Movement and Mobility Help You Feel Young

Feeling stiff and sore when you wake up? Accepting some particular pain as just "part of getting older?" Explore the importance of movement with award-winning fitness and mobility expert, Andrew Heffernan.

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I’m joined by Andrew Heffernan. Andrew is many things. He’s been a personal trainer since 2003 and a certified Feldenkrais practitioner since 2013. You’re also a black belt in Karate. You have experience in boxing, JKD, and Aikido. You’re also a top ten age group triathlete. You do Spartan and DEKA competitions. You’re a physical performer and actor. Not to mention the last few years, you are the Owner of Vital Strength, all levels of online classes. It’s live streaming everywhere four times a week. How do you do all of that?

I have too many interests. That’s the problem. Fortunately, most of them coalesce around one topic. That’s movement in the body and feeling good, how can we get better at it, how can we feel better, and how can I help people live their best lives physically.

It’s wonderful. I feel honored that you are taking time out of your incredibly busy day to be here. Thank you for joining me.

It’s a pleasure, Crystal. As I said, I’m a big fan of yours and the show. It’s an honor to be here.

Thank you. With all of your knowledge and experience, we could clearly cover so many things, but it would be fun to narrow the scope a bit and discuss how movement and exercise play a role in our overall quality of life. Let’s start with this Feldenkrais Method. What exactly is that, and why is it important?

Feldenkrais Method fills a gap. When most people are talking about either a physical issue or wanting to improve their performance, they’ve got two options. One option is, I’m broken. I’m going to go to a doctor, and the doctor’s going to give me surgery or a pill. Maybe they’re going to give me some exercises, but that’s pretty rudimentary.

On the other hand, you’ve got your physical or personal trainers. They’re used to working with people generally who are pretty functional already or who aren’t dealing with a lot of dysfunctions. Somewhere in between, there’s this gap. If you come into a doctor and you go, I got this little pain right here. It doesn’t hurt right now, but sometimes it hurts a little bit when I do this. Chances are, doctors are going to glaze over and start looking at their watch and go, Take some NSAIDs and maybe put some ice on it and get out of my office.

On the other side of things, the trainer might be equally ill-fitted for that same thing. I got this little pain. Let’s do some more squats and build some muscle around it. Maybe we can help it. Maybe those solutions work. It’s not like those are completely useless, but there is this big gap in there. There’s that sub-medical but above-the-trainer range of issues that almost everybody has, whether it’s a shoulder, a back, ribcage, neck, hip, or whatever. Most people are living with stuff that they said, No one can help me with this.

My dad would always say, That’s part of getting old.

Most people assume that as you get older, you start to hurt, and certain activities become off the table. Your physical menu of choices that you can do becomes smaller and smaller. That becomes like the frog getting boiled, which is apparently a myth. A frog will jump out when it gets too hot. Frogs have not evolved and have been around in the world this long for hundreds of millions of years without knowing to jump out of hot water. It’s a good analogy.

A lot of us are not aware of these changes that are happening in our bodies over time. Suddenly, we find ourselves, I don’t do this and that, and then pretty soon, I’m not doing much of anything physically that is enjoyable, full of joy, and fun. Feldenkrais can help address that. It can also address things like, Why do I always do X, Y, or Z when I do my golf swing? Why does this always happen when I do my backhand or tennis stroke? A lot of people go, I’m so tense up here all the time, why is that happening?

The Feldenkrais Method helps to empower people to address these issues on their own. It’s a little analogous to massage therapists, but in a lot of ways, it’s more empowering to the person. All of a sudden, the experience of going to a massage therapist or enrolling for something like that, you get a chiropractor for a nice adjustment, snap, pop, crackle, and then you get off the table, and you go, I feel great. A day later, you’re back to your old tricks again.

The Feldenkrais Method is not even considered a treatment. It’s a teaching. I’m more of an instructor than I’m imposing something on you or doing something to your body. It’s more guiding you to be able to sense yourself better and making you more aware of how you move and habits on how you move, helping you to expand and give you different options on how to move better in a way that might be more efficient, feel better, get that backhand better, or relieve the tension more. That’s a 30,000-foot view.

When you say you’re teaching people to walk themselves through it, is that like they need to be doing certain movements every day as a preventative measure, or is it helping people diagnose their own issues and then address them after they’ve started, or maybe both?

It’s tricky because it’s outside the realm of both things you said. It’s not diagnostic. I’m not going to say, You have a rotator cuff and you need X, Y, and Z, which is again the medical model, and that’s what most people are familiar with. It’s not so much, Do these five things every day, or this prescriptive thing. If I tell you a little bit about the way it works and how you experience it.

