When It’s All Over

May 9, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

Being a year removed from my last game as a college baseball player I have to say that it finally hit me… I am no longer a baseball player.

A delayed reaction for sure, the emotions of retiring from the game that I’ve played my entire life hit me this past Sunday when Avila got knocked out of the Heart of America Conference Tournament. I want to congratulate Coach Cronk and the entire 2018 team on having a great season. For the Seniors, this blog post is for you!

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So I made the trip down to Springfield, MO for the opener of the Conference Tournament last week and I must say that my emotions were 100 times more apparent than when I was playing as I watched my old teammates play throughout the week. Watching the rest of the tournament from my home, I was panicking at every clutch situation that occurred. From the late inning comebacks to the bases loaded jams, the boys played their hearts out and had an incredible run.

If you remember a previous post (My Last Game) where I talked about my lack of emotions when we played our last game last year, it was a complete 180 being on the other side of the field. This was a confusing moment in my life at the time of my last game because I was emotionally drained from everything that I had been through in my career. Throughout that season, there were a lot of ups and downs for us as a team so when it ended it was nothing much but a shock with reality.

A year removed from the game and watching my old teammates play, it was a different feeling. I found myself in tears when their season ended, for a variety of reasons but more so because of what I knew the seniors were about to go through. I couldn’t help but ask myself why I was so hurt in comparison than when it happened to me.

Well for one I have a brotherhood with these guys and watched as many games as I could throughout their season. Even though I’ve missed playing the game, I was actually able to appreciate and enjoy watching my old teammates play the game from the stands. When the playoffs came about, I suddenly felt like I was part of something greater again.

When your career is over, you miss the game but what you miss the most is the experience of being surrounded by your brothers on an everyday basis. While a part of you misses being a part of the action, what really gets you is the thought that you will never get to experience the feeling of being a part of something greater.

Coach Cronk says it every year when it all ends but it holds the most truth of all… “The reason why it hurts so much is because you gave it so much.” Yeah a loss and getting eliminated is a heart breaker, but for some they don’t get another shot at redemption.

To all you seniors out there, just know that everything will be okay. Some of you might get a shot to play at the next level and if you don’t there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. This tunnel has variety of avenues that you can take and many of them allow you to still be a part of the game. If you feel sad an empty for a while, it is completely normal.

We as ballplayers have established an identity throughout our lives and whether or not we get to put on our spikes again we will always be ballplayers. It may take a few days, maybe even weeks to accept this new reality… but everything will be okay.

I must say that I was pretty content with my new lifestyle as a non-athlete, but when I watched you guys in the tournament, you made me miss the game. Maybe it’s because I’m addicted to the feeling of a heartbreak ending to a season. Perhaps I enjoy the idea of failing and competing day in and day out. While I have missed playing the game, what I missed the most was the struggle.

Now it is time for you to find a new struggle, one that you can appreciate close to if not as much as it was when you were playing. This game has given us immense feelings of immortality as it has also brought us down to our lowest of our lows. If you feel sad and want to cry, it’s okay because I cried Sunday too.

Yeah I cried so what? 😆

Just remember that if you feel this way, you shouldn’t frown because it is over, but smile because it happened. You all had amazing careers and made life-long memories that are forever engraved in your heart. Take some time to reflect on not only the good times but also the bad… because when you miss the game you will always wish to have back even your worst day when you were a player.

Good luck to all the Seniors out there on your next journey in life. For the rest of you guys who still have some career left, your time will come sooner than you can imagine. Appreciate the good days and the bad, because one day you will be in these shoes too. Play your hearts out and leave it all out on the field. If you do as such, you will always be able to use those memories to feel like a kid again, even when you can’t be on the field.

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2018 Avila University Seniors
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The Biomechanics of Exercise

 

March 27, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

Deadlifts are in my top 3 exercises for any client for a variety of reasons. It is applicable to everyday life activities such as bending down and picking up somet

Bryce Harper Deadlift

hing off of the ground. Having to pick up dead weight (hints the name) challenges the entire body forcing the legs, core, back, arms, and most importantly the brain to sync together to perform a movement.

For athletes it develops a great deal of strength and for the general gym person it helps enforce good movement patterns… if applied and trained correctly.

A deadlift requires a lot of technique practice and postural development because there are a variety of movements that can put the spine in a vulnerable position.

With my history of back issues, the deadlift has been my biggest challenge in my training life. It took me a full year in college strength and conditioning to learn how to perform the movement and once I got it down I was able to make great jumps in the loads in which I performed the exercise. A few weeks after reaching a PR of 315 lbs., I injured a disk in my lumbar spine performing a kettle bell swing.

Over the course of my junior season of college baseball, the wear and tear of weightlifting and playing the sport resulted in a herniated disk. Through the ups and downs of my rehab, my body reached a tremendous drop off of strength, especially with leg exercises… what I was good at 🙂

In the last year or so after graduating and retiring from baseball I have been able to put a lot of focus onto strengthening and rehab training to get back to what I considered to be my normal strength and health.

