About the Flows 

Spinal CONTROL-5

5 minute flow, learn neutral spine awareness at rest and with movement

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Spinal FLOW-5

5 minute exercise, from recovery to elite, all body fitness

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Brief History  

 

Spinal Flow Yoga was created to treat spine pain at home by taking an all body fitness approach. I did so by integrating and simplifying what I knew from physical therapy, exercise science, yoga, and strength training. Also incorporated were principles secondary to an in depth understanding of the best of modern spine biomechanics research; Stuart McGill’s among others. In doing so I wanted a generalized but adaptable program that anyone could apply at home, not dependent on the gym full of exercise equipment I had in my physical therapy office. I simplified all of this into what are now two 5-minute yoga sequences that are a truly modern, if unconventional. If yoga means union (it does) Spinal Flow Yoga is certainly union of the best of what I know. To better appreciate what Spinal Flow is now, I think it helps to understand from where it came. 

The first Spinal Flow Yoga (SFOne) was an hour long all body flow, performed with a neutral spine (why neutral you ask? this is why), being what I thought necessary and with a duration I was used to from yoga, weight training, and providing physical therapy treatments. However, as much as I liked it, I knew it wasn’t delivering what my weight training routines were. It was a good compromise, but because it wasn’t the best, I didn’t want to do it. I also found that people who liked yoga would do SFOne with me leading them, but they weren’t doing it at home, at least not for long and I had to think as to why. I then divided SFOne into two shorter routines. SFMetcon (as my strength and conditioning flow) and SFControl (to teach neutral-spine awareness and coordination). At first I thought SFMetcon was the answer. It was only 23 minutes long, it was intense, and something you could do quickly. The problem was that SFMetcon was too intense, yet not done quickly enough. I literally had to psych myself up for it, and once developed, like SFOne, I didn’t want to do it either. It was intended to be a 2-3 day per week workout that but because it was so hard I to put off until the end of the day, then put off until the following day, and then I wouldn’t want to do it at because I had missed a few weeks and my performance had backslid. It was effective, but I hated it. I honestly don’t like exercise, but walking through Walmart I’m it becomes obvious most people like exercise less than me. I knew if I wasn’t going to do a 23 minute flow, neither would my target market. 

I soon realized that if I wanted to make Spinal Flow do what I wanted I was going to have to do it myself as my sole form of exercise. Only then would I know with any certainty what did what, and this was in relation to not only muscles but motivation. It had to be clearly worth the effort. For me spine pain is no longer an issue so much as overall health and fitness was. Thus I wanted to make Spinal Flow not only the best spine rehabilitation workout, but also the best all body home workout, bar none. I wanted Spinal Flow to effectively optimize health, performance, willpower, and (forgive me) appearance, at the same time that it helped eliminate spine pain, delivering for all of us what I think we want; the most gain for the least pain. Finally, I had an epiphany on a single exercise was so simple, but worked, and allowed me to shorten the workout time to 7 minutes daily. I took my new concept further, reducing Spinal Flow to 5 minutes and it was even better. With the culmination of Spinal FLOW-5 (F5), my 5-minute flow, I think I nailed it. F5 is my routine, it’s what I do for overall fitness, and it’s good for the spine.

Spinal CONTROL-5 (C5)

The above said, while F5 is my primary flow, and my personal workout, it isn’t strictly spine rehabilitation. Nor is F5 exactly where I would tell someone to start if they currently had spine pain. Consequently I wasn’t sure about releasing F5 as a rehab workout. Part of what I removed from SFOne to make it faster and more effective for strength and stamina, was the slower, low intensity, neutral-spine awareness and coordination work. Work that’s crucial if you have pain and are lacking said awareness/coordination, and unfortunately most people with spine pain are lacking both. 

I also knew people with spine pain would have as many, if not more, barriers preventing exercise as anyone else, and I was sure that like me, most would prefer F5 over the longer flows. So I had to figure out how to make F5, and Spinal Flow Yoga as a whole, work for people currently in pain, as that was and still is my primary focus. Yet I didn’t want to dilute the effectiveness of F5. To solve the problem, I reduced the Level-1 intensity of F5 so that it’s easier for beginners to start, leaving levels 2 and 3 alone. At the same time I took what I liked best from F5 (efficiency) and streamlined SFControl into Spinal CONTROL-5 (C5) to explicitly teach ideal spine mechanics (minus the competing focus on fitness) in a 5-minute sequence also. I reasoned that as with F5, a 5-minute flow done frequently, would be infinitely more effective that a longer exercise sequence that’s not done at all. 

