In case you’ve never thought about this, we have some breaking news: the idea of ‘fitness’ is manufactured. We often get so caught up in how to workout and what to do to stay fit that we forget to ask ourselves WHY we are doing any of this at all. What is a push-up and who decided this was what we should do with our time?
In this episode, Ryan geeks out about these questions with James Fitzgerald, Winner of the 2007 CrossFit Games “The Fittest on Earth,” founder of OPEX, and industry-leading educator. Through OPEX Coaching Education and Gyms, James educates thousands of coaches around the world each year through a dynamic digital platform and live courses.
James and Ryan chat about:
- why we move or train at all
- programming just outside your comfort zone
- the 6 basic movement patterns and how to assess them
- maladaptive strategy of surviving vs. learning
- how to find true autonomy
Just because something exists doesn’t mean you should do it. But stick this one in your earhole; it might change the way you think about your training.
Some of the resources mentioned:
Transcript for True Autonomy, with James Fitzgerald, Fittest Man on Earth
Ryan: What’s up, everybody? Welcome to the GMB podcast. So today, very, very special guest, we have James Fitzgerald. So, some of you probably heard of him before. First off the bat, the world’s fittest man, Fittest Man in the World, 2007, at the very first CrossFit Games.
James: I think it’s Fittest on Earth. I think it was Fittest on Earth.
Ryan: Was it Fittest on Earth?
Ryan: The Fittest Man on Earth? Is that right? Yeah.
James: I think it was. Not at the time. They didn’t say at the time, but I’ll take that one. I like the world, though, I like the World’s Fittest Man.
Ryan: The world, that’s it, and everywhere. Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s Fittest Man on Earth. That was 2007. You’re a father of two, been published in multiple publications, including your work in the journal for strength and conditioning research on muscle fatigue, very cool. Founder of Optimum Performance Training in 1999. And just like me, you like hiking. I really was happy to see that.
So, something else that I really like about your approach to fitness, that is also close to what we do, is the way that you look at people and the lifestyle. And so the way that you create programs based on their lifestyle needs, and then really helping to create balance in a person’s life in terms of what they are after with all of that. Also, your desire to continue to learn. So this is something from stalking you over time is the fact that you always talk about how you just love to learn. And with that, your knowledge is just incredible for over the years, what I’ve seen that you’ve done. And I just want to thank you so much for being here with me today.
James: Oh, awesome. That’s a great opener. I appreciate it.
Ryan: Yeah. Well, so today, we’ll kind of dive right into it. So, this is a topic that you brought up that you said that you’d like to talk about. I think it’s fabulous. And so we’re just going to take a look at the importance of the basics, and keeping things simple. This is something I also talk a lot about in a person’s program and rather than the workout, I like to call it a session, but the same thing, something else that I really like is sometimes you don’t call it a wad, you call it a workout of life. Is that correct?
James: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan: Well, you made the difference there. I noticed you mentioned this before in some of your other interviews.
James: Yeah. Maybe directly, I never thought of that, changing up the D on the end, but that certainly sounds more appropriate.
Ryan: Yeah, I really like that. You mentioned that, I can’t remember the interview it was, but I remember you mentioned that. But today we’re going to talk about the six movement patterns. The seven, if you want to look at locomotion, but there’s longevity and really resisting entropy longer. And by the way, we have a T-shirt in GMB, which is kind of a joke that we made. It’s a green T-shirt called entropy always wins. So entropy always wins.
James: Ooh, touché. I like that.
Ryan: I might have to send you one. So let’s get right into it. So let’s just start talking.
The Why, Reasons for Moving
James: Yeah. Well, I think there is no direct question there, but I think maybe a nice area for us to have a conversation is maybe to get people thinking about the actual reason for movement before you get into what that actually should look like. I think it’s very easy to, well, I know it is, it’s quite easy to come up with some ideas, and not like we’re not going to get to a point where there’s an agreement on what you should do, but I really think that needs to be… you need to pull that one out, right?
James: When you say, “Well, we do this exercise for living long and prospering,” right? And I kind of do this screech there, it’s like, “Yeah, yeah.” Well, let’s just define what living long and prospering is, because to my point, and I’m not sure if you and your folks have recognized it, there’s a lot of options for what people consider to be that beacon. Right? And because there’s no beacon and no definition, and no one wants to have the hard conversation, we’re just summarizing everything into, “Oh, we’ll just do what everyone has always done, and what’s available and what you’d like to do.” And that’s what actually has been determining what we do for movement. So before we get there, maybe I’ll ask you, what is your group and your language and your philosophy? Do you guys massage that question a lot in terms of all the-
Ryan: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. This is huge for us. So it always comes back to your why. That’s our biggest thing. So it’s not about doing movement just for the movement’s sake, in terms of doing something just because someone tells you that you should be doing it, it’s that why. Why do you need to be doing this? Is it good for you? Does it match in your life? Does it help you to be able to do what you need to do in your life?
