Last week, I had the great please to attend a lecture by Gil Hedley, PhD, on the role of fascia. I had known of him for years. His research forms one of the foundations which Sue Hitzmann has adapted for the MELT Method. Gil Hedley has studied fascia in dissections of thousands of human forms and has thus furthered an understanding of fascia.
Gil Hedley has famously used the word “fuzz” to describe fascia and even has a “fuzz speech” to give an impression of it. Here is a link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdRqLrCF_Ys.
Fascia also comes in the form of adhesions which form as a result of inflammation or when we immobilize a part of the body. This can also be the result of being habitually in any one position, such as prolonged sitting. My favorite example is a long-distance flight. Personally, I always feel dreadful when getting out at my destination and cannot wait to start moving. What happened is that the fascia between muscles has formed little strands to glum together surfaces that are supposed to be gliding on one another. When I begin to move, those little strands dissolve and all is well again.
We can easily see the result of this process when people are not moving and are not dissolving those little strands. They get denser and denser, and a little moving no longer suffices to return the tissue to its proper function. Muscles that can no longer move get stuck in chronically shortened position, resulting in postures that are more and more compromised. In the absence of an acute injury, that in turn is often the cause of neck, low back, hip, shoulder and knee pain.
There is a growing number of techniques to deal with fascia. I teach some of them which people can apply to themselves, namely MELT, Relief through Rolling and other related self-myofascial release techniques. After listening to Gil Hedley’s lecture, the importance of such techniques is even more evident to me.
(As an aside: I myself have decided to donate my body to science unless it can be used for organ donations.)
Much has been said lately about immigration and immigrants. But I dare to say that most people understand very little about the immigration process. I came to the United States from Germany in 1994 through marriage. When I talk about it, the general assumption is that this can hardly be more than a formality, and all I can say is “au contraire”.
I worked in the US for IBM on a special work visa from 1989 to 1994. I met a colleague who became my husband in 1994. Assuming, as we did then, that this could not possibly be difficult, we went to apply for the permanent residency permit, known as Green Card. The paperwork that arrived was daunting. Pages and pages of legalize, documentation to provide, and the, then, all-important question whether I was or ever had been a member of the communist party. Off to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) it went with a check for the prerequisite fee. Since I still had some things to attend to in Germany, and so I went there to get it done. That was in July.
Only six weeks later my husband received mail from the INS. Impressed about the speed of processing, he opened it eagerly only to find that the entire paperwork had been mailed back. The processing fee had been increased by $5, and he was to re-submit the papers again! In the meantime, I had arranged what needed to be done with typical German efficiency. So then I waited. And waited. And waited.
By the immigration rules, there cannot be a dual status. Since my husband had submitted a request for permanent resident status, I could not travel to the US as a tourist without being in violation of the law.
Eventually, I heard from the American embassy in Frankfurt where I needed to go for an interview. They needed a medical exam and a criminal background check. I was then to go the American embassy again to complete the paperwork.
During any interview in that timeframe, my motives for coming to the US were questioned and seemed to be met with suspicion. I was made to feel inferior and like a beggar. I felt completely at the mercy of authorities.
All in all, I arrived in the United States the day before Thanksgiving 1994, four and a half months after the application had started. I still remember getting into Atlanta which was my port of entry and where the last bit of paperwork was to be stamped and sealed. The last days in Germany had been very stressful because I hardly knew for when to book a flight. I was literally sick as a dog and felt sorry for the passengers who were sitting anywhere near me. I remember that big banner in the arrival lounge saying “Welcome to the United States” and felt a pang of doubt whether it was really so.
That was almost 23 years ago. Much has changed in the immigration processes since then but it is safe to say that is has not been made any easier. Recent immigrants only smile at my story and comment how fast it had been processed.
I became a citizen in 2000 (that’s another story). I love being here. It is my home.
I know, I know: what we call “snow” here in North Carolina is different from the places with REAL snow. And even I have to admit that one inch does not seem noteworthy.
But it ultimately does not matter how much there is to shovel. My point is that we train people so that they CAN shovel snow without needing ibuprofen or a visit to the chiropractor after the event.
I recognize that for some fitness training is an end in itself. And that’s fine with me. Personally, I have always viewed the activities in the gym as things I do so that I can do those things better that I really love. And while shoveling snow may not be on my “LOVE” list, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing a clean driveway with the mountains (well, little heaps) off to the side. It gives a sense of accomplishment.
