Musings & Things That Make You Go, “Hmm…” – 1/21/17

For what it is worth, whenever I see the crowd do one thing, I will often opt to go and do the opposite. Barring running towards danger, this is often how I operate, just reverse engineering things.

  • Do you reflect on your thoughts? Because they become actions eventually.
  • Yes, there is no time like the present, and perfect is the enemy of great.
  • I understand that intellectually, but what happens when you need to refine your thought process in order to further improve your practice?
  • Phones off, spend time with loved ones, then aggressively work when doing whatever it is you need to do.


Thus my long time away from publishing anything of significance.

With that said, here are several points on several topics that keep on re-entering my head over and over again. Perhaps I will make these individual blog posts and more fleshed out if necessary.

Selling Your Thoughts

Pitching sales to parents over and over is one of the most interesting things that will probably continue to interest me for quite some time. I can always see their justification, and when I ask what is it they want from training for their son/daughter, they respond with an answer that they derived from another source. This source is of course never really their own thoughts, because well, it is impossible for them to identify these things unless they too are well versed in exercise physiology and anatomy.

The keys here are to identify how to best serve their son/daughter with what they truly need physiologically, along with meeting the demands of what the parents want.

The things you want for little Johnny will be a little different in practice than what you have seen on YouTube or even Instagram now.


This is good stuff on Instagram.

Assessing for Function and Performance

When performing an assessment with the context of identifying key biomechanical positions, it is imperative to understand how an individual arrived at said results of the assessment. Do they have any gaps or missing key performance indicators (KPIs)? If yes, is it due to of chronic activity? Overuse symptoms? Or was it from a contact sport or injury? If no, what is the road they need to take to improve fitness qualities as fast as possible?

One day I asked Mike Cantrell during a lunch break at a Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) course, “What is the origin of dysfunction? How can we tell what is really happening?” Considering the amount of time we’ve spent together talking about anatomy and being immersed somewhat in-depth on these topics, he gave me an answer in true Jedi like fashion, “That is the question we are all trying to answer.”

What I’m likening this question to is “What caused you (the individual, the movement) to present in such a fashion?”

  1. Was it contact with an external force?
  2. Were your connective tissues not strong enough to hold the forces and torques you put your body through internally?
  3. Was it degradation of tissue quality, and then eventually a scenario where the “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred?
  4. What is your equipment selection like?
  5. What shoes are you constantly wearing when doing said activity?
  6. Do you sleep well?
  7. What is your psyche when performing said activity?
  8. Are you trying to copy someone or are you trying to find your own way? (I’ve gotten some interesting answers from this one, especially with respect to the several postural and gait methods available online.)
  9. Are you sick, or were you sick recently (general inflammation of joints can cause false positives in a movement screen)?
  10. Is there anything else not related to the main reason you are here (to develop fitness qualities, to transition from rehab to fitness, to improve aesthetics, etc.) that would stop you from exercising that you feel I should know about?
  11. Are you presenting the way you present because of a medical reason?

These are all variations of questions I’ve asked, or thoughts in my head, that have allowed me to see deeper into the results of just a black or white movement assessment.

After hopefully determining the root cause, you can begin to fill in the gaps.

Further, the results of the assessments are not all they’re cracked up to be.

After the assessment, you need to actually do something about it. Do you begin peeling back the layers of the onion? Do you just begin with their strengths and forget their weaknesses in the moment? Each question has their own set of pros and cons – it is up to you to decide, kind of like those old Goosebump novels.

Fitness Qualities in Youth Athletes

When looking to improve general fitness qualities of a youth athlete, barring joint issues or contact injuries, it is really quite simple from a movement perspective. I usually follow a Dan John-esque movement library of:

  1. Push
  2. Pull
  3. Squat
  4. Hinge
  5. Single Leg Stuff
  6. Core and Resisting Motion at the Core
  7. Locomotion


Locomoting at its finest

Anything outside the scope of these may translate into more of a special exercise, ie looking to hit benchmarks in ranges of motion, improving eccentric strength of the rotator cuff, and/or guiding the youth athlete along the continuum of safe specific adaptations to an imposed demand on not only fitness qualities, but also with respect to Wolff’s Law.

If your child is going to be a Chinese gymnast or Olympic weightlifter, don’t worry – you can still practice those special movements, while still getting brutally strong by following these simple movements with the appropriate weight selections.

When they get bored of these movements do these things, depending on the age:

  1. Challenge them. What child does not like to be gently encouraged to give a 1% more effort?
  2. Make it a game. I’ve played Red Light, Green Light with single leg hops and squats, all after performing these big movements over and over, and after performing med ball circuits. It isn’t that these kids are getting bored, it is you the coach that is boring.
  3. Entice them. There are certainly good kids and bad kids, and curbing bad behavior is difficult especially when there are 10+ kids in a group. But tell them you will attempt to do a dance move (insert the robot, the worm, or if you can really dance, then do so) if they pay attention and do a good job for the next 10-15 minutes. Then, follow through. Word is bond. Again, it isn’t that the kids are getting bored, you are boring.

