Jae Gruenke is a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, running technique expert, and founder of The Balanced Runner™.  Known as a “running form guru,” she has helped runners from beginner to Olympian relieve pain and improve their performance, and she specializes in helping runner whose problems have persisted despite medical treatment.

Jae has been a member of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America since 1999 and the United Kingdom since 2011, and was an ACE-certified personal trainer from 1999-2012.

As an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Physical Therapy Program at SUNY Downstate Medical center in New York City she helped develop an (unpublished) pilot study on the effects of the Feldenkrais Method on running economy.

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Jae Gruenke about why you shouldn’t build core strength.

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

– How people shouldn’t create any disparity between the two sides of their body.

– Why Feldenkrais is more about experimentation and exploration rather than focusing on a specific goal.

– How Feldenkrais emphasizes the integration and learning that happens during rest and relaxation, rather than forcing movement.

– Why exaggerating movement patterns can help individuals become aware of their current habits.

– How bones and joints in the feet and spine are designed to be mobile and adaptable, supporting movement and interaction with the world.

Connect with Jae:

Guest Contact Info

Links Mentioned:
balancedrunner.com

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

Episode Transcript

Steven Sashen:

You know it’s important to have a strong core, right? Well, what if that’s the worst thing you could possibly have? That’s what we’re going to be diving into today on today’s episode of The MOVEMENT Movement, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body. Starting feet first because those things are your foundation. We explore the propaganda, the mythology, often the lies you’ve been told about what it takes to run, to walk, to hike, to do yoga, to do CrossFit, to lift, whatever it is you like to do and do it enjoyably and efficiently.

And did I mention enjoyably? Because if you’re not having fun, do something different. So, you are. I’m Steven Sashen, your host from xeroshoes.com. And we call this The MOVEMENT Movement podcast because we’re creating a movement about natural movement. And what I mean by natural movement is letting your feet bend and flex, and move, and feel the way they’re supposed to. And the movement part is getting people to rediscover the fun and benefits of that, to rediscover that natural movement is the obvious better, healthy choice, the way we currently think natural food is.

And since it’s a movement that involves you, and all you need to do is truly simple, to experience it if you can, but also just share the word. So, come to www.jointhemovementmovement.com. That’s where you can find all the past episodes and all the places that you can interact with us and share with us. And all those places where you can find this content on Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube, and wherever you find podcasts.

Just give us a review and a like, and a share, and a thumbs up on the places you can thumbs up, and ring the bell on YouTube. You know all the things to do. In short, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe. So, let us jump in. Jae, you gave us a hell of a setup for how foreseeability is really, really bad. But first, before we jump in and hear what you think about that, Jae, who the hell are you? What are you doing here?

Jae Gruenke:

So, my name is Jae Gruenke, and I’m the founder of The Balanced Runner. I’ve been helping runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form since 2003. And I’m a Feldenkrais practitioner. So, I use the Feldenkrais method of movement education to help runners improve their form, improve their motor control, we could say. And so, I’m not a coach, it’s just form is what I do.

Steven Sashen:

So, before we jump in to talk about core stability and the problems, there are a couple of things. So, wait ahead… oh, I’m going to put you on the spot. So, since this is The MOVEMENT Movement podcast and since you’re a Feldenkrais person… and by the way, we have a bunch of talk about there, especially since you’re a Marin, I just realized. Can you think of a movement thing that you would want to share with the human beings who are watching or listening or getting carrier pigeon to this podcast?

Some movement, something that they could experience that might give some little shift about whatever they’re doing or not doing. Maybe they’re sitting, maybe they’re standing, maybe they’re taking a walk, maybe they’re in their car, it doesn’t really matter. So, anything you can think of that’ll be a fun little movement something?

Jae Gruenke:

Well, yes, but let’s see. It’s hard to have something that would work in all those situations-

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, yeah. So, don’t worry… yeah, don’t worry about the situations. But I just wanted to… so that way, you might be able to pick one of those or just something that pops into your head that you like. It doesn’t really matter what you got.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, yup. Well, let’s see. Everybody’s got tight shoulders, right? And this one will work whether you’re standing or sitting. You can probably do it in a car. It’s just not going to work if you’re cooking dinner, probably.

Steven Sashen:

We should make it Dr. Seuss-ish. You can do it in a boat, you can do it while you float. You can do-

Jae Gruenke:

I like it.

Steven Sashen:

You can do it in the car, you can do it near and far, so.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. There’s a blog post there somewhere. I’m always looking for those. Okay. So, let’s see. So, just whether you’re sitting or standing, just sit or stand quietly for a moment and just get a sense of the level of tension in your shoulders, your neck and how you’re breathing. Where do you feel that you move when the air comes in and when it goes out? And get the sense. Do you feel like your head is straight up or is tipped to one side or the other? This can be really tricky to tell.

Because if it’s a habit for you to tip your head, then it feels natural and it feels straight. But still, we pause to think about this. So, see what you notice or what you guess. And now, if you think you feel your head tipping to one side, tip it a little more to the other side. If you don’t feel your head tipping to a side, then just pick a side at random. So, just tip it a little bit so your ear gets closer to your shoulder, and then come back up again.

We’re going to follow the ground rules of Feldenkrais lessons here, which is, we’re going to avoid any feeling of discomfort. So, absolutely no pain, any feeling of discomfort. So, if a movement is not comfortable for you, make it smaller. Going to avoid any feeling that you have to push to make a movement happen. If you feel like you have to push, make it smaller. You can just imagine the movement.

If you feel like it’s causing a stretch, make it smaller so you’re not feeling stretch. Stretching may be fun unto itself, but we don’t do it in a Feldenkrais lesson. All right. So, tip your head to that side a few times and see if you can feel where do you bend when you do that. Do you bend somewhere in your neck? Is the bending right below your skull? Or do you feel like it’s lower down? Or do you feel like you can’t tell, which is also fine?