There are two ways of practicing the method. The first is where I’m the coach and I can do this remotely. I could do a thing with you where I might ask you to sense what your feet are doing. Allow that information to come in from your feet. You don’t have to make any changes. My right foot is thwarted over to the side. My left foot is crossed over it like that. I feel the tops of my toes. My left foot on the floor and the outside of my little toe and my right foot on the floor.

As soon as I start to tap into or allow that information to start to come in, you might start to feel it yourself. There’s something cool that starts to immediately happen. One thing is you start to breathe a little better. You start to release the tension you don’t need. If I’m paying attention again to my feet, My ankles turned like this, I then might ask the question, What might be another way of putting that foot on the floor? You can answer this for your own self in the way you’re sitting or moving. I might shift my foot, so it’s flatter on the floor and take a moment to sense what’s going on there.

I might do the same thing with the other foot. I’m in a new position and I might feel like, That’s a little asymmetrical. The right foot is pulled in. The left foot’s a little extended. As I start to investigate, I feel these sensations with greater clarity and acuity. I’m refining a skill. That skill is the ability to sense what’s going on in your body with greater accuracy. The better you get at that, the more you start to have choices.

All of us are operating under the influence of many factors that are outside of control, habits, repetitive movements, and our body image. I’m ashamed of this part of my body. I act in a way to hide it. My mother said that I look better on this side. I’m going to turn to you this way. I’m ashamed of my belly. I’m ashamed of this part of my butt. All these factors are running through our system or consciousness all the time. We’re not even aware of it. Add the fact that you’re sitting because most of us are sitting all the time. There’s no shame in that. It’s what we do, we sit.

Over time you get better and your body gets better at sitting. We start to curl over shoulders and round in a little bit. The head starts to come forward a little bit. The body is like, I will make it easy for you to sit. We’ll loosen these muscles. We’re experts at sitting. When we get up, we’re less expert at walking around. We’re less expert at doing things that are vigorous and intense because our bodies have adjusted to this one thing. We’re very good at adapting and evolving.

Take all these factors, the sitting, the socialization, body shame or the body image, whatever you take, and start to become pretty jacked up. We’re not moving in a way that’s optimal for ourselves all the time. If you take a baby, that baby’s going to move very efficiently. They’ve got no tension. They’ve got no shame. They are who they are. They’re exploring the world that’s open and available. Their emotions run through them. They’re not repressing. They’re just happening.

We get socialized over 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years. We got all these factors that are leaving us that are influencing the way we move. We need a little attention. We need to be able to feel ourselves so that we can sense what the body needs a moment to moment. Maybe that’s becoming more aware, How does the pelvis want to sit? How does the ribcage want to be? How do the shoulders want to hang on the body? Pretty soon, you get to become an expert in sensing how your body wants to be.

There are a lot of different modalities where it’s like, Let’s strengthen these muscles. There’s no problem with strengthening or stretching. I do this stuff all the time, but the body likes efficiency and moves with ease. When you find you fall into this easier aligned simple movement, the body is like, Yes, and you get lit up. It’s like, I like this. It’s easier. You could always choose or find an easier way to do something.

Most of the time, we’re unconsciously choosing to do things in a way that’s more difficult than it needs to be, even the way we sit, move, stand, and all these things. I feel like people are in some sense carrying a 60-pound weight on our shoulders. What if we could put that away? Not only would we perform better in our athletics, or moving around in our lives, but also feel less stressed. We would feel less burdened.

It can be coached. The method can also be a hands-on thing that resembles a massage. Again, I’m not fixing you like, This muscle’s tight. I’m going to cram into it and make it release. I might lift up your arm, and hold your arm for a moment while you’re lying on your back. Your nervous system is automatically going to start to talk to me in a way. It’s going to go, I like that. That arm is supported. That muscle’s going to soften, and then you feel all this muscle that you hold throughout your whole day given away.

It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take me saying, Relax your upper trapezius. Contract your deltoid. Pull your scapula onto your back. It doesn’t take all this imposed stuff. It’s like when you take a cat. You can hold up the cat. Maybe move its paws around a little bit and slowly. It will trot off feeling much better and less worried. That’s what functional integration feels like. That’s one branch of the method.

The other method is the awareness of movement. I teach classes in that and I stream those classes. If all of this is intriguing to you but still obscure and weird, it’s easy enough to click on one of my classes and see what it’s like, or find a local Feldenkrais practitioner to see what it’s like. What’s great is its audio. You don’t have to look at anything. It’s not like I’m modeling anything or some beautiful way of moving that you feel like, I’ll never be able to do that, like you’re doing in a yoga class. It’s me coaching you, Line your back. Lift your shoulder. There might be the lifting of it.

