In today’s post, I’m going to provide you with an article written my good friend and colleague MIke T Nelson of Z-Health.

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MIke is very smart and one heck of a nice guy. He has some insightful things to tell you about the brain and Joint Mobility. Check out his article “Ichabod Training” and cool videos below. When you’re done, check out his Blog here.

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Ichabod Training

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I see it gyms all around the country and it is spreading worse than the swine flue (sorry, H1N1 since we don’t want to blame the pigs).  I call it “Ichabod Training.”   In case you live in a cave with Osama or are pulling a very long Salman Rushdie, Ichabod Crane was a fictional character in Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

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During his fabelled journey home one night, Ichabod encounters another traveler, known as the legendary Headless Horseman; the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolutionary War.  Ichabod is chased and then disappears. Rumor has it that he himself was the Horseman, of whose legend he took advantage to dispose of his rival.

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That is the classical background for all you literary critics in the crowd.  For a more modern version I like it when George Costanza (of Seinfeld fame), remarks in one episode “Why don’t we smooth the head down to nothing, stick a pumpkin under his arm, and change the name to Ichabod Crane?”

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I know you are asking, how the hell does this relate to training?  Good question and I am glad you are still reading.   There are some people training in the gym like they don’t have a head or it was replaced with a pumpkin on a good day.  I am not referring to you, the reader’s of Nick’s blog here, you guys are way too bright.  I am talking about your average commercial gym goer that you see.  Everything they do is focused on “this or that muscle” how to recruit “this or that muscle”, how to make “this or that muscle” bigger, ad nauseum.   Of course those things are important, but we need to look more upstream and find what causes those muscles to contract, get bigger and perform better.

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The Brain: The Final Frontier

Pretend you are a salmon going upstream in the land of physiology to find out how to get stronger and perform better.  Once you finally reach the stream (and just before you die,  poor salmon) you find the brain and nervous system.  This is the control center for human performance.  Your brain controls all of your movement and strength, so to optimize it we need to look at how the brain gets its information.   This primarily comes from:

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1) Eyes (visual and eye muscle movements)

2) Vestibular (inner ear “balance”)

3) Proprioceptive (info from the joints)

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In order to optimize the body for performance (and pain reduction but that is a whole different topic), we need to optimize each one of these systems.

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Just the other day on this very site, Nick said, “Between folks like myself, Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson and many others (editor’s note, cough cough Mike T Nelson, too, hehehe),the importance of Joint Mobility for optimal health and human performance has been made crystal clear.  Every joint in your body needs optimal mobility to function properly.”

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I could not agree more!

Better movement = better performance

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Better, higher quality and more efficient movement is the goal.  At its simplest level, this is just coordination.  If we look at my favorite exercise of all time, the concentration curl (ok, so it is not my favorite, but it works well for this example)  I can increase my curling power by two main ways.

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1)    Fire up more muscle fibers.

If I can find a way to get my nervous system to get more muscle tissue to contract, I can lift more.  While highly debatable how much muscle tissue you can contract at any one point, the range is about 20-60% with the higher end being a highly trained athlete.  The take away is that is it 100% or even close to it!  Pavel Tsatsouline says (paraphrasing here) “your muscles can already lift a car; they just don’t know it yet.”

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2)    DECREASE firing of the antagonist

The antagonist is the opposite muscle that works to brake the action.  In our power concentration curl, the antagonist is the tricep.   If you take our foot off the brake, we can increase performance.   Less tricep contraction = more bicep strength.

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Moooo P.O.W.E.R!

So just how do we do this?  Joint mobility the rescue.

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“Jammed joints create muscular weakness.”—Dr. Cobb, Creator of Z-Health Athletic Performance System

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If I injure my elbow, neurologically my body will start to shut down the muscles that cross my elbow (triceps, biceps, etc) in an effort to protect my body and reduce the risk of further damage to the joint. My body is trying really hard to protect itself which is pretty smart!  If that joint (or ANY joint) is not brought back up to 100% health, it will still has some “neurologically braking” going on, thus performance is not optimal. At some level, my body thinks that there still is an issue in my elbow and will be shutting down the muscles to some degree.  The technical term for this is arthrokinetic reflex.

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The direct opposite is also true.  More mobility (a measure of health) will result in more strength, instantly!

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Further Down the Rabbit Hole

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If that make sense, lets go even further, so hold on to that pumpkin. The nervous system connects ALL the joints, so ANY joint that is not back to 100% mobility is going to dampen performance! Yes, that is a leap, but it makes logical sense (and I’ve seen it happen many times).

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So far, every chronic shoulder issue that I’ve helped someone with, I have yet to do anything with their shoulder!

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“He who treats the site of pain is lost”  –Karel Lewit

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Where there is smoke, there is fire and the pain is usually just the smoke.  We need to find the fire!  In my experience with chronic shoulder issues, I find that by doing mobility work on the opposite foot/ankle, opposite hip, thoracic, or same side wrist will normally do the trick.  The body moves as a whole (hopefully or else you have some problems), so ALL the joints must be working optimally.  The key to performance is optimal mobility at EVERY joint (including the jaw).

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