Motor learning can occur in a much more emotionally driven environment, much more than some random trainer monotonously counting repetitions while your kid is struggling with the concept of a lunge or push-up. Just go and play a game while having certain constraints, and you will achieve both fitness qualities plus laughter.

Further, if these children are going to be in your program for (x) amount of years, begin grooming them on weight room etiquette, and begin to describe what it is like in the higher levels, so they can begin to form an idea in their brains on what they need to do to continue improving, or if they even want to be there in the first place.

Being Authentic

Copying what others do is not wrong. There isn’t really a right. But when you find out what makes you tick, and how you view the world, that is how you can genuinely walk and influence others more easily in a positive light. There is authenticity in your thoughts, words, and it reflects in actions that can’t be copied anywhere else.

But first you need to find out how you view the world and what makes you tick. After you do this, communicate this with those you are serving so that expectations are met.

Gaining Trust

Gaining trust is something that will always be challenged. If you lose someone’s trust, the hoops you have to jump through in order to re-gain their trust are several and sometimes, complex. See above paragraph on how to walk with authenticity, and perhaps, also with integrity.

Listen more.

This is my “mantra” or my theme for this year. 2 ears, 1 mouth and all. Or just be an active listener. Help people to be more detailed with their thoughts, so ask better questions.

Pieces to the Puzzle

I find it so so interesting that some body parts in this industry to be emphasized more than others, when in fact one body part should not be any more important than another.

One analogy I use to explain this very simply is, “ The knee bone connects to the – thigh bone. The thigh bone connects to the – hip bone.” This is a common nursery rhyme that hopefully many have been exposed to, but despite its excessive simplicity, I use it to drive a point home.

If your body cannot absorb force authentically from the ground up, what occurs at the great toe and pinky toe, to the lateral and medial arches, to the ankle joint, to the tib-fib joint, to the patella, to the femur, all the way to the acetabulum will be affected.

Sprinting - Cause of Lack of Ankle Dorsiflexion
Assuming these are the joint’s end range of motion

If you don’t think your hip explosiveness out of the bottom position of a 2 point sprint will be affected by your abilities to achieve great toe extension, go and kick a dumbbell on the ground as hard as you can with your great toe leading the way, and tell me how your hip is still not affected.

As such, all of these items must at the very least be considered when identifying “energy leaks” as I believe Dr. Stu McGill called it.

With this in mind, I find it more and more interesting how the thoracic diaphragm is taking up so much press, but the pelvic floor (which can be referred to also as the pelvic diaphragm) is not identified as an issue unless you are a woman.

Are we all not humans? Do we all not have pelvises (a left and a right one, at that)?

Hip Pelvis

Urinary incontinence, while certainly outside the scope of the fitness industry, does not have to affect only women – it can also affect men. And yes, there are things you can do to help improve or reduce these situations from becoming problematic.

I certainly remember peeing my pants in the 2nd grade, but I don’t recall anyone calmly coming over and telling me I need to improve my pelvic floor muscles in order to avoid embarrassment again. I was just shamed for a lack of control.

And while you’re at it – reducing pelvic floor issues can theoretically improve rate of force production. Say what? Yes – because if there are any energy leaks (and hopefully not literal leaks), then there will be a loss of kinetic energy and inability to absorb force as well (which is important for deceleration).

What Courses Should I Take?

When any young trainer/coach asks me what course should they take, I tell them I can’t answer that for you because I don’t know you.

Would I recommend taking a Calculus I course if you weren’t even introduced to basic Algebra?

Another analogy I use is what occurred in college and swimming classes for me.

In college, I took an Introduction to Swimming class. It was easy, and the instructor made learning the different swimming strokes very fun. So much so, that I decided to take a Swimming II class the very next semester, completely bypassing Swimming I. Probably the worst move to make, because we barely covered the requisite endurance that is necessary found in Swimming I, along with having a whole winter break to not practice this newly acquired skillset that I had. All of these items made Swimming II extremely difficult for me – walking into a class with all former swimmers just looking to take an easy class for the A to boost their GPA, I was the only non-swimmer to take Swimming II. We covered a full 1.5miles first day into class, and more mileage as each class continued.

I got an A, but still, it was taxing physically, and to use a contemporary phrase, the cost of doing business was my exhaustion in the beginning of that semester.

So with all that said, what courses you take should be dictated by your own weaknesses, strengths, and personal desires as well. It’s your money, you can do whatever you want with it (barring hurting people, and you don’t get to say that because Miguel said to do whatever you want, that you did hurt someone).

Knowledge Gains? Or Just Being Old?

