Reading & Learning: “Real Movement” by Adam Wolf, PT

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I am reading with much enthusiasm the book Real Movement by physical therapist and massage therapist Adam Wolf, aka the Biomechanical Detective. In a big way, it’s like re-reading a very good book that I’ve enjoyed in the past. I am familiar with a lot of the concepts discussed by Adam and what I enjoy immensely is coming back and examining those concepts through his eyes and his experiences.

Wolf is among other things, a Fellow of Applied Functional Science (FAFS) by way of the Gray Institute. I also study and apply Gary Gray’s material. I always like to see how other practitioners apply the principles of 3D movement. I love gaining new perspectives on how to create functional exercises, or exercises that most translate to real life. You can see a lot of examples of this at the Adam Wolf, PT, Biomechanical Youtube Channel.

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If you ain’t got that sling then you ain’t got that swing.

Something I just learned is that Adam’s dad is Chuck Wolf, another functional exercise and movement professional. Many years ago I was introduced to the concept of Flexibility Highways at one of Chuck’s seminars. These highways aka muscle slings, aka myofascial lines, are networks of muscle and fascia that often  work together during real-world, whole-body movements. (“Real-life” movements are in contrast to many of the artificially isolated movements that we see in gyms, especially those performed on machines.) One example is the posterior oblique sling as used in a golf swing. Another example is the anterior oblique sling used when throwing.

The anterior X sling is a big part of throwing, batting, golfing, running, punching and all sorts of things.

The anterior X sling is a big part of throwing, batting, golfing, running, punching and all sorts of things.

The fascial sling system was an interesting concept to me at the time but it has sort of faded from my thinking in recent years. Now, reading Adam’s book and watching his videos has brought those flexibility highways or slings to the front of my mind. These sling concepts are informing both the mobility work I’m doing with clients as well as my exercise selection. In working along and within these sling systems I feel like I’m capturing just about all of the movement we humans are capable of. Check out the following videos from Adam Wolf where he discusses how you can move better by following these fascial lines.

Hip Adduction: What It Is and Why You Need It – Part I

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All human movement occurs in three planes. Forward/back movement occurs in the saggital plane. Rotational movement happens in the transverse plane. Side-to-side movement take place in the frontal plane. This post is about the very easily overlooked frontal plane movement known as hip adduction.

His left hip is adducting.

His left hip is adducting.

(Adduction’s opposite twin is known as “abduction,” or movement of the limb away from the body’s midline. I have no idea why it was named abduction. I think it should’ve been named “out-duction.”)

Hip adduction. What is it? 

Look at his right hip and  you'll see adduction.  HIs leg has moved toward his body's midline.

Look at his right hip and you’ll see adduction. HIs leg has moved toward his body’s midline.

Adduction is the movement of a limb toward the midline of the body. If we think of the hip then we’re looking at the pelvis and the femur moving toward each other. Hip adduction can happen either with one leg off the ground and the leg moving toward the pelvis (Think of a soccer kick.) or it can happen with the foot on the ground and the pelvis moving toward the leg. (This should happen every time we take a step.)

Hip adduction is vital for everything from walking and running to skiing. Two aspects of hip adduction must be considered. First we must be mobile enough to achieve hip adduction. Equally if not more important, we must be able to control movement into and out of hip adduction.

Why is hip adduction important?

  • Without it, you have problems.

All of our limbs and joints are connected. We are a closely linked system of systems, not just a bunch of individual parts. What happens in one part of the body can strongly influence what happens elsewhere in the body.

The image on the right shows excessive hip adduction during gait. Too much of this may lead to knee or back pain. It's also indicative of poor balance skills.

The image on the right shows excessive hip adduction during gait. Too much of this may lead to knee or back pain. It’s also indicative of poor balance skills.

With that in mind, consequences of poor mobility and control of hip adduction can include back pain, hip pain, knee pain, ankle/foot problems and even shoulder or neck problems. Issues such as IT band syndrome and hip bursitis may be consequences of poor hip adduction skills.

  • Balance

Clients with balance problems often have poor hip adduction abilities. Their hip abductor muscles on the outside of the hip are often tight which limits their ability to move into adduction. This shows poor mobility. Typically, when they try to stand on one foot, the unsupported side drops uncontrolled into adduction which shows poor adduction control.

(Sometimes I hear clients say, “I think it’s just a balance thing,” as if balance were some ephemeral, magical thing that has no relation to muscles, limbs, joints and control of those parts via the nervous system. Balance isn’t “just a thing.” It’s a movement skill that is learnable and unlearnable.)

