Get Through the Season

It’s when times are the toughest that everything seems to fly out the door – your priorities, your health, your wellness, and your waistline.  Well, the Holiday Season is now in full swing. Between the shopping, parties, family, travel, and food, Food, FOOD!, the holidays are probably the most difficult and stressful time of the year. That said, it is also the most difficult season to remain focused on improving your personal health and well-being. Giving and receiving are a big part of what the holiday’s are all about. But for most of us, we give at the detriment of our long term health and we receive unwanted body weight, stress, and physical discomfort that remains with us through the following year. Why? What is this season all about if you cannot stay committed to exercising and eating well, while at the same time enjoying the merriment of the season to the fullest? What is this season all about if the first person on your list is not YOU? 

You are not going to be perfect.
Did I mention the food? Every year I hear the weight loss experts say, “it’s easier to lose what you don’t gain.” This is so true. But let’s be realistic. This is a really high stress time of year. If you were struggling to find the time to exercise a month ago, you’re time has dwindled even more. Add to that the amount of delicious high calorie yummies that will be shoved in front of your face day in and day out. Goodies that are absolute torture to pass up. No, you will not be perfect, but…

You don’t have to be perfect.
It is O.K. to indulge. At the same time, don’t let this be an excuse to throw everything out the door. Don’t give in to the mentality that you can simply defer exercise and healthy eating to your New Year’s Resolution. (Hint: this doesn’t work!) Instead remain focused on healthy eating and limit the amount of food you over-indulge in – this month… this week… right now! You are certainly going to be tempted with lots of food.  Lots of really good food. In that case, be extra diligent to not go nuts with the food. And when you do, be okay with it. Be kind and forgive yourself, but don’t give up. Work harder to get your workouts in knowing full well that family is going to come into town. Maybe you’ll be traveling and really limited with the time and places available for working out. Get your workouts in when you can. Do your best. Check out my Holiday Fitness Gift Guide, and buy a set of TRX straps. They are perfect for squeezing in a quickie workout at home or on the road.

Go the distance.
This may mean that you’ll need to wake up earlier. True, you might not ever wake up at 5am during the rest of the year, but if it is the only time for you to take care of yourself then use it. There will be so many conflicts of time: shopping, eating, family. Don’t put your health, or sanity, on the back burner. Do try and make it a priority. At the same time, give yourself a little bit of room and don’t beat yourself up over it. This may be a holiday of giving but nobody is asking for you to give up your health and wellness. There is no person more deserving of your giving than yourself.

This is your life.
Come January 1st, how do you want to feel? If you remain committed and focused, if you put in the effort to take care of yourself through the holiday’s, your New Year’s Resolution will look more like a New Life Resolution. If you can make it through the toughest time of the year remaining true to yourself, you will show that you can make it through anything. Dig deep, stay committed and there will be no challenge in life that will come between you and the most important person in your life… You.

Jesse James' Holiday Fitness Gift Guide


Another Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone and what was once a beautifully roasted turkey has become the base for this week’s sandwiches. And yes, Christmas shopping season has officially begun.

If you’re anything like me, the availability of ridiculous amounts of sugary treats has been the reason to let your belt out a couple more notches and you feel the need to burn off more than a few extra calories and redouble your focus on your physical health and well-being. With that in mind I would like to take this opportunity to offer my top health and fitness related gifts. These are the items that I consistently recommend to my clients year round and that I personally cannot do without. So to help you avoid the risk of pepper spray to the face over a $2 waffle iron, here are my top gift picks for health and fitness products for that special someone, or maybe even yourself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for most of these products. This means that if you purchase one after clicking one of these links, I will get a small commission. That said, the only reason I am an affiliate for these products is because I believe in them 100%.

1. Foam Roller

I was introduced to foam roller therapy in 2003 and was an instant convert. Over the past eight years, the foam roller has helped me and my clients treat and prevent chronic pain, injury, and surgery. Including foam roller therapy into your daily or weekly health and wellness lifestyle will reduce the amount of chronic pain and injury in your life.  This will have enormous effects on your long term well-being and health care costs. A good foam roller is the best investment you can make for your long term fitness, health, and wellness.

The Grid by Trigger Point Therapy
The Grid is currently my favorite foam roller. It is much more firm than other foam rollers.  It is great for travel as it fits inside most carry-on suit cases. The center is hollow and you can pack clothing or other items inside of it, making it a great space saver.

The Grid 2.0 is a new, longer version of the grid. The extra length is nice if you have the floor space to maneuver and it is useful for doing the corrective exercises I describe in the article, The Scapula: The Mast and Sails.

