Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Play Sports

What!?! "Aren't you a sports chiropractor?" "Don't you play sports?" "Well I think you're an idiot!"

Well if these just ran through your head as your read the title of this blog the answers are YES, YES and that depends on who you talk to.

I don't think you should play a sport per se, but instead you should focus on being an ATHLETE.  What's the difference. The difference is early specialization and specific skill development which can lead to a predisposition for injury and decreased performance.

Playing sports is not a bad thing, that's not what I'm trying to say, but in this day and age our youngsters are beginning to be trained like lifetime career, single sport athletes, rather than becoming proficient in building speed, strength, power and agility through multiple sports and movement exploration A.K.A. PLAYING!

Famed orthopedic surgeon, James Andrews,  has been schooling his doctors and general public for years on how we need to stop trying to piece people back together, and instead focus on injury prevention.  Pretty profound coming from a man in his position.

What is wrong with early specialization?  Well, nothing if you want to win the Little League World Series or Junior World Golf Championship, by reaching these types of pinnacles in a single sport at an early age, we are almost assured to set that future player up for a lack of performance and a career plagued by injury.

Tommy John surgeries have tripled in the youth population since 1990. Parents are now electively opting for their youngsters to have UCL reconstruction, because of the ignorant belief that pitchers come back better after surgery then they were before.  Are we crazy!?!
So how does one become an athlete?  As a child grows they need to be constantly challenged both physically and mentally.  Some of the best ways a child challenges themselves is through individual and group play.  Climbing, crawling, running, skipping, etc... are innate ways that our body learns to move and move well. In our current North American society we do everything we can to absolutely trash our movement patterns from a young age.  We put toddlers in shoes with elevated heels, we stick kids in front of TV's/video games/phones, and then stick them in a school desk for 6+ hours a day. Then we pluck that child out of the school desk each day and put him or her into specialized practice for 1-2 hours, and on top of it all we might play that same sport all weekend at a tournament which we have to travel to (which we sit in the car to get to).  We are literally conditioning our youth to be injury flawed, early-peeking, poor postured, chubby, trophy touting players, but man-oh-man could that kid throw a sick side-arm sinker at 12 years old!

What I am proposing as the anti-specialist movement is nothing new, in fact it is ancient. Kids need to play, which includes sport'S'.  Kids need to move well, move often and in even learn how not to move...on their own. Besides the physical performance detriments of early specialization, the mental toll may be even greater.

So instead of turning that Tahoe into a little league toting tank of doom 32 weekends a year, take U-turn and head for the woods and set those little rug rats free. Your kids will thank you...some day.

Until next time...

Dr. Beau Beard

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Post Injury Depression

Post Injury Depression is a real phenomenon that has been experienced by many athletes, I personally dealt with this at two major times in my life.

First of all, what is Post Injury Depression (PID)?  Post Injury Depression is exactly what it sounds like, you suffer an injury, which is devastating in itself, but after the initial injury you feel an unexplainable loss of purpose or lack of drive.  You long to jump back into your sport or activity because you have built an endorphin based reward system on your activity of choice.  Which is great!  You have probably also built a dependable routine around your sport as well as social circle with like-minded individuals, and just like that you are torn away from your normal schedule and companions.  Who wouldn't get a little depressed?

My first bout with PID occurred when I was just 9 years old.  I was playing football, when one of my good friends tackled me, resulting in freak, spiral fracture of my left femur.  I was in the hospital for over 2 weeks, where I under went surgery to place a titanium rod in my femur as well as undergoing some not so great rehab.  When I was finally sent home, I was unable to attend school for another week, I was obviously not playing any sports and on top of it all my loving family felt so bad that they fed me like starving Ethiopian child.  In no time I had gained 20 pounds, was stuck on crutches for another 3 months and had to sit in my classroom all by myself and read while the rest of my class had PE!

A nine year old is meant to run and play and develop, and have social interactions with their friends.  When I suffered this injury it not only broke my leg, but really my heart, because it robbed me of who I was.

