How Deep Down the Rabbit Hole Do We Really Need to Go?

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Today’s topic has been something that’s been festering in my brain for a while now, and it’s only been within the last few weeks where I felt the need to put something down on paper.

Or in this case, down on keypad.

To save face, you can relax….it has nothing to do with Tracy Anderson (I’m kind of over bitching about her).  Or Paleo Nazis. Or the fact that I was never able to beat Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out back in the day.  There’s always been a void in my childhood for that fail.

Nope, it has nothing to do with any of those things.

I guess you could say the impetus or tipping point came a few weeks ago at The Fitness Summit when Harold Gibbons and Kyle Langworthy – both brilliant coaches at Mark Fisher Fitness in NYCasked me the following question:

“Hey Tony, do you think the long-head of the tricep can act as a spinal rotator?”

[Cue crickets chirping]

Uhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Yes? No?  I mean yes. No wait, no!  What was the question again?

What made the interaction more hilarious was the fact they asked it in such a nonchalant, casual manner, as if asking me “Hey Tony, do you like food?”

To their credit, both Harold and Kyle have been immersed in the rabbit hole that is PRI (Postural Restoration Institute), and not surprisingly have been having their minds blown.

It’s very much akin to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice ends up following the White Rabbit down his rabbit hole.

Except in this case, instead of a mescaline induced world of hookah smoking caterpillars, Cheshire cats, and Mad Hatters, we have things like predicted (normal) asymmetries in the human body, terms like Left AIC (anterior interior chain) and PEC (posterior extension chain), and aberrant breathing patterns (we’re really good at inhaling, but poor at exhaling).

Both Harold and Kyle admitted that they’ve been exploring the rabbit hole and that they’ve been traveling deeper and deeper.

To which I say:  how deep do we as coaches and trainers need to go?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that more and more trainers are educating themselves, experimenting, and digging deeper.  I wish more would follow suit and do more of it!

This phenomena is something both Harold and I discussed in our little chat last week (so for those assuming I’m tossing Harold and Kyle under the bus, think again.  I’m not).

Besides, I’d be remiss not to express my own accolades and biases towards the PRI mentality.

We’ve been using aspects of PRI at Cressey Performance for coming up on two years now. We recognize that it’s POWERFUL stuff, that it works, and it helps people feel better.

I like PRI. I use PRI. But man, I really wish some trainers and coaches would tone it down a notch and just get people strong.

The PRI 10-Second Elevator Pitch

Before we continue, I should first apologize to those reading who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

I’m sure some of you are sitting their scratching your head and thinking to yourself “Postural Restor……WTF are you talking about?”

Let me explain.

While trying to squeeze PRI’s philosophy into one sentence or paragraph would be doing it a huge disservice, if I had to give a quick ten second “elevator pitch” on what their schtick is and what they’re all about, I’d say:  it’s about breathing!  Or, to be more precise, it’s about how most of us suck at it.

I’m more of an analogy guy, so using one that most people can (hopefully) appreciate:  if our breathing patterns are like the worst karaoke singer we’ve ever heard, we’d sound like a whale passing a kidney stone.

Yeah, not pretty.

More to the point it’s about understanding that symmetry – as much as we try to attain it, and think that it exists – probably ain’t gonna happen.

It’s recognizing that we’re inherently designed in such a way where asymmetry is inevitable – we have a heart on one side, a liver on the other, more prominent diaphragmatic attachments on one side compared to the other – and that how we breath plays a major role in that.

PRI tries to teach people how to breath more efficiently, which in turn, in conjunction with their corrective modalities, will help attempt to bring them back to neutral.

In short, the diaphragm is kind of a big deal, and because many of us are locked into a scissor pattern in conjunction with a left rib flare – what PRI refers to as a Zone of Apposition – we have a hard time breathing correctly.

Ideally the diaphragm will act as a superior and inferior “canister,” compressing when we inhale and elongating when we exhale….which in turn provides optimal stability up and down the kinetic chain.

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned scissor posture (to the far right in the pic above), we tend to see more anterior translation of the diaphragm locking us into more extension, which in turn doesn’t allow it to perform optimally.

For the more visual learners out there, here’s how the diaphragm should work:

So that was a little more than 10 seconds, but you get the idea. I think.

This stuff IS important, and it definitely has its place in the grand scheme of things – ESPECIALLY if someone is in pain.

But I can’t help but feel that sometimes this knowledge is crippling some trainers and that they’re missing the forest for the trees.

It’s kind of like they’re constantly operating with their emergency brakes on.  They can apply the gas, and yes, the car will move, albeit it will be at a snail’s pace.

