Note: I had the pleasure of attending the Human Performance Seminar a few weeks back, featuring Dr. Pat Davidson, Joe Bonyai, and Dr. Robert Sullivan. This is the first part of my series highlighting what took place at the conference. Because simply regurgitating what was said would be terribly boring, I discuss concepts that were discussed within the framework of my understanding and interpretation.
“You’re a suck walker.” – Pat Davidson told his assessment guinea pig at the recent Human Performance Seminar.
Wait what? A suck walker?
If you know Pat Davidson, you’ll quickly realize that he’s not a man that’s going to bullshit you. His guinea pig sucked at walking. And you know the crazy part? I probably do too and so do you, my lovely readership.
You suck at walking. Great, so what’s that mean other than making me worry I’m going to tear my achilles on my next step?
Well, for those interested in maximizing the advancement of human performance, I think it brings us to an interesting crossroads.
If you suck at walking, that probably means that you suck at everything else. Triphasic training may be the best thing since sliced bread in terms of maximizing power and athleticism but if you can’t walk right then I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you can’t eccentricly squat right nor do anything else athletic utilizing the correct biomechanics.
So, what are we left to do? Stick athletes in a bubble and have them work on mobility work for 90% of the offseason until it’s “safe” for them to finally start training? I think not. Athletes still need to train and produce adaptations that will make them successful at their sport. Getting someone neutral is awesome but without much of a training effect, your athlete’s ability to express power is going to be meaningless despite his ability to do it from a neutral biomechanical patterning.
If I understand Pat’s logic adequately, I think he would agree there’s need to be a blending of two worlds: the physical therapy/PRI world with the strength and conditioning model. Together, they form the necessary framework in order to maximize human performance. One without the other produces a model that simply is inadequate with our current level of understanding.
Variability is the name of the game. As both humans and athletes, we have to be able to move into and get out of patterns with ease. In an ideal world, we’d be sympathetic creatures during training and parasympathetic monsters the other 22 hours of the day, assuming you were a pro athlete and your sole focus was training and playing Xbox. Unfortunately, we’re largely sympathetic creatures. Dental occlusions lead to inadequate reference centers for the brain which lead to faulty jaw development which inevitably screws up the rest of the human organism. An inadequately formed head will mean an inadequate rest of the body.
Let’s take the example of the chronic mouth breather.
Because of their poor oral mouth posture, their mandible will grow vertically instead of horizontally. Vertical growth of the mandible means a narrow airway forcing forward head posture to allow breath. Forward head posture all but guarantees that you’ll live in extension. Living in extension, both with your palate and lumbar spine, means that you can’t breath right. If you can’t breath right, that means you’re a sympathetic creature.. Because you’re stuck in extension, it’s real difficult to promote a shift of your autonomic nervous system to parasympathetic mode.
PRI would say that the chronic mouth breather falls into a specific pattern. You could show me facial pictures of ten chronic mouth breathers and I guarantee the rest of their bodies pattern pretty similarly. By nature, humans are asymmetrical creatures. You have a big ass liver on the right side of your body. If you get shot, pray it’s on your left side (sorry Pat, stole your joke). The goal of PRI isn’t to make you symmetrical but to restore your body to a state of better neutrality.
When you’re neutral you can breath right. When you can breath right, you can likely walk right. When you can walk right, you can probably squat right. When you can squat right, you can add and recover from training volume that sympathetic extended monsters can’t. When you can experience a greater training load than your opponent, you can produce more favorable adaptations than you’re opponent. Over time, you will be more successful.
I have no quantifiable data to objectively measure this but I would venture to guess that the elite elite athletes of the world have wide dental arches with minimal dental occlusion. Instead of vertical mandible growth, they had adequate oral mouth posture which drove their maxilla forward. Because their maxilla was driven forward and their mandible grew horizontally, there is no need for forward head posture to breath. Because their head is neutral, gone is the need to live in lumbar extension to counteract the forward forces of the head. Without lumbar extension and rib flare, the athlete is in a better position to breath. Because the athlete is in a better position to breath, they are in a better biomechanical position to do other things like squat and jump. Because their biomechanics are more favorable, they can train more. Because of their wide dental arches, better reference points, and better ability to breath and tone off sympathetic tone, they can recover from greater training loads. Accumulate greater training loads for upwards of a decade and what do you get? You get an elite athlete who moves with grace and fluidity.