  • Sports performance

Preparing for a backhand, his left hip undergoes hip adduction.

Preparing for a backhand, his left hip undergoes hip adduction.

Sports performance may suffer due to hip adduction problems. Significant hip adduction skills are required for effective skiing, running,  golf, and tennis to name a few sports. Without good hip adduction skills, an athlete may not be as fast, powerful and effective as he or she may wish.

During the backswing, his right hip undergoes hip adduction. Follow through has hip adduction occurring in his left hip. If a golfer can't adduct on both ends of the swing then there will likely be problems with the shot.

During the backswing, his right hip undergoes hip adduction. Follow through has hip adduction occurring in his left hip. If a golfer can’t adduct on both ends of the swing then there will likely be problems with the shot.

 

In Part II of this post I’ll show not only how to mobilize the hip into adduction but also how to build strength and stability.

 

Hip Internal Rotation: You Need It.

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All human movement can be described in three dimensions. We move in the saggital plane (front/back), frontal plain (side-to-side), and the transverse plane (rotation.) Certain movements are one-plane dominant: Distance running is mostly a saggital plane movement. Swinging a baseball bat is mostly a transverse plane movement. Ice skating and rollerblading feature a lot of frontal plane movement. Still, each of these movements also contain elements of the other two planes.

(Beyond moving in these planes, we also must stabilize our limbs against forces that are trying to move us in each of these planes.)

In my observation, a lot of people lack movement skills in one or more of these planes. Many times it seems clients lack adequate transverse plane movement, especially in the hips where the femurs attach to the pelvis. (We describe transverse plane hip movement as internal and external rotation.)  If we lack good transverse plane hip movement then we may have trouble with all sorts of activities from walking to running to skiing to golfing. Poor transverse hip mobility may result in back pain, knee pain or even shoulder or neck pain. Restricted transverse plane movement may also negatively impact sports performance.

I’ve found that restrictions in the transverse plane are often hidden. , Many people may feel tight hamstrings, tight pecs, or tight neck and upper back muscles, but rarely do I hear encounter a client who’s aware of something that doesn’t move well in the transverse plane. It seems a lot of us are walking around with no clue that we lack adequate rotation in any of our joints.

Why might an individual lack internal or external rotation? It could be any number of reasons. I believe our modern, seated, immobile lifestyle is probably a major contributor. Other reasons could be an anteverted or retroverted femur. These are structural issues of the femur that can’t be changed. Some sort of past injury could also be a culprit. All three issues could be at play.

I rest my case that hip internal and external rotation is important.

Here’s a video discussing hip internal rotation, why it’s important, and how to achieve it. Live it up kids!

Got Dorsiflexion?

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The toes, feet and ankles get no respect. I’m not sure a lot of people walk into the gym and say, “Okay, today is foot and ankle day! Gonna work those parts hard and make ’em strong!”  We throw shoes on them and ignore them. Think about this though: It’s only every single step that we need those obscure parts to work correctly.

If we look at the body as a kinetic chain then we start to see that the feet and ankles don’t live in isolation. Movement or lack there of at the feet and ankles may create problems all the way up through the legs, hips, spine and shoulders. If an athlete doesn’t have sufficient motion at the ankles then he or she may not perform at his or her best.

Similarly, limited foot and ankle motion may be a contributor to pain. I’m not just talking about foot pain either. Again, if we consider the interconnectedness of all the joints and limbs of the body then it may not surprise us that faulty foot/ankle movement could contribute to back knee pain, hip pain, back pain — even shoulder or neck pain!

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Dorsiflexion: There’s no substitution for it!

In my observing both my clients and myself, I see a lot of us don’t quite have optimal  dorsiflexion. It’s easy to overlook but as I’ve argued, it’s very important. I know in my case, my various plantar fasciitis/Achilles tendon issues have improved as I’ve worked on my dorsiflexion. (Strictly speaking, I don’t know if limited dorsiflexion was a cause or effect of my foot and Achilles pain. That said, working on improving dorsiflexion
has coincided with those problems fading out.)

Dorsiflexion is more than just forward and back motion. There is always a 3D aspect to movement and we want to consider that. Also, We have a couple of different muscles (well… more than a couple but we’re considering mainly just two) that cross at the ankle. The following drills emphasize both the gastrocnemius muscle (the straight-leg drills) and the soleus muscle (the bent knee drills.)

