Wearing your physical achievements as a badge of honor is the cliché.
Bragging rights are the social currency for those who have completed the craziest races, the most marathons, or lifted the most weights. It is built into our culture that standing out means chasing the highest peaks, running faster, and lifting heavier than the person next to us.
To you, my high achieving fitness friend, I tip my hat. You have aimed high, unleashed your inner warrior, conquered that mountain, and you are on your way to glory.
But, when your body is broken and you are tired of stretching, contorting, and foam rolling every nook and cranny of your body, call me, I have the answer.
“Make sure your training doesn’t make you the strongest, fastest, and most unhealthy you have ever been.”
Health…. How Admirable
I remember the days of pushing the limits in the gym. I judged myself, and the worth of others, far too often by their dedication to back squats, power cleans, and where they finished in the CrossFit Open.
I competed in the Southern California CrossFit regional four times and coached over 70 regional athletes in their pursuit of elite fitness. There is a real sense of accomplishment that accompanies these milestones. However, when the dust settles and you take inventory of your body, doubt creeps in.
My body was a tic-tac-toe board of nagging pain and injuries. Tight ankles caused my right knee to flare leading into my left hip impingement. I once tried to drop a 295# barbell on my back only to demolish my shoulder as the bar slid straight down my back.
Why was I doing this to myself?
What was the goal?
Was all of this worth it just to put another five pounds on my lifts?
I was married, owned a business, was responsible for coaching over 300 people, and my body was in shambles. This vehicle, my body, which I had finely tuned to carry me in athletic battle, was the single thing hindering me from living a life of physical freedom.
I was the strongest, fastest, and most unhealthy I had ever been in my life.
I began peeling back the layers, unravelling everything I had learned over the last 20 years, and focused my mind on one element: How do I find Physical Freedom?
The journey led me to working with the best physical therapists, yogis, movement experts, and biofeedback therapists. What I uncovered went deeper than the weights, muscles, joints, and tissues. The journey took me into the source of the pain, the mind, the nervous system, and the neurological pathways that lead to the ultimate goal, physical freedom.
The Physical Freedom Pyramid
Yes, you can have it all. You can CrossFit, half marathon, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash.
You can also do it without shoveling your savings account into your healthcare specialist’s back pocket.
But, to get there you have to learn the biological systems involved in creating physical freedom.
What’s physical freedom?
“Physical freedom,” is the ability to play, develop skills, and perform without pain or risk of injury.
In the normal course of goal setting, physical freedom is where everyone starts. “I want to finish in the top 1,000 in my region in the CrossFit Open.” This is a great goal assuming you have a solid base of strength, conditioning, mobility, stability, and neurological development to facilitate that goal.
Physical freedom involves building skills to perform specific tasks. Kipping pull ups, handstand pushups, and double unders are skills. You do not need them to be healthy but you want to be able to do them because they are fun.
Quickly, as everyone does, you realize, “If I want to reach my goal, I am going to need to get stronger.”
A small pyramid begins to take shape. Directly under possessing physical freedom is strength and conditioning.
Strength and Conditioning – Do You Functional Movement?
Strength training is a necessity for health and longevity. There is absolutely no way around it. Without strength, your body will lose its ability to move external objects, your own bodyweight, and in time, movement will become a struggle.
Harvard Medical School explains, “strength (or resistance) training is critical to preserving the ability to perform the most ordinary activities of daily living — and to maintaining an active and independent lifestyle.” Your ability to enjoy life is uniquely linked to the strength of your joints, connective, and muscle tissue.
The major misconception is that strength training will hurt you. “Squats are bad for your knees and deadlifts are bad for your back.” You may have even injured your back deadlifting or squatting. This, however, could not be further from the truth. What leads to injury is a misunderstanding of functional movement patterns and their importance in joint and tissue health.
As you lift more, without training movement mechanics, your muscles tense up. This tension is your brain troubleshooting and protecting your joints. This tension held in the muscles leads to joint pain.
What is the number one way you try to eliminate tension in your muscles? That’s right, the next layer to the Pyramid of Physical Freedom, mobility and stability.
Mobility and Stability – Finding Optimal
Why does laying on a lacrosse ball feel like a small piece of your soul is being torn out of you?
That stupid, little yellow ball had good intentions until started telling people they needed to “mash” their tissues. How can a tiny little ball inflict so much pain?
In the Pyramid of Physical Freedom, mobility and stability is a prerequisite to strength and conditioning. You want to focus on tissue and joint health before loading. If you don’t you’ll be hardwiring strength on movement dysfunction. No Bueno.
