Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Self-Limiting Exercise: Are you ready, willing, and enabled?

Ever since the CK-FMS workshop of May 09 and hearing the strong endorsement of my mentor, Gray Cook, I've changed my opinion of the Vibram Five Fingers from "interesting" to "must have". How did this come about? Well, let me backtrack a little bit.

Cook's explanations years earlier about how core development patterns can often be thrown off in childhood really struck a chord for me as a new Dad. Newborns evolve through a progression when it comes to developing movement patterns - rolling, sitting, kneeling, crawling, and standing, with reaching included at every step along the way. Those are the same movements we develop in the Turkish Get-Up sequence, and that's something Gray, Master RKC Brett Jones, and I discuss & break down in depth with the Kettlebells from the Ground Up manual & DVD.

However, we as a society have learned to circumvent the natural processes of evolution with technology... and it's not exactly in our best interests!

Case in point
- The baby walkers that are so popular right now are actually robbing our babies of crucial core development. A quick search on Target's website just yielded 11 items in the "baby walker" category. It's not like these things aren't selling, and I've seen them in homes of every socioeconomic strata. As Gray has said many times, core development is at its best in the infant & toddler stages.

One of Cook's more humorous quotes is "Want a great core workout? Try moving around with a head to body size ratio like a toddler's. Go strap on a 40 lb motorcycle helmet, crawl around a little, lie down, get up, and walk around. Then tell me how your body feels."

But technology has allowed us to shortcut development, allowing us to develop strength where we may not have an adequate based of functional or fundamental movement. Most children, as they develop, build the strength to stabilize their bodies in the sitting, kneeling, crawling, and then standing positions before they ever go for a walk. The baby walkers artificially suspend children in an upright position, giving them external stability and robbing those core stabilizing muscles of training that these youngsters will need later on in athletics and movement.

We are artificially ENABLING each generation to do movements they are not ready for, and their bodies are paying the price. Want proof? Look at the data as far as what's become acceptable as far as childhood fitness and adult ranges of motion.

Per Gray Cook, authentic movement systems are SELF-LIMITING. In other words, if your baby's not strong enough to walk and stand unassisted, then the lack of strength and coordination are limiting factors. Allowing the child to struggle on their own and develop those attributes gives him/her a chance to bump up against their limits, acknowledge them, and then overcome them. Believe it or not, a growing baby knows what he/she can or can't do, but that doesn't stop them from trying... or trying your patience. ;-)

The same can be said for the equipment we use on our feet.

The multimillion dollar athletic shoe business has evolved by making what should be a self-limiting exercise (e.g., running) and facilitate it past the point where many peoples' intrinsic foot, leg, and hip muscles are ready to maintain solid movement patterns. Over time, we get used to training longer and harder than those muscles are ready for because of the equipment (i.e., shoes) that we consider de rigueur.

So what happens when we switch back to a more "natural" system, such as created when running with the Vibram Five Fingers? We bump up against our limits.

If you're used to running 2 miles a day, the first time you go for a run in your Five Fingers, you might have to drop back to 3/4 of a mile. While I'm not an avid runner by any stretch of the imagination, my first run in the Five Fingers forced me to realize some movement patterns that were grossly amiss with that particular exercise. A 2 mile run, which is not terribly unusual for me, became wickedly uncomfortable shortly after 1/2 mile. My right calf was starting to scream at me, and I realized that I'd been able to run for longer periods because the running shoes I'd worn heretofore had essentially trampolined my every step, catapulting my body forward off the cushiony midsoles.

Instead of training my body for optimum performance, I'd been enabling dysfunctional or weak movement patterns in the guise of exercise. Going back to what is essentially barefoot running has been quite an eye opener as far as posture, body mechanics, and humility.

Instead of muscling through the 2 miler I'd set out for, I walked for the remainder of the mile with very tall posture, paying attention to how my feet were relating to the ground. I'd come up against my limit, I recognized a weakness, and I'm going to take my time pushing the envelope as my body develops the mobility, stability, strength, and coordination to be able to get back to 2 miles in the VFF shoes.


M. Minter, MS, CSCS, ACSM CHFS, AKC Coach, IKFF-CKT said...

Great post! Gray is a 'step' ahead in the core department and the main reason my kids weren't allowed to use those stupid walkers. A friend's child has horrible walking gait stemmed from the walker and was never allowed to find her limits. Thanks again.

Sarah said...

Dr. Cheng,

Thank you for the clarification on "self-limiting" exercise. Sounds like the Vibram Five Fingers should come with a warning attached, "Check Your Ego!"

I'm not surprised when another weak link is discovered in my own movement patterns, as my life as an athlete only began a few years ago. The VFFs will be just another way for me to realize where (else) I need to work hard.

Oh, and now I feel guilty for messing up my own kids' core development. We didn't use a walker, but had one of the stationary type baby holders. It surely created the same "artificial enabling" environment. On the flip side, I now have a place to lay blame for my own core "issues" - I have pictures of myself cruising the house in a baby walker some 40 plus years ago!

Thanks for the excellent post!

Sandy Sommer, RKC said...

Excellent post Doc! I don't do any distance running at all in my Vibrams but the grass sprints have been interesting to say the least. I have found that my running is far superior my old patterns.

JEM said...

Awesome Doc:) I have yet to try the Vibrams, but I have indeed run barefoot a few times. I do believe the same applies.

Let's hope you make it out for the Philly RKC. Your one day workshop was a tease! RKCs need to spend more than just a few hours together!

Thanks again for your supreme deliverance of the goods. See you soon indeed!

SG Human Performance said...

Terrific post Doc. I am sure you will agree that we see far to many runners every spring with knee pain. When we speak of glute amnesia to so many people that sit so much we also should consider "foot amnesia" from our runners.

Any thoughts on the galloway method for running?

Dr. Mark Cheng said...

Mr. Minter, thanks for your kind remarks.

Sarah, it's amazing what we've allowed ourselves to do societally in the name of creating a "better life".

Sandy, no doubt. I'm going to do another run this afternoon before I head out for the evening. Should be just as informative as last time, I bet.

Jen, you're spot on. I miss hanging out with you guys. And if I didn't have such a psycho schedule, I'd have loved to just spend a day chillin' in Philly with you, Scarito, & Big Will. Miss you.

Mr. Snow, I honestly don't know anything about the Galloway method, nor have I experienced it firsthand, so I can't comment on it. That said, foot instrinsic amnesia is an amazingly pervasive problem. The more I look at some of the people I see exercising, the more I see orthopedic time bombs.

davor said...

Very interesting. Now the question that pops into my head straight away is: should we even be running on concrete at all, VFFs or not? Bare foot running on grass is quite easy, therefore there would not be much need for VFFs. They would help diminish the pain of running on concrete somewhat, but would that surface be too monotonous and lend itself to RSIs?
I'm all for barefooting, just don't like the feeling of cold surfaces chilling my foot bones. Perhaps with persistance, a pad would develop to insulate said bones

Harry Munro said...

I bought a pair of vibrams after picking up shin splints, they do so much more than just cure injuries!