On New Year’s Day I hopped into the New Year train and decided to deadlift… only to re-injure my lower back again. My back locked up and felt like I was back to square one with my training

But this isn’t a sad story, but rather a learning one.

Working at Genesis Health Clubs in Overland Park, KS got me to be surrounded by some awesome trainers who hold specialties in Corrective Exercise and Physical Therapy backgrounds who have shared an amazing amount of knowledge to help me out with my physical limitations.

I have talked about in previous articles about muscle imbalances and implementing a variety of techniques to improve movement quality and reduce pain. Well when it comes to lower back pain, there are what seems to be infinite amount of ways to find an issue that is causing the pain and discomfort. Nevertheless is a quick summary of all the things that I have discovered and implemented into my training programs to help the cause.

The lumbar spine is connected to the pelvis area and can get receive a great deal of

lumbopelvic hip complex

unwanted forces onto the vertebral discs and connective tissue. There are a lot of muscles that connect this lumbo-pelvic hip complex and finding underactive/overactive muscles is a big first step. Assessments do not describe structural issues but they can provide a great deal of information that allows us to paint a picture about what could be going on.

When it comes to movement of the spine, it can move solely or in combination of 4 different ways: Flexion, Extension, Lateral, and Rotational.

Functions of the Spine

If someone ever tells you that these positions are not natural to be in when performing an exercise they are FLAT OUT WRONG!!!

The human spine is biologically designed to move in these manners, but where we can get caught up with posture and technique with resistance training is looking past the biomechanics of the body.

Biomechanics is defined as the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms. This means that within every movement there are measurable forces that inevitably take place onto all of the body’s tissues involved.

When we talk about technique with exercise, there is a misunderstanding between what is “right from wrong.” Wrong technique is regarded towards what is physically dangerous to the body’s joint structure as well as the muscles that connect. When it comes to making such judgements, conclusions should be based off of scientific and evidence based reasoning.

Unfortunately for the fitness culture, it takes a great deal of expertise to understand the physics that go behind resistance exercise. This isn’t to take a shot to the typical advice giver out on the gym floor, but it is a very risky thing to give people technique advice if you don’t have a good understanding on what you are making someone do physically… especially with weight.

With that said, I think the greatest fitness professionals are the ones who are willing to say “I don’t know, let’s find out,” –Dr. Mark Slavin.

Dr. Mark Slavin is a Biomechanics expert who has a lifetime of experience in the field of resistance training education. I attended a 2 day seminar along with many Genesis trainers and was given tremendous amount of insight on how to look at movement.

I’ll lay out what is a given to every fitness professional… movement occurs when muscles pull onto a joint structure. But what takes movement in depth is understanding the anatomy and physics that take place when using a resistance force.

In regards to a Deadlift, the movement begins with hip flexion. As the lifter begins to pull the bar up, he/she pushes a force into the ground and has a kinetic energy transfer that moves all the way up the kinetic chain getting into extension. This energy transfer is what allows the gripping of the bar to pull the resisted force against gravity and move it upward.

Deadlift

The major anatomical region that has to transfer that energy is the spine, which is connected practically every limb of the body. If the spine in any region is not in a neutral position (flat back), those forces immediately transfer over to what breaks that kinetic chain.

Because the hips go from flexion to extension, the movement is dominated by the rotation of the pelvis (connected to the lumbar spine). With the slightest flaw in movement sequence, the weight of the bar being pulled from the ground can create a detrimental amount of shear forces onto the spine.

While it may appear that most people can get away with bad technique, the movement is providing constant damage onto the connective tissues of the spine. What could begin to bring an alarm is tightened muscles, but that is only a small portion of what is really happening. The reality is that we cannot physically see what is happening to the connective tissues, but we can predict a lot by paying attention to what direction forces are being applied to these anatomical vulnerable positions.

Here’s a video breaking down a common set-up flaw that can put someone in a risky position when performing a Deadlift.

Getting back to my lower back flaws, my biggest issue with Deadlifting has been that the muscles that are supposed to support my spine are either weak, underactive, and/or possibly dormant. These descriptions sound pretty similar, but it takes understanding what movement these muscles are responsible for to make an educated guess on what needs to be fixed.

Notice how I said guess? Well that is because we cannot physically see what the muscles and connective tissues are physically experiencing. EMG pads can give us more information, but to the naked eye we just don’t know. With that said, Dr. Slavin had my mind click on the thought that to improve a complex movement like a deadlift we have to start by working on the individual parts.

I’ve been aware that lumbar extension has been painful and flexion feels really unstable. Well the biggest piece missing in my rehab has been primarily focusing on the muscular function and not using them in all the planes of motion.

To explain, I knew that I needed to strengthen my core as well as my glutes and hamstrings. I asked him then “why is it that I can Hip Thrust 405 lbs. and barely lift up dead weight at 135?” Well it goes back to the Biomechanics of the movement.

