This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And now for something completely different, a post on exercise

Learning to love God with all our strength involves taking care of and developing our body. Key elements of this include adequate rest, proper diet, and regular exercise. Chances are you already know a lot of what you are supposed to do, but the question is, do you do it?

Here, I want to focus a bit on exercise, and in particular, one form of exercise most people do not know about.

Probably the most common approach to exercise breaks it down into three basic types: cardio to strengthen your heart (e.g. jogging, biking, or swimming); resistance training for strength and to maintain muscle mass and bone density (e.g. “the bells”—barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and clubbells—or bodyweight exercises such as pushups); and flexibility exercises (e.g. stretching or common approaches to yoga).

There’s a lot of information out there about these three kinds of exercise, some of it better than others. But there’s another class of exercises that is just as important that few people discuss: joint mobility training (JM).

JM systematically moves all of your joints through their full current range of motion (ROM) in every direction the joint is designed to move. A full routine includes the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, thoracic spine, lower back, hips, knees, ankles, and toes, working either from top to bottom or from the periphery to the core.

JM is different from flexibility training. To understand why, do the following:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Keep your left leg straight and on the ground, and bend your right leg at the knee.
  3. Bring your right thigh toward your chest and notice how close you can get it.
  4. Lower and straighten your right leg.
  5. Keeping the right leg straight, bring it toward your chest again.

With your leg bent, you can move your leg far closer to your chest than you can with the leg straight. In a nutshell, that’s the difference between JM and ROM exercises and stretching: in stretching, the flexibility of the muscles is the limiting factor, while in properly designed JM routines, muscular flexibility is largely taken out of the equation.

Why is joint mobility important? In the former Soviet Union, scientists studying the human body determined that biological age was directly related to the condition of the connective tissue in the joints: the better the connective tissue, the more youthful the body. They also discovered that JM can improve the quality of the connective tissue and even repair some kinds of joint damage, and as a result it can act as an anti-aging program for your body.

Done consistently, JM can also improve ROM, eliminate early morning stiffness, and lead to better, more pain free movement. It is also very useful as a warm up for exercise, as a kind of “pre-hab” to prevent injuries, as well as for releasing residual tension from exercise in your cool down.

The best joint mobility programs that I have found come from one of two places. The first is China: tai chi and some qigong programs include very good JM work, which is why many Chinese tai chi masters move so well into their 80s and 90s.

The other source is Russia. Pavel Tsatsouline, the “evil Russian” who re-introduced kettlebell training to America, has a JM program called Superjoints. Superjoints includes several different routines, some of which combine JM work with conditioning. One of his instructors, Andrea Du Cane, also produced programs called The Ageless Body and Kettlebell Boomer that include both JM and kettlebell work. These have different levels graded to condition and ability. If you use kettlebells, these are excellent programs. All of these resources are available from Dragondoor’s website.

Scott Sonnon, who studied in Russia, has produced JM programs including Intuflow and Ageless Mobility. These are graded for different levels. Scott’s routines take less time than Pavel’s and advance by increasing movement sophistication rather than by increasing repetitions. On the other hand, the higher reps Pavel prescribes can be very helpful for repairing some kinds of joint damage. Scott’s programs are available from RMAX.

Steve Maxwell, one of Pavel’s former instructors, also has a series of JM routines for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels that are instantly downloadable via the internet. These can be accessed through the link at the bottom of this page.

Two notes: first, all of these sites deal with high end strength training, fitness, and martial arts; don’t let that throw you—the JM programs are for anyone. Second, in the interests of full disclosure these are affiliate links, so if you order through them, I will receive a commission.

And the standard warning: do not start any exercise program without consulting your physician.