Do you feel like the shoulder that you’re tipping your head towards comes up towards the ear or goes down away from the ear, or doesn’t move, stay still? Yeah. And then, just bring your head back to the center. And we’ll just pause a moment. We will take a little moment to give your brain a chance to process what you felt. And now, a few times, lift that shoulder that you were tipping your head towards, just lift it up.

Just gently so not you feel like you’re really clenching your shoulder muscles. And then, lower it back down again. So, can you feel that your shoulder blades slide as a sliding sensation on your ribcage up towards your ear? And how close to your ear can you bring it without feeling any effort or stretch or discomfort? And what happens to your head when you bring your shoulder closer to your ear? Does it move, or does it stay still?

And then, let that go and just pause a moment. And now, a couple times, bring your shoulder and your ear towards each other. So, you’re going back to tipping your head, but the shoulder and the ear will come closer and then farther away. And for people who are watching the video, you don’t need to make the movement the same size or the same way as what you’re seeing, you just go by what you feel inside.

And so, as you bring your ear and your shoulder together and apart, where do you feel you’re bending? Is it the same place that you felt like you were bending when you just were tipping your head? And then, let that go and just pause a moment. And now, a few times, just tip your head without lifting your shoulder, that same way. And see, does something feel different? Is it possible you’re tipping your head farther without any stretch, or without having intended to do anything differently?

Is it possible that something else is happening? Is it possible that the other shoulder is actually moving? And now, we have to do the other side because it’s against my religion to leave people lopsided.

Steven Sashen:

You don’t know how to have any thought.

Jae Gruenke:

Meaning, sometimes Feldenkrais’ practitioners will do that because it’s so interesting as you go about your day to feel, “Wow, this whole side, it still feels different.” But because I work with runners who are handling a lot of forces in their body, I don’t want to create any disparity between the two sides that wasn’t there to begin with. And I’m guessing the people listening to this are pretty active people, so.

Why don’t you try tipping your head the other way now and see how does it feel to tip it that way? It’s not going to be like it would have been if we hadn’t done the other side because your brain has already learned something and is transferring it. But you may feel, it’s really different on this side, and then pause. And now, a couple times, try lifting that shoulder towards the ear, so you leave your head. You don’t intend to tip your head but just that the shoulder.

And see, does the shoulder slide as easily upwards as the other one did, or is it easier even? Does it feel different in some way or just the same? And is there’s a sensation in the side of your neck when you lift your shoulder? Some little shift in your head? And then, pause and let that go. And now, try tipping your head and your shoulders towards each other or rather the head tips and the shoulder lifts. Now, I couldn’t help but do it a few times myself on the other side. So, now I want to do it on this side too.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. It’s hard to say without doing it.

Jae Gruenke:

Yup. The challenge of the practitioner, if anything goes back, just I don’t want people copying me, right? And now, let that go, pause a moment. Something may already be feeling different in your shoulders.

Steven Sashen:

Oh, yeah.

Jae Gruenke:

And then, just tipping your head towards that second shoulder again, and see how do you do that now? Is the bending in a different place? You tip it a different amount. Does the opposite shoulder actually follow the head a little bit? And then, let that go and just sit now or stand, whatever you were doing. And compare your two sides and see what the sensations are in the tops of your shoulders.

Maybe even though you were working those muscles, you were lifting them a bit, you may feel like they’re more relaxed and your shoulders are in fact a little lower. And you may feel-

Yeah? Awesome. And then, just check, do you feel like your head is in the middle? Do you have a different sense of that? And that was an extremely short Feldenkrais lesson.

Steven Sashen:

That was delightful. My favorite thing. For people who don’t know about Feldenkrais, I think you just gave a great introduction. So, here’s the part that I was going to say once you said Feldenkrais Marin, so what year is this? This is 2020, so last year was 19. So, whenever that was, 30 years ago, I was on my way to China and I stopped off in Marin County to do some work with Thomas Hanna.

Jae Gruenke:

Oh, wow.

Steven Sashen:

I had a hunch you would say that. When I say that to Feldenkrais people, they’re like, “Oh my gosh.” And Thomas Hanna wrote a book called Somatics, for those of you who want to dive into his version of Feldenkrais, the things that he did with that. He brought Feldenkrais to America. And a wonderful book, that’s been in print for… Jesus, since about then. But what I love, and your intro was so good is, there’s two things that really differentiate it. And I’d love for you to elaborate on this. One is the not trying to move into or through the pain.

The other is… and maybe there’s three things. The other is focusing on the good side. And then, the third is just that phenomenon. People think that the change happens or the learning happens when you’re forcing something, not realizing that it’s the integration, that during the resting and relaxing that actually does that. So, that phenomenon of doing something on one side and then suddenly feeling the other side change, even though you haven’t done anything on that other side, I just totally adore.

And it’s almost like, it sneaks up on you. It’s a fake out. You’re doing something, and then the next thing you know, a thing that you weren’t paying attention to is changed. And there’s often… for me at least, there’s that this feeling of almost giggly release as your body figures out what to do next, or how to do it. And I love the instruction you gave about feeling where your neck was moving. Because for me, it was impossible to not play with that.

It made me feel like I was in India. Like, “Let’s see if I can move just from the axis, just from the atlas, the top of my head versus lower down exactly. And all those different ways.” And which reminded me of my first barefoot run where I just kept exploring all the different ways I could move, running faster, running slower, moving my legs faster without running faster, moving slower without running faster, landing on different parts of my feet.

And that’s the other thing that I love about Feldenkrais, is that… people love to say, “It’s about the journey, not the goal.” But it’s one of the few modalities that I’ve ever experienced where that’s really the case. It really is about experimenting and exploring, not about getting to some imagined future thing. So, hey, thanks.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, you’re welcome. I just want to call out something that you said. Because when I do interviews and I’m trying to explain my thoughts about what Feldenkrais is, first, knowing everything to ask me for a lesson were very, very rarely because they’ve never heard of it before.

