To activate or to release?

Whether you’re doing rehab or working out, a frequently asked question is “am I feeling this in the right spot?” The human body is obviously complex, so it is a completely legitimate question for someone who isn’t well versed in muscular anatomy. During my time training and watching others get trained, I have generally learned that activation in certain areas is good, and certain areas are bad. Over time, certain muscles become shortened such as your pectoralis major/minor, rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae (hip flexor) and upper abdominals. When your muscle is shortened, it basically becomes tight and restricts your movement. These shortened muscles contribute to poor posture. So when I feel these muscles get overworked when exercising I know it’s not good. Conversely, over time certain muscles get lengthened (which means they are not activating efficiently) such as your gluteus maximus, transverse abdominis and lower trapezius muscles. When I do a workout and feel these muscles sore I know it’s a good kind of sore that also helps me maintain better posture.

For example, whenever I feel my thoracic spine is sore (middle back but more specifically the LOWER trapezius muscles) after a Muay Thai session I am ecstatic. However, if my pectoralis muscles are extremely sore or if my shoulder is hurting after Muay Thai I know at some point my body was compensating in a sub-optimal manner. Likewise, if my posterior leg muscles are sore after doing squats I am content. However, if my quadriceps are the only thing that’s sore after doing squats I am not impressed by my performance. If I do ANYTHING and my inner unit core muscles are sore (primarily my TVA) I am happy. Conversely, if I do ANYTHING and my lower back is in pain I get extremely depressed and then must go back to the drawing board to examine how I performed my movements and find where exactly my lumbar went into compensation. I know I’m making myself sound crazy by implying that my mood is correlated to my muscle activation, but paying attention to your body and how it reacts to certain environments is imperative if you want to maximize your performance efficiently while simultaneously reducing chronic pain and susceptibility to injuries.

What brought on this blog post was watching a fighter who was dealing with a knee problem unknowingly put a TENS unit on his IT band thinking it would bring him relief. However, since the TENS unit stimulates a muscle, and his IT band was already extremely tight (which contributed to his knee problem), he should have released the muscle through either myofascial compression (lacrosse ball, foam roller) or myofascial decompression (cupping). Mistakes like these are all too common; I have had the chiropractor do electric stimulation on my lower back in hopes of helping my scoliosis. While this might have alleviated the pain a little, it is important to note that perceived solutions like this contain a misconception that tends to ignore the root of the problem. Fixing the symptoms is not necessarily the same as fixing the problem itself. Until the root of the problem is addressed, relief will only be temporary and brief. Yes having a chiropractor place a ESTIM on my lower back gave me brief relief, but regularly releasing my hip flexors, my quadriceps, my upper abdominals while activating my posterior leg muscles, my thoracic spine and my TVA have given me a more permanent, self-sufficient solution to my scoliosis back pain.

My gluteus maximus has been sore and I'm happy. Before because of a combination of an anterior pelvic tilt & scoliosis this was previously  a muscle that wasn't able to activate when I worked out.

My gluteus maximus has been sore and I’m happy. Before because of a combination of an anterior pelvic tilt & scoliosis this was previously a muscle that wasn’t able to activate when I worked out.

The throacic spine musculature is also important!

The throacic spine musculature is also important!

Path to fitness.

Regardless of whether you’re a Psychology major or not, the nature vs. nurture debate is probably one you’re familiar with. Although it is evident that they are both important, I think that people underestimate the influence that culture has on behavior. You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, since this blog is supposed to be about getting fit again. It’ll all tie in I promise. Examining the culture that surrounds us is essential because our culture tends to “frame” the individual choices that we make (whether we’re conscious of it or not). Therefore, our health related behaviors arise out of the socio-cultural contexts of our environment.
Personally speaking, after recovering from an eating disorder five years ago, I made the decision to get fit. So I got a membership at LA Fitness and spent six days a week doing weightlifting, cardio on the treadmill, body weight exercises such as push ups. Relative to our cultural perceptions of what “fit” is, this was a seemingly logical course of action. It’s a course that most people take: becoming a gym rat who blindly does the same traditional exercises while repeating the “no pain, no gain” mantra in hopes of attaining health and wellness (and a “sexy” body).
For awhile, I thought I was doing great. I had a nice muscular tone, was seemingly strong for my size and was in shape to spend a grueling two weeks training with the best Muay Thai camps in Thailand (try doing intense pad work in the sauna, that’s kind of what Thailand feels like). Although people who blindly follow the “traditional” workouts might achieve results, it is most likely not sustainable for the human body in the long run. Especially when coupled with the dysfunctional stressors present in our environment.

For example, I had chronic back pain which stemmed from the fact that I spent all day sitting in school, tightening my hip flexors, and shortened my upper abdominals which contributed to an anterior pelvic tilt. However, I would still go to the gym after and place excess stress on my lumbar doing exercises like sit ups. My chronic shoulder pain stemmed from my internally rotated shoulders, since I was constantly hunched over the computer and then went to the gym to further that dysfunction when doing bench presses.

From an objective perspective, I realized something had to change in order for me to implement a fitness lifestyle that’s sustainable in the long run. I needed to make the change to my workout regimen so I can continue to train martial arts, so I can be physically healthier, but most importantly so I can live a pain free life. When one decides to abandon the current inefficient cultural paradigms, it’s essential that a better alternative exists. Luckily for me, I have Functional Patterns. And this is a documentation of my journey towards functionality and fitness, so I can hopefully one day instill relevance in others and bring value to the world.

PS: I suppose this whole post is an elaboration on how the notion of “live intentionally, not habitually” directly impacted my life 😉