, but never fulfilled.  From 2006 to 2014, I was cleared to run in the month of December only one of those years.  Combined year and a half in a boot, blah blah blah…don’t want to ask for sympathy, plenty had it a lot worse.  However, my injuries were pretty consistently stress fractures – 2 in high school, 8 in college.  I looked everywhere for info, usually in the wrong places, but I occasionally found something, and later found myself able to better separate solid information from flaky, non-evidence-based information (for example: the nutritionist that told me that I should “snack more” to deal with my injuries, while not checking in on trace mineral levels).  I also work with athletes every day, and have come up with a lot of quality information about health and athletics.  That’s what I plan on sharing with this blog.

You might notice that a lot of the information here is focused on nutrition, and practical ideas for preparing, cooking and enjoying food.  While training is of the utmost importance, and this blog will get to it in time, I’d say that there is already a lot of information out there, from physical therapists, coaches, and others.  I have read numerous books on coaching and training athletes where there is 0 mention of what we put into our bodies.  This is absurd.

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TRAINING MEANS NOTHING IF YOU DON’T RECOVER FROM IT.

No one hits a personal best after a hard workout.  It is the adaptation that takes place as you recover that is most important.  If you do not eat, you will not recover.  Likewise, if you eat crappy foods, or crappy combinations of foods, you will recover in a crappy manner.  This is often overlooked.  Some still believe that calories-in, calories-out, is relevant.  It isn’t.  Some still believe that the argument is about carbohydrates vs. protein vs. fat, their ratio etc.  This is important…but the quality of the food that you eat matters more.  Different ratios work for different individuals, and if we are talking athletics (which we are) then it depends on the sport.  Anecdotally, I crave and perform better off of a diet with an emphasis on protein when I am lifting and training for speed and power, while I thrive off of grains and carbohydrates while I am either not training or doing more aerobic work.  These things matter.  I have noticed that this sort of information (while there are many different opinions and some contradicting views) is out there.

However, the most important thing is removing foods that are toxic to your body, or empty of nutritional value, and replacing them with nutritionally power-packed foods.  You can only consume so much food in a day, so if performance is your goal, you must get as many vitamins, minerals and energy out of the food that you do consume.  I look at someone eating pasta as a meal, with no vegetables or meat – it’s a waste of digestive fluids and actually toxic, if you compare it to something such as toasted buckwheat, which because it has not had the nutritious bran and germ removed from its seed, is power-packed with minerals, does not spike blood sugar levels, and actually does other helpful things as well, such as stabilizing mood (to be discussed further down the line).  The way I think of it is this:  Eating the white pasta is like driving three hours out of your way to a 7-11 when you need groceries, while eating the buckwheat is like walking to the large, inexpensive yet fresh and healthy, grocery store down the street.  By choosing nutritionally subpar foods, you are making it harder on yourself by driving a great distance (i.e. straining your digestive system, hormones, and other parts of your body) but really finding very little of value once you get there (after your body is strained by digesting this processed food, your body has very little to gain from the pasta except for quick, sugar energy).  Additionally, you are not going to spend (much) more money, and what you spend is an investment to help you avoid orthopedic and other medical visits in the future.  Your health is the best investment you can make.

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So what will this blog do for me?

Practical advice on what to get rid of, what to add, and how to to that – including recipes.  As someone who has worked two jobs at a time while being a full-time graduate student, my recipes are not the typical ones you’ll find on a cooking blog.  They are as quick and easy as possible, there aren’t too many frills to them (I don’t have a million ingredients in my cabinet), and perhaps most importantly, they will dispel the myth that eating healthy is expensive.  If need be, I can (and have) adjusted my diet to live on $5 a day in food – you can barely get a full meal at McDonald’s nowadays for that kind of money.  I believe that this piece is the most important for all people, not only athletes, because that myth needs to die hard.

We see plenty of health advice focused around what to get rid of – we will tell you what to cut, for sure, but also what to replace it with.  I often see individuals hear of the dangers of certain foods, avoid them like the plague for a while, then go back to them.  Why?  Because they left an empty hole in their place.  This is why very few will keep to a low-carb diet, even though it has helped many to lose weight in the short term.  We gain from cutting carbs, which in our society are usually nutritionally devoid of value, but since we do not find some form of “better” carbohydrate to replace it with, our diets are deficient, and our body knows this.