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

But then also, the response that you had, that like, “It was impossible not to want to start to play with it and explore all the different ways I could do it.” You might have… having a sense of your personality, you might have always been like that. But one thing that we know that is an outcome of doing a lot of Feldenkrais lessons, which clearly, you’ve had a lot of experience with this, is that you developed a much larger repertoire of movement possibilities.

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

And I never really… there was even a study done a fair while ago, I just can’t even remember this. I heard about it so long ago in my own professional training program. But the upshot was that, people who had done a lot of Feldenkrais lessons could think of more different ways to follow an instruction than the people who hadn’t. And this is a tremendous resource for physically active person who’s especially in natural environments, where it’s your versatility.

Your versatility and then your ability to quickly choose among the options for the most effective and/or safe one is what it’s all about. But it’s also an enormous life skill.

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

And because movement is what your brain is for, and everything else that your brain does is built on top of that, when you develop that capacity through movement exploration, it becomes generalized in your life.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I doubt. For me, there’s the… and how am I going to put it? Mine is not going to be surprising than you think. My natural inclination is to be somewhat contrarian and counterfactual. And so, when I hear something, especially an instruction, I’m always looking for the edge case. What’s the thing that someone hasn’t thought to try in that regard? I’m trying to think of a specific example, but I’m just remembering something that involved all… I mean, some group, we’re in some hotel room somewhere.

Whatever the instruction was, it was very obvious to me that everyone else had the idea that they had to stay in the room. And so, as soon as the instruction was done, I just bolted out of the room. It was an appropriate response at that time. It was just like… what you said, developing that skill or that habit or that openness to finding something that’s out of the groove, out of the normal thing that we would typically do without thinking, it becomes pretty easy.

And when it comes to natural movement, this is a big thing. In fact, you remind me of something else. We’ll dive into this, I’m sure. But when people talk to me about running form issues where they’re typically over-striding, I’ll often say to them, if they say they want to learn how to run better, “We’ll just exaggerate what you’re doing. Stick your foot further out in front. Do something that really highlights the other edge of where you’re trying to go. Because then, you’re become aware of where you really were.”

The number of people who I’ve met… gosh, I’ve worked with a couple of runners who thought they were midfoot landing, people who are getting their feet underneath their body when they landed. And it couldn’t have been further from the case. And by giving them instructions to try to move them in the direction you wanted them to go, it had no impact. That’s why I said, “Try and go the other way”. And suddenly, it felt so wrong that they had no choice but to come back into what was the direction they were trying to go to begin with.

Jae Gruenke:

Right, exactly. It’s as much what Feldenkrais said, “When you know what you’re doing, then you can do what you want.” But if you don’t already, so your first step is to develop the ability to do the thing that you spontaneously do all the time and don’t even know you’re doing it. The ability to choose to do it. Then, that’s the same as the ability to choose not to do it.

Steven Sashen:

I like it. So, let’s talk back into what we started at the top of this. So, let’s talk about core stability. And you had a line that I just adored. So, I’m going to let you say that and jump into your thoughts about core stability, which is something, of course, everyone thinks they need to have, great tight core, they need to have rock hard abs, they need to do whatever it is they do. So, I’m going to let you take it over from here because you had such a brilliant line. I wanted to hear it again.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Well, it is. A core stability is like orthotics for your torso.

Steven Sashen:

Wait. I just want to pause on that. Because many people… now, for many people, they’re going to think, “Well, that sounds good because an orthotic is about stability. And I want things that are stable. And so, why don’t I get an orthotic for my torso?” So, please elaborate, Jae.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, always, when I say stuff like this, then people come back and be like, the most sophisticated people who understand core muscle function come back, it means like… they’re like, “That’s not what core stability is at all.” And so, when I say this, and what I really mean is, core stability as it is popularly taught of and frequently taught, right? So, scientifically, there’s a thing, and we’ll talk about that. But it is not what’s being taught and it’s not the thing that runners are being told that they need.

Steven Sashen:

And what’s being taught? What are people typically being told? And then, what’s this alternative perspective?

Jae Gruenke:

Right. So, people are being told… so, okay, orthotics, feet, spines are… okay, feet and spines, 26 pounds, not interesting. So, it’s not, isn’t it?

Steven Sashen:

Well, yeah. Look, for all I know, it’s just a giant coincidence. But it’s really a fun one, even if it is. So, let’s just… and we have 26 letters in the English alphabet. And then, there’s going to be other things that we find to 26. And then, it’s conspiracy is what it is. It’s the Illuminati. That’s got to be what it is.

Jae Gruenke:

I like where this interview is going. So, these are not illusionary mistakes, right? Well, you have a lot of bones and therefore even more joints, right? Those are meant to be mobile, adaptable areas. They’re not mean-

Steven Sashen:

I’m sorry, because something just occurred to me when you said that, that for all the years that I’ve been saying similar things I never thought of. If the bones and joints in your foot were not so mobile, we wouldn’t be able to walk at all because the bones in our feet are super, super fragile compared to almost any other than your inner ear. I mean, these things are not big, thick, strong things. And yet, they support whatever size your body is when allowed to.

So, that’s an amazing thing that the whole structure of these tiny little bones that on their own couldn’t do squat, put all together in the right way, create this amazing ability to support us when we’re walking, running, et cetera, et cetera.

Jae Gruenke:

Yup, yup, absolutely. And then, for the spine, the lumbar vertebrae are quite big and strong. Then, it gets more delicate as you go up. But still, these are our most adaptable, the places with the most bones, the places that were meant to be able to meet and interact with the world in the most flexible of ways. And it’s interesting, it’s the hands and the feet, but then the spine as well. And in fact, we can feel the middle of the spine, your T12, L1.

So, your last thoracic vertebrae, which is the area of your rib cage and your first lumbar vertebra, where they meet, that’s actually quite a mobile area. To the extent that if a person has a fall, that’s the most frequently bad fall. That’s the most frequently fractured area because it’s most mobile. So, this idea that you would clench or brace, that you would try and restrict and maybe even aim to prevent altogether movement there, it’s not right.

And as a Feldenkrais practitioner learning about gait, I learned developmentally how movement through the spine is fundamental to walking, to moving through space at all, so your pelvis makes this figure eight motion in your rib cage, we have a counter rotation. And that counter rotation is the turning one way of the pelvis, turning the other way of the rib cage. It meets right at that T12, L1, which is also where your diaphragm is, and which needs to be not restricted but able to move.

And your very fragile feet, or potentially fragile feet, can’t by themselves handle the load and moving across the foot, and then the push off of a completely rigid torso. And in fact, when someone tells me that they suffer from chronic tight calves, or when a runner tells me that they’ve had a metatarsal stress fracture, I know that that is… I know that their trunk is too stiff. And when we fixed that, the stresses are changed, the calves relax, or the calves no longer accumulate chronic tension. Then, they change some movement pattern that led to the stress.

Steven Sashen:

So, two things. First, I need to apologize, you have the cool background of books that I want to try and figure out what they are. And I got kicked out of the spot in my office where I have shoes behind me that look really cool. And now, I’ve just got this empty cork board. And that’s the apology that I should have done way earlier. But secondly, so the thing that people are being taught now is a lot of anti-rotational movement, basically trying to, “stabilize the core and make things in mobile.” Now, David Weck, the guy who invented the BOSU ball that-

Jae Gruenke:

I know David Weck. David Weck and I went to college together.

Steven Sashen:

I figured that out. Oh, then we have to get a talk.

Jae Gruenke:

And Feldenkrais, we did training program together. So, we have a-

Steven Sashen:

That’s a brilliant-

Jae Gruenke:

… starly, parallel lives.

Steven Sashen:

So, David is of course the other person, or one of the few other people who talks about having a mobile core, if you will, rather than a rigid one. He and I have had a lot of conversations about this. So, you would then of course, suggest that things like planks, Palloff press, all this anti-rotational stuff, all these things to try to keep things not moving, not the recommended course of action, now-

Jae Gruenke:

No. And I’ve been putting it to the test for 18 years, so.

Steven Sashen:

I want to ask you a question about that and see how you deal with this. Because one of the things that I noticed, there’s a very early blog post that I did that had to do with Glen Mills, who’s Usain Bolt’s coach. And what Glen said, is what got you saying to become the fastest man in the world, and turned him from being a very good 400-meter runner to the fastest man in the world. They spent a year working on his, mostly on core stability, on his abdominal strength.

And I see there’s so many runners who, they are a bad slinky. That when they hit the ground, everything, from their rib cage down to their nipples to nuts, basically, if we’re going to do it that way, just collapses. And not in a way that looks like there’s anything strong there, it looks like it’s just weak. So, talk about this phenomenon of, how one has an appropriately flexible, strong moving thing that is not hyper mobile or just getting in the way of being able to apply force into the ground properly, which is what allows you to run fast?

Jae Gruenke:

Right, so many things I want to say about that. But first, let me say that, how you organize yourself to handle the stresses of running is what really matters and not your strength. So, it’s like, how do you organize yourself to pick up a box? Well, if you… let me see, if you don’t bend a really heavy boxes on the floor, you don’t bend your knees, you just lean over from your hips, you grab it from the top and you throw yourself backwards.

I mean, you could. So, that’s it. That’s a terrible way to pick up a box. You’re probably going to hurt your back. Right? You could fix that by just getting really, really strong at deadlifts, right? But really, it would be better to learn the proper technique for handling the load of picking up the box because you probably already had enough strength.

Steven Sashen:

Right. Okay. So, that’s it, got it.

Jae Gruenke:

Right? And really, especially when I’m working with elite athletes and seeing how strong they are, and how frequently that force is utterly misdirected, all these muscles creating forces in directions that are not propelling them forward. So then, the test there is not to try and persuade them to have less strength. It’s like, how can we channel this so it all goes into forward motion? So, there’s that. The second thing I do want to clarify, it’s not that the core does nothing, but is, which muscles are we talking about, right?

And what are we trying to make them do? So, I’ve just been doing… coming to the end of a yearlong project and looking at breathing. And what we’re doing, breathing in like actual core stability because you do have to do something to handle impact and have some control of your midsection, between your ribs and your pelvis. And that’s done by your diaphragm, your deepest layer of abdominal muscle, your transversus abdominus, and your pelvic floor.

They contract a fraction of a second before impact. So, it’s like having air in your tire to create a little bit… to increase the pressure, your intra-abdominal pressure, and that stabilizes you. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Go ahead. Well-

Jae Gruenke:

Well. So, you’re-

Steven Sashen:

Okay. You go, then I’ll go.

Jae Gruenke:

Okay. So, the more superficial abdominal muscles are not involved in that job. And when you enlist them in that job, one of the things that they do is wreck your ability to breathe properly and get enough air because they pull down. If you start to use your rectus abdominus and your internal and external obliques to do this bracing thing, that really is only supposed to be done by the transverse and is not regulated consciously because you can’t regulate anything consciously in that smaller window of time not if you were sprinters.

Then, you have just destroyed your ability or at least significantly interfered with your ability to perform this counter rotational motion, which running depends on. And when you interfere with that, then you’re putting energy into interfering with something your body needs to do, and you’re not trying to do that thing anyway. And the waste of energy is tremendous, and the misdirected force, and the stress at your joints, the injury risk, it all goes down the toilet.

