Cardiovascular Exercise Re-Explained

I grew up and have spent most of my life thinking that Cardiovascular exercise was super important – How many of us have grown up thinking – if you run and sweat and raise your heart rate you burn calories and you’re doing yourself a favor? Until recently I thought this and believed it as well…. Biomechanist, Katy Bowman (founder of Nutritious Movement™) has changed my outlook on Cardiovascular exercise and I will try to share it here with you…

Here’s my attempt to break it down for you.

  1. The body consists of cells and these cells need oxygen. Oxygen is their food. The blood carries oxygen to all the cells of the body. How does the blood get around??
  2. In a nutshell, when you move, blood begins to circulate. We tend to think and believe that it is the heart’s sole responsibility to pump the blood around. However, what about the musculoskeletal system’s role in helping to move that blood around and of course, the physics of blood flow: hemodynamics!
  3. Hemodynamics helps to explain the dynamics of the blood flow. The blood needs to get to its final destination which is the capillary beds (no one seems to talk about the capillaries, these branch off of the arterioles, which branch off of the arteries.) And obviously the understanding of the capillary system would take awhile to explain. But the idea here is that oxygenated blood has a journey and the number of capillaries you have is changing all the time based on what you are or aren’t doing.
  4. So a muscle begins to work, The mechanical stimulation of a muscle working causes the walls of the arterioles to relax and open which causes a drop in pressure that pulls blood from the arteries to the capillaries. The working muscles pull the blood to the tissues that need it. As Katy Bowman in her book Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement puts it, “Within a sedentary culture, the heart becomes the sole mover of blood. This is not ‘how the body works’, but how the body operates in a movement drought.” (p198) Our oxygen delivery system depends on frequent and constantly varying muscle use, those tiny capillaries rely on the use of the musculoskeletal system to get those cells fed. Your heart is pumping all the time regardless but can you imagine the load on your system after you have been sitting or been sedentary all day and then asking your body to do a bout of intense exercise, can you imagine the stress it will encounter? And usually, because so few muscles have worked the bulk of that sedentary time we are usually asking only certain muscles to all of a sudden work.

Katy in a recent podcast says, “the definition of cardio has more to do with the effects of movement (the results) rather than the movement itself.” Most studies are measuring the result of what you did, what exercise you did and deeming it affective as opposed to the actual movement you did? what muscles were working? the loads to those muscles and the geometry related to it. “Our idea of cardio comes from doing nothing the bulk of the time, and then doing something at a higher intensity vs. the benefit of your heart rate going up and down throughout the day”

So in a nutshell, there are lots of ways to get your heart rate up but if we are only getting the heart rate up in 1 way, then this means that parts of the body are being used and others are not resulting in oxygen goes to those places and does not to others. The more muscles involved the better you are actually feeding the cells of the entire body. If you don’t use it you lose it, basically.

We need to move but I think rethinking how we have thought narrowly about cardiovascular exercise can change. Move, move more, and more variety of movements. More all over movements, with varied loads, and varied geometry. There is definitely an argument for cross training and I still think all those contemporary dance classes I have taken are a great example of whole body movement.

Consider, taking a walk, picking up groceries, carrying them, putting them down, picking them up, carry them up your 4 flights of stairs. Does this get your heart going? Of course it does!

Katy’s Podcast

Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement

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SI Pain

“Sacroiliac pain comes from unbalanced muscular force between the glutes and the pelvic floor, and the resulting pelvic floor hypertension on the sacrum.” – Katy Bowman, Alignment Matters (page 144)

Sacroiliac pain can be so painful and often debilitating. You can’t walk for any length of time and standing too can be painful. There might be mild to severe pain: aching, burning, tingling along the sciatic nerve, can be in the buttock area and travels down the back of the leg and lower leg to the foot.

The Sacroiliac is a combination of 2 words, 2 locations in the body: the sacrum and the ilia.The pain comes from compression of tissue against the sciatic nerve.

I am reposting my colleague Susan McLaughlin’s blog on how to relieve and Get Rid of Sciatica. It really does work.

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Pelvic Listing vs Hip Dropping

I recently wrote a post for my tango site, about hip dropping in tango and why it is not a great idea. Well, it’s not a great idea to drop our hips in walking or standing regardless of tango dancing or not. So better than hip dropping let us look at Pelvic Listing. Pelvic Listing is a great exercise for developing lateral hip stability. What does that mean? It means that “over-used knees and under-used hips typically go together”. It means more support to your pelvis for walking, standing, and everything else you do. When we walk we need the leg to swing through to the next step and how we swing that leg through is determined by how much you are using the muscles of the lateral hips of the non-swinging leg.