What muscles initiate the pull? What muscles are responsible for supporting the spine? If the spine is unstable, what direction have you been training those muscles to strengthen?

Well the majority of my core strengthening has been Isometric, meaning that I limit all of the planes of motion when performing an exercise. My rehab had minimal spinal loads in flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation!!! Within 2 days of doing this I immediately began to feel less tension in my lower spine… from any standing or seated position.

Now this does not mean that performing these exercises will be an overnight fix, but it helped. On the 3rd day I was able to Deadlift 135 lbs. without any pain or discomfort. This was the case for me and it will certainly take several weeks to a few months to make this a long term fix.

But to me this speaks a lot about what Biomechanics can do for a person struggling to perform an exercise. The inability to lift weight on a deadlift isn’t always a result of a lack of strength, sometimes that the muscles aren’t firing properly.

The human body is a machine and we have to think of it as such. It is designed to move in a variety of ways but when we add a resisted force against it, the brain will always look for the easiest way to accomplish the task. We compensate during movements because our brain senses the stressor as something “harmful.” If work on the individual parts, the mind-muscle connection improves thus allowing a cleaner and more efficient movement pattern when performing a complex movement.

So if you struggle with a specific exercise such as a deadlift, I encourage you to consider all of these factors. There is no simple fix and every individual will have their own needs as far as improving a movement. If you need help on how to approach your needs, asking a fitness professional can open your mind on how to make some changes to your training regimen.

For more information on baseball and training concepts check out the content posted on this blog as well as my social media accounts. Check it out on Instagram and Facebook!!!

Applying Training to Baseball Performance

March 20, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

I was first introduced to the concept of Triple Extension my sophomore year in college by our Strength and Conditioning coach at Avila University. Coach C preached the importance of Olympic Lifting and how the practice of these Power movements translate to practically all sports.

Triple Extension means reaching full extension of the ankle, knee, and hip when creating a force off the ground. In pitching terms, it means that as we push off the rubber and begin to rotate the lower half in a linear motion towards the plate. Besides getting this Triple Extension, there are other variables that come into play in regards to timing. To maximize the potential of our delivery, we must master the sequence of these movements by having a proper set of separation between the lower and upper half.

The reason why these Olympic Lifting movements translate so well is because every Power aspect is driven through the hips. Take a baseball pitcher, elite sprinter, or a basketball player and this movement pattern applies.

 

 

Back to pitching, increasing our velocity begins with the lower half. While weight training, throwing programs, and weighted balls have their value, it can all be meaningless if you cannot apply these key movements in your delivery from start to finish.

When I was playing in college I did a lot of weight training and arm care. I definitely got stronger over the years but I didn’t really see any improvements in my velocity. This pushed me to work harder lifting more frequently and much heavier as the years went by. Unfortunately I worked harder and not smarter.

Power clean

The reason was that although I did Olympic lifts with our strength program, I wasn’t very good at it. Power Cleans were a nightmare and by the time I started performing these movements more efficiently I was at my senior season and got injured.

Nevertheless Triple Extension is in my opinion the best way to get a pitcher to increase his velocity. But before we can increase our Power, we have to develop our Motor Control and Strength.

Motor Control is the manner in which a skilled movement is performed using sensory information

Strength is the ability to produce a force over an external load.

Power is the ability to apply Strength and move an external load in under a period of time.

If we understand how to develop these two applications properly the human body will adapt to perform skilled movements (such as pitching downhill off a mound). But before we can get to training for speed, we have to be able to control our body. Motor control is practically the ability to have your brain, nervous system, and muscles to work efficiently to perform a series a movements.

When we talk about working on mechanics, my philosophy is based off of training the 3 in order.

3 Key Aspects

So before we talk about making the radar gun go off, we have to establish these fundamental principles. Biomechanical analysis are great but they are only as useful as it can be applied.

Here’s a video breakdown of Drew Dowd, pitcher at Avila University in Kansas City, MO.

 

Now Drew is a senior pitcher with many years of lifting experience. He can squat 500 lbs. and rep out Power Cleans well above his body weight. Through the years of his training, his body has been trained to apply these forces through his lower half on a constant basis.

Where he has struggled over the years was applying this Triple Extension on the mound. A big part of what has helped him get there at this point of his career is that he underwent an extensive mobility and flexibility routine in his previous off season.

He had the ability to Triple Extend in the weight room but not so much on the mound. Once his mobility allowed him to move better, he was able to start training his nervous system to fire his muscles properly, eventually establishing better pitching mechanics. This is where from a programming perspective specificity is very important. Drew can tell you that it took a lot of hours and a lot of frustration to get to this point, but his body has finally adapted to perform this movement much more efficiently.

While his velocity has increased a couple ticks, his delivery has gotten smoother and has enabled himself to keep his arm healthy and repeat is mechanics more consistently.