To learn more about foam roller therapy, benefits and use, check out Foam Roller Therapy For Beginners and How to Treat and Prevent Injury.


2. TRX Straps

I love my TRX straps. There is no other piece of equipment that has as much versatility. With a pair of straps you can work on full body flexibility and full body functional strength training.

They weigh about a pound and fit in a small bag – they are great for travel. They mount easily to a door, wall, ceiling, tree, or outdoor jungle gym. I have a few clients with very busy travel schedules. They struggle to get to a gym while on the road. With a set of straps they can workout in their hotel room and are less likely to miss important workout sessions.

Regardless of your current conditioning or ability, you can use the TRX. The workout is suspension training, which means your own body weight provides the resistance.  The beauty about the TRX is that adjusting the level of resistance is simple: all you have to do is move your feet back or forward. You can make exercises super easy, super hard, or somewhere in between. Every exercise engages your core from your fingers to your toes in ways that are unmatched by traditional strength training equipment. The TRX is the number one piece of workout equipment that I recommend and I suggest it to every one of my clients.

(2.5) Rip Trainer
The Rip Trainer is a new piece of workout equipment from the TRX company. It has quickly become one of my favorites as well. The Rip Trainer is great for adding multi-plane rotation and anti-rotation training into your workout. If you are creating the perfect home workout studio, I would suggest taking a look at the Rip Trainer, right after you buy the TRX straps.

3. Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know by now that I am a huge advocate of a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle. As a deep tissue massage therapist, I specialize in the treatment and prevention of chronic pain and injury. I find that most injuries stem, in large part, from postural dysfunction. The majority of postural dysfunction that I treat is rooted in the feet, and it began with the very first shoes you put on.

I made my transition into barefoot/minimalist footwear about four years ago when I came across the Vibram Five Finger shoes at Whole Earth Provision Company, a local outdoor living store in Austin, Texas. At the time there were only a handful of barefoot/minimalist shoes on the market. Today there are over 64 and growing. Here are my favorites:

Merrell Trail Glove

In the times that I actually wear shoes, these are currently my favorites. They are stylish, light, fit snugly, have a ton of toe room and a nice protective plate underneath the forefoot that protects my feet from the sharp Texas trail rocks.


Vibram Five Fingers

They may look a little funny, but they are great shoes. What I love most about these shoes is they are a great conversation starter. Over the years, I have helped convert dozens of people into a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle just by having these on my feet.

Soft Star Shoes makes some simple yet super comfortable shoes. I have a pair of the Ramblers, basically a moccasin. They are warm and dry in the winter, and cool and dry in the summer.

To read more about the benefits of a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle you can read Free Your Feet, Not Just Any Movement, You Need Functional Movement and Heel Strike Compared to Forefoot Strike Gait Pattern and How it Relates to Pain.

Jesse James Retherford is a licensed massage therapist, certified personal trainer and barefoot movement coach. He specializes in the treatment and prevention of chronic pain and injury.

Jesse writes a weekly blog with insights on the treatment and prevention of chronic pain and injury.  lt is also a great way to stay up to date with his availability and the best way to have access to occasional specials, offers, and announcements. You can sign up here.

You Are Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link

It is time to change my story.  It is not easy for me to admit this, but I have weaknesses.  Quite a few of them.  Maybe you haven’t noticed, since I do a pretty good job upholding an image of “Strength.”  But it is only a facade. I keep it in place to protect myself from deeper feelings of fear and insecurity. Feelings that make me feel weak and vulnerable. Instead of exposing my vulnerability, I put on an imaginary suit of armor and carry myself as though I were Superman, when in fact I may be feeling as awkward and clumsy as Clark Kent. 

The external facade is only the cover story. I believe in it.  It makes me feel comfortable and invulnerable.  With this image I feel like I am in control. But this facade is not my truth.  It is not the story that I want to live.  In truth I am vulnerable… I am not in control… I don’t always have it together. In fact, at times I feel like I am falling apart, emotionally and physically.  This is my true story. And in this truth, my weaknesses are where I find my greatest strengths.  Following this old story – that I am, and that I have to be, strong – keeps me weak and is ultimately one of the primary sources of much of the chronic pain and injury I have. I am not alone in this. This is something we all do.

