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When I’m healthy, I get hurt

When I’m healthy, I get hurt.

That’s just how it is, and it probably goes all the way back to my childhood. Having a young one at home who is as accident prone as I was (am) helps me to remember those childhood injuries all too clearly.

I’ve long used the phrase, “When I hurt, I’m not healthy . . . and when I’m healthy, I get hurt.” It’s a little bit of a joke, but each part helps explain the other. When you are in pain, you make many decisions that simply serve to remove you from that pain. You aren’t using your soundest judgement because you’ve got a constant alarm going off: the way you feel is not the way you want to feel. 

Modern society offers quick cover ups. Because of this, pain can no longer teach. Let’s try and remember our Aristotle: “We cannot learn without pain.”

When you do feel good, you are usually active enough (i.e. work/play/train/compete hard enough) to over-exert or hurt yourself.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 59 of Gray Cook Radio

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We live in that constant flux between recovering from the last mistake or mistreatment of ourselves and looking for another opportunity to feel good enough to cause the same problems all over again.

I don’t know if I’ve really gotten better at this or not. I think one of the reasons I don’t get hurt as much is because I have a lot of residual pain from some of my previous misbehaviors. Some days, I wake up in pain and spend a little time trying to do the maintenance or corrective work to get me out of it. That’s reality.

When I do feel good, I’ll find a way to hurt myself. I’ll work out harder than I should. I’ll travel farther than I should. I stay up a little bit later and do a little more research than I should.

When I feel good, I’m going to do something that I shouldn’t do . . . and that something is probably going to hurt me.

How do you become a competent self-regulator? How do you get good at it?

If you don’t self-regulate, many other things will regulate you.

So, how do you self-regulate?
Listen to your body,
Understand movement, and

Know the resources that are physically available to you and the different ways you can be resourceful with them.

Simply put, that’s the dance that gets you through it.

We don’t really have a good gauge for balance in our lives, and yet all the ancient wisdom tells us that balance is the key to life. Balance is when life is at its best.

Anything that can take you out of balance, even though it might be different from where you are now, ultimately, it is not as sustainable . . . and it won’t create as much independence as balance does.

Since I graduated from PT school and became a strength coach in 1990, I’ve had many discussions about fitness and rehabilitation and have realized that, when it comes to personal fitness and rehabilitation, most of us will want independence and sustainability as much as any other goal. When we are injured or when we’re unfit—when we need rehabilitation or fitness education—we don’t want to be unnecessarily dependent. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be open to education, but at some point, the educator can fade away while the education remains.

It’s funny how we expect it to work that way in everything else we learn . . . but in fitness, we have dependence. In health, we have dependence. We can’t seem to learn enough to regulate our lives, our lifestyles and our activity loads in a way that keeps us in harmony with our environments and our social connections.

We sleep too much. Or we sleep too little.
We eat too much. Or we eat too little.
We have poor quality in each of the above. Or, we have great quality.

Somehow, we always find a way to screw up one of these dynamics:

The way we move.
Our social interactions in our environment.
Our food.
Our sleep.

Always check quality first . . .

Robb Wolf’s book Wired to Eat goes deeper into these four aspects of life. Highly recommended.

One of those things, we’ll do to excess and one we’ll do to a level that isn’t sustainable and doesn’t create independence.

My wife and I have had a recent opportunity to volunteer by teaching Physical Education classes (K-7) at a local elementary school. I want to see how the next generation is moving now, and see if there’s anything I can do to help them improve. But I’m not just constructing functional games and offering up new pieces of challenging equipment—The entire dynamic intrigues me.

I’ve been fascinated by the various statistics showing that America’s educational systems is lagging behind much of the world. It’s true, even though our classrooms are climate controlled, our school facilities are more modern and our teacher-to-student ratio is closer to optimal. There are places with far fewer resources that are educating kids better than us using resourceful means. One of the things they do is to introduce a problem at the beginning of class and let the class discover the solution, as opposed to the teacher simply reading the answer to a question that the kids haven’t pondered.

However, when we teach physical education, it is, first and foremost, good to understand who you are working with and what their movement abilities are. That’s why I’m an advocate of screening and that’s why I think screening should be part of physical education. So that’s what we’re doing in out K-7 classes.

That said, I don’t want screening to eclipse the work that can happen when we unleash the the human movement pattern learning system. You see, it’s not until we encounter a movement learning obstacle that we start getting resourceful with the resources that we currently have. That’s where learning starts. Learning to problem solve is a skill that we prize mentally but shy away from in the physical world. When you handle free weight or an obstacle, you must problem solve. When you sit on a machine, you just need to push, pull and pretend that it’s real work (note: intense expressions help.)