Any pitching coach can instruct a pitcher to move a certain way, but it isn’t as simple as “Here, try this!”

To improve pitching performance we have to start with the basics.

Develop better motor control so that the athlete learns how to both perform and understand their movement patterns. Pitching is a series of short-burst and fast movements. If the person cannot control their body, it will be extremely difficult to establish consistent mechanics.

To throw hard you have to be able to apply strong forces. Strength training is very important but it has to be specific and carefully planned. If all you do is bench press and bicep curls, your athleticism will likely not develop for the field.

Once you have developed a solid form of Strength, you have to be able to apply it with Power to see results on the mound. Remember that Power training is an application of Strength and they are not the same thing. Olympic lifts are huge but there are other forms of training such as plyometrics, med ball throws, and more.

So what should a young baseball player do? We have to start by assessing the individual’s age and physical maturity.

I would say that most kids 13 under need to focus primarily on Motor Control. Balance and coordination is probably the biggest limiting factor at this age so adding resistance training would be a secondary concern.

High school aged players should be ready enough to implement weight training but it should be fully dependent on how well they can move. They should be properly monitored and strategically trained to ensure both strength progression as well as safety.

As we reach adulthood (at or near college age) these athletes should go through extensive training on all 3 aspects. At this rate these athletes should be ready to go through an specific training program to maximize their athletic performance. Although all programming has to be properly structured, this is where an athlete’s development is a make-or-break scenario where they must continuously get stronger and faster.

In regards to pitching mechanics, they can always be worked on but they have to be applied properly to their training progressions. High school ages and up have to be much more specific when trying to improve biomechanics. Although Triple Extension is applied through the majority of the 3 main training components, this is where it has to be worked on in bullpens and throwing sessions.

For more information on baseball and training concepts check out the content posted on this blog site as well as my social media accounts. Check it out on Instagram and Facebook!!!

@mobaseballandtraining

My Last Game

 

March 6, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

I’ve been spending my last couple weekends at Avila University watching my old teammates play, and in doing so I have had a lot of time to reflect on the amazing 4 years that I got to spend as a college athlete. In those 4 years there were a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Wins, losses, championships, injuries. They were all a part of my experience and up to this point I cherish every single moment that I had.

Now that I’m on the other side of the Z, my excitement to be a part of the games is a bit different. I still jump around and scream when we get a big hit, when we get out of a jam, and when we win a ball game. But it’s different. I no longer get to be a part of the game. I no longer get to lace up my cleats and put on a uniform. It’s just different.

In spite of all the big moments that I got to be a part of playing for Avila, what gets replayed in my head over and over again was my last game of college baseball… the last game of my life.

Those who have experienced this ending as an athlete know how heartbreaking this moment is.

In your mind you tell yourself, “It is over. I will never get to put on my spikes and play the game that I love with my best friends.” When this moment comes you recognize that you will never have this feeling ever again in your life. The emotions of facing this reality is overwhelming.

Hugs go around. Grown men cry. Even those teammates who get to play for another year or two cry with you because they feel the pain that the seniors go through.

Weeks before playing our last game in the playoffs my senior year, the thought of this moment crept in my mind. I didn’t know what it would feel like, but I had experienced seeing the seniors go through this in my previous 3 years. Hours before our last game facing elimination in the Conference Tournament, I sat down with one of my best friends and talked about it for the first time. I was nervous not about the game, but with how I would react if we lost.

I was a very emotional player on the inside and feel like I always kept my poker face on the out. But at this very moment I was scared about what I’d do if the last out went against us. It was a roller coaster of game where we gave up an 8 spot within the first inning of the game. I came into relief the 1st inning and took it up to the 3rd giving up a few runs. Early on the game was pretty much out of reach.

Well the roller coaster part is that we slowly crept back into the game. A couple runs here. A couple runs there. In the 8th we were a base hit away from tying up a 10 run deficit and in the 9th we ended it the same. When that last out hit the 2nd baseman’s glove, the excitement of our comeback was a door slammed in our face. As the other team jumped out of the dugout celebrating their victory, we stood in our place facing the reality that it was over. Our season ended, and for some of us our careers ended.

What blows me away until this very day is that I had zero emotions on my face. I know that I was sad but I remember that I was smiling. It felt like a confusing dream that I had just woken up from trying to process what just happened. As we stepped onto the field to shake the hand of the opposing team, I took a slow 360 turn and told myself to absorb everything that I could on this last stepping on a baseball field as a player. I saw the grass. The dirt. The fans in the seats and the big screen in right field. It was sunny but there was an invisible dark cloud that walked with us as we shook hands. As we walked back to the dugout to grab our stuff, I started to notice some of my teammates with their heads down. Some were angry. Some were crying. Others had a blank face in shock of what just happened.