How does this translate?
I love to workout intensely. When I workout, I go hard. I want to feel my heart pump out of my chest and my muscles burn. Lately when I make time to work out, this is the workout that I choose. It feels good, I am in my comfort zone and I feel “strong.” I am in control. I also work hard. I spend 50+ hours each week either working on people or on my business, fulfilling my “role” as father and provider for my family, while devoting very little time to taking care of myself. All of these things reinforce my cover story at a great price. The problem is that, right now, I need to commit time to taking care of myself, body and all. Hard and intense is not the type of work or workout out my body needs.  The type of work that I do is intense and repetitious.  Add that to my injury history, and you will know that I have structural weaknesses and that I am in pain. What my body needs is for me to focus on the weaknesses: some serious time doing foam roller therpy, deep tissue massage, full body flexibility, corrective exercises and functional training. But these aren’t very glamorous, they’re not sexy, and they do not fall in line with the image of “Strong” that my story prefers.

You see, most of us spend the majority of our training time on our strengths, whether in the gym, at work, or in our personal life. We spend so much time focusing on these things because we are good at them. Doing them gives us comfort and makes us feel capable. And it maintains the cover story that we have control in our lives. The trouble is that by placing so much time and energy into training our strengths we are not getting stronger.  In most cases we are actually making ourselves weaker. When we work on the things that we’re already good at, there is only a small amount of room for improvement or growth.  We expend tremendous amounts of energy on our strengths, doing the same things over and over again.  All too often this leads to an injury affecting our ability to do the very things in which we feel strongest. The key to developing a physically and emotionally strong body is not to focus on your strengths, but on your weaknesses. It is in your weaknesses that you have the greatest room for growth.

You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Weakness makes you less stable, emotionally and physically. When you work or train too hard, without much focus on your weaknesses, you simply reinforce instability. Eventually this will lead to pain and injury. It is like running head first towards a wall. Eventually you will hit it and the wall always wins.  In the end, if you blindly follow a story of “strength” you will end up weak.

To be strong and fulfill your maximum potential takes a determined focus on your weaknesses. You will have to move beyond your comfort zone and be willing to face failure, over and over again. It is not always fun. In fact, at times it will be the hardest thing you will ever do. But with hard work, you will improve, you will get better and before you know it… that weakness becomes your strength. You will no longer be living a story of “strong.” Strong will become your truth. It begins by recognizing the cover story, owning your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and taking responsibility.

I have weaknesses. I am willing to address them. Instead of maintaining my cover story, I am ready to face my weak links and turn them into my strengths. I will take the extra time and focus on correcting dysfunction and allow myself to heal. As I heal I will become more stable which will allow me to do the things I love. I will be able to workout heavier and harder without fear of hitting the wall.


Changing The Story

Over the past few years I have been living a story. It’s one that I tell myself daily. It is a simple story, filled with the excuses of why “I can’t.” In this story I continually place my family and work responsibilities at the top of the priority list while my health, fitness and emotional well-being fall to the bottom. I know this story very well because it is not just my own, I hear it each day from most of my clients as well. It is the story of “I don’t have time.”

I’m a massage therapist, a personal trainer, and a barefoot running coach. As such, I see and feel deep connections between the physical body and the emotional and spiritual body. The way I move and feel physically in my flesh and bones is intricately tied to how I move and feel on the inside. When my body hurts, I feel the hurt emotionally. When pain and injury limit my ability to physically perform or function, I feel limited emotionally and spiritually. When I am limited emotionally and spiritually I feel frustrated, exhausted, stuck and I am less likely to do the physical movements that will make me feel better. And then my body hurts even more, perpetuating the cycle. Over time these limitations pile up like an invisible mountain on my back and take over my ability to cope with even the most normal day to day stresses of life.

Left unaddressed, the physical pains fester and spread. Normal movement becomes painful and exhausting. It is so incredibly frustrating because I am a therapist and I specialize in the treatment of chronic pain and injury! I teach my clients how to address pain in their lives, how to work through it, how they can change their story and feel better. I know what I can do to help myself heal, recover and, ultimately, feel better physically and emotionally. I have been doing this for many years, and as I said above, I am deeply connected to my body. But instead of doing the work that I know will help me feel better over time, I buy into a story of “I don’t have time,” “I’m tired,” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” On some level these stories are true, that’s what makes them so easy to fall into. I am self employed and support a family. I spend 25-30 hours a week doing deep tissue massage therapy and personal training sessions. Another 20+ hours a week is devoted to working on this business and writing this blog. On top of all of that are the daily responsibilities that come with caring for my four year old son. Compared to just a few years ago, I have much less “free” time. In many respects, my story is identical to pretty much every client that I see. I have been telling myself that “my well-being comes last,” which ultimately means that I sacrifice my well-being for the sake of others and other things. The irony is that if I continue living this story, my body will break down, either physically or emotionally, and my priority list will be flipped on its head. My personal well-being, by default, will move to the top of the list with great cost to my family and work. I know the ending to this story, because I have seen it played out with friends, family and clients every week. I am ready to change the story.

