First, I want to apologize for the lack of blog posts the last two months. I’ve been pretty busy doing my best to stay up-to-date with other aspects of my life.
Things like graduate school, maintaining daily disciplines, and being an assistant to professors of university classes can definitely side-track blog posting. 😉
With that being said, I’d like to address the topic of the day. Movement.
How do we move?
How is it that we’re able to put one foot in front of the other?
How can we lift heavy ass weights and get stronger as a result?
Well, it all comes down to your nervous system. It’s the interface between your brain and the rest of your body. It’s the underlying driver of all physical movements and it’s where your body’s strength begins.
It is absolutely crucial to free the brain-body relationship so your entire physical reality will be able to do what it wants to do… move.
Your body is always moving.
But if your nervous system is locked down and stifled, your ability to move freely will be severely hampered.
In previous posts, I spoke about freeing your body through breathing and massage. These kinds of practices will re-balance your nervous system and open up your ability to have a functional body from a deeply fundamental level.
These practices release your body’s natural ability to move efficiently, heal itself, balance hormones, and maintain health and wellness.
Once your nervous system is freely communicating between your brain and the rest of your body, you can become stronger simply through some form of movement. You can train your nervous system by practicing this connection between your brain and your body, and you will become stronger as a result.
There are many methods of movement that you can try: yoga, Tai-chi, calisthenics, high-intensity weight lifting, other martial arts, and a myriad of other practices.
The principle is that each one of these movement practices will strengthen your body by providing it a stimulus. The type of stimulus you choose will determine the type of results you will get because your nervous system will adapt to any of these movements over time.
This is the process of strengthening your neuro-muscular system, and it’s simply a function of movement and time, which brings us back to awareness.
Of course, you can choose any of these methods or techniques, and you can also choose something I didn’t even list here.
What you chose and how you do it will depend on your awareness.
What results are you looking for?
Why do you desire those specific results?
How is the training affecting you physically? Mentally? Spiritually?
These questions must be guided by a deep awareness of your movement practice, and how that practice changes your reality.
Maintaining this awareness enables you to become conscious of the subtle nuances in your body that may be limiting your progress, or restricting your strength. The continual awareness of your movement practice will guide you to a complete picture of your body’s strength and allows you to constantly assess, analyze, and act in order to support the growing strength within you.
Physiology: a branch of biology that deals with the functions and activities of life or of living matter and of the physical and chemical phenomena involved.
What a word! It’s multisyllabic and kind of a rolls nicely off the tongue… physiology.
Despite the multiple syllables and its nice sound, it’s an important concept to grasp if you want long-term, sustainable strength.
How you move and what goals you develop will largely depend on your physiology.
Your unique physiology is an interconnected matrix of principles that determine how your body functions. How your unique physiology is organized will depend on your specific gene expression and the influences of your environment.
These two things play a role in how you build muscle, how your digestion works, how you develop, what your sleeping patterns are like, how your immune system functions, and a whole bunch of other things that are super important.
I won’t list everything, but the point here is this: since you’ve lived a different life than almost every other human, you will naturally have to practice differently depending on how your unique physiology works.
You may have had a knee injury that never fully healed, or maybe you have Type I diabetes, or you have a hormone imbalance that stems from stress and a poor diet, or maybe it’s simply that you’ve never done the movement before.
Focusing on your unique physical makeup is important in this journey toward becoming a stronger version of yourself, and it will guide you as you chose which movements to practice. Yet still, this is all relative to the basic human physiology that we all share, and there are principles that will guide you toward a clear picture of your personal strength.
So, physiology gets pretty complex. And it gets there quick!
This is exactly why focusing on the fundamental principles becomes so vitally important in your journey to becoming stronger.
How the musculoskeletal system fits together and moves is the foundation of this movement system we call the human body.
How a cell functions reveals the vital processes of respiration and muscular hypertrophy.
How you absorb/transport nutrients and how your immune system functions both show you the importance a properly functioning internal physiology.