I found myself absorbing the moment and realizing how far we had come. I couldn’t cry and it bothered me. Everything that I had worked for my entire life had just ended, and I couldn’t show any sadness. I have a few ideas why this happened, but it still surprises me how it all happened.

For one I struggled my entire senior year with a herniated disk in my lower back and was rarely in any condition to compete. I went through a time of depression not being able to do anything physical in the fall and I think that I got my emotions drained getting through that. This experienced made me play every game truly like it was my last so when it came it wasn’t as big of a shock.

On top of that I think that the lack of emotions were because I gave this game every ounce of blood, sweat and tears for 18 years. While that is the prime reason for any athlete to be crushed by their career ending, I feel like I walked away from the game without a single ounce of regret. Yes to the cliché of “I hate losing more than winning itself,” but this ending brought happiness to my heart.

As a toddler I dreamed of playing professional baseball, in a stadium with my face and name on the big screen playing the game that I love. NAIA college baseball isn’t quite the big leagues, but I got to play at a higher level. I played with teammates that had as much fire and passion that I had. I had a walk up song whenever I came in to pitch. I played in crowds close up to a hundred people with their eyes on me when I held the ball. I lived out a life-long dream.

Ozarks Stadium
2017 HAAC Tournament Ozark, MO

Watching from the stands now, I realize even more how special it was to play college baseball. There was a lot of hard work and days that I didn’t want to do anything. The heavy weight training. Rehabbing injuries. 5 A.M conditioning. Mid-week practices in the snow. It was hard to give it 100% every single day for 4 years.

But in the end, I got to play college baseball. I had a group of 30+ brothers every year that I got to play the game that I love with. Off the field we had some wild parties and made memories with life-long friends. There were a lot of long days but also a lot of fun ones.

For those who still get to call themselves a baseball player, don’t take it for granted. Cherish every training session, batting practice, game. No matter how far you make it in your career there will be a day where you will hang them up. If you give it your all, your last game will have a beautiful ending.

Despite my bittersweet ending, this is still the greatest moment of my baseball life!!!

Thinking and Feeling: A Thought Through Training

February 9, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

In a previous post I talked about my new approach with breathing in regards to my training and recovery. As I’ve been applying it to my everyday routine, I have slowly been using the same concept with some of my clients.

Specifically with one client, we had a conversation throughout a full hour training session that has sparked a new thought… How does Thinking and Feeling influence how we train? With a quick background on her (she was totally cool with me sharing this!), she is a woman in her 60’s with a history of lower back and shoulder pain and discomfort.What is unique about her is that she is extremely curious and nearly asks me a thousand questions each session (A bit exaggerated but I love teaching!). Well with such curiosity thinking can get in the way for her to learn new movement patterns, especially with her shoulder mobility.

My approach to a client like her is to first implement motor control into her training. If there are limitations to moving a certain body part, improving its mobility and function is a priority to ensure long term health. If her body moves and feels better, then she can eventually focus solely on strength and rarely have to worry about her muscle and joint discomforts.

With that said, there were a variety of exercises that she initially struggled to figure out. An example is when we began doing Foam Roll Serratus Wall Slides. Here’s a great demonstration by one of my favorite movement specialists – Eric Cressey.

In her initial evaluation I noticed how there was a “kink” in her left shoulder when I asked her to raise her arm and perform a full arm circle. To get a feel for her scapular movement, we began with these Wall Slides and noticed how she had a lot of tension in her neck when she raised her arms to move the Foam Roller up the wall. My reasoning behind this exercise was to figure out how much of her upper back she was able to engage. Ideally with an arm raise, the scapula should rotate smoothly without much trapezius muscle activation. In summary our goal was to teach the muscles in her scapula and mid-upper back to engage, enabling the shoulder and neck muscles to carry less of the load when trying to raise her arms.

get a thick back, back workout, get stronger, back injury

While training someone, there are a variety of internal and external cues to give to a person to help them understand what the movement should look like as well as how it feels. An example to teach someone how to activate their upper back is to tell them to “pinch together the shoulder blades” (internal) or “imagine I’m about to tickle you in the upper ribs” (external). Both can help her accomplish the simple task of retracting her scapula and engaging the key muscles to efficiently raise the arms.

Back to the whole concept of Thinking vs. Feeling, I struggled to get her to understand what she needed to do with a lot of exercises. I like to constantly ask my clients “What did you feel?” Well the deep thinker that she is she often answered, “I don’t know!” There was a lot of confusion with many exercises but it was a subject that I could push on her as a trainer simply because she wanted to solve the puzzle too. The more we worked together the more she started to describe what she was feeling. I have a number of ideas why this started happening but a lot of it likely had to do with repetition and her willingness to work on the movement patterns outside of her training sessions with me. In the conversation we had in our most recent session, it all started with the topic of Yoga.

We talked about how the focus of breathing really helped relax her muscles and I briefly talked about my experiences with Yoga. As we started our session with mobility work, we discovered something that has once again sparked my perspective with training.