So with these kids, my wife and I have been creating physical problems to solve. When you are facing a wall, a box or a balance beam, you cannot instantly get stronger.

In those situations, you are forced to use what you have. That frustration creates a question . . . and that question will embrace an answer. Some kids will do well on an obstacle. Other kids won’t. The first thing we’ll do is stop the class 10 minutes early and we’ll talk. We’ll discuss why and how to handle this challenge if we have it again tomorrow. What would you do differently? If you had a few weeks to prepare, what would you do differently?

Kids will quickly learn that some things will create an instantaneous response—better technique, better breathing, better focus, slower approach, more rapid balance decisions—all these things we can do to anticipate the activity. What are some things we can do that rely on physical adaptation, realizing that I can’t change my strength today . . . but in about 2.5 weeks, I can probably demonstrate a much stronger version of myself. This isn’t because my muscles are larger. It’s that my brain is better organized.

We watch them process this message, realizing that it may change their physical path in life. Physically smarter beats physically harder in the long game of life.

We want to use these physical obstacles/opportunities not just to run kids through blind drills to burn their calories and get rid of their wiggles. We want to do it to challenge their brains and their bodies at the same time. Physical problem solving is no different than mathematical problem solving or communication and language problem solving. We simply need to use better symbols, better communication, better accountability and better baselines for our postures and patterns. I think we can.

Until that day comes, we should probably take some lessons that we hope the kids of the future will be provided with. What are they?

Everything that we do, every day, is physical problem solving. Rest and regeneration . . . Rehabilitation when you are injured may help you get back quicker. Engaging your confidence against reality (whether you are in competition in work or fitness) will help make you a better self-regulator. The longer I have worked in movement, the clearer this observation has become:

It’s not just how you move . . . It’s how you think you move.

Screening movement is one basic way to look at movement confidence and movement reality. There are a few different scenarios that can play out here:

1) You believe your movement screen is average or better than average, and it isn’t. In this case, your confidence is greater than your reality and you are likely to take on challenges that could prove unhealthy. (As Aristotle said, “We can’t learn without pain.)
2) Your reality is greater than your movement confidence. In this second situation, you will probably unnecessarily avoid healthy challenges. Bottom line – you may not get injured, but you also won’t be fully developed.
3)Your movement reality and movement confidence are matched. Go for it. Start self-regulating and have fun.

I opened my first book, Athletic Body in Balance, with the inscription from the Greek temple at Delphi: “Know Thyself.” If you know yourself, you can regulate yourself and you are well on the way toward sustainable physical independence.

There’s no reason that we have to hurt as much as we do. And when we’re healthy, we don’t need to go and get hurt because we are simply out of touch with our ability to recognize and write movement patterns.

You can choose to learn from physical screens and tests and proactively start to customize your physical challenges and experiences . . . or you can wait for pain to help you wake up. Your call.

Need to play catch up on all things MOVEMENT?
Here are some of my favorite lectures, conveniently in one collection:

Gray Cook lectures

My Body Let Me Down . . . Again

I know I’ve thought this . . . maybe I’ve even said it.

“My body let me down.”

Beyond my personal usage, it’s a very frequent statement I hear as a coach and as a physical therapist. It’s often how people refer to a performance that wasn’t up to speed or an injury that was unforeseen.

For a healthy perspective, you could also flip the statement. Maybe you let your body down? Maybe your body has been sending you signals for quite some time that things aren’t right: feeling tired all the time, less than optimal energy, poor flexibility, a problem on one side or pain with simple movements. All of these things are signals; the only way your body really has to communicate with you.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 58 of Gray Cook Radio

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

A simple checklist could help you quickly locate the source(s) of your body’s problem with you:

Any boxes unchecked?

In today’s highly-quantified life, with Fitbits and all kinds of gadgets that will analyze your body’s natural rhythms, frequencies and tendencies, the one thing you’re failing to recognize is a need to be self-aware. You may not be a self-regulating organism. Some of the best athletes of all time just know their body so well they don’t need the Fitbit. Well, you can use a Fitbit (or any similar device) to get to get to that level of self-regulation.

Start deciding to write down if you had a good night’s sleep before you check and see if a device told you that you did. See if you actually had an awesome trail run (by both time and feel) before you look at your optimal heart rate and your recovery. Can you estimate your state of readiness before a new app tells you about your heart rate variability and your current state of readiness?

You don’t need a device to see if you’re letting down your body. If you have pain with simple movements or during exercise and don’t do anything about it, you’re letting your body down. It’s the only way your body has to speak to you in that pattern. You are so self-unaware of poor movement patterns that your body finally had to use its loudest volume to communicate with you.