My second bout with PID occurred just 2 months ago.  I was running a trail race at local state park, I was cruising in second place with 5 miles left to go, on one of the flattest parts of the trail.  When, out of nowhere I hit a root and severely sprained my left ankle.  I immediately knew that it was bad, I just didn't know exactly how bad.  I had torn a ligament, had some bone bruising and I also strained the connection between my tibia and fibula, otherwise known as a high ankle sprain.  

Me, being the rehab guy, figured I could get back to running in two weeks, no problem!  It was when I tried to play golf at 3 weeks out that I realized I was in for the long haul.  This is when the 'dark' thoughts started to creep in.  "You're getting old", "am I going to have to stop running", "how long is this going to take", "I wonder if I'll be as good as was before the injury?".  As I sat in my office rehabbing my ankle late one night, all of these thoughts were spinning wildly around my head.  That's when I realized that this injury was really a blessing.  A blessing?  I know you're saying, 'yeah right, this guy is full of shit".  Honestly though, I realized that this injury did not occur because my foot simply hit a root, it happened because my body was not able to handle the fact that my foot hit that root.  I profess this to patients everyday, but it took me a while to get it through my thick skull and apply it to my current situation.

So what did I do?

I started working on all of those trouble spots and deficiencies in my movement patterns.  Why not look at every injury in the same light as an automobile recall.  Sure, no one wants to leave their car at the shop for 2 or 3 days, but if we don't take it in to get worked on that Ford Pinto my burst in to flames killing us all!  An injury is no different, it is forced down time to obviously rehab the acute injury, but it also gives us time to clean up our known biomechanics problems.  In an ideal world we would be in tune with our body enough to know when something is out of kilt before an injury happens, but in reality athletes are notorious for pushing through pain and not devoting quite enough time to prehab/rehab which leads to the major blowout.

So next time you get sidelined with an injury, take the appropriate amount of time to sulk, but then turn that anguish into fuel to truly improve.  Chances are that you did not get hurt just by chance. Find out where you can improve and go to work...become bulletproof!

Until next time...

"Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears."

- Marcus Aurelius

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, MS, CCSP

Thursday, November 6, 2014

13 Pieces of the Athletic Performance Puzzle

I had the pleasure of listening to a very interesting lecture by the au-natural, self-care guru Don Tolman at the World Golf Fitness Summit, if you haven't heard Don lecture...well you are missing out.  During his talk he touched on the number '13' and why it has been deemed unlucky and bastardized in our current society.  Don talked about the ancient power of the number 13 and how it is still engrained in current secret societies logos such as the Illuminati, Masons, number of Stripes in the American flag...alright that's enough conspiracy theory talk, I get a kick out of the stuff.

All of that '13' talk got me thinking of the the most important pre-requisites for athletic performance and health, and low and behold, I came up with 13 of them.  These are not hard fast rules, but instead areas of your life where I think you can tap unrealized potential. The truth is people like lists and organization, so if this list helps you prioritize you performance regiment, then I did my job.  Enjoy!

1. Posture
'Oh man the chiropractor is starting off with an oh so exciting topic'.  Posture may not be a sexy sports performance topic, but it has a huge impact on the outcome of your athletic endeavors.  Let's break down your day.  You spend at least 5-8 hours sleeping (should be closer to 8, we'll discuss later), if you have a desk/office job you are probably sitting another 5 hours (minimum) and then you go home and sit down to eat, sit down to watch TV, then it's back to bed!  Hopefully you're getting in at least one hour of vigorous exercise, with some desk movement breaks (DMB, also a good band) each day.  That 1-2 hours of movement is not going to completely off-set all of the poor static positions you have to maintain throughout the day.  So if you sleep in a shit position, sit in a shit position and stand in a shit position, you are going to perform like SHIT!  So when you sit, no more than 20 minutes at a time, sit as if someone was pulling you from the top of your head to the ceiling, butt closer to the edge of the chair and both feet on the floor in front of you in neutral position breathing through a relaxed belly.

