Anyone involved in survival is probably familiar with the fight or flight response. This is our innate reaction to threats in which our body prepares for the possibility of fighting for our lives, or escaping. However, we usually think of it in its most pronounced form – that being just before the action. However, our Western lives have resulted in an unnatural degree of daily stress that keeps us in a minor stage of fight or flight. Understanding some of the impacts this effect has on us can be used as a tool to measure both stress and relaxation.
For our purposes here, we are concerned about the limits of joint range-of-motion that occur when we are stressed. One of the ways we can measure this effect is with a passive range-of-motion assessment. Stand up. Place your hands on your thighs and bend forward as far as you can while sliding your hands down your legs. Take note of how far you are able to reach down your leg.
There is no grade for this, just an observation of where you naturally stop. Now, stand up straight and place two fingers in the center of your chest and exhale, bringing your chin to your chest, and rounding your back to make a cave for your fingers. As you inhale stand up straight. Repeat three to five times. Now bend forward and reassess how far you can reach down your leg.
On average nine out of ten people who perform this exercise are able to reach further. Why? We didn’t stretch out the legs? What we did is introduce a lot of movement (mechanoreception) to a part of the body most Americans do not move enough. The increased stimulus temporarily improved our neural map and our stress went down. When the stress went down, the fight or flight response eased, and your range-of-motion on the hips increased.
So, I know this is a lot to process all at once. But you probably saw a measurable difference just by doing this one simple movement. Practice it over the next few weeks. If you want to start to really understand stress, sources of stress, and its impact – practice the forward bend assessment before and after driving, or before and after a chore.
Refer to the picture. Imagine you had bent over and stopped at line B on your first assessment.
If your range of motion decreases (line A), your body is experiencing more stress and the activity you did is negatively impacting your nervous system. Either what you are doing is stressful, or the way you are doing it is.
If your range of motion stays the same (line B) the impact on the nervous system was neutral.
If your range of motion increases (line C), the impact on your nervous system was positive. This is something you can do to decrease the overall stress on the body and improve chronic pain and performance.
The forward bend is just one assessment. In workshops of 20 people, I may use six or more different assessments. So don’t be discouraged if this one was not for you. However, you may want to try the test on a friend or family member so you can see the effects.
How often must you do it, and how long does it last? Initially, the effects of stimulus to the nervous system last just a short period after the experience, except in traumatic instances. The more the stimulus is practiced the longer the effects last until eventually the effect is constant without the need for more stimulus. It takes about two hours of stimulation to develop lasting effects. That means two hours of perfect practice. Unfortunately, you can’t do it all at once.
Consider how quickly you get to two hours of bad posture slumped in front of a computer, versus learning something like shooting in which each shot takes only seconds. How much brain power was involved in slumping in front of the computer (posture – not the task on the computer), practically none. But how much brain power goes into precision shooting? A lot. This is why focused corrections take longer. Your nervous system will get fatigued very quickly. So, you may only be able to do a few reps a few times a day. In upcoming articles we will look at other drills and how load them in ways to make our neural re-education happen quicker for rehabilitation or better skill performance.