Article by Sustainable Athletics, March 6th 2015
This system has completely changed the way in which I look at the body and mind – posture, body language, breathing, recovery, focus, and performance. I now activate almost every point we were shown every day, in the morning and/or before training. I have many of my athletes do a smaller version of activation before practices/workouts. Our reactions are below:
What’s changed for me?
Running/jumping feels effortless
Used to sleep with a pillow between my legs because hip pain would wake me up at night, and have avoided playing basketball to avoid aggravating my hip’s FAI impingement/damaged labrum – pain is completely gone at rest and during intense activity
Low back (SI joint) pain gone a few hours after bothersome activity (heavier weight training) instead of a few days. This recovery time is still getting shorter as well (update: have not had pain in several days, for the first time in a year)
My usual head-tilted-to-the-right posture has diminished significantly
Left hip can raise up above 110* while standing, when it could not go much past 90* previously
Significantly less soreness in hamstrings after sprinting/doing posterior chain work, more soreness in the glute
Passive range of motion of the gastrocs (calves) went from barely 90* to 15-20* past that – if the calves can only get to 90* the whole body will have to compensate
Previously fractured area of my right foot no longer goes numb in the cold/with tightly laced shoes – felt a serious rush of blood in there during one particular treatment
Right knee pain can be reduced/almost entirely eliminated immediately by rubbing a particular point and repeating 1-2x daily for a few seconds – and every time it comes back it comes back less
Neck and shoulders no longer stuck in forward position – feel taller, more confident, with significantly less tension
Jaw finally jiggles while sprinting – gotten rid of harmful tension there
Have not gotten my usual monthly migraine, even with a more stressful month than usual
Butt (glute muscles) have grown significantly relative to others
Maintaining posture feels easy/effortless by focusing on breathing – in slouching I am aware of how much it restricts my breathing!
Can breathe into my belly with no extra effort
I can get out of fight or flight stress response much more quickly than before to make rational choices while under stress
I do almost no stretching now – once the right muscles fire, your body removes the tightness it created as a way of protecting itself from your dysfunctional movement patterns
What’s changed for my athletes?
I have tried the technique (mostly zone 1 – diaphragm/glute/psoas) on friends, family and a large portion of my collegiate track athletes – their reactions listed below. The first few are almost universal, while others are more specific; although I may have included a specific quote all reactions I list here were mentioned/seen in more than one athlete/client:
Improved strength – ability to contract zone 1 (psoas/glute) without tensing jaw, shin, or other distal areas to assist – meaning changed order of sequencing – more on that in part II
Ability to breath into belly more easily/more deeply
Changed posture – taller, reduced head forward/rounded shoulders position
“I feel lighter”/”like I lost 20 pounds”
“Effortless” feeling while walking/running/sprinting
“I didn’t notice much until halfway through my run – my legs didn’t feel heavy where they usually do”
Improved mechanics while running – greater push through hips, knees appear to pop up without extra effort
Relaxation – at rest, and seen while running (ability to relax jaw)
Improved ranges of motion – as drastic as hamstrings going from 45* to 90*, calves from 0* past 90* to 25* past 90* in one 10 minute session
Reduced/eliminated pain in back/hip
Reduced anxiety during strength test after treatment (less feeling of “things about to snap”)
And my favorite reaction, from an athlete that was clearly not sold after treatment, halfway through the toughest workout of the week: “I just feel so loose right now. I feel amazing.” Then he proceeded to crush the rest of the workout.
The morning of the Super Bowl was a little manic for me – our local Patriots were playing that night, and a blizzard was scheduled to hit before work the next morning. But both of those things were not really on my mind, as I was trying to reserve a spot at Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Level One seminar the following weekend, looking into the last-minute travel arrangements that would go along with it.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – the videos/articles I saw showed results, but since this system didn’t fit into my previous knowledge – touching points on the stomach to gain flexibility in the calf, for example – part of me was not sold. We worked in partners on both days, one partner for each day, to learn activation. My partners were novices in activation work, as I was – one had experience with manual therapy as an osteopath, the other was a high school track & field coach. Video from another course, but similar to what we saw (and experienced) while in Chicago.