On that note, there are tons of different entry points into knowledge. Knowledge just has the notion of being this “thing” that is there. It does not poke out like a bright shiny piece of metal on the ground, nor is it like fireworks that are representative of what people in the industry call the “A-Ha! Moments” or “knowledge gains” that everyone is a fan of saying and using. What is useful to some is merely in one ear and out the other for others – there needs to be an appropriate setting, messenger, and obviously tailored message itself in order to properly learn whatever it is you are trying to learn.

To quote my friend Joe Gonzalez, who he also quoted I believe from a martial arts instructor,

“Knowledge is like dust – you stick around long enough and it simply accumulates.”

In reality, my interpretation of acquiring knowledge is you not only have to stick around, which implies the constant endurance necessary for said accumulation of knowledge, but you also have to have the mindset ready for acquisition of knowledge.

If you go to a course wanting to impress anyone and everyone with your knowledge, chances are you won’t be able to absorb any useful information because you are too busy excreting what is in your brain, that you can’t absorb anything. To paraphrase the story of the Zen master to his future pupil, you have to empty your cup before you can fill it back up.

Even more interestingly, after emptying your cup is the actual act of seeing small messages within what is often nonchalantly said, and seemingly not important information. Within these weekend courses, many instructors often have to provide a standard set forth by their respective organization, but are asked questions outside of the scope of the itinerary of the day. This is when they may interject their own clinical opinions, or in the trenches information. This is where the gold lies, as this is a combination of their own experiences plus how they view the very system they are teaching you. Personalized stories allow others to connect more easily, and as such, will create better stickiness for these pieces of knowledge to be kept and understood.

So, to answer your question on, “What do I think of that course?” My answer is, “Yes.”

Now go do it.

The Assessment Experiments: Installment 3 – Squats and Saline Solution

The below is approximately a 2700 word article on experiments, structures in your skull, and how to practically apply all this new information. The first portion is the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” version!


Note: The below video shows me performing a nasal saline solution that requires pressurized solution into, well, my nose. I show it on the video, so if you are squeamish, turn your head away around the 1:35 minute mark!


1. What is a nasal saline solution?

Nasal saline solution has been a home remedy for aiding in the process of cleansing the nasal airways. This method is often utilized in conjunction with allergies, and just being stuffy in general.

2. What was the hypothesis?

After consulting with others, and doing my own research, I hypothesized that performing a nasal saline rinse would improve movement quality via inhibition of specific movement pathways, regardless of previous inputs/sympathetic drivers (in this case, performing a one repetition max back squat).

The act of performing a true maximal repetition back squat will aim to recruit an extension based strategy – one that calls upon various musculature that can be aptly described through “Janda’s Upper and Lower Cross syndromes.”


3. What occurred?

Movement capacity of varying screens, assessments, and tests were checked before squatting, after squatting, and post-nasal saline solution rinsing. I also recorded everything in one take!

4. What improved or decreased in measures?

Fitness qualities of strength and power seem to not be affected directly (speed and endurance were not measured) because, well I did this video twice – so strength was not negatively affected. This video was the 2nd filming because my phone did not have enough space to record the whole thing – so filming stopped initially on the first ride through.

Biomechanical measurements of various philosophies seem to be affected, which speaks about movement quality and motoric control of specific muscle groups – both before squatting, after squatting, and post-nasal saline solution application.

For a specific example…

Nasal Saline Solution Experiment

Before Squatting…
Top Left: Left GH IR = 42°, Pre-Squat
Top Right: Right GH IR = 36°, Pre-Squat

… Glenohumeral (GH) internal rotation (and shoulder mobility) was assessed to identify whether or not shoulder internal rotators were activated (prior to squatting).

(My total GH range of motion is 160°+, so if GH IR is approximately 40°… external rotators are about 120°!)

After Squatting…
Mid-Left: Left GH IR = 35°, Post-Squat
Mid-Right: Right GH IR = 34°, Post-Squat

… These measurements were reduced – that is the glenohumeral internal rotators were not activated, and the measurements were less than before squatting.

Instead, the (GH) external rotators had to likewise be activated, representative of an extension based strategy needed when you are holding the barbell in the back squat position (especially in a low bar position).

Post-Nasal Saline Solution
Bottom Left: Left GH IR = 69°, Post-Nasal Saline Solution
Bottom Right: Right GH IR = 63°, Post-Nasal Saline Solution

The measurements of the upper body improved dramatically – the GH internal rotators were facilitated (activated), and inhibition of the extension based strategy was observed.

It is likely that airways were opened via nasal saline solution, and the nasal pathways allowed more air to flow through my lungs, which allowed me to inhibit specific musculature, along with other patterns associated with an extension based posture.