2. Sleep
Since we mentioned sleep earlier, I'll tackle that now.  Sleeping is the only thing you do for 5-8 hours at one time in your entire day.  So do it right.  First of all make sure you have a mattress that you like, doesn't matter if it is stiff or soft, so long as you like it.  Get a pillow that is more pillow than pancake, which will help you avoid sleeping on your stomach.  Make sure your bedroom is completely dark.  Avoid alcohol (too often, let's be real), spicy foods, or mass quantities of food within 2 hours of going to sleep.  Do not use your laptop, phone or iPad in bed, in fact don't even bring them into the bedroom, your sex life will thank you.  Set a sleep schedule, a specific time that you lay down at night and get up in the morning.  Shoot for a minimum 6 hours a night of sleep, more is required for our college age and below (which is usually the exact opposite of what happens).  Finally, you cannot catch up on sleep, so don't think you'll just hibernate for 14 hours on Sunday and be good to go, not going to happen!

3. Nutrition
I could write an entire blog on performance nutrition (coming soon), but I'm just going to lay out some basics.  A lot of these points break the No Shit rule (like 'no shit we already knew that) ,well I hope that these are no brainers for most of you.  Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods like the plague.  So that means fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seeds, nuts and red wine (I don't know if that last one is a whole food, but it's a necessity :). Stay away from sugar and sugar loaded foods and drinks, sugar causes oxidative stress within the body which you are already getting enough of through your athletic ventures.  No soft drinks, carbonation wreaks havoc on multiple systems throughout the body and it is hard to find a carbonated beverage without added sugar.  Carbonated mineral water is up for debate, basically because I like it, case closed. Without getting too crunchy on ya, you don't have to be gluten or dairy sensitive/allergic to realize that both gluten and dairy have detrimental effects on the body which lead to reduced performance.  Always shoot for proper macros, macros is the ratio of carbs/proteins/fats in each food, with all of your meals.  This assures nutrient dense calories instead of just guessing.  Assuring that you are refueling your body with the proper nutrients is crucial, because sports and training take their toll, so repair is the key to progress, and that starts with proper nutrition.

4. Hydration
Hydration is another no-brainer, but the nuances surrounding hydration are sometimes murky.  Hydration is crucial for normal cell and tissue health, as well as physiologic function. The average Joe should shoot for half their body weight in ounces of water each day, but for the athlete that needs to be ramped up to approximately 3/4 of their body weight in ounces.  Now this water should be dashed with a little sea salt or all natural hydration mix, my favorite is Skratch (which we just happen to carry in the office). Stacy Sims, PhD who started the sports hydration company Osmo based on her extensive hydration research, states that you can drink water all day long, but if your body is not absorbing it due to a lack of electrolytes and minerals then you are literally just pissing your time away.  During meals you can stick to regular water, due to the fact that most of your food will be salted lightly.  Hydration during sport or activity is highly debated, but drinking to thirst is still the gold standard.

5. Mobility
Mobility is defined as full active and passive range of motion in each joint of the body.  Now there are textbook normative ranges for hip flexion, shoulder extension and so on, while all of those are extremely important, not many people are going to take a goniometer to measure their shoulder flexion.  So what do we do, we apply screens and assessments to evaluate movement patterns.  By watching somebody squat, touch their toes and breath, we begin to understand where they may need more joint motion or tissue pliability.  Once a 'sticky' spot has been identified, what do we do?  That is where 'MEDS' Mobilizations Exercises Drills and Stretches®, come in.  At least 10 minutes a day, besides your warm-up/cool-down time, should be dedicated to working on your 'sticky' areas. For some 'MEDS' examples visit Owning full functional mobility is crucial to high performance and injury prevention.

6. Stability
You could have all the mobility in the world, but if you can't control it you aren't going to be much of an athlete, or at least an injury free athlete.  Stability is simply that, neuromotor control of your inherent mobility.  Stability really has more to do with neurologic programming at the cortical level, this is where a good chiropractor, physical therapist, trainer, etc... can be crucial.  Stability motor control problems are hard to identify, but in the hands of an adept practitioner these are the easiest and quickest fixes.

7. Respiration
I put respiration or breathing as separate criterion because it is extremely important to daily function as well as athletic performance, but selfishly because I have an e-book coming out soon title 'High Performance Breathing'.   So to say the least I am a little obsessed with breathing, I won't go into depth on this, because I have written an earlier blog which completely nerds out.  All I will say is that is important to realize you that you probably suck at breathing, just like I did and 90% of North Americans, so find out how to fix it!