There are thousands of functional integration lessons, but the intent of all of them is to get you to that place where you’re open and everything’s working as it should. It’s not just relaxation. It’s efficiency. The big muscles are doing the big jobs. The small muscles are doing the small jobs. You don’t have any parasitic tension or extra tension that you don’t need that’s impeding you from feeling your best and performing at your best. That’s what it looks like.

Why do you feel that’s important to like the average person? It’s obvious to feel better, but how would you know if you’re a good candidate for this method?

I am deeply convinced that everyone’s a good candidate for this method. People have come into my studio who are high-level athletes and have incredible mastery. I move far beyond what I could ever achieve. A part of me goes, What could I teach this person about movement ever? They lie on a table. It’s not me telling them how to move better because I couldn’t do that.

They already have a 42-inch vertical jump. They can already run 40 in 4.5 seconds. There’s nothing I can do to make that better by consciously coaching them. There are many techniques for this. It’s not hocus pocus. It can sound hocus pocusy, but if I lift their head up a little bit and I encourage them to lengthen their spine a little bit, because of the way we’re wired or that nervous system is wired. You encourage that spine to lengthen that head to move a little bit up.

All of a sudden, those retractors are going to lengthen, the traps going to release, and the shoulders are going to drop. I might have perceived something where they walk and go, Turn this right foot out a little bit when you walk. Let’s see what happens with that right leg. Let’s see what happens if I lift that right leg up and move it a little bit here and there, and jiggle it around a little bit. Show that the foot can also turn inside a little bit. The nervous system starts to listen and I put my foot down. The guy stands up and goes, I feel totally different.

The next day, he’s going to go out and he’s going to run a 40 or he’s going to have a 44-inch vertical jump. I’ve worked with people who are high-level athletes. Again, that is an extreme example. I don’t want to claim credit for knocking a 10th of a second off a guy’s 40, that’s a lot but in terms of everyday feeling better and movement efficiency, everyone can get better. It doesn’t have to be me. It doesn’t have to be touching you at all. It can be coached or remote. Pretty remarkable things can happen pretty fast using the method.

If I’m understanding you correctly, the guy may not have an idea that he has a movement pattern that may not be optimal. You’re saying that because you know how to do this method, you can help people find those suboptimal patterns. That is why it’s important for everyone because all of us have things that we could improve and will make us feel better.

Most of us are walking around carrying that 60-pound stone because we’re stressed. Feldenkrais talked about the body pattern of anxiety. The body pattern of anxiety is the fetal position. All your flexors or the muscles that flex your joints curling you into a ball. Despite all our wonderful technological innovations, we’re apes in the forest.

When we’re anxious, we curl ourselves up into a little ball and lie on our side. As evolved as we are, that’s happening on a micro-level almost all the time. If I’m stressed, you can see it on EKG. Your muscles will start to do this. Your shoulders and head will start to come forward. It’s the same pattern that we’re in. We’re sitting all the time, which is mind-blowing. Let’s sit in a chair and be in the pattern that tells our nervous system that we’re stressed all the time. It’s pretty scary.

We’ve got that going on a lot of the time. What if you had a different choice? What if you could make a different choice? Not by going to a chiropractor 1,000 times. Not by having someone go crank on your arms and hurt you, but by breathing and becoming aware of it. Maybe you might find that more open feeling where you have a little extension through the spine and hips. You’re then going to get out of there and go, My 60-pound stone is gone. I don’t feel stressed and anxious any more. Few people are aware of this because we’re so divorced from our bodies most of the time. A lot of times we’re strangers in our own bodies.

It’s because you just go and go all the time.

You then go to the gym and get on the treadmill, but you watch TV while you’re doing it. Your mind is still divorced from what your body is doing or your trainer tells you, No pain, no gain, and you work through the pain and try to block that out. Again, I’m a fitness guy. I work to failure all the time and I’m a racer so I hurt a lot. I’m saying that the general ethos of the fitness industry often is to ignore your body and what you’re feeling. We load it down with all this body shaming. You don’t look like this. You’re not worthy. You look like this. You’re okay. Before, you look terrible. After, you look great. Before, you’re unworthy. After, you’re great.

This is weird. It’s an almost pseudo-religious aspect to it. There’s the sinful donut and then the virtuous kale salad. The virtuous walk in the morning versus this sinful slothful watching TV. It’s this either-or mentality that rakes us over the coals. It got us to coming and going. Feldenkrais Method is one strong way of interrupting this. It’s having you be there with your body, sense how you feel, and be okay with it. There is no judgment, right or wrong. No correcting. I’m not going to say, That’s wrong. That’s not right. Feldenkrais said to correct is incorrect.