This Story is not my Truth
The main issue here is not a lack of time. I do have time. I have enough time to get in three or four good “my body is priority” sessions each week. If I suck it up and wake up a little earlier a couple times a week, I can get in another one or two. And that is more than enough. It really doesn’t take that much. Time is not the issue. Time is not the issue for my clients either. The heart of the issue is the story I continue to tell myself and continue to live. It is a story of fear, insecurity and an inability to let go of my pain. I must face this reality: If the story I am living makes me hurt, something inside myself is unwilling to let go of that hurt.

You cannot have change while maintaining the status quo
My truth is this: I don’t want to hold onto my pain. I want to feel it, listen to it, address the underlying issues it communicates and let it go. This is the story I want to live. I want to follow the story that accepts that I may be tired, stressed, under pressure – or what ever else I may be feeling – but I will take the time my body needs to feel better. I want to live a story of change. To consistently step into my fear and insecurity, allow myself to grow and evolve, and live my truth.

I am ready to change my story. I have listened to it for long enough and the results are the same… I hurt. The only way I will feel better is if I do something different. I must change how I feel inside and out by stepping out of my comfort zone and facing my story head on. It will be hard because the story is well ingrained. I’m not too worried because I am a bit of a masochist and I love to work hard. I will begin by assessing my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses and decide where the focus of change will begin. But that is a story for another blog.

How to Treat and Prevent Injury

This week, I wrote a guest blog for, a website dedicated towards minimalist running.

Extreme pain and debilitating injury
Every single week I have several new clients come in to see me because they are in a great deal of pain. A handful have been dealing with it for a matter of a few weeks and have tried a couple different home remedies with unsatisfying results. But by far most of my clientele have suffered for multiple months or many years. They’ve gone to doctors and physical therapists, they’ve undergone surgeries, all with very little or even zero results. Pain has taken over much of their lives.

Click here to read the rest…

Not Just Any Movement, You Need Functional Movement

The Human Body is a mechanical work of art.  By design it is capable of a ridiculous amount of movement patterns, all at different degrees of intensity, from slow and steady to explosive and short. The ability to crawl, walk, run, jump, and climb each require an amazingly sophisticated movement system.  This system sets us apart from all other species on the planet. But there is one catch… If you don’t use it you literally lose it.Why you lose it
One of the reasons your body is so special is its ability to heal itself. Within your fascial tissue are cells that create fascial adhesions around an injury to provide extra stability and restrict painful movement while the damaged tissue is repaired. The restricted movement is just enough to facilitate the healing process while at the same time allowing you some freedom to move. In the ancient world where the human body was forged, this healing process took place over the course of a few days or weeks.  Movement was a necessary and key factor in the healing process. Early man did not have the luxury to spend a few days in bed to fully recover. He had to move to survive, and so he had to heal while moving, which is why this process of building fascial adhesions is so special. Movement works in unison with the circulatory system as a secondary mechanical pump and flushes the injured tissue with fresh blood. This flush of blood flow removes waste by-products, brings in fresh nutrients and speeds up the healing process dramatically. As the injured area recovers, the body once again is able to utilize full, pain free, movement patterns that completely break down the fascial adhesions.

Today we have a problem: we no longer live in that ancient world. Our cultural landscape has dramatically changed our lifestyle over the past 100 years – especially in the last 20. Instead of hunting, gathering, and harvesting our food, utilizing our body in daily acts of survival, we spend most of our time sitting, in front of a computer or in a car. Compared to a mere couple hundred years ago, the lifestyle of even the most active person in any industrialized country today would be considered relatively sedentary.

When you do not get adequate functional movement, you no longer put your mechanical pump to use.  This slows down the healing process as restrictive adhesions do not get broken down. Instead, lack of movement communicates to your body that you are still injured and so it continues to build up even more adhesions to further stabilize and restrict motion around the supposedly injured areas. Over time, these fascial adhesions become so thick and strong that you permanently lose your full range of motion and function. Examples are: losing the ability to fully turn your head in one or both directions to see behind yourself while walking or driving; the ability to raise your arms fully over your head while maintaining a stable spine and scapula; the ability to do a deep squat with your feet flat on the floor; the ability to walk, run or sprint without pain. Without enough functional movement your body assumes you are in a continual state of injury. Eventually this becomes a full-time reality. This is the primary reason that I find deep tissue massage therapy, such as myofascial release, to be so important. I can manually break down fascial adhesions and increase functional range of motion.  I can prime the mechanical pump, facilitating waste product removal and nutrient delivery back into the tissue. In essence this removes years of fascial buildup and facilitates a speedy return to functional movement.

