[Autodidactism means self-directed learning. As an autodidact, you teach yourself. In learning anatomy and physiology, no where else will this be more needed.]

The way we typically go about learning Anatomy and Physiology (i.e. in a school setting) is, and I don’t mean to offend anyone with these words, funking retarded.

It’s all-theory and all-mind.

And because it’s usually “learned” through cramming, it is information that is easily forgot.

If we want to train ourselves (and everyone does), however, we have to learn these symbols (words like “internal rotation of the humerus” and “latissimus dorsi“) that we are playing with.

Failure to do so will not only have us being the person 20 years down the exercise road who still points to muscles and mimics movements when discussing their program, but also still has to rely on trainers (to design proper programs) and physios (to repair thesmelves from following unbalanced ones).

The truth is, no one is going to be a better trainer than you or I. We all have an innate intelligence that only we can tap into. Dipping into some objective science, however, will be required first.


Step 1: Exercise

Our brain was built for movement. Need I say more?


Step 2: Buy an anatomy book

First and foremost, our best companion will be Dr. Google. After we feel a little comfortable with terms, however, buying an anatomy book and/or poster will be recommended. I like the books of Frederic Delavier.


Step 3: Ask Questions

The key to learning is not so much learning for the sake of learning, but learning because we need to learn (more emotion = more retention). How we start this process is simply by asking about that which we must know.

Here are some examples of the “down the rabbit hole” process I use.

#1 – You may notice that you have a tight muscle on your back:

  • “What muscle is that?”
  • “How can I stretch it and relieve the pain?”
  • “What is the function of this muscle and why might it be tight?”
  • “What muscle(s) are it’s antagonists (i.e do the opposite action)?”

#2 – You may suddenly want a bigger booty:

  • “What muscles make up the glutes?”
  • “What muscles are it’s antagonist and may be preventing the glutes from firing?”
  • “What exercises work the glutes and how do they grow best?”

Make Your Butt Bigger Intro

#3 – You may have a grand dream to do a deep squat:

  • “What muscles and movements are involved?”
  • “What typically prevents someone from doing a squat and what are the fixes?”
  • What exercises (regressions) can I do that will help me squat while I work on my limitations?”


You probably won’t care until….

I received high 90s in my A & P courses, but I can’t say I really learned anything. It wasn’t until I got hurt and worked with those that were hurt, that I had real motivation to learn. It will probably be the same for you.

When we are fit and healthy we take this movement thing for granted. When we lose the ability to move pain-free, however, than that is when the questions start. Rather than defer those questions to someone else, I challenge you to take them on.

Good luck.


Our body is machine.

Just like a car, it runs on fuel, needs maintenance once in a while or else it breaks down, and has a set speed it can achieve. It also has buttons that you can push (like cruise control) that help make the trip easier and more efficient.

These buttons (or switches), in our own machine, dictate how well we are able to move and often mean the difference between pain and non-pain.

If we can turn on these buttons, we can turn back on the machine.

With this, we’ll be [once again] cruising.



  1. The glutes (booty)
  2. The scapulae (shoulder blades)
  3. The vmos (inner part of thigh next to knee)

In almost all people, these areas of the body will be turned OFF. When left off, other areas of our body will need to be turned ON to compensate. With time and practice, these buttons (or switches) that are always on will eventually fail. Just like you can only leave a light on so long before it burns out, the same is so of the muscles and joints we use.

If we can learn to turn on other areas of our body, however, we will be able to give these “overused, always on” ones a break. With this, we can prevent and/or fix dysfunctions (and the pain that follows.).


The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body (as well as one of the strongest). Sadly, however, in a lot of us it has become inactive. Due to large amounts of sitting, the glutes have shut OFF while the hip flexors have been [chronically] switched ON.

In order to correct this imbalance and get our glutes back in the ballgame, we first have to shut off the hip flexors.

This is how it goes for a lot of muscle and joint relationships. First find the tight, overactive, and weak area and shut it off by stretching and lengthening it. Then, and only then, activate (through focus and repetition) the area you want to turn on.

Step 1: Hip Flexor Stretching


Step 2: Glute Activation



In Warmup or Die,  I briefly went over stability-mobility continuum and how in order for our shoulders to be healthy and do their job (mobility), then our shoulder blades have to first do their job (stability).

