Be Activated (Douglas Heel) / Reflexive Performance Reset™ (RPR)™

I apply Douglas Heel's "Be Activated" technique and philosophy ubiquitously in my London, UK coaching practice, alongside Dr. Evan Osar's "Integrative Corrective Exercise Approach", and Reflexive Performance Reset™ (RPR™) a specific Strength and Conditioning application of Heel's work pioneered by Chris Korfist, Cal Dietz, and JL Holdsworth.

"Be Activated" and "Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR)" are a mix of breathing practice and manual stimulation, that rapidly and effectively improve muscle nervous system response and autonomic balance.

Maximal performance comes about through the use of muscles in the right sequence, immediately, and without leaking power into the neighbouring structures. BA/RPR simply facilitate muscle response and motor control, and most of all can be learnt quickly and self-applied.

If you are interested in knowing more or booking a session, read on below, and contact me:

Be Activated

The "Be Activated" systems are a combination of breathing practice and manual stimulus that reduce compensatory stress, and increase the "neuromuscular signal volume"—the "mind muscle connection" to get primary muscles to be used primarily. What follows is that compensatory muscle use (the "cheat") is quietened, the muscle length tension relationship is restored, and you are both more relaxed and more capable of performing better.

What happens during the session?

Firstly I take you though some interesting explorations on how the mind and posture can immediately affect your physical performance. We do some baseline movement assessment (if you are a climber you climb), take some posture photos, and you lie on your back and tell me your story for 5 minutes. No seriously.

I then do a series of resistance and flexibility tests to assess whether your muscles are doing their primary roles well. This allows us to retest post-activation to see the change.

The activation work feels much like trigger point massage, but I really do not apply anywhere near the same amount of pressure. In fact most of the time I am just wiggling my thumb somewhere for about a minute, and depending on how much tension you have, it is either ticklish or utterly terrifying. We retest and you will feel an immediate difference in response.

A lot happens when you relax where you should be relaxed, and are active where you need to be active. People cry, people laugh, people hug me, people feel lighter, stronger, perform better, climb better, and most of all people feel pretty damn good overall.

Post-activation, we run through some corrective movement practice to facilitate the use of the now "louder" primary muscles and help develop the neurological connection.

Most importantly, and I will stress this, I teach you self-activation which you use before training and performance so that you are not only moving optimally, but programming in the optimal muscle firing and movement patterns.

A "Be Activated" session has an immediate effect, but as with any intervention the more you put in afterwards the more you get out.

"Be Activated" is also not some elite secret technique you need to keep coming back to me for. And though repeat sessions are useful and effective at times, I give you the knowledge to activate yourself.

This is Douglas Heel's philosophy, and it's also mine.

Why "Be Activated"

For numerous reasons we develop non-optimal breathing, posture and movement patterns. Anything from emotional stress to physical pain can change the length, tension, and potentiation of muscles, leading to compensatory patterns, injury, and ultimately loss of performance.

When we return to more optimal patterns, we can breath again, sympathetic / parasympathetic balance is returned, primary muscles are responsive, compensatory patterns reduced, and performance is maximised.

More so if we can facilitate the nervous system stimulus to the primary muscles before warm-up and during training, we can improve the potentiation, neural adaptation, and training stimulus.

We mostly use the muscles we use the most

The body has a priority to move, and movement requires the stabilisation, flexion, and extension of the hip.

Though hard to imagine in our modern world, if the body cannot move (i.e. hunt, carry, escape, procreate, etc), it cannot survive. Therefore the body will do what it can to maintain flexion and extension even if there is inhibition or dysfunction of the primary muscles involved.

  • Hip Flexion: Psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae, rectus femoris, anterior adductors (especially pectineus), sartorius
  • Hip Extension: Gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus, posterior head of adductor magnus

Non-optimal strategies come about for a variety of reasons, one of the most common being the inhibition and loss of glute tone due to sedentary lifestyle, chronic sitting, and resulting compensatory patterns. As a bipedal animal, the glutes maintain our upright position, have connection with the erector spinae and thoraco-lumbar fascia, and co-contract along with the iliopsoas complex (psoas, iliacus) to provide lumbo-sacral stabilisation.

Problems occur when for whatever reason the flexor / extensor response, muscle fibre recruitment, and subsequent strength is poor. Since the priority of the body is to continue to move, other muscles will be recruited to take over the role of stabilisation, flexion, and extension.

Hip-extension can be initiated from the hamstrings and erector spinae (common in people with lower back pain), hip-flexion from the quads and tibialis anterior (over-developed quads), and hip-stabilisation may originate from the abdominals, shoulder, arm, or even jaw (tension and pain).

If the drivers of flexion (psoas) and extension (glutes) are not responsive to the nervous system, other muscles will be recruited. If other muscle are recruited then they themselves are hampered from doing their roles, other compensatory muscles are recruited and the dysfunction spreads.

As we move and train, these non-optimal compensatory "cheat" patterns become stronger and we simply get better at cheating. We will always use the cheat unless the primary muscles take over.

