Body movement is an unusual topic for a business podcast. Exercise, however, is an important part of feeling good and performing well.
Our guest on this episode is a functional movement coach by profession. Carl Reader shares how you can exercise smarter and enjoy optimum results with less effort.
In the podcast:
03:04 – The lead up to guesting on SFB
04:06 – A journey of awareness
06:57 – Training smarter, not harder
11:07 – How to change the mindset
12:49 – A matter of self-awareness?
14:32 – Squats and stairs done right
19:23 – What about standup desks?
21:45 – The pros and cons of planking
22:50 – Related experiences from surfing
25:09 – Motivation that lets you do what you love
27:08 – Are there any benefits from stretching?
31:31 – Stress, health and longevity
33:43 – The press-up versus the pushup
37:45 – How often is enough to be fit?
40:27 – More than weight loss and looking good
The matter of physical health is something that we all sooner or later have to deal with. James likes to call our bodies the hardware that contains our software, the brain. It’s part of the package that drives your business, which is why your business will often reflect your wellbeing.
“Your business will often be a reflection of your well being.”
Which leads us to this episode, 792. This is not the first episode we’ve had on the subject of health. We’ve gone deep with a few guests on DNA as related to our wellbeing, and on diet, sleep and exercise. On this occasion, our special guest is Carl Reader, a functional movement coach.
Carl reached out to James after hearing some of our health-related interviews, thinking that what he teaches could be a good fit for the SFB audience. He certainly hit James’s sweet spot with a couple of his suggested topics.
James has suffered from an onset of osteoarthritis, which he’s spoken of in a couple of episodes. He’s had experience in particular with neck pain, back pain, and joint pain. It’s with the help of knowledgeable SuperFastBusiness members that he’s gained his current mobility and minimal inflammation.
The lead up to guesting on SFB
So how did Carl get to where he is now? He started his career as an exercise physiologist. For 20 years he has been helping patients with pain in their back, knee and shoulders.
Early on, he realized that many of the exercises weren’t working for a number of people. This sent him on a journey of discovering the body’s optimal movements.
As part of his search, Carl’s been working a lot with functional movement. This is basically understanding what the body’s natural movements are that it uses in everyday life – pushing, pulling, squatting, etc. – and looking at the optimal way to do them.
Carl introduced those optimal techniques to his patients (and to his own body) with great results. He then reached out to communities and other people, saying, if we just move the body correctly, it almost automatically starts to fix itself.
It’s much like sleep, says Carl. If you get the sleep you need, the body will take it from there. Likewise, if you give the body its natural, intended movements, functional movements done correctly, you get tremendous results.
A journey of awareness
James thinks back to when he spent a lot of time in the office – first at his job, then building his online business. He spent a lot of time on the computer, had bad posture, and put a lot of load on his neck.
Added to that, he lived with a large amount of pressure and stress – from his job, from the cost of living, from the expectations of other people. It was all pushing down on his neck.
It was not a surprise to him when he developed osteophytes on his vertebrae. The big wake-up call, however, was when he could hardly even turn his neck. He’d pushed himself too far, physically, and had been consuming a lot of gluten, which his body apparently didn’t like.
James made a lot of changes to attain his current state of wellbeing. He considers himself old to have begun his journey of self-awareness, and hopes he and Carl can get to people a bit earlier to make a difference.
He’d like Carl to speak to the person who puts in a solid work week, mostly at the computer, who may have restrictions on space and the kind of exercise they can do. Also, what sorts of exercises shouldn’t listeners do? (This could be interesting).
Training smarter, not harder
Carl starts out by warning against fads, of which there are many out there. Too many people look at the fitness magazines and decide they want to look the same way, thinking it’s the ideal way of training.
Carl’s fitness philosophy is a lot like James’s book, Work Less Make More. It’s to train smarter, not harder. He addresses especially younger guys: it’s not about how hard you work. You’ve got to lose this principle of, you’ve got to punish your body to get results. It’s about keying in and dialing in the right exercises, going into your own pace each at different base levels.