Together C5 and F5 are a very a complete and customizable spine rehabilitation and fitness system. Good enough for the vast majority of spine pain sufferers, unique, and for which I don’t know of any viable competitors. What’s cool about C5 is that once the spine recovers and when C5 techniques are internalized, C5 can be omitted, leaving just F5 to be continued. Which will take one’s fitness about as far as most would want to go, but still reinforcing the neutral-spine awareness and coordination achieved with C5.

My suggestion is for people with current pain is to start C5 first, use the stick as a cue to lock down, understand, and feel what that neutral-spine is. At the same time preview the videos of F5 and think about what one can start without aggravating their condition. Then when you can do the C5, without the stick, and without any increase in pain, using the ‘axis’ hand positions to maintain a neutral spine, then begin some or all of F5. Many, perhaps most, will be able to start F5 within a few days of starting C5, but be sure to keep the USER RULES in mind. When you can easily do C5, keeping the spine in perfect positions without the stick or hand positions, C5 can be discontinued. 

I should add that while C5 is designed for people with spine pain, it’s not only for people with spine pain. Poor spine awareness and motor control is common in those without pain also, thus learning C5 will go a long way towards prevention of future injury and degeneration, being well worth the short time it takes for most anyone to learn.


How Spinal CONTROL-5 (C5) works

Like F5, C5 only takes 5 minutes to finish. Even better, C5 is easier to learn, perform, and explain than F5, but is important for those who have, or recently had, neck or back pain. Learning C5 will go a long way towards prevention too, so it’s well worth the time it takes for anyone to learn. But, if you currently an injured spine, perfecting C5 is likely necessary, both for optimal recovery and to prevent relapse.With C5 you’re not trying for exertion, rather technical precision, so it’s also a good place to start if looking at the F5 videos you’re thinking, “no way.” Unfortunately, C5 won’t make you strong, but it will teach what postures and movement patterns keep the spine healthy, allow it to heal, and lessen pain, so strength can better advance with F5. Therefore, C5 the yin to F5's yang, where you are learning what not to do, as much as what to do, learning how to NOT bend and twist your spine while standing, moving, sitting, lying down and rolling over, etc. These simple postures and movements that are seemingly no big deal if alls well, but overdone, either sustained, or repeated, they are the primary causes of spine injury and pain. And after which everyone, physicians included, often think, “it came out of nowhere.” And for which unfortunately, many people come to expect as just a normal part of life.

Spinal FLOW-5 (F5)

F5 turned out better than I ever expected. It’s not a compromise for me to not have a gym membership, it’s a preference. In less time than it took me to get dressed for the gym, F5 is done for the day. Now I’m no longer doing Spinal Flow just to learn, test, and develop for others. I’m doing it for me, because I think it’s the best workout, not only for myself and people with back pain, but for most anyone, in most situations, period. So while Spinal Flow was originally intended to treat neck and back pain, with F5, I’m genuinely curious whether more people will be interested in doing it for overall health and fitness. It’s that good.


How Spinal FLOW-5 works

Admittedly a highly effective 5-minute total body workout sounds a bit too good to be true. If it wasn’t me I don’t think I would believe it. But working on it for about two years now, I think I’ve worked out the whys, and how scientifically it makes sense.

F5 is primarily based on multi-joint exercises that hit as many muscle groups as possible at the same time. More muscles worked per exercise means you need less exercises to work the entire body.

Though F5 is strength training, Levels-2 and 3 of F5 are high rep enough, and incorporating enough muscle mass to raise the heart rate to aerobic conditioning levels, both during and for several minutes afterwards. Thus I think exploiting the same conditioning effects achieved with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that I do no additional aerobic training besides F5, my resting heart rate is 35 BPM. That’s well below the low 50s I was in years ago, when I was running 5 and 10Ks, and just 3 beats above Lance Armstrong’s reported lowest. So I feel like this is an amazing, if unexpected achievement from the program.

F5 is a split routine, such that you are training roughly one third of the body each day. This allows each day to be shorter. Because it’s short, you can train each exercise harder. Short and intense despite not being easy, ‘feels’ easier, physically and mentally, than long and intense, and even long and slow. Being quick and feeling ‘relatively’ easy, means you hate it less, miss less workouts, equating to greater progress. Also being able to focus on just 2-3 exercises per day, allows you to genuinely focus on them, working to make each one better, every time, instead of just going through the motions. I won’t lie, it’s still not easy per se, and I still hate it, but the gain per pain ratio is better than any workout I have ever tried. In short, it's worth it, and within just a couple weeks you can tell it’s worth it.