So like we say, with GMB, it’s a method, but the thing is, is it’s not about doing more GMB. It’s about using GMB to help you for what you need in order to do the stuff in your life that you want to do, whether that be playing with your kids, whether it be being a better rower, whether it be whatever it is. And so I’ve always been big on that.
When we founded GMB, Jarlo and Andy and I, I come from a gymnastic and a martial art background, so that was a big thing with me. But the thing is, as you grow, as you get older, let’s just be honest, things change, priorities change, families happen and things. So your balance, as you talked about before in your life, that also changes and by spending time focusing on that, why, why are you moving? And also looking at the other things that are distractions in your life, focusing more on what you need, not just what, again, someone else out there says that you need to be doing because they were a movement guru. By the way, that’s a big thing that we don’t like also. But, yeah, in a nutshell, right there, that’s where we are.
James: Super awesome. That helps phrase, I guess, where I go on some conversation around how you get to that point and the intention of it, because how you get to it, again, is the next point. So if you’re establishing a why, and we establish the point that we have this belief which we can massage too in terms of what that should look like. But if you have this belief around asking the why, then you have to then have a system in place or some kind of strength in your conviction of what you’re looking at that determines what people should do for their movement.
The How, Capabilities
James: So the next place that you would go, and I think this is going to end up in us coming to a good thought process on, “Well, if we’re going to move, James, tell me what we should do then.” It’s largely, to your point, it’s not only connected to what you say you want to do to fit the medium, there has to be some specificity in there relative to what you’re capable of expressing. Right?
Ryan: Exactly. Right. Yes.
James: A person’s capabilities is also in there. So I’m sure you guys as well as us have lots of ideas on assessment to determine, what do you believe to be a good bending pattern? What do you believe to be a good squatting pattern? What do you believe to be pushing and pulling core et cetera? Which is leading into your first question on… Our belief would be that… If you were to really… Just the way I get people to think about it, imagine there’s no such thing as fitness facilities, there’s no such thing as barbells, it never happened, right? So I’m sure you’ve intersected all those points back in the ’20s, where people were like, “Work hard to go to war,” and everyone is like, “What?.”
James: And then they’re sportsmen and strong men, et cetera. But somehow that sneaked in the leisure pursuit, right? And then we established all this stuff. So if you can imagine that never happened, this is where you need to go to and then just say, “Well, what are we doing today?” You know?
James: You’re probably finding your food, you’re probably taking care of your loved ones, you’re probably trying to grow your brain, you’re seeing, it’s got nothing to do with what you see available in there. So my point being on that the reason why this should stretch your brain a little bit as your users or your coaches is that you got to touch something and recognize that movement prescription today is really a diversion tactic to allow people to just express themselves physically. Why? Because we don’t need to move.
James: You don’t need to move, right? So there’s that fine, weird line of like, “Well, I’m not going to go nihilistic, and just walk around and chase my food because I got Amazon on my phone.” Instead, you’re going to go… I know we’re laughing at this, but that’s going to happen in a year, right?
Ryan: That’s exactly right.
James: Like, “I’d like a burger,” and your friends will be like, “This burger?”
Ryan: Yeah. Exactly.
Best Movement Practices
James: Because we don’t need to do that, we’re actually manufacturing it. Then if you say, “Well, if we are going to manufacture it, what would be best practices?” And the way that you come up with best movement practices is not only based upon evolutionary concepts, meaning, how we propose to move. You got to tie in this level of resilience to give someone a buffer to express, like you said, whatever they want to do in the periphery, right?
James: So this is where preliminarily, I would say, you need lots of variation. That means various modalities, various challenges, et cetera. And we squeeze it down to getting into a great principle when you push and pull with your upper body. We call it that, and I can open it up as to why it’s called that. Pushing and pulling, you focus on the core as one essential movement. You can lunge, you can bend, and you can squat.
Now, the locomotion aspect, I put that into a work environment. I would agree it would be a seventh aspect, but I put it into a work environment, as was expressed earlier even then Paul Chek, way back in the day. And that allows us to kind of, as a coach and a human, go, “If I’m going to do any of this, that I know is folly, but it increases my resilience so I can do all the other things I want to do, what should that be?” Well, then you’re not only just going to do this, you can’t see me, but I’m just doing bench press.
Ryan: Bench press. Yeah.
James: You’re not just going to do that. You need to say, “Well, what other movements can I do?”
James: And in that question, the pushing, pulling, lunging, bending, squatting, core activities will provide you a balanced approach. And that’s where a coach comes in and gives you some direction on it. It allows you to overcome movement solutions, which grows your brain, which allows the buffer to raise.
Ryan: Oh, this is fabulous. Yeah, I mean, we’re exactly on the same page. And this is another reason why I was very excited to have this chat with you, because, I mean, we’re talking the same language, which is fabulous. And it’s not about focusing just on one single thing and just saying, “Hey, we’re done. This all we do. It’s all you need,” because it’s always going to be different.
