YIN/YANG OF TENSION/RELAXATION

Relax! I know being told to relax as well as calm down can be fighting words but seriously, relax. 

We live in a world of high stress. Mental stress, emotional stress, physical stress. Stress everywhere. Work stresses us out, people stress us out, traffic, money and so on. Then you add in the obsession with making everything physical we do into high intensity aka high stress and it is no wonder so many of us live with our shoulders in contact with our ears. Relax!

Relaxation is the yin to tensions yang. Tension with no relaxation, relaxation with no tension, this is not the way life operates when in balance. When in balance, we are capable of creating tension and also able to completely release that tension. The difference between a high-level sprinter and an amateur is the ability to relax. 

Yogis will often have injuries from being too flexible and not mobile (mobility is having strength in the range of motion you can access) and strength athletes will often have injuries from being too tense for too long. The balance between the two is where both groups can thrive. 

StrongFirst and Original Strength, two leaders in strength, both preach the importance of tension and relaxation. In StrongFirst we do fast and loose drills in between sets of high tension or heavy lifting. Original Strength teaches resets which are meant to remove tension in a passive manner. 

Both StrongFirst and Original Strength emphasize breathing. They both emphasize utilizing two things often neglected. One is protruding from the middle of your face, the other can’t be seen by the untrained eye. If you have not guessed it by now, I am referring to your nose and your diaphragm. These body parts are key components to achieving true relaxation. Oddly enough (or is it) these two body parts are also key to protecting the body from injury when lifting heavy weights. Nasal breathing helps to ensure that you are utilizing your main breathing muscle (diaphragm) and not overworking the accessory muscles that are located in our shoulder/neck (scalenes) region. Breathing into our shoulders creates unnecessary tension that is not useful for much, other than fatiguing and limiting the range of motion in our shoulders. All the stuff we do not want. Breathing into your nose, accessing your diaphragm can take your body/nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest). Many of us, because we do not know how to relax are perpetually in a state of fight or flight, I think you can begin to see just how important relaxing is and it can almost start and end with breathing. Almost.

Breathing is tied into all things relaxing, whether it is meditation, yoga, or movement. Breathing is always present. So when I go over a few movements I like to do to relax, remember to breathe from your belly. 

Original Strength has an enormous library of resets. There is a reset for almost every tension issue you can think of. Some of them give immediate relief. Others take a little bit of time to gain awareness of the effects. The reset that I have found to positively affect most people’s tension issues are rocking. Due to the world we live in, a lot of people hold tension in their shoulders and in their hips. Desk life helps exacerbate this issue. Rocking, on the other hand, helps to release tension in our shoulders and hips plus it is fun and feels like you are doing nothing. This movement is so easy to do it can be thrown in between any exercise. I have personally had great success with rocking. Before I discovered Original Strength, I was unable to ever sit on my feet or touch my foot to my butt, now I am damn near Gumby status. As with anything I do on video, I do not suggest copying what you see especially if you have injuries. It is always useful to learn movements from someone who knows how to do the movement and teach it.  


In the video above, you can also see a movement called head nods. This too is a great reset to bring awareness to tension and release it. 

One of StrongFirst’ newer seminars is called Second Wind. A lot of what is covered in Second Wind is how to relax. The ability to relax is synonymous with the ability to recover. Therefore the faster you can relax, the quicker you can recover. BOOM 🤯. This works for endurance and strength. We are elite at developing both strength and endurance which means we are elite in relaxing and recovering. BOOM. StrongFirst emphasizes fast and loose drills to help relax and recover between working sets. You essentially want to shake the meat off your bones. Here are a few examples of fast and loose. 

There are many ways to relax, find what works for you and do it. But whatever you do, don’t turn that relaxation into more tension. Remember that true relaxation starts with breathing. If you continue to breathe up into your shoulders instead of down into your diaphragm you are probably holding onto the tension you wish to release. 


MovementFirst

Hey, F your diet. Yeah, I said it. 

We are in the era of diets. Everywhere you look is some sort of new or old diet promising something. Many of these diets are promising weight loss and happiness. Somehow over the years (media, marketing, fashion) weight loss and happiness have been tied together. Well, I am here to say F that noise. Enjoy your food, create a healthy relationship with it, remove guilt, remove stress from your dietary decisions. This is not a jailbreak to start indulging like a bratty 8 year old who can’t eat anything green, I assume I am speaking to adults. Be an adult when it comes to eating but be a kid when it comes to movement.

I know people love to say, I mean I hear this all the time, “you can’t out train a crappy diet”. As if movement should not be focused on.

The simple fact is, a majority of us need to move a lot more than we currently do. We are constantly looking for more ways to move less. How can I do that in less time? This would be great if you were creating more time for movement outside of the gym, however, it usually only leads to less moving outside the gym and in your everyday life. It is quite the scheme employers have cooked up, get people to feel guilty about not working so that they work even more and move even less for the same pay. Bravo.