Thoughts on Ski Conditioning

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The big running season is over and now the snow is falling. It’s almost time to put the sticks on the feet and slide down a mountain!  Fun on top of fun! It might be a good idea to prepare myself as best as I can before I get out there. Here are some thoughts on how I might do that. Maybe they’ll help inform your own ski conditioning strategy.

Exercises should look a lot like skiing.

  • Some sort of squat should probably be employed, but a conventional barbell front or back squat may not be adequate. I discuss more of my thinking on this here and here.
  • Tri-plane movement must be considered. For example:
    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    • My hips will go back and forth between flexion + internal rotation + abduction on the downhill leg then more flexion + relative externall rotation + adduction on the uphill leg. The hip, knee and ankle joints must move well and the corresponding muscles must lengthen and contract repeatedly.
    • In addition to that hip movement, my thoracic spine should stay aimed downhill so I’ll be doing a lot of rotation through the trunk. Like the leg muscles, my trunk muscles must be able to manage the repeated loading that will happen.
    • I need adequate range of motion and control of that range as I move downslope.

Energy system conditioning

Good movement is massively important to good skiing. Adequate stamina is also a major consideration. I want to be able to last for a while and be able to have fun all day. If I fatigue too soon then it’s likely my movement skills will be compromised and I could get injured.

I have a good base of general endurance but I need to make it a bit more specific to skiing. A typical ski run involves powerful turning and management of variable terrain, sometimes for several minutes. Then I rest on the chair lift for several minutes and do it again. This cycle may repeat itself for several hours. Also, alpine skiing involves a lot more knee flexion/extension compared to running. My quads typically bear the brunt of all that knee movement so I’ll need to condition them appropriately. How will I do that?

Ski circuits

My plan is to put together several exercises that will target the muscles and movement patterns that are vital to skiing and I intend to them at a pace and for a duration that affects the appropriate energy systems. Here are some examples:

My most recent workout put together some conventional strength exercises and put them together with some ski-specific exercises in a super-set. It went like this:

Super-set 1

  • barbell clean + front squat: 1+5 (did as many reps as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • pull-ups: 7 reps
  • 1-leg pivots aka balance reaches x 10/10 reps to each side; An example:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

Super-set 2

  • Bench Press: 5 x 3 sets (did as many as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • Various 3D jumps with the ViPR x 20 reps; Here’s an example of one version of the exercise using a sandbag instead of a ViPR:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible

Super-set 3

  • cross court sprints on the basketball court x 4
  • odd-angle medicine ball squats; something like this:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

There are lots of possibilities out there!

 

 

Supple Leopard Preview & Bulletproof Coffee

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The Supple Leopard Project

I love human movement and performance.  One of the best resources for this type of thing is Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD.com.  Kelly is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and he runs San Francisco Crossfit.  MobilityWOD has won various awards, and Kelly’s been featured in Competitor Magazine, Inside Triathlon and others.  MobilityWOD is chock full of valuable, do-it-yourself movement maintenance and movement enhancement techniques.  If you’re an athlete and/or you don’t move as well as you should then get a look at MobilityWOD and start playing with some of the drills.

The big news is Kelly’s got a book coming out April 23 called Becoming a Supple Leopard and I’m quite excited about it.  (What does “supple leopard” mean?  It’s something he often references.  The leopard is powerful, graceful, sleek.  Wouldn’t you like to be one too?)  For your viewing pleasure, here’s a 50-page preview of the book.  Click the image to pre-order.  I need to order my copy.  I think it’ll be great.

Bulletproof Coffee

If you’re interested in nutritional experimentation, then you may will fall in love with Bulletproof Coffee.  A friend sent me a link to a rundown of the whole gig.  Go there to get all the information.  For expediency’s sake, here’s the recipe:

  • Start with 4-500 ml (2 mugs) of black coffee brewed with my mold-free Upgraded Coffee beans.   (Why this is important)
  • Add 2 Tbs (or more, up to 80 grams, about 2/3 of a standard stick of butter) of Kerry Gold or other UNSALTED grass-fed butter
  • Add 30 grams of MCT oil for max energy, weight loss and brain function (this is 6 times stronger than coconut oil, your next best choice)
  • Blend with a pre-heated hand blender, Magic Bullet, or (best) counter top blender until there is a creamy head of foam. (It doesn’t work well if you mix it with a spoon)