Not Just Any Movement, What you need is Functional Movement
A sedentary lifestyle means we do not use our bodies the way a human body was designed to move. This has become the reality of our lives.  On a daily basis, we fail to utilize the vast array of movement patterns that are possible.  Plus the intensity of our movements has softened. All kinds of technologies have made our lives much easier in most regards.  This means that we must go out of our way to move our body the way it must functionally move.

Functional movement training is vital. You cannot not get the movement your body needs to maintain pain-free health and vitality by sitting in front of a computer. You must move. I am not talking about the traditional types of exercises that are likely coming to your mind. I’m not talking about running for hours on end on pavement in a straight line.  I’m not talking about lifting weights while sitting on a nice cushioned bench or using a machine. Your body needs functional movement. It needs to move the way it was designed to move. Running and traditional weight training are small portion of functional training and tend to be overly repetitious in very specific movement patterns.  They do not utilize the postural stabilization and functional movement patterns your body craves. To your body not using a functional movement pattern is almost the same as not moving. And as I said earlier, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Even if you run or lift weights 7 days a week, if you do not lift your arm over your head, over time you will lose the ability to do so. Your body recognizes this as an injury and begins the healing process discussed above, but now to your detriment.

What is Functional Movement?
My definition is simple.  You have a body for a reason.  Functional movement is what happens when you use your body to meet all of its designed purposes: flexing, extending, pulling, pushing, rotating, changing directions, running, walking, jumping, sprinting and climbing. If you are designed to do it, then use your body to do it.  If you don’t, you will eventually lose your ability to do it, which will lead to a higher risk of chronic pain and injury in your life.

As a personal trainer and deep tissue massage therapist, my entire focus is on functional movement – no exceptions. From the start we make sure you have pain free, functional range of motion with a stable posture. We make use of deep tissue massage, flexibility and corrective exercises (you can see examples of corrective exercises here, here and here) to open up your neck, chest, and shoulders so you can turn your neck to check your blind spot, or lift a box overhead without pain or injury.  We increase flexibility in your hips so you can easily squat deeply without knee or back pain.  We get you to walk and run comfortably again – no more dread of a painful trip up the stairs, to the mailbox, or to the car.

Once your functional range of motion and postural stability are improved you get to start having some real fun. In these workouts you fine tune this high performance machine that is your body by working it to meet all of its designed purposes. You will sweat, burn calories, build muscle, get stronger, move better, have more energy, become more capable and productive in your life, look better, reduce body fat, reduce stress, pain and injury, and most importantly: you will feel better in your body.


My Personal Story of Pain


When I started this blog, my goal was to share knowledge and self-care tips on the treatment of chronic pain and injury. Until now I have focused my discussions on deep tissue massage therapy, self-massage using foam roller therapy, corrective exercises and barefoot walking and running. Now I would like to introduce myself and tell a bit of the story about why I do what I do.

You live how you feel
The quality and fulfillment of your life is directly related to how you feel – physically and emotionally. Pain is directly related to how you move, or don’t move, each day.  It is related to the fuel you feed your body, to the quality of the sleep you get each night, how much you work, how much you relax, and how much you prioritize your emotional and spiritual health.

I am on a path of personal healing.  I have experienced pain for much of my life. Not long ago, I began to believe that my pain was a life sentence. Thankfully, I was confronted with a choice.  I could either buy into the story that said “I will always be the victim to pain,” or I could listen to the pain, do something about it, and change the story. I chose the path of change. The focus of this path is to heal myself: my mind, my body and most importantly, my heart. I have pursued this path unconsciously from my earliest memories, and over the past couple of years it has become not only a conscious effort, but the overwhelming priority of my life.

How it all started
Like so many around me, I did not have an easy childhood. In many respects it was emotionally painful. As I grew older, emotional pain grew inside of me and manifested itself outwardly – in the way I felt, looked, acted, and in the important decisions I made. Ultimately it manifested itself as physical pain. Due to the emotional pain I carried inside, I did not have a healthy self image, and I did not treat my body with respect. I pushed my body to its limits and beyond, often leading to injuries, many of which were physically and emotionally devastating.

I have spent nearly six months in a hospital bed since the day I turned 18.  When I flew over the handlebars of my motorcycle at 70+ miles an hour, it took a week of iodine whirlpool baths to clean the dirt and asphalt from my wounds, and effectively ended my college basketball career. Five surgeries on my right knee (including 2 PCL reconstructions and an ACL reconstruction) kept me hospitalized for several more months. I developed a very intimate relationship with physical pain. On a level I was addicted to it. The more physical pain I could endure, the less emotional pain I felt.  Since my emotional pain was so deep, I unconsciously pursued physical pain through self destructive behaviors. Some of the other injuries I’ve had are concussions, dislocations, and sprains. By the time I turned thirty, my body was pretty jacked up physically and emotionally.