8.  Strength
It doesn't matter if you are a marathon runner, table tennis player (not the same as ping pong) or offensive tackle, all athletes need strength, specifically functional strength.  What is functional strength?  Functional strength boils down to owning enough strength to SAFELY accomplish the sport, activity or training task at hand.  Of course, the amount and type of strength varies with each sport, but just because someone is a runner does not mean that they don't need to train for baseline strength.  It is common knowledge that in explosive sports such as football, baseball, basketball, etc... that strength is a positive attribute, but sometimes in a skills sport such as golf or endurance activities like triathlon, strength training is sometimes viewed in a negative light.  This is antiquated thinking, sports performance is about optimizing movement efficiency in form or another, and one important piece of that optimization equation is functional strength.

10.  Speed
The old adage that 'speed kills' is absolutely true, again no matter what sport you are playing.  A pitcher needs arm speed, a golfer needs rotational speed and of course a runner needs linear speed. Speed training is far different than strength training, sure there are some crossovers but in the end you need to be clear of your goal when you are training/practicing.  Now when you combine strength and speed you get power.  Power could also be called explosive strength, there are few sports that don't require some type of power.  So lift some weights, get faster, put the two together and kick some ass!

11. Endurance
Endurance is not just for our 145 lb. marathoners, cardiovascular and muscular endurance are crucial for optimum performance in almost all sports.  An NFL football game averages 2-3 minutes of actual play time, an Olympic power lifter is under weight for approximately 2 seconds, you ask 'why do they need endurance?'.  Well, if they want to train for any period of time, they may need to put in more than a few seconds or minutes in a session, which probably requires some endurance.  Also, working in an aerobic zone helps build more efficient physiological processes for oxygen and nutrient delivery to the peripheral vasculature and muscles.  It also might help you not die of a heart attack, stroke or ward off cortical plaques...yeah those might be important as well.

12. Recovery
You might think that recover and sleep would be synonymous, but they couldn't be any more different.  Recovery needs to be a scheduled activity that includes several of the aforementioned tenants.  Recovery days should be active, but below a 60% heart rate level.  Ideal recovery would be an activity or sport that differs from your normal routine, if you are runner go for a swim, if you play football go for a bike ride.  Just keep it light, but not too light.  Sitting on your ass for an entire day after a hard workout or game is actually detrimental for continued improvement and optimum performance.  Your tissues need some stimulus to respond appropriately.  Recovery is also comprised of proper nutrition, hydration, things like compression, inversion therapy, massage, etc...  Every workout, game or event takes a toll on the body, without recovery you are in a downward spiral further away from optimum performance.

13. Mental 
You could be an absolute OCD freak about the previous 12 tenets, but if you don't have a good head on your shoulders, perform when the task is at hand and above all have the mental fortitude to push through when the going gets tough...well then you might as well just give up.  No, don't give up, don't EVER GIVE UP!  Seek out help, whether that is a friend, family member or professional such as my friend Dr. Bhrett McCabe, who is wonderful sports psychologist, to talk about any issues or hurdles you are facing.  Dr. McCabe often states that psychology in the sports world gets looked at like a weakness, but in reality this is one area where you, as an athlete, can see some of the most drastic overall performance improvements.  So, whether you want to meditate, visualize or talk it out, find a way to hone that powerful organ between your ears.

I truly hope that these tenets will help guide you to excel in whatever athletic endeavors you pursue.  Until next time...

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work"
- Peter Drucker

Dr. Beau Beard

Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Fancy Feet, not Fancy Shoes...