These are some of the simpler ideas that drive human physiology and it can get confusing without principles to guide you through the learning process. How your physiology is functioning now will play a large part in determining your goals.
Strength is holistic.
At both macro and micro scales, your body’s strength is deeply interlinked with your physiology.
How the cells of your body differentiate and become all the various tissues and organs in your body is a magnificent masterpiece of interconnected processes that all work together to practice balance on a bewildering scale.
You have about 37 trillion cells in your body! Each and every one of them has its own nucleus, its own DNA, and its own organ system (called organelles). They’re almost like a tiny little universe all by themselves.
How a cell functions is about as deep as your physiology goes without diving into the realms of physics and chemistry.
To keep it simple, I like to think about cells like they’re my own army of minions.
This army will follow you faithfully and do anything you ask of them, but if you neglect them and don’t give them something to do they get bored and depressed. Eventually, these little cell minions start doing weird things on their own and won’t listen so well. They kinda go “fuck – shit!” and then start messing everything up. This is how you get illness and injury.
What I’m saying here is that your cells are a balanced system that will communicate with you by encouraging and adapting to whatever you ask them to do.
It’s all about the stimulus.
How are you stimulating your body at the deepest level?
How are you stimulating your cells?
Inside each of your cells are little organelles called mitochondria.
These are what produce energy for your body. They are the last step in the conversion process your body uses to turn food into energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
How you stimulate your body will have direct effects on your mitochondria, but what those effects are will be determined by how you stimulate your body. This is the basic principle that underlies how to optimize your eating habits and movement patterns.
The cellular physiology that’s specific to your body and your history will guide this entire process. For example; if you have a metabolic disease like Type II Diabetes, you will have to eat foods that are very different from the foods an Olympic athlete would eat.
The same goes for movement. If you are not used to moving frequently you will experience the effects of this at a cellular level. Your mitochondria will become less resilient and inefficient at converting nutrients into energy. They will adapt to the level of activity your giving them and your physiology will become weaker as an effect.
Mitochondrial physiology can get deep, but the principles are basic and easy to understand. They’re the powerhouses of your cells, and your cells are responsible for converting food into the building blocks of your entire body.
How these tiny powerhouses are functioning is of the utmost importance if you’re interested in optimizing your body’s strength.
And if your mitochondria are responsible for supplying the energy for getting stronger, how do your cells actually get stronger?
The answer is, again, a very complex topic. Simply put… muscular hypertrophy.
What the heck is that?
Well, it all comes back to what kind of stimulus you’re providing your body.
Putting your muscles into hypertrophy is like telling your cells that you almost died trying to do something where physical strength was so demanding that you almost couldn’t do it. This gets your cells thinking that they need to repair and add more muscle tissue. That way, next time this happens you won’t get so close to “dying”.
A more technical/simple way to explain that is that it’s the condition in which your muscles become enlarged, which can happen in multiple ways. But here we’re talking about doing it by stimulating your muscles by lifting something heavy, or by slow controlled movements, or through some other form of movement practice.
When this happens (cell enlargement/hypertrophy) repeatedly, your muscle cells get damaged and torn. Then, when you rest, your muscles repair themselves.
Well, there’s a little more to it than that.
If you want optimal repair and growth, you need to activate and damage ALL of your various muscle tissues and empty the sugar (glycogen) stores from those tissues.
This means that you can’t just go lift some weights and get tired and then expect to have the best results. It also means that you need to be careful about the kind of stimulus you’re giving your cells because if you tear them too much and too frequently, you won’t be getting stronger. In fact, you might even get weaker and gain unwanted weight from the unneeded stress you’re putting on your body.
This is a simple process that, if done correctly, reveals your restrictions and shows you the appropriate level of stimulus you should be giving your body.
If you’ve never lifted a weight in your life, it isn’t appropriate to start doing deadlifts with 200 pounds on the bar. Instead, you can focus your goals on hypertrophy… and all that takes is depleting your cells of glycogen and enough tearing of the muscle fibers.
You don’t need to lift 200 pounds to accomplish this, you can do it by just lifting the 45-pound bar very slowly and under complete awareness and control.