It can be observed that GH internal rotation (bilaterally) improved significantly with no other intervention other than the nasal saline solution. Likewise, other movement patterns improved significantly as well, both officially on camera, and off camera (which had

5. What is the application to sports?

Respecting the structures found within the skull are important and should not be underrated. By influencing something as simple and local as the nasal airway, you can have a cascade of effects that seem to reach out into other systems on a global level, outside of just the muscular and skeletal system.


Influencing the cardiovascular system and central nervous system in a positive manner can hopefully influence recovery strategies for athletes who are looking to maximize what they have at their disposal.

6. What is the application in day to day living?

The general population (and myself) can often be found increasing stimulation to the sympathetic nervous system in order to improve capacities for everyday living. By learning to turn down the knob on the sympathetic nervous system and instead turn up the parasympathetic nervous system, hopefully more efficient rest and recovery can be acquired in order to improve quality of life. This is merely another attempt at performing the above.


What a Time to Be Alive: The Assessment Era

When it comes to understanding assessments, the whole process of understanding joint position is merely one item that is to be understood. The bigger, overarching, yet very simple question of “Why are you even assessing?” must be asked to achieve true understanding of the assessment process.

Sometimes, assessments are not necessary.

If you have upwards to 100s of individuals to coach on a day to day basis, you are a one man show, and you cannot concisely view detailed movement patterns from person to person, it will be very difficult to gather important information.

If you are attempting to improve fitness levels of strength, power, speed, and endurance, perhaps an individualized biomechanical assessment may not be necessary for hundreds of individuals at one time. Keep these thoughts in mind before divulging the rest of this mini-essay.

Logistics aside, I would like to dive deeper into a topic that I believe very strongly about, which is manipulating inhibitory methods in order to produce maximal activation within a movement capacity. Long story very short – I want to inhibit a pattern very quickly, in order to ramp up and accelerate just as fast!

The ideas of regional interdependence, along with a salient stimulus, both build upon the idea that the body self-regulates on a much more complex medium than just bones articulating here, and muscles acting on the bones.

There are nerves that innervate muscles, that are weaving in and out of fascial lines, that arrive from the peripheral nervous system, that originate from the central nervous system!

Peripheral Nerves

The essential idea that I’d like to promote is that the act of lifting weights in a progressive manner is aiming to shift homeostasis towards a state of being that can handle progressively heavier loads, more force absorption (and thus, possibly more force production as well), on top of improving ability to mobilize and utilize energy stores found within our bodies!

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Now, there are multiple factors that lead to increased and specific adaptations to an imposed demand, such as lifting heavier weights and getting faster:

  • Just enough of a stressor, and you can meet those demands.
  • Not enough of a stressor, and you won’t improve because your body simply isn’t stimulated to grow.
    • Think of doing 3 sets of 10 reps for literally ever – your body will get used to doing only those sets and reps.
  • Too much of a stressor, and your body will be overstimulated and will not have enough ability to recover from the given demands.

However, there are also other ways to inhibit these overstimulated demands through the manipulation of specific reflexes and movement pathways.

Many times, the fitness industry seeks these methods out by foam rolling, stretching, and performing self-myofascial release type of methods (lacrosse ball work, massage/manual therapy, etc.) in order to inhibit a pattern or muscle group. That is fine, but if it doesn’t work, or if you have to keep on doing it in order to achieve the same effect – then what?

Spock - Logic

Essentially, there is more than one way to provide an inhibitory response. Seek out multiple methods, and perhaps you can improve your ability to recover.

Case Study – Me, Squats, and Nasal Saline Solution

So, lifting weights is a sort of “perceived threat” to the body. Not in the sense of this is going to be painful, but rather there is a stimulus (adaptations to lifting weights), and there is an adaptation (body improving bone mass density, cross sectional area of muscles, etc.).

However, if you were to keep on lifting weights without the appropriate amount of rest/recovery, what happens? Or what happens if you lift a weight that is too much load for you to handle?

I’d venture a guess and say that this is a lot of stress to the body, and you may lose stability of a specific system. Now, to use the neuromuscular movement patterns we are all hopefully familiar with, these patterns may be shifted negatively – all because of a lack of ability to adapt!

More specifically, what occurs when you attempt to “fix” your movement patterns, but there is no ability for you to get into that range of motion?

Well, then we can assume a few things:

  • There may be a bony adaptation that is limiting you.
  • You don’t know how to perform a squat (or insert pattern) (either due to lack of prior knowledge, or perceived neurological threat).
  • Soft tissue structures are limiting you from achieving that range of motion (often due to neurological threat, and/or increases from localized stress)

Well, just like how there can be harder structures within the hip and head of the femur, there are also ideas of interconnectedness within the skull.

Skull - Structures
Photo Credit:

There are structures involving the bite, nasal cavities, orbital structures, and obviously the brain as well, that can allow better or worse movement to occur, at least, from an exercise point of view.