And I like something else that you brought up too, is resilience. And it’s for when that oh shit moment happens. And that is something that I talk about a lot too, because that’s really what we’re after. It’s not just about, “Okay, I can squat.” Okay, great, but can we move beyond that? Can we sophisticate it in some way for a need that is coming up down the line now? Now, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to achieve a particular thing, become some super human type person, but it comes down to that.
Something else recently that we’ve not been, I wouldn’t say necessarily focusing on 100%, but it’s something that comes up is falling. I mean, it’s huge, and especially martial art and whatnot. But the thing is, is Falling. And having, first, those assessments in your body to understand really what’s going on in your body. Can you perform these basic movements first, so that you can start working on sophisticating down the road? I’m kind of going off, and I’m going to . . . continue.
James: No, no. You keep talking. Yeah, those a lot of great things in there. First thing to think about, which I don’t want to divest in too hard in too far is, we’re agreeing. Right? But I think immediately as soon as someone says that, it’s like, well, if we’re agreeing to it, it’s just N equals two, there’s probably N equals 100. What my point is, is, well, why isn’t it presently obvious that people are doing it?
So you and I and everyone, that’s why I like criticizing bad ideas, because I don’t like the non critical thinking around this process of it, otherwise, you just succumb and pander to whatever is popular, right? So I didn’t want to necessarily go there, but I’m just trying to raise the hairs on people’s backs that just because you and I agree that, there still has to be a lot of work done the other side of it.
Finding a Balance
James: Secondly, I think that the big challenge that we’re probably… that’s in front of us to get that across to people is, to your point, to find that fine balance, because I’ll just take it from my perspective from competitive fitness, it was sold to a whole market that the unknown and unknowable, therefore, you have to train that way, that resembles the dose response of the scare tactic. Right?
Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James: So, to your point, I just wanted to say that there’s a continuum of what you’re describing, that allows a buffer zone. Because people are like, “Oh, so what you’re telling me is, I need to get ready for a wolf pack chasing me at 2:00 AM, right?
Ryan: The zombie apocalypse.
James: It’s like, “Whoa, whoa. No, no, I didn’t say that.” No, but it’s a point of consideration. Again, a lot of people may not find this important, but there is some context to what it actually looks like that pushes you outside of your capabilities, right? But that doesn’t stretch you past what you’re currently capable of. So although your users won’t be able to see me, I’ll try to describe it. When someone’s capable of doing something, this is where they sit, at a certain point. And when you give them a training program, you give them something that’s just, just outside of that, right? That essentially-
Ryan: And that’s important. Yes. Just outside of it. Right. Sorry to interrupt.
James: Yeah. That’s actually building a buffer, right?
James: So you can’t train for something unknowable by saying, “This is where you sit,” and you train for something outside of your capabilities, because all you’re going to do is develop a maladaptive strategy of surviving, right? And that could look… This is where it gets scientifically really challenging for us as a movement is that if you do all this maladaptive stress training, you actually can have a very fast increase in general health measures. This is where it’s like, “Well, so.” And the people are really like, “But I saw this research in this group did six weeks of this.”
Sustainability, Longevity, Recovery
James: You actually can’t provide evidence against that. So what you have to use as a coach is the adapted long term play model. Back to our first point, you have to have some intention and say, “Well, you just said you want to do this for 60 years, didn’t you? Yeah. How sustainable is that program that you’re planning on doing for four weeks?” You see? So now they’re start like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, because I never thought about that.” Right?
James: So what I should be practicing is something that’s just outside of my capabilities, that is essentially sustainable.
Ryan: Right. Focusing on those good progressions and variations that are going to help that person to get where they need to go. So this is also something that one of your videos while back that you did. I’m trying to think. It was talking about balance, but it was also talking about the intensity versus recovery in terms of… And this is something that you touched on as well, that reminded me of that is thinking that it should always be intense, and hitting it so hard is actually, yeah, it’s going to get you there quickly, but the problem is, in looking at longevity, is that really what you need.
Ryan: And I just… And this is, again, something that jumped out at me, because I’m talking about that all the time. And so, if you’re hitting it so hard all the time, you’re going to blow out some time. Okay?
Ryan: You’re going to see it immediately. But the thing is, is, again, looking at that balance and being able to continue to do that. And yeah, this is especially with me. I apologize, I don’t know how old you are right now. I’m 47 years old, and the thing is-
James: I’m 46.
Ryan: 46. Great. Same age. I want to continue to do the things I’m doing right now for as long as possible. And the only way that I know through experience and looking at the research and doing the work is that you can’t think you’re going to be revving that car at the red line every single day. So anyway, coming back to you, continue, please. Continue.
Ryan: Yeah. No, there is. Well, I think there is a program, let’s call it the best program for everyone to live long and prosper. It actually does exist, right? It actually does exist. It’s just that we don’t want to conform to it being so simple. We want to make a complex for commercial interest and fanciness, whatever, right?
