What if the principles we have been taught do not honour the principles of the body – and even create conflict within it?
A new training client comes to you with pain and dysfunction that they have had for a long time. Desperate to find an answer, they’ve been to many therapists and trainers before with limited or no success. They are frustrated and have resigned themselves to living in their state of discomfort. They are tough to work with because they hurt when they move, and fear doing more damage. As such, your efforts with them achieve limited results.
This is a story I hear continually, all over the world. As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Sound familiar?
We have learnt to have incredibly low and limited expectations of what we and our clients can achieve, both in movement and function, and in overcoming pain and dysfunction. The body is such an amazing thing, yet the results we expect are so limited. Somehow we believe the constant struggle and fight with our body is ‘just the way it is’.
But what if the principles we have been taught do not honour the principles of the body? In fact, a lot of them violate these principles and create a conflicted state in the body. So, no matter how good we get at them, no matter how many different tools we have, we are still using them the wrong way for the body and what it needs.
It may sound like I’m up for a fight, but all I really want to do is share a different way of looking at the body in order to give it what it needs to perform and overcome pain and dysfunction.
The ideas I share are under a system called Be Activated, which focuses on the priorities of the body. Put simply, the body will sacrifice anything else in order to breathe and move – functions that constitute our drive to survive.
Be Activated is the science and art of getting your client’s body to work the way it is meant to, and in doing so allowing it to break free of pain and dysfunction. From here it can move into higher states of performance on all levels. For each client what this means will be different. Performance to an 80-year-old woman is to be able to safely and confidently get out of a chair and walk around. For an athlete, it is the pursuit of athletic excellence, whatever their level may be.
We also talk a lot about building the body’s resilience to stress and environmental pressures. It’s all fine if you are strong and powerful today, but add a little stress and pressure and your body breaks down, reducing your levels of performance and increasing your risk of injury. We see this in the gym, we see this on the sports field.
In Be Activated we use measurables in everything we do, providing us with a constant feedback loop. We have a before, an intervention and an after. When we do the right thing the body responds immediately, so we know if what we are doing is successful or not. This honours another principle of the body: it only knows where it is at right now because of where it just was, so if we keep reflecting back, the neural and physiological system has a chance to recognise its patterns and learn new ones.
Not only can we overcome patterns of pain and limitation in our clients, but we can decrease their risk of injury, improve their quality of life, and enable their body to go from strength to strength.
The Be Activated system begins with a simple ‘123’ approach. A body has two priorities for survival, to breathe and to move: without both we will die. All movement begins with the diaphragm, psoas, and glutes working in unison (Zone 1). It will find ways to meet its priorities and will sacrifice anything else in order to do this. Imagine looking at someone’s body and realising that their calf, which limits them in movement patterns, is actually ‘cheating’ by functioning as their butt! No matter how you train the client, their body will just get better and better at this compensatory cheat. But the wonderful things about cheats is they always get found out at some point. This will be when the calf is so tired and exhausted because it (in this case) is doing the job of the glute and the hamstring, while also doing a poor version of its own job. To do this it has shortened and tightened and works upside down. In Be Activated, we call this a 333 Leg. When it breaks down it could result in cramping calves, achilles tears and pain, ankle injuries and plantar fasciitis.
When we cheat we lose strength, power, flexibility and endurance, leaving our bodies less resilient, and at risk of poor performance, pain and dysfunction, both in the way we move and the way we behave.
With high stress and environmental pressures, compensations are inevitable nowadays – for everyone. To reverse this process you must give the body what it really needs in order to function correctly. Be Activated is, in a sense, the rebooting of the body to return it to its original natural physiology.
Think of the perfect body state as a ‘123’ state, in which the body expands through movement. Cheat patterns create a collapsing, imploded state in which the body collapses in on itself and destroys itself. We code it all: 223, 233, 333 leg and 333 arm… and ‘0’, which is a state of overwhelm in which the body cannot effectively find a way to meet its priorities (flight or fight), and instead freezes. In an imploded state, the body doesn’t have the space or structure it needs to move, and so creates poor movement patterns and limitations.
With the 123 system of assessment we are able to establish why the body is doing what it is doing, by understanding which structures are driving the body’s function. When you understand the why, the how is easy!
Now we can match the stories our clients bring, with their physiological measures. Making sure that the signs (that which we measure and see) match the symptoms (the story they tell). From this foundation we can start working to facilitate change. The actual activation techniques, applied in the right way, can seem impossible, magical and weird. The results can be immediate and dramatic. I’ve been called a white witch, a magician performing voodoo; but I remind everyone very quickly that we can all do this. My goal is to share what I’ve learnt.
What does this mean? We can all help our clients create immediate, measurable changes that make them feel and function better right now. As I’ve said, we measure everything, so we know we are being effective. But more important than what we measure is how our client feels. Just because it’s exciting that their hamstring released and went 50 degrees further, if they don’t feel better, it has no value.
I teach this process to doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, trainers, coaches… just about anybody with a willingness to learn. You can learn this in two days. Your application will always be tailored to your scope of practice, whether you use it for hands-on therapy and rehabilitation, training movement, or coaching. The principles and techniques will always apply and be relevant.
In short, Be Activated is a results-driven system that works with the body’s priorities to achieve immediate, measurable results. Some of the techniques may sound crazy, until you experience them: then they make perfect sense. We use hamstring flexibility as a measure of our effectiveness in activating the diaphragm, and the back of the neck to fire the glutes. By adopting this sytem, you could too.
Douglas Heel has a background in physiotherapy and kinesiology. The developer of the pioneering Be Activated system for achieving both immediate and long-term results, he uses the approach in his own practice with elite sportspeople and teams, and also trains fitness and health professionals globally in how to use the method. douglasheel.com