According to Dr. Bessel in his book The Body Keeps Score “We can access the ANS through breath, movement, or touch.” (1) This strategy will be one of our greatest assets in human health, injury prevention, and performance. Jocko Willink and Echelon Front spend ample time separating the two ideas of strategy VS tactics. Strategy by definition is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” Tactics by definition are “an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.” The two have minor differences in definition but these minor differences create a significant change in what they actually mean in real-world application.
Strategies definitive key words are “overall aim”. This is your why. This is ultimately the answer to every decision and crossroad you enter. It does not matter how you achieve the end goal it only matters that the road selected will ultimately end at the designated “overall aim”. Here we see that understanding the problem or issue to solve at its core is more vital than any other scenario we can hypothetically name. It’s not a debate of egos and ideas, it’s a unifying theme that will triumph overall as long as the strategies goal is realistic and everyone involved in said strategy understands the strategies goal. In that manner, a downstream effect is created to allow freedom in implementing a “decentralized command”. This allows active participants to implement various tactics in order to achieve said strategy within the context of their current situation or problem.
Tactics will change! They will always evolve, change and adapt to new information and even how the “enemy” is responding to current tactics will influence future tactics. Whether it be dieting, strength training, business, battlefields, or driving cars. With every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now tactics must evolve to respond to reactionary forces. Tactics can be on any wide variety of spectrums but they ultimately must correlate with the strategical end goal. If the tactic does not align with the strategy or it no longer is a feasible option then re-evaluate the tactic. Simple as that. As a real-world example of what we do and think about here at Team LoCoFit is that in the world of dieting fat WANTS to rapidly accumulate post harsh dieting phases. In strength sports, our bodies WANT to get rid of all this metabolically taxing muscle mass that’s been built up in response to our bodies defending itself from heavy weight training. As soon as we take significant time off the body believes it no longer needs this much muscle because it is no longer being asked to perform what it had been called upon to do previously. Now the tactics we use to keep fat off and hold onto muscle tissue will change, adapt and evolve as time goes on and per an individual basis but the overall strategy is the same: To be healthy and stay generally lean, fit, and build muscle mass for aesthetic and functional purpose.
Now that we have covered the fundamental similarities and differences between tactics and strategy, I would like to step into a topic that over the last few years I have found more and more important in my life and to those around me.
The human autonomic nervous system is vitally important in every human being. Here is a very simple and straightforward definition: “The part of the nervous system responsible for the control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.” So, without having any background at all in physiology or biology etc. this sounds pretty damn important. The ANS regulates our breathing and heartbeat. Two very, very important things. There is much more involved in the ANS and to understanding it than this limited definition, but I do not feel qualified to delve into all of those subtle issues so I will leave you with what I do know and my interpretation of these in real life. The ANS has the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches known as “fight or flight” and “feed and breed/rest and digest”. When we get into arguments, allow our emotions to dictate our physiology, or even get hyped up for a hard-working set in the gym we tap into the sympathetic side of the ANS. Our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rise, blood shunts from the internal organs and heads to the limbs to fight, our pupils dilate and we may even begin to have tunnel vision and lose control of fine motor skills if gone too far off of the arousal end of the curve. If we achieve this elevated state of arousal too often for too long it can have consequences to our health. These include, but are not limited to, fatigue, chronic high blood pressure, aches pains, injuries, and malfunctioning stress response hormones. These symptoms are seen in many veterans and trauma (emotional and physical) patients when their physiology continues to be thrown back into a state of fight or flight due to any number of triggers. At the end of the day the body is always fighting to get back to homeostasis but if you continue to be tricking or encouraging (whether you know it or not) your body to be biased towards sympathetic dominance than the parasympathetic side doesn’t receive its much needed time to allow the body to come back down out of fight or flight and repair itself. If you’re constantly defending yourself from the “tiger” lurking in the jungle (traffic, work, kids, training, the news, trauma, gossip or any other perceived negative stressor) than the body physiologically responds to your perceptions whether they’re truly accurate threats to your current survival or not.
How do we strategically manage our ANS? It’s actually fairly simple. Through breathing, touch, and movement. These are 3 ways the mammalian autonomic nervous system can be influenced. There are thousands of different tactics for each one of these 3 simple strategies. Do I have my favorite tactics? Yes, I do. Are they more important than achieving the strategic goal and outcome of being able to best control or physiology and health? Absolutely not.