For whatever reason, individuals living in modern society often lack great facial development (narrow dental arches, vertical mandibles, underdeveloped maxillas). That means you’re not going to find many parasympathetic monsters out there who have easy autonomics control. Your athlete is likely a heavily dominant sympathetic creature who is heavily patterned and isn’t able to breath or walk correctly. If you take said creature who more than likely lives in heavy extension and tell him to stick his butt back and arch his already heavily arched back during a maximal squat not only are you asking for injury but you should pick a new profession.
Pat isn’t a PT nor does he have any interest in being a PT. He wants to help build and maintain monsters, in fact he’s giving a seminar with that exact title (it’s sold out). Through old-school meathead tactics you can certainly create a monster – but you’d be hard pressed to be able to maintain him. Patterns lead to predictable dysfunction and it is your job as a coach to be able to coach your athlete out of a pattern and into better, more efficient biomechanics.
The big question is can you stay neutral? If you utilize a 90/90 Hip Lift to achieve a 3 on the Hruska Adduction Life Test, what happens when you go squat and move around for an hour? Are you still able to achieve a 3 post workout? This is the test for those interested folk. Click me.
Only an assessment can identify the etiology of your dysfunction. For Pat it was vision. In his terms, he’s a cyclops. One of his eyes just doesn’t do anything. Put a pair of glasses on him and boom all neck and back tension goes away. Neutrality achieved.
I don’t think it’s out of the realm of expectations as a performance coach to be able to assess your athletes in this manner. Sure, optometry and dentistry are out of your scope of practice, but anatomy and physiology aren’t. Being able to teach your athletes to find their references centers before they undergo a maximal squat to get them to achieve neutrality and thus a more biomechanical sound lift do not exceed expectations. The integration of physical therapy concepts within the framework of developing elite athletes is where the field is headed. No longer does it suffice to blindly program your athlete 5×5 four days a week in the hopes that you’re going to turn some Joe into the next big thing.
From my perspective, I’ve seen the benefits firsthand. I live in heavy extension and am largely a sympathetic creature. For a number of years, I simply could not squat without my back locking up and me spending the better part of the week hobbling around like an old man. It got so bad at one point I couldn’t lift myself out of laying in bed without assistance. Not an ideal situation for someone trying to be an elite athlete.
What to do? Well, I couldn’t just stop training and trap myself into the mobility bubble never to return to putting a barbell on my back. I had to stop sucking at squatting. Pushing your knees out is a pretty standard cue. I suppose spread the floor is a little better cue since its external to your body, but seriously how the hell do I do that? Those cues got me no where. Find your big toe. Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Fill your mediastinum with breath. Get out of extension. Ahhh, now we are getting somewhere. I found my reference centers and for the first time in forever after a heavy squatting session, I’m still able to not only put my socks on in the morning, but I feel ZERO lower back tightness. So much for butt back, eyes up right?
On a very basic level, I could go on and on but that wouldn’t be doing the complexity of this subject matter justice. I’ve never attended a PRI course nor do I have the level of knowledge that Pat was referencing in his presentation. But I understand big concepts and the general framework and I 100% recognize the need for this integration into your human performance model.
If you only remember two things from this, extension = sympathetic, flexion = parasympathetic.
The key to reintroducing parasympathetic monsters to the world? Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Teach your athletes to keep their tongue on the roof of their mouth and if you’re cost conscious and want to avoid crazy orthodontic bills, teach your kids to keep their tongue on the roof of their mouths.
The brain is the human organism’s central processing unit. To have an adequate central processor, you have to keep the integrity of the human head intact. It starts with the posture of your tongue.