Zac Cupples elaborates a lot more here on why this particular inhibitory method works. Essentially, it comes down to understanding that if you cannot inhale through a specific nostril, your ability to inhale/exhale will be altered throughout your lungs.

If you cannot inhale through your lungs, perhaps you may be overinflated with attempts at constant inhalation – inhibition of the accessory respiratory musculature is necessary (along with simultaneous activation of the main musculature for breathing).

Just imagine the last time you had a stuffy nose – it probably made for an awful time for singing, running, or just general well-being. All of these things need air in order to perform well – can you imagine squatting the house with both nostrils clogged with snot and mucus? Sounds like an awful time.

In fact, the practice of yoga considers these items relatively well. Following the process of jali neti can lead you to understand that cleansing the nostrils is actually a method for cleansing of the airways.

From my time in undergrad (I took a Yoga class for a solid 5 months as a graded course), I can recall a technique utilized also aimed at nostril breathing named pranayama – which has claims of improving stress levels (by decreasing negative stressors), improving distances in six-minute walk times (find article HERE), along with improving brain function (find article HERE) because nostril breathing is correlated with performances in various tasks!

It’s All About the Reflexes Baby

So if I lost you with the above talk about yoga, fear not! There can be more than one explanation for the sudden change in movement patterns seen in my squatting and saline solution video, and other functions of movement patterns.

A lot of the things that are successfully performed on an exercise level can be attributed to reflexes. There are tons of them (find reflex list HERE) and I am here to elaborate on a few of them, and identify how these few reflexes are being stimulated in order to provide an inhibitory effect!

Nasal Reflexes – It’s Not All Just Sneezing

The nasalcardiac reflex has a mechanism that involves a specific structure (called turbinates or the nasal concha) that many people should be familiar with if they eat ice cream way too fast. The structure that is stimulated is the nasal concha, and it is stimulated when you experience brain freeze.

Your new recovery method
Your new recovery method

Turbinates can be synonymous with the nasal concha, and these structures coincide with really cool nerves, specifically the trigeminal nerve, for starters.

Long story short, if you stimulate the turbinates, you can induce a type of bradycardia, or rapid lowering of the heart rate. This could be good reason to not try this experiment if you have an already very low heart rate and/or blood pressure.

When stimulation of any branch of the trigeminal nerve occurs, stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system is recruited – and thus, the inhibition of the sympathetic nervous system must occur as well. This is referred to as the trigemino-cardiac reflex!

The trigeminocardiac reflex (TCR) is defined as the sudden onset of parasympathetic dysrhythmia, sympathetic hypotension, apnea, or gastric hyper-motility during stimulation of any of the sensory branches of the trigeminal nerve.

Practical Application

The practical portion of this information essentially allows us to identify whether or not specific structures within the skull may be limiting movement capacity or not. Essentially, how does identifying structures within your skull help us from a movement perspective? What can we derive from this information?

Well, I would like to believe that this leads us to improve the questions we ask in an initial assessment. Whether you are working with athletes, or general population, these items could lead you to improving your ability to deliver a high quality service for your clients and patients!

I also believe that by identifying other possible sources of stress, albeit a constantly and subtly turned on stressor (think dimmer switch that is slightly turned on for years on end), will allow you (the professional) to provide better solutions that could be very easily managed from an expectations point of view.


Have you ever had braces (or are you currently wearing braces)?

  • Braces can cause tightness on your teeth (obviously), but more importantly the constant (and perhaps inaccurate) reference that your teeth are getting may impede neck movement, which can cause a cascade of information down the kinetic chain that something is always tight (from the teeth/neck on down the body!).
  • Anecdotally I had braces for 5 years of my life, and this was right around when I was growing up and being surrounded by more formal sporting organizations (high school, league teams, etc).
  • Did having braces contribute to my lack of coordination? Well, I can’t go back in time to do an experiment on myself, but tell you what – I started dancing after I got my braces off, and I was moving a lot better. Very n=1 of course, so take that with a grain of salt.

Action Plan

  • Make sure you are comfortable with your braces (as best as you can). Use wax on the sides if you are brushing on your cheeks, and make sure to always clean out your teeth. If you feel tight with braces on, make sure you are in the correct position by asking your orthodontist if it should feel like “this” (if they feel too tight or wound up) in order to live with higher quality of life!

Have you been sick (cold, flu, etc.) recently?

  • Being sick can cause a cascade of residual and systemic threat to the body. Lifting or moving may not be the best idea, as attempting to increase stress to the body may be disadvantageous to the goal at hand (improved resilience to stress).

Action Plan

  • Get some sleep, and get over your cold! Also, doesn’t help that your nose getting stuffy will decrease your ability to breath.
  • Perhaps improving symptoms via over the counter medications could be the resolution you need in order to move better.

Do you wear glasses/contacts?

