Athlete vs. Warrior

What does it mean to be an athlete? Athletes tend to prize certain characteristics such as drive, determination, competitiveness, commitment, and adaptability. Athletes also comport to a code of conduct referred to as sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship means to play fair, be a team player, lose gracefully, win with class and dignity, respect the officials, and respect the other team.

What does it mean to be a warrior? To be a warrior one must possess strength, courage and honor. Warriors follow a code of Bushido which espouses honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. On a philosophical level these two groups are not at odds, in fact, they overlap nearly perfectly. Thus it is not surprising that many athletes look to the great warrior texts such as The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings for inspiration and guidance.

What is surprising is that martial artists do not look more closely at the best practices of athletes to help them physically prepare. I work with a lot of athletes and the best ones all do similar things. They eat right. While each athlete might have a different plan for how they eat, they all have a plan. Good athletes are in control of the quality of their food as well as the quantity of their food. They keep track of there macro and micro nutrients. Good athletes understand that proper nutrition is essential to your performance and health.

The best athletes work hard in the gym to keep their bodies functioning at a high level. Varsity and professional weight rooms are filled with athletes getting after it. There are coaches helping them not only get stronger but also fixing imbalances and preparing their bodies to be injury resistant.

The best athletes warm up. They show up early and prepare their bodies and minds for the training session or the competition at hand. They know that a good warm up not only helps them avoid injury but also helps them get mentally prepared to work hard.

The best athletes take their recovery seriously. The best athletes are nerds and go to bed early. They stretch and roll and get massages and take care of small aches and pains before they become bigger problems.

The best athletes use their practice time to fix their mistakes. I see a lot of athletes that are not that impressive in practice. They seem a little slow and sometimes look like they have two left feet, but when it’s game day they are MVPs. What I have come to realize is that good athletes will use their training sessions to fix mistakes and work on new skills. They are not concerned with how they look in practice because they are consciously working on new skills which naturally makes them slightly slower and more awkward. That’s how the best athletes continue to improve.

In addition to spending time with high level athletes, I spend a lot of time with enthusiasts and hobbyists. It is okay to merely come to the gym or dojo to look better for the summer. And, honestly, sometimes it’s more fun to hang out with people that are not seriously competitive athletes. However, we could all adopt a few better practices that would help us improve.

You do not need to revamp your whole diet, but you could make sure you eat more protein especially after you work out. You could consider removing some processed foods from your diet. You don’t have to hire a professional coach, but you could do some more burpees and swing a kettlebell every other day. You do not need to hire a professional masseuse, but you could make sure you show up in time to warmup for class and stay 10 minutes later and do some stretching before you leave.

Taking a few small steps will add up to better performance and longevity. Think like a warrior and act like an athlete.

All Other Things Being Equal

There is a common argument that is put forth so much that we do not think about how stupid it is. The argument goes like this, “All other things being equal, the person with more X will prevail.” The argument is always used by someone that is trying to sell you more X. The fallacy of the argument is that the way it is set up, no matter what X is it will confer an advantage over people that are otherwise equally endowed. So no matter what X is, the statement always holds true for X as well as Y or Z.

For example, you hear this in competitive sports all the time, “All other things being equal, the athlete that is _________ will win.” You could fill the blank with “stronger,” “faster,” “heavier,” “better conditioned,” etc. The point is anybody that has an advantage of any kind and can capitalize on that advantage will be victorious. The argument that one advantage is more advantageous than another is specious.

Yes being stronger than your opponent is helpful if you can capitalize on that. The same is true of having better endurance or a better strategy. But all other things are not equal. They are never equal. Ever. You and your opponent both have strengths and weaknesses. The best path to victory is not trying to merely outdo everyone with strength, speed, or endurance. Because what will you do when you encounter someone stronger than you? Remember, there is always someone stronger than you. Always.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

You need to be strong when your opponent is weak. You need to be fast when your opponent is slow. You need endurance when your opponent is gassed. You need strategy when your opponent is confused. You need to be centered when your opponent is scattered. Your fitness is not one thing, it is many things. Your success should be built on many things not one thing. Specialization is for insects.

Your training off the mat should make you formidable on many levels. Train to have no weaknesses that your opponent can exploit. Train so hard off the mat, that rolling is always easy in comparison.

