The entire world of movement and training is looking for better ways to move more effectively with fewer injuries. The truth of the matter is that we knew how to move as kids and we’ve been gradually unlearning how to move through the application of “everything imaginable” fueled by the new “best practices” all in the name of improving performance. These are my reflections and accounts of my own journey in understanding the human body & fascia in the quest for pain-free movement.
Over the years we have applied many treatments to thousands of clients, many of whom were professional athletes at the elite level in their space. Professionals in the NBA, MLB, Olympic runners, volleyball players, X-Games Snowboarders, surfers, and the list goes on.
By the time they came to the Human Garage, most other treatment modalities had failed. We were specializing in picking up the pieces and getting them back to the sports they loved.
It was interesting, because from this position we could see the end result of training modalities and other treatment modalities at the most extreme levels.
It’s almost guaranteed that people who are looking to understand how to move better and live better will ask us what we think about specific modalities. We keep answering the same questions over and over again, and I am writing this because I’d like to share our experiences on the topic of some of the most asked about training modalities.
We have moved from fixing the bodies of the people who are using these various movement and treatment modalities, to helping people understand their own body, movement patterns, and healing themselves. The way that we see the human body has changed drastically over the years.
I have personally participated in learning and applying most of the current best practice modalities and implemented their thought processes in my own movement and training. I found that they all added value, getting me to a new point of moving and a new point of understanding. With the application of each new best practices modality, I eventually came to a point in which I plateaued with its use, and again I was looking for another best practices solution.
This was my story. I would go to the best of the solutions to remove the pain and dysfunction in my body, and when that no longer was working I would go to the next and so on, and so on and so on. This was a never-ending cycle, and over the years I became more and more frustrated.
So here it goes, let’s take a moment and talk about some of the current best practice modalities from my viewpoint.
Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) for Strength and Conditioning
What is said about this process is that Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) gives the practitioner and strength coach an ability to do “magic”, and I agree it looks like magic. New science and new understandings always look like magic at first glance. But to say its magic is to take away from the fact that it’s part of an evolutionary process.
I believe this process stemmed from the published thoughts of David Rubenstein’s Rubenstein Method. David is a published scientist and his process of re-patterning muscle function using slow methodical movement in specific ranges of motion was initially applied for the purposes of healing chronic pain. David started this process almost 30 years ago and had perfected a way of using neurological movement re-patterning in a clinically reproducible model. I have a uniquely intimate relationship with his therapies because I along with a couple of other people we were founders of the Rubenstein Centers in Southern California, which took David’s 20 years of work and brought it into commercial use. His whole theory was based on the fact that the brain and the body were communicating in order to create movement and that we could build new patterns between the brain and the body to relieve chronic issues. At the time it seemed logical that we were simply working with the brain’s connection to the muscle. Today’s current understanding of fascia and the fascia’s intelligence in the movement process shows us that this was only a part of the puzzle. We now know that we were not retraining muscle function, but rather improving the fascial movement patterns. These patterns were being saved and overwriting existing patterns to get the body to move in a specific range of function more efficiently. The idea behind the statement will get a little more clear when I share our current working definition of fascia.
Functional Range Conditioning (FRC)
FRC is a system of mobility and joint control training, which is based on articulated movements with both passive and active engagement in specific ranges of motion. Breaking this down into practitioner language, we would say FRC is moving the body through concentric and eccentric ranges of motion applying different resistance both internal and external triggering the cerebellum in the brain to repeat ranges of motion to override dysfunctional movement patterns.
Looking at FRC from our point of view, it’s just simply moving through the joint with neuromuscular calibration. Again these ideas were founded off of the work produced by David Rubenstein and have been used for decades.
The Postural Restoration Institute (PRI)
PRI is a therapeutic system based on the natural asymmetries of the human body, the impact of joint position on muscular action, and the use of respiration as a window into the autonomic. PRI is primarily looking at posture as a way to define correct movement patterns (the assumption is that from a correct starting point the body can move better).
The fact they use breath is what makes this process one of the most adaptive in my opinion. Over the years our viewpoint on posture has changed dramatically. Posture in itself was considered a generally accepted definition of good health and therefore posture translated into good health in movement. This reasoning process proved to be less than sufficient to describe what we were actually seeing in practice.
