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Fascinating Facial Feedback

Wild Geese Fitness Training was born out of my Martial Arts practice. This much is no secret, I’ve often told the story of how as a teenager practising and competing in Karate I struck a patch where I was getting beaten, failing grades and generally not doing as well as previous years. My instructors advice was simple, concise and very accurate. He said, “Dave, you have to get stronger”

Over the next 20 years, this is what I’ve continued to do in a variety of ways. I’ve run, cycled, Yoga’d, Pilates’d, I’ve lifted heavy for low reps, I’ve lifted light for lots of reps, I’ve lifted Bodyweight, Dumbells, Kettlebell, Sandbags, Rock, Logs and other people.

And do you know what I’ve found to work the best?

All of them.

I’ve tried specialising on numerous occasions, marathon training, Powerlifting style training, bodybuilding training and more recently Kettlebell Sport training. Each time I did, my martial arts ability dropped which created a problem, strength and conditioning is supposed to make be better, not worse, at other things.

So, when I create programs, such the WMD training method used on the Boot Camp (still editing the book……), I use a blend of all the listed methods. In my regular classes I utilise two or three methods per class so over the course of a few weeks each gets some attention. And it works, but I never really figured out why. Most of the stuff I read comes from coaches who specialise, but why was it never working for me, which meant I couldn’t make it work for my clients.  Why did I have to spend so much time and effort coming up with a style of training that has become known by some of my guys as “WGMA Style”? It would have been much easier just to copy stuff, like I did at school. Since becoming Coach I’ve really had to engage the brain!

And then today, while drinking coffee and browsing Facebook, I stumble, almost by accident on the following article:

Bookmark it, read it and read it again. It is that important.

Da Vinci's understanding of the body was way ahead of it's time

It comes from a bloke named Thomas Myers, a guy with a brain the size of a planet. He wrote the book Anatomy Trains which turned much of modern hands on therapy and training on its head. I first heard of him through a friend of mine, top Rolfing practitioner Tony  Walsh. Tony presented here at Wild Geese a while ago and introduced us to the idea of fascia, the fascial network and some of the methods of keeping it healthy. This lead to me doing a load more reading, often way above my meagre IQ level.

Then this article from the man himself appears and it all starts to make sense.

He says: Finding #1:Specific training can enhance the fascial elasticity essential to systemic resilience. The basic news is that connective tissue—even dense tissues like tendons and aponeuroses—is much more significantly elastic than previously thought. The second essential part of that news is that fascial elasticity is stored and returned very quickly. In other words, it is more like a superball than a Nerf™ ball. Thus, fascial elasticity is a factor only when the motion is cyclic and quickly repeated, as in running, walking or bouncing, but not as in bicycling, in which the repetitive cycle is far too slow to take

Tony Walsh told me, after I’d introduced him to the kettlebell, that he had come to the conclusion that the classic lifts (Clean, Snatch and Jerk) were perhaps the most efficient way to strengthen the facial network.

Finding #2: The fascial system responds better to variation than to a repetitive program

What’s In:

  1. Whole-Body Movements. Engaging long myofascial chains and whole-body movements is the better way to train the fascial

The Sandbag Halo drill, real full body training

system. This is true in the wider sense also, not just in terms of fascial strength. Isolation exercises should only be used in a rehabilitation setting, or for physique purposes.

  1. Proximal Initiation. It’s best to start movements with a dynamic pre-stretch (distal extension) but accompany this with a proximal initiation in the desired direction, letting the more distal parts of the body follow in sequence, like an elastic pendulum.

In the martial arts we are told “to move left, first move right, to move up, first move down….” this activates the stretch reflex which largely a function of the fascial network. Even in things like the Deadlift this is applicable, watch Andy Bolton, he sets himself up, then bounces the hips up and down, once, twice and  on the third he powers the bar off the floor. He’s the first man to deadlift over 1000lb, so he knows a thing or two! Is his pre lift routine an idle habit or has he instinctively figured out Proximal Initiation?

  1. Adaptive Movement. Complex movement requiring adaptation, like parkour (see the beginning of the James Bond movie Casino Royale for a great example), beats repetitive exercise programs. Parkour is nothing new, Georges Herbert was doing it decades ago, but there is also circuit training, which, more recently has become called “Crossfit” and has become massively popular of late,  the use of variety in the routines works.  As log as an athlete has certain benchmarks against which to test himself, why repeat the same program over and over? The only answer I can come up with is to specialise, as in Powerlifting, Kettlebell sports and the like.

What’s out:

  1. Repetitive Movement. Machines (or minds) that require clients to work in the same line again and again do not build fascial resilience very well.

This comes as no surprise, machines always suck. Use bodyweight, barbell, dumbells, Kettles, sandbags and even other people, but stay of the damn machines!

  1. Always Practicing With Upper-Level Loads. Variable loads build different aspects of the fascia. Sticking with near-limit loads will strengthen some ligaments but weaken others. Varying the load is the better way.

This is more of a Newbies error anyway. Most experienced trainees have some concept of periodisation and know when to back off. In our training here at Wild Geese we like to ensure that a variety of rep ranges are employed with the various movement patterns, partly as we aim to create all round athleticism, but also to hit every aspect of our physiology. There’s no point being massively strong if you can’t move fluidly….

  1. Always Training in the Same Tempo. Likewise, varying the tempo of your Tempo is a point of contention amongst lifting coaches, but in my opinion it comes down to this: Lift as fast as possible, lower under control. Although we do occasionally use pauses at various point through the lift.  Of course the speed of movement and therefore time spent under load will change as the weight does. Heavy weights move slowly. I do think though i will spend more time experimenting with tempo, just to see how it affects us.

Finding #3:The fascial system is far more innervated than muscle, so proprioception and kinesthesia are primarily fascial, not muscular. This is a hard concept for many fitness professionals to get their heads around, but it is a fact: there are 10 times as many sensory receptors in your fascial tissues as there are in your muscles (Stillwell 1957)

So when you say you are feeling your muscles move, this is a bit of a misnomer. You are “listening” to your fascial tissues much more than to your muscles

I’ve a feeling this point is one reason why I’ve heard two or three of my clients, and other coaches clients mention the fact that the best Strength & Conditioning coaches they’ve ever had all have strong backgrounds in the Martial Arts. As a martial artist you are encouraged to listen to the body, feel with the whole as opposed to relying on visual and / or audio feedback. we discover that the greater our ability to listen and understand our own bodies feedback, the better we can listen to what our opponents/training partners bodies are saying.  Many Martial Arts based coaches favour a more holistic training style, possibly because of our western formal education blended with our Asian studies through our chosen arts.

Whichever way you look at it, Thomas Myers work does suggest:

  1. The fascial network is the glue that holds us together

  2. Strengthening the facial network is as important as training the muscles themselves

  3. The fascia takes approx 6 months to respond to a training program, as opposed to a few weeks by the muscles.

  4. Vary the rep ranges, the weight and the lifts through the training program.

  5. Don’t get caught up in any Dogmatic approach to training, instead listen to you body and talk about this feedback to you coach.

This is a deep topic and one I’m only discovering myself, as I learn more, so will you.



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