Tag: yoga

Train with Your Brain, Train for a Purpose

So the other day I was helping a Muay Thai fighter / trainer “see the light” as she is having low back and upper back pain. Its interesting how in this modern day and age, there’s so many otherwise smart people that simply imitates follow certain “youtube stars” exercises for inspirations. I hope this article will help those still “living in the dark” train better.

Learn to Stretch Smart


Ah, if I get a penny for every person that cracked their cervical spine due to this pose, I would be rich already. Let me get this straight, your cervical spine is very thin and was never meant to hold your body weight. Good trainers know how to balance between risk of certain stretch and the associated reward. Some people ended up putting some if not most of their weight on their neck while in this position. Hence this is a particularly risky pose. I have attended Ann Barros’ Iyengar yoga teacher training. She is a direct disciple of Iyengar himself. And she is not very fond of this pose, to put it in kind. So if you want to loosen up your neck after a session, there are better ways to massage your neck, say using self myofascial release any good trainer should know.

Second of all, as Dr. McGill has often emphasized in his book “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance“, Great athletes don’t just stretch their muscles endlessly, they fine tune the muscle elasticity for specific athleticism. Any motorhead out there can understand that the suspension of a street race car is designed to be rough but stable while a family sedan suspension would be designed for comfort. The same can be said about your back and core muscles. Some are designed for mobility and some are designed for stability. The more mobility you introduce to a particular joint the less stable that joint is. As an example, the best long distance runners do not have a very loose hamstring.

Yes I know how trendy it is to infuse yoga to other training. But how many yoga master you know actually won any Olympic gold medal? Fact is, some poses might be good to train your core stability and endurance, while some others will wreck your back, especially if you already have discogenic pain and you have one of those crappy yoga teachers that like to “challenge” you without realizing that individual bone structures are different and will affect a person’s mobility.

There’s a Time and Place and Limit for Everything

balance boardIf you are an athlete that needs to push or pull with one leg or one hand at a time, your training should definitely have more balance component to it than a power lifter. However, some “youtube stars” have apparently jumped the sharks in terms of proprioceptively enriched training and unless you are training to be a circus performer, then it doesn’t really matter if you can jump on a swiss ball. In fact Eric Cressey once did a research on athletes with no ankle problems where the control group did regular athletic training and the study group had combined BOSU ball stability training thrown in. Within 6 months, the group with the additional BOSU ball training actually performed WORSE than the control group.

The key here is to train specifically for your sport. An NFL defensive lineman needs to be able to counter dynamic loading on the upper body while standing on stable surface. Telling him to squat on a BOSU ball would be the other way around. Hence Dr. McGill emphasized on recognizing the athlete’s movement pattern and then train them specifically. He would further explain all this in his book.


At the end of the day, it depends on what you want to do. Why do you train? If you are a Muay Thai fighter and you are using a body building protocol to increase your power, you might find your strength and weight increases but you became a lot slower. If you are a big boned individual and you want to loose weight, going to any random yoga studio might leave you with lots of pain, not the good kind, more in the league of pars bone fractures and disc bulges. Some yoga teachers are more enlightened and will know how to customize the exercise for you but I do not have faith in most of them. Hence the title, train with your brain, train for a purpose. You should first decide what your goal is, understand your body, then train accordingly. If you decided to follow a particular “guru”, then you should question the scientific justification he/she uses to develop your program. I for one follow the McGill method.

Persistent low back pain and associated myths

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, between 75% to 85% of the population are experiencing lower back pain. According to University of Maryland, it is the leading cause of disability among male under the age of 45. So if you are one of those people that are experiencing them at the moment, of having recurring episodic pain, understand that you are not alone.

So what happened if you have tried all, and nothing works. What does it mean when the leading “experts” claimed that its all in your head? Does it mean that you are going mad? What happens if you are sure if its real? Recent studies indicate that orthotics, acupuncture, even specialized beds has been inconclusive. In fact, according to Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor of Kinesiology at University of Waterloo, most back surgery does not give long term success for patients based on his 30 years experience. Does that mean that you are doomed to live with this pain for the rest of your life?

The main problem with low back pain is that people seems to think every one has the same problem and should be treated the same. But sorry folks, low back pain is not the same with diabetes. It’s more similar to cancer. Based on Dr. McGill’s research, there’s more than 6 different pain triggers for low back pain, all of them are associated with different conditions, and all each have unique solution. There is a time and place for back surgery, and most of the time you don’t need it. Of course, since a doctor’s time is precious, it will save the doctor a lot of time to give a general prescription to all low back pain (i.e. pain killer) and some common therapy exercise (i.e. yoga, pilates or swimming) before simply giving them a nuclear option (i.e. surgery) when it doesn’t work WITHOUT even trying to find the real trigger of your pain. Sounds familiar with you?

So what should you do? Finding a good back expert that is really passionate about helping people would be one. If you are lucky. Another option would be to simply read Back Mechanics by Dr. Stuart McGill, learn how to identify your own pain triggers and how to address them yourself. Hey, its definitely cheaper than a a visit to the chiropractor.

Oh, and the myths? Well, here are some of them based on the book:

  1. Myth: Stretching will help cure my backpain. Truth: Stretching will induce the stretch reflex in your muscles, giving temporary relief on the area. But if your pain is say due to disk bulge (what I used to have), then it actually put further stress on the affected disk. the relief itself only last 20 – 40 minutes.
  2. Myth: Pilates and or yoga will help cure my back. Truth: Some of the exercises in Pilates are actually bad for your lower back. Bad yoga teachers will get you bed bound for months by encouraging bad posture.
  3. Myth: My surgeon will cut my pain away.. Truth: In most cases, surgery will cause irreversible damage making you worse off than you were in the long run
  4. Myth: They say its all in my head. Truth: They need to get sent back to school, most of the time there is a cause and effect relationship between your pain and a physical phenomenon in your back.
  5. Myth: This pain killer the doctor prescribed will take care of the pain. Truth: unless the underlying cause is being addressed, you will ended up being dependent on the pain killer, most likely with ever increasing dosage.
  6. Myth: This work hardening exercise will make me less sensitized to the pain. Truth: You will be more sensitive to the pain just like a sore thumb will not become less sensitive by continually hitting it with a hammer.


  1. American Association of Neurological Surgeons, December 2011
  2. University of Maryland, January 2012
  3. Painscience.com, July 2013
  4. Rosner A. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2014
  5. Clin J Pain. 2013 Feb;29(2):172-85. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31824909f9. Acupuncture for low back pain
  6. Stuart McGill research, http://www.ahs.uwaterloo.ca/~mcgill/
  7. Stuart McGill, Back Mechanics: Step by step McGill method to fix back pain