In the third edition of the Ask The Expert Series, hosted in conjunction with SportsAgentBlog, we were pleased to get the perspective of Alfred Ball, Founder and President of Lifemoves® Health and Rehabilitation. Lifemoves is a health, fitness, lifestyle, and rehabilitation company based in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia. Alfred is a Registered Kinesiologist, a Fascial Stretch Therapist, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). As a human movement specialist, Alfred's strengths are working with clients with chronic health conditions and musculoskeletal injuries.
In nearly 10 years of Kinesiology practice, Alfred has helped over 700 clients improve their quality of life, health and independence with the appropriate physical activity and lifestyle choices.
In his practice, Alfred uses 5 core programs to train his clients, including Fascial Stretch Therapy™, a proven system of pain-free, assisted stretching that rapidly improves mobility, strength, and flexibility. It is an evolutionary method of improving sport performance and ease of movement by training the nervous system and improving flexibility. Alfred is currently using this technique to train a client who is preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Alfred is constantly searching for the most current research and best practice methods to stay on the cutting edge. He is one of the first four Practicing Kinesiologists in British Columbia to be certified in Fascial Stretch Therapy and one of a few Kinesiologists to complete the Diploma in Rehabilitation Management from Simon Fraser University in 2008.
Alfred and Lifemoves® have been recognized by the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, as a finalist for their Business Excellence Awards in the Young Entrepreneur category.
Alfred has given back to his profession by being on the Board of Directors for the B.C. Association of Kinesiologists from 2006 to 2008. He continues to mentor other Kinesiologists and Personal Trainers and speak at conferences, wellness shows and workshops such as Can-Fit Pro Whilster 2009.
Questions & Answers
1. How has your philosophy changed over the past 15 years and what has driven those changes?
Even though my core philosophies and my approach to training clients have not changed dramatically in the last 10 years of practice and previous 5 years of formal education, there have been small and moderate adjustments. I still believe movement is part of life and everyone has the ability to be active. I approach each client session with the aim of obtaining perfect form and execution within each exercise.
The largest shift came during a workshop in 2005, when I learned that the soleus (the deeper calf muscle that attaches to the lower leg) acts to pull the shinbone back, extending the knee during the up-phase of a squat. A muscle no longer has to cross a joint to act on a joint, which was how functional anatomy was taught in university.
The last time my path deviated was at a pre-conference workshop with Ann and Chris Frederick in April 2007, when a friend (another Kinesiologist) and I were introduced to Fascial Stretch Therapy. This course turned on some very bright light bulbs. We looked at each other and both knew we had to find a way to Arizona as soon as the course was offered. This same weekend was when I knew it was time to seriously pursue my eight-year goal of what is now Lifemoves Health & Rehabilitation.
Each client teaches me something new about how to improve my teaching. I start each session by acknowledging each person's method of learning and previous understanding of what I am trying to teach. After most sessions, I ask myself "what could I do to be more effective?" Sometimes, it is further knowledge or a different application of what I already know. I also stopped becoming such a huge perfectionist by reading a book called "Mistakes Worth Making," by Susan Halden-Brown and by remembering a quote from Fiona Walsh, a Business Coach who once said "Perfectionism is not Profitable."
Over time, when teaching human movement, I learned to be more concerned with patterns that have potential to do serious harm or those that are doing harm (during a lunge a client experiences knee pain or a client doing a Stiff-Leg Deadlift with flexed spine). I will tell the client to cease such patterns immediately, correct them or find an alternative. Other patterns that are left uncorrected, but don't immediately put the person at high risk, can still be fine tuned in future sets or sessions.
2. What were some of the major challenges you faced when starting your company and how did you overcome them?
Starting my own company had many challenges; however, three big hurdles I overcame include: creating a strategic alliance with Fitness World; finding a suitable name to build a brand around; and transitioning from employee to business owner.
I had been one of Fitness World's top Personal Trainers since 2000 and at my current location since 2004. During seven years of employment, I built a lot of credibility, respect and support from the President, the Vice President and from many others in Fitness World. In 2006, I had already spoken to the Personal Training Director about my idea of starting a rehabilitation clinic within Fitness World, an idea which he was very supportive of. In April 2007, it was time to act.
The challenges were finding unused office space, learning to speak to people in terms that would keep them motivated and coming to an agreement that both parties would be happy with. To do this, I created a basic business plan that outlined my argument for the centre, which showed how we could be profitable quickly and how Fitness World would benefit from this new alliance. During the negotiations, I spoke with my Father who is an entrepreneur and a couple of business coaches who all gave me great guidance without telling me what to do.
Secondly, I believe that naming your business properly is a crucial step. During the name search, I kept both my philosophy "movement is part of life" and the purpose of the business "getting people moving for life" in mind. First, I made a list of possible names, then searched the internet, trademark databases, phone books, etc. for any permutations or like named businesses in the same/similar industries that existed in North America. A thesaurus was a useful resource when selecting names.