I like to have my clients with hip and shoulder issues perform CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations). Here is a demonstration from Frank Duffy at Cressey Sports Performance.

The basic concept behind these movement exercises is to gradually push a ball-and-socket joint slightly beyond its joint limitation. So that “kink” in her left shoulder happened every rotation at the point where her arm was pointed behind her back. Well every time we performed this exercise my cue was for her to listen to her shoulder and focus on when she felt that mild discomfort at that point in the movement. Her range of motion improved over time but she still felt that discomfort in the joint. The game changer was when I asked her to treat the exercise like Yoga and breathe through the movement. The concept of pushing the discomfort remained, but the focus was slightly shifted away from listening to her body (thinking) and instead feeling it. What we accomplished was that she felt minimal discomfort.

In my eyes her range of motion improved and even though that “kink” was still there she had no discomfort!!! My hypothesis is that the focus on her breathing distracted her from thinking about the discomfort. The flaw in my notion is that it is very difficult to validate what is physically happening to this individual simply because no one but her can fully understand what she felt. The best study that comes to mind would be to apply EMG (Electromyography) pads on her muscles along with a brain scan to figure out what kind of activity is truly happening. Nevertheless I truly believe that the brain is capable of doing anything… including blocking pain signals.

A theory that fascinates me and has influenced my approach to this pain management concept is Dr. Ramachandran’s “Phantom Limb” study. In a class at Avila called Behavior and the Brain, we had this theory as part of the curriculum to further understand the influences of the brain and what we feel in our body.

Below are some fascinating clips of his work with amputated patients. It is totally worth the watch!!!

In detail, “Phantom Limb” is a phenomenon where a person with an amputated limb continues to feel the body part that is no longer there. In most cases a person with an amputated hand, arm, leg, etc. experiences frequent pains in discomforts that vary in pain levels. Dr. Ramachandran came up with a simple yet brilliant idea of creating a box with a mirror to have a person use the arm that they have and “trick the brain” into thinking that the amputated arm is there after all.

Why is this significant? Well when the body senses pain it is simply a neurological signaling that is connected from the brain to the body part. If you touch a hot stove, your brain responds immediately telling your muscles to contract to remove your finger off. So if your brain is telling you that your shoulder hurts, there should be a way to influence that signaling to either remove or at least decrease the sensation of pain. Fascinating isn’t it?

Well even if you have all of your limbs intact I believe that there is to be a way to create a similar effect when a person has neck pain, shoulder, foot, back, etc. One could say that it is all a psychological fix but that is the point! While breathing may not have had a direct physiological effect onto my client’s tender shoulder, I believe that it had an effect on her brain and how she interpreted that pain signaling. The cause of pain/ discomfort in her shoulder was there, but her controlled breathing took her mind away from it!

So if you experience any kind of chronic pain and discomfort throughout your body, think about what you are thinking. This thinking can help you figure out how not to think and focus on what you are feeling. If you focus on feeling, then the pain you were feeling could decrease or may not even be felt. My mind is crazy… I know! But it is worth a try! So far breathing techniques is what helps me get distracted form the pains in my lower back and hip. Is the damage to my joints still there? Of course, but an approach like this can be very beneficial if you find a way to distract your mind from all your aches and pains. So try both Thinking and Feeling and see if you can trick your brain into removing that pain. If you think hard enough you might just start feeling but not feeling. Feel me?


Special thanks goes out this client for letting me share her story. You have made a huge impact on my career as a Personal Trainer and I thank you!!!

How Yoga Has Changed My Perception of Relaxation

January 26, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

For the longest time I thought that I had the right game plan for getting my muscles loosened up either to warm up for a workout or to recover after. I am a huge advocate of Myofascial Release (foam rolling, tiger tail rolling, trigger point therapy), techniques that require applying pressure to the “tight” areas of our muscles.

In my case the tightness of my hips and lower back require beating the crap out of the tender spots in order to get them to loosen up. It helps… A LOT. But as I have been more open-minded towards alternative approaches, I have learned the amazing benefits of Yoga.

My approach to relaxation has changed because Yoga requires an intensive focus on breathing and enabling the muscles to relax rather than force them. Instead of beating up the muscle with physical force, I am allowing my brain to trigger the relaxation.

Yoga Relaxation

In a self-contradicting way, I have always believed in the ability of the mind to overcome anything and yet I was skeptical about using it to relax the physical tension in my body. As I think back to my Undergraduate studies, the first class that comes to mind is Stress Physiology. In a brief summary, the class was focused on understanding the natural Stress Response that controls all sorts of activity through the nervous system. There are two main branches to the nervous system: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.Stress Nervous System

The Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in when we are exposed to a stressor- from stress from work or being chased by a lion, it’s that feeling of our heart accelerating. The theory behind it is that our body’s network of nerves, muscles, and even our organs are effected by chemical changes produced from the brain. This evolutionary phenomenon is nature’s design of survival. On the other end we have a Parasympathetic Nervous System designed to slow things down using the same network.

