Part of my professional development is attending several continuing education sessions each year. Both the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Provincial Clinic and Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT) Level 1 were recently held in Metro Vancouver. My mind tends to run into overdrive after these workshops trying to figure out how to improve my client’s performance as well as my own.
In the last the 30 years I have participated in several sports including biathlon and cross country skiing, which I excelled at. I have also completed a couple of half-marathons, one full-marathon and three distance mountain running courses. During that time I had a few injuries and previous to that two fairly serious surgeries; most recently an odd ankle left sprain. At the NKT Level 1 course I discovered how these injuries affect how I move as well as how my body has probably compensated all these years. Having other practitioners do a full-body muscle testing and resetting using Neurokinetic Therapy lead to several revelations.
Injury and Surgery History
- 1976 and ~1980 right abdominal surgery
- ~1982 head injury – not sure about concussion
- 1990 – 1999 right patella femoral syndrome
- 1992 – right tibial fracture from cross country skiing
- 1998 – right hamstring strain
- 2002 – possible concussion
- 2005 – right hip pain prevented me from running for several months
- 2012 – left inversion ankle sprain, minor mva as driver, left dorsi flexion sprain
Neurokinetic Therapy Discoveries
- 10 different muscles compensating for left psoas (important for creating stability during walking and running; attached to the diaphragm which is used for stability and breathing)
- weak distal fibers of left and right hamstrings
- left and right quadratus lumborum inhibited – right was due to scars (important for side to side stability during single leg stance)
- right psoas inhibited by right quadratus lumborum which tilted my right pelvis forward
- right tibia lateral rotation – foot turned out due to facilitated lateral gastrocs (calf) and inhibited medial hamstrings
- obturators facilitated (creating a hip jam) and inhibiting rectus femoris (quadriceps that crosses the hip and knee)
- occipitals facilitated and inhibiting deep neck flexors
- pectoralis minor both sides – doing a lot of work, including preventing same side rotation (spring energy storage and release during running)
The nice thing is that the human brain and nervous system are very plastic, which means they can change and mold easily to new inputs. These systems change faster than ligament, muscle and tendon, however propioceptive nerves run through all of the above including scars.
Our bodies adapt to get the job done. The motor control center governs how we move. Trauma to the body such as surgeries and injuries change our movement patterns on subtle levels that to most people are imperceptible unless we are highly in tune.
During the last two weeks my only training has been specific self-myofascial releases and immediate strengthening exercises related to retraining my body to use specific muscles as they should be along with relatively easy 30 min runs at zero percent grade on a treadmill.
Missing the opening of the Grouse Grind a week ago because I was out of town made me very eager to try the Grouse Grind on Friday.
Learning to Run By Feeling
Although the motor control center is adaptable it needs a lot of repeated input to create ingrain a pattern so that it feels normal and become subconscious. Have you watched a child learn to walk? How many trials does it take? Do you still think before you start to walk? The pattern is now subconscious.
Focus was placed mainly on my right side because it seemed to have the most challenges. By opening up the joint capsule I feel there is significantly more mobility in my hips than before. At the NSCA clinic Dr. Mike Young, CSCS, PhD, Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps delineated that speed and power is a function of intramuscular co-ordination while Dr. Keith Loshe of UBC pointed out that for learning to happen performance will initially decrease.
Each spring I look forward to trail running on the North Shore and challenging myself with the Grouse Grind – nature’s stair climber of 2.9 km with 2800 feet elevation gain. Average time to complete is an hour and half and recommendation is two hours for a very novice hiker; my best last year was 35:32 minutes.
Learning how to move my body differently meant I anticipated an initial decrease in performance even though the Grouse Grind and I have met 150 times due to reduced intramuscular co-ordination. The first few steps were a bit hesitant because I wasn’t sure how to move my new body uphill fast.
The terrain starts out on a gradual incline during which it is possible to jog or run, however it quickly becomes steeper with larger steps and rocky terrain to overcome. Movement should feel light, effortless and joyful; this how my hips now feel. I could easily bound up a two to three stairs at a time, however my cardiovascular system just wasn’t able to keep-up.
As the climb continued I was concerned about more extreme ranges of dorsiflexion and how my left ankle would hold up. It wasn’t until after the 3/4 mark that I dropped my heel and felt a bit of twinge. The only thing to do is continue on and make sure to always keep on the balls of my feet. There were two other times when I went into full dorsiflexion; one of those times took my breath away – ouch!
Near the top my left ankle felt like it could go into spasm if I went any faster. Calf spasms are very painful and debilitating, something I really didn’t want. The opening Grind of the season is always completed by feel and meant to set a baseline for the rest of the season, so time was not a factor, only feeling.
Cresting the top my lungs were burning and left calf and ankle were aching. For those unfamiliar the Grind participants can purchase a Grind Timer card to swipe at the top of the bottom to record their times. The clock stopped at 45:24 with an average heart rate of 179 bpm.
Lessons From the First Grind
This was a good season opening time for me which I am happy with. There were several key learning opportunities for me:
- Left calf and ankle to need more mobility and conditioning
- Need greater lateral stability
- Need to improve power-endurance at anaerobic threshold
For learning to occur a skill has to be repeated fairly soon after. The second Grind two days later was a little different. I incorporated more lateral line stability by releasing upper upper trapezius, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid (side of the neck to shoulder responsible for left to right rotation) and doing some side-bends to strength quadratus lumborum for side to side stability. Just before starting the Grind I released my left lower leg to reduce the chances of a cramp and provide me with more dorsiflexion capability.
There were no problems with dorsiflexion on the way up, though I was still cautious and aware of making sure to step properly. During the last quarter there was slight feeling of possible left calfcramping. During the way up I even tried to keep my heart rate down, but it did creep up to 184 bmp to pass the long-weekend.
With a time of 43:53 I am definitely on track to my goal of a sub 35 min this year. However, I am still trying to figure out why my left calf is taking most of the load. Perhaps it is weakness in the hamstrings?
Now it is time to add more specific strength training two days a week to support my efforts on the Grind. I am even considering entering Seek Peak trail run again – 16 km from Ambleside Beach up to the top of Grouse Mountain.