In high school, I studied by looking over my notes a few times in the evenings before the Red Wings’ game started.
In college, I had to shut myself into ‘seminar meeting room’ on campus – decorated in stark white, equipped with a table, few chairs, and silence in order to learn anything.
In grad school, studying ranged from on-campus silence to the non-discernible background noise of a coffee shop. And sometimes the local pub on an off-peak evening.
The learning environment matters just as much as the material.
If you have an optimal environment, but the material is subpar, you are learning subpar content well.
If you have a substandard environment, and the material is quality, you are doing some murky learning – segmented, incomplete content mixed in with chatter.
If you have a substandard environment and poor quality, then you might as well go to the bar for a pint instead.
Basketball players have long practiced free throw shooting. 1,000s upon 1,000s of repetitions dialing in their neuroplastic cortical matter and axonal activity -ingraining the pattern of movement, the muscle activity, joint motion, everything into a reflexive moment.
They train when their bodies are rested, fresh, with focused muscle activity and motor programming.
They train fatigued, forcing their bodies to recall their reflexive programs, rising above the muscle fatigue to still achieve the same reflexive free throws.
Sports psychology then has these athletes training with external variables – flickering lights, noise, and other sensory stimulation in attempts to through off their concentration and environmental cues to still tap into their neuro-reflexive motor programming to shoot that same free throw – but in a hostile environment.
Varying learning environments.
Think of a muscle (and muscle groups) as students. And think of various exercises, facilitative activities, inhibitory activities, etc as training lessons and teaching environments.
Some students need the quiet. Some can learn in some chatter.
All, needing to perform.
Strength training, speed training, power core training, running form training are all a combination at varying levels of the lesson and learning environment.
Many times, bringing the whole team/group together to learn complex patterns in complex learning environments works just fine.
Certain muscle or muscle groups need isolation, quiet, specific training in isolation.
That can be our Internal Obliques and breathing diaphragm. Sometimes, the activity and environment is full of over-stimulation and they can not fully learn and execute their roles and responsibilities. They biff the free throw.
Or If you think of a group project, where everyone has their roles,
Another classmate/group member may try to dominate the project and do it all – leaving other key classmates out of the mix.
This principle of the inhale-exhale is no different.
We dial down the breathing activity from many schools of thought like Wim Hof,
And many, many abdominal core training exercises and programs,
In order to provide the optimal initial learning environment for the Internal Obliques and Diaphragm.
We walk them through their positioning, their tensile loads, their various roles in stability and power production sans the high stimulation environment.
At the same time, we are walking their teammates through how not to help out – as in – how not to take over and do the job for them. As tempting as it is for the compensatory patterns, they need to learn what their roles aren’t.
Sometimes we can sit them down in the classroom with the other students. Sometimes they need one-on-one tutoring sessions.
The inhale-exhale patterns outlined in the previous article (part 7) are likened to the classroom teaching. A football team practicing. Stripped down, but not quite to the level of one on one tutoring necessarily.
Yes, we need to integrate all of the parts, groups, into the cohesive team into the complex environments. The key is understanding the entry point of neuro-musculo-skeletal re-education from which to build.
Hopefully this gives a bit more context about how this all is structured, and why this all is a bit more complex, and can’t exactly be covered super well when human mechanics is reduced down to 4 points of good running form.
Using that series of breaths (3-4 sets of 3-4 breaths with a 2-4 sec pause at the bottom of the exhale), the “WWWWHWWWWW” exhale through pursed lips, straw, or blowing up a balloon can be done standing, sitting, laying on your back or side (a nod to the variations in motor programming that can happen, depending on how specific we need to get when working with the unique presentations of each individual – really tweaking and honing in on the dials).
Again, that ‘resisted’ exhale specifically engages the Internal Obliques layer of the abdominal muscles – giving repositioning to the the lumbo-pelvis region, thoracic kyphosis, and ribs, as well as repositioning the shape and tension needed in the breathing diaphragm.
When this is done as a specific neuro-re-education exercise, one can go for a (near) maximal exhalation, forcing all of the air out of the lungs – resulting in great recruitment of the IO, solid repositioning of the structure, and great stretch to the diaphragm.
And the supplemental inhalation is a non-maximal inhale through the nose (the nose breathing is a solid cue for diaphragm breathing/isolation vs secondary muscles of respiration) while holding the structural reposition and creating the whiskey barrel outward tension into the abdominal wall – dialing in the symbiotic relationship between the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles to create internal abdominal pressure for stability and power.
Here’s where we get into some nuance and classroom talk. For some people, the exhalation can also recruit some compensatory muscles into the lesson. Let us say that a person that is sitting during this neuro-re-education activity and creates a pile of tension in some back muscle (say, the paraspinals) or neck muscle (say, sternocleidomastoid). That concurrent compensatory activity is an example of the need to dial in the learning environment.
Sitting can be too high-stim of an environment. There may be too much going on with asking the body to sit and hold up against gravity that compensatory muscle naturally tries to jump in.
So we adjust the learning environment and lay on the floor.
We create the isolated room of quiet, with minimal distractions. Sitting was like the coffee shop with too much chatter, noise, and commotion.