This lack of movement has led to more time sitting and more time thinking, thinking about how out of shape we have gotten. We blame the rice, we blame the bread, we blame it on the goose, yet in reality, for most people, those are not the issue. The issue is, that out of every 168 hours we move for 2.5 hours if we follow the guidelines for exercise. We sleep for 56 hours if we follow the guidelines (8 hours of sleep per night). This would leave us with 109.5 hours left in the week. Subtract 40 from that (amount of time most salaried jobs pay you for) and we are left with 69.5 hours. That is a lot of time, and since most of us do not actually meet the exercise guidelines or sleep guidelines that number is even higher. If those 69 hours are filled with no movement………… Duh right?

Movement is the most important behavior habit one can have. If you become a fanatic of movement and make moving well and often a priority then a lot of other dominoes will begin to fall.

Where to start? Start with creating the easiest possible wins ever. Gradually start to add a minute more of movement per day. Each week increase the weekly volume by 20%. Mark on your calendar, or in your phone or tell a friend. Create a community out of it. Win the day every day. Life will happen, and when it does, don't be discouraged, just hop back on the wagon and continue ahead. When you are sitting, train your mind to think about movement, not that boring ass salad you plan on having for lunch.

Our biology evolved with movement at its base. To strip it of movement is to leave it exposed to the extremes. Loss of cognition, weight gain, discoordination, all is a result of not moving enough. This is not life being unfair, it is life being life. Move more, future you depends on it.

Last Time You Got Better?

When is the last time you got better? Most likely it wasn’t by accident.


All too often people think just because they’ve been doing something for a long time, it automatically makes them good at it. Child Please. As Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


The best way to get better at a sport is to play the sport to implement deliberate and focused practice of the sport. This holds true for anything that you want to become better at in life. Just doing it won’t make you better.


If your conditioning for the sport is just playing the sport you’re asking for overuse injuries. There are ways to help condition yourself for a sport that will help your body become more in balance, more resilient and create less wear and tear on your body. Yes, part of conditioning for your sport should be playing the sport itself, however, if you lack development in certain areas, then focusing on improving those not as strong strengths will really help your performance.


“I can’t do blank anymore.”


Forget about what you used to be/used to do and focus on what you can be now/can do now and how you can get there. So many people watch their performance drop off and choose to just chalk it up as aging, not the fact that they haven’t stretched in decades or tried to increase their strength since they were teens or do anything differently.


Skill development is how you get better, combined with improving your conditioning and strength.  If you aren’t working to get better, you are probably getting worse.


Playing a sport over and over and never having someone mention your faults or address your shortcomings or cue you to do something better is not how anyone gets better at a sport.


If it was as simple as running around playing your sport and you would get better, why isn’t everyone Andre Agassi?


Movement x Strength = Key To A Healthy Life

The answer to many questions in relation to improving your health is to improve your movement quality and strength. It is fascinating to me the number of people who do not see the importance in strength work. I understand that for the longest time strength training was only seen as something meant for those who wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was thought that if you lifted weights you would become big and bulky. This perception still lives on today, where people fear that if they lift weights they will become slow or bulky, and their performance will go down. Or they simply believe that strength training won’t benefit them because they are already strong. If you can already bang out 10 pull-ups, a bodyweight deadlift, and over 20 pushups then maybe you are right that you do not need to get stronger if you are not an athlete. Doubtful, but maybe. Even the strongest people I know can benefit from becoming stronger even if it is just mentally. Strength is for all, and it is for all to cultivate always.


I want to start by debunking the myth that if you strength train you will turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is not true. If you lift like Arnold then maybe. Arnold spent hours on top of hours in the gym, training for the purpose of becoming huge and he successfully did that. However, what he was doing was not strength training, though he did become strong in the process. He was bodybuilding. BODY BUILDING. Not STRENGTH TRAINING. True strength training consists of low reps per set and plenty of recovery time in between sets. It is meant to make you stronger, not tired, not weaker, not bulky. In fact, here is a list of some of the benefits that you can expect from proper strength training:

In every sport, power is a key component. Whether you are playing tennis, golf, football, baseball, or running. The ability to have a high power output can help your non-maximal efforts seem even easier, aka improve your endurance. Let's say you have to move 100 lbs. Do you think it is better for you to only have the ability to move 100 lbs one time or have the ability to move 100lbs 10 times? Strength helps to make any task feel easier. If the rate of perceived effort is lower for the same amount of work, guess what? Your endurance goes up. This is why strength is so important. The formula for power is p=force x velocity. In layman's terms, to improve your power you can either apply more force to an object or move it faster. In other words, to improve your power, becoming stronger is a good idea.