To me, this is what ‘functional fitness’ is all about.
I am a person who makes New Year’s Resolutions. Some people may call them goals but – heck – what’s in a word.
As I sit here contemplating my direction for 2017, it has become clear to me that I want to deepen my understanding of connective tissue and corrective exercises. I look at the classes I teach and the personal training I do, and I realize who much I have changed my approach over the years. While I still teach the traditional bench press (well, kind of; it’s definitely on a ball and likely with just one arm which means it really isn’t a bench press at all any more), I see myself moving more and more into stabilization and corrective exercises. Whether this is to actually correct existing problems or to prevent future ones, my approach is very similar. I see the enormous benefit in my clients and class participants, and I want to get better at it.
I have already signed up for a course in Michigan in April which is a continuation of the ‘Relief through Rolling’ techniques. Some of my MELT colleagues have been raving about NKT (Neurokinetic Therapy), and thus this is on my radar. I am still debating with myself whether I dare throw my hat in the ring for the NASM Master Trainer program with focus on corrective exercise.
With all that, I may forgo attending the IDEA conferences this year. Rufus and I always loved to go; it really was a vacation for us. Seeing the development of the industry is fascinating and has shaped the direction of my business. But, out of necessity, the sessions there cover a broad range superficially, and I feel that I need to go deeper rather than broader at this point in my career.
Whatever the ultimate decisions will be, I definitely plan, a year from now, to sit here knowing more than I do now. It is a humbling realization that, the more I know, I recognize how much I do not know. Life is an evolution. And I like to stay ahead of the curve rather than trying to catch up.
Definition, taken from a newsletter of the MS Society on Exercise and MS: “Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.”
I had and have the privilege of working with five clients who have MS, and I am very happy to report that every one of them has improved in function. While five clients hardly represent a sizeable number for any study, I have observed a few things that all of them had in common and which I want to share.
I cannot imagine how I would feel on first receiving the diagnosis of MS; depressed would be among the first. Because of its unpredictability, it’s impossible to know how bad it will be and where it will end. MS symptoms are usually progressive, but the progression is not necessarily linear. There are good days, and there are bad days. Since MS usually affects the way a person walks, this shift in gait often leads to secondary problems with hips, lower back and knees which have nothing directly to do with MS. The resulting pain makes people often more sedentary which in turn exacerbates the problems further.
I have seen that clients with MS usually are in much worse shape than they need to be if they just knew how to counteract some of the growing limitations.
On a bad day, a client may have a very hard time walking but that does not mean that she has now reached a new low and that the necessary adaptations for that one day have to be here to stay. And yet, that seems to happen very often. We all know that a body adapts to new patterns of movement rather quickly, MS or not, and I have observed repeatedly that gait can be improved just be illustrating that a more ‘normal’ pattern is possible.
MS tends to impact one side more than the other, and hip and dorsiflexion are often problematic which leads to the characteristic swing gait. I have observed that those movements can be improved if there is still a connection. I have also witnessed that a seemingly dormant movement can all of a sudden ‘kick in’ when solicited with eccentric loading. There is nothing more rewarding for a trainer than to watch this happening.
It takes a bit of sleuthing to find a way to work a muscle when traditional exercises are not possible but a combination of isolation and integration can often lead to encouraging results. Once gait and posture improve, the secondary problems also diminish. Needless to say, having less pain and an improvement of function and stability provides a much better outlook on life and can reverse the downward spiral physically and emotionally.
Having recently been in Charleston and gone on a ‘Ghost Tour’, Halloween approaching and one of my clients proudly telling me that she had bought a skeleton at a Halloween store, I, too, became inspired to get a small plastic skeleton. And since things must have a name, I decided to call him (it is indeed a male skeleton) Skelly.
Whether I teach a class or train a private client, I always want to educate as well as provide a good workout experience. Analogies are my favorite ways of relating things, but nothing beats visual tools, and I almost wonder what took me so long to get Skelly.
This morning, he had his first semi-public appearance as I was talking about the role of a quadriceps and why it gets tight. Or, to be more specific, why only one of the four quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris, gets tight. It’s the one that is bi-articular and crosses the hip and the knee joint and thus is always in a shortened position when sitting. It was not the first time I had talked about it but the effect today truly created an understanding as I used my dynaband to simulate the rectus femoris and its position relative to the two joints it crosses. As they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.
This coming Monday, though, Skelly will need to be on my porch to scare all the little goblins who are bound to threaten with a trick but will settle for a treat.