I don’t correct people. I give them options or show them what their options are. Their nervous system’s going to choose the better one. The one that feels more pleasurable, easier, more elegant, and simpler. When you get up and you’ve done these simple movements, you’ve tuned up this level of awareness like if you were a chef learning to sense what’s in this stew, that fine sensitive palette. They can have a bite of stew and know exactly what’s in there, little garlic, cumin, and a little of this.

Whereas I might eat the same thing and go, That’s soup. It’s the same thing with the body. A great athlete or dancer might be able to feel the micro-adjustments of movement. They’re going to spell a huge difference in how they feel and perform in their activity or their sport. Whereas a normal person who has a desk job or whatever might not be able to feel much at all.

With your background in so many different sports, I’m curious how you came across this method and began to learn it. The entire field of athletics is always pushing and pushing, what made you look for something different?

I started lifting weights when I was sixteen years old. My whole thing was, I want to get huge, as a typical sixteen-year-old kid. I’ve been destroyed on the football field. I was like, My whole sense of identity and adolescent machismo had a fever pitch. I was like,I’m going to get in there and lift weights.” I was in my parents’ basement and pile along as much weight as I could. I went clanging around at 5:30 AM, and I did that for years.

When I went to college, I kept doing the same thing. It was all super macho yang stuff. Again, I’m talking about it because I’m mocking myself. This stuff is important. Lifting weights, strength, and all this stuff are important. The yin and yang is a great analogy for this. You need both. I’m going to go out of tangent here, but if you watch Michael Jordan, Simone Biles, or some brilliant athlete like that, you don’t necessarily admire the strength or grinding. You admire the apparent ease with what they’re doing.

That’s where we want to get to. We don’t want to get to, Everything’s a grind, whether it’s lifting or walking. That’s how I was. I was a ball of tension. I was as likely to tear a door handle off as I was to gently open a door. It’s all about strength all the time. This continued for a few years and then I was in grad school for theater. The movement teacher was Jane Ridley, who’s so brilliant. Here I was all proud of my jacked-up body. She’s like, What’s wrong with you? You need to relax. There are a couple of us in that acting class that was like super with this big chest and big arms thing.

She was English. She’s like, You boys need to learn to calm down a bit with ease. A guy came in and he did a Feldenkrais lesson on us. No touching and lying on the floor. It’s like doing Savasana. You’re doing a head turn and arm raise with a little effort. I’m like, What is this helping? Come on. Let me get to the gym. Let me lift some weights. I then get up and, My God. The armor cracked and suddenly I had ranges of motion. I had completely forgotten about it. My body was like, I could do this. My shoulders dropped and my hips were feeling good. I was like, Everything was fluid. It wasn’t so boxy, hard, and angular.

Immediately, I found, This is a whole world that I’ve neglected. It is this whole the inside of things or the softer side. That was the first step on that Odyssey. I did three years of graduate school, and then it was a few years later that I was certified in Feldenkrais Method. That was the first step. I was like, There’s this whole other side to all this effort. It’s ironically going to make the other stuff easier. You get stronger by learning to work more efficiently with greater ease.

It’s because you have more range of motion. You can do more, which then makes you stronger when you do whatever workout to get stronger.

The other thing is you become this efficiency-sensing machine. If you’re always doing an overhead press straight up. What if I rotated my wrists a little bit? That feels way better on my shoulders. What if I found more extension through my thoracic spine? I can reach up my arms so much easier like that. This is a level of awareness that starts to become ingrained.

Whereas before maybe pressing with your back hunched over and you would barely get your arms straight. Now, you’re pressing with your back a little more aligned with your pelvis underneath you. You can lift more weights because you’ve got more stability underneath you. There are lots of ways that are more mobile and more range of motion, but also more efficient and more aware which helps, too.

You brought up an interesting point that babies move around and do their thing. Nobody needs to tell them how to move. They just do it. At what point in life, do you feel like people need to start focusing on how to move? Maybe their movement isn’t as good as it used to be or they had an injury at some point. When is it important to start looking at that?

Ideally, soon. It’s like the question, When do you plant a tree? The best time to plant a tree is many years ago, and then the second-best time is right now. It’s the same with mobility. You mentioned babies. The weird thing is that babies are essentially doing the Feldenkrais Method. That’s the weird thing. They didn’t learn it, but it’s an innate way of exploring our bodies. Learning about our bodies is inborn. Every single baby you ever meet, you lie them on their back, and they’ll start to sense themselves. That’s all they got to do. They can’t watch TV. They don’t have their iPhones yet.

In six months, they might go roll there. This is a thrill, rolling my head like this, what is this? They’re fascinated by that. Maybe they’ll reach for something. They’re never going to work to failure or to do 30 repetitions of this to increase the extensibility of their latissimus dorsi. A year and a half later, they go from this undifferentiated growing bunch of nerves to being able to walk, which is this astonishing act of coordination.