Regardless of what your device says about your quantity/quality of sleep, if you’re tired when you wake up in the morning, get out of bed and do something for three or four minutes, like a sun salutation or a few simple stretches. Roll around on the ground. After about two to three minutes, you’ll find out you weren’t tired at all. You got plenty of rest. You were just transitioning very poorly. You were missing that window to go ahead and jumpstart your body and send it some signals as it was sending you some signals. Learn to live in harmony with your body.

We look at a lot of signals. With Functional Movement Screening and Y-Balance Testing, we can easily see when your body’s function is actually under your expectations for the activities you’re getting ready to go into. Does it mean you’ll have an injury? No. does it mean you’ll have a less than optimal opportunity to become better? Probably.

There is a constantly recurring theme in movement screening and movement testing research: those who compared the most poorly to the majority of most groups also required greater resources to accomplish the same results as the majority.

Ankle mobility is a very, very important factor in the fitness and athletic communities. What’s an indicator you can figure out right now? If you’ve lost your deep squat, the ability to sit deeply, almost butt-on-heels without weight, just in your living room or outside, with or without shoes on, then there could be an ankle mobility problem. So, if you’ve lost your deep squat, that’s the first signal that you are no longer moving as authentically as your forefathers. Or a three-year-old. Secondly, if you have pain with movement that’s not extreme movement (not intense movement, not even loaded movement or extreme movement it’s simply an average movement pattern: touching your toes, lunging on each side, taking a knee and standing back up) that’s your body sending you a signal.

Inability to perform movement patterns and put your body into shapes and postures that are absolutely normal is an indicator that there’s dysfunction. Look at somebody else doing a movement or look at a textbook picture of a movement. Can you reproduce that movement? Can you read and write the language of movement patterns?

If you see a squat, attempt one, and actually perform a hip hinge, then you cannot read and write movement patterns.

If this were English class, I’d question your literacy and your fundamentals. But, if it’s a day at the gym, we suspend logic and just load on some weight, and see how much you can push . . . then post the experience on Facebook.

Listen to the signals your body is sending you. If you’re having a hard time reading those signals, ask for help. The Functional Movement Screen was designed to help start the conversation. Most people think it was designed to finish the conversation. It was not. If your movement screen is normal, it doesn’t mean all things are well. There are lots of other tests we need to do to solidify, say, your performance and your durability. If your movement screen is clear, but you’re having fitness problems, we can then actually screen your fitness and fundamental capacities. If your movement screen is dysfunctional, we can actually put your fitness goals over to the side for a minute, work intensely for about a week on corrective strategy, and see if we actually changed your movement screen. If we did, we could go back and measure that fitness issue that was giving you a problem. If it’s gone, what you thought was a fitness problem was simply a functional problem.

This occurs so often with the participants at our FCS courses that it seems staged. I assure you that it isn’t, but it does demonstrate that we decide on the problem before we measure or baseline all of the potential sources or complicating factors.

Last, but not least, if you have pain during a movement screen, the movement screen has done its job. It’s not going to tell you too much more about that pain, other than the site where it occurred and the movement pattern that provoked that symptom. From that standpoint, we’ve got a nice safety net. A professional, like a chiropractor, certified athletic trainer, physical therapist or a physician trained in the SFMA can take that same movement pattern language that we use in the movement screen to help engineer your fitness and actually construct a rehabilitation plan that’s based on your movement pattern behaviors, not just look at you like a bag of body parts.

If you want to know how to listen to your body, just start listening to your body. Start listening to the signals I’ve been discussing. Follow some of the guidelines I’ve given you. If you’re having a hard time just getting reintroduced to your body, that’s when sometimes a single session of a movement screen is worth 10 workouts from the exact same professional. A single step in the wrong direction can be easily fixed, but 2,000 steps in that wrong direction will require serious time and energy to correct.

Map makers and geographers will tell you, “The map is not the territory. It’s simply a representation. The territory is much different, much more diverse, and ever-changing. The map is a fixed set of images that simply relates to the territory.” Looking at an anatomy book and pointing out your painful body part, that’s playing with a map. Going through a movement screen, going through corrective strategy, confronting your own inappropriate movement behaviors . . . that’s getting into the territory. That requires you to get your feet a little muddy and your hands a little bit calloused. In the end, you and your body will be talking together. You and your body will be engaging the familiar and the unfamiliar with integrity.