James: But there is… I almost called it scripture. Whoops. There is structure. That could be a freudian slip in there. There is structure, right?
Ryan: Uh-huh (affirmative).
James: There is structure to what makes sense, right?
James: Based upon these areas. So people can think about it in this way to say, “Well, what is the best one? And how do I have a construct of a litmus that dictates what is good for me?” This is how you do it. You got to be able to express whatever you want to express. You’ve got to be able to express it first. Secondly, you got to be able to recover from that such that it leads to growth and adaptation. And if those three things don’t work together, which they most times don’t in a reaching outside of capabilities arguments, right?
James: Because these people can try to do what’s proposed as the stress. Right? So they’re like, “I’m really doing it.” Well, no, you’re actually not, you’re just flailing.
Ryan: Going through the motions.
Ryan: Right. Yes.
James: But they’re not expressing it. Number two, they feel super sore, which I don’t have a hate against soreness, but they’re super sore for four days, right? So that means they can’t actually recover from the dose response. And then it does not lead to an improvement in long term capacity and sustainability.
So what they just did there looked like a great sweat. Right? And it’s local, it’s not costly, anyone can do it, but you can see it pulls people into these horrible behaviors, because of its lack of reality. It’s actually not real expression.
Ryan: This is good.
James: So, if you’re asking that litmus, if you’re like, “How do I know if this is connected to me?” Because you and I were… This is almost unfair because you and I have been through the wringer a few times. Right?
James: So how do you tell a 22 year old, right?
Ryan: Exactly. That’s it. Right there.
James: When you tell a 22 year old, it’s like, “This is probably what you should be doing, because I know you don’t care about your knees in 20 years, but let me tell you that you’re not expressing it. And these are the signs how you’re not recovering from it.”
Ryan: Exactly. Yes.
James:“And this is what growth actually means to improve.” And if we can get that then someone can have a self evident assessment as to what they’re doing that’s healthy for him. Because in my point of view, I always find it crazy. I actually know the best path for everyone. There’s a book that’s written on it, right? It’s the book of John or the book of Bill or the book of Todd or whatever, but it all has structure around those three things. It’s just that we want to blow it out of the water for numerous different reasons. Sorry, I exhausted that one as well.
Assessment of Movement and Expression
Ryan: No. I love it. And I want to actually go a little deeper on… You said expression. And I love that you said expression. And so I want you to talk a little bit about really what that means, because I won’t even say anything. I just want you to go into it, run with that and explain to my listeners.
James: Yeah. So I’ll show you what are examples of… An expression could be a simple lying on the ground, a tabletop hip extension, hips up in the air, and you’re pushing something away with you with one arm, okay? And so if you’re capable of doing the entire repetition sequence under control in what was required in the task, that’s called an expressed activity, right? And I’m making it very reductionist, so people can say, “Well, what do you mean by expression? What you don’t you mean by expression.”
James: So if a person goes down there, and after they were proposed to do a certain number, repetitions, timeframe for whatever they wanted to do, but the goal was motor control the whole time. And then they do six repetitions, and on the seventh and eighth, they extend their hips a little further, and their elbow shoots out to the side to get the last two reps. Now, that seems very picky, but it’s called a lack of expression of what was required for the movement. So they created an adaptive strategy to do the movement. Okay?
James: Let’s take another simple example, lunging across the floor without even getting into… I want to come back to the following thing, though, because I think there’s a point that could upgrade my knowledge on it, where I kind of sit on the concept of a survival mechanism inside of that. But let’s take lunges across the floor. You know what a good lunch looks like, and then you know when it doesn’t look right. Right? So this is where people get a jammed on their thoughts because lots of high intensity models bleed if the movement is perfect, everything is fine, right? But it’s not. It’s the sustainability of the movement that dictates the expression. This is the point.
James: So someone lunges 10 times across the floor, right? You’re like, “That looks really good,” right? And then they get tired and because you’re like, “Ah, let’s just go again.” Every rep still looks good, but they’re taking more rest between every rep now. But you’re like, “Okay, the mechanics are still good, but it took you an extra five seconds to do those 10 lunges,” right? And it kind of goes missed. And then she’s saying, “Well, those were-”
James: And then on the third round, now she’s got to put her hand on her thigh on the sixth Rep. This is another example of a lack of expression. Now, before I finish on that, I can hear so many people like, “Dude, just get over it. She’s getting stronger. She’s working hard, people are clapping. Who are you to tell people to stop exercising?” This is so prevalent, it’s become a common practice to allow this to happen.
James: I’m telling you 90% of everywhere, but it’s a lack of actual expression of what’s required for the task. The task was sustainable 10 reps of a lunge pattern, three times in a row, and you couldn’t do it. So what do you do? Well, obviously, have a better coach and a better thought process. You’re like, “I’m going to give you something that’s slightly going to challenge the mechanics and the timeframe so that by the 10th rep on the third lunge set,” right at eight, nine, 10, she’s like, “Oh, that was challenging to get those last three.” And you’re like, “Money. Now leave.” You’ve you’ve adapted and flirted with what your capacity is, right? That’s called capacity of what’s truly expressed.