They can walk after six months. They didn’t work to failure. They didn’t have anyone saying, “Ten reps.” There is one of that stuff. The body found its way to this incredibly complex motor pattern. We can do that starting at any time. In other words, this is inborn or innate in us, so you can start. People do Feldenkrais on babies. They’re moving their head and arms slightly and improving their body awareness, body image, and their map. I don’t know about this. It’s called a shoulder, but my shoulder does this thing all the way around. That’s crazy. The question of when is it best to do it, it’s anytime. Start moving.

There are many modalities for mobility. Feldenkrais is one that also brings in all these benefits, but it’s simply reaching your arms overhead, making sure you can extend your hips, roll your shoulders all around, and do circles with your heads. These are all the stuff you do in basic gym class. Do it and it doesn’t cost you anything. You do it anytime. It does tend to help you feel so much better. The sooner the better is the answer.

What if a person has never exercised a day in their life? Maybe they’re stiff or have mobility issues. They start doing mobility. Do they need to have any exercise background before they start? Is it like anybody anywhere can start focusing on mobility?

It’s good to have some instruction. You’re not going to hurt yourself doing neck circles unless you put on some head-banging music and swing around so fast. You’re not going to hurt yourself as long as you’re staying in touch with your sensation, and using that as your primary guide. When I turn my head, I’ve got a little area back here where I’m like, That hurts. I’m not going to go, How hard can I do that? it’s like biting on a sore tooth. I’m not going to do that. I maybe go, I’m going to avoid that area and I’ll make a circle over here.

If your thing is I want the lowest point of entry, start moving around, doing some shoulder circles, and then maybe ideally, you’ll be like, This is interesting. Maybe you’ll start to take some walks every now and then. You start to lift some weights here and there. Maybe you’ll start to explore the Feldenkrais Method or take one of my strength classes. You’re not going to hurt yourself, but that’s a great thing and it’s free. It’s easily accessible.

If you get some instruction, go on YouTube, so you’re not always doing your habitual things. You see people in yoga class all the time who are great at touching their toes or hamstrings that are twenty feet long. They’re like, I’m going to touch my toes 1,000 times because it feels great. Everyone’s envious of how flexible I am, but they might not have mobility somewhere else. They’re never necessarily going to do an extension up here. You don’t want to keep going over doing your favorite things that you’re great at. You want to find your limitations and see if you can expand on those a little bit.

It’s good to have direction and instruction. You don’t have to have been a person who’s been active or an exerciser your whole life to be able to be mobile. That makes me think of my parents. My mom is in her late 60s and my dad just turned 70. He was in construction his whole life. My mom was in retail, so she stood on her feet all day long. Both were active but in different ways.

My dad decided that when he retired, he was going to make sure that he does the gym thing every day. It’s a simple routine, but he does his thing. He wants to keep his shoulders moving because he has injured so many parts of his body doing construction his whole life. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t do any exercise. You can see the difference between the two spendings their time after they’ve retired. My dad still moves pretty easily. For my mom, it seems to get a little bit harder.

I feel like that’s so much of what people don’t understand about mobility. When people think of exercise, they assume they have to do things they may not necessarily want to do. When it comes to mobility, it’s a gentler form. It’s something that anybody can do. It’s accessible to anybody at any level. Would you agree with that? Is there a better way to explain that to people?

It’s a low barrier to entry, do it anywhere, and simple. It’s unlikely that you’ve hurt yourself in any way. Until you do it and go, What’s the point? I move my shoulders around, so what? It might take a few times or a couple of weeks of doing fifteen minutes a day of some mobility work before you go, I reached into my backseat to get the grocery bag and I didn’t get that feeling in my shoulder. I could go way further than I thought without pain. You wake up in the morning, stand up, brace for that usual pain you get in your back, and go, It’s not there.

You hit the nail on the head when you say that. People picture mobility as flexibility. People intertwine those two and they’re not necessarily the same. You can be mobile without being overly flexible.

When you’re doing mobility and flexibility work, part of it is that you’re getting more extension of length in the tissues. That’s part of it. Most people think that’s the whole game. It’s not. At least half the game is telling your nervous system, This range of motion is safe and okay. We have this buffer zone that the body is like, “We want to make sure we’re protected and safe,” like that ape in the forest. We want to stay safe. The body puts breaks on. We got breaks around our range of motion in our joints, spine, hips, and everything.

We’ve got certain zones that we’re comfortable in and zones we’re not comfortable in. There’s a big buffer zone that if you don’t move, over time, gets larger and larger. Your usable range of motion gets smaller and smaller. It’s not necessarily because everything’s tighter and shorter. It’s because your nervous system or brain is telling those joints, Stay away from that range of motion because we’re scared. We haven’t been there in a long time.