**Part II of this article will explain some of the theory behind why this works**
Felt cleansed afterwards – endorphins out of this world, perhaps partially because some of the points were so painful – but I also felt that I had let go of things that my body and mind had held onto for years. Difficult to describe, but profound and worth mentioning, since I am not the only one who mentioned feeling that way.
I have studied Zen, tai chi, and chi gong for 7+ years…I thought I knew how to breathe into my belly. After that day I took breaths into my belly that I don’t think I had taken since high school, if not longer – activating the diaphragm and psoas made an impact on the quality and natural depth of my breathing.
I visited a friend that night who is living in the area – he remarked that I seemed “really excited” about my work as we talked – I had a ton of new energy, that’s for sure.
As a former athlete recovering from several injuries, a couple in particular combining to end my college athletic career early, I have always felt a feeling of the wheels about to fall off while sprinting. It’s not a happy feeling, it is my brain receiving signals from my body that something ain’t quite right. Upon returning to practice, I noticed myself running back and forth between coaching venues the way a kid runs – getting somewhere serves as an excuse for the joyous activity that is running. I was bouncing off of the walls with energy. That feeling of the wheels falling off being imminent was completely gone and I felt freer than I had in a long time. Later that week, there was a day in which my car’s battery died and I had to wait at the shop all day, missing both of my jobs for that day – despite the initial stress, I was able to return to a state of acceptance about missing work by focusing on my breathing and my posture. The next day, I had too much energy and a blizzard was threatening after I picked up the car – I didn’t have time for a workout at the gym, as the snow had already started to fall, I knew my sanity for the next two days holed up in my home was at stake. So I laced up my trainers and ran. A couple minutes in I noticed that I didn’t feel any tightness, so I turned it up for a stride. Before long, my “run” turned into sprints on pavement at about 85-90% intensity. In 30* weather, with the snow falling – without any tightness, without the usual anxiety accompanying maximal effort. It was awesome.
While the initial rush has worn off, I am in significantly less pain on a daily basis than I have been in at any point in the past 6 years, and my posture is effortlessly so much better. Perhaps just as important, my relationship with stress has changed – I am much more able to address situations calmly, with an open mind. By changing my posture, I can change the way that I feel and think for the better – perhaps because our posture influences the hormones our body releases. I really buy into Heel’s saying that “what’s in the body is in the mind, what’s in the mind is in the body.” Look in a mirror, close your eyes, then picture your most embarrassing moment in vivid detail. Open your eyes again. From demonstrations I’ve done with my athletes, 100% have adopted a forward neck, rounded shoulders, hip-out-of-alignment posture, sometimes even with crossed arms. How can you perform in that position?? Any trainer, coach or mom can tell you that a body looking like that cannot safely and effectively perform. On the flip side, the posture that kids adopt on their best days – a light, open posture – is exactly what Heel’s system builds. This is the position that trainers dream about their athletes getting into, and coaches picture when they picture their team succeeding. Don’t take my word for it, watch people on their best and worst days. Change the body and you change the mind, change the mind and you change the body.
To learn more about activation, and to try it yourself, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org,
check out this article (http://www.joekelly.me/pdfs/Muscle%20Activation.pdf) in Runner’s World UK,
or check out this list of US practitioners (http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/)
I have to thank Joel Smith, Tony Holler, Dr. Tom Nelson and Chris Korfist for providing enough information/excitement for me to fly out to Chicago to learn from Heel in person. Smith, at just-fly-sports.com for posted an interview with Chris Korfist in which he mentions Heel’s Activation work – causing me to google around and see Tony Holler’s articles on Activation, Nelson’s videos/website (activateanddominate.com) on the activation work he does with Nazareth’s football team, along with actual injury statistics and player/coach reactions.
You can read Smith’s articles here:
You can read Holler’s articles here: