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Muscle-Tendon Change, Marrow Washing & Fascial Training: Part 9 by Tom Bisio

In this post we look at the Muscle-Tendon Change (Yin Jin Jing) and Marrow Washing Classic (Xi Sui Jing) in relation to Functional Movement Screening and Functional Strength Training, and discuss how these exercises engage with the natural spiraling action of the human body.

Look for the Muscle-Tendon Change Marrow Washing Online Learning Program launching February 8, 2024.

Functional Movement Screening & Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing

Functional Movement Screening is an assessment technique performed by physiotherapists, which attempts to identify imbalances in mobility and stability using seven fundamental movement patterns. The purpose of the screening test is to highlight a person’s compensatory movement patterns. Compensatory movement patterns are new (often dysfunctional patterns) that the body uses to be able to do an activity despite muscle and alignment imbalances, or pain. The body very quickly adapts to these new patterns in order to function as it did before, but often this new pattern can create undesirable strains and misuse of the joints because these patterns are not using joints in their optimal operating patterns. Often these compensation patterns are compensation from something like ankle pain, but they can pass through the kinetic chain of adjacent joints and tissues and cause pain and misalignment in another area – for example in the neck. You no longer notice the ankle pain, because you have effectively compensated for it so that you can walk, and now you have neck pain, but you don’t associate the neck pain with the original ankle issue. Functional Basic Functional Movement Screening looks at seven markers:

  1. Squatting
  2. Stepping Over a Hurdle
  3. In Line Lunge
  4. Straight Leg Raise
  5. A Push Up that Challenges Trunk Stability
  6. Rotary Stability
  7. Shoulder Mobility

To these are added assessments of scapular mobility, and spinal flexion and extension.

The test is not just measuring just the ability to perform these movements, it also analyzes how the movements  are performed and how people compensate in trying to perform the movement. Left and right sides of the body are also compared and corrective exercises are often prescribed on the basis of the analysis.

The Muscle-Tendon Change and Marrow Washing, if performed correctly, not only make one very aware of compensation patterns, they also provide a means of correcting these patterns. More, by transforming the tissues from the inside out, an internal process is initiated, which continues to operate even when one is not performing the exercises.

The Muscle Tendon Change Exercises in particular work with:

  1. Squatting,
  2. Bending & extending
  3. Lunging
  4. Sitting on one leg
  5. Shoulder and scapular mobility
  6. Balancing on the balls of the feet and heels
  7. Holding balanced, rooted stances
  8. Balancing spinal flexion and extension
  9. Performing a pushup with trunk stability
  10. Moving and rotating around the central axis
  11. Hip Mobility

When Practicing the Muscle-Tendon Change and Marrow Washing, you are strengthening the body internally and externally you are constantly reprogramming the activation of the different sides of the body and attempting to work correctly with balanced kinetic chains. So there is an interesting connection between Functional Movement Screening and Yi Jin Jing /Xi Sui Jing, although these ancient exercises also look internally at the connections of the limbs to the internal organs and the state of free-flow in the channels and collaterals, and work closely with respiration – things not emphasized in Functional Movement Screening.

Functional Strength Training, & Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing

I hear the term Functional Strength Training more and more often. It is not necessary related to the functional movement screening discussed above, but sometimes the two have correctly or incorrectly become conflated. Functional strength resistance training aims to simulate normal activities in such a manner that improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements related to a specific activity, or in order to make an individual’s daily living activities (picking up something heavy, carrying groceries, actions common to specific sports  etc) easier to perform. Functional Strength trainers often identify nine key actions that should be trained:

  1. Squatting
  2. Lunging
  3. Hinging at the Waist
  4. Pushing
  5. Pulling
  6. Proper Gait
  7. Torso Rotation
  8. Leg Lifting
  9. Balance and Coordination

This is a very reasonable list of core essential movements that human beings need to be able to perform easily, naturally and in a variety of situations.

I am going to be a little harsh in the following analysis, with the caveat that some people do perform these exercises correctly and that for a specific sport that requires a high degree of very specific strength, these exercises may be useful. The problem for me lies in the training exercises themselves and in their basic violation of the Yi Jin Jing idea that Qi should lead the transformation. When one looks at the exercises in most Functional Strength regimes that are used to create “functional strength” in the nine areas mentioned above, they seem to be not much different than basic external strength training – a variety of weight training exercises including Romanian dead lifts and bench presses, barbell squats, lunges with weights, box jumps, kettle bell exercises, standard and modified dumbbell exercises, and jumping jacks (an absurd exercise whose purpose I have never understood, nor can anyone explain to me its usefulness).