  • If we are cheating we will eventually get hurt. Muscles should perform their primary roles, not the roles of other muscles. You cannot stabilise your arm and shoulder, if you shoulders and neck are trying to drive inwards and down to stabilise your hips. You cannot walk optimally if you cannot fully dorsiflex your ankles because your calfs are tight from being glutes. If your abdominals are chronically active, your breathing will be short, predominate in the chest, and feed into the sympathetic nervous system response, impeding your ability to relax and have optimal muscle length and tension.

  • We want to train what we want to train. If we can get the right muscles to fire in the right patterning, we can train the muscles we want to train, and not the cheat patterns. This is one of the strongest benefits of the "Be Activated" system, that we can focus the nervous system response to the primary drivers of movement, allowing the muscle-tendon structures and motor control patterns to be developed which will ultimately feed back into performance.

Quite simply, if your breathing, psoas and glutes are active from the onset of your warm-up, everything else will improve going forwards.

Explode don't implode

We want movement to be initiated in the 1-2-3 sequence: 1. Psoas / Glutes, 2. Upper leg / Trunk, 3. Lower leg / Upper body. If the pattern is altered, it indicates there is inhibition and/or dysfunction with the primary muscles, and results in loss of performance.

Within the "Be Activated" systems we talk about the "1-2-3" pattern of movement.

Quite simply we want the following order of muscle recruitment:

  1. Zone 1: Psoas / Glutes
  2. Zone 2: Upper leg / Trunk
  3. Zone 3: Lower leg / Upper body

To break things down further we can talk about the most functional high performance hip-extension pattern as:

  1. Zone 1: Glutes
  2. Zone 2: Hamstring
  3. Zone 2: Contralateral Quadratus Lumborum (QL)

If for whatever reason the order is changed, then there is a loss of performance, and potential for injury. We want to explode outwards "1-2-3" not implode inwards.

This "implosion" is manifested in the compensatory pattern allowing a strong test of the primary driver. For example we can test the psoas response by lying prone and extending our leg out to the side.

If the psoas is responsive not only should a static hold be efficient and easy, but any pressure downwards will result in a strong opposing force.

If there is a compensatory pattern, such as ankle dorsiflexion, then the test will fail unless dorsiflexion is active. That is, if I ask a client to relax their foot (wiggle toes) they will not be able hold up their leg and resist force. Ask them to dorsiflex and they immediately strong again.

Fundamentally this then means they have to pull their foot back to engage their psoas for hip-flexion. Think for a second what this pattern means for movement, especially running.

After activation the psoas responds on its own without dorsiflexion, the side-effect being a far more relaxed foot and ankle. Why? Because it no longer has to drive up and inwards.

Webcast: Be Activated / RPR - The Practitioners

I have a webcast series interviewing Be Activated / RPR practitioners from around the world. My goal is to share the practitioner stories, in effort to spread this brilliantly useful and highly effective approach.

You can view and subscribe to the series on YouTube, listen on SoundCloud, or simply search for "usefulcoach" on iTunes or other podcast software.

Further Reading

Notable Sessions

Before and after muscle activation. Last Saturday I did a muscle activation session with professional climber Louis Parkinson (@captaincutloose) at The Arch Climbing Wall (@archclimbing) The purpose of the muscle testing and activation, is simply to understand whether the right muscles are immediately active when called upon. By stimulating the muscles in the primary order, allows the body to start working again within its optimal muscle length and tension relationship. For example if your psoas and glutes are not actively engaged, your hamstrings will attempt to stabilise your core, which means they will tighten, which means they won't work as hamstrings. And if your hamstrings can't do their function other muscles have to take over their roll and the dysfunction repeats. By getting the correct muscles to fire (and in the right order), provides immediate stability and thus the subsequent relaxation of other muscles previously and non-optimally stabilising. You do not need to stabilise your core by tensing your neck and jaw, or drive power to your quads by flexing your foot. Yet many people naturally brace like this. For example if I ask you to ready yourself to prevent me pushing you over, you may very well tense your neck and face in preparation. Why? You think your abdominals and lower leg musculature can't handle it? So by stimulating the right muscles, it removes that defensive closed posture, and opens the anterior (front) allowing more optimal breathing, movement, control and freedom. The posture photos show the most dramatic change, and the climbing video indicates somewhat more body-tension and control. This was our first session, and I am looking forward to seeing how Louis' movement and default relaxed posture changes. He said he felt really tall, and very light and springy in his legs. If you are interested to know what it was like, feel free to contact Louis. If you are interested in working with me, do visit: Always happy to help however I can. Also I will speak to The Arch Climbing about perhaps holding a self-activation workshop early this year. #beuseful #climbing #bouldering #beactivated

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Another great activation session, this time with Ellie May ( at The Arch Climbing Walls (@archclimbing) If you are defending, you are not performing. Think of it like this... If you are closed off and guarding (as we often are at times) you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Not only is the mind affected by the defending posture (lacking confidence, self doubt) your muscles are not at an optimal resting length (shortened or lengthened) What's in the mind is in the body, what's in the body is in the mind. Helping specific muscles to "wake up" and do their primary jobs, removes the compensatory muscle tension elsewhere. Posture improves and shoulders relax almost always after "waking up" your lower body. Quite amazing what happens when you start using your psoas and glutes. When you are open and relaxed, you are more confident, and performance improves. For more of this look down my Instagram feed. Also you can find me at #beuseful #beactivated #climbing #bouldering

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