What’s starting to become more common is that trainers and coaches are forgetting that they’re trainers and coaches and they’re not training their athletes and clients.

Where I find this becomes more dangerous/annoying is that new, more inexperienced trainers are falling into this trap.  It’s one thing for someone with years of experience to start playing around with this stuff – as is the case with myself, Harold, and Kyle (and many, many, many others).

But it’s a whole nother ball of wax when you have inexperienced trainers trying to implement this new information when they haven’t yet learned to integrate it appropriately.

Stealing a line from Michael Mullin (who’s a PRI instructor himself)…..”just like any new skill, there’s a learning curve involved.”

How can one justify using more advanced techniques like positional breathing tactics when they can’t even coach someone how to squat correctly?

More importantly:  how much are we (as coaches and trainers) allowed to teeter with our scope of practice?

There’s no doubt an overlap between the physical therapy world and the strength and conditioning world.  Where do we draw the line though?

I’m always asked my opinion on “corrective exercise,” and to be brutally honest I feel that CORRECT MOVEMENT is corrective.

Coach people to squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry correctly, and it’s amazing what can happen.

The kicker is that PRI has been around for a few decades.  It’s only been in the past 2-3 years that it’s blown up to the point where everyone – physical therapists, chiros, strength coaches, personal trainers, and your local weather man – are using it.

As my boy, Mark Fisher himself, notes:

It frankly reminds me of the FMS mania a few years back where every trainer thought they were “diagnosing dysfunction” and “correcting” shit for hours on end (which is hilariously something that drives Gray fucking NUTS)

I’m sure it will all blow over soon (these things always do) and we’ll be left with the good big rocks of knowledge that can be implemented in a fitness setting, but good loooord people.

I’m 100% on the same page as Mark, with the exception of one thing.

I don’t feel PRI is just some random thing that will blow over – I mean, come on, One Direction is a thing.

I find a lot of value in PRI, and I know it works because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I think it’s great that more trainers and coaches are exploring the rabbit hole. But it’s important not to get too carried away. PRI is a tool in the toolbox.  Nothing more.

Just remember that.

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  • Brent

    Good stuff Tony.

    I liken this kind of thinking to that history teacher everyone seems to have had who knew everything there was to know about everything history, yet their students left the class not knowing why we celebrate the 4th of July or what the 1st amendment is.

    Then I saw that Jimmy Kimmel skit last week where people were avoiding gluten and didn’t even know what it was.

    I think PRI is really interesting stuff, but frankly all the analyzing of it, is gonna make my head explode. I basically want a ‘if you see this’ then THIS is probably what you should do to correct it.

    We need more big picture people in the fitness industry. My rule is if you can’t tell me what the basic movement patterns are, why they are important and most importantly how to instruct someone to do them, then toss aside the PRI stuff until you master the basics. That simple.

  • ryan

    Yep.

    All you need to go is get people stronger and teach them how to move properly. All the rest will come with it.

  • Christian

    I think this is great. As for rubbing people up the wrong way, I think 80% of the meaning of words is governed by how we say them so I understand the extra attention you’ve given this.

    With my patients I just figure the more I can learn the more I can offer. I use some of the PRI stuff but I am limited in my kbowledge of it being on the otherside of the world and having limited access to the courses. The limited I do know ties in well with the other information I have at my dispense so it can’t be a bad thing. Perhaps the limitation would be if one solely defines their practice through PRI and pigeon holes themselves to what they can offer their clients/patients.

    Thanks for a good read

  • Michael J Mullin

    Nicely done Tony. Respectful observation and true on many levels. If there are that many correctives that strength and performance coaches feel they need to be making, then that person likely requires further intervention from an associated health professional to address that. Coaches should be supplementing vs. feeling like they are the primary practitioner. Most people might like the initial correctives–and they are essential in my view–but as you so eloquently stated, ultimately they come to you to get strong.
    Frankly, some of the stuff that people will find down that rabbit hole can be downright challenging and at times scary with some deep rooted issues contributing to some of those underlying patterns. The analogy to Alice in Wonderland was even more accurate than you thought 🙂

  • Thijs Hottenhuis

    P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

    Great article, Tony! I believe that
    simplicity is the key to training and coaching. Simple things like
    the hundred day burpee challenge can change people’s lives. Thanks.
    Thijs Hottenhuis Super
    Health Guru

  • Shane Mclean

    I’m a big believer in “taking what you need” Tony. Most of our clients don’t have a clue when it comes to this stuff. It is our job has coaches to integrate this with clients who are up for it, so to speak.

    I agree with you buddy. Love the PRI stuff.