Even when watching experts do these exercises online, one can see compensation mechanisms being actively created in the body, often because of the attempt to do a certain number of repetitions with a heavy weight, often at a fairly fast speed. It is also unclear how some of these things are functional if we are thinking in terms of balanced exercises that properly orient the fascia while creating an coordination, correct muscle firing patterns, enduring strength and elastic fascial potentials

In contrast I would say that Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing practices do for the most part address the nine areas above fairly well, and in a balanced and intelligent way, that is not only in-line with Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing, training theories, but also with our current scientific understanding of the fascia and sinews (and their connection with blood and fluid circulation, bone marrow and the internal organs), while adding important qualities such as controlled breathing, application of the mind-intention, and engagement with the subtle internal energetics of the human body.

Power  Training & Spiral Movement

There are a number of studies on strength and power training that question the science of many strength training regimens, and they are of interest here because of the question of quality of movement vs. quantity. Some aspects of quality and quantity are discussed below.

Quality                                                         Quantity

External form & alignment                           Number of repetitions

Internal form & alignment                            Load (resistance)

Speed of performance                                    Frequency of performance

An important aspect of human motion is the global and ongoing employment of spirals in every movement. By actively engaging with these spirals we move more efficiently, with less effort and we can employ less physical external strength to achieve a particular end. If we are interested in cultivating an elastic power dynamic in the fascia and complementary tissue structures, we must employ spirals. The body uses spiraling motions to conserve elastic energy, thereby producing a higher power output and reducing injurious impacts and forces on the joints and tendons.

Yi Jin Jing exercises employ spirals in even seemingly simple actions that often seem rather two-dimensional, like squatting or pushups. In ‘Three Plates Fall to the Ground’ we are essentially doing a squat exercise against an imagined resistance. As the body squats we imagine that the body is a huge spring that we are loading against a steady constant resistance. As we come out of the squat we imagine lifting a heavy weight with the arms as the whole body slowly uncoils. There is no visible external spiral but internally the entire body is one giant spring-like spiral. Rather than just a vertical up/down power dynamic, there are transverse, diagonal, and vertical power dynamics in play because the tibia rotates inward slightly as one squats, so that the feet internally pronate (roll inward slightly). Pronation refers to the way your foot rolls inward for impact distribution upon landing. It’s part of the natural movement of the human body – as your foot strikes the ground it rolls inward to absorb the shock.

This almost invisible pronation also activates and loads the powerful spring-like mechanism of the transverse arch of the foot. Meanwhile, the femur balances this action by also rotating inward slightly so that the knees go along for the ride without being stressed. This also “loads” the gluteal muscles. As the body rises upward, the femur rotates outward and the lower leg also rotates so that the foot supinates slightly.[1] Supination refers to an outward roll of the foot during normal motion. Supination naturally occurs during the push-off phase of the running gait as the heel lifts off the ground and the forefoot and toes are used to propel the body forward.

The spirals described above don’t stop at the hips and gluteal muscles but transmit upward through the spine and head and translate out into the arms. Similarly, Yi Jin Jing exercises that seem to employ simple, only upper body-centric two-dimesional pushup motions – like ‘Stretching Talons and Spreading Wings’, or ‘Lying Tiger Pounces on Its Prey’ – are whole body exercises that contain hidden spirals. In both of these exercises the upper body “power” is derived from the involvement of the lower body, which compresses energy into the ground. As the arms extend away from the torso they are in an inward rotation – pronation in the forearm, wrist and humerus and tip of the scapula spread outward. As the hands move towards the torso there is supination and outward rotation and the scapula move towards each other. This all assumes that one is using correct form and that the shoulders stay as relaxed as possible. The spreading wings action in ‘Stretching Talons and Spreading Wings’ relies on a transverse expansion that passes through the entire body while still maintaining a ground force that moves upward from the feet to the scapula through the arms to the fingertips. The undulating power dynamic of ‘Lying Tiger Pounces on Its Prey’ adds a multitude of spirals to the “pushup motion” not only in the arms but also in the legs, torso and spine. All of this will not happen if one locks the core of the body to aid “core strength,” which all to often leads to rigid tension rather than supple, elastic strength.