I’ll not lie, I didn’t use the Upgraded Coffee for this recipe nor did I use MCT oil, but rather I used some sort of decent coffee and coconut oil.  (I’m fairly interested in trying the Upgraded Coffee but it’s a bit pricey as is the MCT oil.)  I’ve been drinking this stuff recently and–WOW!–it’s pretty interesting.  I normally eat a fairly decent sized breakfast (bacon, eggs, fruit; oatmeal, nuts, fruit, butter; big smoothie) but this Bulletproof concoction has kept me amazingly full for several hours.  I’ve been drinking this before workouts, runs, and bike rides.  I’ve been feeling full (but not stuffed or bloated) and very energized.  I’m a big fan of the high fat content and I’m glad I’ve discovered this Kerry Gold grass-fed butter.  That’s a new staple for me. Oh, yes, it does sound a little weird this new drink.  If you’re scared, avoid it.  If you’re an adventurous sort, give it a shot.

A Little Bit on Stretching: Part I

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Artwork for the cover of Fantastic Four vol. 3, #52 (Apr, 2002). Art by Mike Wieringo.

Artwork for the cover of Fantastic Four vol. 3, #52 (Apr, 2002). Art by Mike Wieringo.

I’m all over the place here!  I’m tremendously excited over some new concepts that I’ve been learning; concepts concerning human movement and how we function.  A lot of it has to do with stretching but not necessarily the type you automatically think of (more on that in a little bit.)  My difficulty is in how to write about all this without putting out a some sort of treatise. Maybe I’ll make it more than one part…  Here’s the start.

A recent Washington Post MisFit column tackles the issue of stretching.  Is it beneficial or is one of those things that we do just because we’ve always done it?  What’s the evidence that there is any benefit to doing it?

I’ll tell you that I’ve done just about a 360 and then a 180 back the other way on stretching.  Like most people I was taught that stretching was important so I did it but I didn’t really understand it.  Then, several years ago I was persuaded to change my view.   I became convinced that dedicated (static) stretching was not effective and not safe.  Now I will tell you without hesitation that stretching absolutely must be done–in fact no human movement is possible without it! Remember that fact because it’s enormously important, and I’ll discuss it more later.

First, let’s figure out what stretching is.  Most people have an idea what it looks like to stretch but most likely there are other methods that might not come to mind immediately.  So let’s look at what might qualify as “stretching.”

  • Static stretching: This is probably what first comes to mind when you think stretching.  This involves moving a limb into a position to the point where a slight burning is felt in the muscle and the position is held for anywhere from several seconds to a minute or so.  Static stretching addresses passive flexibility.
  • Dynamic stretching: This is stretching with movement.  Maybe the best examples of dynamic stretching are found in the animal kingdom.  Ever see a cat or dog wake up from a nap?  Essentially, dynamic stretching involves moving limbs or the trunk through its available range of motion.  You often see athletes do this prior to a game.  Examples include kicking the legs, swinging the arms, twisting the torso, lunging and other such movements.  Dynamic stretching often involves swinging an implement such as a golf club, tennis racquet, or baseball bat.  Dynamic stretching addresses active flexibility.
  • PNF Stretching –  Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: I won’t go into much detail on PNF as there’s a lot to it and I’m not terribly well versed on the topic.

The popular perception of (static) stretching says it’ll reduce likelihood of injury, increase range of motion, decrease muscle soreness.  Is any of this true?  Well, the evidence is not entirely clear.  There’s very little evidence that static stretching prior to exercise or competition decreases injury.  In fact it very likely contributes to injury.  Why?  I won’t go into every single physiological detail of stretching here but I’ll try to explain the big ideas as best I can.

Static stretching actually weakens the ability of a muscle to contract.  Though you may gain range of motion (ROM) from static stretching it also results in a less-active muscle and thus a less stable joint or joints which that muscle crosses.  This phenomenon has been shown by testing athletes strength and/or jumping ability pre- and post-stretch.  So if you stretch statically prior to your soccer or softball game what you’ve done is create weaker muscles and less stable joints.  That’s not what you want.  Dynamic stretching is safer and more pertinent to real-life situations.

Dynamic stretching is now generally recognized as an appropriate activity prior to a workout or athletic even, as research (see ch. 3 of Siff’s Supertraining) has shown that active flexibility is more closely correlated to sporting proficiency than is passive flexibility.  In this way, you wake up the nervous system and prepare the body for action.  A dynamic stretch routine should include movements that you will perform in the workout or game.  Examples include body weight squats, various lunges, twisting the torso and swinging and reaching the arms in various directions.

How’s that for part I?