Last week I took a 5-day intensive class to become a CHEK Exercise Coach. It turned my brain to mush but is a total game changer in my training philosophy. The CHEK program is an integrated system, looking at all aspects of a client’s life and figuring out ways to reduce physiological load, be it stress, dehydration, or even exercising too intensely. It’s taken me a few days to make sense of everything we learned, but now that I can think straight again, I wanted to share the most important points I’m taking away from the class. Read on!
1. Nutrition. Is. Everything.
I know how to eat. I don’t “diet” or deprive myself. I eat my body weight in kale every month, but if I want that Bi-Rite ice cream you better believe I’m going to eat it. I run 60+ miles a week so pretty much anything I eat is fuel for my next run. Right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.
The instructor of the CHEK class, Ashley, looked me directly in the eye as she was explaining the principles behind CHEK nutrition. “So your client has a new random knee pain, no trauma or past injury. Instead of foam rolling the quads or looking for the ‘cause’ of this pain, let’s go deeper. What’s going on in the gut? Colon issues? Dietary problems?”
Umm, yes, yes, and yes. Poor dietary choices (sugar, coffee, processed foods) for this individual (me) lead to inflammation in the gut. This causes Chi to get stuck within the Third Chakra. (Stay with me here, I know it gets weird.) The GI organs and the abdominal muscles are both innervated by nerves that run along the vertebrae from T5 to L3. If the gut is requiring too much energy (Chi) it will effectively shut down the abdominal muscles. What does this lead to? Instability. Say this person (me) is a runner. Pelvic instability manifests itself in ALL kinds of ways up and down the chain. Lack of control in my core is causing anterior pelvic tilt when I run, which causes knee valgus, which puts stress on the knee joint (pain!) and causes quad compensation, which causes excessive pronation, which causes that chronic plantar fasciitis I have. Gaaaah.
So my takeaway is that if I really want to change peoples’ lives, I should become a dietician.
2. You are probably breathing wrong.
Breathing is important. It’s something we do 20,000 times a day and only think about for maybe 1/50th of the time. But just like nutrition, if your breathing is “wrong” you are causing all kinds of problems in your body. Try this test: take a deep breath and notice what rises. Is it your chest or your belly? If it’s your chest, you fail. If it’s your belly, congratulations you know how to use your diaphragm. If you aren’t properly using your diaphragm to breathe, you are wasting 1/3 of your lung capacity. ONE THIRD!!! And usually this means your transverse abdominus isn’t working either. That’s the major player in the core. (More on the TVA later.)
Breathing is something we have to practice consciously. Tonight as you are laying in bed, try taking 20 of the deepest breaths you’ve ever taken. Make your belly rise and fill your lungs to the top, sipping in a little bit extra air. Exhale slowly and pull your belly button in towards your spine. You are now using your diaphragm and TVA. As a bonus, you are bringing your body into a more parasympathetic state (think: calm) and this will help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
I won’t even get into breathing while exercising, but you can imagine how bad things could get if you are squatting with a heavy load on your back and your core stability isn’t turned on because of your faulty breath. Ugly. Why do you think people wear weight belts?
3. Every Body is a puzzle.
I learned a whole new set of assessment tools during this class. I can now measure spinal curve, pelvic tilt, how forward your head is, and core (dis)function, to name a few. We practiced on each other in class and I discovered just how jacked up my own body is. I’ve got my work cut out for me. My upper thoracic spine is rounded too much, my head juts forward a bit, the left side of my pelvis is rotated more forward than the right side, my right femur is more internally rotated than the left, and my whole right side rotates forward when I stand.
So what caused all this? Was it my years of sitting at a desk in a shitty chair (causing forward head and kyphotic spinal curve)? Or all those years riding horses (making my adductors too tight causing medially rotated femurs) or running in shoes with a big cushy heel (leading to overstriding which causes all kinds of impact stress up the joints)? Or maybe it was that bad snowboarding fall I had years ago that injured my piriformus and possibly knocked my pelvis out of alignment? Or maybe it is all because I have GI issues and my chi isn’t flowing through my body correctly. Who knows?!
I can’t tell you what caused all these issues, but the good news is I now know what I have to do to fix my body. As Chek loves to say, “if you aren’t assessing, you are guessing.”
4. Fire your TVA.
I learned five new ways to check if my client is using their transverse abdominus muscle. Breathing, laying face down, laying face up, standing, picking up a load. It’s THAT important. If the TVA isn’t firing, you have no internal stability around the spine. You can fake your way through it with compensations in the back and hamstrings and rectus abdominus, but eventually this lack of stability will rear it’s ugly head in the form of an injury.
These aren’t the sexy ab exercises that will give you a six-pack (and terrible posture while you’re at it). TVA strengthening involves laying on the floor with a blood pressure cuff under your back and doing very slow, controlled movements for 2 minutes at a time. If you are a super competitive Type-A person like myself, you’ll love this stuff. If not, you probably won’t be into the CHEK philosophy anyway, and that’s okay. But eventually, when your TVA is strong, it will act like a corset around your waist, pulling in that pooch you’ve been desperately trying to get rid of with crunches on crunches on crunches.
5. You are in control.
The CHEK Exercise Coach program is a completely integrated system, assessing stress levels, nutrition, mental and emotional states, spirituality, and yes, even movement. The big thing I am taking away from this class is that if you don’t like an aspect of your life, you are in complete control to change things. It doesn’t have to be a total overhaul. Just change one thing. Try the 20 deep breaths before bed. Drink an extra glass of water each day. Keep a journal of your food or your thoughts. Maybe even stop exercising. (I can’t believe I’m even suggesting that!) And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Something as simple as breathing deeper could cause a chain reaction that affects your whole life. You start sleeping better. You start walking more because you are so well rested and have more energy. This lifts your mood and gives you more confidence. And at the end of the day, confidence and happiness with self is really the only goal that matters. So do what it takes to find it.
Needless to say, CHEK has a new convert. It all just makes sense to me. I haven’t been this excited about training in a while, and I want to eat up as much information as my tired little brain can handle. I’m already considering signing up for the next level CHEK course in December. So… who wants to let me practice my assessments on them?!?