Once I had my short list, I sent it to friends and family, some of whom were in my target market to see which one they preferred and what images they thought of when they read each name. It took about a month to find one that I identified with and that would have flexibility as I grew my business.
The third hurdle was transitioning from employee to business owner in September 2007. This wasn't as financially difficult for me as it could have been, because I retained all my clients and I now operate out of the same facility where I worked.
The challenge is that I am responsible for much more than I was when I was an employee, though I do enjoy the freedom I currently have. Now, I need to ensure that Fitness World members and staff understand Lifemoves is a separate business, not a department of Fitness World. My next step is getting people to refer clients to Lifemoves®, not just Alfred Ball, Practicing Kinesiologist.
3. What are some common functional limitations, if any, you see in people that come to you for help?
Functional limitations include walking speed, standing or sitting for long periods of time, inability to sleep, difficulties concentrating, stepping and balance difficulty, shoulder disorders and low-back pain.
Low-back pain is often due to improper muscle activation sequences. When standing on one leg such as the transition to the next step in stair climbing, clients will not pre-engage deep spine stabilizers first, then hip stabilizers, but instead do this in reverse order. Re-teaching this sequence is important for long-term functional recovery. We teach core activation, core stabilization and then core strength that includes pelvic stability exercises done in novel ways (e.g. side lying).
4. What is your favorite population group to work with?
I am continuously re-inspired by the enduring spirit of clients who have overcome life-altering conditions and disabilities such as strokes, double lung transplants and Parkinson's to accomplish great things like 100 Grouse Grinds or multiple medals at the World Transplant Games.
I enjoy working with clients who have multiple areas of myofascial pain, generally caused by chronic muscle imbalances and compensatory mechanisms. Sometimes it takes a few stretches and muscle activation exercises to give them the ability to sleep at night. I am always reinvigorated after a client tells me how the work we are doing is improving their quality of life and helping them move with less pain and more freedom.
5. Talk a little bit about how resistance training can help population groups that normally do not feel that it can help them. For example, long distance runners, triathletes, swimmers, or the elderly.
Getting the elderly to participate in resistance training isn't as much of a struggle now as it was five to ten years ago, as the emphasis has shifted to active aging. There are many benefits to resistance training as we age, including preventing age-related muscle loss, maintaining bone density, reducing the risk of falls, maintaining independent living and participation in recreational activities. We had one female elderly client who was recovering from a fall. During her 3 months with us, she went from walking with a cane to walking independently; this gave her a great sense of accomplishment and sense of well-being. We encounter more clients in their 50s to 70s who want to maintain their current activity level and independent living.
Over the last 5-7 years, more endurance athletes are recognizing the need for strength conditioning. This population needs to be able to tolerate a high-level of muscular fatigue, where the primary energy sources are blood glucose and muscle glycogen. Strength training needs to be energy system specific (anaerobic, alactic, aerobic, etc). Therefore, circuits of 3-6 exercises performed rhythmically at a high number of repetitions (i.e. 20+) and getting the heart rate close to anaerobic threshold, where blood lactate starts to form at a rapid rate, are built into the program as the athlete progresses closer to the competition season (Tudor Bompa, "Periodization Training for Sports: First Edition," 1999). Even with all the fancy stability devices such as the BOSU available, I still go back to the basic exercises and focus on energy system training.
6. On your website you say, "The body is a series of connected links in a chain, which react and talk to each other." Could you go into a little more detail on what you mean by this, and how this impacts one's training.
The fascia is a communicative tissue. As soon as you reach your arm overhead, there is a reaction throughout your entire body right down to your toes to stabilize. This statement also comes from my understanding of Thomas Myers work in "Anatomy Trains." With movement, there is always an equal, but opposite reaction so that you remain stable.
Previous injuries and poor movement patterns pre-dispose people to compensatory adjustments which continue the cycle and pose greater risk of further injury.
Thomas Myers believes, as do I, muscles cross over each other and are connected by fascia. The fascial connections (train stations) transmit forces to the muscles (train tracks) which exert force. The focus of my work with clients is to get functional groups to work as efficiently as they can. A tight front line (pec minor, sternal fibers of pec major, etc) makes the scapular stabilizers (rhomboids, mid-traps, latissismus dorsi) work eccentrically while reducing the subacromial joint space, where the rotator cuff runs under. Another example is that tight latissimus dorsi impact how a squat is performed because they connect into the thoracolumbar fascia the same as the glutes. Clients are often amazed how interconnected our bodies are.
7. How much do you incorporate stretching with your clients and what benefits have you seen from improving flexibility with them?
Stretching is incorporated on several levels with my clients. I have Fascial Stretch Therapy sessions where the entire session is flexibility-based. In others, half the session is resistance training, while the second half is stretching. Finally, there are sessions in which stretching is done prior to a specific exercise to relieve reciprocal inhibition (e.g. hip flexors stretch prior to gluteus maximus activation or pec stretch before rowing). I also use stretching for re-alignment followed by resistance training for stabilization in new postures.