An AHA Moment
I made the decision to become a personal trainer after my second PCL reconstruction. I was in the process of being discharged from the Navy and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  One day I found myself working out in a gym on a Naval base in San Diego – attempting to rehab my body so I could once again play basketball. In the middle of a set of dumbbell chest presses I had an “AHA” moment. I felt at home right where I was.  I knew that I loved the gym and that I loved people. The idea of helping someone realize their fitness and health goals excited me. I thought, this is where I want to work. I got up from the bench and grabbed the flier for a personal trainer certification course that I saw posted on the community board.

From the start there has been something supporting and guiding me to where I am today.  This much is obvious to me even though at the time I had no idea the significance of it all.  The support and guidance only continued in the classes I took, in the gyms where I worked, and from my fellow colleagues. I studied exercise and sports science with a minor in business management at Texas State University. I spent nine years working in gyms with some incredible coaches and therapists.  It was an incredible learning environment, a great place for me to grow up. There was no competition.  Knowledge and information was shared freely. I gained what I consider the equivalent to eight more years of college level education and experience in the exercise sciences. This became the foundation of my work. I learned about anatomy, exercise physiology, posture, kinesiology, physical therapy protocol, and was introduced to deep tissue massage and self-massage using the foam roller.
Pushing Through Barriers
I took almost all of this knowledge and put it into practice on myself trying to fix or alleviate my pains and injuries.  After my fifth knee surgery in 2006, I designed my own physical therapy protocol. I spent the six months before surgery doing intensive “pre-hab” to build up the strength in my knee and body.  A few days after the surgery I started simple physical therapy exercises. My goal was to run a half marathon six months after the surgery. The physical therapy was intense, but I pushed on. Four weeks after the surgery I was running on 50% of my body weight using a body weight support harness system. I did corrective exercises until I had the knee strength to support my full body weight.  Three months after the surgery I was doing full resistance functional training workouts.  I built my running base and spent lots of time every week on a bicycle. Every night I would spend hours doing full body self-massage on a foam roller followed by flexibility training. And after six months, almost to the day, I ran the 3M half marathon in Austin, Texas, splitting the last four miles at a 7:30 pace. Since then, as I have maintained my own health and fitness protocol, my knee has not given me any problems.

Throughout this season I focused on deep tissue massage, flexibility, corrective exercise, and functional training.  My mind and body became stronger and I started feeling better physically. As my body healed, my heart began to heal as well. It became clear to me that if I wanted my physical body to feel better over the long haul, I needed to heal emotionally, on the inside. This is the conscious path that I am currently on. Through this process of emotional healing I have found that I have become more engaged, present, productive, and capable as a father, as a partner, and as a therapist. It has been beautiful.

A Different Path
There are many things that I learned, and continue to learn, in the process of healing myself. I have incorporated these lessons into the coaching program I bring to my clients. I shifted my training style from being workout based to lifestyle based. I now recognize that every person struggles with pain. This is pain that, unless they change paths, a client will suffer under for the rest of their life. And so, instead of training my clients to be more muscular, or look better in the mirror or to fit into the right clothes, I train them so they can move and feel better in their body.

One of the biggest lessons that has become a significant part of my training philosophy is this: what is seen on the outside is merely a reflection of what resides on the inside. Issues of weight, poor posture, and physical pain are merely the symptoms of deeper issues.  They reflect how we feel on the inside. This is why I specialize in the treatment of chronic pain. I focus my massage and personal training that I might help my clients feel better. I teach them a variety of techniques to empower them with the ability to care for and heal themselves. I know that as we heal we move better.  The better we move, the better we feel about ourselves, which ultimately leads to being more engaged, present, productive and capable with our family, friends, and career. This, without fail, makes its way to the surface and we look so much better on the outside.


I would love to hear your personal story of pain. Please post it to the comments below.


The Scapula: The Mast and Sails of the Body

This is the final installment of my series on Posture. A few weeks ago, I described posture as the absolute need for stability.

“It is from stability that all healthy movement is derived.”

I keyed in on the feet as the foundation and the hips as the ballast of the body. Today I will discuss the body’s most mobile joint: the shoulder, and more specifically: the scapula – otherwise called the shoulder blade. The scapula is the mast and sails of the body. Where the scapula goes, the head and torso will follow.


