Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Why It’s Good To Be A Slacker

‘Eat a balanced diet’. ‘Ensure a good work-life balance’. Balance your budget’. Notice a trend here? Balance seems to be considered a pretty important thing. Indeed it is, and perhaps nowhere as important as its role within our bodies. Without it, many of our basic motor functions get pretty damn difficult. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from Labyrinthitis, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or Ménière’s Disease.

But even without suffering from one of those disorders, many of us struggle with poor balance. Our ability to balance is a combination of sight, vestibular (ear canals) and proprioception (our body’s ability to know where it is in space, even with our eyes closed). As we get older, our proprioceptive and vestibular systems decline, along with reflexes and coordination, resulting in diminished balance control. This is why so many elderly people fall down and break their hips or other bones. And that is one slippery slope we’d like to avoid!

So how to do that? Train your balance and coordination of course. The trusty old phrase ‘use it or lose it!’ applies here, I’m afraid. But the good news is that there are far more fun ways to train your balance than just standing on one foot. The brilliant folks at GMB recommend a programme consisting of jump spins, walking around with eyes closed (but shins beware!), as well as more advanced hand balancing techniques.

Here at Backs Etc., our training programmes often contain floor-based exercises that require a degree of balance control, as well as balance-challenging resistance exercises like single leg deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats. But one great tool that we’ve only recently started using is the slackline.

Jack on a slackline

Similar to a tightrope, the slackline is stretched between two trees or other anchor points with the aim being to balance and walk along it. Unlike a tightrope, though, the slackline is a flat webbing, usually around 2 inches wide, making it easier to learn than a traditional tightrope. As the name implies, the slackline is not tensioned as tight as a tightrope. Because of this, the line moves up and down and side to side as you walk on it. The real skill then is to anticipate these slight movements of the line and move your body to compensate for them, improving your balance and core strength. Anybody first attempting to balance on a slackline will experience a violent shuddering back and forth of the line. This is due to the brain trying frantically to overcorrect the sideways motion of the line. This is similar to the way a driver may oversteer the opposite direction when skidding, causing a car to spin out of control. Fortunately, slacklining is much safer than driving!

So, besides improving our motor control and balance, what are some of the other benefits of slacklining?

It’s a full body workout. I mentioned core strength earlier, but slacklining requires the complete use of your entire body, engaging all your muscles and focus to prevent you from falling off the line.

It can boost memory function. A 2011 study in the scientific journal Hippocampus said, “slacklining led to an increase in the structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for navigation and memory”.

It can improve your posture, help you jump higher, and improve lower-limb rehabilitation.

It’s inexpensive. You can buy a good quality slackline for £30-£40.

It’s portable. Take it to the park and stretch it between two trees.

It’s fun! (need I say more?)

It’s worth noting that slacklining is pretty challenging. I’ve been using ours for about a month or so and I’m still pretty bad. But I notice little improvements regularly, and that feels nice. It’s also encouraging knowing that every time I step on it, I’m making positive changes for my body and mind. Being a slacker has never felt so good!

 

The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-Up

turkish get-upThe get-up, sometimes referred to as the Turkish get-up is one of the most effective full-body resistance exercises one can do. A few years ago it was all the rage. Lately, for some reason, it seems to have fallen a little out of favour. In this article from StrongFirst, the author discusses how get-ups are a natural evolution from crawling, another form of exercise that has become hugely popular of late (and for good reason!). Both crawling and get-ups can be extremely beneficial for strength, stability and mobility, as well as for the vestibular, visual and proprioceptive systems.

At Backs Etc, we often work with clients on both of these outstanding exercises. get in touch if you’d like to learn how to add these to your training programme.

Read the full article, The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-Up

Channelling Our Original Strength

OS logoI recently spent a weekend in the Midlands on the floor rocking, rolling and crawling. No, I wasn’t just suffering from too many pints of lager. Rather I was participating in two workshops, Pressing Reset and Becoming Bulletproof run by the folks at Original Strength. OS describe themselves as ‘a human movement education company teaching health and fitness professionals around the world to Press RESET.  By teaching how to help people move the way we were designed to move, we can help them restore reflexive strength and stability.  When we have our reflexive strength, we have a solid foundation enabling us to live life better.’ What this entails is going back to how we originally developed our strength and motor control as babies and young children, teaching our adult minds and bodies how to reset poor motor patterns and allow us to perform physically (and mentally) as we should be able to.

Tim Anderson, one of the founders of OS, is someone whose videos I have watched on YouTube for a couple of years now, so I was pleased that he was running the course. He is a warm, passionate instructor with a gentle southern drawl, and made the weekend extremely enjoyable and informative. He began by introducing the concept of reflexive strength, one of the key components of the system. He describes this as the body’s ability to anticipate and respond to movement before and as it happens and stability and mobility in harmony with one another.