If you visit those little neighborhoods a few times a week, your body starts to go, I’m okay reaching in the backseat. I’m okay rotating and standing out of a chair without feeling my back’s going to explode.” It’s expanding those tissues, but also affects the nervous system. That’s a quicker process than creating length in your Achilles’ tendon which takes a long time. It can be pretty quick.

If people are maybe taking one of your classes and working on their mobility, how can they see, This is improving over time, measurably? As you said, you might notice it, but how can they make sure and be mindful that this is happening?

Trainers can certainly measure the range of motion of your joints. There’s a little protractor-like thing you can use. We’re going to figure out exactly how much range and extension or flex you have in this joint, and that’s all great. That’s more physical therapy territory. I would say try it for a few days or try it once, do ten minutes, and tell me that you don’t immediately feel better.

Tell me that walking upstairs doesn’t feel better. You’re moving across the room, reaching for something on a high shelf, rotating in the back seat, climbing out of a car, that awkward movement we do multiple times a day that swings our hips, and do all this weird stuff to get out of a car. You will start to feel it. You start to become aware. You start to tune in and see how you’re doing physically and if it makes a difference. I pretty much guarantee you, it will. It’s a pretty subjective thing, but that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

You also mentioned there’s something called age-related sarcopenia and anabolic resistance. What exactly are they? How do they inform the best ways to approach exercise as you age?

This is an abrupt gear shift, but this is important. I’m glad you asked that question because I don’t want to lead people with the impression that effort is bad or that all you got to do to feel great your whole life is roll around on the floor and take it easy on yourself. There’s a whole other side of things. Age-related sarcopenia starts at about age 30-ish, with different markers of our different age points at which it tends to kick in.

Until you turn about 30, your body’s perfectly happy to hold onto any muscle mass that you’ve built. This is part of why people in their 20 or 25, tend to look pretty good. Over time, you get to be 30, and then that edifice starts to crumble a tiny little bit. That’s your muscle mass. That’s the gentle tide washing against the beach of your muscle mass slowly wearing away at it. You’re not going to notice it for the first couple of years, even if you don’t exercise.

You can be turned 32, 33, or 34 and be like, I’m fine. You can laugh at all your friends that are spending and wasting all their time in the gym and say, You’re wasting all your time. Cut forward twenty years and you’ve lost about a percent or so of muscle mass up. It accelerates a few percent up to a percent a year. You could be down 20% muscle mass in say 25 to 30 years, and things are going to start to feel different. This is why when you turn 50. “I don’t like to go to my son’s fourth floor walk-up in New York City. It hurts.”

You see how you see MRIs of people’s femurs and they’re the same size. If you see a cross-section of the femur, it’s the same size. In 25, it’s almost all meat. It’s like a cut of beef cut forward, it’s the same size thigh, but half of it is fat. The other half is muscle. You feel like, My leg is exactly the same. It’s not the same. You’ve substituted. You’ll lose half the muscle mass in your leg if you don’t do anything. This is assuming not doing anything, so don’t despair. That’s age-related sarcopenia. It’s the general trend toward losing muscle mass as you get older.

Anabolic resistance is more great news for those of us over 30. All of us have to look forward to lessening sensitivity toward taking in protein. When you’re 25, you take in protein, and your body goes, Let’s build some muscle. It’s muscle protein synthesis. You get turned on like a switch. Build some muscle here. We got it. The older you get, the less sensitive that switch becomes. That switchboard operator gets older and a little more sluggish. I’m going to walk to the switch and maybe it turns on halfway.

Over time, that’s resistance to anabolic. It’s resistance to the building of tissue. This is why it’s harder to build muscles as you get older. It’s also why your skin doesn’t rebound as much from like a sunburn or something. They’re less active tissue building going on in your body. The factories are getting a little tire worn out. The solution to these two things, sarcopenia and anabolic resistance, is being more vigilant about your strength training and protein intake.

If I had two major points I want to leave people with as far as the exercise and strength part of it goes, the first is to do 3 or 4 days of strength training a week. Take in a lot of protein. I’m sure Angelo and every trainer out there has this. Almost everybody who walks in the door says, I want to lose fat. I want to improve my body composition.

The weird thing is that people go, I’m going to do a lot of cardio. I’m going to eat nothing. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do this starving cardio approach to weight loss. It’s entirely wrongheaded in every possible way. It might work in the sense that you might step on the scale in a few days and go, I lost weight. It’s a win. They go, I’m going to eat even less. I’m going to do even more cardio.