Your Cardio Sucks

Here’s a phrase I want you to ponder, “cardio-respiratory endurance is modal specific.” What does it mean? Let me give you an example. Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France victories and was considered the best cyclist of all time. Prior to becoming the greatest cyclist, he was a reknowned triathlete as a teenager. After retiring in 2005, he decided to run the 2006 New York Marathon. Yet the best cyclist in the world, who had triathlon experience, who was coached by elite marathoners, and who was likely taking the best performance enhancing drugs available at the time, was only able to perform above average at the marathon. Many people speculated that since he had the best cardio endurance of any athlete alive at the time, he would be able to dominate in an endurance event like the marathon. Yet human physiology proved them wrong.

You take the best cyclist in the world and put her in a boat, in running shoes, on cross-country skis, in a gi, or in any other event other than cycling, and she will cease to be dominant. How many times have you heard people new to jiu-jitsu remark that “grappling is a different type of cardio” or some version of that statement. At the most basic level, cardio-respiratory endurance is the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. As you train, the body will get more efficient at intaking oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. That’s a good thing. However, efficiency at running does not translate perfectly to efficiency at jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu uses many more muscles than running, it requires changes of tempo and direction, it requires both isometric holding of positions and dynamic, explosive movements. Jiu-jitsu utilizes the anaerobic as well as the aerobic energy pathways. It should not come as a surprise that 20 minutes of cardio on a treadmill doesn’t have much carry over to a 7-minute grappling session. This is why you see people come in to jiu-jitsu for the first time and they seem fit from the gym, but they gas quickly when on the mat.

This is not an excuse for you to stop doing cardio!

If you want to improve your cardio-respiratory endurance on the mat (and you should!), then you need to train in such a way that has carryover to BJJ. You need to do short fast intervals. You need to do longer workouts with high rep full-body movements, You need to train with multiple modalities in a single workout. You need to change your workouts often to avoid plateaus.

Strength vs. Technique

Being stronger is better. Period. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn’t know anything about being strong or about being better. Strength is not just how hard you contract your muscles nor is it how big your muscles are. Strength is the productive application of force. Strength is force applied at the right place and at the right time to complete a task. If you cannot complete the task, then you are not strong enough. No amount of stepping on the pedal or turning the wheel will make your car go forward if there is no engine under the hood. The bigger the engine the faster the car goes. There is no real world situation where strength is a disadvantage. It’s not the only important thing but you should never pass up an opportunity to get stronger and avoid people that encourage you to do so as they are not to be trusted.

Jiujitsu guys love to give lip service to technique. And you see guys complain when they get tapped that the other guy was using too much strength and their technique was bad. A tap is a tap. In the real world we don’t tap just because someone used good technique. We tap because the move worked. Technique is merely the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. There are many many different techniques that can be used to accomplish the same task. When we rate a technique as good or bad what we are really looking at is the amount of energy expended to accomplish the same task. One technique is “better” than the other if it accomplishes the same task with less energy. Both good and bad techniques can be effective and accomplish the task, but the more efficient technique will lead to better results in the long run.

I want you to have strength and technique because both of these vectors point in the same direction. We have all faced the person who has limited technical ability but they make up for it with a lot of strength and they are tough opponents and can overcome very advanced practitioners just based on their size and strength. We have also faced some tiny black belt that seems very frail yet they are able to gradually break down our defenses and submit us. However, the most formidable opponents are the ones that are strong and technical.

To separate strength from technique is actually a fallacy and cannot be done. Strength and technique both point toward task accomplishment, i.e. getting the job done. An athlete that has good technique will appear stronger because the techniques they use will maximize the force they can apply to an opponent. Conversely, a stronger athlete can overcome technical deficiencies with their strength and pull off moves that a weaker athlete would not be able to.

Choose strength and use that strength to bolster your techniques.

Simple Jiujitsu Workout

A common problem in jiujitsu is that people fatigue and give up position or their grip gives out when they are going for a submission and eventually have to let go before the opponent taps. These are failures of stamina and cardio-respiratory endurance. Stamina can be thought of as localized muscular endurance. Muscle fatigue is usually due to 1) the inability to supply them with enough ATP and/or 2) the inability get rid of the waste that is the byproduct of vigorous muscular activity. “Gassing” or failure of the cardio-respiratory system is due to 1) the inability to uptake enough oxygen and/or 2) the inability expel carbon dioxide expediently. Regardless of the deficiency, you need both stamina and cardio. It is of little use to have strong grip but get gassed before you can apply a choke or, in the alternative, can run circles around your opponent but cannot hold on to them. While these are different physiological and biological functions, in truth, there is lots of overlap.

