More fun with language this week! In contrology, our Point of Control is the intersection of one line drawn horizontally across our lower abdomen from hip bone to hip bone and another that is drawn vertically from the top of our pubic bone to the place where our rib cage meets, the xiphoid process. In other words…our gut! This has led inquiring minds on a search for the origin of colloquial uses of the word “guts”.

The Greeks believed that the seat of bravery in the body could be found in the internal organs, and this concept carried forward well into the middle ages. This belief provides a direct explanation of the¬†synonymous use of “guts” for “courage”: presumably if one can control one’s bowels, one isn’t too terrified to act. I’m sure that Freud would have more to say about this, but as an empirical scientist I am more interested in the biochemistry of our “gut feelings”.

We’ve all “felt” things “in our guts”, ranging from sensations like “butterflies” when nervous, to a physical blow to the stomach upon hearing sudden bad news to a feeling like ice water being poured over our internal organs when in grave danger. We all have what is known as enteric nerve plexuses in our intestines, which operate as a kind of second brain, responding to the same neurotransmitters as our neurons. A good place to explore these solid facts can be found here; a bit technical, but very interesting.

In addition, some folks have experience “gut feelings” of a slightly different sort, less visceral; almost as though intuition is housed somewhere in the GI tract. At the risk of venturing into very fuzzy territory, peek if you dare at the results of this study that suggests our guts may be the Point of Control that connects us across distances and time.

My gut is telling me it is time for breakfast, so until next week, keep listening to yours and keep your muscular Point of Control zipped across and zipped up!

Ballistics and Linguistics

I fielded a question this week regarding “bouncing” stretches; are they safe? Are they dangerous? When are they appropriate? The term “ballistic” stretching is used by athletic trainers and exercise scientists use to describe either a “bouncing” type of stretch or an “explosive” type of stretch. Over the last 20 years the general consensus among fitness pros has been to discourage “ballistic” stretching because it can…under certain circumstances…lead to injury. Ballistic (or indeed any aggressive) stretching of the muscles “cold”, that is without engaging in a brief warm-up period, risks injury in the following ways:

1. Cold tissues are stiffer and more resistant to stretch. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues are more likely to tear when pulled out of shape if the surrounding microclimate is cool. Synovial fluid, which lubricates many major joints in the body, is thicker and less efficient at lower temperatures. Engaging in a warm-up period prior to stretching increases blood circulation through the area, rendering local tissues warmer and more pliable. The moral of the story: don’t stretch without warming up, ballistic or otherwise.

2. Ballistic stretches rely upon momentum; often the limbs or torso are flung explosively in different directions. This can lead to trauma if the velocity of the movement brings excessive forces to bear on the muscles and connective tissue. Second moral of the story; if you wish to stretch ballistically, ease into in and gradually increase your range of motion as you get a feel for the activity.

Finally, evidence shows that ballistic stretching is appropriate for those engaged in explosive physical activity, such as basketball, dance, and other types of high-impact exercise. However…

The most recent position stand from the American College of Sports Medicine (2011) is this:

Ballistic stretching, when properly performed, increases flexibility similarly to static stretching.

(You can find the whole article here, rather interesting stuff for the biomechanically curious.)

SO…if your goal is to increase your flexibility, and you have a choice between stretching modalities, choose the flexibility exercises that are similar to your activity patterns. If you are a non-impact, non-explosive type of fitness person, static stretching is just plain fine, and PNF is even better (that’s a whole future post). If you are a competitive athlete, it may be worth your time to learn how to perform sport-specific ballistic stretches from a qualified professional.

Like this fabulous Canadian physical therapist!

Finally, the phrase of the week was “kit and caboodle”. Thank you,!

Eternally Fascinating

Movement is fundamental to life. As a species I believe that we probably danced before we walked, and I continue to be intrigued by historical exploriations of exercise. Below you’ll find a scholarly link to a truly ancient idea (which Joseph Pilates heartily endorsed, I might add): that physical activity IS medicine.

Sweet (Somethings)

I spent the weekend on a fall foliage tour, heading north to the shore of Lake Erie and then returning to Pittsburgh. This time of year is spectacular. On my way home, I stopped at a Sheetz (convenience store/gas station), ordered an MTO (made-to-order sandwich), grabbed coffee and looked for chocolate to satisfy my daily requirement (1 oz. minimum). ¬†I found this, and stood reading the ingredients list and nutrition facts in amazed wonder. Please don’t take this as a product endorsement; I’m not getting paid to promote these items but golly! I’m impressed.