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Late last month, I was invited to provide an in-service presentation for CrossFit Fluid and Fearless Barbell in Deer Lake, PA. The presentation was based around “Movement Correction for Health & Long-Term Athletic Development”–a topic that I’m rather passionate about, which led to a much longer than anticipated presentation and group discussion.
This is a widely-encompassing topic and lecture, which went off in various directions. But below are some of the talking points that had the best feedback and sparked the most interest.
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Tonic Muscles vs. Phasic Muscles
The idea of tonic and phasic muscles is not one that many deal with on a day-to-day basis. But because I was presenting for a CrossFit staff, the was much more applicable than usual.
In this breakdown, rather than considering muscles as fast twitch, slow twitch, type I or type II, muscles are grouped as tonic or phasic. Tonic muscles are those which have an evolutionary basis in maintaining support, or muscle tone, whereas phasic muscles have a basis in locomotion or movement.
Again, this idea has some significance in CrossFit because of the nature of the exercises and activities therein. For example, throughout a set of high-rep snatches, the phasic muscles (which should be primary movers in this exercise) quickly become fatigued. The tonic muscles are then relied on for completion of the exercise bout. Over time, this creates reliance on the tonic muscles (which are prone to tightness), while the phasic muscles (which are prone to weakness) become less and less active.
To ensure patterns of misuse don’t become long-term, activation of the phasic muscles and the release of the tonic muscles are both necessary. Consider the hip extensors; a phasic hip extensor would be the gluteal muscles, while the hamstrings and spinal erectors are tonic. In this case, we would need to implement myofascial release on these tonic muscles, while activating the gluteal musculature with various exercises and drills.
Mobility is Flexibility
The fitness world has gone to an extreme with some of its terminology. One such instance is the idea of mobility. Coaches will frequently say that they enjoy implementing mobility drills, but do not concern themselves with stretches because of the noted decrements to performance. While these coaches may have the right idea, this separation of terminology is not entirely accurate.
Flexibility is an umbrella category that mobility falls under. Rather than suggesting that static stretching (which creates passive flexibility) leads to these noted decrements to performance, these coaches vilify the broader and more general terms of stretching and mobility.
Stability is Multifaceted
Beyond some intricacies with terminology, the idea of mobility is much more simplistic than the idea of stability. This is, in part, due to the various types of stability within the body, as well as role that the central nervous system plays in creating stability .
Since the joints within the body largely alternate between providing mobility and stability, the mechanisms for stability at each junction alternate as well. While stable joints will inherently provide stability, mobile joints must be stabilized by the surrounding musculature.
If this musculature is weakened, the chance of pain, injury, or asymmetry is very likely. The fix for this requires the aforementioned muscular activation.
Lifestyle Modification for Optimal Health
When trying to improve a client’s health or fitness, frequently coaches look at existing workout protocols, and how they can optimize a program to better suit the client, but this is only a small piece of the fitness puzzle.
Exercise likely doesn’t take up any more than 2 hours a day. With off days in addition to the likelihood of exercise bouts being much shorter than two hours, we are left with a great deal more time out of the gym than in it.
To best improve a client’s health and fitness, we need to consider an approach than is going to be fully-encompassing, rather than limited to 1-2 hours per day. This idea means creating better daily habits, postures, diets, and so on.
The idea of changing these patterns falls within the psychological realm and within the idea of behavior modification. To best change someone’s diet, resting postures, etc., it is best to have an extended plan, implementing 1-2 changes at a time for several weeks, before compounding these newly formed habits with additional changes.
The fields of health and fitness are truly multi-disciplined. To best understand this topic, fitness professionals must continuously develop and maintain an extensive intellectual background on topics that may seem outside of practice, utility, and convention.
Early last month, I was featured on the Swimming Science Podcast. The topic of discussion was strength training for elite swimmers. While the podcast only scratched the surface of the intricacies associated with exercise programming for high-level athletes, this post is filled with some thought-provoking content.
Within the podcast, Dr. Gary John Mullen and I discuss CrossFit for swimmers, the application of strength training for non-elite athletes, dryland program fundamentals, and more.
To explore more of my publications, visit the Featured Publications tab on this site.
Are We Asking the Right Questions?
Our comprehension of nutrition is fundamentally flawed. This topic is taught very frequently in terms of independent and isolated variables (consider the controversies surrounding isolated Vitamin C consumption). In some respects, this can be useful. We can use the isolation of variables in conjunction with the scientific method to determine cause and effect, a variable’s relationship to our health, and so on.
But what we tend to overlook is the bigger picture. This includes the why, as well as the association between variables. To delve into this idea further, let’s consider some food as well as its respective feedback systems.
Our relationship with organisms which fall within our diet is complex and has its basis in evolution, and natural selection.
Some of these organisms, like fruits, directly benefit from their relationship with consumers. When such a fruit is filled with more nutrients, it is more likely to be consumed by a greater variety of organisms thus spreading the fruit’s seed further and further. Over millions of years, this creates a feedback cycle which continues to perpetuate the qualities which its consumers find the most beneficial.
In this case, the benefit to the various consumers are an influx of nutrients, be it vitamins, minerals, or macronutrients such as carbohydrates. Therefore, the consumers must also evolve to have the fastest access to this food source.
In some instances, the producer can also screen its consumers–consider the various defense mechanisms fruits have against bacteria and viruses. This occurs because viruses cause the seed to sprout in close proximity to the parent plant, creating competition within the species (killing out these weaker, disease prone genes in a species over time).
Processed and Designer Foods
The feedback system of these foodstuffs are entirely different. Here, the feedback loop encourages food to be designed to meet consumer demands. This demand is traditionally taste or convenience.
Even when processed foods are labeled as ‘healthy’ in some form or fashion, be it gluten free, fat free, sugar free, etc., the feedback isn’t necessarily creating health, but rather the image of health, while still encouraging mass-market appeal via taste and branding campaigns.
A Bigger Picture Approach
As an individual focusing on your diet, it can be far too time-consuming to hone in on specific nutrients when we can consider bigger-picture concepts, such as this idea of feedback systems within our dietary choices.
Consider why have you been presented with a particular food, or even a particular piece of information. Will a food genuinely benefit you? Who else is benefiting from the food you are about to consume?
When you consistently ask these questions, you can begin to notice patterns in the world around you, as well as motives of those involved in a particular system, and so on. A purely ‘paleo’ style diet, which this post may seem to favor, may particularly benefit few individuals (i.e. those selling books or paleo-friendly supplements), but this can be a good place to start for those new to dieting. Especially over diets which ignore food choice as long as caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown are met.