As I said a few weeks ago, “stability is king.”  When it comes to the shoulder the scapula is the King of stability. The scapula is the anchoring point for the postural muscles of the shoulder; it provides the stability necessary for a huge combination of movements. This large range of motion is something that distinguishes us from all other species on the planet. The shoulder is designed to provide for the movements of climbing, crawling, lifting, throwing, pushing, and pulling; and aids in the movements of running and jumping. None of these movements would be possible without the scapula’s amazing ability to stabilize.


At home and in the workplace we do not regularly engage our shoulders to meet their designed movement patterns, and what you don’t use, you lose. Instead we sit for 8-12 hours each day in front of a computer, TV or in our cars – and most of us sit with our head and shoulders forward. This posture pulls the scapula out of a position of leverage, where it is capable of providing the greatest amount of stabilization to the body. Over time, the postural muscles that are responsible for scapular stability are shut off (just like the postural muscles of the lower core and hips that I addressed in What is Posture and The Hips). Once the postural muscles are shut off, the body must recruit stability from mobility muscles such as the biceps, pecs, and trapezius. As these muscles take over, they lock the scapula in an upward rotation, and prevent the body from packing them down where they function most effectively.  When the scapula are stuck in upward rotation, they lose their functional range of motion and true stabilization of the shoulder becomes difficult.  And remember, where your scapula goes, your head will follow. Once the stability of the scapula is lost, the shoulder, neck, and lower back are put in a position of stress with a greater risk of pain and injury.

Keys to Regaining Shoulder Function

Scapular stability is vital to reducing pain, preventing injury, and improving your overall postural health. Here are the keys to regaining scapular stability and function:

The first and most important step to increasing the functional range of motion of the shoulder joint is through myofascial massage therapy. And deep tissue massage therapy (such as myofascial release and self-myofascial release), when paired with foam roller therapy, will help break down restrictions in the fascial tissue. These often overlooked steps will improve tissue health, reduce chronic pain, increase functional joint range of motion, and prevent injury.

Immediately following a series of deep tissue massage treatments with a full body flexibility or stretching program will help to permanently establish the newly regained range of motion. Yoga, Pilates, Egoscue and Active Release Technique are just a few examples of effective flexibility programs you can try. I highly recommend hiring an experienced and qualified coach or therapist to ensure proper form and the best approach to a flexibility program that will meet your individual needs.

As range of motion improves, the next step is corrective exercise. The goal of corrective exercise for the shoulder is to train the shoulder’s postural muscles to maintain proper position and stability and, as demonstrated in the video above, the ability to pack the scapula down.

Once the three pieces of the postural puzzle (the feet, hips and shoulders) are trained to, once again, provide stability, your body is ready to integrate functional movement training. These are exciting, challenging and often butt whipping workouts (which I love), and they will be the topics of discussion over the next few weeks.
Self Myofascial Release Shoulder Exercises
Here are a few self-massage exercises for opening up the shoulders. Find a painful spot, stop and visualize the soft tissue as melting butter and the foam roller as a hot knife. Allow pressure into the tissue and within 30-60 seconds you will notice a significant reduction in pain. Once the pain reduces significantly (20-30%), move on to the next painful spot and repeat.

Spend between 3-5 minutes on each side. It is very important that you spend an equal amount of time on both sides and that you work through each of the areas listed to gain the most out of self-myofascial release.

Lie on your side, your arm overhead and foam roller beneath your lats. Massage from the top of the arm to below the shoulder blade. Do not massage in the arm pit area.
Lie on your side, your arm overhead and foam roller beneath the chest. Do not massage in the arm pit area.
Lie on your side, your arm overhead and foam roller beneath the bicep. Do not massage in the arm pit area.

Corrective Exercises for the Shoulder

The following exercises will help regain functional range of motion of the scapula and shoulder.

Scapular Squeeze on Foam Roller

Press and squeeze the scapula around the foam roller then reach and extend toward the ceiling.  Repeat 20 times.

Reverse Fly on Foam Roller

Squeeze the scapula around the foam roller as you slowly drop your arms down. Continue to squeeze scapula into the foam roller as you return your arms to the starting position. Repeat 20 times.

Scapular Pushups

Get in push-up or plank position (on feet or knees depending on ability level) with your hands directly beneath your chest. Make sure your body is in alignment with your hips level to your shoulders. Without bending your elbows and maintaining plank position, squeeze your shoulder blades together and press back out. Focus on squeezing together at the base of your scapula and not shrugging at your ears.


The Hips – The Body's Ballast


Last week I demonstrated that the foot is the foundation of your posture (see: Injury Prevention Begins at your Foot). In the article I discussed the role of the feet in providing stability and mobility for the body and gave examples of corrective exercises to build strength, stabilization, and mobility in the foot. Today I will talk about the hips.

