Attachment and Sacrifice
This post has a slightly bigger picture way of thinking about exercise and fitness and is based more about what not to do to improve performance and prevent injury and deterioration as you age, rather than what you should be doing.
In the above video from Jordan Peterson, he talks about how attachment can interfere with your psychological progression because what you are clinging on to can impede you moving forward. Sometimes the thing you are clinging to is very valuable to you and may even form a significant part of your character, but alas if you really want to progress in life it needs to be burned-off.
I believe this way of thinking is not limited to the psychological realm, but the physical too. One of the greatest challenges I face with my clients is convincing them that if they really want to see results - to alleviate pain and injury, to improve their posture and performance - they need to take a long hard look at what they are doing on a day-to-day basis and consider that something they are attached to is one of, if not the major, cause of their problems or at least will hold them back from improving.
This is a bigger problem than you might think. Very often what someone is attached to at least appears rather trivial, but even seemingly small parts of people's daily routines can be surprisingly valuable to them. The most common, perhaps more easily fixed issues that I encounter with clients is their attachment to certain modes of exercising, and I'll be honest, it is really frustrating for me because I cannot help them achieve any meaningful results if they can't acknowledge the fact that these activities could be hindering them. This is a big deal because many of these people are suffering horribly with pain, and will likely have to end all their beloved activities in the near future anyway, however by then they will have given up on my training and forgotten all about it.
I am not making the case that any physiological improvement has to come at the cost of giving something up 100%, but people need to be realistic and make some sacrifices by at least doing these things less.
My biggest hurdles to overcome when it comes to exercise are yoga, traditional weight training, cycling, running, and stretching.
Now obviously running is what we have evolved to do, however if you are running without the correct technique and with bad posture (which will cause bad technique), it is damaging and if you are feeling pain, you need to reduce your volume, sort-out your biomechanics and then try again.
This is the biggest crutch for guys. They want to be big, strong, and look good in the mirror, especially younger men. These days it seems the people with chronic pain and injury are coming younger and younger and convincing them to drop the heavy weights, focus on technique and explain that their bodies aren't quite as robust as they thought they were is a real hit to their ego.
I remember the original reason I got into weight-training and it was a confidence thing as much as anything else. I wasn't very big or strong and it transformed me into what looked like to many, a physically strong person. It was and is a shallow way of working-out, but it is not without it's benefits; it really did make me more confident, it really did make me more attractive to the opposite sex, and it gave me a goal to work towards. Weight training is also a very healthy thing to do in ways that aren't related to biomechanical efficiency, especially for otherwise sedentary people. It is unfortunately an impediment to sorting-out your biomechanical issues, however, and to moving more efficiently and pain-free, and this becomes more and more relevant as you get older. If you are in pain, but still doing heavy squats, deadlifts and bench presses every week, you can follow injury prevention strategies like mine or anyone else's as much as you like, things are not going to get better for you. You need to let go.
Yoga and Stretching
Because of what I just mentioned above, and the fact men tend to on average be less open-minded and more conservative than women, I find that more women are attracted to the idea of my training. They are also more open to regressing their activity or at least going slowly or more carefully to begin with and using lighter weights. However, the biggest hindrance for my female client's improving themselves has to be yoga.
It is easy to see why yoga gets in the way and is difficult to convince people that it may be doing harm to them. Firstly, it is usually done in a class, so it has a social element to it. It also has a calming, relaxing effect on people, and the increased flexibility that is gained from it often makes people feel loose and less tense, at least in the short-term, and gives the feeling that it must be a good strategy to prevent injury. A yoga class gives an immediate hit of relaxation, and this meditative effect can last too and can be a real stress-buster for most people in the long-term (and I am not saying this is not significant and important). It becomes not just exercise, but a significant part of people's lives and men and women alike can become obsessed with it.
From my point of view, though, it makes my life very difficult. It is actually much harder for me to correct people's movement and diagnose issues if they regularly do yoga or do lots of stretching in general.
Generally - and this especially goes for men - most people's problems revolve around being too tight, or general muscle shortening. The solution is simple on paper; you break up the myofascial adhesions to improve range of motion and the ability for muscles to fire properly, then you practice maintaining good postural positions, then you practice moving while maintaining good postural positions. People who are tight can feel the restrictions when they try to perform postural and movement exercises and know they are doing the exercise correctly when they feel how difficult it is to maintain the position because of the tension created by their tightness, they can feel it.
It doesn't work as simply with people who are hypermobile, hyperflaccid, or just overly flexible. It is very difficult for them to feel when they have found a neutral spine, for example, or for them to hold tension in any way. Their body is used to going beyond the range of motion they should be going through, rather than falling short of it, which is usually much worse for their bodies. They also switch-off connections between muscle groups by stretching in ways we haven't evolved naturally with our biomechanics to do. As an example, take the extremes of the most flexible forms of exercise careers vs the least flexible, gymnasts and ballerinas vs bodybuilders and weight lifters. The former have far shorter careers, body builders and even some weightlifters can often be seen going into old age, the same cannot be said for gymnasts and ballerinas.
Clients that have restricted ranges of motion will find the postural exercises physically challenging, they'll sometimes shake or struggle to get to the right position. Once they hit the ideal form they will struggle mightily. Someone who is overly flexible will usually hit what seems like the perfect position right-away, yet will feel nothing. Without climbing into their bodies it is then very difficult to find out what is going on, and very difficult for them to feel the ideal position to be striving for. These kind of clients often come to me in more pain than others, yet do not present with obvious postural issues and their body awareness is usually, on the surface of things, quite good. However their bodies don't hold any tension, they have no elasticity, they usually move pretty badly, and they are fragile and prone to injury.