Another option is to use the weights you’re already carrying around with you. Your body.
Bodyweight exercises are among the most effective ways to induce muscular hypertrophy, but again, it comes down to HOW you do it. Not what you’re doing.
And this brings me to goals. What’s the goal you’re interested in to begin with?
This really depends mostly on your physiology.
Do you have a knee injury? Do you have a metabolic disease like diabetes? Have your muscles been stimulated in that way before? What kind of food have you been eating?
If your knee is all busted up, you definitely don’t want to be going to the gym and tugging on heavy weights. But slow, controlled movements that follow your range of motion will do wonders for your muscles and still induce hypertrophy.
If you have diabetes, you don’t want to be eating a whole bunch of carbs to restore glycogen in your muscles. But a well-balanced eating pattern with lots of healthy fat and some protein will allow your body to recover without eating a bunch of carbs.
If you’ve simply never lifted a weight in your life, trying to pull on a bar with weights is only going to feel clumsy and awkward. But starting slowly with only the bar will allow your nervous system and your cells to learn, and you’ll do it better each time you try.
And if you’ve been eating food that’s full of toxins, chemicals, and low-quality nutrients then your body won’t have the well-functioning internal physiology to keep you healthy while you’re trying to get stronger.
So where you start and what goals you decide on will always need to be guided by a deep awareness of your physiology, as well as a mindset that respects failure.
This brings us to the next important aspect of becoming stronger.
Practicing goals is a term that describes the practical perspective that sometimes you just won’t achieve the goals that you set out for yourself.
The old saying that goes ‘practice makes perfect’ is incomplete. Instead, think of it like this: Practice IS Perfect.
By focusing on the philosophy of practicing your goals instead of achieving them, you can give yourself the freedom to accomplish any goal you set for yourself. But over an appropriate amount of time.
Not just the time you have your mind set on, but the time that is appropriate for your nervous system, your physiology, and your level of movement awareness.
This philosophy also encourages people to constantly practice their goals, not just try to achieve them. Learn to enjoy the process, and the results will achieve themselves.
What does all that mean?
Well, it’s about your mindset.
If you have goals, dates, a calendar, lists, and deadlines that’s all great. But, sometimes you aren’t going to hit these deadlines, sometimes your list goes uncompleted, and sometimes you simply won’t achieve goals the way you think you should have.
Just keep practicing. If you practice your goals, and be sure to practice every day, you will achieve the goals that are most important. What you focus your practice on is important, and where awareness plays a powerful role.
Awareness is important because it allows you to focus your attention.
Your body is unique, if you are unable to maintain awareness of what’s working and what’s not working, it’ll be easy to give up in self-defeat.
If your attention strays too far from your unique circumstance you will be in danger of using exercise programs that aren’t serving your physiology or your goals.
Awareness also brings you back into the dimension of time. It reminds you that everything takes time. Shaolin monks didn’t become experts in martial arts overnight. Not even in a year. It takes years – decades to become masterful in any martial art, and the true masters practice their entire lives.
Awareness is where the spirit meets consciousness and is also where you can clarify your movement goals. If you aren’t clear about your goals, and why you are practicing them you’ll be in danger of becoming a slave to the method or confused about your motivations.
You may need to adjust your deadlift to avoid plateauing. Or you may need to do entirely different exercises to balance certain muscle groups. Your hip flexors might be tight so corrective stretching could be necessary… there are a million and a half reasons for why it’s important to maintain close attention through awareness.
What exercise you’re doing will be guided by these principles, and especially by your awareness.
All movements are guided by awareness… what makes the difference is whether you’re participating in that awareness – or not.
To summarize the three main points – 1) understand your unique physiology, it’ll tell you what’s best for your unique circumstance – 2) practice your goals because practice IS perfect – 3) be sure to cultivate movement awareness every step of the way, it brings you back into time and allows you to adapt to any changes in your movement practice.
In my next post, I’ll be diving deep into the second principle of bodily strength: Rest.
Until then, Stay Strong Everyone.