  • Reading things on a phone, constantly looking for the floor in many movements, and watching your step every time you walk (for fear of tripping, losing footing), can cause, yes another, cascade of lack of appropriate adaptability to stressors. If you are constantly “on” then you won’t be able to ever turn “off” – much less so if you are wearing the incorrect glasses/corrective vision.

Action Plan

  • Make sure you have updated vision, or at least, stay away from deleterious things involving straining your eyes (surprise surprise, your eyes have muscles that can become tired as well!).
Extraocular Muscles
Photo Credit:

Imagine holding a purse for 24 hours – your arm would get pretty tired! Similar things can happen if you play video games for a day straight!

Any surgeries to the face? Any concussions?

  • Let’s face it – injuries happen. Concussions are a normal part of household lingo, along with the concept that contact can occur directly to the face. When this happens, structures in the face, and in the brain, can be affected.
  • By asking this question, you are more equipped with providing a better screening service, or even referring out if symptoms are not resolved.

Action Plan

  • The two things that come to mind with respect to trauma to the face and/or brain involve vision and vestibular issues. When it comes to understanding how vision plays a role in exercise, I can defer to this article by Kevin Neeld where he discusses proprioception, the vestibular system, and the visual system’s interaction.
  • If you have issues with vertigo, balance, or visual issues tracking specific items (something that is very important during competition scenarios), then the action plan seems to be aimed at improving these items by any means necessary with the appropriate referral source.

How do I connect snorting saline solution to asking better questions for our athletes and clients?

Well, by understanding, even on an anecdotal level, the effects of multiple systems, inputs, and outputs, and how I can influence my own personal systems, I can have a wider array of experience to draw from in order to provide a better platform for my clients and athletes.

I can confidently draw lines from one system to the next, instead of isolating them in a textbook. Ideally, a combination of pragmatic and practical application combined with book smarts will allow myself to increase results for the individuals I work with.


Well feel free to bookmark and/or read this page. There is a lot to absorb!

As always,

Keep it funky.


Simple Self-Assessments: Toe Touch

So below is essentially everything that I have to say and think about a simple toe touch test. Feel free to bookmark this page, refer back to it over and over, because it probably won’t be super easy to digest right away. But that’s the point. In any case, let this introduction serve as a TL;DR version, as I made an easy flowchart for you to follow if you don’t feel like reading all of the mechanisms involved with the toe touch.

–> Click Here to See a Toe Touch Flowchart <–

Touching your toes is an easy assessment used by almost anyone and everyone as a measure of one’s instantaneous “flexibility”. In reality, there are certain patterns that some people may excel in due to the position of the joint(s) that they are testing. With the toe touch, this can be categorized as a flexion based pattern, as it mainly involves flexing at the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, along with the hips.

When I first began my my foray into the fitness industry, I distinctly recall using this green ol’ box to measure my flexibility. Some may remember this from grade school as a “test” within the President’s Fitness Challenge.

This blows my mind now.
This blows my mind now.

As stated above, the toe touch is one’s ability … to touch your toes. Surprise.

On a serious note, previous thoughts on the toe touch were that it was a measure of one’s hamstring length, and whether or not the standard was met of reaching your toes, you would need to stretch your hamstrings if you couldn’t touch your toes.

Allow me to address this flawed thought process now – it is not solely a measure of one’s hamstring length, and you probably do not need to stretch to achieve “length” in your legs in order to touch your toes.

One Does Not Simply Stretch Your Hamstrings

There are other things at play here – namely, the integrity and stability of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical junctions.

To play devil’s advocate on the aspect of lumbar flexion, imagine if you can touch your toes, yet you STILL feel tightness in your hamstrings. What exactly are you “stretching” afterwards…?

How to Stretch

If you go and stretch your hamstrings in addition to portraying excessive lumbar flexion, is it possible that you may be over-stretching the erectors of the lumbar and thoracic region?

According to Woosley et al (1), there are approximately 56.6° degrees of motion observed at the lumbar spine available in this forward bending, flexion pattern. What happens if both your hamstrings and your erector spinae are overstretched?

All in the name of reducing tension in your hamstrings!

Standards of the Toe Touch

There are varying degrees of standards within the toe touch, depending on which “camp” you find yourself agreeing with most recently.

For our purposes here, I’m going to go with three varying categories of the toe touch along with how to interpret them below.

Did Not Touch

Toe Touch - Did not touch Floor - DN

Touch Toes

Toe Touch - FN

Palms On Floor
Toe Touch - DN

[As a disclaimer, with some of you, there may be a radiating sensation, up or down the leg or lumbar region when you go to bend down and touch your toes. If this describes you, I’d highly recommend seeking out a qualified movement specialist as the following info might not be applicable in your case. The reason for this is because there are tons of different reasons you may be feeling sensations, and I’d like to keep pain out of this discourse.]