The focus of the first day’s workshop is what Tim refers to as ‘pressing reset’, essentially engaging the original operating system preprogrammed inside every individual’s nervous system. Engaging this can be likened to pressing the reset button on a video game, rebooting (or refreshing) the central nervous system to build new neural connections, restore old ones, and make existing ones more efficient. The result is a healthier brain and nervous system which leads to a healthier body able to utilise the mobility, stability and strength it is designed for.

According to the OS philosophy, there are five big resets:

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing
  2. Head Control
  3. Rolling
  4. Rocking
  5. Crawling (or other contralateral, midline crossing movements)

Those of you familiar with the work we do at Backs Etc will know that we already incorporate these into our therapy and training programmes, so this course was a natural fit for me.

Proper breathing is where it all begins as, without a stable core, our brains will not allow our bodies to achieve the stability and mobility they are capable of, so the initial portion of the workshop is focused on developing good nasal diaphragmatic breathing techniques in a variety of positions.

We then moved on to the oh-so-important vestibular system. The OS system focuses on mastering head control to reset and strengthen this, so we did a number of head flexion, extension and rotational exercises, again in a variety of positions, supine, prone and quadruped.

The third big reset, rolling, is a fun one. Rolling is the beginning of the human gait cycle, and helps connecting the opposite shoulders to the opposite hips. There is also a lot of head control involved, bringing the vestibular system into the equation. There are a variety of different rolling patterns, some forward to back, but most moving laterally, driven by either the upper or lower body.

Then it was time to rock out. Rocking on hands and knees is a primal movement pattern that helps children build strength, mobility and posture. By modifying foot position we can also use rocking to improve our ankle mobility, or start on our elbows instead of hands to further mobilise the thoracic spine and build upper body strength.

crawlingThe last big reset, which ultimately ties everything together, is crawling. There are a myriad of variations of crawling, all effective in improving contralateral coordination, developing neural connections and building strength. We started with variations on the classic dying bug and bird dog exercises, progressing to commando crawling, hands and knees crawling, and ultimately leopard crawling (sometimes referred to as bear crawling or beast crawling in other methods). People who haven’t tried crawling may not realise what a tremendous workout it can be. Crawling across the length of the gym floor as slow as we possibly could, for 5 minutes, left every participant in the workshop huffing, puffing and sweating profusely. I routinely train my clients to crawl in a box pattern (forwards, sideways, backward and sideways the other direction) for two minutes, which often feels like an entire workout compressed into a tiny period of time. Good stuff!

The workshop on the second day, Becoming Bulletproof, was designed to take these resets we learned and advance them in ways that make them more fun, more challenging and incorporate various other fitness tools that we may have at our disposal. For instance, lifting one’s knees off the ground whilst rocking really fires up the lower body musculature and provides a great little full body workout.

Variations on crawling including axis crawling, a brilliant exercise one can do in a hotel room, for instance, that requires no space or equipment; crawling sideways with the feet pressed up against a wall is an awesome core burner that again requires no equipment. If you do have access to some gym gear, you can try exercises such as crawling pulling a chain or kettlebell.

We also played around with battling ropes and upside-down kettlebell carries, both tremendous workouts. One of the wackiest exercises we performed involved using a cup to scoop water out of one bucket and use it to fill another, all whilst holding a plank or elevated crawling position, showing that exercise does not need to be boring or mindless. In fact, putting play and fun into fitness was one of the big messages of this course.filling a bucket

And fun it was. Hard, too! I had major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for days after the weekend, even in places that I don’t normally feel it.

In conclusion, I found the OS training to be a great addition to the toolset we already use here at Backs Etc. We are huge supporters of what we call primal therapy and training in systems such as Original Strength, DNS, Animal Flow and Immaculate Dissection. If you’d like to learn more and/or start channeling your inner baby, get in touch. Let’s work together to help you reclaim your original strength!

 

Jack

Fitness vs Movement: Science Shows Quality Training Matters

women doing bird dogsIn gyms all across the world, millions of people are unknowingly settling for sub-par fitness results, no matter how hard they work. It’s true that traditional fitness training delivers many benefits, but according to a recent study, movement-based training offers even better results with fewer negative effects. Movement training also has more “carry-over” when performing outside the gym (e.g. in real life).

So, if you want to move and perform well, in both ordinary and extraordinary situations (e.g. athletics, emergencies, etc.), this article will explain why a movement-based approach to fitness and physical performance is best, based on the findings of a recent study that challenge conventional wisdom.

 

Read the full article, Fitness vs Movement: Science Shows Quality Training Matters.

Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.

 

Strength Training For Treating Depression And Optimizing Cognitive Performance

weightsAs this article details, strength training is not just for building bigger muscles. The author, a psychiatrist, demonstrates that strength training can help improve a variety of mood, pain. and cognitive issues. A 2010 study done in elderly women showed that once weekly and twice weekly resistance training, both improved cognitive function as shown by a cognitive test of selective attention, and resolution of the mental conflict between naming colors and reading words. A 2017 study done in men and women, ages 30–45, showed improvement in psychological health, as measured by a questionnaire after 12 weeks of resistance training. In another study on adults greater than 60 years old, 10 weeks of a supervised progressive resistance training program three times a week was shown to improve depression, as well as improve bodily pain, vitality, and social functioning. It was also shown to decrease limitations on routine activities from emotional problems.