And again, you’re also preventing your ribs from being able to make a movement in your abdomen… make the movements that allow your diaphragm to work well so that you can actually breathe. So, that I think covers… and just because elite runners do it doesn’t mean it’s right. I can tell you that.

Steven Sashen:

The number of times where someone has said, “Well, so-and-so,” and they named some elite Kenyan marathoner, “does X, Y and Z.” And I go, “I don’t want to be the one to point it out to you, but you’re not 105-pound Kenyan running at almost 13 miles an hour for two hours. So, why you’re comparing yourself to that person is a mystery to me.” Backing up a little bit, you reminded me, there’s an interesting thing in weightlifting where people put on a weightlifting belt.

And most non… how do I want to put it? Most novice lifters or people, or… I’m trying to get a better word, people who aren’t really smart about lifting, they think that the whole point of that is that you’re supposed to tighten the belt up as much as you can, that the belt is giving you support, and not realizing that the proper use of a lifting belt is to give you something to push your abdominal muscles out into. And you want to really push your transverse abdominus as much as you can. I know that’s a weird statement.

But the idea is that you want to brace by pushing, not braced by just having this thing be a crutch, be another orthotic, if you will. And people don’t get that. Or they see these powerlifters, they have these big bellies. It’s like, yeah, part of that is because they’re training their muscles to be pushing out, because that’s the thing if they do it right, gives them the support when they’re deadlifting or squatting, or even bench pressing. So, talk about, now, it’s interesting, one of the things that I’ve done with people, and you’re going to think it’s horrible.

And I’m not saying that you’re wrong, is I’ll say to people, if they have this really loose, bad, slinky spring thing going on, is I’ll walk up and I’ll just poke them. Or I’ll say… just pretend I’m about to punch you, just do something just to get them to find any tension at all because they just typically don’t know where that is. And then, I’ll guide them into how to tighten up or how to work with the transverse abdominus because that is our corset, if you will, and does allow the rest of breathing.

So, talk to me about… especially from a Feldenkrais perspective, this is really interesting, about what you’re doing with people to create that proper tension at the right time or help them create that proper tension at the right time, and be still having the flexibility, openness, relaxation that you need to do, this crazy thing called breathing. And I’m going to call it crazy because in the 100, I think I breathe three times, just barely. And that’s a whole different game for sprinting. In sprinting, there’s this whole argument about at the start how you breathe.

Which is basically like Valsalva maneuver or various other things to generate more tension that arguably is going to help you be putting more force in the ground, just like a weightlifter, because those first few steps is really doing a super heavy squat or a super heavy partial squat.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, super interesting. So, my work is with distance runners. And my ability to comment on sprinting is very limited.

Steven Sashen:

There are very few people who understand sprinters. There’s not a lot of us, and we’re very hard to study. And so, people ignore it.

Jae Gruenke:

Very fun to work with though, for me, and actually something I’d love to learn more about because distance runners tune out. Everything’s in bulk, right?

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Jae Gruenke:

The miles, the effort. And of the few sprinters I’ve had the opportunity to work with, it’s a different nervous system completely. And it’s so finely-tuned and so sensitive. Sprinters can feel what they’re doing, and distance runners try not to.

Steven Sashen:

Here’s my thing with sprinters. At the end of a race, someone will come up and say, “How did you do?” And the answer that I give when people ask me how I did at the end of the race, I go, “Do you want just the number or do you want the excuse first?” Because the thing with sprinting is it’s like bowling or archery, or target shooting. It’s very precise, and you can never get it perfect, which is why it’s so addicting. That one tiny little step that you screwed up on the third step, it’s like that’s the end of it.

The fact that you leaned a little too soon, it’s like all these tiny little things, and I’ll stop ranting about sprinting in a second, there’s two other parts. One is that my favorite moment in a race is between set and the gun going off because it’s just all you can do is wait. And that waiting, it’s the most empty my mind ever is in just that moment. And then, the reaction is just instantaneous and super, super fun. And then, during the course of race, you get three thoughts.

You get three breathes and three thoughts. It’s like drive, and there’s some weird thought that’s like take off. You don’t want to just stand up, you want to move into the maximum acceleration phase. And then, it’s sort of step over. And then, it’s just hold the fuck on until you get to the end. I mean, as crazy as it sounds, those last 20 meters is just trying not to slow down. So, you just want to hold on. So, this is all the thoughts you get, and everything else is meaningless. So, yeah, it’s all very concentrated. Anyway. So, back up to-

Jae Gruenke:

That’s my plan for my 80s, is to become a sprinter.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I got to tell you, when you go to masters track meets, it’s super, super fun finding the really old sprinters. The first time I went to the Senior Games after I turned 50, some of the 60-year-olds were coming up and saying, “Enjoy it while you have it. Because once you turned 60, things start to slow down really fast.” And a bunch of the 80-year-olds overheard and came up like, “You guys have no idea what you’re talking about.” And I’m turning 58 this week. So, I was like, “I’m crossing my fingers. I got a couple of more good years in me.”

And then, the other thing that happens out at meets is, sure, the distance runners are all great. It’s all a lot of fun. But when you see the 95-year-olds in the 100 meters, everybody wants to be those guys and those women. And the sprinters are the craziest people on the track by a longshot. They’re the most fun to hang out with. So, I highly encourage you to become an old age sprinter. It’s a great gig.

Jae Gruenke:

Awesome. Awesome. So, you had some serious… oh, yes, tightness in the abs, right.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, how do we do this thing?

Jae Gruenke:

So, again, what your transverse abdominus is going to do is not subject to your conscious control?

Steven Sashen:

Right.

Jae Gruenke:

And there’s no benefit that’s been shown from just holding it tight all the time. It has its times that is… well, okay. It’s just regulated by your nervous system, subconsciously and you can’t… because even a sprinter can’t intervene in timely fashion.