So what connection does this make with Yoga? Well the heavy focus of relaxation with breathing enables the Parasympathetic to take over because of a lowered heart rate. Controlled breathing allows us to slow our heart down along with blood pressure and other things going on within our mind and body. Stress is an amazing thing because while we see it as a negative it is naturally designed to be a survival mechanism. In terms of having tension within the muscles, the tightness that we can feel in our hips and back is our body’s way of protecting our joints and connective tissues from further damage.

For example, my self-studies on my herniated disk problems have concluded that the muscle imbalances in my lumbo-pelvic hip complex caused a forward tilt of my pelvis causing compression of the connective tissues of my lumbar spine… Still with me?

Well when I would roll out my Quads, IT Band, and activate my glutes and hamstrings I would get a temporary relief of my lower back discomfort and pain. Through the practice of several Yoga techniques I have now concluded that I was stretching the overactive muscles but not relaxing them. Just because I felt a sudden release in tension it didn’t mean that I got them to relax. My Sympathetic system was still in overdrive and that is why my back would start aching within an hour again. It wouldn’t bother me as much, but once tomorrow would hit it was back to square one.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well besides the insanity of hurting all the time and not being able to work out, my old ways were limiting my rehab and recovery. Yoga has changed my perception of relaxation because I have now experienced how impactful it is to control my breathing. While corrective exercise and soft-tissue therapy has been helpful, I have now found my secret not-so-secret weapon of Yoga. Because of my athletic background I will always prefer intense squat days and 400 lb. hip thrusts, but I am starting to understand the value of these lower intensity routines like Yoga and Pilates (and trust that they can be very intense!). If you have never tried an alternative mode of exercise I encourage you to at least give it a try. You can crank out hundreds of sit-ups and minutes of planks but if you think you have a strong core you’d be surprised on how a slight moderation to an exercise can be extremely challenging.

If you have any nagging pains and injuries going on I encourage you to be open minded into finding a solution. There is world full of health professionals that specialize in specific techniques and more often than not a combination of a few can make all the difference! My methods today involve a network of various specialists that range from chiropractors, physical therapists, corrective exercise specialists, and personal trainers whom I take bits and pieces from their approaches towards my specific health issues. If hiring one is out of your budget, asking a few simple questions to these people can get you going in the right direction. Even as a personal trainer with a Bachelors in Exercise Science, I am constantly learning new things that help me with my clients as well as my own health. Be open minded because a simple practice of breathing can change everything!

Shout outs to Lisa at Genesis Health Clubs Overland Park for the Yoga and Pilates sessions!

Listening to Your Body

January 22, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

Something that I take a tremendous amount of pride and effort in is my constant communication with my body. Regardless if you are a beginner or experienced lifter, your training provides an incredible stimulus when you exercise. But listening to your body is not limited to just training but also applies to your diet, sleep quality, and truly your everyday activity.

So how do our bodies communicate? It comes down to 2 simple things: your brain and the nervous system. Think of your brain like the hardware on a computer. It processes a tremendous amount of information and provides feedback for what is going on. It also holds a variety of programs that both send out and receive information via the neuropathways (the nerves).afferent vs efferent

A great example is what happens when you put your finger on a hot stove. When your finger touches the surface of the stove, it sends a signal to your brain that it is hot and harming your skin (afferent pathway). Immediately your brain processes what is happening and sends a signal to the muscles (efferent pathway) to take your finger off of the hot surface. Simple right?

While our body has an ideal structure, as we age we develop a variety of movement patterns that influence some abnormalities in our muscles, joints, bones, and so on. People who exercise frequently are typically able to listen to their bodies better simply because they are used to the feeling of forces and tension to certain parts of their body. If you lift weights frequently, in some way you understand basic principles like the difference between muscle soreness and pain. As a trainer I am for the most part against the phrase “No pain no gain.” Why? Because pain is the brain telling you that something in your body is being harmed. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop your set because your bicep “hurts” when doing a bicep curl, but if you can distinguish the difference between working the muscle and tearing it up the stress can provide a great deal of muscle strength and growth.

Pain is difficult to describe simply because every individual has their own degree of tolerance. Kobe Bryant’s longtime physical therapist Judy Seto was once interviewed with Sports Illustrated and talked about how the typical pain scale of 1-10 was irrelevant for him. A human being who tore his Achilles tendon and walked across the court to shoot his free throws perfectly proves her point simply because the average person experiencing such excruciating pain would describe it as a 10/10 pain and not be able to stand.Kobe Bryant Torn Achilles 

When we exercise the “pain” that we feel on our muscles and joints is vital to our learning of our body because we learn to distinguish when we are truly damaging it. On the contrary of frequent exercise we also get body dysfunctions from our daily activities, even without the stimulus of training. Sitting for long periods of time can be just as detrimental to the body as the stress of weightlifting. Let me explain.

sitting pain

If you sit at a desk and work on a computer all day, it is likely that you don’t sit up straight for your entire 9-5. Naturally our back and neck is rounded forward either because we are writing, typing, or simply just tired. In most cases with such daily activity it becomes a normal posture for the spine. With that one can experience neck, shoulder, upper and lower back pain, and the list can continue.