At Backs Etc., strength training is one of the foundations that we work with our training clients on because of its tremendous benefits, both physical and mental. Get in touch with us to see how we can tailor a programme to fit your needs.

Read the full article, The Prescription of Strength Training For Treating Depression And Optimizing Cognitive Performance

Sleep vs. Exercise?

man sleepingIn this article, a reader poses the question to the experts: “Is it better for my overall health to get eight hours of sleep per night during the week but not have time to exercise, or to get six and a half to seven hours of sleep per night and fit in a morning workout?”

The bottom line is, if you sacrifice sleep to train, you’ll miss out on all the helpful recovery elements provided by sleep. In the words of the great Gray Cook: “Don’t rob health to pay fitness.”

Check out the article, Sleep vs. Exercise?

Release Your Inner Beast with Animal Flow

Sue animal flow

Recently, we spent a weekend in New York at the Animal Flow level 1 course. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Animal Flow is a fitness programme that combines quadrupedal and ground-based movement with elements from various bodyweight-training disciplines to create a fun, challenging workout emphasizing multi-planar, fluid movement. The primary movement patterns are based on animal movement, but in the programme, we recognised elements of parkour, yoga, breakdancing, and gymnastics.

We have decided to incorporate elements of Animal Flow into our training at Backs Etc. because we realise the value of a system requiring no equipment that can increase and/or improve:

  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Stability
  • Power
  • Endurance
  • Skills
  • Neuromuscular development

In addition, Animal Flow can be fun. How many other workouts have you slinking along the floor like a hunting beast, scuttling like a crab, and bounding about like an ape? This aspect of the programme is an important part of our philosophy that we should all be incorporating more fun into our lives, especially in physical endeavours.

So how is Animal Flow beneficial to us?

It utilises closed-chain exercises

Most bodyweight training exercises, such as those in Animal Flow,  are closed-chain, which means that limbs connect to the ground or another immovable object in a constant fixed position, and resistance is created by pushing against it, moving the body rather than the object. For instance, a bicep curl or leg extension is open-chain, whereas a push-up or squat is closed-chain. Most fitness experts agree that closed-chain exercises are preferable because:

  1. Closed-chain exercises better mimic activities of daily living, which means they improve your “functional” fitness. They’re great for athletes, too, since sports require multiple joint and muscle movements to happen at once. Very few movements in real life or in athletics isolate joints and muscles like open-chain exercises do.
  2. Closed-chain exercises work many muscle groups at once. That’s great for the reasons above, but also because you can get more benefit in less time.
  3. Closed-chain exercises are safer for your joints—especially the knee joint, which is very vulnerable to stress and injury. The force involved in closed chain exercises like lunges and squats is compressive, meaning it actually stabilizes the joint and helps strengthen it. In contrast, open chain exercises, like knee extensions or hamstring curls produce shear force, which stresses the knee joint (and the ACL) and is more likely to result in injury.

It focuses on multi-planar movement

The benefits of multi-planar training are closely related to those described with closed-chain exercises. The goal of multi-planar training is to utilise the entire body to move and/or stabilise instead of working an isolated muscle. Most day-to-day activities and resistance training programmes are sagittal plane-dominant. The sagittal plane refers to front-to-back movement when looking at someone from the side. So, for instance, walking and bench pressing are taking place in the sagittal plane, and many exercise programmes over-emphasise these types of movement. Frontal plane exercises are those that go side-to-side. An example of this is a side lunge. Finally, there is the transverse plane, which involves rotational movements.

The beauty of Animal Flow is that, when putting together a flow of various patterns, you are training in all three planes of movement. By involving all of the major muscle groups, this provides a balanced training approach that helps increase overall function and decreases the risk of injury.  Most injuries occur in the frontal and rotational planes, so working these is essential to reduce risk.

It utilises slings and chains

You may think, “Whoa, this sounds a bit S&M!”, but slings are the kinetic chains that connect contralateral arms and legs on walking and running. The majority of the Animal Flow travelling forms fully activate these slings and chains, providing excellent benefits for improving the way we walk, run and move. When we load the slings with our body weight, and put them into motion, we further enhance the neural sequencing and conditioning of all the muscles.

It features quadrupedal movements

Crawling patterns are an important part of neural development stages. After all, babies need to learn to crawl before they can walk. We’ve always practised crawling patterns ourselves and trained clients to do so, but Animal Flow takes these movements to the next level. For example, the ‘Beast Crawl’ correlates to our normal walking and running gait patterns, using the same neural sequences, so an ability to crawl fluidly with control will translate into better walking and running form, thereby improving performance and reducing the risk for injury.

 

If you’re interested in exploring how Animal Flow techniques can help with your general fitness, athletic performance or rehab, drop us a line. We’re excited to have incorporated this methodology into our own workouts, and we’d love to share this knowledge with you!

Jack Sue animal flow