Laying on the floor can be the optimal learning environment, giving way to the solid lesson for the Internal Obliques to be the QB of the situation, and retrain the paraspinals of the back to relearn how to be and do only lineman stuff.
That can be the entry point.
The aim is to build from that, integrating into more complex learning situations like the basketball player practicing with the simulated flickering lights and noises, to ultimately prepare for the real deal game time performance, or out on the run/race. But we needed to establish the key learning environment.
We are not confined to only practicing/retraining muscle patterns in isolation. We can also work on it in those more challenging positions like sitting, standing, even walking. And on a run. We just need to readjust the dials.
If we get solid IO and diaphragm activity and isolation laying down with a maximal exhalation, we can still do it sitting and standing with the same principles of rounding the back, pulling ribs down, et al on the exhalation with less force/effort. As you exhale, you still draw your belly button back – just not swinging for the fences to get all of the air out. Still pause at the bottom of the exhale. Still inhale through your nose, keeping your back rounded. The levels, exertion, and amount of movement/tension is lessened.
It is a way to still practice in the more challenging learning environments. Just decrease the demand of the activity in said environment so as not to pull too much of the linemen into the QB retraining/practice.
Same can happen while running – with even less effort on the exhale. Same principles. Just even less effort. It can serve as a great re-cuing into your power centers for breathing and core/trunk power. The faster you are running, the leaner the margin is for the activity and it all more so turns into a subtle cuing – but it is still available to you.
Over time, as one’s body continually learns the lesson, gains the stretch, the strength, and the knowhow, it will be called to rise to the occasion in the more challenging learning environments; providing more and more benefit at the higher paces and longer distances, to not only serve as a quick re-cue, recharge, or reset, but to serve as the foundation for breath, power, and endurance, providing more and more performance.
The transition from practicing free throws in isolation, fatigued at the end of a practice, to practicing shooting in the loud, visually distracting simulation training, to the in-game actual free throw shots.
Yes, there is far more backstory and discussion than words to describe actual exercise and postural restorative activities. The knowhow, the education, the intention, the ability to learn how to make decisions, how to use the tools is, in my experience in the clinic with patients and with clients, far more important than the exercise.
By instilling these founding principles, I am actually equipping my patients and clients with the power to learn how to apply and leverage these exercises.
It provides them freedom and an expansive control of their health, running, and performance.
It enables them to work and improve on their own; becoming their own expert.
As they learn and grow with one concept, they are provided the next. And they can work with that. And their experience and capabilities grow. It is a process of progress and growth.
And the healthy clients working to fortify and progress their health respond far faster than those patients I need to rehab from pain or injury.
I am providing the approach I take, my process, to my health, running, training, and racing – the process that has keeps me from missing miles. The process that keeps me marathon ready in 4-6 weeks. The Process that helps me tap into Flow (more on that later) –
That discernment, is the edge the Process provides.
The balance of the physical, with the spirit, relational energy sources
And the opportunity to experience Flow.
The health industry is abound with endless treatment styles and exercise programs and activities. It is like going to a big box store – you can buy any tool you can dream of.
The Process, however, looks at how and when to use certain tools to maximize benefit, productivity, and safety. And you can take the same knowhow and discernment and use it with any of the other tools and projects out there – the foundational knowledge isn’t limited to just what I teach.
It is expansive. It is empowering. It provides opportunity for those within their process to find new ways, better ways that fit their needs well.
That is also why the lion and the gazelle matter so much.
It is okay to run as the lion or gazelle. We just need to know when we are so we can keep perspective on it all.
When we try to run to appease the animal or appear to be the lion or gazelle is when we run beyond our breath, our spirit – and we can fall hard because of it. That incongruency is the problem.
As much as we as providers try to give you the next best treatment approach, widget, gizmo, ad nauseam, the best tools or the trendy tools serve us no great purpose if we can not make good decisions. If we can not stand on a foundation of knowing how and when.
I am offering great tools for power, endurance, and resiliency to provide the opportunity for great running for years on end. These principles of postural restoration are rooted in the minutiae of minutiae of the most detailed neuro-musculo-skeletal mechanical principles I have studied; translated to practical, daily use.
But they serve us no grand purpose if we lack the knowhow of how to use them and if we lack the perspective of who we are, where we belong, and what is ours to do and enjoy.
Hence all the talk about classrooms, quarterbacks, and free throws; along with talk about the lion and the gazelle.
As we learn about these concepts and how to make better decisions with running mechanics, power and breath principles,
It is also essential that we learn how to engage in training schedules, balance, and the motivations behind the decisions we make.
Injury and pain aren’t just about inefficient mechanics.
As an ultra-distance athlete for thirteen years, and as doctor of physical therapy for twelve, Injury happens, in large part, when we make those less than ideal decisions. Pushing when we need to dial it back, not knowing how to account for life factors and their affects on our energy sources; in addition to the over-imbalance of our body’s natural asymmetries and inefficiencies.
When we confuse ourselves with
When we run with the motivation of one,
When we are actually neither.
More on that soon.
© Dr Adam Fujita