Over the years we observed that people with good posture could still have pain and dysfunction in movement, and people with bad posture, often had no pain in their movement. As thousands of these examples started showing up we began to modify our belief that posture was one of the most important components of the pain-free full range of motion. Now we are looking to establish a “State of Flow” rather than focusing on posture alone as the most effective way to have a pain-free full range of motion. “State of Flow” as a measurement would encompass the body’s ability to flow through movement easily and efficiently with little to no resistance. If there was a structural anomaly in the body because of birth or because of bad habits over a long period of time, adhering to posture might be taking the body out of flow, creating movement issues that eventually become injuries.
At the root of all of these new best practices is the science behind the Rubenstein Method, which is at its core simply using the innate function in the body to re-pattern movement for a specific task. I’m not saying that these processes were directly derived from the Rubenstein Method but rather what is true with the body tends to be expressed in multiple different ways, by multiple different people, with multiple different names, and this is exactly what has happened. All of these are evolutions in the way that we think about movement work, or we wouldn’t even be talking about them. To say that they don’t work or there’s something better would discount the fact that they all work. To look at it from my point of view, all of these modalities are evolutions in movement and like any evolution, this is a continuing process and by definition, there will always be a better way.
Starting with the Rubenstein Method in the early days, we have continued to improve finding better ways to reach fluid adaptive movement in any range of motion without pain and restriction. We now see fluid adaptive movement as an evolution from pain-free full range of movement.
We have found that the body automatically creates patterns in movement that is restricted to protect the body. For example, when someone sprains their ankle, the body creates a pattern to lift the hip on the side of the sprained ankle and lift the shoulder on the opposite side so that the body can move, taking the weight off of the sprained ankle. The challenge is that when compensatory patterns are created in the body’s movements, they tend to stay in the body until a new or better pattern is created for the body to adapt to the injury or dysfunction. When we artificially stimulate the body into creating a new pattern, it overrides the current pattern with the new pattern. The short-term gain of creating a new pattern, even if it is initially more functional, has long-term consequences. The body is now artificially creating new patterns rather than resolving the dysfunctional pattern that the body adapted to in the first place.
The body is constantly adapting and constantly creating patterns to resolve problems so stimulating a pattern into the body is taking away the body’s innate ability to resolve its own patterns when given the opportunity. We have evolved this thought process by developing Fascial Maneuvers that remove all of the patterns allowing the body to decide how to create fluidity, letting the body do what it was designed to do, adapt in real-time. The brain’s connection to the body was designed to constantly optimize movement, and it does so in milliseconds. We see this when we are treating dysfunctional patterns and pain in the body by removing Fascial restrictions. When the restriction is removed the body optimizes movement and instantaneously adapts without any other correction needed from the practitioner. The brain is processing 40 million calculations per second and it’s extremely naïve of us to think that we can instruct the body better than this natural process of adaptation. Until we learned that the Fascial restrictions were the cause of the problem the only answer was to create a pattern that was more functional than the one that was being expressed when the body moved. So at the time, this was the best solution which is the process that these modalities were founded upon. Knowing what we know today, the brain and the body are completely capable of creating the best solution in any range of motion in real-time and all we have to do is remove the Fascial restrictions to let the body do this.
We now believe that these types of movement modalities are disabling the body‘s natural ability to adapt to movement in real-time. They are strengthening the musculoskeletal patterned movement through the cerebellum with the use of repetitive patterning to override dysfunction, rather than simply removing the Fascial restriction that is causing the problem in the first place and letting the body do what’s natural.
These movement modalities are not new, they’re just now becoming known to the general public. There’s a reason why Olympic-level athletes perform better and it’s usually because they have access to ideas and concepts decades before the average person. It takes a while for these ideas to move into everyday life because of the rigid belief systems that people have in how to manage their bodies. I have found that Olympic level and professional athletes tend to integrate the coach’s or trainers ideas and beliefs quicker and mostly without question. As we move down the scale from the super-elite levels to the amateur levels there is a strong desire to have proven science rather than observe results and use what works. Olympic athletes simply do what works at the moment rather than waiting for something to be scientifically validated or generally accepted. This is one of the main reasons why they are the best in the world. It seems to me that the real problem in the health space is a general lack of ability to adapt to new ideas and work with results, irrespective of “proven” theories and science. This is why these theories of movement have been around for two decades and are now just being brought to the surface.