Steven Sashen:

I’m going to move away from transverse abdominus, which we need to perhaps define for people. But the other thing I’m thinking of is, there’s people who they’ve never used their glutes in their life. And so, the only way to get their glutes to start firing in a natural function is to highlight the fact that they haven’t used them by getting them to fire at all under their conscious control. It seems to wake up some nervous system pathway that had been shut down because they figured out a way to run or walk, or whatever it is, without using their butt to begin with.

And so, their brain just went, “Oh, you’re not going to do that? All right. Well, I’ll stop paying attention.” And I think Irene Davis at Harvard does this where she’ll just poke people in the glute and go, “Tighten that up.” Okay, and now that you know that that’s there, now, start running. So, I wonder if there’s some similar thing transverse abdominus was?

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. Well, again, I would just leave that be. So, here’s the thing, is if you were totally out of shape, you were on bed rest or whatever, and everything was equally weak. And you got up and you started walking around, then the movement of walking would strengthen the muscles that you need for walking. If any of those muscles didn’t get strong from you getting up and walking around, it’s because you didn’t know how to use them when you were walking.

And similarly, with running. Running strengthens the muscles needed for running. If any of them are not… you’re not using them, or there is an imbalance, strength imbalances, because you don’t know how. So, movement coordination comes before strength and produces strength. And even conscious activation of muscles, it still begs the question like, “What is it about how you’re moving that doesn’t just use those muscles, that doesn’t make it inevitable that they turn on?”

And a lot of that has to do with how we just organize ourselves in space and time relative to gravity and the forces involved in running. And that is definitely true with the glutes.

Steven Sashen:

So, how does that relate to… how would I put this? Sort of just building strength in general? I mean, there’s a lot of research that has shown that strength training for runners is highly beneficial and for sprinters as well, but there’s a lot of debate about this for sprinters. But what I keep thinking is the advantage… I have one friend who is out of the UK. His take on weightlifting is, it’s really just designed to get back into balance the things that you’ve knocked out of whack when you were sprinting, and that’s the primary function.

There are other people who say, “Well, basically, when you’re sprinting, you’re only able to apply a certain amount of force in a certain amount of time without some extra load, whether you’re adding weight or doing a sled push, or pull, or something.” So, the other advantage for doing certain kinds of training, not just going in and doing squats, for example, but certain kinds of training, is just because you’re not going to be overloading your muscular system when you’re sprinting because you can’t.

There isn’t some natural way to be applying more force. You have to run hills or stairs, or do something to apply an external load and getting stronger, having that extra strength and knowing how to apply it is a virtuous cycle. So, if you already know how to apply it and you get stronger, that’s great to a certain extent. But I don’t know where that thought began, or something about, yes, you will strengthen a certain amount from just doing it.

But what’s your take on just getting some supplemental strength once you’re knowing how to apply it correctly?

Jae Gruenke:

Well, sure. And again, all of the elite athletes that I work with, they strength train. So, I’ve got no disagreement whatsoever with strength training for performance. That’s a piece of the puzzle, but that assumes that you know how to use that, how to bring that strength from your squats or whatever into your running, and not everybody does. And it’s a completely different thing than corrective exercise, right?

What you get when you go to physical therapist because you have plantar fasciitis, and the PT says, “Well, you don’t have any glutes. Your glutes are just totally weak, but your quads are rocks. We got to fix that strength imbalance.” And then, you’re doing a million clamshells, which by the way, is I hate those, this terrible exercise, like bridges.

Steven Sashen:

Aside from the fact that it makes you feel awkward and really inappropriate, yeah.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. But also, it’s a bad movement. Ignoring that little pebble on the road here, yeah. But then, are you going to know how to use your glutes in running from doing clamshells? Or are you just going to be now toting some more actual meet on your behind that is just added weight frankly? Maybe it has a weak learning effect but not a strong one. Whereas, the Feldenkrais lesson in one hour, you could be living in a completely different world in terms of knowing how to use your glutes.

And a lot about glutes is people don’t really understand, especially for distance run, again, different in sprinting because just basically, you’re just trying to accelerate more like this. But your glute’s main job is not to push. It’s to hold your head up. And so, if you were not-

Steven Sashen:

Wait, wait. Hold on. Hold on. Your glute’s main job is to hold your head up? We could open with that line. Well, say more about that.

Jae Gruenke:

So, you need to be leaning forward whenever you run. And so, what that means is that when you’re in midstance, it means your weight is fully on your foot. You’re at your most compressed moment in running. You’re experiencing 2.5 to 2.7 times your body weight and compression, downward compression. I have another you sitting on your head pushing you down. So, if you’re leaning forward as you should be, your head is not over your foot. It’s in front of your foot. And that downward force will cause you to faceplant if not for your glutes.

Steven Sashen:

Oh, I love it.

Jae Gruenke:

Right? That is their main job in distance running, and they are used to some extent. I mean, maybe slightly towards toe off is what varies with running style, I think. They’re used more if you’re running uphill, the more if you’re accelerating. But then, it just decreases again once you’ve established a new speed.

Steven Sashen:

Well, let’s refill. I mean, the glute’s primary function… there’s a couple. But let’s say the primary function is hip extension, which is a good thing is going to happen after midstance. And depending on how you’re running, you may really need that, or we may need a little less of that, you don’t need none. But the flipside, the proximal side of that, if you will, is then the part of holding your head up. So, it’s doing this… it’s like the hamstring has the insertion of the knee and the insertion at the hip.

In a way, what we’re talking about is the glute doing the part, this goes from the glute down and the part from the glute up. But I never really thought about the glute up apart, which is fascinating.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. It’s because your gluteus maximus attaches to that whole top of your pelvis. And so, when it’s contracted, it works isometrically in that moment in order to keep your whole body from just tipping forward. And so, if you are not leaning forward, you will not use your glutes when you run. Yeah. So, you can poke those glutes. You can say, “Fire, fire, fire,” but they’re not being… but there’s no reason for them to work if you’re not leaning forward.