Another way to think of this shoulder – scapula relationship is to imagine trying to jump or run in a sand pit. Our mobility will be severely lacking because the surface is just not stable enough for us to produce any real movement.

So in order to be mobile, we need stability. When that stability is lacking in the scapula, the shoulder is more likely to pinch and rub against structures (which leads to weakness and pain).

And just like we lose connection with our butt because the hip flexors are always on, we lose connection with our shoulder blades because the muscles that contribute to thoracic flexion (ie computer posture) never get a break.

So first, we must turn off the “poor posture” muscles. For this, we look towards doing the opposite movement.

Step 1: Thoracic Extension.


Step 2: Activate Scapulae



The VMO (or Vastus Medialis Obliques) is a small “tear drop” thigh muscle located right inside the knee. It plays an important role in correct patellar tracking and prevention of patellofemoral joint syndrome (pain below the knee).

When it’s OFF and the muscles on the outside of the leg are ON, the knee tends to get pulled out of its little home. When this happens, so does grinding, clicks, and pain.

The solution, once again, is to ease the tension of the outside leg muscles (by lengthening) and using activation techniques to get the vmo back in the ballgame.

Step 1: IT Band/ Quad Foam Rolling


Step 2: VMO Activation



So with flipping the switch on those 3 muscles, you’ll be well on your way to Beast Mode (as well as cleaning up some pain and dysfunction in the process). If you are still having a tough time with this, here are some ideas and tips that may help:

– This turning ON and OFF of muscles and joints – while you can do this in one session – will not stay like this.  It will take daily practice, preferably twice a day for weeks before you can get your glutes or your scapulae to stay ON.

– You know a muscle is activated and working when you can feel it (if you are doing high reps, you should be able to feel the rush of blood to that area).

– Glutes are an athletes best friend as they are used for almost every big movement. Become friends with deadlifts, squats, pressing, and sprinting.

– It is possible to have chronically ON glutes and scapulae that can cause their own problems. Only athletes, however, will have to worry about this.

– Research and read about the intricate details of the stretching, mobility, and activation drills you will be doing. Watching videos is a part of learning but you may gloss over something important (like flexing your glutes during all hip flexor stretches).

– VMO strengthening isn’t sexy by any means. Here is a fun exercise though.


how to train your brain to fight pain


Initially, we don’t want pain.

When we are first starting out in this game, the cultivation of the habit requires us that we make it easy and comfortable and do-able (take note Resolutioners). We don’t want our brain to get freaked out and run away so we keep pain to a minimal.

Eventually, however, we will need more. Past a certain  level of experience, we must learn how to make our sessions better (i.e. a higher quality). Often, this entails learning how to push through pain (the good kind of course) and going toe-to-toe with the naysayers in our head.

If you are playing within the realm of the mind, you will need weapons.

This post is a tribute to ours.



Fight The Pain


When the right muscles are working, joints are doing their job, and the brain has had a chance to prepare for the fight – exercise is made infinitely easier. Still think 5 minutes on a treadmill is a good warmup? Read this.


Willpower is greatest in the morning. While not everyone will able to rock an AM session, there are still things you can do to keep this “fuel reserve” from depleting.


Caffeine not only goes well with those morning workouts, but it is tremendously helpful at blunting pain.


Music that is inherently stressful (such as dubstep and rock) will help you “get up”.  Aside from that obvious reason, it is also a great way to distract yourself. This inappropriate song has distracted my “worry thoughts” long enough to break multiple personal records in olympic lifting (where the risk of dropping a weight on my head is a real concern).


If we do not know how others have fared with a particular workout or exercise, it’s likely that we will give in a lot sooner. Because of this, having “benchmarks” are essential and a great place to find them is on Youtube or being apart of fitness communities.


Even for the non-competitive person,  adding in more eyeballs will help them to work harder. If you cannot recruit a training partner or exercise around people, your next best bet is to move online for accountability (like through coaching).


From a survival perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to our body to do things that we hate and that hurt us. So like I discuss in The Non-Gym Mindset, we must learn how to lie to ourselves (or at the very least, modify our language). With time, these lies turn into truths and we start to enjoy that which we used to hate. To say this is a powerful tool is an understatement.


