Guest post written by: Charles Mayfield
Chances are pretty good you have left the parking brake on in your car, truck, or sweet minivan at one point in your driving career, right? I’ll dispense with too deep of an explanation on parking brakes. It is important that everyone understand the role of this device. We need to go no further than Newton’s First Law to encompass the full capacity of the parking brake. Its sole responsibility is to assist in keeping an object (your vehicle) at rest. This means the brake has but one adversary…gravity. The brake is not designed to fight the power and torque of your engine. The bigger your engine, the easier it will be to overpower the brake and speed off to your destination. The effects remain. You have added “drag” to the vehicles ability to move effectively.
This analogy came to light in several recent presentations I was giving to several teams with The Vistage Group in Atlanta. Here’s a group of hard charging entrepreneurs looking for guidance on maximum performance. The fine line between optimal performance in the boardroom, athletic field or home is hard to differentiate. In fact, you could argue that the formula is the same for all three- train smart, recover well & fuel yourself properly. The presentation I gave was a treetop preview of some of the topics that we’ll be covering during the Cube Summit coming to Atlanta on October 17th.
Do you even Autonomic Bro?
We all have one and thank goodness. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is responsible for some really important things: breathing, digestion, heartbeat, and let us not forget sexual function. This system operates, for the most part, on an unconscious level. When’s the last time you consciously told your heart to beat? Here’s the other cool thing about the ANS, it’s got some really powerful mechanisms to override your conscious thought. Want a great example? Hold your breath for as long as you can. Did you pass out? No. At some point, regardless of how hard you tried, your brain jumped in and forced you to gasp for breath. This is an important function of the entire nervous system that is really the key to removing brakes. Also, the ANS is centrally regulated through the hypothalamus. More on the HPTA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-adrenal-axis) in a moment.
Let’s take a quick look into some potential brakes you may not know are “on” as it relates to your movement, recovery & food:
I mentioned mechanisms your ANS uses to override certain systems to protect the body. Although it’s not a primary function of the ANS, your brain has some really smart ways of protecting your Central Nervous System (CNS) too. The best illustration of this I find is looking at hip function. We use the Functional Movement Systems screen with our clients. One of the tests is an Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR). This is where the ‘braking’ comes into play. If you have a misaligned pelvic floor and diaphragm, your body won’t let that hip fully flex. In other words, hip extension and flexion is limited due to unsafe positioning of the spine. This presents itself ALL THE TIME during the ASLR. What do we see most? Generally it is a combination of some anterior pelvic tilt and thoracic extension. Think of these two positions as a byproduct of several factors: sedentary lifestyle (sitting too much is no bueno), immobile upper back (sitting too much typing on your device of choice is no beuno) and simply an unawareness of what a “good position” feels like. Good lord, just look at all the videos on the interwebs of folks squatting, deadlifting, or pressing with their chests poked forward and booties back.
Here’s a quick test you can perform at home to check your hip function:
- Lie on your back with both legs extended (knees locked out) and toes flexed.
- Holding a PVC pipe in one hand, align it perpendicular to your body (vertically) at arms length. The PVC pipe creates a vertical line from the hip upward.
- Keeping both legs straight (don’t bend your knee at all) and toes flexed, lift the leg on the PVC side up slowly.
Did your leg make it up to the PVC? Did your toes at least make it up? How high did you go? If you’re like a boat-load of people we screen, you’ve got some brakes on in the hip. This could be any number of things causing this and if you’re experiencing limited range of motion, there is a chance that your brain’s jedi senses have picked up on some poor positioning of the spine. There are other potential factors. That said, we generally start with alignment. A tight hamstring could be the culprit too. If you want to take the brake off your hamstrings, we usually recommend focusing on spine mechanics to give those muscles permission to express themselves completely. From there, we tackle flexibility in muscle itself.
I’m really pumped to have Lucy Hendricks coming down for the Cube Summit. Lucy has opened my eyes to quite a few potential brakes in my own training and recovery over the last few years, and she’s a top of the food chain coach. Post workout recovery is kind of a nebulous business. There are many facets to optimal recovery strategies. We’ll assume for a second that you’re hammering mobility work on the daily and getting your 8 hours of awesome sleep. Today, we’re going to talk through a simple test you can perform to check in on an unsung hero of the recovery world…BREATHING! Remember that ANS? Good thing we don’t have to “think” about breathing to do it. That said, a fair number of folks we run across are breathing all wrong. The goal of recovery is to allow the brain/body to heal. If we’re not breathing in a manner that promotes recovery, it doesn’t happen. Your ANS has two complimentary systems: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Fight or Flight & Feed and Breed, as I like to call them. As you read this sentence, check in with your breathing…are you breathing through your nose or mouth? Mouth, huh…interesting. So despite the fact that you’re sitting at your computer or handheld device and most likely NOT running from a bear, do you think it makes sense to be breathing as if you were?