And then, instead, you just get this idea that, “I should be using my glutes all the time when I run.” Then, you’re clenching them all the time, both of them. So, anything you do on both sides of your body at once while running interferes with your core action with this counter rotation of your upper and lower body. So now, you’re shutting down your core action, and you’ve just made running harder and potentially more stressful to your body.

Steven Sashen:

Has anyone done EMG studies on some of these things, on muscle firing, especially like pre and post, some Feldenkrais activation?

Jae Gruenke:

As far as I know, there are no EMG studies pre- and post-Feldenkrais.

Steven Sashen:

That’s too bad. That would be really-

Jae Gruenke:

I know, it really would be. So, yeah. I mean, the direction that I want to be moving more over the next decade is in the research, but there’s been too little research on Feldenkrais. But I know my clients develop butts.

Steven Sashen:

And that’s all it matters, really.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah. I have a wealth of clinical experience here.

Steven Sashen:

It’s anecdotal, but nice ass. So, backing up, we took bit of a detour from… so, what does one do since we’ve established that using your core appropriately is a valuable thing, how do you work with people to do that? And what can you share with people who are listening, watching this, so they can start to get a flavor of that before they would necessarily just blindly go and find some Feldenkrais person? And by the way, as you know, just because someone is a Feldenkrais practitioner doesn’t mean they’re hip to what you know about blindness to running, and we’ll talk about that in a second.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So, you can feel how… the fundamental nature of how your course was to work on when running, if you just sit down on the ground with your legs out in front of you, your knees can be bent. They are straight-ish, but don’t kill your hamstrings, and just walk forward on your butt, right? If you do that a few times, the first time is going to feel awkward. Your head’s going to tip side to side. If you do it a few times to where you’d feel like, “Oh no, I’m walking here,” and use your arms, that is what your core needs to do.

And so, again, if you want strengthening exercises that facilitate that, there are any number of… there’s movement of transverse planes. So, there’s the counter rotation of pelvis and thorax. But then, there’s also movement in the frontal plane, which means a side-to-side tipping, the pelvis tip side-to-side. And in this wonderful… the area that is the center of your running gait, the most important part to be mobile, is that T12, L1 moves actually side-to-side in addition to there being… well, the rotation isn’t just there.

It’s distributed through the spine. That’s just where turning one way meets turning the other way. And so, doing activities like that, pre-run, are very helpful as a great warm up. I have created a ton of resources. So, if I could do… I have a free one-week challenge.

Steven Sashen:

And we’ll get there in a second, just hold on.

Jae Gruenke:

But as a Feldenkrais practitioner, the first lesson I give practically every runner is lying on your side, learning how to allow and create, and control this movement. And so, we’re not talking about total loosey-gooseyness. There is such a thing as too much, and that is called salsa dancing, a wonderful activity. And by the way, I think Latin dance and Latin dance fitness is a wonderful cross workout. Just because it’s a tremendous… it’s so strengthening for your core but through a range of motion.

And simultaneously, it’s all being your… because you’re on your feet as opposed to lying down on the ground. Your hip joints are having to also… all the muscles around your hip joints are also being strengthened by that and in coordination with the core and with your weight in a way that is incredibly applicable to running.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Jae Gruenke:

And even as a sprinter, I think a little bit of salsa in those hips-

Steven Sashen:

Well, there’s a debate about this with sprinting as well. And part of it is that the challenge of sprinting is that the ground contact time is so short that any motion that you’re going to have is so constrained just because there’s no time for it. I mean, typical ground contact time for sprinters is eight hundredths of a second. Yeah, eight hundredths of a second, or eight hundredths of a second. That’s what, it’s less than a 10th. I mean, that’s a very tiny bit, but there is a little bit of this left and right thing.

There’s Joel Smith who has a whole thing about arm motion, and what you want to do is as your arm is coming behind you, and this is an argument that he would have David… he loves a lot of David stuff, is that if you… it’s hard to describe. If your hand is behind you, instead of your thumb pointing up, rotate it, so your thumb comes towards your body. It’s almost pointing backwards because that shoulder rotation will actually help with just that little bit of extra twist in your torso, which helps with that little bit of extra extension in your hip.

So, if you can rotate your shoulders that tiny bit, then that’s actually giving you a little more extension as well. Again, big debates about this. The thing about spring particular is that you see these little idiosyncratic patterns, whether someone has their feet pointed out or one foot pointed out. Ato Bolton, former world champion, ran with one foot pointed practically at 90 degrees. People say, “God, if you only get that foot in line.” It’s like, “Dude, he was the world champion. Leave him alone.”

So, that’s the big thing. Everyone has opinions about sprinters. I’ve never met anyone who’s taken a sprinter and dramatically changed their form with a simultaneous dramatic improvement in performance. Because so much of it is happening so fast that actually you and I need to talk about this because I actually have some theories about how that could be different. Because I think fundamentally, people aren’t teaching sprinting mechanics the right way based on what it takes to learn a new movement pattern.

And this is a combination of Feldenkrais things and biofeedback things, and just basic motor skill acquisition things, which is my undergraduate research, those cognitive aspects of motor skill acquisition. We’ll have to do this offline frankly because I don’t want to share the info because I want to patent this stuff. But I think there’s a therefore that no one’s really gotten into, but I love the walking on your butt. I think that’s… because this is something similar to what we… sprint thing, where we’re actually just using the arms to get used to what the arm motion is.

Which then, involves walking on the butt because you can’t avoid it when you’re doing that. The other thing, and I’ll stop ranting in a second, as you were talking just about these counter movements between the pelvis and the torso, I keep thinking of taking a dress and putting it on a hanger, and just twisting the hanger back and forth, and noticing where the dress doesn’t move, which is right basically at that spot where your diaphragm would be. It rotates above that and below that.