Remember we spoke about breathing being one of the factors the ANS subconsciously regulates? Well, luckily this is a two-way street because we can also consciously control our breathing when we want to, unlike our blood pressure or digestion. The Wim Hoff method, meditation, Yoga instructors, martial arts, track and field, cross country, wrestling, weight lifting, swimming, fighter pilots… all of these people stress breathing as a fundamental principle to success. They all use different tactics to achieve the said strategy of breathing but all agree on the importance of breathing. For our purposes, I generally recommend some form of box breathing. I have been doing this for years and I cannot recall who originally taught me but I’ve used it extensively throughout my lifting and martial arts/wrestling career and find that it truly helps me perform during high-stress competitions when things inevitably go wrong. Box breathing consists of inhalation for time, hold that air for time, exhale for time, pause for time, repeat. Times will vary and I prefer nose inhalation and mouth or nose for exhalation. A general recommendation for a starting place is 3-5 seconds each. There are a million ways to breathe and context will influence how we breathe. Ultimately being aware of our ability to consciously control or breathing is a tactical tool for the regulation of the ANS and allows further control of our nervous system. So, the tactic aligns with the strategy.
“How do you create an organism that feels safe? Probably the main way of doing that is touch. Touch is how we come into the world, and safety is conveyed to us by being held.” (2) I am biased towards Reflexive Performance Reset and Be Activated protocols for myself, my training partners, friends, family, and clients to utilize because it is highly organized, effective and time efficient. Theories for why it works range from neuro-lymphatic system, fascial system, and direct origin and insertion of muscles. Exactly how do they work? I’m not sure and currently don’t care; these are both highly successful tactics that give people further control and autonomy of their own health, injury prevention, and performance with no downside. It also only takes a few minutes. Competent chiropractors and physical therapists that perform both structural and soft tissue work can also be of great service when you need hands-on help. Massage therapy, Mobility WOD, Graston, ART, foam rolling, body tempering are also all tactical “touch” tools and methods that may help. So, the tactic aligns with the strategy.
The simplest yet, over-thought of the three. Just get up off your ass and do something! Anything! For individuals who compete in a specific sport (for our readers who are physique or strength sport athletes) keeping a base of GPP is important. Some traits may take a back seat depending on the part of the competitive season but always revisit these traits to create a balanced and healthy athlete. This entails flexibility, mobility, aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and muscular power. It can also be as simple as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) for some or even walking for overweight people. A metanalysis showed that the more distance people walked and the longer the intervention was maintained, the more weight was lost. (3) Don’t over complicate it. Move the joints and tissues through full ranges of both passive and active ranges, in a variety of different planes and utilize different energy systems. If you’re focused on being mindful of your breathing, sweating, generally feel better and cognitively sharper after any general physical preparedness exercise routines than you’re doing it right! Specific sports will come at a little higher cost to the body because of the concentrated stressors. But that’s ok and that’s our choice. To push the limits of the mind and body and go to uncomfortable places will always come with some side effects. Balance the specific stressors of the sport with other tactics to fill in gaps in movement from your specific sport because if “you don’t use it ya lose it” (direct and important quote from The 40-Year Old Virgin). I prefer to tactically perform walking, some form of low impact cardio, incline treadmill, weighted walks, stationary bike, Kettlebells, or calisthenics, along with stretching to compliment my powerlifting and bodybuilding training. Get moving and do it a lot. Any exercise is a tactical tool to help better control your bodies health, injury prevention and performance. So, the tactic aligns with the strategy.
“It has become increasingly evident that bidirectional (“top-down and bottom-up”) interactions between the brain and peripheral tissues, including the cardiovascular and immune systems, contribute to both mental and physical health.” (4) The strategy of a bi-directional approach to controlling the autonomic nervous system remains the same regardless of how you choose to tactically execute it. Don’t major in the minors. Find modalities for each of these that you like and implement them daily to help live the way you want to live and perform the way you want to perform.
1. The Body Keeps Score review: https://lindagraham-mft.net/brain-mind-and-body-in-the-healing-of-trauma/
2. Interview With Dr. Bessel: https://www.stillharbor.org/anchormagazine/2015/11/18/trauma-in-the-body
3. A Meta-Analysis of Pedometer-Based Walking Interventions and Weight Loss: http://www.annfammed.org/content/6/1/69.short
4. Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Mind-Body Medicine: Development of an Integrative Framework for Psychophysiological Research: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818254/