What does it mean to be unbreakable?
Does having an ‘unbreakable body’ mean you have a rock solid suit of armor for a body, a la IronMan?
Does it mean having an impenetrable fortress (or ‘fort’ for you males…that’s how those words work right?) for a body?
Does being unbreakable mean that you are impervious to life, gravity, and the 9-to-5 grind on your body?
IronMan is a badass and all, but the answer here is a resounding NOPE.
Let me explain.
When we’re building a body that is durable, strong, capable of handling modern-day living, and whatever workouts and lifestyle-play you desire, we’re not simply assembling a suit of armor on you.There are 4 concepts, that if you build your suit of armor but neglect these, will eventually come back to haunt you.
A suit of armor resists the outside by force. That is only part of the equation when it comes to talking about your body and how it deals with itself.
And a suit of armor is just one layer needed for becoming unbreakable.
Go deeper than that.
Go to your connective tissue.
From Complementary Therapies in Rehabilitation: Evidence for Efficacy in Therapy, Prevention, & Wellness this:
“Connective tissue is notoriously pliable and can become ‘remodeled’ via many forms of mechanical stress including overuse, underuse, or simply, unusual use such as repetitive motions. Connective tissue change can prompt alterations in the muscle(s) with which it is associated. For instance, shortening of muscle fibers due to immobilization has been shown to be be preceded by shortening of the associated connective tissue which responds more quickly to the lack of movement.”
If your connective tissue is still molded in the form of a desk chair to your body, what will happen to your joints when that connective tissue stays glued down as you move and stretch your body?
Someone is going to have to pay the piper for that glued down tissue that you’re trying ignore. ‘Paying the piper’ can manifest as joint pain or aches in your soft tissue.
It can also manifest as weak performance in your chosen sport thanks to the sub-optimal length-tension relationship you’re operating with in your body.
All relationships require attention & care, and this one is no different. The length-tension relationship is the relationship between the length of the fiber and the force that the fiber produces at that length.
Too much and too little are both not good. You want there to be enough tension to create stability while also giving the ability to generate power through a good range of motion. And you don’t want so much tension that the muscle is chronically “on” and shortened to a degree that the soft tissue hurts and pulls on the joints it is attached to.
Remember, you don’t live in a vacuum. It’s rarely ‘just your Achilles’ or ‘just your ‘left upper neck’ that is the issue. You may be sensing discomfort or ‘problem’ in that area, but that one area is interplaying with several other areas of your body.
It is the fixing up of the whole chain that must happen in order to fix the ‘problem’ area for good.
This is good but let’s go deeper still.
Go to your brain.
Is your brain recruiting the right muscles at the right time, in concert with the right other muscles that support and stabilize your movement?
If you’ve developed ‘amnesia’ in one or more muscles, they’re not going to fire well when called upon (if they fire at all). Glutes are notorious for developing this, and Stu McGill has talked extensively on how back pain and glute amnesia are often related to each other.
When one muscle has gone rogue on you, you’ll always find some other way to muscle through. But that’s not always helpful for the long-haul. Your brain just wants to provide the function you’re requesting of it, even if at the expense of your body’s long-term mechanics.
When the glutes power down, other parts of you will power up. And this is true of any place in your body where the muscle that is meant to do the work forgets how.
Perhaps your QL (quadratus lumborum) will take over for the work of everyone else in your torso. Or it might be your quads that start doing the work for everybody in the lower body.
We don’t want all of one and none of another. All of these muscle contractions are important, but it’s the organization of the muscular contractions that matters when it comes to having solid foundational strength & mobility.
How does your diaphragm coordinate with your tva and your pelvic floor to stabilize your torso?
How does your glute complex sync up with your psoas as you move through a gait cycle?
When you are unbreakable you can ebb, flow, adapt, bend, shift, resist, and maintain amidst all the life throws at you.
Body durability is a key element to having a life well lived, in my opinion. (so is an un-ending supply of sunsets and coffee and laughter)
To do this, the body durability part…the sunsets, I think you can figure out how to nab those…you must be able to coordinate your muscles, and have it be fairly automatic.
You must be also be able to stabilize your skeleton in a variety of positions so that any “awkward” position isn’t so much ‘awkward’ as it is ‘just a different position.’
So to return to the question at hand, what is an unbreakable body…
It is adaptable.
Having an adaptable body means that you can respond to a variety of external forces on your body. Here’s an example of a body that is not adaptable. “I don’t walk around barefoot, it hurts too badly.”
Each of our feet has 26 bones and 33 joints in them, and many of those joints can articulate more than one way (meaning they can rotate in addition to flexing and extending). Why do you think we have so many joints and bones in our foot?