Training your grip and lungs simultaneously might not optimize either function but will more accurately replicate the demands of a jiujitsu match where you need to be able to grip while your heart rate is high. With a little imagination you can create a vast amount of great workouts that will address both issues. Here is my suggestion for a very jiujitsu specific workout that will immediately start to improve your game. This is also the simplest workout I could think of that requires a minimum of space, time and equipment, thus it is nearly impervious to all your shitty excuses.

Equipment: 1) A pull-up bar or something to hang from. If you do not have a pullup bar, exposed beam, door frame, scaffolding, or staircase to hang from, then open a door and simply hang off the top of the door or throw a towel over the door and grab the towel. You will also need enough space to jump and lay on the floor.

Workout: Hang from the pull-up bar for as long as you can. When you finally come off the bar, immediately do 20 burpees and then jump up and hang from the bar again. Continue for as long as your typical match would be according to your rank.

White belt -5min; Blue belt – 6min; Purple belt – 7min; Brown belt – 8min; Black belt – 10min.   

If you are an adult blue belt, your matches typically last 6 minutes. Start the clock and jump up and hang from your pullup bar. Let’s say you can hang for 45 seconds, when you drop down you immediately start doing 20 burpees. As soon as you finish, you jump up and grab the pullup bar. Let’s say the burpees took 1 minute, you should be back up on the pullup bar at 1:46 and trying to hang again. Most likely you will come off much sooner the second time and each time after. If you find that you cannot consistently do 20 burpees consecutively and quickly (90 seconds or less), then drop the burpees down to around 10-15 reps. Any resting time should be done while hanging from the bar and any time on the ground should be spent doing burpees. Work to the point where you can hang for one minute or more each time you get on the bar. Then work on increasing the speed of the burpees until 20 can be done in less than a minute.

Once your hang times are consistently over a minute and your burpees are consistently less than a minute, then extend the time to the next belt level. Once you can do this for 10 hard minutes, you start to alternate hands while hanging so you are only hanging by one arm at a time or put on a weightvest.

If you want to make it more challenge, hang from one arm at a time and/or wear a weightvest.

Should I Scale?

It’s “Open Season!” The CrossFit Games Open: The five weeks from February through March where CrossFitters all over the World compete with each other to see how they stack up. It is an amazing and stressful time of year for athletes and affiliate gym owners. For the affiliate owners, it throws a wrench into your regular flow of classes and programming because you have to clear out at least one day per week to run the weekly workout as well as time for people to make it up if they miss it or want to repeat it. You are also stressed because you have no idea what the workout is every Thursday night when it is announced. You do not know in advance what equipment or space or time requirements you will need for the weekly workout. The workouts have ranged from 4 minutes to 20 minutes and have required multiple pieces of equipment and space requirements that can tax the resources of smaller boxes.

On the other end, the athletes are faced with a new challenge each week that they are expected to give their all to. This means that between each weeks challenge the athlete has to continue to train but also recover enough to be prepared for the next challenge. Program has to be potent enough to keep athletes progressing and getting fitter throughout the five weeks, but also forgiving enough to allow athletes to be fresh each weekend to perform the workout once (or possibly more times).

The biggest question for most athletes is whether they should scale the workouts. For many athletes, the Open presents an opportunity to try going Rx’d for the first time and getting a personal record (PR). It might be some athlete’s first double under or pull-up or an opportunity to lift more weight than they ever have before. It’s this aspect of the Open that is the most inspiring across the community. Watching people dig deeper and expect more of themselves and those around them is the best. That being said, scaling is still a great choice for a lot of people. Take a realistic look at where you are at with respect to what is asked of you in the workout. If you cannot do a pull-up or a dip, then spending 14 minutes trying muscle ups is pretty pointless. Scale it so you can workout hard. If you’re close to a skill and have never had success previously, then the Open might be the right time to go Rx’d and see if you can get a PR.

