We Are Integrated Animals


This week is our second vault episode.  Jake, TJ and I sat down to record this about six months ago and it was a blast!  Our topic of discussion led us through six fascinating concepts that have changed the way we understand ourselves and our lives as human animals.  From posture and hormones, imperfection and happiness, the WHY, internal and external locus of control and more!  We hope something in here sparks your interest and gives you a fresh perspective.  Enjoy!

We love to hear your feedback!  Just send your missive over to thehumananimalpodcast@gmail.com.

For more stuff from Matt, check out freefitguy.com and facebook.com/freefitguy, and be sure to check out the videos from #theplayfulproject.


Want Vs. Need

In this comeback episode of the Human Animal Podcast, we dig into the vault and bring out a pod we recorded about six months ago.  I was sitting on it trying to figure out how the make the audio sound clearer after we had a massive equipment malfunction – hopefully I did well enough that you guys can hear what’s going on.  🙂

The central theme of this episode is discussing the idea of WANT vs NEED, and how we see this play out in the gym and at large.  It stems from a conversation I had with coaching mentor Tim Anderson of Original Strength.  During a period of frustration I told him I was trying to figure out “how much I needed to do” in order to achieve my goal.  He asked me “how much I wanted to do.”  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

A bonus question to think about:  how/when are wants and needs different, and how can we change the things that scare us into the things that inspire us?


freefit kid - jedi

Jedi Training

I thought it would be fun to share with you all what my play and focused practice has looked like of late.  Think of this as a snapshot into my brain, and a way to draw some inspiration for games to play and ways explore your own practice.  Plus I’ll try to throw some training and coaching gems in there for you.  🙂  If you like these let me know and I’ll do more!

My Play (Part 1/2):  Recently, my play has really been inspired by Star Wars (go figure, right?)  However you feel about the movies, I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi.  When I was a kid I lived out these “heroes journeys” in all manner of ways – books, movies, storytelling.  What I didn’t let myself do as much was act it out in person, at least that I remember.  So for Christmas this year I got myself one present:  a lightsaber from the Disney store.  It’s the first one I’ve ever owned.  I’ve been dancing, slashing, spinning, and practicing my skills ever since.  It’s also resulted in some really fun Ninja Academy Games (which I’ll share below), and getting some coaching from my wife!  FreeFit Gal used to be in the Color Guard.  It was such a cool experience for me to be a student again.  Before I went from an “exercise” paradigm to a “play” paradigm, I might never have asked her to show me!  Had an awesome time learning moves like spinning a PVC pipe in the air, or doing the “witches brew”.   And now on to the games!

Force Push:  Set up some mats or a safe fall area.  One person stands in front of the other and uses their best “force push” (no contact, just awesome make believe) – the other person falls/jumps/flies backwards and lands and rolls on the mats.

Deflection:  Using a lightsaber (PVC pipe) attempt to deflect incoming laser beams (Rhino Skin Dodgeballs) in a variety of different ways.

Moving Giant Lightsaber Zen Archer:  I first learned Zen Archer through an Ido Portal video.  Here’s a variation we’ve been playing with.  The goal is to neither hit nor be hit, but to challenge the person with your attack and counterattack.  The first person moves slowly, using the lightsaber to allow the other person to move/dodge around.  You can switch roles and have the other person be a “dodger”, or go 2v1 with the goal of the 1 to line the other 2 up so their attacks are much less effective, etc.  So many variations of this one!

Jedi Dodgeball:  Also called Medic dodgeball.  Like normal dodgeball but one person on each team is a medic and can heal others (though I never remember Yoda doing that?)  Adds an extra element to the game.  You can also play “light side” vs “dark side” and whenever someone is hit they have to change sides and act the part 🙂

My Movement (Part 2/2):  The other part of my training/play has been focused around regaining my bottom squat position.  As in being able to sit butt to heels with feet flat comfortably.  Eat there, work there, and move from there.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never clearly set my INTENTIONS to match.  Now, this is my primary training goal with a focus on developing the requisite flexibility and motor control at each joint involved in the squat (especially ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion).  I rotate through exercises every couple of weeks but try to keep things with a similar focus (same but different), take notes in my training log, etc.  I’ll lay out a couple of the routines I’m going through now below, inspired by #frc.

Here’s the thing:  my training is much different now with my responsibilities as a dad, husband, and coach.  I get maybe 5-10 minute stints 2-3x throughout the day, especially at night when everyone’s gone to bed.  And that’s OK with me.  I think spreading your mobility work out throughout the day can be really helpful.  However, this is NOT an excuse to disobey the 3 Laws of Adaptation.

1)  Progressive Overload – in order to see changes in the tissues/nervous system, you have to vary the training load over time to prevent accommodation and also push into new ranges of motion and develop strength and control there.  Consistency and time IS a factor – so doing the same thing for a while isn’t a bad thing.  Just need to remember that each session you should be trying to work to the utmost of your ability and to change the factors when change no longer occurs.