I have always felt this way and I have been willing to quickly adapt to changes in my beliefs with respect to the body if I could see a measurable change in the right direction. As a result I have been able to help my own body move through my own pain cycles and today for the first time in my life I am completely pain-free through every range of motion that I can imagine. I have not had a practitioner work on my body in over 20 months which is the first time in over 35 years.
The landscape of the sports industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and we have observed that the amount of injuries has increased dramatically in professional athletes but our ability to fix them has increased slightly faster. What used to be a career-ending injury a decade ago today is a surgery, a movement process, or a therapeutic modality that has the athlete back on the court playing again in 4 to 6 weeks. We have also noticed that athletes are having injuries that are far more complex and they are happening more often. This is why we decided to move away from anything that was creating structured patterns in the body looking for new ways to remove Fascial restrictions and let the body do what it does best and adapt in real-time to move at its maximum potential.
The body seems to resist structured patterns and only creates structured patterns when there is a problem that if can’t resolve. So by creating structured patterns in the body we are just setting the body up for injury.
The patterns people are creating with these processes are what we have been fixing for years and now we are working to help people get out of. As time has gone by the complexity in the injuries that people come to us with is increasing at alarming rates. For example, we used to have simple tears of muscles and simple breaking of bones. Now, most injuries are cross diagonal and most functional tears are rotationally tearing the tendon to a point that’s beyond the body‘s natural ability to repair without complex surgery. We attribute these NEW Injuries to these new best-practice methods of functional training and stabilization.
We see the primary challenge we were overcoming in the conditioning of the body’s movement was a belief that training the brain to think about ranges of motion was is the most efficient way. When we train patterns in a range of motion that’s not natural we are setting the body up for an injury cycle.
We demonstrate the difference in these processes with professional athletes and movements specialists in order to help them to understand a new way of thinking. It only takes a few minutes and when they can see it and feel the difference, it again “feels like magic”.
The understanding of how to reprogram fascia is what separated us from these new best practices. The world of conditioning and strength training currently revolves around creating patterns around joints to achieve a “specific” goal simply because this is how success is measured. People generally look for the improvement in a specific range of function like swinging a club, but if I’m not moving fluidly between swings eventually the swing is going to degrade causing injury.
The body does not like imposed patterns, it likes to have freedom in ranges of motion, especially in movement around the joints. The body likes to be able to make the decision in real-time about how to move through that range of motion rather than having a pattern that when slightly disrupted can cause an injury. This is why gymnasts typically are the strongest athletes in the world. I witnessed this 30 years ago when a gymnast came into the gym and I had worked for years to get to a 300-pound bench press. This gymnast sat down for the first time in his life and benched the 300 pounds as if he had been training for that action for years. On the other hand, I had been training for years to get to this point and this is where the question in my mind started that I’m now answering 30 years later. Gymnasts train flexibility and strength in all ranges of motion using the body’s weight and naturally moving through rotations in every joint. Looking back I should’ve gotten this clue a little bit sooner, but nevertheless, we can look to what works today and break it down into components so we can understand it and reproduce it. It was clear now that the body created patterns to help the body move through restricted ranges of motion. When there is no restriction the body just moves and doesn’t need a specific pattern to do so. The brain created synoptic optimized patterns when we were children moving and playing around and those are the most effective patterns in the human body. It’s funny to watch athletes try to mimic the movement of five-year-olds. I have yet to see an athlete be able to do everything a five-year-old can do. Again more truth! Patterns may temporarily improve function in a specific range of motion, but there is a day of reckoning coming when we want to go back to just living our lives.
I was using the new best practices and putting patterns on top of patterns and what I consider to be the most efficient method, the Rubenstein Method. For this I paid the price, and it took me an extra couple of years to get my body back to a naturally fluid and adaptive state, out of pain & moving through all ranges of motion like a kid again. I had built so many of these patterns with the Rubenstein Method. The Rubenstein Method itself was better than all of these conditioning and stabilization methods, and it did increase my movement and range of motion, but as always, there is now a better way.
Today, we have found that when we completely un-restrict the fascia in all three-dimensional ranges of motion on the joints, the brain naturally optimizes the movement in every range of motion without restriction. We are opening up the joints through precise and slow Fascial Maneuvers, letting the brain make the decision “in real-time” what’s best for the movement at hand.