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/