James: Another one which… This also gets in the field of like, met cons and conditioning and et cetera. A lot of people think that because they’re doing 20 minutes in a row of just savage, cool looking exercise, they really think they’re expressing metabolic conditioning.
James:So here’s the caveat on why it’s not, and then people can figure it out for themselves why it’s not actually an expression. Because people just like doing a some kind of a movement, right? They did it for 20 minutes, they think they’re expressing metabolic conditioning, but this is what’s happening, for the first two minutes, their body goes into the hypoxic state and they’re like, “Holy shit.” And then they’re like, “Oh, I guess this what’s going to happen.” 18 minutes of just like, “Let’s survive this thing.”
James: So if you actually measure power for the whole time, their power output goes up for the first two minutes, and then it’s decreasing for the whole 18 minutes of the rest of the 20 minute workout. So that’s called a lack of metabolic expression. Why? Because you’re now not adapting to what you tried to do. What are you doing? You’re surviving. So now you’re creating a behavioral pattern: that exercise is survival. And you’ve learned… This is the sad part, you’ve learned nothing. Nothing. The only real thing you learned, how to beat yourself up metabolically. How good is that?
James: And the back to my point, if you put in a study, you put a OPEX group together for eight weeks, and the intense group together eight weeks, the intense group has better general health measures, but they’re maladapted to what they tried to express.
Ryan: This is brilliant. And I’m just sitting here listening to you, because my listeners are just going to totally jones out over this. And the reason why is because this is what I harp on all the time. And I don’t care how many reps you think you can do, it doesn’t matter. Are you aware of how you’re doing them, and what’s going on in between those reps.
And so my big thing is, make the rep beautiful, do one rep, make it beautiful, and then do another one, but being aware of what’s going on, not just in how you’re moving, but also how you’re feeling, what else is going on in the movement? And so this is why I’m constantly trying to get people to slow down, actually, when we’re working on skill work, when we’re doing skill, right?
James: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan: Because slowing things down makes it more difficult. And in GMB, we focus on three things strength, flexibility and motor control. That’s really where it’s at. And people always, they think they have the strength, they think they have the flexibility and they think they have the control, but when you go back and really look at it, it’s going to be a mixture of those three.
And as you progress forward, as you were just saying, it’s not a matter of looking at the studies and saying, “Okay, general health wise, we’re getting better,” it’s going deeper, being aware of really what’s truly going on in the body. And within, when you’re performing it so . . . fabulous.
James: Yeah. I like the… A few things here I want to comment on that I’m just admirable of that you’re teaching your crew is to come up with an internal feedback mechanism, because that’s what leads to autonomy. That is true autonomy.
Ryan: Exactly. Right there.
James: That they become aware of when they’re in and when they’re out of their capabilities, right?
James: That’s the key point. So if you can start that with people right away, I’m just saying that it’s great that you’re doing that to your audience. And… Sorry, go ahead.
Ryan: Go ahead. I’m sorry. Go ahead. Please, go ahead. Please, go ahead.
James: Yeah. No, I think that the… I want to segue it into the language that I use because I want to somehow bring together what you guys say, just as brain stretching experiment for us.
Ryan: Wonderful. Yes.
James: Because I still want to get to that where I believe I’ve been missing out on our education. I have the faculties to do it, but we’ve been missing on it. So I’m going to come deeper to that, what you call strength flexibility and-
Ryan: Motor control. Yes.
James: Motor control, we teach it in the aspect of what a coach is going to express for movements, and we express it from motor control into strength endurance into strength. That’s what we consider. But let me say the caveats so you know where these things fit in. I consider motor control, I think in your language, the stability mobility component of the joint by joint approach, like, our evolution make up, some joints are supposed to be more mobile than others, and some joints may be more stable than others. So motor control for me includes both of those.
Ryan: I see. Yeah.
James: But I like the fact that you’re calling it three different things, and you’re you almost have a triad effect, as opposed to a scaffolding. So I teach as a scaffolding of motor control, strength endurance, muscle endurance, and then strength. Does that make sense?
Ryan: Very. Yeah. That’s very interesting.
James: It scaffolds people to get to an expression of true strength, like I would assume you know that you could still… you think you’re expressing strength, but in my language strength is a maximal voluntary contraction. See, my language is that, that’s why I use that as a language of it.
Ryan: Exactly. Similar goals, but different, which I like. I really like that. And we could really go deeper into this. I think though, for the listener, I think this is more like me and you talking back and forth.
James: Yeah. Sorry.
Ryan: No, no, don’t be because I’m just… I could talk forever about this kind of stuff. So, we’re talking about the expression. And then moving forward with that expression, let’s kind of take a jump back, if that’s okay.