Most of us tend to fall when we walk because we don’t have proper hip strength or hamstring length to propel ourselves through space. This isPelvic Listing on Floor part of a much longer blog on walking which you can also find on Katy Bowman’s blog. In the meantime, start Pelvic Listing by standing with both feet pelvic width apart, their outside edges lined up parallel to a straight line. Putting the weight in your heels, push the standing leg into the floor until the free leg clears the floor. Here’s a picture of me Pelvic Listing. You can always make things more challenging by standing on a phone book (if you have one lying around! or an anatomy textbook! or yoga block).

and see the video below of Katy performing the exercise from her DVD collection.

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Podcast Regarding Male Pelvic Pain

We often hear about pelvic problems for women and it’s not very mainstream to hear about men’s disorders, except for maybe their prostrate.

This podcast comes from colleagues, Susan McLaughlin at Align for Health interviewing Restorative Exercise colleague, David McCoid of  Freedom From Pelvic Pain talking about David’s journey to becoming pelvic-pain FREE!

As I always say, the body is such a smart tool, we just need to learn how to listen to its’ messages.

In David McCoid’s interview he found the use of Restorative Exercise (TM) to alleviate his pelvic pain.

At about the 27 minute mark he says:
“My pelvic floor relaxed when I got my glutes and hams to work properly – PFD (pelvic floor disorder) is not a relaxation problem it’s a proper muscle activation problem, the pelvic floor is tight because the other muscles aren’t doing their job”.
When you get people’s tight hamstrings, glutes, feet working properly than the pelvic floor does too.

It is so wonderful to hear another success story. David works in the UK. Hear the interview below.

Align for Health Podcast with David McCoid

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Whole Body Days

From one of my new favorite Facebook Friends, Stop Chasing Pain by Dr. Perry Nickelston. He is right on with so many of his ideas. And so many of them I learned in my dance trainings through the years! Funny how now some of the exercises or movement suggestions are gaining popularity when they were part of my every day warmup as a modern dancer!

So a few weeks ago, Perry posted a quote from his interview with a Parkour expert, Dan Edwards. What’s Parkour? It’s described as a sport done in a city where there are plenty of obstacles to surmount! Jumping, leaping, rolling, climbing, clinging, you name it – you see it with parkour!

You need to stop exercising. And you need to start moving instead. Repetitive training paradigms or environments breed mindlessness, overuse injury, and limited capability. Vary your training routine, your movement patterns and explore your environments as much as possible. Grunting and powering through endless reps of isolated, useless exercises may build your muscles and burn fat but they won’t make you the true mover you’re meant to be. Mix it up, play, explore, when one movement challenge tires you out start working on a different one to let your body recover. There are no ‘leg days’ or ‘arm days’, there are only whole-body days. Let everything get stronger and more mobile in balance with everything else. -Dan Edwards

AMEN Dan Edwards!
Thanks Dr. Nickelston for posting!So what are you going to do today that incorporates your whole body?

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The Spine

I was really intrigued by this NPR podcast and article: Lost Posture: Why Indigenous Cultures Don’t Have Back Pain. The article discusses the possible reasons why back pain is so prevalent in our culture and Ms. Gokhale, an acupuncturist in CA, began looking at cultures that apparently don’t have back pain. There were a few things that bothered me in this article that I wanted to address especially because I know how prevalent back pain is among my students and clients.

Ms. Gokhale looked at the spine and she compared the “s” shaped spine to other indigenous cultures with a “j” shaped spine. Bones respond to what is done to them (via muscles, gravity) over time. But I am also noticing some other things in the pictures provided in the article: 1) notice the location of the rib case and 2) the prominent gluteal muscles (that’s your butt muscles!) Clearly these are cultures who probably also still squat, thus the muscular definition of the gluteals. Also, in order to properly balance anything on your head you would probably need to have your ribs in their proper place, which would mean a bit more tone and definition in the abdominals.

I definitely agree with the Western sedentary culture mentioned but I don’t agree that it’s only about “beefing up the abdominal muscles” as a solution. Again, I firmly support a wholistic view of the body, everything, not only, in our bodies and our minds, is interconnected. So to just state, they have strong abdominal muscles seems a bit absurd. What about what these cultures do all day or at least the people presented in the pictures? They probably walk, squat, carry, lift, push, etc, which would definitely have an influence on the body structure and musculature.

If you were carrying something on your head, if you had your ribs thrusted forward something else would need to compensate or else the basket would fall off your head. Also, you would be working against gravity, lengthening your spine to support the weight of the basket on your head.

Clearly the word is out and we are becoming more informed on how the body functions overall. Overall spine health is important. The vertebrae that make up the spine and the discs don’t need to be twisted into unnecessary positions. But most of us don’t know that the pain we have or might eventually have is due to our habits now.

Ok, I think I am done my short rant on the spine. In short, I don’t think trying to undo an “s” shaped spine is the solution. Again, I advocate whole body movements over time.

Posting post post
Low and Behold – there is this response o the article:
A Cross Cultural Look at Postures on eHRAF

Maybe we have actually come full circle because I know from my work with The Thinking Body and Barbara Clark and my lecturing for Dance Culture and Global Contexts for many years that there was a huge interest in other cultures starting as early as late 1800’s with the “Father of Modern Anthropology”, Franz Boas. I suppose as soon as Europeans began to travel and to discover populations that looked dissimilar from themselves! Which would put this interest even before Boas!