Our mind has a peculiar way of sabotaging us when we are so close to the finish line. To make sure we achieve what we want (and then some), we must aim audaciously high.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” – Bruce Lee


Whether we are doing this for our self or others, thinking about what we will attain afterwards is our fuel. The more powerful reason we can create here (like becoming healthier for our kids or how we can use this to become a better person) and the more reasons we have (try combining feels, looks, and performance), the stronger this fuel will be. If you are struggling to find a good reason, this might help.


It’s hard to be intense for long periods of time simply because of this reason: We are not meant to be. Like a car, we switch gears after a certain amount of reps or mileage. To stay in the gear that will yield the most beneficial results for us, we will want our workout to be between 20  to 45 minutes (not including warmup). If you’re looking for some examples, take a look at these.


If you think your exercise is painful, think back to pregnancy. If you don’t have that kind of reference, think of life in Africa. Or think of life a thousand years ago. Thought experiments such as these along us to overcome our current states because, well, we see it’s not that bad (and that we have much likely done harder things before). If that’s not enough, then let’s remember this “burning sensation” type pain goes away rather quickly (not as true for the mental variety).


non gym mindset Train Your Brain, Fight The Pain

That’s it.

With experience in this game (and as the habit is built), you will find that you’ll rely on these tips less and less.  Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you will experience “states of flow”  as your actions become automatic and the mind goes dark. Until then, however,  I suggest you work on what you can achieve within it (and you can start here for that).


Shakira was right.

The hips cannot tell a lie.

In fact, when it comes to health and performance, it may be our hips that will reveal to us the biggest truths.

Our hips, the ultimate soothsayers, tell us 2 things:

  1. Where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
  2. Where (and to what degree) we are predisposed for injuries and pain.

We know dysfunctions rarely happen by themselves (ie we hurt in multiple spots) and no where is this more apparent than with our hips (pelvises).

The 2 primary flavors of pelvises are Anteriorly Rotated and Posteriorly Rotated.


While it may not look as extreme as the picture above, you can bet your butt you lean towards one or the other.

So what’s going on here? And why the frick should we care?


APT is characterized by having a huge arch in the lower back. This occurs more in 1) those that sit a lot and 2) those that fail to train their butts and abs in the gym.

The picture to the right shows how the “arch” is created.

Guys and gals have this indiscriminately, but it is the ladies that mistake this condition for having “booty power”.  In realty, it is the arch that creates that pronounced effect despite the butt being dead asleep.

To grasp this concept a little more, here is a short explanation of what’s going on:


PPT is the opposite. The arch has now been replaced by a flat back, so much so that it may be creating a hunchback appearance up top. Once again, this can happen based on how we sit and how we train.

Athletes (like in my case) may be more predisposed to this due to emphasis on developing (and shortening) the hamstrings and abs.

Again, here’s a video:


Our goal, no matter where our pelvis lies now, is getting back to neutral.

This is what that entails:

  1. Find what is tight and loosen it.
  2. Find what is loose and tighten it.

Now, like I said above, we might not be all that bad. For myself, I look like I have ideal posture but I have all the effects of PPT. Some may even have effects of both.

This is what’s certain: If you have a tight muscle then the opposing muscle group more-than-likely is always going to be loose and long.  This is how the above pelvic conditions are created.

These relationships will be the main players:

  • Hamstrings — Quads
  • Glutes — Hip flexors
  • Back extensors — Abdominals

For your homework, look at your pelvis from the side in the mirror.

From this, you’ll know what you’ll need…

Note: I’ve had both conditions. In my experience, APT is far worse. I have pulled muscles in my back from benching, hamstrings from sprinting, and had hip pain so bad I could barely bend.


If you choose to embark on the fitness game, you are going to get hurt (there is no doubt about this).

But even if you don’t exercise, you are still going to get hurt (life is its own workout).

When you do, this is what you will need to know:


Injuries can be split up into 2 categories: Acute and Chronic.

Acute injuries are ones that happen at an exact time and place with the pain/limitation being much more pronounced and sharp. Breaking your hand or pulling a muscle are examples. The treatment for these injuries is simple: Rest, sleep, eat a good diet, and our body will naturally recover.

Chronic injuries are ones that happen over a long stretch of time with the pain/limitations being so  subtle and slow that we never really know when and how it came about. Most pain today (like the stuff in our back and neck) is chronic and is caused by imbalances (tight, weak, and overused structures). The treatment for these injuries is much more proactive: Find what is causing the imbalance and fix it.