Because it’s a 3 day split routine, each exercise gets 72 hours of recovery before it’s performed again, much reducing risk of overtraining, equating to better relative progress.

Because it’s the same exercises repeated every third day, you know if you are making progress. If you are not making progress REGULARLY, you’re not doing it right. It’s honestly not about doing any of the exercises by themselves, it’s about MAKING PROGRESS on those exercises. START EASY for sure, but once feeling good, confident, and adapted to the routine, every exercise becomes an all out effort. Each exercise is also a test, and you test yourself daily. Knowing where you stand with regards to percent of max performance per level, lets you know where you are in relationship of one muscle group to another, to where you started, and to your ultimate potential.

F5 is designed for balanced muscle development. This was done by choosing or creating exercises and goals that target balance between all body parts. Weak hips and legs means people use, and thereby strain their backs more when they lift. Weak hamstrings leads to increased risk of knee, back, and hamstring pain/strains. Weak hip muscles have even been associated foot pain like plantar fasciitis. Therefore, even if your focus is purely spine rehabilitation, total body fitness is still one of the best keys to recovery.

Because you are training daily, you are creating a habit. If you string together several weeks without a miss F5 becomes more and more like brushing your teeth. It’s just something you feel more weird if you don’t do it than if you do. A fitness habit you develop is infinitely more effective than any workout that’s been quit.

F5 is capped at 5 minutes, all but guaranteeing you won’t push it to obsession or burnout, and again making overuse injuries tough to get (assuming you are following the USER RULES).

F5 is presented via a website rather than a book. Therefore as quick as I can, learn or conceive and then test a variation or idea, I can immediately update the program. Preferring simplicity, I’m not wanting to add additional sequences, however, I am always testing to optimize the two I have, as well as my way of sharing the information. However, should a complete change prove better, as F5 did over SFOne, you’ll certainly see it here first. 


F5 is designed to work with for virtually ANY FITNESS LEVEL. If you can walk without limping, you can probably do F5. This individualization is accomplished by:

Having each exercise broken down into three levels

-Level-1 (L1) for people new to exercise and/or those currently injured.

-Level-2 (L2) for those of average fitness that are starting to feel better, and gaining confidence.

-Level-3 (L3) is challenging for just about anyone. I still can’t max out all the reps of Level-3 and I have been at it for 2 years and counting. 

Breaking difficulty level broken down by exercise, rather than by the whole routine. This way you can fully customize your routine to work with your individual strengths, weaknesses, and current injuries. Such that you may be L1 on some exercises, and L2 or L3 on others. For example, I do L3 on all of F5 with the exception of SideOuts, where I stay at L1, because of a prior shoulder injury. F5 was able to accommodate my unique injury history, and is designed to do the same for most people.

Each level is further individualized by varying the repetition number, range of motion, and speed. For example a person just starting L1, unsure of what to expect, might do just 10 repetitions, slow and controlled, through a small range of motion. Over time, as confidence and strength increase they progresses through L1, increasing range of motion, repetitions, and speed. If and when the L1 goal is met, it’s a smooth transition to L2, where the exercise intensity and complexity increases, but repetitions, range and speed are reduced as needed. Transitioning from L2 to L3 is similar. Small ways of making progress helps ensure continued progress is made. 

L1 is designed to be ‘weight insensitive’, meaning that even though the exercises are bodyweight oriented, L1 is has you only lifting part of your body, through a partial range of motion. In other words, if you are fat, or scrawny, you can probably still do F5.

F5 encourages weight optimization. Once you have your habit in place and appreciate the appeal of evident progress, with L2 and L3, it becomes more and more weight idealizing, steering your diet in the best direction. As I was approaching the upper limits of my L3 exercises, I had to think hard about whether I wanted to gain or lose a couple pounds. And if I made a wrong decision, my performance on each exercise very quickly let me know. The answer for me has consistently been that I need to gain muscle, but not too bulky of muscle, and continually become leaner. So more like a sprinter than a weightlifter or bodybuilder. I use intermittent fasting to do this, aggressively to burn fat, but not too aggressive or I’d feel weaker. I’m sure the fasting has helped with the lessening of my resting heart rate. As there is less mileage of blood vessels, and less fatty occlusion that I need to pump blood through.

And finally, again, the USER RULES keep you safe. Common sense and well tested over the years in my physical therapy office helping discern if something is a “good pain” you should work through, or a “bad pain” you should avoid. With self testing and confidence in their use the user rules should keep you progressing while keeping you out of trouble.