If the foot is the foundation of your posture, the hips are the ballast. The hips provide stabilization, counterbalance, and mobility with an incredible range of movements such as squatting, lunging, jumping, running, walking and climbing stairs.

I discussed a couple of weeks ago that we no longer move the way we were designed to move. We spend hours and hours each week sitting: in front of the computer, in our cars, and in front of the television. The position of sitting places the hips in flexion, or a forward bend, and effectively turns off the postural muscles of the lower core. When the postural muscles turn off they no longer provide stabilization of the hips and low back.

Again, going back to a few weeks ago: When it comes to movement and injury prevention, stability is king. Since stability is so important to movement, when your postural muscles lose their ability to function, your body MUST do something about it. When it comes to the hips, your body recruits stability from the gluteals and hip flexors, both movement muscles. The hip flexors and gluteals take over stability control of the pelvis. In doing so, they are weakened, atrophy and lose functional ability as mobile muscles placing greater stress on the hamstrings and low back. This leads to significant reductions in the range of motion of the hips and secondarily to the shoulders, knees, and feet. It also leads to the saggy bottom phenomena which plagues both men and women. Reduced range of motion causes imbalances throughout the body, which ultimately leads to dysfunction, pain, and injury.

The gluteals are especially important when it comes to posture. Remember, the hips are the ballast of the body, with most of the stability and counterbalance generated through the gluteals, and more specifically the gluteus maximus. The gluteus maximus is the most powerful muscle in the body providing the necessary leverage that sets our species apart from all others – the ability to stand up-right. As I mentioned above, sitting causes the gluteals to lose functional ability, which affects our ability to stand with a well developed up-right posture. Turning the gluteals back on is vital to re-establishing a strong stable posture and developing a nice powerfully round bubble butt.

In order to balance your hips, it is important to flip the switch back on in the postural muscles around your pelvis to remind them to provide for stabilization, and to recruit the mobile muscles to do less stabilization and more mobilization. This can be accomplished through the use of deep tissue massage therapy with a focus on the fascial system, self-massage using a foam roller, flexibility training, corrective exercise, functional strength training, and barefoot or minimalist walking and running.

Below are examples of corrective exercises to help establish functional range of motion, stability and mobility of the hips. I recommend performing these (in combination with the exercises in Injury Prevention Begins at your Foot and next weeks blog on the shoulder) 2-3 times a week for 4-8 weeks. This will establish a balanced and stable posture preparing your body for more functional exercise.

Self Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller
The goal of self-myofascial release is to speed up the healing and recovery process, reduce pain, improve joint range of motion, balance the body, and prevent injury.

Three Point Toe Taps

Balancing on one foot, tap your toe in three spots for one minute on each leg.

Hip Bridge

Lie on your back. Drive your elbows and shoulders into the floor, with your heels pulled up close to your glutes.
With your feet flat on the ground, press through your heels, lift your hips up towards the ceiling, and engage your glutes at the top. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Single Leg Hip Bridge

This is a more challenging progression to the hip bridge.

Bridge or Plank

Lie on your stomach. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders. Push yourself off the floor keeping your hips straight. Focus on keeping your spine lengthened through the top of your head. Beginners: lift your feet up towards the ceiling with your knees on the floor. Intermediate: Lift your knees off the ground with weight through your toes. Hold as long as you can beginning with 10 or 15 and working towards a minute.
Lie on your stomach. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders. Push yourself off the floor keeping your hips straight. Focus on keeping your spine lengthened through the top of your head. Beginners: lift your feet up towards the ceiling with your knees on the floor. Intermediate: Lift your knees off the ground with weight through your toes. Hold as long as you can beginning with 10 or 15 and working towards a minute.

Side Bridge or Plank

Lie on your side, with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder, and feet stacked. Lift your hip off the ground keeping your spine lengthened through the top of your head. Beginners: bend and hold plank position from your knees. Hold as long as you can beginning with 10 or 15 and working towards a minute. Repeat on opposite side.
Lie on your side, with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder, and feet stacked. Lift your hip off the ground keeping your spine lengthened through the top of your head. Beginners: bend and hold plank position from your knees. Hold as long as you can beginning with 10 or 15 and working towards a minute. Repeat on opposite side.

Hip Press

Same starting position as the hip bridge. Instead of holding the position, you will do presses, raising and lowing your hips off the ground. Make sure to press through the heels of your feet (keeping feet flat), and squeeze through the glutes at the top. 20 repetitions.

Single Leg Hip Press

This is a more challenging progression to the hip press.

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