If you have seen a round of televised golf or perused your local golf shop lately, then you have probably witnessed how many different options for golf shoes there are now (like Keegan's Air Jordan's here).  Why so many choices?  Well, golf's popularity is skyrocketing and money is a huge driver for all the major sports wear companies to get into golf shoes, but more importantly the golf community is trying to reconnect us with the ground. What do I mean by that?  Well, we know that golf is a game that consists of taking ground reaction forces and transferring those into rotational forces that ultimately produce a solid swing and ball strike.  As golf grows in popularity and more 300+ drivers and super-human iron players hit the tour, the need to find an edge wherever possible is on the minds of players, coaches and sports companies alike. Dumping more technology into shoes does have some benefits as far as comfort and force transfer are concerned, but what if...dare I say it...the shoes don't matter at all?  I know it's crazy, but what if you could improve your game by making the things attached to your legs (called feet) more functional rather than buying a beastly pair of $300 shoes and shoving your currently dysfunctional hairy Hobbit tootsies into them?   Just how important are foot mechanics for a golfer, or any athlete for that matter? Well let's start with the fact that each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, not to mention the 7000+ free nerve endings!  Now all of these components are controlled by the central and peripheral nervous system, as well as some other balance coordination centers.  You might say the foot plays a 'small' role in your athletic ventures.  What happens when we roll an ankle repeatedly, one or two of those 33 joints doesn't move quite right, maybe we lack the motor control to orchestrate foot movement properly or maybe we have just been stuck in rigid shoes for 40 years of our life?  Sound like a plausible scenario for they typical golfer, how about just the typical human?  All of these maladies cause dysfunctional movement patterns and compensations that begin from the ground up, and these can have a tremendous affect on your golf swing, as well as everyday life. The foot is immensely complex and its biomechanics are still not fully understood, even with all of the current research that is dealing with gait and foot biomechanics.  One thing that is certain, when the foot lacks mobility, stability or intrinsic control, then the rest of the body is at a deficit when it comes to optimum athletic performance.   So how do we find out what our foot functionality situation is?  Get assessed, plain and simple. This is not meant to a be a completely shameless ploy to get patients in my office, but seriously getting a trained pair of eyes and HANDS to assess movement is crucial.  It doesn't really matter if it is FMS, TPI, SFMA, etc...the whole point is to find out where your biomechanical kinks lie and then wipe them off the radar.   I have personally taken FMS, SFMA and I am currently TPI certified, and it is my passion to constantly learn everything I possibly can about human movement.  So if you are out there hacking at range balls every week, please take one range hour and exchange it for a proper analysis and rehab plan.  It will be worth it. If something as small as fixing faulty foot mechanics can improve your golf game, imagine what tackling an entire body of dysfunction could do for your game or for that matter, your life.   Until next time... "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go." - Dr. Seuss

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, MS, CCSP, TPI


Monday, June 23, 2014

"Tapping Superhuman"

This blog will serve as the introduction to a book that is in the works, "Tapping Superhuman", it will not be coming to print for some time, but none the less it's a fun topic to ponder and discuss.

If you haven't seen the Bo Jackson ESPN 30 for 30, leave this page now and go watch it!  Here is just one of many clips.

The whole documentary did an amazing job at really portraying Jackson as something more than human.  Which, maybe in a way he

Have you ever been in awe of the physical prowess of an athlete or seen something that you could not believe?  I feel like my life has been filled with moments such as these, and it has led me to gather thoughts from around the world on the topic of what it means to be 'superhuman'.

People like Bo Jackson and the feasts he accomplished are exactly what this article and my future book will cover; what is it that makes certain individuals a cut above the rest?  Whether it is conquering the Ultraman, riding a 60 foot wave or snapping a pine bat like a twig, what is the "IT" factor that is so frequently talked about?

In my book I will be releasing interviews with famous and some not-so-famous athletes, exploring research on the mind, body and ways to overcome both, as well as giving some anecdotal and experiential insights.

I really wanted to write today, to see what all of you out there think makes it possible for some people to accomplish unimaginable feats.  Is it just mind over matter?  Is it genetics?  Is it other worldly?  Can it be taught or trained?  

Having devoted my life to the learning and understanding of the human body, I am constantly amazed at how as humans we are able to bend the limits of the world around us by simply 'putting our mind to something'.  This past week two of our athlete ambassadors, Zachary Andrews and Vanessa Stroud, ran the Bryce Canyon 100.  First of all congrats to both of those crazies!  Second, think back to Pheidippides of Ancient Greece, who reportedly ran from Marathon to Athens in under 36 hours, only to breathe his last breath after delivering his message, and now a mother of two and an easy going Alabama boy are tromping out 100 milers like it ain't no thing!  Longer distances, free climbs, wing suits, free diving, etc... could it be that humans are capable of just about anything, so long as they can imagine it is possible?