High-intensity training has become quite a buzzword now. But for someone who’s sitting in the office nine to 10 hours a day, just going for a walk is high intensity. So you don’t need to lift heavy weights or go into extensive CrossFit sessions.
A scary thing, says Carl, is the current increase in cancers in younger people, and it’s because they’re running four or five marathons a month. They’re doing high-fitness training, and they’re pushing themselves too far.
“When you’re doing heavy exercise, it’s actually quite an inflammatory event.”
What everybody needs to remember, he says, is that heavy exercise is actually quite an inflammatory event, and it can trigger off a lot of things in the DNA that we’re still trying to understand at the moment. So it’s important to be wise about your exercise.
As he said to one CEO, You’re so stressed. And now you want to go do 150 bench presses. You don’t need to do that. Once again, it’s the psychology that we’ve got to punish ourselves. We’ve got to get out of that mindset.
The first step is getting some context as to what high intensity means to us. If you’re living a pretty sedentary life, a simple walk could be a great addition to your regime. Don’t beat yourself up about the high-intensity workout you “should” be doing.
How to change the mindset
Some people just don’t get the message easily. There are external motivations and internal programming that drive people. Some have been in hospital, maybe more than once, from the wrong exercise habits. Others might be overweight and unhealthy, a heart attack waiting to happen.
So how does Carl help with the mental shift? He usually starts with the question: “Is this working for you?” This often sparks a revelation.
“You’ve been doing the same thing over and over. And are you using weights? Are you improving your fitness?” “Yes, I am stronger.” “But how is your back?” “Well, I can’t move.” “So you’ve got a stronger core, but you can’t move because your back is so sore. Okay, well, how is that working for you?”
“You can still get great results doing functional and doing less.”
Very often the client thinks there’s no other way. This is where Carl helps. “There is another way. You can still get great results doing functional and doing less, you know, so you don’t need to be lifting heavy weights unless it’s to build strength gains, unless you want to be a bodybuilder, then that’s another story.”
A matter of self-awareness?
How aware are people, typically, of their own bodies and their movements? Where, for example, would someone listening to this podcast be likely to be?
Carl says it depends. If they have a background in sport, it always helps. But he’s found many people don’t have a good understanding or awareness of their movements.
One movement technique people generally do know, he says, is when picking up a heavy object: use your knees, keep your back straight. That technique was an approach to prevent people hurting their backs. But what’s happened, he says, is it’s filtered through the whole movement industry, and it’s caused the whole world to move dysfunctionally.
Squats and stairs done right
If you go to the gym now and are to do squats, 10 out of 10 times, a personal trainer or physio will say, “Don’t let your knees go past your toes and don’t overcorrect your back.” So we try to undo these bad habits.
But when it comes to moving, Carl thinks people aren’t aware that they’re moving incorrectly. A great example is climbing stairs. There’s a correct way to climb stairs. Most people put too much strain on their knees.
“There are a lot of people teaching people how to exercise, but not how to function correctly.”
And if you look at how you squat, he says, how much pressure you put through your back and your knees, it’s because no one or not many people are teaching you how to move. There are a lot of people teaching people how to exercise, but not how to function correctly.
Now James just has to know the proper way to climb stairs.
It’s important, says Carl, if you have a wide stair, a step or a tread. Because if you have a narrow tread, what happens is you just put the edge of your foot on the step and then the knee goes too far forward, and then you drive, you put pressure to the knee to lift your whole body right up. So essentially, your knee, instead of just being a hinge joint, becomes the power joint, which you don’t want.
You want to sense the non-aligned knees. The big takeaway is, don’t let your knee go too far forward when you climb stairs. And a lot of people will say, “Well, my knees are not in front of my toes.” But the knee must go halfway. So it mustn’t go too far forward, so that you’re pushing from your hip joint, which is your glutes, as opposed to your knee joint.
Would a simple thing, asks James, be to only take one step at a time instead of two?
That would help a lot, says Carl, in terms of pressure on the knee, but also on your lower back. because if you’ve got one side stronger, as when James carries a surfboard, you’re going to find you have lower back issues. This is especially when it’s 90 degrees. If the stairs are quite high then you’re going to struggle with your back.
