CrossFit and Original Strength are non-reductionist approaches to fitness. Bodybuilding and physio exercises are reductionist. Reductionist methodologies try to isolate movements, muscles and joints. Non-reductionist approaches train the body to move as a whole system based on natural movement patterns. Led by CrossFit, the functional fitness movement has veered sharply away from reductionist training methods. On Monday we discovered how reintroducing some reductionist techniques can support your full body, functional performance and keep you healthy and resilient to injury.
But that is never my first choice. Reductionist approaches are boring, time consuming and rarely integrate your joints and muscles in a full body movement pattern that replicates real life. I prefer my training to resemble how I move in sport and to feel like play, that includes my warm ups, cool downs, rehab and prehab. Why stretch one muscle or mobilize one joint at a time when I can warm up and mobilize several at once while having fun? So after introducing the benefits and effectiveness of reductionist exercises for upper body strength and mobility on Monday, we are going to end the week celebrating non-reductionist approaches to strengthening and mobilizing your upper body. Come on coach, make up your mind!
Let me introduce Kung Fu Stick. It started as a reset. With COVID-strained nerves, I needed something to occupy my hands as I rested between Zoom classes while standing in an empty gym during shut down. I needed to calm my nerves and I wanted to check in on my nervous system. When your CNS is overtaxed, one of the first things to go is your coordination. A few spins of a PVC pipe were a quick and easy way to check in on my functional dexterity. I quickly discovered that even if I was fumbling at first, a little focussed practice actually served to calm me down and get me grounded before getting online for the next Zoom class. Yes, I was that stressed out during our 2-month Zoom-only era!
I also realized that the stick practice worked on the cross body coordination just like cross touches, training the right and left hemispheres of the brain to coordinate together. So the act of checking the state of my nervous system turned into a way to calm my nerves, turned into a way to improve my athletic coordination. But wait, there’s more!
These calming, playful, dexterity-producing movements also revealed and then relieved stiffness in my hands, wrists and shoulders. And not just mobilized, but strengthened as spinning the stick quicker increased the torque requiring greater hand, wrist and shoulder strength to manage the increasing forces. I realized these were great warm up movements to mobilize my upper body before a workout. Light, gentle, easy on the joints, mentally engaging, relaxing and fun! That’s a pretty complete package. It also took my shoulders and wrists through their full range of motion better than anything we ever do in the gym.
As members filtered back into the gym and coaches learned how to cope with integrating Zoom-attendees with in-person group classes, these became my go-to resets between coaching sessions helping to keep me calm and focussed and playful. I have never looked back. They are just too fun not to do. And effective.
You connect to the world through your hands. Your central nervous system relies on tactile information to navigate your world. If the bar feels light, you can lift it. If it feels heavy you cannot. Increasing your hand strength and dexterity makes you better able to navigate the world from barbells, to pull up bars to monkey bars. And playing helps you focus for performance but it also helps you recover from performance. Playing is a mental, emotional and physical reset! Play is an activity you engage in without a specific goal, something you do for the pure enjoyment of the activity. Whether in the gym between classes, in the park enjoying the sunshine or on my back deck, I enjoy my Kung Fu spinning stick and so do all my joints and muscles!
And just as life often does, our week has come full circle from non-reductionist to reductionist and back again. We hope this contrarian spin of the stick has not left your head spinning. As Tony Blauer says: “Good information does not negate other good information.” In the reductionist-non-reductionist fitnes debate I am decidedly non-binary. Different tools for different jobs. I embrace what works. And sometimes that is both;)
Friday Make Up Day
1) 3 Rounds:
3 min Handstand Hold AFSAP
5 Burpees per set
Note # of burpees
2) Hero WOD Manion
7 Rounds for Time:
Run 400 meters
135 pound Back squat, 29 reps
3) 100 L-Pull Ups
4) OS Reset #12 + Kung Fu Stick Play
1 Minute Belly Breathe Any Position
30 Seconds Head Nods In Any Position
30 Seconds Head Rotations In Any Position
3 Minutes Frog Rolls W/ Feet Off Ground
30 Gait Bugs
10 Straight Leg Windshield Wipers
10 Elevated Rocks
20 Speed Skaters
1 Minute Side-to-side Crawl On Hands And Knees
1 Minute Side-to-side Leopard Crawls
Grab a PVC pipe or broomstick and play along with some fun mobility drills