I straight-up don’t tolerate aches & pains that might be preventable.
If there is even a smidge of ‘this might not have to be the way it is’, I’m in for exploring how to make that a reality.
That might be a flaw in my character…perhaps just a bit of perfectionism that still resides in my body?…either way.
I feel that people should feel pretty damn good pretty much all of the damn time.
I sent an email out to the folks who joined the wait list for The Unbreakable Body to get to know them better, and in that email I asked them how they feel their current movement quality is and what they’d like to achieve with better movement quality.
Not even gonna lie…I cry as I read some of the replies that come in. There are folks trying to do sports endeavors like running a marathon, or hiking a mountain, and their body hurts and they can’t figure it out. There are folks who just want a day when the bottoms of their feet don’t ache, something they’ve tried to fix for years now to no avail.
Whether the person replying to me is an office-worker who wants to do strength workouts after work & run around in the front yard like a kid again on the weekend, or they’re an endurance athlete, or a mountain climber – there’s one thing that unites them all.
They want to feel pretty damn good and be able to do pretty much anything in their life.
So what’s the hurdle standing in these folks way of feeling their very best in their daily life? What is causing them to hurt when they try to do a sport they enjoy?
What I’ve found in my time working with hundreds of clients are two areas of need:
1. For some, it’s a knowledge component that they need. They just haven’t been introduced to mobility work, or have never learned where they have movement-quality imbalances and addressed them.
2. For others, it’s a dosage issue that they need to address. Dosages for things like strength work volume, strength work focus, mobility work duration, and mobility work location all need to be dialed in.
The knowledge component is massive, and I’ve got a fair amount of content I share here on Fit For Real Life that assists on the ‘knowledge’ front. You can find a few of those items here, here, here, and here.
So today I’ll cover the dosage component. First, a clarification on the word ‘dosage.’
‘Dosage’ = how much work to do, what intensity to do that work at, and when to do that work, If folks go wrong, it’s here. The modality can change (i.e. more than one road to Rome), but if you fudge the dosage up, all bets are off.
Strap in my friend, we’re heading out to find Goldilocks. (if you’re not from a part of the world that knows what ‘Goldilocks’ is, sit tight, you’re about to know)
In the fable “Goldilocks & The Three Bears”, Goldilocks ends up in the bears’ house (why? I don’t know) and is sampling their porridge and their beds.
The first porridge is too hot, and inevitably the next one is too cold, and finally the 3rd is ‘juuuuuuuust right.’ Same story with the beds. One is too hard, one is too soft, and the one she likes best is ‘juuuuuuust right.’
You, are Goldilocks.
You don’t want too little strength & conditioning because you’ve heard time and again just how good muscle is for every aspect of your health & fitness.
And, you want to make sure you’re doing the most beneficial things at the right times so you can max out the benefits of said training methods.
Plus, you don’t have time to waste on things that aren’t giving you maximum benefit.
In addition, if you participate in a sport, like I do, where you need to be on-point for your sports practice or competition, then you want the benefits of strength & conditioning but you also are keenly aware that excessive fatigue or soreness from s&c workouts can negatively affect your sports practice or race.
Put simply, you need your ‘juuuuuuuust right’ dose of strength & conditioning.
That ‘juuuust right’ dose, along with good knowledge of course, is what will eliminate aches & pains, help you reach your true performance potential, and make the time you spend training more valuable.
It’s the 21st century version of Goldilocks. What is the minimum amount of work can we do to elicit the result we want, and insure we’re not wasting time on anything that is non-essential to the goal.
What’s In Your Fitness Pie?
You have a pie of ‘fitness time’ and it’s partitioned up into all of the things you spend time on for ‘fitness’ – like stretching, weight lifting, yoga, running.
Most folks who come to me for help could have their pie partitioned better & would notice immediate improvements in their fitness and a reduction in the aches & pains.
So with my clients, the first thing I do is re-partition the pie with them so that they’re spending time on the items that will give the most benefit.
This is what the pie of virtually every single person who comes to see me looks like:
Mostly their favorite thing (running, biking, bootcamping, etc) ~ 89%
Cross-training (if they’re a cardio athlete, that means 1 strength session that’s perhaps 30mins/week, if they’re a bootcamp-type person, that means 1 bike-riding or jogging day/week) ~9%
A bit of foam rolling on their IT Band because they’d read that’s what you should do for “mobility” ~2%
The very first thing I do is figure out where they actually need to be using a foam roller, because chances are, the IT Bands aren’t the “problem”, they’re likely merely a symptom of a different issue.*
*not always, yes, sometimes someone needs to roll their ITB but the majority of people I get need more attention elsewhere
We re-allocate some of the time already being spent in the fitness pie to mobility work to help areas that aren’t moving well, move well.
Because from my standpoint, if you don’t move well, what DO you do well?