Now squats, most people say, are good for lower back pain. And the reason, Carl says, is because when you squat correctly, you actually functionally unlock the lower back, and you distribute the weight to the hips and the joints, and you get all the powerful muscles that are there to actually support the lower back. Squats done incorrectly can be devastating on the back and on the knees.
Most people would be shocked to see the actual functional squat, says Carl. It looks nothing like what’s taught in gym. That’s why we struggle so much.
What makes Carl’s technique right and other people wrong? Because of his background working with back pain and also the clinical side, he’s seen guys moving the knees back trying to stop over-arching in the back, stop compensating. So as a whole industry, they try to get back to what are the body’s optimal techniques.
Carl feels like he’s just been on that journey at a much younger age trying to discover that. So it’s more of his observations. He can’t scientifically go and prove that that is the technique. But as he’s seen people move and as they apply those techniques, it’s going in that direction.
What about standup desks?
What’s Carl’s take on standup desks?
He thinks it’s good to take a break from sitting. For people with back pain, however, standing for a long time can be quite painful. Standing for three hours, even with a perfect posture, is not good for you. The key is that people have got to move. You can’t stand perfectly for five hours.
And should you have a mat underneath?
Carl would rather stand barefoot on the ground, but sure, you can have a mat. The idea, really, is to break the sitting posture.
James has given away his standup desk. His alternative is spending less time at the computer, an average of five to six hours a week at a desk. This, he says, is less than most of his clients spend in a day, or even half a day, maybe a third for the real workaholics, who hopefully have listened to Episode 791 and have broken the habit.
The pros and cons of planking
A very common exercise these days is the plank. It will definitely strengthen your core, says Carl, but it’s not functional. Just ask yourself, when would you ever do the plank? Probably never, unless you’re at the gym.
Carl would replace it with what he calls the upright plank. So it would be as if you took someone in a plank position and made them stand up. You’d be in a position as if you were holding a sign. That would be a functional position as opposed to lying on your elbows.
Related experiences from surfing
James sometimes does lie down on his surfboard on his elbows, just to break it up a bit, he says. But he’s usually sort of arching his neck or unlocking his vertebrae in the whitewater. Like a full-body random massage.
What Carl likes about that part of surfing is that you actually have to relax underwater. It’s just as beginner surfers are advised – you’re not going to beat the ocean, so just let go.
In a while, says James, the waves will let you go, and you can float to the surface. Whereas if you panic, you burn more oxygen, and it’s stressful. You could get cramps, which is a bad thing to happen when you’re out in the water.
Motivation that lets you do what you love
Carl ties that to functional exercise in that, if you’re 30 or upwards and want the surfer lifestyle, you’ll want the mobility. Functional exercise can help. The motivation, the external motivation of doing a few exercises a day or every second day, can actually help you to do the things you love.
James relates, having a young child and wanting to enjoy things with her for the next 20 years. He plays basketball, does tennis, walks, surfs every day. His pulse has lowered, he can move much better, and he’s got good overall strength. Now, he wants to progress his surfing, to be grabbing rail and tucking into barrels and the like.
Are there any benefits from stretching?
One thing Carl wants to just touch on is that we have to stop seeing muscle as a piece of plastic that you stretch. The idea is that if you have a tight muscle, you have to stretch it and stretch it and hold it. And there’s a lot of controversy over how long you should all stretch and when you should be stretching.
“What makes you tense makes you tight.”
But it’s actually the mind, the brain that governs the length of muscles. What makes you tense makes you tight, whether it’s anger, work, being stuck in traffic, or, as James puts in, a bad surf.
Furthermore, says Carl, when you’re moving correctly, your muscles work in highly coordinated sequences. Poor movement affects the sequencing of the muscles working together and keeps you tight. When you move functionally, correctly, it reorders the muscle sequences, and then you get automatic flexibility.
Carl has rapidly improved his own mobility by never doing any stretches. You should stretch, he says, if you’ve got a long session, say you’ve got to walk or surf for five hours. Then, you can stretch to try and loosen a bit. But to stretch to improve posture and balance muscle imbalances, that’s a long way to go.