Mechanisms of Forward Bending Flexion

Well the key here is learning how to interpret what information you have available to yourself. Overall, the toe touch goes over these facets of movement:

  • Determines hamstring length (at face value of course!)
  • Ability to flex at the lumbar spine
  • Ability to flex at the thoracic spine
  • Ability to flex at the cervical spine
  • Pelvic orientation (anterior pelvic tilt vs posterior pelvic tilt)
    • Ability for the femurs to glide posteriorly into the acetabulum during descent of toe touch
  • State of Central Nervous System (Sympathetic vs Parasympathetically driven at time of assessment)

Faults Found in the Toe Touch

If you fall into the first category, let’s look at a few things – where exactly do your curves (in the sagittal plane) fall and rise? Essentially, be mindful of these attributes within your toe touch pattern.

Category One: Did Not Touch Toes

Lack of Cervical and Thoracic Flexion

If you can’t flex at your cervical or thoracic region, it might be safe to assume that your breathing patterns aren’t optimized. The reasons for a lack of mobility at the joint level of your cervical and/or thoracic spine might be due to adaptations of some sort, traumatic injury, or something else altogether.

I’d recommend checking in with a physical therapist in order to make sure all the details are in order.

Check out Clinical Athlete to find a well respected physical therapist near you today.

Lack of Lumbar Flexion

Before people jump on the phrase “lumbar flexion”, keep these two points in mind:

  • This is unloaded lumbar flexion. No barbells attached to the back.
  • Lumbar flexion AWAY from lumbar extension (towards neutrality) is different then pushing the end range of motion for lumbar flexion.

If you’re stuck into lumbar extension, you can be stuck for a few reasons (trauma, behavior, daily activities like standing all day, etc).

However, when you’re in lumbar extension, you may not be utilizing your obliques to the best of their ability.

Ideally, you’ll need better and more efficient control of the internal and external obliques, as they provide the action of posterior tilting the pelvis, which will hopefully provide enough of the “action” of lumbar flexion.

Abdominal Obliquables

Functional and Neurological Muscle Quality

From a systemic, functional, and neurological point of view, there are multiple factors to keep in mind.

Janda noted that the tonic system muscles are prone to tightness or shortness, and the phasic system muscles are prone to weakness or inhibition. (2)

Gray Cook discusses how the idea is to not increase hamstring length within the toe touch pattern, but to simply allow the brain to return to a normal flexion based pattern. In other words, he doesn’t stretch you to restore your toe touch – there is a neural, or brain-related, pattern that needs to be restored through specific exercises.

If you’re going to add the length, you better know where to add the strength (stability). ~Gray Cook

One thing to keep in mind, is that whenever you stretch a muscle, you are driving an inhibition signal to the motor units, which relaxes your muscle group further.

If all you do is inhibit your hamstrings, and then you decide to stretch FURTHER, then what is it that you’re really stretching? Also, where is the stability coming from whenever you deadlift?

“But I’m always feeling tight in my hamstrings!”

Well there is more than one reason for feeling “tight” – it could relate to two or three things:

Lack of Tissue Length

This is often due to chronic shortness brought about by frequent activity, or repetitive motion (so the body adapts).

Neural Protection

If, according to the Joint by Joint Approach, a joint above or below the tight sensation is felt, then it can be assumed that there is a neural protection in place to prevent the joint from moving excessively. For example, if your hamstrings feel tight, but your lower back is moving excessively for whatever reason (lack of anterior core strength, excessive mobility about the lumbar spine), then it is a safe assumption that the hamstrings are on “protect” mode. If your hamstrings were to be mobile in this situation, you might lose that extra stability gained from this protective tension!

Trigger Points

While this can be clumped under the neural protection category, the idea is that there are indications of trigger points that can be in place to also hold you in place. According to DeLany and Chaitow, these trigger points can provide a sense of stability for the body to adhere to, so it might not make the most sense to go smashing these trigger points and releasing everything all willy nilly.

Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic Neural Drive

This is an all encompassing reason, but at the same time it is possibly one of the bigger drivers for “tight hamstrings”.

This is a concept that I have borrowed with much success from the folks at the Postural Restoration Institute – that is, the idea that the autonomic nervous system can present various postures based on varying compensation strategies. The biomechanical reasoning that can be used is if the nervous system is highly sympathetic, the body will reflect this within varying compensatory strategies – often by tipping forward the pelvis, along with “living” in a state of inhalation reflected within the chest cavity and ribs.

So if the body is compensating in such a manner, on a neuromuscular level these hamstrings can be tight for these reasons:

  • Your hamstrings (semimembranosus and -tendinosus, along with biceps femoris) attach to the ischial tuberosity, which control the head of your femur.
  • Your femur sits within a singular hemi-pelvis.
  • If your femur is sitting within the acetabulum in a compensatory position (anterior pelvic tilt), this will cause your external rotators and hip extensors (hamstrings) to stabilize your femurs, for fear of anteriorly gliding forward.
  • If the external rotators are turned on, the internal rotators are inhibited, by cause of agonist and antagonistic properties.