However, if you really are going to sit around for most of the workout practicing, then maybe you should allocate that time to practice, but then do the workout scaled and get a good workout. Here is what most people forget about a properly scaled workout: it’s still a hard workout. You’ve simply taken what is an impossible workout and made it possible. If you think your scaled workout is too easy: you either did not scale it correctly or you were not trying hard enough. I recommend most people work on their movement first and their intensity second and then worry about the weights. People are eager to master more complicated skills and add more weight and that’s great but, in the meantime, work on getting the most out of the lighter weights and easier variations but being able to work at intensity. It’s the intensity that is going to get you results.

The workout this weekend (18.3) was a long one and I scaled it. I feel good about my choice, because it became a good workout for me. None of the moves or reps or weights in the scaled version by themselves were a challenge to me: single unders, overhead squats at 45lbs, dumbbell snatches at 35lbs and pullups. However, the challenge was to move as fast possible through the 928 reps. My goal was to keep moving and rest as little as possible. I finished the workout in 12:26 and I only had very small breaks in the transitions or when I tripped on the jump rope or could no longer hold on to the pull-up bar. Certainly there is room for improvement. It was a good test of my fitness and let me know that while I have some capacity in one gear, I need to find another gear and work on going faster still. My goal was to finish in around 11 minutes, so I missed the mark by about 90 seconds. The althernative was doing a bunch of double unders and overhead squats and then spending the remaining time trying to eek out a couple of muscle ups. Sure that would be fine but not much of workout. It would be a different kind of victory to get some muscle ups and feel good in that regard. However, the workout of 200 double unders and 20 overhead squats would just be an appetizer to the main dish of muscle up practice for 10 minutes. Whereas, by scaling I got to just push myself 14 minutes and get a fun and challenging workout.

There’s not one right way to do things, but choosing your adventure can change the outcome so think about what you want. And there is no rule that says you can’t do both.

Should I Eat This?

People always ask me some version of this question. Sometimes it is phrased like “is this okay to eat?” “Is this Paleo?” “Is this bad/good for me?” Perhaps those are not the best questions to be asking. You, as an individual, need to assess where you are and where you are going. Nutrition advice broadly can be prescribed as eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. However, when dealing with the individual not everyone has to adhere so closely to every rule.

Where are you? If you are twenty-something and relatively fit, you have a buffer. You can eat some pizza and drink some beer. You can crush a pint of ice cream. Where do you want to go? If you want to be an extremely competitive athlete then there is less room for pizza, beer, and ice cream. If you are not trying to be super competitive, then it’s okay to make some less awesome food choices.

Conversely, if you are in bad shape and overweight, then you have less wiggle room and need to make better choices more frequently. If your desire is to lose weight, get off the medications, get into better shape, then stay away from dense carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar-laden snacks. So whether or not you should eat something is more dependent on you and what you are trying to accomplish than the food itself.

It is not enough just say “it’s paleo” or “it’s vegan” or “it’s low-fat” because those are just broad guidelines to guide you toward better choices but they don’t always. For example, people always find a way to get their cheat foods in through loopholes, e.g. Paleo, Vegan or low-fat brownies. Another question you want to ask is how does this food affect me. Everything you eat will have some repercussions. Sometimes we are okay with a tummy ache if we get to eat our ice cream. Sometimes we decide that it is not worth the distress and find an alternative. So when someone asks whether something is Paleo. The more important questions are how does that food affect you? Does it make you sluggish? Bloated? Achy? Gassy? Practicing an elimination diet is a great way to find out if certain categories of foods agree with you. Take grains out of your diet for a month keep track of how you look, feel and perform grain-free. After 30 days slowly add grains back in and see what, if any, side effects come with those grains.

Good Fighters Don’t Need Water.

There’s an old expression in boxing: “Good fighters don’t need water. Bad fighters don’t deserve it.” There’s nothing wrong with hydration. You need to hydrate. The problem is that people use water breaks as an excuse to rest when they should be working. You simply do not need water during a 15 minute workout. You don’t. If you came to the gym hydrated and ready to work, you should be able to push yourself for 15 minutes without needing to drink water. There is no amount of working out in 15 minutes that is going to cause you to get dehydrated. The fact is, you want to take a break. You want to quit working.

My job is to push people out of their comfort zone. My job is to get people to push and work harder. Sometimes that means telling you to put down the water and get to work. Of course, some people push themselves really hard and it’s helpful to tell them to take a sip of water and take a break if they are red-lining. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage pregnant women and the old and infirm to take breaks during the workout. However, if you’re of a viable age with no injuries and in dire need of some fitness, I’m going to tell you to stop wasting time and keep working.