2) Specificity – this one encapsulates a lot of things for me.  The 2 biggest ones are change happens where you ask tissues to adapt, and not elsewhere.  That means you need to apply specific loads and neurological demands that will create the change you seek.  Second, your body is adapting, all the time.  So it’s not just the 1% of the day I’m focused on mobility that matters, it’s the whole of the day taken into account.  You need to start integrating these changes into your lifestyle (so for me, that means squatting more throughout the day).

3) Intention – I have never seen a program work, no matter how good, if the mind isn’t in it to win it.  This means engaging in deep practice, paying attention to mistakes and making adjustments, and also believing you will succeed in your goal.

Ankle Dorsiflexion Drills:

  • Ankle CARs – draw the biggest ankle circles you can
  • Wall Squat – laying on my back, walking my feet down the wall into a squat position, focus on pressing heels to the wall and getting into as much dorsiflexion as possible.
  • Dorsiflexion Lift Offs – Pull my toes off the wall towards me, making sure I’m near end range so I can only slightly lift of the wall.

Hip Flexion Drills:

  • Quadruped Hip CARs – from the hands and knees, draw one knee into the chest without letting the back change position, then rotate it to the outside as high and wide as you can, again without changing position.
  • Wall Squat – laying on my back, walking my feet down the wall into a squat position, focus and drawing myself down with the front of my hips and holding there.
  • Hip Flexion Lift Offs – Foot on a box, try to lift the whole foot off the box in one motion, making sure I’m near end range so I can only slightly lift off and it is a challenge.

Integration Drills:

  • Rockbacks and Baby Crawls focusing on hip and ankle position, and then just flowing.

modern lifestyle environment.001

When a Reset Doesn’t Stick

(Author’s Note:  I originally wrote this post for the guys at Original Strength, so the references are to pressing reset in particular.  Pressing reset, in Original Strength terms, is using the developmental sequence to re-tap into how we originally learned to move in order to restore movement.  However, the concepts I talk about below apply to any type of mobility or movement practice.  Enjoy!)

Once you’ve been pressing reset for a while, things just start to click.  Until they don’t.  Something that felt smooth and connected one day might feel awkward and disconnected the next.  So what gives?  How often do we need to press reset before the movement “sticks”?  In my practice and coaching experience, the amount of pressing reset someone needs to do tracks right along with the effects of their modern lifestyle and environment.

modern lifestyle environment.001

If we were to press reset and then spend most of our time moving like humans (i.e. squatting/locomoting/throwing/etc.), our “reset” would likely be maintained.  To keep with the computer analogy, we are running fully updated and integrated software and hardware so we don’t experience frozen screens or bugs that require us to press reset as often.

However, most of us don’t do these things as often as our genes expect.  Our modern lifestyle in many ways disconnects our minds and bodies rather than ties them together.  For me, this is a part of why Original Strength is so powerful – it gives us an entry point (THE first entry point for all humans!) into movement and the mind-body connection.

What else can we learn by critically analyzing our modern environment through the OS lens?  If we know the importance of sensory integration for motor output (i.e. being able to get a lot of rich information to the brain so we can make better movement decisions), and that by breathing, stimulating the vestibular system, and crossing the midline we can reset this system, what simple modifications can we make to our daily environments and habits to keep our software running smoothly, for longer?  That way, not only are we taking positive action by restoring our original operating system, we’re also doing our best to avoid spam and viruses along the way.

Eliminating the Negative

This concept isn’t a new one.  Those of you familiar with Gray Cook and the Functional Movement Screen will recognize this concept from Gray’s work.  Much of his time spent working with professional athletes is not prescribing MORE corrective exercise and movement, but identifying potential red flags and eliminating exercises that aren’t getting us anywhere.

That’s the same concept I want to use now, only applied to our daily standard of living through the OS lens.  In particular, three things jump to the forefront of my mind.  Let’s call them the 3  S’s.

Screens – Screens have become ubiquitous in our culture.  Computers, smart phones, tablets, televisions, you name it.  While this technology enables us to do amazing things, it also keeps our eyes and vision tied to one point for most of the day – straight ahead.  Our bodies our built so that the eyes lead movement, followed by the head, and then the body.  By locking our eyes/heads into one location with very little tracking or subsequent movement, we allow our reflexes to atrophy.

Action:  I won’t suggest that you try to completely eliminate screens from your life as that’s not reasonable for most of us.  However, simply taking breaks from looking at your screen to do some neck nods and re-integrate your eye/head movement will go a long way towards maintaining this connection.  Try installing a simple program such as TimeOut (Mac) or Workrave (Windows) which gives you preprogrammed breaks whenever you’re on your computer for an extended period of time.  Use the 15s breaks to look around and the longer breaks to do some resets or get up and walk around and connect with those around you.