Whether you start listening to the signals of your body and using some quantifying assistance to gauge your perception to its measured reality or whether you want to seek out a movement screen professional to just help you find out where your movement literacy is probably good enough to pursue a training goal and where it’s inadequate, you’re probably never going to see that goal unless you learn how to read and write movement patterns first. It doesn’t replace any of the fitness strategies or performance strategies you’ll put on top of that. However, most coaches at the elite levels are far too wise to put unnecessary fitness loads on inappropriate movement patterns. The movement screen was our simple way to tap into this acquired wisdom long before we are as accomplished and wise.

If you believe that perception drives behavior, then embrace the corollary: Self-awareness is the first step towards self-regulation.

If you’ve got 10 minutes, shake hands with your body, because you’re getting ready to start communicating in a completely different way. Start by understanding, start by listening. Maybe you’ve failed your body, and maybe your body didn’t fail you.

Here’s an interesting experiment . . . Watch Kelly McGonigal’s great TedTalk, How To Make Stress Your Friend. Only, replace stress with movement . . .

Need  to play catch up on all things MOVEMENT?
Here are some of my favorite lectures, conveniently in one collection:

Gray Cook lectures

Activity and Exercise

Recently, I was asked to lecture at an event organized by Equinox. I was both honored and humbled to be in the presence of many wonderful speakers.

At the end of the day, we all looked forward to the panel discussion, in which the audience, who had been waiting patiently letting us speak all day, got to ask us questions and hear the different ways we would entertain their answers.

If you’d prefer to listen instead of read,
here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 57 of Gray Cook Radio

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

One of the questions came to the panel phrased like this:

“All of you travel abroad and speak at international conferences. What is the biggest difference between the United States and the rest of the world in regards to how we look at exercise, fitness and active lifestyles?”

I looked around the room and nobody reached for the mic, so I grabbed it and said:

“One of the things that I became immediately aware of in my international travels for education and teaching was the fact that, in the United States, we speak of someone’s exercise program. When I’m dealing with a person who was raised outside of the US (or when I’m working outside of the US), more often than not, people don’t ask about exercise.

They ask “What is your activity? What activities do you enjoy?”

I think that mindset is more representative of an active lifestyle than any exercise. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with exercise and many of us define ourselves by the exercises that we enjoy the most. But, that is only a simple part of our active lifestyle.

It’s almost like asking someone, “What are your favorite supplements?” as opposed to asking them, “What foods do you like to eat? What meals and food combinations do you enjoy?”

Internationally, I think there might be a slightly more authentic appreciation of an active lifestyle, whereas, in the US, where we spend much more time working and entertaining ourselves than actually focusing on mindful movement, we often want to package that in sets and reps and quick little trips to the gym.

So, the active lifestyle and the activities that you want to do should take precedence and the exercises should the be vehicles or things that make the activities go smoother for you.

In the book The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler tells us that the flow state is one of the most important factors in action/adventure sports and that’s why we’re seeing records fall at an astounding rate. He also used flow as a way to describe why surfers and skateboarders don’t have to be begged to practice—they don’t even have to schedule it—practice spontaneously occurs through the love of the flow state that is generated by participating in that activity. They don’t need fitness monitors to remind them that the need to skateboard or surf today.

But, those aren’t the only activities that create a flow state. For some people, it is a conveniently put together exercise package. We have to ask ourselves: ‘Is it sustainable and will it fulfill our active needs throughout our entire lifespan?’

This brings me to a video that I’d like to share. My good friend and accomplished strength coach, Jon Torine, and I have conversations, nearly on a weekly basis, talking about everything from high-end performance training and the next teams we’re going to consult with, to ways to fix physical education.

Jon has recently been involved in climbing, because both of his sons are engaged by that activity. He’s challenged himself to start climbing as well—and it has revealed many things (in some of the most astounding ways) that his performance and conditioning background hadn’t seen.

This video will only take six minutes. Even though the statistics say that the video-digesting public rarely watches a complete video, I would encourage you not to play this video until you have dedicated the six minutes required to watch it.

FOREVER – It ain’t over ’til it’s over. from cafekraft on Vimeo.

Allow this video to inspire you to think more about activity than exercise. If you focus on an activity, you will quickly identify the exercises that will help you with that activity, but if you focus your life only on exercise, you’ll have to constantly be reminded to “take your vitamins and your supplements.”

Sometimes, I feel guilty because I haven’t been in the gym enough. But I never feel guilty that I haven’t hiked or paddleboarded enough, because every time life gives me an opportunity, to do either of those activities, I will do them.

I would hope that no matter how involved you are in the exercise profession or the exercise life, you don’t let the focus on exercise overshadow the flow state or the reason you like moving in the first place.