The fitness industry, jokes Carl, is way ahead in robotics. A lot of the movements in the fitness industry are robotic – you’ll see the old school sort of stretches: look down, head to the side, swivel to the left and right.
“When you look at functional movements, you actually want to train your whole body.”
When you look at functional movements, you actually want to train your whole body. You want to include all those movements. You want to look down and include the whole spine, not just the neck. In the medical industry, you focus on where the problem is, and you target that specific area. When it comes to movement, you don’t want to do that.
You want to move your whole body, not just isolate the neck or chin and look down; that can put a lot of strain on the neck, ironically.
Stress, health and longevity
A lot of wellbeing is mind-body. You can have the best posture, but if you’re under a lot of stress, mentally or emotionally, it means nothing.
With the movements, says Carl, it’s a great way to detox. And with anything – walking, exercising, etc. – sometimes less is more. If you are under stress and you aren’t enjoying your exercise, if you’re working hard, obviously, you’re going to stop coming back. The solution is just removing stuff, getting more clarity, removing mess.
It’s been ingrained in our minds that we have to put on full throttle all the time. The fact is, you absolutely don’t have to do more, or work harder, or work more hours.
You don’t have to lift heavier weights or lift them more often to be a better athlete. One of the biggest problems, James has heard, is overtraining, and Carl concurs. It’s amazing, he says, just how much you can get from doing so little.
The press-up versus the pushup
Another exercise Carl recommends is the press-up. It’s the modified version of a pushup. A prime example would be surfing. When you’re on a surfboard, you don’t do a pushup. You don’t look at the board and go up and down, up and down. You arch back slightly and you push back on to your knees, or you jump. So the pushup is a very functional exercise, but it’s not taught correctly, in Carl’s opinion.
The pushup is actually going to look like a press-up on a surfboard, where you’re going back onto your knees or back, and that actually strengthens all your pecs, or its core and your upper body muscles, functionally as opposed to doing pushups.
And pushups is another part of common exercise many people do, if they think they might exercise. So your upright plank and your press-ups combined with squats done correctly can provide tremendous benefits and have a lot of pain-relieving effects as well.
How often is enough to be fit?
How intensive is the exercise agenda that Carl recommends?
It’s difficult, he says, to be prescriptive, because it’s a bell curve. But the idea would be to try to do at least twice a week, and it will probably take five to 10 minutes. It’s not a lot, it’s not intense. You can use your body weight; if you have excess weights at home, you can use that to better effect for what you need. But for the average person, just getting started is the key part.
Part of the coaching Carl does is just helping people to get started, but the key thing is to do the exercises correctly. Invest in the time with a trainer, or with someone like Carl, to learn to do them correctly. Because it’s good that you’re doing the exercises, but if you do them incorrectly, with the wrong form, that can often accelerate other problems like back and knee problems, and then you’re on the wrong track.
If we do things right, we can actually move less and be fitter or healthier. What outcome are we getting by doing the right activities less often than doing the wrong activities more often?
There’s wear and tear, says Carl. And obviously, you have to have a constraint, some sort of resistance. What’s important is knowing where you’re at and getting your baseline and then working from there. Avoid comparing with the guy on the gym magazine, or punishing your body.
Cardiovascular, he says, is needed for people of any age. It’s important you go for walks or a light run, or surfing, swimming. It’s not, however, to be confused with strengthening. We do need to add some sort of strength component. Again, it doesn’t have to be heavy, and it doesn’t have to be long.
More than weight loss and looking good
A final takeaway, from the field of physiology. Skeletal muscle was previously seen as just to provide movement. But now, science has shown that the skeletal muscle actually becomes like an endocrine organ. Every time you contract your muscles, you’re releasing what’s called myokines, which are chemical signals that regulate inflammation in the body.
So exercise is not just about losing weight. When you do these exercises, you actually are releasing hormones into your body that are going to provide tremendous health benefits. So it’s not just weight loss or looking good.
If you like what Carl has talked about and would like to know more, you can find him at CarlReaderCoaching.com
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