Left Behind: How to Use S+C for Chronic Conditions and Population Health
Genetics made me a natural athlete; I had little to do with that and using an innate state of being to sell gym memberships has a stench I do not indulge in. Hence a shirtless picture of me clean and single arm pressing a female in an effort to suppress crushing insecurities many athletes hide behind those muscles. I digress.
Given these genetics, I assumed a role human nature assigned me- investing in the physically compromised. The ROI being the emotional and mental capacity lent to our species by those compromised physically but gifted mentally. As all men and women are created equal, when a deficit presents itself in one capacity a strength presents itself in another. Every human being living today is physically deficient when compared ounce to ounce to nearly every other species on earth. The humility that comes with that realization- and the actionable ways to utilize what we learn from sport and apply it to systemic issues our community faces- is why I write this article.
I began training with physically compromised individuals at the age of 16. I participated in a program where a physical therapist taught students to work with people who could not afford physical therapy, but needed a physical outlet and were willing to risk unexperienced hands to do it. This interest never changed. While I myself pursued competitive outlets in basketball, grappling, and powerlifting, my focus sharpened on how to use these interactions with gravity to provide solutions for an entire population facing a divergent path of consumerism and a rapidly vestigial skeletal muscular systems. Preventable illness in the form of diabetes, bone density loss, nervous disorders, etc are simply a byproduct of our two main prime directives as a living organisms: Breed and Conserve Energy. If the environment created by consumerism facilitates the latter, we can not expect an outcome different than the one that has tested the limits of our health care system for 30+ years.
Minimum Effective Exercise Dose.
This is what I focus on, combined with a healthy respect for adaptation to demand. What can we do exercise wise to improve quantifiable measures such as bone density, strength, cardiovascular health, and flexibility? How do I present a product that highlights those qualities while more superficial, "quick fix" marketing implants bias into a client's psyche from every angle? The answer was given to me by my own unexpected physical deficiency.
At the age of 29, a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect began to severely affect my athletic capability. I had open heart surgery a couple of months later and woke up with a body who no longer listened to my demands. I couldn't produce the bracing needed for heavy lifts, I was the weakest on the mats, and could barely walk the length of a basketball court without losing my vision. I'd been working with many populations (pros, olympians, spinal injuries, strokes, general population), but it was the population with extreme physical deficits from whom I drew motivation. Every session with someone who broke their back, had a neuromuscular condition, had a stroke began and ended with verbal and unconscious acknowledgments that we don't know what you can do; but we're here to find out.
The most efficient way for me to communicate this journey was with my grappling competitions. Before my operation I'd been an aggressive player- using wrestling styles with top position submissions as my go-to. After my operation that didn't work because my body wasn't working.
This changed when I had the pleasure of meeting a 6th degree Jiu Jitsu black belt with whom I got to study under. It was a game changer- prior to surgery I had not won a single grappling tournament. After surgery and training with a new study, I won 4 tournaments. For those unfamiliar with the study of Jiu Jitsu, the way I was taught was to use minimal effective effort, plan well, and repeat those fundamental plans regularly. For those familiar- I at this time was mediocre and competing in advanced no-gi and blue-purple belt divisions under Professor Robert Dutra Moreira.
What does this indulgence in my personal history have to do with minimum effective exercise dose?
In my experience, some people will have the innate drive to work hard in physical capacities. Others don't care. And still others have been confined physically by disability for so long they don't even know what they can do. The former category is not a concern in terms of population health. The drive- regardless where it came from- is there in any person who has trained a sport for multiple years. For the latter 2 groups, using this concept of minimal effective effort is the link the gym industry needs to actually improve gym membership to population health ratios. My history of finding a way to change my thought process to accommodate my abilities is applicable to anyone reading this thinking they can't do something.
There are many ways to do accomplish minimum effective exercise dose using observations from physical culture/sport- I know I am not the only gym owner/trainer out there who has quantifiable methods to achieve a positive impact on population health. But at the end of the day we also need to ask if the result of the training concluded in useful skills outside of the gym. A pertinent story from my gym was a young pilates instructor asking for help moving some wrestling mats from the classroom. A long term client of mine 75 years old, 110lb female- with a health history including spinal surgery- promptly went and moved the mats for her. Maintainable, quantifiable strength will lend more quality of life. Observing practical output in a scientific experiment is not useful in determining the variables of "function", because the variables are limitless. Thus the abundance of literature observing how quad extensions increase strength and muscle mass cannot communicate the lack of effectiveness this movement has when not combined with other movements.
Mindset is important, but more important is a plan for how to use minimum effective effort for a lifetime of function and quality of life. You can look at my Facebook or YouTube if you're interested in how I do it. I have tons of no-nonsense, poorly staged demos with all of my clothing on. I have enough experience and humility that I know many people are doing great things, and none of us are successful 100% of the time. Anyone saying otherwise is selling you something unproven or narcissistic enough to derive their sense of worth from industries born from consumerism.
So what does the reader take away from this?
There are always options for your physical health. You don't need to be an athlete to explore them. But you do need the ability to acknowledge the need for physical competency, the understanding that your physical options will continue to deteriorate if you don't, and that making a plan that minimum effective exercise dose must be the same as brushing your teeth, wiping your butt, eating and sleeping.
Learn to lift for life.