A lot of current science is geared toward advancing the physical limitations of humans, whether that means performance, age related longevity or cognitive function.  It is a very exciting time to be alive, knowledge and information are multiplied at an alarming rate these days, which means more discoveries and breakthroughs are made on what seems like an almost daily basis.  The only thing that is certain as it pertains to superhuman feats is that before we can become superhuman, we must first fully understand what it is to be 'human'.

Please leave some feedback on this you know a 'superhuman'?  What does it take?  Can anyone become one?

Until next time...

"With our thoughts, we make our world"

- Buddha

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, MS, CCSP

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Orthotics Debate

I had the pleasure of listening to a lower extremity seminar presented by Dr. Mitch Mally, who is a world renowned speaker and extremities expert, guy is lighting quick too.  Check out a seminar if you get a chance, Mally Seminars.  Dr. Mally discussed how he does not fit a patient for orthotics until he feels that he has corrected the function of the foot, and every patient in his clinic is getting an orthotic.  This is a great way to look at where orthotics fit into the treatment model, but in my opinion not EVERY patient needs an orthotic, probably not even 80% NEED an orthotic.  At least Dr. Mally's approach is a bit more forward thinking than some patients I see that are prescribed an orthotic that is being used as a constant propioceptive reminder to the foot of why it is malpositioned or dysfunctional, without any actual rehabilitative cue.

In our clinic orthotics are the rarity, and it usually comes down to those patients that have been through the entire treatment and rehabilitation gamut, and finally we need to give them some sort of corrective orthotic to maintain longer lasting results, the key word here being, CORRECTIVE.  What do I mean by corrective?  Dr. Mally's theory is that he is improving the structure and function of the foot through treatment, and when the foot has reached an optimum functioning level, he will then fit an orthotic to 'hold the foot' in this newly improved form.  Again, I think there is merit to this approach, but I think longer lasting results, and in the sports world, higher performance results, are gleaned by instead fully rehabbing the foot/issue to the fullest potential of that patient/situation.

Once we put someone in a rigid orthotic, we offload the intrinsic and sometimes extrinsic muscles that correlate to appropriate function of the feet.  By doing so we dampen the propioceptive abilities of almost 7000 nerve endings that are present in each foot.  The elite athlete relies on every propioceptive and mechanoreceptive fiber they have access to, so by stripping the foot's natural mechanics out of the equation I believe we are not doing what is in the best interest of the athlete/patient.  Again, there are instances that will require an orthotic, large leg length deficiencies, collagen laxity disorders or morphologic/traumatic structural changes, but this is not the norm.

With all the recent hub-ub about the Vibram Five-Fingers case, I guess I'll take a second to discuss the other side of the spectrum.  If a rigid orthotic is detrimental, shouldn't a minimalist shoe be the answer?  Well not exactly, the medium upon which we stride has changed significantly from that of our caveman brethren.  As a species we have moved from dirt and grass to concrete and hardwood, these changes have forced us into the modern footwear we know today.  While Vibram had/has a great idea, the American mantra of 'a little is alright, but more is always better' is what spelled their ultimate demise.  Inactive, overweight and out-of-shape people were looking to the Vibram to cure their foot pain, knee pain and maybe even make them a middle-American ultra runner.  The truth is that we have to protect our Westernized feet to a certain degree, and running a couch to 5K is in a sock of a shoe is probably not ideal for the vast majority of people.  All of that being said, training barefoot (or close to it) is CRUCIAL to improving balance and overall athletic prowess.  Although, care should be taken to provide the right setting and activity for athletes/patients to do so.

So the next time you or one of your patients is fitted for orthotics, ask yourself if everything has been done to get the foot (and the rest of the body) to the highest level of function without adding a supportive treatment to the equation.  I think outcomes can be improved, injury will be prevented and performance is definitely enhanced.

"The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground."

- Buddha

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, MS, CCSP

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"My breath was lightning"

"The muscular system lies at a 'functional crossroad' since it is influenced by both the PNS and CNS"
   - Vladimir Janda

This quote should be one of many foundational thoughts for any clinician, trainer, athlete, etc...  This is also of utmost importance for understanding one of the keys to a powerful, accurate and repeatable golf swing.  There are three interconnected parts to general balance, consisting of 'propioceptive' balance, muscle balance and neurological balance.  Within each of these areas of balance lie subcategories that allow us (practitioners, coaches, trainers) to fully understand and have impact on changing/improving athlete mechanics.