Now that you are convinced that you need some strength training in your life, do not forget the first part of that equation. Movement quality. You must move well inside and outside the gym in order to increase the likelihood of living this life pain-free. For many of us not only do we need to become stronger, but we need to move better. Life behind a desk, in a car, on a couch, biking, running, jumping, swinging has been quite damaging to many of our bodies. None of these activities are inherently bad. This is not what I am saying at all. Please enjoy the activities you like to do. However, also do the things that will ensure that you can continue to do them into old age. Even if you enjoy the couch, there are a few movements that I find highly beneficial to learn and to do but only if you wish to have healthy hips, spine and shoulders as you get older which are the main areas that will ensure you are able to be active in your later days.


The most important move one can learn how to properly perform is the hip hinge. I have mentioned the hip hinge many times before such as in my fitness tips article which you can find here. The hip hinge is THE athletic stance. Every single sport utilizes the hip hinge in some way shape or form. Not only is it useful for athletic development but it is pivotal in preventing back issues and rehabbing back issues. Often times, if we can clean up how someone moves in everyday life, we can decrease the amount of time that they experience back pain. The move that saves people’s back the most is the hinge. It teaches people how to properly pick things up off of the floor without using their backs as the prime mover. In other words, it utilizes the hamstrings, glutes, core as the main lifters and allows the spine to not do the heavy lifting. I like to start off with this drill utilizing a PVC pipe. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.


The next move combo that is great for teaching the body how to be strong and move well is the quadruped rock and head nods. These two moves are resets. Meaning there purpose is to restore the bodies natural reflexive strength. They operate utilizing the vestibular system, which is responsible for spatial awareness and balance, as well as utilizing proprioception which also helps spatial awareness but through a different mechanism. If your proprioception is off it can be very difficult to move optimally and pain-free. Improving your body awareness can only help and these seemingly simple moves go a long way towards improving your body awareness. Outside of these benefits, these two moves also help the spine to return to its natural shape and function in a passive but effective manner. The list of these movements benefits goes on and on like Erykah Badu. To simplify it, they make you feel good, give them a try. Thank me later.


Another move that, when done correctly, can really help you feel strong and healthy as the days go on. Emphasis on when done correctly. This move next to the deadlift might be the most often seen movement done in a very less than optimal manner. It is supposed to be an anti-extension exercise. Meaning you are supposed to create a neutral(straight) spine and fight the urge to hold the position by arching your back. When the plank is done right, it is an incredibly useful core exercise that helps to teach you how to brace your core and protect your spine. It also teaches you what a proper lockout position looks and feels like. Same as with the hip hinge, I often utilize the PVC pipe to help teach people what their position should look like. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.


If you think strength training isn’t for you, you should seriously reconsider.


Bonus: Many of us do not stretch, or those of us who do stretch have no goal other than becoming Gumby. I think mobility is extremely important if you want to be strong and healthy as the clock ticks. Two places that I think most people can improve their mobility are their hips and their thoracic spine (mid/upper back). It’s no secret that we live in a sitting culture which often tightens up our mid and upper backs as well as our hip flexors. Also, we love cardio, usually utilizing a bike or running, two activities which can also tighten up already tight hip flexors. Losing the ability to extend a joint usually leads to some sort of pain/injury down the road. Losing the ability to extend your legs usually leads to pain in your hips or your low back, no one wants that. Having a spine that loses its natural s curve puts a lot of strains on the vertebrae which can create some discomfort in your back, neck, hips or even knees. Each human is built different so don’t expect your posture to have to be the same as the next person, however, most of us can work to release some of the tension we have in our bodies due to the posture we are frequently in. The moves I love to do to help unwind are the infamous Bretzel series. These “stretches” do an unbelievable job of finding tension and releasing it. Leaving you with the ability to take more full breaths and have a more humanly posture.


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CURB YOUR NEGATIVE MINDSET

Negative mindset, curb dat ish. Don’t be comfortable being miserable. We create our own misery. I struggled forever getting into a pouty baby mood at the snap of a finger and just dwelling there. Sometimes refusing to even try to find my way out.


The year was 2015. I hadn’t curbed Irritabledenz (my hungry alter ego) yet. Misery was always nearby. I used to think it was inevitable, no way of preventing my massive mood swings. One minute I was happy, the next minute I was a sourpuss. It was not until I realized how much it was affecting my relationship that made me have to figure out how to find a solution for it. This was not limited to being hungry, often it was control related. A change in plans, a question, traffic and a plethora of other “irritants” would easily ruffle my feathers.