Ryan: So, in looking at the six movement patterns, if we can go into those, and I’m sure that we’re going to end up going off on a topic.
James: That’s all right.
Ryan: But go ahead, please, yes, with the six movement patterns.
Six Movement Patterns
James: Yeah, get over, review that, you still got to think about that context. There’s no such thing as fitness, and that’s important as a presupposition, right? People, because all they’ll attach to is like, “So bench and prone row.” No, don’t go there first, you got to go there to, “Why should we do these exact things,” right?
James: And so, based upon standing on the shoulders of giants, there’s been lots of people that have actually done movements and exercise for a long period of time, and it’s a fine balance between what we’re, depending upon your belief, designed to do that allowed us to propagate as a species. And the way that you can then align and say, “Well, if you have some ideas on movements, what should they be?” They have to be evolutionary natural selection species improvement based, right?
So grasping, we probably had to grasp. That’s the aspect of pulling something. That’s our pulling mechanism, or how we’re classifying that. We do have the capabilities to punch and throw, which is what would be considered either pulling or pushing activities, right? We do have the ability to stabilize our spine involuntarily through intra-abdominal pressure, which luckily enough, gives us great shits and great crap. And it shouldn’t be too hard, but you do have to do some form of intra-abdominal pressure.
James: But we have these mechanisms set up were… But just think about this, think about this human system, right? When we do an intra-abdominal pressure, our spine can hold unbelievable physical loads, right? When you study the levers, you can listen to Stuart McGill talk about that and it’s makeup. I mean, it’ll just blow your mind of the physics around that. But what I find more interesting is that are you telling me that when I go, [grunts] like that, this thing could hold all that, and he’s going, “Yeah, that’s thinking-.” So I go, “Why? Why would us humans be devised to do that?” And I don’t go any further than that just to go, “Well, it exists, so we probably should practice it,” right?
And then as you know in an environment, you’re going to have to do certain kinds of breathing around that bracing based on what you need to express. So we can go super paleo on that saying, you got a hollow carcass home, you got to put on your back, you’re going to have to do multiple different bracing strategies in order to do those things, or to throw out a punch or take a kick, or to throw sword, or et cetera, et cetera.
James: And for the lower body stuff, or those patterns, it does become a little bit more, I guess, you could say there’s more queries inside of what they would look like. But it’s based upon experiments and evidence that these joints can move in these manners. And we don’t really have a super strong argument based upon evolution as to say we should do it. A lot of people pull in the Orientalism concept of squatting to get low, gardening and bending and stooping it a bit. But it’s like, “Yeah, I guess, it’s probably comes to that.”
But really, I look at it and say, we can do those things. And when you create challenges to those things, if they’re done progressively, it leads to some good robustness and resilience. That’s my argument to it. And it’s not a super hard one, but we’re able of expressing them. And because I look at lunging like it’s kind of middle zone between locomotion and running, and you could argue that point too.
James: But these movements in the lower body, lunging, squatting and bending, are just set up for us. And we have certain angles and lanes that we can be in. There’s not massive variability inside of those lower body patterns. So it offers us an opportunity to get lots of different stuff on top of it.
So pushing and pulling, and core activities could be consumed as being more primal. And then you have bending, squatting and lunging, and then if you throw some locomotion on top of that, as I said, it turns into a work scenario that I’m concerned about for metabolism outside of mechanics. And so inside those six pieces, I’m not sure where you want it to take it besides that, but that’s how I kind of formulate ideas on balancing those things out.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s fabulous. And the thing is, is I like something else too. I mean, not to just simplify it, but because we can. That was something that I really like, and you can always argue for whatever, but the thing is, is we can.
James: Yeah, because I hate to see you go, “Well, what can’t we do?” Well, I can’t turn my head around.
Ryan: That’s exactly right. Yeah.
James: No. I mean, I can’t grab something in the middle part of my back. That at least makes you go, “Oh, yeah, right.”
James: Then there are limitations, right?
James: There are limitations as to how we’re built. And if you study older models of evolution, you’ll basically be able to see a bipedal throwing, kicking, surviving, it kind of makes sense as to why we’re stuck the way we are. Our eyes are here. This is what we have in front of us. And then you should just get a little bit more specific, and instead of just going, “Well, I see a bench press, so that’s probably what the pushing should be.” Well, open up your thoughts to what pushing could be because having someone in front of you, and they’re trying to push you back, but you’re holding them from pushing you back, that’s a pushing scenario. So you see, now, we’re tying in truly more of an evolutionary concept of pushing, right?
James: But also not escaping the fact that, yeah, the previous mentioned dumbbell press is a push, right?
James: Front leaning rest on the floor is a push.
Ryan: Absolutely. Yeah.
James: Holding yourself static up on two chairs is a push. So now it allows you to go, “Oh, okay, there’s lots that can go into the pushing element.”
Ryan: Category. Yeah.