Hydrating should be done before you get to the gym and after your workout. Throughout the day, you should be drinking water. But during short high-intensity efforts, you should focus on pushing yourself. Then when you’re done, get yourself some water. If you are doing a longer workout, taking a moment for a sip of water, chalking your hands, writing down how many reps you’ve done are great ways to rest and pace yourself. That type of break should be earned. When I’m doing a longer workout, sometimes I tell myself that when I finish a certain amount of work, I’ll reward myself with a short break. Most people just need to embrace the discomfort and stop reaching for the water.

The Best Defense Is Good Fitness

Self defense is important, but let’s be honest, does it work? Largely the failure of self defense techniques to work and adequately prepare people for altercations is the fact that the emphasis is entirely misplaced. The majority of self defense protocols place too much emphasis on techniques and for preparing for a very limited set of scenarios. Where the most emphasis should be placed is on pre-contact awareness, danger avoidance, and application of raw power.

Most victims of violent crimes had a warning. They often describe a “bad feeling’ that preceded the incident. It is imperative that we teach people to recognize and react to those “bad feelings.” Victims are quick to dismiss those feelings (“it’s just my imagination”) and then later regret it. It is better to suffer some embarrassment for creating “a scene” by shouting, looking for help, crossing the street, or running, than it is to realize too late that that uneasy feeling was legitimate.

It is hard to over emphasize how much more important it is to learn how to be aware of your surroundings, than it is to learn how to fight your way out of an otherwise avoidable situation. Learn how to avoid high risk areas. Keep an eye on your surroundings. Look at the people that are around you and notice their features. Avoid zoning out and looking at your phone when you’re alone and vulnerable.

The next problem is focusing in techniques. I have practiced and taught jiujitsu for a really long time. In fact I have taught many movement modalities such as yoga, kettlebells, gymnastics, weightlifting, and more. And one thing is true, movement is a skill. Everyone starts as a beginner. The more complex the movement, the longer it takes to learn it and master it. I have seen countless people come and learn a handful of basic techniques on one night and the next week or even the next night they come back and cannot recall any of the techniques. It is only through countless hours of practice and training that people are able to learn a technique well enough to use it on a larger opponent that is resisting and simultaneously trying to harm them.

It is very wishful thinking indeed to imagine that attending a single self defense seminar can adequately prepare someone for a dangerous confrontation. While such seminars are good and can really do a lot to help empower women (and men). They can also provide a dangerous level of false hope. Leaving a seminar thinking that you are adequately prepared to defend yourself against a larger attacker will no doubt have very bad repercussions. There is no doubt that being proficient in jiujitsu can save your life. However, dabbling can get you hurt. If you want to have skills that will serve you in a real life situation, these skills must be practiced and developed and in your repertoire. Not just something you learned one time. We do not rise to the occasion, rather we sink to the level of our training.

The bigger issue is one of fitness. Are you fit enough is the question you should be asking yourself. Can you outrun someone that is chasing you and bent on doing you harm? Running from danger is probably the single best thing you can do to stay alive. Do not for second think about being a hero. If you have the choice between fight or flight, choose flight every time. The only time for fighting is when the choice to run has been taken away from you. But jogging isn’t going to save your life. And don’t imagine that you are somehow going to develop magical cardio super powers in the face of danger. You have to run sprints often and be prepared to run, jump, cut right or left and stiff arm a tackler. The fitter you are with respect to running, the safer you will be in the long run. All you need to train to be a better runner is a new pair of shoes and a stopwatch. Go run some sprints. They will save your life one day.

Don’t be fooled by what you see in movies. Chases in movies always look way faster and last a lot longer than what really happens. Go to the track one day and see how long it takes you go around one time (400m, a quarter mile). Notice how you probably got half way around the track and wanted to quit. Maintaining a fast sprint for a quarter mile is hard, but it will probably save your life. Go practice that instead of buying a can of pepper spray. Also it’s really good for you. You’ll be in better shape if you go to the track once a week and run some stairs once a week.

Get stronger. It doesn’t matter how many self defense classes you take and how much you practice your spinning back fist. If you cannot put some power behind your punches, they are just for show. Even if you know how to grapple and choke someone, you need to be strong enough to apply your moves to a larger and angrier opponent. Strength is one of the most important life saving attributes you can develop.