The type of stretch depends on what our goals are. Stretching relieves passive tension on joints for clients with arthritis. For clients seeking performance improvements (work, recreation, athletics, daily activities), appropriate flexibility programs re-align muscles and fascia so that the muscles are working at the efficient lengths, which ultimately reduces fatigue and joint wear (Thomas Myers, "Anatomy Trains").
Clients recovering from whiplash and mid-back soft tissue injuries are able to complete more upper-body work when combined with intermittent dynamic stretches. We encourage people who wish to increase flexibility to invest time to get into the plastic range, where the fascia will length and stay (e.g. heat a piece of plastic, remold it and let it cool) as part of their nighttime routine.
Finally, clients tell us that they enjoy stretching at the end of each session because it makes them feel good and less sore after the session. So, if you are Strength Coach or Personal Trainer, it can also increase client retention.
8. Explain a bit about what Fascial Stretch Therapy is and how it differs from what most people are probably doing in their exercise routine?
Fascial Stretch Therapy is a scientifically proven form of assisted stretching that helps rebalance the body to reduce the risk of injuries and improve performance; it also has a self-stretching component. Most people are used to stretching muscles individually, the same duration on both sides (30s) and in one joint angle (straight hamstring stretch).
Fascial stretching opens up various lines of the connective tissue. Since fascia surrounds the bones, from the muscles all the way out to the skin, fascia stretching also opens up the joint capsule where approximately 50% of your flexibility is located. A practitioner trained in the Stretch To Win method looks at how the body is misaligned by examining where the tightness is, left or right, what fiber direction it is tight in (we move in spiral diagonal patterns) and the purpose of the stretch (pre-or post-workout, recovery). Each session is aimed at re-aligning and unwinding the body so that it is able to function efficiently and the client feels "loose." It also works on a neuromuscular level.
There are several core principles. First, choose the appropriate stretch wave and breathing patterns from fast (dynamic) to very slow (more static), depending if you are warming up for an activity or using it for recovery and flexibility gains. Part of the stretch wave is to go into the stretch one direction and come out of in a different direction, to reduce the rebound effect. Secondly, stretch 2 to 1, that is stretch the "tight side," stretch the "loose" side and then back to the "tight side." Thirdly, timing with each side is not set. Listen to your body and stretch until it feels "loose" or releases.
Doing the more common type of static stretching may help you gain flexibility, but it will not address muscular and postural imbalances, which lead to biomechanical compensations and then overuse injuries.
For more information read:
Frederick Ann and Chris, "Stretch to Win," Human Kinetics Publishing, 2007
Stretching Tempo: Discard the 30 Second Rule
Find a Fascial Stretch Therapist in your area: Stretch to Win
9. What is the best way to get rid of jumper's knee (i.e. patellar tendinopathy)?
First, have your jumping mechanics analysed by an appropriate professional such as an Athletic Therapist or Physical Therapist, who will evaluate the joints and muscles above and below the injury (e.g. ankle and knee). In Canada, Kinesiologists do the same, but only a registered health professional can make a diagnosis.
Since, Jumper's Knee is an overuse injury, start by reducing jumping activities and use ice packs after activity. Stretch and strengthen the quadriceps, try sports massage and trigger point therapy. Surgery might be required if it is chronic and pro-longed supervised conservative treatment is not successful.
"Our bodies usually whisper at us when there is a problem, but most don't do anything about it until we are being yelled at." (William Hunh, 2009)
10. What exercises or stretches could you recommend to increase my vertical leap?
This is a difficult question to answer specifically in a written format. However, general recommendations are to first ensure that you have excellent core stability and core strength and that your squat technique is flawless. Core strength will reduce stress on your spine and transfer the force into the legs when you do jump. The general population also forgets that the upper-body produces a lot of drive during jumping, so start by strengthening both upper and lower-body.
There are a variety of plyometrics, that when executed and progressed properly, can increase lower-body power. A good starting point is the book and DVD "High Powered Plyometrics" by James Radcliffe and Robert Farentino. Choose a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who is familiar with plyometric progressions and your sport.
On a personal note, while training this summer to break 40 minutes on the Grouse Mountain Grind (fastest time is 26 min and average is 55 min), I used a weight vest of 10% body weight in my plyometric training. Vertical leap is about relative power (power to body weight ratio).
Range of motion in the hips, lower-back and ankles are the start of improving the pre-load of the vertical leap. When you are fully-extended, feet pointed to the ground and arms reaching to the sky, front line flexibility (shins, thighs, abdominals chest, arms) along with flexibility in the lats, rhomboids and mid-lower trapezia (back) increase your vertical reach.
Thank you for asking questions that provoked a lot of deep thought. I hope that you are as inspired by my replies as much I was by your questions. I really enjoyed being part of Ask the Expert on Access Athletes. Please contact me directly at Alfred@lifemoves.ca if you have any further inquiries.
Replies - © 2009 Life Moves Health and Fitness Inc. All rights reserved.
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