So now that we’ve laid out the physical activity aspect (or lack thereof), another important part is the quality of our sleep. Everyone knows what it’s like to be tired from a lack of sleep… EVERYONE. bartBut our approach to sleep is something that can be easily neglected. Sleep is as equally important to your training because it is what ultimately determines your recovery on a daily basis. Common sense right? Well the general thoughts behind a good night’s sleep should not be limited to just the amount of hours. From personal experience I have noticed the differences on my body when I go to sleep earlier, even if I end up sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours. Why is this? I think that it’s because I get into a deeper sleep to where I am in a REM stage for an efficient period of time. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is when our dreams are more vivid with a series ofREM-Sleep-cycle multiple happenings with brain activity. During this stage our brain consumes more oxygen and between non-REM cycles puts our muscles in an inhibitory state, meaning that the muscles relax with minimal tone. I would need actual brain activity readings to truly understand what my body is experiencing while I sleep, but I can tell with how rested my mind and body feels, a reward when I achieve my ideal quality of sleep. If it makes me feel better, then why not make it a healthy habit!

In other regards to sleep, our positioning plays a huge role on how we can recover from injuries and muscle dysfunctions. Do you ever wake up and have a sore neck or shoulder? While it may be difficult to know what position we’re in while we sleep, the best information that we can take is how we go to sleep and how we wake up. Whether you like to lay flat, on your side, stomach, fetal position, and whatever weird angles you enjoy I think that it can be beneficial to experiment to see how your body responds the next day. sleep positionsI have a history of lower back and hip pain and I have realized that when I lay on my right side I end up with more soreness. Even though it allows me to relax and fall asleep, I feel like the sinking within the mattress compresses the joints on my right side. That is so far my basis for the quality of my sleep because I listen to my body! Despite the limited scientific approach to my conclusion, I think that the subjective evidence is enough to figure out what helps my body recover overnight. So consider keeping some mental notes on how you are approaching your sleep on a daily basis. Along with some professional diagnosis of your injuries or nagging discomforts, you can improve the quality of your sleep to move and feel better for your everyday activities.

And last but not least, nutrition! I think that everyone has a basic understanding for what food items and supplements make us feel better or worse. Whether if it is food allergies, hydration, or digestive issues, I think that it is very important to both understand and have the discipline to put the right things into our body. I like to think of the body as a car. You most certainly need gas to keep the engine running (food), but you also need a variety of fluids and other maintenances to keep it in good condition. Your body’s energy relies on how well you maintain your car. For me I need to have a relatively high amount of calories and proper hydration in order to have a good lift. When I neglect eating the right foods and having a proper balance of water and sodium levels in my body, I have “bad workouts” to where my strength and endurance is not where I know it should be. If I eat greasy foods and a high amount of sugar, I know that my body is going to feel sluggish and it ruins my day. It is inevitable even as a trainer who takes a lot of pride in taking care of my body. If you have a habit of eating foods that make you feel bad then you aren’t listening to your body well enough!

When it comes to eating junk and fast food, I understand that there is a convenience and comfort factor. Whether if it is time management, financial limitations, or laziness, there are always ways to make better decisions. If you struggle to eat healthy, start off by finding foods that you can both enjoy and make you feel good. Whether if it’s making shakes, meal prepping, or healthy snacks, consider what your environment is like. Think about what you do before going to the grocery store. If you go hungry, there is often a psychological aspect that junk foods are more appealing when walking down the aisles. If you have a bag of chips or sweets in your pantry, think about where you place them. When we look for food our eyes tend to attract towards the first items that we see. Consider putting such items in the back and putting your granola bars and fruits in the more accessible regions of your kitchen. You don’t have to get into crash diets to change your eating habits because if you decide to all of a sudden throw away the bad foods that you like, eventually your will power will cave and will likely go back to your old eating ways.

Regardless of your approach to a healthier lifestyle, it starts with body communication. We make hundreds of subconscious decisions on a daily basis and it plays a huge role on how we feel. If you exercise frequently it is probably an easier task to make changes to your routines because you recognize the value of feeling better a bit differently. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, deciding to start working out is only a portion of the solution. As a Personal Trainer I strongly believe in exercise to improve your fitness but there is more to it. Eating better and improving your body’s recovery can alone make a huge difference. If you need help to get things started surround yourself with an environment that promotes a healthier lifestyle. Talk to friends, family, health professionals, but most importantly to yourself! If you are constantly feeling tired and lacking energy consider what your body is telling you because after all, it is saying HELP ME!!!