Another quick test for you (read all the instructions before you do this):
- Stand in a relaxed state and close your mouth (get a stop watch ready).
- Place your tongue in the roof of your mouth.
- Take a short/soft breath in through the nose and then out. Don’t empty your lungs…just softly get to the bottom of your breath and hold it.
- Pinch the nose off and hold this for as long as you can.
- Your next breath should remain in the nose and shouldn’t be terribly uncomfortable
How long were you able to hold it? If you were under 30 seconds, we have identified a potential brake on performance. Lucy plugged me into the Buteyko Breathing Centre last year and it has made a world of difference in my personal life and how I train clients. Bottom line here, your breathing affects your performance, recovery, and nutrition. It has three predominant prongs to it:
- If you’re breathing through your mouth, you’re sending that signal to your brain that the bear is chasing you. This affects hormones and systems related to that HPTA. We don’t want to trick our brain into thinking this during a state of rest. Take the brake off that system and let it do its job.
- Chances are, you’re over breathing by 40-50%. The average nose breather is taking between 11,000 and 13,000 breaths per day. Mouth breathers are upwards of 21,000. When we give it that much overage, the body is going to be wickedly inefficient at managing the oxygen we give it.
- When the signal says ‘Fight or Flight’, we don’t digest food well and non-essential functions of the ANS will shut down (immune system, digestion, etc).
There are countless other systems impacted by mouth breathing that I’ll not touch on in this post. Lucy is an expert on this stuff and will be doing a post on the Cube Summit site in the coming weeks relating to breathing and recovery. You’ll want to look out for that post, and please consider making the trek to Atlanta this October. We’ll not be handing out training masks (although they look really cool), we’ll be teaching you techniques to use your nose to restore function in your movement and efficiency in your conditioning.
Boy oh boy! How many directions could we go with how your food might be putting a brake on your performance? There is tons of compelling research on the effects of our modern diet relating to the health of our gut biome. I’ll leave that one to Robb and other experts like Dr. Perlmutter. We could discuss the balance of your macronutrients and how to effectively cycle those with your training to increase performance. This one I’ll leave alone for now and wait to hear what John Welborne will have to say regarding his Power Athlete protocol (bulking, leaning & maintenance phases). Let’s talk today about the nebulous underpinnings of under eating. We can all agree that starving yourself isn’t a long-term solution for any kind of healthy or performance-based lifestyle. Oh, and I’m probably not speaking to the hard charging athletes out there. Convincing that group to get enough calories is generally not a problem. That said, I do see it on occasion.
We just had the hydrostatic body fat dunk tank come out to our Vinings gym this week. Good news on the personal front, as I was able to strip away a few points of “two kids in diapers” fat. However, in the process I lost a touch of muscle (not good). The more alarming number I found myself consulting with clients about was the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) figure they are given coming out of the test. This is an estimate of your caloric requirements each day based on primary human function. I don’t like this number. I think it paints a very unrealistic picture of how much folks should be eating to perform well. Even if your goal is weight loss, you’re best to tread very lightly on reducing your caloric intake below this number. My experience has shown me that long-term excessive caloric restriction is in no way a sustainable method for maintaining fat loss and staying healthy. Earlier this year, Dan Pardi & Stephan Guyenet did a wonderful write up on this site relating to the destructive effects of under eating and messing with the Hypothalamus (remember that HPTA?).
Your test is to get a quick read on your RMR. Rather than getting dunked, I’d like you to use the revised Harris-Benedict BMR Equation to calculate your RMR. It goes like this:
1 + 4.8 X Height(cm) + 5.68 X Age = Resting Metabolic Rate
Two things I really like about this test. First, it’s not hard to track and keep up with as your body mass changes. The other (this is a personal preference) is that it seems to come out a bit on the higher side versus your standard body fat algorithms that come with a body fat test (my H-B test was around 300 calories higher).
Have you got your result? Do you know how your intake stacks up? There is one final step…and that’s to add in for your activity. Here’s a quick reference chart for you to maintain your current weight:
Light to no exercise = 1.2 X RMR
Light exercise (2-3 days per week) = 1.375 X RMR
Moderate Exercise (3-5 days per week) = 1.55 X RMR
Heavy Exercise (5-7 days per week) = 1.725 X RMR
Very Heavy Exercise (2X per day workouts and extra heavy) = 1.9 X RMR
Want to take the brake off your ability to maintain muscle mass, lose fat and restore some proper function in your HPTA axis, then fill your plate with tons of Paleo friendly food and eat up.
Want some of the best in the business to get hands on to removing some of your brakes? You’ll want to attend the Cube Summit on October 17th in Atlanta!
Tickets are still available. Use promo code: WOLFPACK to save 20% off.
Charles Mayfield is the cofounder of Atlanta Strength and Conditioning and coauthor of the Paleo Comfort Foods series of cookbooks. His focus is on providing his clients with simple, effective and sustainable strategies for achieving optimal health.
- 4 + 13.4 X Weight(kg) ↩