On this episode of The NeuFit Undercurrent, Garrett expounds on a topic we get asked about a lot regarding how we use a neurological approach to rehabilitation and fitness. How are they different? How are they the same?
Garrett: I’m Garrett Saltpeter and I believe that the most powerful and transformative way to help people recover from pain and injury, heal from trauma, and reach their highest levels of fitness and performance is to focus on the nervous system. In this podcast, we’ll share knowledge from the frontiers of neuroscience and inspirational stories of how applying that knowledge has empowered people from all walks of life to heal, adapt and grow.
I was having a conversation recently about a topic that comes up a lot, and that is the similarity, the differences between rehabilitation and training. And I thought it was worth doing an episode to share some thoughts on that topic and we’ll dive right in. So I really look at rehab and effective training, effective rehab and effective training as being virtually the same thing. And I think that’s a little bit of a different view than many people have because they’re used to the more typical rehab setting where they might just do some very mild stretches, a little bit of band work, and it’s not really challenging enough. And so a lot of people see rehab as being easier, lighter, less challenging, and training being more intense, more challenging. And I think that for many people listening to this podcast, you’ve probably already worked through that kind of false belief or that mindset. And you understand that in rehabilitation, if you want to help someone recover from injury, if you want to overcome the compensation patterns and the responses that their bodies will have to the trauma or the injury or whatever happened. But if you want to overcome that, you have to put in work.
And it has to be focused work, it has to be meaningful, significant enough and relevant to what that person is experiencing. And so many of you are probably already over that initial hurdle. And so I’d like to talk a layer deeper about some of the very specific similarities between rehab and fitness training. The first is in one of the main goals is to stimulate changes in tissue. So you’re trying to stimulate if you’re working with someone who is recovering from an injury, you’re trying to stimulate their body, put it in a state where it will heal whatever tissue was damaged, broken, sprained, strained, whatever. You’re trying to put them in a state where their body can heal that as quickly as possible. Just like with exercise, if you’re trying to build muscle, you want to break that muscle down. Then you want to get the body into an anabolic environment where it can rebuild that muscle tissue as quickly and efficiently and effectively as possible. And so there’s a lot of overlap in goals related to tissue. There’s also a lot of overlap in the goals related to function. So if someone comes into a physical therapy clinic or a chiropractic office and they are limited in movement in some way you’re going to work with them.
The therapist, the doctor’s going to work with them to try to increase range of motion try to increase strength and improve coordination. And guess what? Those are all the same things that you’ll be working on when you go into a training session. A formal exercise or fitness session and the methods that certainly that we recommend that we use here at NewFit and the technology. The newbie device there’s a ton of overlap between the rehab and the fitness training because if we’re thinking about range of motion we are in both cases looking first through the lens of the nervous system and we’re thinking okay. The body probably can go farther than it currently is in this position or that range. And we have this initial hypothesis that oftentimes it’s the brain and the nervous system that limits a person from expressing their range of motion from being able to bend down further in the toe touch or get their arms up further overhead or rotate further they often limit themselves. The brain and nervous system will limit them because the brain perceives that it would be unsafe to go further. And by giving the right neurological inputs by finding where those compensation patterns are for instance through our mapping process or by providing other inputs from joint mobilization from the mechanoreceptors, those nerve receptors around the joints, whatever it is our goal is to find the inputs that allow that person, their brain to understand that it’s safe to go to this greater range of motion.
And very frequently they all of a sudden will increase their range of motion because we’ve changed the neurological signals. And likewise in training, we will try to do the same things. There’s also goals related to increasing load. If we’re talking about strength, increasing the resilience in rehab we’re trying to ramp up the level of load and challenge that someone can take without slipping back into the old compensation patterns or without having pain or certainly without re injury. And then in training we’re trying to take that to the next level, just trying to increase still the level of load someone can handle before they break down, before they lose position, before they whatever getting injured. And so that’s actually a good segue into the difference. The main difference that I see and that we talk about between training and rehab and that is basically the level at which these things are happening in terms of the level of the overall functional capacity of the system. So it’s like when we talk about increasing load and resilience you might be starting out at a lower starting point with rehab, whereas in fitness, at least in theory, you’re starting out at a higher starting point because you’re starting with a non injured or noncompromised person.
So the biggest difference to me is basically you’re doing all the same things, but with rehab, if you have a level of functional capacity. So if you’re just listening, just imagine ten different lines all at the same level, and one of them, the 11th one actually being down at a lower level, so you have a weak link. The job of rehab is to identify and then reset or improve that weak link. And that often leads to immediate breakthroughs. Certainly it helps remove the impediments that would otherwise block or slow down the healing process, makes for better overall outcomes of the rehabilitation process. And oftentimes by bringing up that weak link, we also improved performance almost as a side effect. And those are cool when you’re doing rehab with someone and you see that just from helping them get out of pain and overcome an injury, all of a sudden their fast ball is a few miles an hour faster or their vertical jump is a few inches higher. And that’s because their performance was limited by that same weak link that led them to get injured in the first place, or that at least was keeping them from recovering as efficiently and effectively as possible.
So in rehab, we’re trying to focus our efforts on those weak links and bring them up so that they match the level of the rest of the system. And then in training, what we’re trying to do is increase the functional capacity of the whole system. So now we’ve got everything at this new baseline level. Now we’re trying to systematically, methodically increase the level of that whole system.
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A good metaphor. I like car metaphors a lot. A good metaphor for this is to think of the engine of a car. If you have a V Eight engine that has eight cylinders, and yet it’s only firing on all four cylinders, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to look at that engine and think, okay, I want to add two more cylinders and go from a V eight to a V ten. The first thing, of course, that it makes sense to do is to get the other four cylinders working, actually tap into the full power of that V Eight. So you get the four that are working. You have four that get the four damaged or non working cylinders, get them running. So now you have the full power of the V Eight, and then you can talk about turbocharging it or adding more cylinders or something like that. So tap into the power of the whole engine first, and then only then worry about building a bigger engine. So it’s the same type of process. We’re just targeting it a little bit differently and looking through a slightly different lens. But I hope you see that there are a lot of similarities in the goals between rehab and training.
Recovering from an injury is very similar to recovering from a workout. In both, you have damage that happens with an injury, it’s probably not intentional. With exercise, it’s intentional. You’re intentionally inducing some damage to the body so that it will come back and heal, whether it’s replenishing energy that was depleted or actually breaking down muscles and the related cells and proteins, whatever it is. So hopefully you see there’s some overlap there and also kind of understand some of those differences. I hope that was helpful for you. It’s a topic that comes up a fair bit around here. And really, this is why we love working with people along the whole spectrum, doing rehab fitness and elite performance, because all of these principles of the nervous system, everything with which we’re working, it applies throughout that whole spectrum. I hope you enjoyed it. See you on the next episode.
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