Shoes – Our hands and feet are how we interact with and manipulate our environment.  As such, they have a high concentration of muscles, bones, nerves, and proprioceptors that allow us to sense and react to a world with changing conditions…until we put shoes on.  Shoes create a “one size fits all” sensory signal and reduce the complexity and richness of the proprioceptive feedback from that region.  It gets increasingly difficult for our brains to organize automatic “reflexive strength” if we deprive it of information about our current position in the world.  How much dexterity do you have in your hands when you put gloves on?  Apply that concept to your feet and you’ll see we have a ton of room to grow here.

Side note:  If you’re a strength coach, try this:  if you have someone who has trouble balancing in a squat, try having them remove their shoes and do the exact same movement.  It might throw them off for the first couple of repetitions, but as they gain a better sense of where they are automatically, you’ll see their form improve without any feedback from you.  Pretty cool.

Action:  Ease into barefoot.  It will take time to recondition the muscles in your feet just as it would if you had your arm in a cast for a while.  An easy first step is to go barefoot when at home or during your warm ups and resets in locations where you aren’t concerned about injuring your feet.  If you haven’t tried rockbacks while barefoot yet, you are missing out!

Sofas – …and chairs…and anything that promotes sitting in the “disembodied head” posture.  This is a term I coined to describe positions where the head moves but doesn’t dictate any reaction in the body, or when the head and body are completely disconnected from each other.  When we are sitting in sofas or chairs, we allow the shape of the furniture to passively keep us in a position instead of actively using our vestibular system and reflexive stability to keep our eyes on the vertical horizon.  That sounds like some detraining to me.  Note: this does not include sitting on the ground which is a very active and reflexive movement…yes I just called sitting a movement, because it is!  Which takes us to our action step.

Action:  Sit on the floor as much as possible, and use as little assistance as possible.  Change positions often.  You will feel how much more “active” this position is – you are constantly shifting your weight slightly in order to stay balanced and in control.  As with shoes, it is wise to ease into this practice.  In the beginning, it may be very challenging or uncomfortable.  Work within what your current capabilities are and they will expand.  Force yourself outside of them and you tend to stagnate or degrade them.

What about you?  What things do you notice about your environment and routines that could be dulling your reflexive strength?  Is there a simple change you can make to clear the path for better movement?

Sensory Deprivation

Hesitation Point

The view from Hesitation Point.

Have you ever had that general feeling of malaise?  You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you feel a little tired, out of it, maybe nauseous but not really nauseous, just out of sorts?  I think it happens to all of us, and I know I see people coming into the gym every day feeling this way.  So what gives?  Was it lack of sleep?  Stress levels out of whack?  Lack of real food or real movement all day?  Perhaps.  But there might be another culprit that we’re missing – sensory deprivation.

The other day I was visiting family up in Fort Wayne and woke up feeling just this way.  Couldn’t shake it, even when I was trying to visit with my loved ones.  So I trusted a gut instinct, excused myself and went out for a 20-minute scouting trip.  I had spotted some trees behind a pond just a block away from my mom’s place.  The kind of trees that sit in a weird spot in a sub-division and don’t have any clear paths to them so are rarely visited.  I walked in a little ways, then found what I was looking for.  A relatively narrow tree with soft bark.  I kicked off my Shamma Sandals, and got to work. Gripping, squatting, pressing my feet into the tree, trying different angles.  The fallen leaves were covering the soft but not too damp ground, crunching under my feet.  The day was gorgeous, sunlight playing down through the tree branches bringing with it a cool breeze.  I felt my brain start to relax.  The nausea started to fade.  I looked deeper into the trees and saw a fallen log.  I dropped to the ground and crawled back, feeling the soft earth between my fingers and reveling in the sounds of connecting with the ground.  I hopped up on the log and walked back and forth, allowing my feet to grip the smooth surface and feel the points where the wood had turned into a knot and become rough or sharp.  Then back down to the climbing tree one more time and then the shoes came back on and I jogged back to the house.  All in all it took about 15 minutes for this excursion, but I felt totally revitalized and alive again.

My question is this:  how often do we deprive ourselves of vitamin sunlight, vitamin horizon, vitamin texture?  We know that our animal instincts expect us to be able to see around us, to focus our eyes at different distances and breadths, to feel surfaces that aren’t always flat and smooth, to experience temperatures that aren’t always between 68 and 72 degrees.  They have really physiological and psychological affects on us (including improved working memory).  How much of the general malaise we see in those around us is due to a lack of this reconnection with nature?  This is why Nature is one of the six areas we focus on in our podcast – and honestly, it’s one that’s easy to neglect.  I’m still discovering all the intricate ways it plays into my life.

The next time you’re feeling out of sorts, try going on a scouting trip and giving yourself a dose of those natural vitamins and see how you feel.  I’d love to hear about your experiences if you do!