Making Joints Function Nice with Andreo Spina

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This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) workshop in Toronto. Functional Range Conditioning, as described on the website, is a system of training which simultaneously expands and strengthens range of motion across articulations, while teaching the nervous system how to incorporate said ranges into functional movement patterning.

Andreo Spina is the creator and head instructor of FRC, as well as the Functional Range Release and Functional Anatomic Palpation Systems which are geared towards manual therapists. His background is as a Sports Specialist Chiropractor with a post-graduate fellowship in Sport Sciences. I first came across Dr. Spina’s work online as I was looking for answers that would help me improve my mobility and resolve chronic injuries. The first thing that struck me on podcast interviews and YouTube videos was his way of articulating complex topics in a way that made intuative sense, often calling out common misconceptions that are assumed to be true in the movement and rehabilitative industry. It was appealing to hear someone talk about the myths that are perpetuated by coaches and therapists, especially in relation to certain methods that didn’t make intuitive sense to me but that I had accepted on the assumption that those who are at the forefront know what they are talking about! More on some of those later.

The second thing that stands out about Dr. Spina is that he can move. Certainly not an armchair preacher when it comes to graceful movement and mobility! It probably wasn’t too much of a leap of faith to imagine that if more people could move better in this way, we would have healthier joints and less pain.

So I boarded the plane in Dublin on Thursday excited to learn about how to really improve mobility and move better. It wasn’t long into the first seminar that I realised I would have to to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about how to move, train and coach others. Thankfully, I took the advice of the Zen master and emptied my cup beforehand. The weekend was certainly a paradigm shift, and changed how I perceive things about how the body works and how it should be trained.

Dr. Spina and the other instructors Dana John and Dr. Mike Chivers are abound with knowledge, and clearly very passionate about the body and movement. Andreo could sucintly address any question put to him, with wide-ranging discussions from anatomy and mobility, to meditation and the effect of the endocannabanoid system on flow state. Dr. Spina does not present himself as a guru who has all the answers and can fix someone in ten minutes, but he has a set of guiding principles supported by strong science that guides his movement practice and the FRC system.

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Now, two days after the workshop, and I am still processing the information overload that has made me question much of what I believed to be true about how I train and coach.

I would highly recommend the course to anyone interested in a greater understanding of how the body works or who wants to improve mobility. Personally, I have been consistently working on improving my mobility and movement quality for a number of years, and yet have probably deteriorated for all the effort and time put into it. Now I have a pretty good idea why that has been the case, and am looking forward to redirecting my efforts and seeing how far I can get with the FRC methods.

Below are some of the things that I have learnt over the past couple of days that were like a bolt up the rear end, and which often made me laugh about the absurdity of what we have been led to believe. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and does not go into the detail of how the FRC system is applied, but they were some of the moments of enlightenment that helped clear up my understanding of human function:

1) Injury occurs when the load imparted exceeds the load bearing capacity of the tissue. Conventional rehab trains the tissue back to the injury prone level, which inevitably re-injures when exposed to similar loads. We need to improve load bearing capacity to a level beyond which the tissue will be exposed to.

2) Articular health can not be sustained by playing the sport alone. What are you doing in training to maintain the health of those joints?

3) Flexibility without the ability to actively control that range is useless ROM.

4) There is a difference between mobilizing joints with foam roller and band-resisted movements in a warm-up and developing mobility.

5) When someone talks about muscles being ‘short’ and ‘long’, are the origin and insertion closer? You can not fix posture by ‘lengthening’ one side through stretching, and ‘shortening’ another through strengthening.

6) Motor programs for particular movements seemingly don’t exist. As Dr. Spina says, the squat doesn’t live in your brain.

7) Dynamic Systems Theory says that movement variability increases as someone gets better at movement, not the other way around. Less mobility= decreased variability and less options in motion control.

8) Movement requires the articular pre-requisite to own the movement or you’ll get injured. e.g. does wrist have functional capacity to reach 90 degrees extension before doing handstand?

9) Dead anatomy does not represent living cells. Pulling on a muscle and seeing what moves is devoid of nervous system input.

10) Muscles are just names given to groups of cells. All connective tissue is made up of different compositions of the same stuff; cells, fibers and ground substance.

11) Anatomy is dictated by function, not the other way around. New cells respond to communication through the language of force.

12) The body is inherently efficient and lazy, if you don’t use cells the body will stop feeding it nutrition and redirect its energies. e.g. if you don’t use range of motion in your knees your body will take away the capacity to use it.

13) We have been taught that cells are like formless bags of fluid, eukaryotic cells actually contain a cytoskeleton, which both generates and resists mechanical loads.

14) One of my favorite quotes of the weekend from Dr. Spina: ‘The nucleus as the ‘brain’ of the cell. Another horrible analogy. Cells are not like little people living in our bodies.’

15) DNA doesn’t actually look like a spiral staircase. (Don’t pretend you already knew that!)

16) There is no such thing as biological homeostasis, it only lasts for a fleeting moment. We are always degrading or improving.

17) In deadlift cue a straight back, but if you lose that straight back and you are not used to a flexed position your tissue will fail.

18) We must use the principle of progressive adaptation to improve our load capacity in all planes of movement.

19) Tissue structure (viscoelasticity) does not change with improvements in flexibility, the CNS ‘allows’ increases in ROM to occur: Stretch Tolerance.

20) Stretching has an analgesiac effect, it feels nice. This is nothing a piece of ice couldn’t do rubbed into the skin.

21) The idea of reciprocal inhibition has been disproved since 1979 and more recently. PNF techniques actually increase EMG activity during the stretch.

22) Shoes are a way of telling your feet that they aren’t needed and that they can wither away. When you can’t lift your toes and move them around, isn’t it like your body forgot you have a foot?

23) Mobilizing will temporarily allow you to move into an increased ROM, but it doesn’t improve mobility in the long-term. And just because you temporarily mobilize yourself it doesn’t mean your tissue has the capacity to absorb load in this new range. It can lead to injury.

24) A knee joint not only hinges, it rotates. We can squat and hinge in training, but what happens when we pivot and haven’t trained rotation? Increased susceptibility to injury.

25) You can have shit ROM, as long as it is open angle restriction, it’s trainable. As soon as you have closing angle problem, you are dealing with abnormal functioning articulation.

26) If your articular capsule does not function well, it doesn’t matter how you work the muscle. The articular capsule is the deepest level of communication.

27) The more you move, the more detail the brain has about that joint in space.

28) A joint is defined as the space between two bones that allow for range of motion, if you do not have full access to that range of motion, technically you don’t have a joint.

29) If someone doesn’t have a joint, it’s worth taking a significant amount of training time to give them a joint.

30) Our first job is: Make joints function nice.

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Author: Cairbre

Cairbre is the face behind Feed Me Strength. Currently the Strength and Conditioning coach for Arsenal Ladies FC. He has a passion for athletic performance and an endless curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind.

UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.

Cairbre dreams of Antrim winning the All-Ireland Hurling Championship most nights, and believes a good dose of movement, meditation, and Irish traditional music will cure almost anything.

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