Maybe people go, You’re losing weight. That’s great, and they go, That’s fantastic. I’m going to do even more of it. First of all, you can’t go without calories. You’re white-knuckling it. At some point, you’re going to break. Someone’s going to bring out the nail away for a pie. You’re going to dive into that thing, and not be seen for days because you’re starving yourself and your body needs calories.

You’re never going to be able to starve yourself and keep up the cardio. What happens when you’re doing those things is losing muscle mass. When you step on that scale, you’re lighter, but half of the weight you’ve lost has been muscle mass, and the other half has been fat. The fat loss is great. The muscle loss is terrible because that’s like you’re in a ship and it is sinking.

You’re like, We need to lighten our load here. You take the engine and throw it overboard. You saw it down the mass with the sails and you throw that overboard. You’re doing all the things you need to do the things you want to do, which in this case is to lose fat. You’re throwing those overboard by doing this starving cardio approach.

The solution is to get your strength training again 3, 4 days a week and get your protein in. That is the biggest and most important piece of advice for people who are concerned about body composition, feeling better, and maintaining function as they get older. Those are two things to fight that age-related sarcopenia and anabolic resistance.

I’m relieved there’s a solution because that was a lot of depressing news.

It’s not a hard solution. It’s not like, We need to have surgery or have 1 million medications. There are so many other benefits to these things. You’re not just building muscle mass. You’re also improving your mood, mobility, day-to-day function, sense of optimism, and feeling good in the world. There’s a litany of benefits for strength training and exercises that go on and on. Don’t think of it as, “It’s okay I’m taking my medicine for this one aspect of my life. I’m doing something to improve everything in my life.”

On that note, as you age, is it more important to add strength training or to focus on mobility?

It’s the yin and yang. It’s both sides of things. In my class, I start with ten minutes of mobility every single day and it’s different every time. If you did that and that’s all you had time and patience for, fantastic. That’s awesome. That’s your gateway drug. The next level is to do something with a little bit of yang in it. Maybe that’s doing the rest of the class which is strength-based stuff, and it’s done pretty fast.

We keep your heart rate up. We’re doing a superset of lots of different moves and they change it all the time. We’re having you move in 360 degrees. You’re not lifting like huge weights, but you’re lifting enough to maintain and build some muscle. If you lose weight, that challenges you. It’s a lot of bodyweight stuff.

What I would like to say in my classes is, First you lengthen the tissues and then you strengthen them. You use that range of motion you’ve created in your mobility work to do your life. It depends on the modality you use. If you spend your life stretching your hamstrings, getting a lot of length in those tissues, and never use that range of motion, your body’s going to go, We don’t need that. We’ve lengthened this tissue, but Crystal isn’t doing high kicks all day long. We’re going to restore that tissue back to its normal place.

When I have people do overhead presses, I don’t have them stop when their arms are straight. I have them reach and keep reaching up to the sky until they have these ribs coming apart, and the ribs on this side coming together. It’s telling those ribs, We’ve got this range of motion. We’ve got side-to-side movement. I might add some rotation in there so that the body’s like, We want to turn the shoulders well to the hips. Let’s do that. We’re using all that wonderful rotation that we get in the warm-up in the strength work.

Which is more important? Start somewhere. If you’re like, I am jazzed to build some muscle, do some strength training. If you’re like, All I am is stiff all day long. The strength training stuff sounds really tough. Spend some time doing some mobility work. A long time ago, there was a book called 8 weeks to Optimum Health. Andrew Weil was the author. In the first chapter, he recommended stuff like putting some flowers around your house, finding some artwork, and putting it on your wall. At some point, you’re supposed to keep up these things.

In chapter seven, he is like, If you haven’t recognized that flowers and artwork make you happier and improve your life, I can’t help you. If you spend 2 weeks or 3 days doing 15 minutes a day of mobility work, that’s easy and it feels good. You don’t immediately recognize the benefits. It’s like,I don’t know if you’re a human being.” It’s so immediately apparent. It’s like eating something delicious. It’s good for you.

It’s a long-winded way for me to do a trick question where you’re supposed to say, It depends like Angelo always does.

I’m going to say, it depends on your taste. If someone walks in and hasn’t moved in decades, it’s what I used to tell my father a lot, Do something.

Just do some movement, whether it’s improving your mobility or strength training, 1 of those 2 things, and keep moving.

Hopefully, at some point, you’ll be sold on all of them. If the entry point is, I want to change my body composition. I want to lose fat, which is many people’s goals, then building muscle is got to be part of the equation. When you’re under calorie restriction, your body’s going to offload that muscle tissue. Unless you send that specific message to your body, we need to hold onto this muscle tissue. You send that message by strength training.