The emphasis in this article will be on neurological balance, and how to train or improve that balance in order to better the golf swing.  This is directed towards golf, but it applies to all sports as well as every day life.  Neurological balance is the push and pull between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, I'm leaving out the enteric system for this discussion.  The parasympathetic nervous system is thought of as the "rest-and-digest" portion of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).  This means the parasympathetics control most of what happens when eating/digesting, sleeping and sexual arousal, sounds like my college roommate!  The sympathetics are thought of as our "fight-or-fight" system, they control up and down regulation of vital hormones, as well as protective triggers such as the hair standing up on the back of your neck.

Now that we have a very brief description of the two, it also crucial to understand that a large majority of the general public today live in a state of 'sympatheticotonia' or a constant state of heightened activity of the sympathetic nervous system.  This is due to our sleep deprived, mal-nourished (nutrient not so much calories) and over-stressed lifestyles.  This body state lends itself to increased resting tone of the musculature, which means that we lack the ability to completely relax our muscles.  Many golfers out there may have experienced an increased sympathetic state while standing on the first tee or hovering over that 3-footer.

All great golfers share many qualities that have pushed them to the top of their field, and one of those qualities is the ability to go through a cycle of 'relax-contract-relax'.  Sounds simple, but the ability to control the pattern in which our body completely relaxes and contracts our muscles is crucial.  As we move through a golf swing starting with take away and moving into the back swing, joint centration and the ability to relax all muscles except those crucial to moving into the top of the swing.  As we move into the down swing the hips, then thorax, then arms, etc... are firing but still not at 100%, in this manner we still deliver the club in a free flowing, whip-like manner.  Impact is a violent event and it is all hands on deck in terms of muscle recruitment, but immediately after impact almost everything should relax again to allow for an easy and full turn and follow through.

Tiger's 'relax-contract-relax'

How do we tie the autonomic nervous system and this 'relax-contract-relax' idea together?  Well, in a sense it is sports meditation, learning to harness the power of diaphragmatic breathing in order to restore some balance to the ANS.  I will admit this is only a part of neurologic balance; chiropractic adjusting, sports psychology, nutrition, rest and many other elements play an integral part, but for our discussion we will focus on breathing.

When we breathe using our thoracic diaphragm, belly breathing, versus an apical or chest/neck dominant pattern we activate a few of the cranial nerves as well as the S2, S3 and S4 nerve root levels, which are all parasympathetic nerve fibers.  This in turn releases certain neurotransmitters that decrease heart rate, constrict airways to inhibit hyperventilation and also reduce the resting tone or tightness of the musculature.  Sounds like a deadly combo for a hand trembling, heart pounding amateur with a cutoff swing!

Another huge aspect to this parasympathetic activation is that it allows you to fully relax and contract the musculature as previously discussed.  Just as a bullwhip builds a tremendous amount of energy from simple flick of the wrist, the goal of the golf swing is to take a supple musculoskeletal system, wind it up like a spring and let it explode, all in very controlled manner.  Of course neuromuscular coordination and hand-eye coordination do play a vital role in the golf swing, or any other sport.

So how do you tap in to this parasympathetic power, the first step is learning to breathe like a baby.  As an infant most all of our breathing, except the occasional blood-curdling cry, is performed from the belly.  So take a look at the video below in order to start learning how to become a breathing ninja.  I personally think that learning how to breathe properly, especially in an athletic and pressurized setting is paramount for optimum sports performance.  The parasympathetic activation through diaphragmatic breathing is just one piece to the breathing paradigm.

Again, this is just one small piece of the puzzle as it equates to athletic performance and general wellness.

Until next time...

"And when I breathed, my breath was lightning"

- Black Elk (famous Sioux medicine man)

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, MS


 2011 Jul;17(7):623-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0666. Epub 2011 Jun 20.
Diaphragmatic breathing reduces postprandial oxidative stress.
Martarelli D1Cocchioni MScuri SPompei P.