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. Reflexive Performance Reset® (RPR®) is a focused 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.

Book Session

If you are interested in knowing more, read on below, and contact me: tom@useful.coach

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.

Who can use this method?

Sessions are available for anyone! Whether you are an athlete, dancer, or even if you are not "formally" active. The technique and philosophy of the "Be Activated" systems can have a dramatic impact on your performance, well being, and world-view.

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 (E.g. if you are a climber you climb), optionally 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. 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, I teach you self-activation which you use daily and before and during training and performance so that you are not only moving optimally, but programming in the optimal muscle firing and movement patterns.

The "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.

Podcast: Be Activated / RPR - The Practitioners

I have a podcast 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 listen on SoundCloud, or simply search for "usefulcoach" on iTunes or other podcast software.

Further Reading