The PAYOFF of Showing Up

This is a continuation from last week's post. I talked about "being a detective" around pain. I talked about 5 steps to consider in the process of navigating and healing pain:

  1. Get a baseline of knowledge
  2. Follow the Clues
  3. Get Outside Help
  4. Don't Stop There
  5. Tune in More

Today, I want to elaborate on the importance of the more elusive later steps: rehab and "tuning in."

Those can seem like vague and daunting tasks if you've never done them before. They require us to forfeit our egos, let go of what we think we know about our physical abilities, and surrender control to our bodies for feedback about what fitness/activities our body needs. It can be frustrating at first, and it can be really easy to distract ourselves from showing up for it. I spoke to my friend and colleague Neil Roberts of Vajra Body Fitness about this the other day. We were discussing how much resistance we sometimes face from students and clients around this kind of "physical homework." He broke it down:

"Add up the total time you spend watching TV, checking facebook, instagram, and your email. Really look at what percentage of your waking hours you spend on those tasks, and then honestly tell me that you 'don't have the time' to spend the 5-10 minutes necessary to work on correcting the dysfunctions in your body that will most certainly express themselves as pain/reduced quality of life someday."

Tough love, and he's right.

That said, if you don't know how to make the most of your 10 minutes of homework, it can feel like a frustrating and useless 10 minutes. How do you go from putting your attention on the external world: responsibilities, the news, relationships, to your internal world of feeling in the body and caring for YOURSELF? It's easier said than done.

 ©Calvin and Hobbes

 ©Calvin and Hobbes

To help keep it a bit more more focused and inspired, here are 3 ways to break down and measure your homework approach:

Time

Start off by asking: Where in your daily schedule each week is there time (10-20 minutes) for a daily practice of tuning in and doing your movement homework? Take note of how much time you have and calendar it.

Focus

With the help of your trainer or coach, make a list of all the things in your body that need regular attention. Eg- if you have low back pain you might identify that daily attention might need to be put on spinal segmentation, belly breathing, hip extension and lateral hip stability. With your trainer/coach, make sure you understand what each of those means and how you can work on them. 

When you get to your 10-20 minute window for tuning in and doing homework, check in with each of those things on the list. Do they feel easy today? Impossible? Slow down and put a little extra time and attention into the things that feel impossible and a bit less time into the things that feel more accessible on a given day. Don't get too hung up on pre-prescribed sets/reps of things. If you feel for how well these things are working, you are tuning in! That act of listening to your body will guide your work for the day and also lead to much faster improvement.

Consistency

This is key. I'm talking daily. Or at least 5-6 days a week. 10-20 minutes. Calendar it. Just check in and move with focus and intention. Feel where you are at, give attention to the weak spots. Daily.

The Payoff

Short, daily practices of checking in with your body and reminding it of what it can do and should be able to confidently do, make all the difference if you only have one or two sessions a week where you really challenge your body in a gym or class.

Example: For the last five years, you never really did activities where you needed to put your arms over your head, but you really want to be able to do a pullup because you want to do aerial acrobatics. You decide to work with a trainer on pullups once a week. But, if you only put your arms over your head once a week during your pullup training session, something vital is missing, and a good trainer will call you out on it and give you homework to to do between sessions.

In fitness, and especially the FRC community, we talk about the "Principle of Specificity"- we are what we do. If we don't practice putting our arms overhead, our arms won't properly go overhead.  If this is your starting point, how do you master a pullup if you are only practicing them once a week?

By showing up for your homework in between. Do your shoulders coordinate properly? Perhaps you need to be spending time working on your scapular mobility every day in order to do a good pullup. Maybe you need to be working on isometric grip strength. Maybe it's breath coordination. Maybe it's all of it. A good coach will point these things out, and help guide you into taking ownership of your progress. 

Trust me, if you are mindful and consistent in doing your homework, you WILL improve over time.

People talk a lot about "optimizing training time" by working really hard for short bursts of time for maximum metabolic impact. The same idea can be applied here, to optimize the long term health and mobility benefits of movement: do short, consistent bursts of work on it.

Moral of the Story

Any change of habit is hard. Give yourself as many support systems as you can: the calendar, the outside accountability of a coach, a journal of your daily work etc. to keep the work part of your daily routine. Dr. Andreo Spina, founder of FRC calls this "kinetic hygiene" - it's like brushing your teeth! Each individual session might not seem like much on its own, but with focus and consistency, the payoff over time is worth it.

Special thanks to Neil Roberts on this one.

Next Week: Think Like a Poet: Tricks for Imagery and Movement