16 Things I Learnt in 2016

1.  "The Body Is An Amazing Self-Healing Machine" - Kelly Starrett

Once you set up the right environment - appropriate sleep, food, movement and accurate beliefs you create the perfect conditions for deep healing. 

Many patients tell me they've frequently started an exercise/movement practice with good intentions - only to end up injured.  They feel frustrated that their bodies aren't co-operating.  

My advice is to check your foundation.  

You've got to get to base camp before you start to climb the peak!

**If you're interested in learning more about building the quality of your movement, I'm teaching a free class on January 25th 2017 - limited numbers, you can book online here. 

 

2.  If you're a runner stop stretching your hamstrings!

As your foot is about to make contact with the ground, the role of the hamstrings is to control the landing.  

This means the hamstring needs to contract AND lengthen simultaneously (otherwise known as am eccentric contraction).

Stretching the hamstrings is likely to send mixed messages to the brain about how you want the hamstring to work.  

If you are attempting to 'increase flexibility' by stretching you are more likely to irritate your lower back and nerves than actually do anything worthwhile.  

If you're keen to safely improve flexibility I would recommend a combination of dry needling, massage and using a spiky ball and foam roller at home. 

Also, I'd recommend a series of hamstring strengthening exercises that will help address the imbalance between the quads and the hamstrings.  Stay tuned I will write a blog in more detail about this in 2017. 

3.  Go within and find your own answers. 

It's good to do research (thanks Google!), but don't let yourself be overcome by analysis paralysis. 

Especially when it comes to food and exercise.  Listen to your body and find out what works best for you.  I learnt that eating low fiber foods was better for my body than high fiber foods.  So I find white bread and animal protein easy to digest, while high fibre/high fructose fruits such as apples, grapes and mangoes are best taken in very small amounts. 

Your body is always changing, so don't get stuck in one way of moving or eating forever.  

Keeping a health journal for a month can be an excellent way to boost your awareness and see your patterns with more clarity.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change - Charles Darwin

4.  Become a master of moderation

The middle path.  Buddha had it right.  Exercise, food, thoughts, behaviours.  The 80/20 principle - allow for indulgences, they will keep you sane!

5.  Work you oblique muscles

Attending Perry Nickelston's Primal Chains course was a game changer for me.  He is passionate about the obliques as an important driver of power through the body.  Weak obliques are common and can lead to compensation and overload elsewhere in your body.  

7 exercises to work your obliques:

  • side- plank
  • thread the needle
  • push-up to side plank
  • spider man push-ups
  • single leg bridge
  • bird dog
  • dying bug on foam roller

6.  Give up coffee for a week

If you simply can't live without your morning cup of joe - that could be a sign of bigger issues - adrenal fatigue. 

Ingesting caffeine is liking spending money on a credit card.  You're borrowing energy that you don't have. 

Try a week off coffee and (after the withdrawal period) see how you feel. 

7.  As you get older, the proportion of time needed to be spent on building a foundation grows bigger every year

Often we trying to achieve our athletic goals, a lot of time is spent in the 'red zone' of higher level intensity.  This is an important part of training, but if too much time is spent here, we can end up with getting burnt out. 

The thing is our physical foundation is very eroded on a daily basis if we don't consciously address it. 

After the age of 30, we lose 10% of our core strength every year just being alive. 

Stress and poor posture erode our foundation quicker than anything you can think of. 

Building a foundation means going back to basics.  The way you breathe.  Basic low-level core stability.  Foam roller flexibility drills.

Some great exercises to help build your foundation are:

  • crawling
  • rolling
  • rocking on hands and knees
  • conscious breathing
  • bridge
  • turkish get up

 

8.  Don't eat dark chocolate after dinner

Dark chocolate is healthy - but is is very high in caffeine.  If you suffer any sort of sleep disturbance, it might be an idea to save the dark chocolate for earlier in the day. 

 

 8.  Dry needling is the gold standard to improve flexibility

This year, I got to assist in teaching a dry needling course with one of my mentors Robert De Nardis, owner of Global Education of Manual Therapists.  It was great to spend three days immersed in the world of dry needling and get up to date on the research on how it works.

Dry needling helps by increasing the range of movement a muscle has. Typically, muscles get tight due to overuse, poor posture and stress. 

Dry needling is powerful because we can release the deeper fibers of the muscle, rather than pushing on the surface of the skin.  

Flexibility can be thought of on a spectrum (see chart).  

Mild tightness can be managed with yoga, massage, heat and foam rolling.  

Moderate tightness develops deep into the muscle, and dry needling is the gold standard to get you back to stage one, where you can manage it on your own. 

Severe tightness is where the pressure builds up on the joints and the treatment is medication, cortisone injections and eventually if things are bad enough, surgery.  

Admittedly, dry needling can be intense.  But it does give motivation to maintain our muscles with the foam roller!

9.  Meditate

Take 5-20 minutes each day to slow things down.  Take breaks.  Create some space. 

“Time is always short, from birth to death. Why? Because we do not know how to stop. “ - Julia Green
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. - Zen proverb

 

10.  Use a pressure cooker

Faster to cook and your food will taste twice as good! 

The beauty of the pressure cookers is that all of the flavours stay in during the cooking process.  

I used to be afraid that I might end up on the news as the man who burnt his face off while attempting to use a pressure cooker for the first time.  Admittedly it did take a few attempts (and hiding behind the couch) to feel comfortable using the pressure cooker.  

This Kambrook model allows you to saute, pressure cook and slow cook, so your meal can be prepared in no time, with minimal effort and washing up.  

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11.  Incorporate sprinting into your weekly exercise routine

Sprinting is at the extreme end of building a physical foundation.

Many physical and psychological benefits can be gained and this podcast episode from Franz Snideman really helped my understanding. 

12.  Eat homemade soup every night

Soup is:

  • easy and quick to put together
  • cheap
  • nutritious
  • hydrates you
  • fills you up so you're unlikely to over indulge in your main meal or dessert

13.  Try stand up paddleboarding

Paddle boarding is a fun way to get out on the water.  Staying upright and powering through the water is one of the best things for your core muscles, especially your obliques.  And standing up is much better than sitting in a canoe or kayak that place a lot of stress on your back.

14.  Beliefs form the foundation of your life

I'm always amazed at how powerful our (often sub conscious) beliefs can have over us.  It's definitely worthwhile to occasionally challenge your own beliefs about your body that could be holding you back.

For example:

  • does running really cause knee arthritis or is that just an excuse to not try?
  • is your lower back pain better after you've been resting or moving?
  • is that MRI really as bad as it sounds compared with someone your own age?

Take a moment to reflect on your beliefs about your body and then ask a trusted health care provider to see if what you believe matches up with reality. 

 

15.  Turn dead time into learning time i.e. the power of podcasts!

Your commute can be more than flicking radio stations.  On my long runs and hikes I like to switch on a podcast, be inspired and learn something new.  It's amazing what's out there and you can educate yourself on almost any topic. 

Some of my favourites:

16.  The greatest rewards from life come from helping people

If you follow your bliss,
you will always have your bliss,
money or not.

If you follow money,
you may lose it,
and you will have nothing
- Joseph Campbell

What are some things you learnt in 2016?  Please let me know in the comments.

Have a fantastic 2017 - healthy, happy and memorable!