This pattern causes the abdominal muscles to be weak – specifically the internal obliques, and transverse abdominis. If this is the case as well, it can be assumed that there will be an excessive rib flare, which feeds this pattern forward, resulting in the chest to look constantly “puffed out”, or in many cases, the ribs will present in a constant state of inhalation.

Category Two: Touch Toes

This is an ideal scenario, and depending on if you feel tightness anywhere in particular, that could just be residual stiffness from lifting, sitting, or just generally doing a bit too much or a bit too little.

In all actuality, a little warming up and some dynamic movements will get you back on the ball towards moving well.

Category Three: Palms on the Floor

Now you have gone and did it – you’ve gone past your natural limits! There is no turning back now. Hypermobility may be acquired or congenital, and this is one of the tests seen with hypermobile folk.


Depending on whether you present in extension or not when you go to touch your toes, there may be ligamentous instabilities, or anterior hip instabilities that were once there and now not present. Somewhere down the line, you need to recreate this stability, but in the form of muscular stability.

To restore these patterns, we can begin with a basic 90-90 Hip Lift and 90-90 Hip Lift with Internal Rotation.

 Within all three of these categories, none of the solutions involve actually stretching your hamstrings.

Reason being? There is a quality not talked about enough, but it is beginning to gain traction in the fitness and S&C community called “neutrality”. Essentially, this begins to explain what it means to have a joint within the centered position of a socket. If you are stretching due to tightness, you could be tight due to your lack of neutrality. So, get neutral first, then stretch if you are missing length or want to gain sarcomere length due to a shortness.

…And with that transgression under our belts, it should start to make sense as to why you feel tight in your hamstrings when you go to reach your toes.

Long story short, here is a flow chart that I created dissecting the basic results seen with a toe touch, and how to start on an action plan towards improving your toe touch.

–> Click Below to See a Toe Touch Flowchart <–

Reaching Your Toes Without Stretching Your Hamstrings

“How is this possible?” you may ask.

Whenever you flex at the hip, your body does a few things :

  • The femur glides posteriorly into your acetabulum, allowing your femur to flex, ideally up to 90° of hip flexion.
  • If you’re centrated, the movement should simply rotate.
  • However, if you are not within a neutral state of mind, you’re going to have to do some work.
New York State of Mind
“Nothing’s equivalent to a Neutral State of Mind”

If you cannot achieve this level of hip flexion, it can be assumed that you are in excessive hip extension, so you will need to restore these levels of hip flexion. If your femurs can’t glide posteriorly (because of excessive hip extension), perhaps some posterior hip capsule mobilizations will help facilitate that process.

Accompanying the movement patterns of hip flexion involve hip internal rotation (not the same thing as genu valgum, or knees caving in). So with this in mind, you need to understand that sometimes hip internal rotation is necessary in order to move into a better hip flexion pattern.

“So, if you can’t flex at the hips, you need to
improve hip internal rotation. Got it.”

It is a secondary reason, but yes, in order to improve your toe touch pattern, it helps to reduce tightness in your posterior hip capsule, improve hip internal rotation, which will help facilitate the appropriate muscles attaching to the femurs to act as hip flexors as you reach down to touch your toes.

After this, you have your whole other half of your body that often goes unaccounted for when you reach for your toes. In all honesty, it is surprising that your upper body isn’t blamed for not being able to touch your toes – the length of your arm reach is likewise just as important as the integrity of your hip musculature.

“What happens if you can’t reach with your arms?”

Well, perhaps you are not fully exhaling within your capability.

“How do my arms and my reach matter? My hamstrings are the issue.”

Again, I’m glad you asked.

I’ll give you this anecdotal example for you to try:

1. Puff out your chest, and have an excessive rib flare.
2. Go feet together, and bend down to touch your toes, with your ribs still flaring out.
3. Did you touch your toes?

Most likely not.

If one large area (such as the thoracic junction) is excessively extended forward, you will be unable to improve your toe touch reach.

[Check this out in order to fully appreciate how to troubleshoot your breathing patterns.]

Is This The End?

Touching your toes is a multi-faceted movement pattern that has many items that can go very right – or very wrong. If you have any issues with troubleshooting this on your own, I fully recommend seeing a movement minded professional, or at the very least a medical professional who can help refer you out.

On the other hand, if you saw improvements immediately, I’d love to hear about your success. Just drop me an e-mail, or comment on the accompanying social media posts!

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1 – Sahrmann’s Movement Impairment Syndromes
2 – Janda Philosophy – The Janda Approach