This is not a bible of information – it is intended to spark conversation and to give you new, healthier ideas about how to live your life on and off of the playing field that I find most athletes are lacking.

So, what am I aiming to live without?

Overly processed foods.

Some may be surprised to know that this includes things such as:

Soda – which you may have known aren’t the best for you, but you should know that they literally weaken bones (!!!!!!)

Commercial fruit juice

Low-fat dairy products

“Whole grain” cereals, breads, and pastas (which lose many of their minerals, vitamins and nutrients during industrial cooking processes – notice the routine addition of certain vitamins and minerals, to make up for those lost)

Anything with added sugar, which is most commercially available foods – you might not know that a Yoplait yogurt has sugar equal to many desserts – you must look at the labels of foods!!

Vegetable oils & margarines – you’d be surprised where you can find these (all processed foods, chips, cereals, and salad dressings, among other places)

Anything from a can

And most alcoholic drinks, excluding wine and “hoppy” beers

So, what do I replace these with?

Well, there are a lot of options.  However, most of them require planning and preparation.  You must learn to cook.  You must know what is in your food, and if you don’t make it yourself you just don’t know.  Many “health foods” are processed in ways that ruin their nutritional content.  You’re going to have to soak grains and legumes, find fresh produce, make your own chicken stock (more on that later) and learn to prepare food in a way that the body can easily and effectively assimilate it.  National Geographic ran a great piece in September of 2014 on “The Evolution of Diet,” which stated that what made humans who we are is not what we ate, but how we prepared it – we are the only species that cooks, the only species that will not survive healthily on raw food alone.  This article also proves wrong the misconception that our “paleo” hunter-gatherer ancestors ate mostly meat – except for areas that were covered in snow much of the year, plant foods (starches included) have been a huge part of cuisine even before we started to grow them ourselves during the agricultural revolution.  They go on to suggest, not surprisingly, that humans are actually pretty bad at hunting, so we are very used to subsisting on grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and the like.

The nutritional content of food is important, but during cooking and digestion, that content changes.  Even different combinations of food eaten in the same meal has a profound effect on the net health effect of said meal.  This is why Traditional Chinese Medicine warns against eating salads in fall, winter, and spring.  It’s too hard on your body to absorb that nutrition, you pay more than you benefit.  Upcoming posts will shed light on both traditional and modern perspectives on food.  What we eat is less important than how we eat it.

What else are we talking about on this blog?

Although food has a huge role – it’s how we get energy from the environment – there are other things (i.e. training and lifestyle) that influence how our body uses said energy to rebuild itself in a more effective way, both for general health and athletics.

We’re talking about why most plyometrics are used in a way in which they were never intended, and why they often hurt more than they help.

We’re talking about the specific impacts of training and nutrition (and sleep!) on the health of your bones.

We’re talking about why salads and uncooked leafy greens are bad for your health….unless it’s summer.

We’re talking about glycosaminoglycans (the larger group of molecules that include the popular joint health supplements glucosamine and chondroitin), why you probably aren’t getting enough of them in a modern diet, and why this is a HUGE problem for athletes.

We’re talking about the limitations of self-massage (foam rolling), and other modalities such as gua sha and instrument assisted soft tissue therapy that can speed your return from injury – but also why their necessity could signal other problems.

We’re talking about the problems with low/non-fat dairy products, and where the calcium from these products goes if you remove the fat (hint: it isn’t where you want it).

We’re talking about fascia, and its importance in training athletes.

We’re talking about organ meats, sprouted grains, chicken feet!

We’re talking about applying wisdom from traditional (chinese, ayurvedic) medicines to athletic performance.

We’re talking about the differences between the way that USA’s training differs from the Ukraine’s.

We’re talking about why food that tastes bad is probably bad for you, and vice versa – provided that you don’t add anything toxic to it.

We’re talking about mindfulness in training, and how Bruce Lee and Kobe Bryant used this to become the amazing athletes that they were.

We’re talking about why so many athletes keep getting hurt, and why the problem is currently getting worse.

And much, much more!