Understanding your Nervous System

A healthy nervous system allows us to perform at a high level. Using particular methods we can tap into the subconscious side to improve the running of vital bodily functions.

You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails

Our nervous system has a connection to all structures in the body. Without a healthy working nervous system most bodily functions suffer, our performance in life situations and sport are hindered and recovery from injury is impacted.

The Nervous system

Part of our central nervous system, within our subconscious is a mechanism for handling stressful situations. This is called the Autonomic Nervous system. It branches into two parts; the Sympathetic NS (SNS) and Parasympathetic NS (PNS). The SNS stimulates the bodily functions preparing us for the “fight, flight or freeze” in life threatening situations. The PNS is the other branch that prepares us for “rest, digest and heal”. It’s the PNS that should be the primary driver of our physiology.

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Using the mailman and dog as an example. Most canines are territorial and when unknown visitors arrive they become defensive, will bark and jump at the door. It’s ready to fight. When the postman leaves, the dog quickly forgets what happened and is able to fall asleep within minutes. It recognises the threat has gone and can immediately relax.

Consider yourself in the same situation, feeling threatened of an intruder. You might shout at them to leave or prepare to engage with them. When the person retreats could you relax straight away or will you be on edge for hours or even days?

The SNS is important but only has a purpose for the short term, to allow us to deal with threatening situations. Unfortunately with hectic lives, our brain interprets these physical and mental stresses as life threatening, which frequently triggers the SNS on a daily basis. Constantly stimulating SNS can lead to chronic issues…

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disorder
  • Non-working muscular tension
  • Hyperventilation
  • Adaptation failure
  • Cognitive dysfunction

The brain struggles to identify physical stress’ and imagined stress’. Anxiety of an electricity bill, job cuts at work or relationship issues will fire up the SNS.

Throughout exercise/sport our PNS and SNS working in balance. Depending on particular stressors like speed, distance, duration, the SNS may start to have a greater influence. It’s important to get into our PNS state for improved decision making, better oxygen delivery and for achieving optimal recovery.

Ways of Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The PNS is the system we should be using most frequently . Therefore finding methods of staying in this state even when put under perceived levels of stress are important.

1. Breathing Mechanics

The way we breath has a deep connection to the autonomic nervous system. Shallow, apical breathing has a direct link to our SNS. But taking Deep diaphragmatic breaths stimulates the PNS. Using breathing exercises daily can help train you into a more relaxed state.  Methods such as….

Wim Hof Method

Apnea Breathing

Kapalbhati Breathing

2. Meditation Practices

Through channeling your thoughts and breathing, meditation can help induce a state of relaxation. Following this 5-10 minutes daily can help improve many different functions. Easy to use apps for this are…

Head Space

Wildflowers

                      SoundCloud – Mindfulness Works

3. Muscle relaxation

Using methods like meditation or yoga are ways of achieving muscle relaxation. Having massages and soaking in a hot bath also offers a way of relaxing muscles. The release of tight muscles indirectly sends signals to the brain to activate the PNS and switch off the SNS.

Continue reading “Understanding your Nervous System”

The Office WOD

Do your best when no one is looking. If you do that, then you can be successful at anything that you put your mind to.

Following up from last weeks piece about SITTING POSTURE. It’s not about holding the perfect posture. Whats more important is changing position regularly, adding variation. Holding postures long enough results in changes to the strength of a muscle and how quickly it activates.

Neuroplasticity

This refers to the brain constantly changing to its environment, trying to find more efficient neural connections.

Consider your memory at school, studying a particular subject and you ace the exams. Now think 10 years on and you’ve done nothing relating to the subject, you’ll likely struggle with the same exam paper. The neural connections changed, these memories were not regularly reinforced and were forgotten.

Look at the typical sitting posture above that we find most of us in. Multiple changes are happening from head to toe. This also happens on a neural level. The longer we hold this posture the more the change will be ingrained. When doing complex activities that require fast reactions or more strength the adapted structures will make the task more challenging.

The Office WOD

The office workout is focusing on the neglected muscles we forget to stretch or use throughout the working day. Following this routine, 10-15 minutes at Lunch or on a coffee break will help maintain healthy muscle activity and length.

**This does not substitute exercise that gets your heart rate elevated.

The Workout won’t draw too much attention to you in the office. I won’t have you doing planks off the office chair or dead lifting the photocopier.

1. Chin Tucks (1 minute)

2. Neck Extensor stretch (1 minute)

3. Thoracic Spine Stretch (2 minute)

4. Posterior Shoulder Strengthening (1 minute)

5. Forearm  Stretch (1 minute Each)

6. Glute Strengthening (1 minute)

7. Hip Flexor Stretch (1 minute each)

8. Hamstring Stretch (1 minute each)

9. Calf Stretch (1 minute each)

Try these exercises in your workplace to get muscles fired up again and working. Feel free to leave a comment about any of the exercises or any suggestions for changes.

Improving front rack position

Improving the front rack position can help us in so many movements. This page shows a number of stretches that will improve shoulder mobility. and help prevent injury.

This is the second part of the shoulder, expanding on a previous post about 4 important shoulder positions that we should all be aiming to achieve. It’s quite important that you can find these positions comfortably, especially under load, as it will help to limit the risk of injury but also make it easier for you to transition out of it.

So, we’re all now great with our over head position. Can you now transition back down to a front rack? à la thrusters, hand stand push ups or catching the wall ball into the squat. Front rack is the most complexed out of the 4 positions as there are so many structures feeding into that position.

With Front rack most of us struggle with finding that shoulder external rotation to get the hands outside of the shoulders while keeping the elbows high. This helps line the hands into a stable platform for the bar.

The forearms are often tight making it hard for the wrists to fully extend. How many of us get achy wrists after front squats? Create that stable platform with good wrist extension.

Our triceps can also restrict the elbow from going into full flexion. And finally good Thoracic mobility as mentioned in the over head position. It will impact achieving extension and getting the maximum lift through the elbows.

Below are a series of mobility exercises to improve that Front Rack position.


Stick external rotation stretch – Grab a stick, hold it outside the arm. Lift your elbow and pull the stick from underneath your arm, across the body. This will pull your hand out further and you will feel the shoulder wind up. Hold for 1 minute. To take this further by repeating a hold-relax method, pulling the stick inwards for 5 seconds then relaxing further into external rotation .

Banded External rotation – Put the elbow into the band, take the hand on the inside of the band and hold on. Keep the elbow close to your head and drive the arm pit forwards. Hold the stretch for 2 minutes.

Wrist Flexor stretch – Kneeling on the floor, with palms facing away, put your hands down on the floor and take the wrists into extension, moving your body backwards. Hold for 2 minutes. Next get the band and place the hand in the same position. Have the band pull away while doing small oscillating wrist extensions into the stretch. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.

Triceps smash – Excuse the facial expressions in this video, I don’t always look that way! Resting the tricep on the bar while flexing and extending the elbow. Start at the triceps tendon (above the elbow) repeat 10-12 reps then move higher up the muscle. To increase the pain….I mean load, use the band to get fascia tacked down to the bar.

Thoracic Mobility as mentioned above it’s important to extend at the Thoracic below are two basics.