James: I forgot to mention to why, I think I always create a structure to that, is that because… And I’m sorry, because you said it. So I forgot to even mention it. It allows us to create structure around someone’s head to toe balance.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s right.
James: We’re not always doing squatting, right?
James: Or we’re not always hinging. Right? So I was just mimicking like a swing fanatic that thinks that you’re going to get all those things in a swing. It’s like, “I think swings are fantastic, but have you ever done a pull up?” There’s lots of movements you could do. You know? And that’s where I bring in the variability. I’m a big fan of multiple modalities.
Ryan: Yes, I like that.
James: But I guess, I’m more progressive, I guess, in terms of what it would be like for movement. I do prescribe machines, pulleys, bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells. I prescribe it all based on what they’re capable of.
Ryan: Exactly. Yeah.
James: It’s that variability component that allows them to increase motor control.
Ryan: Yeah. Even on your Instagram account for OPEX, what was it? There was an image that you had where you would give three examples of the push, the pull, and the core as well as the squat, the hinge and the lunge, depending upon your level and your needs, which I thought was wonderful. And so that’s also something I really like. It’s not, “Oh, you should just be doing heavy barbell squats.” Done. You know what I mean?
And that’s the thing with us too, and I got to be honest, with GMB, we focus mainly on bodyweight movements simply, it’s not because… And I just shot a video about this the other day regarding other modalities, and the thing is, I love everything. And I think anything can be good for anyone in a sense if it’s a good program for that person. Right? And I think we agree with this.
Where to Start
Ryan: It’s not just, it has to be this or this, we just happen to use bodyweight just because it was a good expression, different kind of meaning of what you were after, but a good expression of how we could share the method with other people, as well as my background and whatnot. But I want to take this a little bit further, if it’s okay with you, where do we start? So we come to you, and obviously we’re going to have an assessment, and you’re going to give us… and you’re going to prescribe the necessary things, but where do we start though, if we were to come to you, or we’re interested in learning more about what’s going on with you and say, “Hey, you know what? I want to learn from James.” What does that start look like?
James: Oh, to learn from me about what I teach or where a person is starting the exercise from?
Ryan: Well, let’s say if I’m a client.
James: Oh, client. Yeah.
Ryan: I’m a client, I come to you. And I’m like, “Hey.”
James: Yeah. It’s what I said earlier, how do you get here and what are you capable of? That’s how we determine what you’re going to do. And that gets a little bit more open, but you have to honor the fact of what the experiences that someone brings to the table first, right?
So you’re 48 years old, you can’t as much as you or you’re… Let’s just say, I’ll give you an avatar, classic avatar. 33 year old, former pro athletes now out of shape for five years. You can’t discount the fact of the strength of that cognitive function of the athlete essence, right? So for you to be like, “Ah, here we go. Classic out of shape, former athlete,” right? You’re not giving some story to what goes into the design, because if you’re going to say that all that cognitive work doesn’t impart on faster adaptation, you are going to miss the boat on those people. Right?
James: So how you got here largely dictates what we call your training age. So how many years or what have you actually been doing in physical challenges? Because that will largely dictate, for us back room to say, where do you sit on this maximal expression long term, right?
Ryan: Sure. Yeah.
James: So if you’re a client, I want to know how you got here. Secondly, we will go through an assessment. We classify it in three areas, body, move, work. Body would be anthropometrics, height weight, body weight, body composition, if it’s necessary, et cetera. Second, we take them through all those former movement patterns.
Ryan: Take them into… Yeah.
James: Just be like, “Oh, let’s just see exactly how you perform with these really basic ones that are mostly, they’re not even physical challenges, they’re just… Just show me what you can express.” Right?
Ryan: That’s right. Yeah.
James: I can take you through those. And then we take everyone in our method through a flywheel bike test for 10 minutes, because anyone can do it. Right?
Ryan: Yeah. Exactly. Right. Yeah.
James: You just got to sit on a bike. Worst thing that is going to happen is you’re just going to sit on and not move, you know?
James: But it does give us a real good base support, so we’re not guessing as to what the metabolic training should be for people. Back to the assessment for movement, after we’ve figured out what the training age is, we do a toe touch, which will basically get at some concept of bending. We do an air squat, or whatever they deem is called a squat in their own brain. They do a static lunge.
Ryan: Nice. Instead of showing them what they should be doing. I love that.
James: Yeah. It’s like, “Just what do you think a squat is?”
Ryan: Show me your squat. Right. Exactly. Yeah.
James: Yeah. We do a static lunge, which we put them into position, what we call a split stance and say, “Drop your knee to the ground, and then back up.” We do a side bridge. We do a front leaning rest, and we do a rear leaning rest, which is like a reverse split bridge, or people could call it some different things. And that takes care of all the challenges in my mind around, asymmetries in the scapula, symmetries around the core, symmetries around the pelvis, and then their squatting and bending pattern. From that alone, I mean, it sounds… when you see it so often, I know exactly what the 50 year program is.