It is so that you can travel across a variety of terrains and adapt to each of them. So that you can cover rocky ground, sloped ground, angled ground, odd terrain, even so that you can cling to things better (trees, beams, rocks, etc).
The immediate thought in many of your heads after reading that last sentence probably was “but I don’t plan on travelling across any terrain like that, especially not barefoot.”
Right. So let me ask you these two questions.
One: dang it, why not!? There is much earth to explore and it is going to be rocky when you go off the main paved path.
Two: You ever “step wrong” and feel your foot or ankle sort of give out on you?
When did that happen? Most likely, it happened when you stepped off a curb or when you turned and stepped at the same time. So what, are you so weak that you can’t even step off a curb correctly? No.
It is likely that your foot has become unskilled at using all of its joints – the soft tissue around them has become rigid, those joints might even have started changing their actual bony shape (this is what happens when bunions form, you actually grow bone where there wasn’t bone to begin with because the body has been compensating with that faulty movement pattern for so long).
If you don’t use your body, you lose the ability to do so. It’s quaint, but its true. Your foot was able to travel over uneven ground at one point, but shoes, walking on treadmills, and sitting in chairs just to name a few…have all reduced your ability to move in all directions and do so in a coordinated and strong, stable fashion.
Which brings us to the next thing an unbreakable body is…
It is coordinated.
See all the parts that light up with each swim stroke? (watch when it gets to the fly…so cool!)
Each stroke is happening in 1 second or less. As you walk, get up out of the chair, run, squat and pick up your kid, a similarly complex and coordinated firing of muscles is happening in your body.
Or, it’s supposed to be happening. But if you’ve lost the ability to coordinate high-quality movement patterns, what’s happening instead is an over-recruitment of a few muscles and minimal (if any) recruitment of the muscles you’re meant to use in that pattern.
Let’s go back to our foot example from earlier. You have 33 joints in your foot, and many of them can move more than one way – in fact, you actually have 8.6 x 10^36 unique positions, says Katy Bowman.
If your main arch begins to disappear (remember you have 3 arches in your foot, not 1), one way you may compensate for the work the main arch is meant to be doing is by over-recruiting the anterior tibialis, plantar fascia, or Achilles – as well as excessively lengthening the peroneals as part of the compensation pattern.
Coordinated movement comes from muscles that are in a good length-tension relationship and that are well-connected to the brain.
We know that previous ankle sprains put you at greater risk for future ankle sprains. This has to do with the fact that an ankle sprain disrupts the brain’s signaling to the soft tissue around the ankle.
You don’t have to have sprained an ankle to have faulty movement patterns down below. Our feet are strong when we use them.
If you’ve been in well-cushioned or positive-heeled shoes, your foot muscles haven’t been working very hard at all and you can expect that there are most likely gains to be made in your brain-body connection of your ankle & foot.
This isn’t just about avoiding sprained ankles, although that’s great too. This is about avoiding ankle and foot pain.
And – to take the concept and lay it out over the entire body – this is about eliminating all of those common (but not normal) aches & -itis type injuries that creep in and create a breakable body.
Which way are you really going?
When you take action, you expect there to be a result that moves you forward.
How ‘forward’ are you actually moving if you’re carrying with you injuries and aches that showed up and never left?
Are you really moving “backward” if you shift course to check your foundational strength & mobility and address areas that are causing you problems?
It’s truly not a backwards step if it’s making you better in the long run. Whether you learn that now, or later, is up to you. “Progress” doesn’t always look like “more reps”, “more miles”, “more more more”.
We’re in this for the long-haul so you’re either going to fix your issues now, or you’re going to fix them later. The timeline is yours for the choosing, but you’re not escaping sub-par movement-quality.
Remember, a suit of armor is one thing. What’s underneath that suit is another.
How is your foundational strength holding you up?
How is it adapting and coordinating as you move through life?
A body that is durable is one that can go do a bountiful array of things.
It can bounce back from the body-crushing reality of our modern-day mostly-seated lifestyle.
It can hold up through the training for your first marathon or your 50th.
It can hike, it can bike, it can do that ‘more’ thing you want so badly for your life.
And when it comes time to relax, it can do that comfortably, without needing to constantly adjust to find a ‘better’ position.
To do this, do not just set out to be armored to the gills.
Instead, consider the notion of building a body that is adaptable, that is coordinated in its muscular contractions and its capacity to work.
That is a body that will be durable, capable of sustaining high-quality movement capacity now and for many years to come.
How do you think your coordination and adaptability are? What makes you think that? Drop me your thoughts in the comments! I read & reply to every one. 🙂