Until recently, I thought I kind of had it down, when it came to exercise. I varied my routine, I made sure to move my body everyday, I thought I was on the right track. It’s that ‘I work out a lot, I know what’s best for my body’ attitude. I also knew that I had big problems, lots of pain, and that it wasn’t going away, regardless of everything I’d tried. Over the years, I’ve had to give up running for stints at a time due to knee pain from what I’d been told was extra cartilage under my kneecap (cue knee surgery in both knees 10 years ago.) When the pain didn’t go away, I was told I had IT band syndrome (tried physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.) Different day, same problems, different treatments, same frustration!
Well, thank goodness I stopped into Integrated Exercise Therapy (IET, Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton) a couple of weeks ago, because, I learned more about my own body in an hour than I have in a decade, maybe two. I had no idea what to expect, but I was desperate for answers, and relief! Andrew Reilly, owner of IET, happened to have a few free minutes to help. We skipped the small talk and I instantly found myself up, down, and all around. Andrew clearly knows his stuff, he was on autopilot, assigning me to simple maneuvers, like a basic squat, then commenting at how I failed pretty much every one, just as he’d suspected. Ouch, good thing I didn’t take it personally!
First, Andrew explained that my breathing’s all wrong. Breathing? In and out? What could I possibly be doing so wrong? A lot. I didn’t title this article “back to basics” for nothin’! Treatment started with the very first action I learned as a baby. Andrew taught me how to breathe correctly, deep inhales, expanding the belly and diaphragm both far and wide. Our culture is taught to “suck it in,” pull the belly in while we inhale, but that makes no sense. If we’re taking air into our bodies, we’d clearly expand to make room for it. Since IET, I now practice my breathing every morning, taking ten deep breaths, ensuring that I fill my diaphragm and stomach and exhale fully.
After I’d learned how to breathe, (a practice that requires daily focus and attention, especially when exercising) we moved on to the first year of my life: rolling over and crawling. Failed again. Here’s where the basis of corrective exercise comes in. If we can’t even roll over or crawl, we cannot advance to other exercises, at least not efficiently. Back to basics. I’d have to re-teach my body, and cement in my brain how to do these correctly before even thinking about intense exercise; you don’t walk before you crawl, you don’t kick-box, cross-train, or fun five miles either!
So, where does the magic happen? Not in the muscles, but in the brain. By performing simple actions, first releasing the tight spot, and then activating the correct movements, time after time after time, until it becomes automatic. Each new movement has to be right, so the work is done in small increments, about 8-10 reps before the muscles fail and retract back to old habits. We remember how to move our body by storing memory in our cerebellum. If we learn wrong, or an injury throws us off, we start compensating for the lack of correct movements. Our brain learns to depend on the compensation and then stores that incorrect movement. For me, when I would do squats or run, or even daily walking, my calves, IT bands, and TFLs were compensating for my glutes. When smaller muscles compensate for the largest muscle in the body, (glutes) those muscles are bound to be overused, hence the discomfort. Unbenounced to me, my calves were insanely tight. When Andrew stuck his thumb in there to loosen the muscles, I had tears in my eyes from the pain. Don’t worry, I forgave him (after the session was done.)
Andrew sent me ‘homework’ in the form of three short videos showing how to roll my muscles with a foam roller and lacrosse ball, followed with a few exercises to fire up the glutes. The goal of IET, whether the client is a professional athlete or a 90 year-old person is to re-learn the basics, perfect the breathing and alignment, and begin to go about daily tasks correctly. This can be done in a matter of one or two sessions because the real work is done at home, over and over.
I went back to IET for a follow-up and saw Molly, who had experienced similar problems and also had to retrain her glutes, by going back to the basics, in order to improve her running. Molly walked me through exercise after exercise to use and strengthen my glutes and my entire core. Since the core is the body’s powerhouse, we move most efficiently when we have a strong core to do the work. From leg lifts to inner and outer thigh-strengtheners, to plank, and basic crawling, the focus is on precision. There’s no faking it at IET, each movement must be done correctly to efficiently retrain the brain.
Molly explained that most people who walk into IET complain of low back pain, most likely due to sitting at a desk day after day. Human nature teaches us how to move from day one, but life’s daily obligations sometimes deter us from efficient movement. IET gets us back to basics. It’s a process, it takes dedication and patience, but it’s brilliant, simple, and just makes sense. And, it works.
One Healthy Breakdown: I went back to square one with IET. I learned A TON about how our bodies operate, and I’m ready to put it into action. Ready, glutes?!