Often exercises that employ resistance with weights or pneumatic devices seem to remove the natural spirals from these types of actions, thereby incorrectly train the body, potentially creating unnatural stress on the joints. Joel Smith, an NCAA Division I Strength Coach, sums up this problem as follows:

The problem with the performance industry is it is so wrapped up in barbell movements which are by nature more supinated or vertically stacked without much work being done in the transverse plane.  This “mind” transfers itself over into dynamic movement, which becomes a problem, since dynamic movement operates on a different paradigm.

In much of sports performance, the supination biased, knees out, stabilizing, rigid and overcoming element of movement tends to be overemphasized (and it’s more of an industry mindset than a biomechanical quality in some senses) and the manner in which the body recycles energy (i.e. moves from supination to pronation and generally uses joints in a series of ever-spiraling figure 8’s) is tossed to the wayside. [2]

This “recycling of energy through a series of ever spiraling figure 8’s” sounds very much like the concept of internal martial arts and internal exercises like the Yi Jing Jing.

Some Studies on Strength Training

Modern studies have questioned the scientific basis of many exercise maxims that are often taken as gospel. For example:

Heavy weights with fewer reps build strength.

Lighter weights and more reps build endurance

In a 2004 systemic review of strength training research published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, researchers Smith and Bruce-Low concluded that:

The weight of scientific evidence, therefore, does not support the idea that different numbers of repetitions have differential effects on muscular strength and endurance. A low to moderate number of repetitions has been shown to produce optimal increases in muscular strength and size, with no specific repetition range proving superior.[3]

Studies have also found that speed of the repetition should start slow and maintain a steady speed throughout – the level of effort just enough to continue the slow movement. Studies have suggested that fast exercise speeds as in explosive Olympic weight training and plyometric exercises like lunges, jump squats, clap push-ups, and box jumps may actually not work the muscles involved efficiently. They suggest that explosive lifts would likely recruit fewer fibers due to momentum, and that the diminished recruitment through most of the range of motion would be less effective for enhancing muscle function.

In an another systemic review of a large number of strength training studies no evidence was found to suggest that plyometric exercise or explosive resistance training can enhance strength or athletic performance to any greater degree than traditional resistance strength training methods. This review also concluded that that regular performance of explosive exercises can cause injury.[4]

Much of this discussion and scientific evidence supports the approach of the Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing and its slow relatively slow deliberate movements.

The reason I bring up Functional Strength Training, and other methods of power training currently in vogue, is to point out how we are often seduced by the new thing that seems to be based “scientific” principles, without carefully examining the theory, the science, the purpose, and ultimate results of this new way of doing things. This happens more frequently as the world moves faster and faster and the new “flavor” changes frequently. As a result it is easy to be swayed by a passing fad in exercise and athletic training, thereby losing confidence in an approach that employs more enduring training patterns and study methods that have withstood the test of time, simply because this older approach is not validated by modern cultural preferences and proclivities.

Neuro-muscular Reprogramming

Although it is useful to make comparisons between Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing and modern methods of strength training, when doing so it is important to keep in mind that although Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing can be categorized as a type of strength training, these methods are trying to do much more than just increase strength. The purpose of these training methods is to transform and restore tissues to a healthy and vibrant state, making them strong, flexible and healthy. These exercises also neuro-muscularly reprogram the body so one’s movements become efficient, and internally connected. Lastly, Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing simultaneously promote the health and vitality of the body’s energy systems.

 

Notes

[1] “A Review of “Knees In” in Squatting and Bilateral Jumping: Why the Triangle is King and Lessons Found Surfing the Health-Performance Band-width” by Joel Smith. (https://www.just-fly-sports.com/a-review-of-knees-in-in-squatting-and-bilateral-jumping-why-the-triangle-is-king-and-lessons-found-surfing-the-health-performance-band-width-part-i/)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Strength Training Methods and the Work of Arthur Jones. Dave Smith and Stewart Bruce-Low (Journal of Exercise Physiology Online: ISSN 1097-9751, Volume 7 Number 6 December 2004)

[4] Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations, James Fisher, Stewart Bruce-Low, James Steele and Dave Smith (Medicina Sportiva 15 (3) 147-162 2011 September 2011 DOI: 10.2478/v10036-011-0025-x)