It’s Not About Balance, It’s About Harmony
I once found myself in conversation with a man that was as close to a ‘zen master/shaman/mystic’ as I’d ever met. What he said has stuck with me after all these years.
“The goal isn’t to find balance, it’s to find harmony. Us, life, the Universe, they are not equations to be solved so they balance on both sides.
To be in harmony is to have some parts be present in greater amounts than other parts, but the goal for each part is to be just enough to support the others, and not so much that it takes away from others.
If we can get all of our parts to work together harmoniously, that’s it. Aim for harmony, not balance.”
This is abundantly true for your body’s movement capacity, strength, and function. (It’s not lost on me how good this concept is for all of life, not just your body’s function.)
We are nothing if not repetitive creatures.
Daily life stuff can create movement quality issues – carrying a kid on one hip, always carrying a bag on one shoulder, the slight left turn you make with your torso when you sit at your desk to type.
If you have a favorite sport or training modality that has repetitive patterns and body positions in it – e.g. running can bring tight calves, tight hip complex, and so on; cycling can bring a tight t-spine, tight shoulders, and weak glutes – that also can cause aches & pains.
Repetitive motions done for long enough will create muscular imbalances (should we call it ‘disharmony’ in light of what the zen master said?) that make your joints sit funny, pinching and pulling the tissue around the joint, and even areas far from the joint can be affected.
Doesn’t mean the “favorite” sport or daily life stuff is bad, just means that we need to do an appropriate amount of work to bring the body’s soft tissue, structure, and movement capacity back into harmony.
Remember, the goal here is “feel pretty damn good pretty much all of the time.”
Are all the movements you’re doing in your strength workout supporting that goal? Maybe not. Here’s an example: lunges can be a great exercise, but some lunges focus more muscle-fiber firing to the quads and other lunges give you a major fire-up to the muscle fibers in the glutes and hamstrings.
If you’re dealing with quad-dominance, where your quad muscles are doing most of the work and your glutes and hamstrings are lacking, there are certain lunges that I would avoid prescribing for you.
We have better things we can do with our time than perform a lunge that is exacerbating a disharmony in your movement mechanics. The exercise isn’t ‘bad’ but for right now, your time is better spent doing things (in the case of quad dominance) like deadlifts & hip thrusts.
Get Ahead Of The Snowball
I look at stiffness, aches, & muscular imbalances/disharmony like a snowball rolling down a hill. That snowball is going to pick up speed and more snow as it goes, growing and speeding down the hill.
Your job is to run down the hill and get ahead of the snowball. If you can stay ahead of your snowball, you can control the speed it rolls down the hill.
To do this, you must allocate your fitness pie to have enough mobility work, and enough strength work that supports high-quality movement, as a priority. Then you can fill the pie in with the other fitness stuff you want to include.
Here’s a classic example of the snowball rolling down the hill. I shared this post on specific stretches to do for the feet & lower leg to help folks who were having pain in that area.
I had mentioned how those stretches are uber-challenging for my runners & triathletes because of how much tightness they have from doing their sport.
A client of mine read it, did them at home, and came in to her next session asking “those stretches were easy, I barely felt a thing, how can people not do those?”
Two weeks later, that same client started running training for a half-marathon. With the uptick in running, her calves and feet were now being used way more than before. She came in and we did those same stretches as part of her movement prep work, and she struggled mightily to even get into the position that previously was so effortless for her.
She realized the impact that two weeks of an increased dose of running without increasing her dose of mobility work for her lower legs had on her. Her snowball had picked up speed and she hadn’t kept up with it.
If you’re going to increase the amount of movements you do that are repetitive in nature, your MED dosage of correctives for that repetitive movement pattern needs to increase as well, if you want to stay ahead of your snowball.
If you’re just starting out with fixing your movement quality, you’re going to need more of your fitness pie to be allocated to mobility work and movement pattern fixes. If you do ample work in the early going though, you’ll have to do much less later on.
My clients who spend a good chunk of time taking care of their mobility work and muscle activation in the first month of their plan have to do minimal work to maintain it down the line. They get to where they don’t need to touch on the mobility work but a few times a week.
I’ve had folks do the opposite and spend a minimum amount of time on this stuff from the get-go, and they get better, but they never seem to get fully ahead of it.
Do the work early on to get ahead of your snowball and you’ll have to do less to stay ahead of it in the future.
Ultimately, gang, you want to move pretty damn good, pretty much all of the damn time. And it’s totally legit to assume that its within your reach to do that. The journey might seem long and slow, but even on its slowest days, it is much faster than the journey back from a legitimate injury would be.
And if you’re already injured? The damage is done. We can’t change that. It’s time to look forward to what you can do differently from here on out.
I’d love to know, do you think you’ve discovered your Goldilocks / MED dose yet? How are you doing on ‘muscular harmony’? Are you ahead of your snowball? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below. I read them all and always enjoy responding.