I am not a fitness junkie. With the exception of professional athletes, I tend to think people who are fitness junkies are a tad kooky. I’m fully aware that my perspective is prejudicial and, like all prejudice, unfair. I was once athlete enough to play quarterback at a small college and run a couple of marathons, and in those days, I trained quite diligently, enough to run that second marathon in three hours and nine minutes. (In that first marathon, once I hit mile 20, time goals gave way to mere survival; until you run that first marathon, you simply have no concept of what you’re going to ask your body to do, or at least, such was the case with me.) But things have changed.
These days, I still like a good game of tennis, and I still work out a few times every week as much for my mind as my body: a good sweat can reduce the trials of this world back to a smaller and, therefore, more accurate and manageable perspective. As regards my body, I have continued all these years to work out basically for one reason: to reduce my limitations in what I choose to do. That sounds far more philosophically high-minded than it is, but the upshot is that if I were approached to go skiing or climb a mountain or mountain bike 20 miles with friends, or whatever, I didn’t want to have to say “no” because my body couldn’t pull it off.
That started to get harder the older I got; my body was breaking down, or so I thought. I believed it was the normal attrition of a former athlete, especially one stupid enough to play football. I remember the first time I tried to go out for a jog, but my knees wouldn’t let me. Literally, my right knee could not support me when I came down on that right foot. I was in my mid-thirties, and I was baffled and angry as much as anything. But the body, being the great vessel of adaptation that it is, found ways to enable me to do those physical things I wanted to do. There were trade-offs. I could go out and run six miles, but I wouldn’t be able to do much beyond walk the next day, and even that, not easily. I could play a couple hours of hard singles tennis, but the next two days were going to be a wash. Whatever, I thought. Just part of growing older.
Then I had a child. A son. Like many people these days, I got married after I was old enough to legally be President. For a multitude of reasons, my wife and I were biologically incapable of having children, which didn’t matter at all to me and barely did to her. There were plenty of kids coming into the world who needed a home, and we were happy to adopt. A far more compelling issue, at least to me, was my age. Again, I was 37, or so, by this time; I was having my first child at the same age my father had already had his sixth and final child, and while I wasn’t that old, my body felt old. I was honestly concerned over what I would be able to do with my son. I wanted to be able to do with him whatever he wanted me to do.
In those early years, the toddler years, he wanted me on the ground with him. He wanted me crawling around, being a bridge he could climb over or crawl under. He wanted me out on the playground, climbing the jungle gym with him, playing tag, pushing him on the swing then running under when he was at his highest. At the pool or a lake, he wanted me to throw him. I could usually do what he wanted, but often not easily. My body would ache and not easily go places it used to visit effortlessly all the time. What’s more, what he wanted me to do was unfailingly exhausting. I would often marvel at how tired I was by activities that technically were not that demanding. I worried about being the 50-year-old who couldn’t do diddly with his teenaged son because his body wouldn’t let him.
Then I met Pete Egoscue, the father of modern postural therapy.
This is the point at which this may start to sound like some fake religious testimony, but it is not that. Nor is this some crass advertisement. I repeat, I find the uber-fit folks kooky. I am firmly convinced there are a multitude of better ways to spend adulthood than reaching peak fitness. I happily smoke cigars, I scoff at people who actively cut caffeine from their lives, and no pig that has ended up on my plate as either sausage or bacon or anything else has died in vain. And yet, I am a father who didn’t want to miss out on an array of experiences with his son simply because I wasn’t physically capable. And I was well on the road to being physically incapable.
I started doing Pete’s method of postural realignment through basic exercises he developed, or what he calls “e-cises.” I pretty much followed what his method recommends, which is to do the e-cises almost every day and to get a new menu of them every two weeks or so. When I first began his method, the e-cises took maybe 45 minutes each day. Now, they take 20 to 30.
Here is what I’ve learned about my body, the human body. We are symmetrical bipeds, or at least are supposed to be. That means we are designed to be horizontally even, one shoulder or hip not higher than the other, and that we’re designed to be straight vertically, that is, it should be a straight line from the ankle through the knee, hip and shoulder. When our bodies aren’t balanced and straight, they compensate, and from such compensation comes pain. I couldn’t jog in my mid-thirties not because I played football. That had nothing to do with it. I couldn’t jog because my posture was so out of alignment and dysfunctional that I was asking my right knee to do more than it was ever designed to do. Some days, it could actually pull it off, but there was some hell to be paid later. Other days, it just cried, “Uncle.” Through the Egosuce Method, I got my body aligned, and now I can jog five days in a row if I want to, although I never want to.
The thinking behind it all is actually quite simple. Stupidly simple. I remember reading one of Pete’s first books on pain and the body, Pain Free, and when I was done I called and told him it reminded me of Thomas Huxley, the 19th Century scientist who was a friend of Darwin and was one of the bulldogs in Darwin’s corner. Darwin had sent Huxley a copy of what became his Origen of Species, and after Huxley read it, he said, “How utterly stupid not to have thought of that myself.” The Theory of Evolution through natural selection is simple, deceptively simple, and yet for thousands of years every scientist missed it. Pete’s understanding of the body is also simple. We hurt when our postures aren’t in the position they are designed to be, and we reduce pain when we realign our postures. It’s deceptively simple, and yet for decades, until Pete came along, many scientists and medical professionals missed it.
But once my body was better aligned and less dysfunctional, there was more fitness work to be done. While jogging can be an incredible cardiovascular exercise, its benefits are still limited. Jogging doesn’t help my body achieve a full range of motion. Our bodies are designed for us to be able to rotate around and look out the back window as we back out of the driveway. Too many of us can’t do that anymore; it doesn’t matter that, because of mirrors and cameras, we don’t have to. It matters that we can’t, and it shouldn’t be that way. The reason we can’t is that we don’t. And haven’t. So many parts of our body have lost their full range of motion because we haven’t been using that full range for too long. We haven’t asked our hips to move us sideways or to squat. We haven’t asked our shoulders to lift our hands over our head or behind us. And we’ve suffered the consequences.
That’s where Pete’s Patch Fitness comes in. It is a style of workout out that emphasizes our bodies to utilize a full range of motion. [hyperlink first Patch article]. It asks us to jump under things and go over things and move sideways and bend over and bear crawl and all kinds of activities that just get all of our parts moving in ways that they haven’t since we were children. Plus, it’s fun. For Pete, fitness is all about full range of motion and fun. And most of those Patch workouts take less than 20 minutes, like this 15-minute core workout.
When my son was a toddler, I was struggling to play with him some days because my body wasn’t cooperating; it wouldn’t let me. I had no idea I was limited by postural conditions that were eminently correctable through simple exercises and a different way of doing fitness. I was blessed to be shown that was the case. As a result, for many years, I’ve been able to say “yes” to everything my son, now age 11, has wanted me to do physically, which this past year has included wrestling on the ground, skiing for many hours, repelling down cliffs, jumping off of cliffs into pristine waters and rotating my body enough to turn around and give him a smile.
Pete defines fitness as having no limitations on our body’s range of motion, and it is through Patch Fitness that, barring some severe medical condition, we can all get there. I don’t care enough about fitness to argue if Pete’s definition is correct. But I do care about playing with my son. It’s probably my favorite thing to do. And so I continue to stay fit, by Pete’s definition, so that I can keep on doing it, now and for many Father’s Days long into the future.
By Erik Simon