Every joint in your body has an optimal range of motion (ROM), the amount that joint is designed to flex, extend, and rotate. Mobility refers to tissue length and stability describes your ability to control the ROM of that joint. Lacking mobility or stability and the inability to achieve optimal ROM leaves you vulnerable to chronic pain and injury.
When you hop on the lacrosse ball, in the short term, you will see changes. Tissues will loosen up and you will find new ranges of motion. In the long term, however, the changes quickly diminish. You learn that even though you see changes in your movement, the pain does not go away.
You need to move down the physical freedom pyramid.
The stress of life (work), coupled with poor movement (sitting), amplified by loaded (weights), intense (high rep, fast) training is stored deeper than the tissues and joints. The pain is stored in your nervous system, in the wiring of how your brain communicates to your body.
The Nervous System – The Base of the Pyramid
The nervous system is the control panel for everything you do. Simplified, your brain sends signals (neurons) to your body. These signals fire, moving your body in accordance with the functional movement patterns. If they fire poorly, due to inflammation, stress, or tension, your brain recognizes harm. In response to the potential for harm, the brain blocks that movement by sending a pain signal to that joint to limit its ROM.
You head to work and deal with a high stress job bookended by nasty commutes. You take on this emotional and mental stress sitting down, with a poor posture, creating tension throughout your body. This tension, caused by stress and inflammation, is called neural tension. You cannot stretch or foam roll it but it wreaks havoc on your movement and health.
“Nerves can become sensitized to this stress under certain circumstances, such as the presence of inflammation or preexisting physical damage. In this event, normal ranges of motion can cause pain, numbness, tingling or other signs of nervy distress – this is called adverse neural tension.”
The base level to the Pyramid of Physical Freedom is training your nervous system and downregulating stress to eliminate neural tension. To begin the process of relieving stress, you have to slow down, escape the intensity of life, and activate the parasympathetic, rest and digest response in your body.
Moving Up the Pyramid
The path to physical freedom is discovered in reverse. As humans it is our nature to chase goals. You want to play, compete, and do it all. As you challenge your physical capacity, you learn you will need to develop strength, so you lift weights. However, adding strength to movement dysfunction leads to chronic pain and injuries. You try to stretch your problems away with a lacrosse ball and foam roller only to find out the problem is deeper and linked to stress in the nervous system.
So how do you rebuild the system, eliminate lower back pain, and climb your way back to the top of the Physical Freedom Pyramid?
The Low Back Fix is the most comprehensive program one can find to solve lower back pain.
- It starts at the base of the pyramid. It begins by down regulating the nervous system.
- Then a thorough movement assessment customizes mobility and stability training.
- Finally, quality movement patterning is programed to help you layer on healthy joints and tissues to build trust with your brain and body.
The Low Back Fix literally rewires you from the inside out.
Daily breathwork systematically activates your parasympathetic nervous system allowing your body to relieve neural tension. The neural pathways from your brain become unclogged and the brain recognizes safety.
As you build your way up the pyramid, you can start to change the joints and tissues through focused mobility and stability. You cannot stretch neural tension, however. After focused down regulation, the body releases stress and then allows for effective soft tissue work. Eliminating neural tension will uncover flexibility you did not know existed.
With proper tissue length and optimal joint ROM, now you can layer in quality movement mechanics to strengthen the tissues and build skills that create physical freedom.
Life at the Top of the Pyramid
It was not an easy road. I had to learn everything through trial and error. There were bumps in the road but as I write this my body feels better than it has in the past 10 years. And I’m actually stronger than I have ever been.
I often say that I coach people with the CliffsNotes version of my best practices over the past two years. It was two years ago I began my descent down the pyramid searching for answers. Through the struggles of breathwork and slowing down I was able to combat the intensity and stress stored in my body. I worked on developing optimal ranges of motion so my brain trusted my joints and tissues. My strength training is balanced and movement focused.
I wake up every morning pain free. It is refreshing stepping out of bed without a tight back or impinged hips. I developed a simple morning routine, based off the Pyramid of Physical Freedom principles. Two years of research and learning compiled into a short six-minute routine. My morning routine starts by incorporating simple breathwork, joint and tissue ROM drills, and quality movement patterns that programs my brain and body first thing.
If you find yourself dealing with nagging pain like I was, this morning routine will jump start the healing process. I cannot recommend it enough. It has saved me thousands of dollars that I would have given to specialists.
I love it so much, I am giving it to you for free.