This habit was not an easy one to curb and I definitely wouldn’t say I no longer have spouts of being a brat. I will give myself credit and say that I am by and large a much more positive person than I was in the past. The goal is not perfect or bust, it is to work towards being better than you were yesterday. Since we know life operates in waves, this means there will be days that you knock this out the park and others where you hit a pop fly.


I knew I needed to change. I wanted to change. I was determined to change this habit which led me on a path searching for answers. Why was I fine with wearing grey like a rain cloud? Why would I have hunger like I was a bear fresh out of hibernation?


This journey led me all over the place, from physiology to spirituality, to psychology. It left no stone unturned. There were many suggestions that I came across to help change this habit, from cultivating happiness to giving back, to therapy, to meditation and many others. I didn’t try every solution, however, I did try a lot of them. Some worked, others did not. Generally, I like small doses, the biggest bang for your buck solutions. I do not want to spend 100 hours doing something that can take 5, give me the 5-hour solution. Everything starts from the root, if you choose to clip the branches instead of just tearing the thing from the ground, time is going to be wasted. I went in search of the roots, what was the root cause.


HIIT TRAINING COMES AT A HIGH BIOLOGICAL COST


I knew Irritabledenz needed to be the first thing to go. That grouchy MF was a tyrant, and he needed to go extinct with his brethren. Why does one often have the physiological response of wanting to jump onto a cow's back and take a bite? Low blood sugar could be the culprit. Out of whack hormones possibly. What was causing these huge fluctuations in my perceived blood sugar levels? High-intensity interval training. Yeah, that’s right, HIIT. Everyone's favorite. It had to go. I was overextending myself habitually working up an appetite like no other. Then eating a ton of carbs or restricting my carbs like crazy, both led to the same outcome. Me crashing and wanting to tear heads. It was even worse if I did not immediately eat after “working out”. This was an easy fix. Stop going balls to the wall every time it was time to train. Actually follow a strength program. The results I was looking for still came but at a much lower biological cost. This, however, was only part of the solution.



“YOUR HUNGER IS NOT AN EMERGENCY”


I heard Lauren Perrault talk about this next solution on Sarah Polacco's Purposeful Strength Podcast. Cutting HIIT from my weekly/daily training went a long way in keeping Irritabledenz at bay. However, he laid dormant waiting for the right opportunity to rear his ugly head again. For this, I needed a solution for any time he tried to show up, how I could keep him away. During the Purposeful Strength Podcast, Lauren said she says this, your hunger is not an emergency, anytime she feels herself getting irritable. This simple mantra was a complete perspective changer for me. That mantra was packed with informative data for myself. I knew I was going to eat again in the future, why was I acting like if I did not eat right then and there I was going to starve. Why did I act as if everything else in the world needed to stop in order for me to eat? I realized quickly at that moment how much of a schmuck I had been. This was a significant piece of the puzzle.


JOT DOWN YOUR DAILY PEAK


Fixing my issues around eating was only part of the solution to fixing my mood swings. I knew at the time that I really had nothing to be pouty about. I had lived a relatively privileged life, pretty much trauma-free, which meant that I was creating my own misery out of thin air. My best magic trick. I can’t remember where I found the solution to this problem if it was Oprah, Tony Robbins or someone else with great advice. However, the solution was extremely simple, yet ultra effective. Since I would easily spiral into negativity and put myself in a crap mood and feel like I had a “bad” day, this solution was great for me. The solution was to write down the peak of the day at the end of the day. This forced you to have to recall your day and find some positives. You would do this every day for a month. Then you could go back and read the past 30 days which obviously would all be positive notes. You wouldn’t even remember any of the negatives, just the positives. This practice helped me understand how minuscule the negative situations were. They were not worth being upset over or wasting any time thinking about.


MEDITATION


The last piece to the puzzle that has had an equally large impact and continues to have an impact is guided meditation through the Headspace app. The level of awareness this has created, I am unable to fully put into words. Being able to see myself clearly in each moment, knowing when I am slipping into a funk is something I used to be unaware of before. I did not know any of the signs, I could not spot them out, which meant I could not prevent the pouts from happening. Meditation has helped me become far more in tune with my emotions, with my body, with my breath. This has all benefited the control of my mood. It helps me understand that I have the power to change whatever mood I am in. If I sit in it, I’ll stay in it, if I work to get out of it then I will head in the right direction.


Changing your mindset is work. It has to be work. The saying you have to do what you’ve never done if you want to get what you’ve never gotten is factual. You have to actively seek change out and have a plan of action. Hope is not going to get you there, yet belief and action will. If you constantly find yourself spiraling down a negative hole, watch your language, watch the language of those around you, if you are a Negative Ned or are around a Negative Ned, steer the conversation into positivity or choose to not engage. Negative mindset usually leads to negative health since physical and mental health are interconnected. Be better than you were yesterday, don’t be a Negative Ned/Nancy.