But that spot right in the middle just doesn’t move, which is a similar analogy, I think. Danny Dryer from ChiRunning might use a similar analogy. I’m not sure if I… where that image in my mind came from of just how there are these counter moves, and people are either not doing those at all because everything’s so sloppy or trying to restrict it too much because everything’s too tight. And that happy medium is the interesting place.

Jae Gruenke:

Yeah, yeah. Again, so much in there, and we definitely must talk more. The thing to bear in mind, I mean, the most important thing out of all that, is that counter rotation. Like I said, there’s also movement in the frontal plane. And the way that human spine is built, rotation and side bending occur together and elicit each other. So, unlike on the dress mannequin thing, that midpoint where the counter rotation is occurring, is or should also be moving side to side. And this gets us back to feet.

Because if it’s not, if it’s not at all, then people are going to try and stick orthotics underneath your feet because you’re going to overpronate. Your weight needs to shift laterally over the weight bearing surfaces of your feet. Yeah. And this is how my clients stopped meeting with… I’ve gotten basically everybody who’s ever come to me out of orthotics, not by trying to, but they just start getting annoying because they don’t need them anymore.

Steven Sashen:

Well, the whole idea about orthotics, that there’s some particular way to post your foot and that you can do that while it’s in motion, is of course flawed to begin with. In [Bill Sans’ 00:49:37] lab when he had… what is now Colorado Mesa University, what he would show, he would have you trying every different sheet you had and see how you were running. And what he would show is that for most people, especially recreational runners, their gait would change dramatically based on what shoe they’re wearing.

And of course, how well that shoe was broken in or not, or how overused that shoe is. And I said to him… this is the real joke about orthotics is, “What you’re showing is that you would need a different orthotic for every shoe and then have to change it out pretty much every 50 miles based on how that shoe was wearing out.” Yeah. And I had a guy who tried to prescribe orthotics to me, like a three quarter orthotic. And I said, “How is this in any way useful, because I never touched any part of my foot?”

I mean, my foot doesn’t move like that when I’m sprinting. I mean, I literally would never… there’s nothing there. And he said, “Well, I think you still need one.” It’s like, “Once again, man, you’re supporting something that isn’t ever being used in the way that you think.” Or I mean, there’s… God, I’m trying to think about how much I want to bad mouth another company. There’s a company that makes a… let’s call it an orthotic, and they’re basically promoting it as if it’s a spring.

And I go, “Well, that’s really cool, except that the way your body moves, you would never load the spring that way and then get the rebounding effect from it. And of course, you can’t get more energy out of it than you put into it. And even more, if it did what you think you could show, you’d see that on a force plate. You’d be able to see a change in how forces applied, and just show me the force plate data and then I’m all yours. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of hand waving.” And they don’t like that.

Jae Gruenke:

No.

Steven Sashen:

I don’t know why, I’m fond of finding out things that are true. Other people who make a living off of saying things that aren’t not so much. So well, I cut you off when you were about to say how people could find some of the things that you’ve done to help people learn this. And we need to jump into that for no other reason, and I got a meeting I got to get to. Things are super busy over here. So, first of all, once again, thank you.

This is long overdue. And it’s such a pleasure. And we have so much more to talk about. And maybe we’ll do part two of this. And secondly, Jae, tell people how they can discover what you’ve been up to and how you can be helpful, whether they’re seeing you in person or not. Because of course, this is our goal, is to help people move better.

Jae Gruenke:

Awesome. So, balancedrunner.com is where you can find me. I’ve been doing a ton of YouTube videos. So, youtube.com/balancedrunner where you find tons of things you can see there, which is always helpful with running form. I have a free one-week challenge called, The Mind Your Running challenge, which you’ll find on my website, or you can go to… geez, never mind, find on my website. Because there’s a professional up to that moment, but I really need a simple link.

I mean, I think it’s bitly.com/mindyourrunning. But anyway, free 10 minutes a day. Even if you can’t… well, you don’t have to put on running clothes, but it’s going to help you feel how this core action actually works. Because just fill your head full of ideas that doesn’t work so well to be able to feel things with your body, then you can start to learn them. So, that’ll just start to being able to get things working right.

Steven Sashen:

And this is the other thing that I really like about the Feldenkrais approach. And it’s the same thing that we say about just running barefoot or in Xero Shoes. The goal is for you to be able to feel and understand and listen, whatever listen to your body means, I hate that phrase, but to be attentive to what’s happening with your body and the different options that are available so that you become your own coach, so that you can tell what’s going on, so that you can be the experimental, your own guinea pig, if you will.

And that’s the value. I mean, we for whatever reason, especially in America and perhaps in Europe, a little bit as much… I’m not sure if it’s as much, we’ve become very attached to instant a product-based solution without realizing that it’s really the best thing is figuring it out internally. What we like to say about Xero Shoes, it’s like, “We’re not doing anything, we’re getting out of the way so you can figure out how to do your best.”

And it just so happens that there’s cool shoes that go along with that. And then, there’s more to it about just shortcutting the process of learning that you would do on your own, you’d figure it out on your own, given enough time and enough patience. But there’s of course ways of helping people accelerate that process as well. So, that’s our goal. So, cool. But please, do go to balancedrunner.com, and enjoy and discover what Jae has been doing.

And let’s hear your feedback about that. Leave it here. Obviously, leave it with Jae. And Jae, once again, we have a lot more to talk about, so we will probably do that. But while we sign off, those watching, listening, thank you, thank you, thank you. Again, go to www.jointhemovementmovement.com, and that’s where you’ll find all the previous episodes and all the ways that you can interact with us.

Again, like and share, and subscribe, and thumbs up, and hit the bell, and all those things you know how to do. Like I said, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe. But most importantly, go out and have fun, and live life feet first.

 

 

 

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