Your body doesn’t know that you’re not hunting elk or running away from bears. It knows for survival or whatever reason, this person is doing a lot of physical activity. We need to hold onto this muscle tissue. We’ll offload the fat because they don’t seem to be using that. That’s their only source of calories. If the entry point is body comp, strength train.

Is there anything that we’ve missed that you feel people need to know?

I would again emphasize the dangers of either/or thinking or black and white thinking around fitness. I don’t love the term wellness, but our health, in general. It is this, Either I am perfect or I’m completely bad. I don’t even like labeling foods. Never eat donuts. I love donuts.

It would be sad if we could never have another donut. I was like, We need to get donuts and the vanilla wafer pie.

We tend to get so judge-y around ourselves when it comes to things physical and the whole broader cultural idea. A lot of trainers and a lot of the imagery and language in the fitness industry pull us into this place of judging ourselves. It starts in gym class a lot of times. That person is athletic, physical, and competent. I am not that person. Many people have traumatic stories from gym class. I hope it’s changing.

Based on my fifteen-year-old daughter’s experience, I’m going to go with no. At least in the Midwest, it has not.

It’s hard to convince people to become gym teachers. Let’s get away from that model that it’s either perfect or terrible, whether it’s what you’re eating, how you’re moving, or what you’re doing with your life. Vanilla wafer pie is a pleasure. We’re pleasure seekers. Look at babies. Look at the way that they deal with their bodies. They’re looking for what feels good and fun.

When I coach Feldenkrais, the second you start to become disengaged, uninterested, or feel something you don’t like, stop. I give people breaks. Do something easy for 45 seconds and then stop. People are like, What do you mean? Why aren’t we doing 3,000 more reps? I’m doing it to let your nervous system take that information in, and breathe it in. You’re seeing this wonderful new Vista of the Grand Canyon. This is cool. My head can do that.

Let it marinate

It’s shocking how fast you can learn and how much better your body can get in a short amount of time when you give yourself the chance to enjoy it. This idea of, Let’s punish ourselves because we’re not worthy. We don’t look good. We’re not lean enough. We’re not strong enough, is a constantly self-punishing approach. I encourage people to find some way out of that hamster wheel and pleasurable ways of moving and nourishing themselves that nudge them toward those long-term goals.

That is a wonderful and encouraging way to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time. It has been so interesting. Before we go though, I want you to tell the readers how they can find you and these classes and take part in them because they sound wonderful.

Thank you for that opening. I do teach this class four days a week. My dad does it and he’s 82. He’s doing great. I also have a lot of significantly younger people doing it and people with various limitations. I have people who had strokes that got on there. They got various limitations. It is all levels. They say, Clean and jerk this. That’s not all levels. I am always constantly giving variations on movement. I might give four variations on a movement. If you’re feeling strong, you want to go as hard as you can, do this. If you’re feeling like you got a knee thing, do this or that.

As with Feldenkrais, If something doesn’t feel right, stop. I am not in there with my drill sergeant hat on, yelling at you. It’s always your workout. We form a little group. It’s a little Zoom thing. You don’t have to have your camera on, but you can. If I can see you well enough, I can say, Crystal, your form looks great, or maybe turn your head this way or do this.

It’s four days a week. I teach over Zoom. For readers of this show, through the summer, I will let you check out the class for free on Saturdays. You could come on in. It’s at 8:00 AM on Saturdays, if you can’t do it live. I post the workout for about 72 hours afterward on YouTube. I’ll send you a link. You can see what that class was and you could do it afterward.

Is that 8:00 AM Pacific time?

Pacific time, thank you very much for saying as you have readers all over the world. The way to get in touch with me to do that, all I need is your email. You can send it to me via my Instagram, which is @AndrewHeffernanFitness or you can send me an email at You can DM me and send me your email and I’ll make sure you get those links every Saturday and come on in.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask and DM me or hit me via email. I’m happy to help out with that. Those are the two main methods. If you’re in and like, I want access to these all the time. I’m on Patreon and there are three levels. You can do it 1 day a week, 3 days a week, or a 4 plus a Feldenkrais recording once a week.

Those sessions start with mobility. Fridays are pure mobility. There are some Feldenkrais built into that. For the other three classes, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, there’s mobility, a strength session, and a nice cool down that sends you into your life feeling good, energized, vital, and ready for your life. That’s the plan. Jump on. I would love for people on here to be able to enjoy that. I’m convinced it’s a good product and people will get a lot out of it.

I appreciate your generosity. Thank you so much for offering that to our readers. Thank you again for your time. I appreciate it. Readers, that is all for this week. You can find all of the show’s episodes anywhere or you can go to Please be sure to follow the show and rate and review, it lets other people know what they can expect. Also, you can learn more about MetPro at I will be back next time. Until then, remember consistency is key.

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