The chronic shortening of our muscle and fascia as we age is one of the main reasons for the deterioration in people's posture and increased injury risk. The evolutionary advantage of this adaptation is that of protection from major catastrophic injury up to an age which is sufficient to pass your genes on to the next generation. It prevents you going through a range of motion, especially after a minor injury, that could cause a major muscle, tendon, or ligament tear which would mean you'd be easy prey for a hungry predator.
It would seem then that increased flexibility is one way of combating adaptive muscle shortening, and it does combat it to a point, but it actually makes you more prone to injury as a result because it trains your body to become more unintegrated and it prevents you from holding tension in your body where it should be, and for this reason it also means you lose elasticity (which is not the same as flexibility), so you cannot load your muscles properly in physical activity.
Yoga has many benefits, both mental and physical, but it does not obey evolved human biomechanics, so if you have an injury problem or any chronic pain, continuing to do yoga is likely to prevent you from fixing your problems. And is certainly doesn't work as a means of injury prevention more generally, which is widely claimed.
It is no wonder cycling is popular with people as they get older, especially in middle-aged men. In fact, an acronym has even been created MAMIL, meaning "Middle-aged Men in Lycra".
The reason it is so popular is that it is seen as a low-impact, low injury risk way of exercising. Many men have played sport or ran in their youth and find they just can't do these activities anymore without feeling pain or getting injured, so the bicycle is a natural progression for many.
As I have mentioned in other posts, I too enjoy cycling and my tours across Australia and New Zealand in particular were some of the best things I have ever done in my life. This doesn't mean that it is good for your biomechanics though, unfortunately. So believe me when I say that I understand how difficult it is to tear yourself away from the saddle.
If you have poor biomechanics then cycling may well be a simple form of exercise that will give you the least chance of injury while you are doing it, but chronic injuries will likely pop-up over time, and cycling is not helpful if you want to try to correct your biomechanics at all.
Cycling has a range of health benefits, but biomechanically it teaches your muscles and fascia to shorten. Almost uniquely among sport and exercise activities, cycling requires no eccentric loading of muscle tissue whatsoever, and runs completely counter to how we have evolved to move. It also largely fixes your upper body in place and switches-off integrated relationships between muscle groups. Just the same as traditional weight training, it isolates rather than integrates and this is not very good for your posture or your movement.
Telling people to at least cut down on those refreshing and healthy (in almost every other respect) morning cycles is a tough job, and you have to think about whether you could actually do them a disservice with both their mental and physical health. With keen exercisers my advice, at least in the early stages, will probably decrease their level of fitness and this is a hard pill to swallow for many. One shouldn't also forget that many people deal with stress by doing strenuous bouts of exercise, and cycling is particularly relevant here, as I see many people pushing themselves hard on the bike, usually at the weekends or before they got to work, which is probably very good for their mental health. Suggesting taking this away, at least to some extent is not only a difficult thing to convince people of, but maybe it isn't the right thing for them to do period, especially if they don't commit to doing what I tell them to do with enough dedication (which may be likely). At this point I should remind the reader that I am providing them with the truth about how to influence their posture and improve their biomechanics to increase performance efficiency and reduce pain. I never said it would be easy or even desirable or doable for many people. It is just the truth and it is for you to decide what to do with the information.
Am I Asking Too Much?
The answer is quite possibly yes, for most people. The benefits of committing yourself to improving your biomechanics is life changing, however. The negative short-term effects of reduced fitness (for those who are into exercise already) and possibly affecting mental health don't last forever, and when you start moving better you will be able to exceed previous levels of health, fitness, and well-being. The reasons for this are not just because you are less likely to get injured and feel pain, but the process of moving your body as close to how it evolved to move as possible is therapeutic in itself.
Harder Habits to Change
To illustrate how truly difficult it can be for some people, it isn't just physical exercise that needs to be sacrificed, but daily routines also. If you sit at a desk all day every day in a stressful job, the amount of MFR and corrective exercise you need to counter this becomes too much, especially if you work long hours. With this in mind then, all I can do for you is slow your deterioration, I'm not a miracle worker. To actually reverse your problems, you need to do a different job, and especially in these times when it is already getting harder to put food on the table, this may be impossible.
Having recently become a father, having a child is also another big problem for your biomechanics, especially if you are a woman and have gone through the process of pregnancy and child-birth. Both are especially tough on your body and cause biomechanical issues. Then after birth many mothers (and fathers) have to carry their infant around a lot, which puts more pressure on your body.
Whereas it might technically be possible to give up your job because of its detriment to your health, what are you going to do about having children and caring for them? Just give up on having children or not care for them when you do? I don't think so.
None of this means training your biomechanics is a waste of time if you hit these categories, but it will hinder just how much of a difference you can make. It basically means mitigation of further problems will likely be more realistic rather than the ideal of actually improving your posture and biomechanics.
Real and meaningful changes require real and meaningful sacrifices, hence why the idea of sacrifice enters almost every religion and culture (usually it a very primitive form, such as sacrificing animals or even people). Change is hard and I think everyone knows this deep-down. So do you really want to change, have less pain, improve performance? Then you have to go where you least want to look. Successful people face reality and are prepared to do what it takes. So what are you prepared to sacrifice to better your life?