Most doctors today treat injuries and pain as if it they were all acute (ie, “rest and pop some ibuprophen and you will get better”).

At best, this is temporary “bandaid” advice.

Once you decide to get back to your normal movement / exercise routine, however, the same old injury will reappear again. The injury reappears because the imbalance was never corrected. The poor posture is still poor OR the hips are still asleep OR we are just way too tight in the upper back OR on to a million different reasons…

These injuries, these chronic ones …  they are tough.

Tough because not only do we need to actively do something about them, but we have to search for the root as why they developed in the first place.

Now I am not a doctor or physio or someone who even knows that terrible much about anatomy, but I do have 10 plus years of digging up these weeds.

This is what I learned.


– Let pain be your guide: If it hurts, don’t do it. It’s that simple. It is very tempting, however, when the pain is small to just push through anyway. Be wary.

– Understand the difference between Good Pain and Bad Pain. Good pain primarily happens in the muscles and usually occurs when we are grinding through a set of squats and tends to come in the form of day-after soreness. Bad pain is more in the joint (ligaments and tendons) and, well, it just feels “off”.

– Snaps, crackles, and pops do mean something (for most of them, however, I just don’t know what that is).

– Find and work on your weak links. Our body is wonderful compensator. Most pain and injuries happen because certain muscles and joints have to compensate for other ones. With time, this overuse causes muscles and joints to fail. The solution often entails waking up sleeping giants (ie, our butt and shoulder blades).

– Pain exists for a reason (to get us moving differently and change our ways). Ignore it long enough – either through drugs or pushing through it – and it will leave permanent damage in its wake.

– Don’t drug yourself unless you have to.  If we cannot feel the pain, we may end up doing something that makes it worse.

– Fish oil and other natural anti-inflammatories only work for pain relief if you are working on the root of the problem as well.

– Learn how to use google. Buy an anatomy book and type in the areas of your body that hurt and a description of the symptoms. Example: “Pain, side of elbow, sharp, while putting weight over head“.

– Do your research! No one will care about this issue as much as you do. Sure, doctors and physios (and even trainers) will help but please remember, we get paid to push (drugs, surgeries, packages, sessions, etc.). Here are 3 great places to start: Mobility WOD, Eric Cressey, and Mike Robertson.

– Take pictures of yourself (front, back, and side-to-side). This will give you a glimpse of any imbalances you have and may help prevent a catastrophic injury. My first hamstring pull – which had me sidelined for 1 month – was caused by a nasty case of APT.

– If you really doubt your form, only do a little. Most people can, if their frequency is low enough, get away with imbalanced training and doing some stupid things. Their luck begins to run short, however, when they start doing it 4x a week.

Take video of your exercise form. Almost all people will need a visual feedback to know how they are doing something (as feeling is just not enough). I did almost every exercise in the book wrong and sub-optimally for years before I learned about the power of video. Learn from me.

– Fix your posture. For this, learn how to deadlift (above).

– Be critical of those giving advice on prehab/rehab that have never been injured. This pain and injuries is special knowledge that you cannot get in any textbook. As a layman, I am qualified to speak on only the issues I had to deal with. Here is my list of chronic hurts and what worked:

  • Shin splits –> Extremely high reps of reverse calf raises (to strengthen tibialis anterior)
  • Knee tendinitis –> TKE’s and peterson step ups (to get knee back in proper tracking again)
  • Tight, painful hip flexors –> Overhead squat and learning how to activate glutes
  • Tight, painful hip extensors –> Leg raises, spidermans, and other ab exercises
  • Lower back pain –> Fix APT and learned how to create a straighter back
  • Pain in mid back + AC joint tendinitis (from sloped shoulders) –> Overhead shrugs and face pulls
  • Shoulder impingement –> Learned how to turn on and rectract scapula
  • Pain in wrists (from scar tissue) –> High rep wrist curls (in this case, I fought through the pain and it was beneficial)
  • Brachialis tendinitis –> Slow, eccentric hammer curls

– Lastly, don’t fall into the belief that it will last forever. The biggest negative effect pain and injury have on us is a mental one.  Remember, these injuries took weeks, months, and maybe even years to develop. They are not going to go away just like that. Have patience and focus on what you can do.

That’s all I got.

It seems every year I learn a little bit more about this as 1 or 2 battle wounds are added to the machine.

See ya next year.  :)