If someone bypasses your initial warning signals and gets close to you and if the option to run is taken away from you, it is then that you will have to fight. Real fights look like those on World Star not like what you see in the movies. Fancy techniques rarely work unless you have years of experience applying them and are in a “fair” one-on-one situation. Fear and anxiety will most likely impede your ability to do anything fancy and technical. You will most likely resort to basic animal instincts: hit hard to the vital organs.

At the end of the day, do you have the speed, strength, stamina, and will to persevere? These are elements of fitness that can be trained. When we do CrossFit, we work each of these attributes both independently and together. Get out there and train like your life depends on it.

Back Pain?

Back pain? Spasms? Everything hurts? It’s the worst! Having a back injury can be really debilitating. If you go to the doctor and they don’t find anything wrong and just prescribe you painkillers, you might be thinking you’re all set. Unfortunately, painkillers are just a bandaid for the symptoms. You still have to strengthen and rehab your back.

There are many potential underlying causes of back pain. You may have a bulging disc. You may have a strained muscle. Your muscles could be weak. The muscles could be hypertonic. There could be a muscle imbalance. Something could be out of place. Whatever the case, there are some general things that you can do to improve your back problem. I’m no doctor but I’ve dealt with my own back problems and helped others over the years by following some of these basic rules.

First thing is relax. Usually when you’re in a state of pain, you stress out. Once you’re stressed it heightens the pain. Lay down on your back, bend your knees to 90 degrees, and elevate your feet on a chair or couch so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your shins are parallel to the floor. I also recommend internally rotating your thighs by keeping your knees close together and your feet apart. I sometimes use a strap to gently tie my knees together and use the back of the couch or chair to block my feet from coming together. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Deep breathing through the nose using abdominal-thoracic breaths will help you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. This helps the body relax and helps quiet the pain response and helps muscles that are in spasm relax.

Three Abodes of Breath from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

The next thing I recommend is to stay in motion. Sitting for long periods of time will cause your hip flexors to tighten and they can put a lot of stress on your lower back the moment you try to stand back up. Try to minimize the time you spend seated. When you do get up, try to move slowly at first, then try to walk around for as long as possible before you try to sit again.

The next thing I recommend is trying to increase blood flow and circulation to the area. The low budget approach to this is doing some cobra pushups. I recommend 3 sets of 15 or more reps with a 2-second pause at the top. They are simple. You lie prone on the floor with your hands next to your chest pressed into the floor like you are about to do a pushup. You squeeze your shoulders down and back, curl your chest up, squeeze your butt, then press your arms straight. Keep your butt squeezed and try to keep your hips close to the ground. The contractions of the glutes and lower back will warm the area and bring blood to the area.

Cobra Pushups from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

If things are so bad that you cannot move without pain, then you need to find other ways to stimulate the muscles and create some blood flow. I like to use an electrical stimulation unit like a Powerdot or a Marc Pro that stimulates low level muscle contractions and helps create muscular activation without the pain that may be associate with moving. Once the muscles are stimulated and warm, you can then begin to move without pain. This is a good protocol if you have access to a muscle stimulator and can place the electrode pads on your back by yourself. You may require assistance and a small loan (worth it!) to purchase a stim unit.

Another way to stimulate blood flow to the area is through cupping or scraping. Cupping involves putting small cups on your back that have the air sucked out so it creates a vacuum. The vacuum draws the skin up and away from the superficial fascia and creates some bruising like a hickey. That bruising is what brings blood to the area. Scraping is another protocol (sometimes called gua sha or Graston) that uses an instrument (like a spoon or dull metal blade) to create soft tissue mobilization. Basically scraping the skin to create a sheer force between the skin and the superficial fascia. The result is again more blood flow and sometimes some bruising. The downside is that you will need someone to do these to you as most people cannot adequately perform these on their own lower backs.

Things to avoid are over stretching. Stretching has its place but is often over used. The problem with stretching is that it often feels good in the moment. Unfortunately, once the moment has passed, the pain often returns and is worse. This is especially true for certain disc injuries. So consider doing some stretches and exercises where you focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position and only move about the hip and shoulder.

Try these hip hinges and isolated hip circles to improve mobility without aggravating your spine.

Hip Hinges from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Isolated Hip Rotations from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.