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Can you change bowed legs?

I never thought it would be possible. Ever since I can remember, I have been bow-legged, and over the course of 2 years I have managed to transform that.

I grew up wearing orthotics. I was told I had no arches even though when I wasn’t bearing any weight i saw arches on my feet. At one point they even talked about surgery to cut my tibia and somehow line it up straight and staple it back in! (This was how my young mind understood it at the time. Incidentally many years later there was a girl in my dance classes who had had this done.) I took after my dad, I was very athletic, from monkeying around on the jungle gyms, handstands in the playground, to swimming, gymnastics, ice skating, and ballet. I had dabbled in lots of sports and enjoyed the physicality of it all. As I got older it was a way to feel in control of my life and free and at peace at the same time.

My dabbling in baby ballet classes somehow don’t really count (except for my first and only stage performance in a bikini!) As I took up modern dance or contemporary dance classes I found something I truly loved. My first classes weren’t about strict technique (that I can remember) but about expressive movement and being creative. As I got older my awareness of my body and being bowed legged increased. I rarely wore skirts. My continued dive into the world of modern dance helped me to become more aware of my body and for the most part i could hide my knees under pants.

Fast forward. My career, although hardly direct, found me dancing and in grad school where I learned Argentine Tango. And for the majority of my days learning and then teaching Argentine Tango I could continue to hide behind pants.

It wasn’t until 2011 when my dance partner said to me that he wanted to compete in Argentine Tango that I had to start training to look a certain way. My bowed legs came back to haunt me. And at the same time I was exposed to my first encounter with Katy Bowman, bio-mechanist and founder of Restorative Exercise (TM).

I attended a session with her when she was visiting Phoenix. I was blown away by the clarity of this paradigm. I had always heard about alignment in my dance classes and had a keen curiosity about movement and how it happened in the body but this explanation was so clear and tangible.

The Journey Begins towards Changing my Bowed Legs

The first thing from that class that I recall was lining up my feet. And like everyone else you tell to line up their feet so that the OUTSIDE edges are parallel, there is a moment of total resistance and disbelief. After all, now I look pigeon toed! And my dance teachers have all told me to line up the inside edges of my feet so they would be parallel. So this takes time to calm the mind down when you do it.

But this is the great thing about Restorative Exercise (TM) protocol, you find your stance, wherever you are today, starting with your feet and lining them up in a wide 11. After this there are 25 boney landmarks of alignment that we are trying to align. I had heard this idea before in my dance technique classes after all – “drop your ribs”, my dance teacher used to say.Bowed Legs 1

But Katy had a really clear template for alignment. So my journey began, I spent about 6 months from that day forward thinking about many of those 25 points of alignment starting with my feet lining up with the outside edges parallel. The other thing I did was to find the rotation of my thighs (or femurs more specifically) so that my knee pits would face straight back.

in this picture I have shown my feet with the outside edges parallel and the knee pits, in red, where they like to be: do you have the idea that they are facing away from you? So here began my work.

I also changed my sneakers and got rid of my orthotics – things I NEVER thought I would ever do.

Everywhere I went I worked on my stance when I could (standing inline at the grocery store checkout, for example) and I worked on imagining and moving my knee pits to face straight back.

I accompanied this with stretches and completing the Whole Body Alignment Certification Course that is offered by Restorative Institute to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist, which helped me to further understand how the biomechanics of the body works from this scientific perspective.

Almost 2 years later check out my stance.

Bowed Legs 2Almost straight back at ya’!
This work has also brought to my awareness the anomalies in my body. But that will be a blog for another day.

So now when I see videos of my dance I do not see by bowed legs in action as much as I used to. And I wear skirts more often. And when I am not dancing, I’m lining up my points, going for a walk or doing some Restorative Exercise (TM) stretches.

You can change your body, when you change your mind!



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Calf Stretch Everywhere

I was recently traveling and was lucky enough to stay in a beautiful hotel. Most of you know that I travel with my half-dome, I don’t leave home without it or i regret it! (Here, I was traveling with my 1/4 dome! Half of a half dome for easy travel!)

There I was in my tiny luxurious room and I look down at the floor! Check out that carpet! It was perfect for my daily stretching. I could line up my feet and proceed!

Remember, calf stretching many times a day, well, can probably help to keep the Dr. away at some level. But seriously. As I prepare my stance with my feet in their 11 (the outside edges of feet are parallel) I feel so grounded. As I step one foot on the 1/2 dome I remember to keep all the weight in my heels and continue to feel the whole back side of my body lengthening into the floor. I like to think of this as more like a hamstring lengthener, ankle opener!

So where are some cool places you’ve done your calf stretches?

calf stretch carpetHotel striped carpet

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