How Walking Like A Monkey Saved My Spine

"Imagine never doubting yourself physically. Always being up for activities as experiences present themselves. Waking up everyday without any worries about nagging pains or limitations. Instead, you feel anticipation for the possibility of fun and exploration in the day ahead." - GMB Fitness


Survival of the FITest

Medically speaking our bodies are very aware of the abuses sustained over time and are quite “vocal” when things are seem to be going awry. “Vocal” of course is a metaphor for the screaming pain of tendonitis, arthritis, and any other “-itis” which serve as a warning signals of dysfunction and ensuing catastrophic failure. As a medical provider, I've seen tons of cases where chronic musculoskeletal pain, often termed overuse or repetitive motion injuries, have resulted in traumatic tendon ruptures, sprains and spine injuries. Our bodies are magnificent machines which work well dynamically. This means, they are best utilized when the environment constantly changes; e.g. uneven ground, climbing, jumping, running, squatting etc. Presently, the majority of us slouch at desks while tapping away at keyboards. Though society has come a long way with technological advancements we've lost touch with one of our body's most basic human functions: movement. We forgot how to move properly, as nature (“evolutionarily” speaking) intended it.

Photo by 00Mate00/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by 00Mate00/iStock / Getty Images

Let's address the fact that humans have been around for about 200,000 years. That's a long time to hone and perfect our organic-meat-machines. The “survival of the fittest” mechanism fine tuned our cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, and digestive systems for the marathon pace of our ancestor's nomadic migrations and stressful sprints of the big game hunt. We adapted body composition and metabolic processes to adjust for summers of plentiful bounty and winters of famine. Our bones were strengthened against the pounding of our limbs during long treks to gather food and water. The skin on our hands and feet were thickened and calloused for grip while walking on unpaved pathways and climbing unforgiving terrain. Our arms and legs were naturally strong when it was necessary to carry our food and water in our arms rather than carry them in packs. This was the way of life for millennia after millennia until we slowly invented ways to increase the efficiency of movement by reducing workload. Take a look over the past 100 years of first world development. The reliance on strength and stamina for agriculture made way for the modern consumer driven supply chain. Today, very few in our society find themselves working the land or trekking for resources. The physiological mechanisms which took tens of thousands of years to evolve and kept us alive have been made obsolete in a fraction of the time.

Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA and creator of Nutritious Movement, elegantly describes the modern limitations imposed on our body's natural abilities as casts, similar to the medical casts we apply to broken limbs. A cast purposefully limits the mobility of a broken bone in order to reduce mechanical stresses to allow the bone to heal properly. She applies this theory to include everything which limits our bodies natural movements. Take for instance athletic shoes. Athletic shoes are a type of cast which constricts the natural contours of our feet, they reduce inefficient movements and isolate single muscle groups. This is not a good thing as it ignores the process of adaptation. Our feet are designed to take a beating and when they are constantly cushioned, they basically turn weak and floppy. The idea of casting can be applied to almost every area in our lives. These casts weaken once strong muscles and the resulting dysfunction leads to abnormal wear and tear setting us up for injury and chronic pain.

This Gets Personal

Photo by Eraxion/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Eraxion/iStock / Getty Images

This winter I had personally battled a number of spine injuries related to my defiant attitude towards turning forty years old. To celebrate this completely arbitrary milestone, I decided to set a goal to deadlift 400 pounds before my odometer clicked passed 39 years, 11 months and 31 days. Some may say that this goal was merely fueled by the prototypical mid-life-crises and those individuals would probably be right! Despite a decade passing since my “twenty-something” perception of invincibility expired, I decided to set this deadlifting goal to become the strongest I had ever been. Unfortunately, no matter how much I ignored my body's insubordinate aches and pains, multiple injuries took their toll and prevented me from continuing. Somewhere between the numbness in my fingertips and the rational part of my brain, reality set in and I chose to scrub the 400 pound deadlift and readdress my fitness goals while I still had the ability to move my limbs.

I researched body weight strength and flexibility oriented programs to try and loosen up my rusty old spine and protect it for future endeavors. I avoided most programs which were too similar to others I had completed in the past. I had a lot of fun with crossfit programs and they work well in their ability to pound you into shape but if my body was still injury prone, what would be my motivation to continue with these? Aesthetics? Therein lies an important distinction everyone must address when considering a workout program. Am I doing this to look good or am I doing this to feel good. I had never taken time to consider feeling better as a fitness goal. My motivations were always aimed towards lifting heavier, going farther and getting faster. What if I changed that mindset to moving better, feeling better and increasing my flexibility

Enter the guys from GMB Fitness. I discovered their website after seeing a lot of chatter about them on twitter. They talked about mindfulness, listening to your body and exploring movements through various work flows. Their site showcased videos and images of athletes bounding around on all fours like monkeys, jumping through squats like frogs and balancing in contorted poses sometimes on one hand, one leg, or upside down and most importantly always with a smile. It was the first paragraph on the website caught my attention the most:

“Lately, the word “fitness” has been perverted to mean shaming yourself into doing things you hate to impress people you don’t like with a body that looks good but is too beat-up and tired to do anything fun.”

Hey, that sounded familiar. Why had I chosen the 400 pound deadlift as a goal. I wanted to prove that I wasn't getting older. But to who? The fact is, I am getting older and that's okay. Humility teaches us that most people don't care how you look and could care even less about how much weight you can lift. The creators of GMB Fitness, Andy Fosset, Ryan Hurst and Jarlo Ilano, developed their approach to fitness by embracing this very concept. Their backgrounds in martial arts, gymnastics and physical therapy allows for a program which combines medically appropriate movement, athletic flexibility and functional strength at the pace and intensity of the user.

Getting Back To Basics

Photo by alexemanuel/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by alexemanuel/iStock / Getty Images

One way to get back to our ancestral roots would be to strip off our clothes and run off to live naturally in the forest, walking barefoot, gathering berries and hunting elk. My guess is that we'd probably die very quickly from thirst, exposure and starvation. Let's face it, we're not as tough as our ancestors... hell, we're not even as tough as our grandparents! A better approach would be to relearn the ways our bodies were meant to move. GMB Fitness emphasizes that relearning movement is a process and takes discipline, motivation and mindfulness. Everyone alive once knew how to move, simply watch the way a child plays. Watch how they squat, jump, tumble and stretch without the tightness built up in muscles from years of “casting”. GMB has many programs which involve assessing your ability to do basic movements. Movements you probably haven't considered performing since you were a child. Once enrolled in their program, I put down my deadlift bar and kettlebells and found myself spending twenty minutes warming up my hands, fingers and wrists!? When was the last time you focused on how your fingers felt. My routine became bear crawls, monkey walks and frog jumps. I focused specifically on form and posture; how deep am I squatting, are my feet flat on the floor, are my calves tight? I tried bear walking for 5 minutes, after 45 seconds, I needed break! I could snatch a 32 kg kettlebell over my head but couldn’t walk on all fours for a minute! I am currently on week seven on a year long exploration of flexibility and movement. My goals are now measured in ability to perform an unassisted hand stand and the gold standard of body weight fitness... the planche! I'm motivated, I'm more flexible than I have been in years and I feel like I have a better understanding of my body and what it can do. I plan on incorporating these lessons throughout my life and hope to stay limber, strong and pain free.


Ryan Hurst, program director for GMB Fitness will be coming on the podcast to discuss the essentials of human movement and further talk about the GMB philosophy.