A year ago today was the last day my husband was able to walk in his own house, even though it was so difficult for him, that it was painful to watch.
The next day, he could not stand up at all and fell down trying. Needing help getting back up was the greatest humiliation for him but I could not do it by myself and ended up calling 911 for assistance. He did not want to go to the hospital but agreed to it a few hours later. He was not able to move his left arm and leg and could not even sit up.
At the hospital ER, the doctors finally found the reason for his complete lack of making the expected progress. He had an infection in the brain. The surgery next day revealed the extent of the damage; the infection had eaten through the dura, a protective membrane for the brain.
When I saw Rufus after the surgery, we had a very fleeting moment of celebration: he could raise his left leg and squeeze my hand with his left, and when I went to bed that evening, I was convinced that we had turned the tide and that recovery was ahead of us even if much more complicated than expected.
The next day, there was no movement. It would never be again.
There is something about the Olympic Games which set them apart from any other sport event. The scale in terms of events and number of athletes; the triumphs and heartbreaks; the potential of human performance.
The dedication of the athletes is beyond anything I can imagine. Their lives are subordinated to the goal of running just a little faster, jumping just a little higher or adding just a greater level of difficulty to the gymnastics routine. The difference between winning the gold medal and capitalizing (deservedly) from it and ending up as number 4 in the race and never heard from again can be as little as 1/10th of a second. I don’t condone but I understand why the temptation to taking performance enhancing drugs is very strong.
At the same time, for every Olympic event there is a perfect body type. I was struck by the difference in physique between the 50 m freestyle races and all the other distances. Those swimmers were specialists in that one race and did not compete in any of the others. Michael Phelps certainly achieved his superhuman performances because of willpower and skill but also because of genetics which endowed him with a body of unusual proportions which happen to be perfect for swimming.
I had a wooden plank in my studio during the Olympics which became my surrogate for a balance beam. With the surface ½ inch off the ground, it seemed a great way to get perspective without taking any risk. I tried to spin on it and keep my balance – well, no. Then I tried to jump up, not a split, just a little hop. And that was all it was. My feet may have left the board 1/8 of an inch. And it had nothing to do with the fact that I am, ahem, well out of the Olympic age range.
I love how the Olympic Games bring the world together for 2 weeks every 4 years and help bring down walls.
My husband and I are great believers in the power of positive thinking, and studies after studies have demonstrated that the firm believe in a positive outcome is a powerful determining factor in the final result.
My husband’s surgery was scheduled to July 21, and here is what he wrote his clients on the evening before:
“I have been diagnosed with a 'Benign Tumor of Cerebral Meninges'. According to the Neurosurgeon, this is a very common occurrence. However, most growths do not get large enough to cause issues. Mine has gotten large enough, so it has to be removed. The Neurosurgeon said I am lucky to have this type of condition because he 'pops' them all the time. Fortunately it is non-malignant. However, to be a 100% sure, they have to diagnose the mass once it’s removed.
I am scheduled to have the surgical procedure on Tuesday, July 21st. The procedure should take about 1 1/2 hours. I should be released from the hospital on Thursday, July 23rd. I will rehab the rest of the week and be good to go with my regular schedule on Monday, July 27th.
Currently I feel great. I have been taking medication to reduce inflammation. We had a wonderful conference. I will be working my regular schedule on Monday, July 27th.
After reading this, even I, with all my positive thinking, pointed out that this seemed to be overly optimistic and that he should maybe give himself a few extra days of rest but my husband had nothing of it and sternly admonished me that you always assume the best possible scenario.
And thus started the first day of the last 5 months of his life.
When I complete an assessment prior to training, the focus is on alignment and posture. I try to identify what’s shortened, what’s lengthened, what’s twisted and what’s straight. I take pictures to show it to clients, and the response is usually “I had no idea”, followed by “What can I do about it?”
At that point, I talk about the different levels of competence:
Unconsciously incompetent: that is the stage when somebody is not even aware that something is amiss.
Consciously incompetent: here the client is made aware of deficiencies, and they rise to the levels of consciousness about the problem.
Consciously competent: we are working on corrective measures, and the client has success in seeing how the strategies bring the client to improved posture. However, the client has to make a conscious effort to maintain it.
Unconsciously competent: now things have become second nature, and no effort is required to maintain good posture. I often tell clients that they will know that “they have arrived” when slouching starts feeling uncomfortable.