Ryan: Yeah. Absolutely.
James: I can look at it and go, “This is exactly what you need to do,” right?
James: Now, a lot of people would be like, “That’s impossible.” When you see it so often and you… I’ve been in this for 25 years. You know what it looks like, that’s healthy for 20 years, so you can start building the process. You build those two things. What is your training age? What are you capable of expressing? That’s what you get for your program. It’s just in front of what your capabilities are. I hope it made sense on what the process is?
Ryan: Absolutely. For me, absolutely. It makes total sense to me. And it’s because it’s smart. It’s true. And especially, I want to bring it back to the fact that you’re looking at their capabilities and working at the level that they should be working at. And that’s what I just appreciate that so much, because you just see so many things out there where a person gets a program, they’re like, “All right. Let’s jump in,” but they’re like, “Oh, shit.”
James: Yeah. And this could be a hard one for coaches, right? So that’s why we use this theoretical model of a training age. But to go further than that, this is a simple way to do it. You basically have to have an intervention strategy, and then look at point A to point B and say how fast they adapt in that short term, that will give you more insight in terms of their adaptation speed, speed of learning, and where they go.
James: Example, let’s take the perfect example. 33 year old guy’s been out of shape for five years, but from 15 to 28, he was guns a-blazing, right? Guns a-blazing, true athlete, right? But he’s done nothing for five years. So you would be… You would sit… I’m not going to use that same kind of adage that you’re saying, “Oh, just starting off you’re a brand new person.” If you gave him an A to B program, you’d see that his level of improvement would not be that high. Why? Because essentially, we only have so many times to go to the bank, to your point on expression, or my point of expression, right? So he filled, what was it? 14 years of going hard, whatever it was, four times a week, for 14 years, right?
So, when you get to that 28 year old, no matter how much time you take off, cognitively and neuromuscular, he is remembered what he’s capable of expressing. So back to the point you’re like, “Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do. I don’t know how fast you’re going to adapt. Just go point A intervention, point B.” And if you see, after six weeks, I’m just throwing some numbers, that they’re not really moving that far, then you go, “That makes total sense.” You’re not going to make any massive improvements of mechanics or true definitions of expression, because you put yourself in that area for 14 years.
James: But this is important to recognize that a 21 year old who’s done nothing, what are they going to do in their invention?
Ryan: They just skyrocket. Right? Exactly.
James: Their invention is going to be like all the new games, right?
Ryan: Exactly. Yeah.
James: So then you can say, “Oh, okay. Well, that makes sense,” right? But it’s important to think about those things because then we don’t classify people in, well, what is available and that’s what I think you should do. That’s the worst thing ever that’s prevalent in fitness today. Right? It’s like, “Well, we got ropes.” It’s like, “Are those your reasons for doing them?” It’s like, “We got heart rate monitors,” that’s not the reason. The reason you should do it is based upon what they can express, and what they’re capable of. And that’s how we determine where they’re going to go.
Ryan: I love it. Yeah. Coming back to that, why. Listen, we can… I would love to talk to you for like five more hours.
James: Oh, we should do more.
Ryan: I think this is… So what I would actually like to do is we’re going to wrap it up here, but if you’re open to it, what I’d like to do is see if we can get some questions specifically based upon when your interview goes out. I’m going to ask you more questions as well, and I want to get you back on the podcast so we can talk more in depth about that sort of thing. I want to say thank you so much for being on here with me.
James: Yeah. Thanks for letting me.
Ryan: Any last questions? Anything? Some knowledge bombs you want to drop on us to end with?
James: Yeah. Probably, it may not be a knowledge bomb, but just because something exists, doesn’t mean you should do it.
Ryan: I love it. That’s so cool. Where can we find you?
James: That’s fitness wrapped up today.
Ryan: Yeah, right there, right? Just because it exists, doesn’t mean. . .
James: Where you can find me? opexfit.com. That’s probably the place you’ll see all the stuff we have to offer. I just had a meeting this morning, wrapping up what we’ve been doing. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been doing for the past decade. What I feel like I can go to sleep at night and feel happy, we’re making a dent on raising the value of a coach, which essentially are the soldiers out there on the front line pushing this narrative and pushing the story.
So if you go to opexfit.com, you’ll see that’s basically our number one thing. You can follow me on Instagram, where I post my daily movement rituals. And what I do inside there is lots of creative thoughts that I have.
Ryan: Very cool.
James: That people can possibly use to see what I’m up to. That’s jfitzopex. And then I had the same handle on Twitter. I only just post what I listen to for podcasts, including this one. I love going back and listening to the questions, and how I can refine my message and see where I was in and out of lane in terms of some of the things and making that better. So yeah, that’s where you can go.
Ryan: That’s great. And like always, we’re going to have all that information below for the listeners to access that. So it’s all good. I want to thank you again. All right, everybody. Go back, listen to this again, take that knowledge, check out what James has to offer, and we’ll talk to you soon.
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