I shipped off to Boston to attend my first ever BSMPG summer symposium. And it was easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. There was an excellent speaker lineup and so much of my family. Art Horne really put on a fantastic show.
If you haven’t been to BSMPG before, put it on your to-course list. It is one of the few courses that has a perfect combination of learning and socializing. I hope to not miss another.
Instead of my usual this person talked about that, let’s look at some of the big pearls from the weekend.
Why Sapolsky Doesn’t Get Ulcers
In one quote Robert Sapolsky summed up my current foundational premise to rehabilitation and training:
“The stress response returns the body to homeostasis after actual or potential threats.” ~ Robert Sapolsky
Regardless of what your malady is, it can probably be linked back to the stress response gone awry. The specifics become irrelevant because the stress response occurs nonspecifically.
This response works best against acute crises. Guess how we screw it up? Chronic stressors.
Human stressors are quite different from other species’ as we have the capability of inducing this stress response psychosocially. Gazelles on the Serengeti don’t have to worry about student loans.
We can see how chronic stress becomes an issue when you look at what occurs in the stress response:
- Glucose travels to the bloodstream to mobilize energy.
- Increased cardiovascular tone, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Decrease long-term building projects such as digestion, growth, and reproduction.
- Increase immune system activity
- Sharpen cognition, alertness, and pleasure
If the stress response perpetuates, other systems fail and break down to continue to support the need to reduce potential threats. We see a shift in the homeostatic set-point toward elevated levels of the above.
Although we all must deal with stress in some way, why is it that some people tolerate chronic stress better than others? It’s all in how one copes. The following is needed to successfully deal with stress:
- Need an outlet for stress.
- Have predictable information.
- Have a sense of control.
- Have a healthy social circle.
- Perceive that life is improving.
Per the book of Sapolsky:
Optimal stress = moderate severity + shorts duration/amount + safe/benevolent environment.
Aka good training. But how do we build up individuals to continually better tolerate further challenging stressors?
Here is where my man Eric Oetter dominated the conference.
When chronically stressed, the aforementioned stress response takes high priority in all our systems, including nervous. Immune molecules smudge our various homunculi, dopamine floods the system to reward outputs, and myelin solidifies neurological pathways to perpetuate it.
Breaking a chronic stress cycle involves habit alteration.
To be able to effectively create newly favorable habits, movements, or pathways, attention is key. This piece is something we lose in a stressed state; as prefrontal cortex activity decreases. This is why salience is so important.
To return to a favorable homeostatic environment, we enlist Eric’s three P’s:
Prime brain activity via the aerobic system. It boosts brain power, especially if done before an activity.
How: Work between 120-150 bpm for 15-30 minutes prior to motor skill learning. Do something you enjoy so you do not become overly stressed by the activity itself.
Sleep is a big deal. According to one of the speakers, Vincent Walsh, we sleep 37% of our lives. Yet we only work 19% of them. We sleep so damn much that it should probably be taken seriously.
Sleep helps us remember by helping us forget things. The sleep cycle replays our day; keeping the important pieces and discarding the unnecessary.
This discarding is the pruning that Eric referred to, and it occurs by glial cells. Glia is what smooths out new neural connections.
How do we get good sleep?
- Respect the chronotype – keep your normal sleep-wake cycles.
- Take naps – 26 minute naps are bomb.
- Banish blue light – cut out 1-2 hours before bed, as blue light from electronics tells the suprachiastmatic nucleus in the brain that it is light out.
- Become a sleep environmentalist – No caffeine after 12, no meals 3 hours before bed, sleep in a cool room, etc.
If you can’t access to the prefrontal cortex, you will never hit the cognitive stage of motor learning.
Chronic stressors inhibit access to the PFC. The PFC is the doorway to variability, which is something unwanted during a stress response. Automaticity is king.
Getting the PFC allows all systems to be freely expressed. How do we do it?
- Mindful meditation.
- Monitoring (omegawave, bioforce HRV, etc).
- Remove the “neurolock” via redirection and respiration (hint hint– PRI)
- Energy systems development.
Respect the Thorax
This section will channel my homie’s James Anderson and Allen Gruver. Can’t go a place without getting a PRI fix.
What keeps the spine and sternum oriented right despite the thorax counter-rotating to the left? The answer would be airflow. A hyperinflated left chest wall pushes these areas to the right.
Thoracic movement is determined by this position as well as timing/coordination of gross movement patterns. We can observe how the thorax is driven through what the extremities are doing.
If you look at the baseball throw, we ought to see alternate positioning on each arm. For example, if the right forearm is in supination during a part of the throw, the left arm ought to be in pronation. This reciprocal arm function promote the thorax rotating in one direction. It’s a PNF thing.
If the arms go in the same direction, the thorax must extend or flex. Since sport is usually extension-driven, we can guess which direction one will go.
Vince Walsh gave an excellent talk on the brain. He thinks we miss lots of talent because we look predominately at physical prowess.
Physicality is only one piece of the puzzle. Some individuals may develop excellent decision-making skills later on in their careers that may trounce athleticism.
Your ability to make right choices and avoid wrong ones is necessary for success, and is a trainable skill.
To know how to train it, it is important to understand the three types of decision-making:
- Physical – What to do and not do (e.g. gun slinging)
- Mental – e.g. poker playing
- Temporal – e.g. playing chicken
Vince predominately used computer simulations to train these decisions, but it seems plausible that these tests could be applied to any type of training. Perhaps something like a reactive agility test could help improve physical decision making as an example. You just have to be creative.
A Cautionary Note on Data
Al Smith said some of the most profound words this weekend. He spoke to caution us on data.
Data does not always tell the individual story, as it can lead to less individualized training or rehab. It dehumanizes both our clients and us. This statement made me think quite a bit to those folks who champion evidenced-based everything.
Perhaps instead of measuring everything, one must first ask if there is a problem with what one is thinking of measuring.
Another cool thing Al Smith showed us was the cynefin framework; a sense making model in which acquired data precedes framework.
Depending on what a situation can be categorized in, one would expect to utilize different thought processes.
Simple – predictable relationship between cause and effect (use best practice)
Complicated – predictable relationship between cause and effect that’s not self-evident (use good practice)
Complex – A system without causality (use safe-fail experiments)
Chaotic – A completely unpredictable system (Use novel practice)
Where does training fit? Where does rehab fit? We may be using incorrect methods in particular situations.
You can learn more about the framework here, it’s definitely something I hope to explore more in the future.
- “Too much exercise is not normal hominid behavior.”
- “This CT scan was not drawn by a commissioned artist.”
- “If you think that’s a tight pec you better check pressure in the air.”
- “10,000 hours can’t always undo 100 dumb ones.”
- “Frank Netter shut down the left AIC.”
- “Deny PNF and you are messing with the system.”
- “We’re all barking down the same tree. We just like to complain.”
- “No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.”
- “Changing the answer is evolution; changing the question is revolution.”
- “If you live in mediocrity you eventually think it’s good. You don’t know what good is.”
- “It’s not normal to fart all day.”