My Week with Alan Herdman - Day 2
End Range I met Alan at his flat on a sunny and warm day. A construction worker was there pounding away with the tools and electric cords strewn everywhere. Alan led me upstairs to his office. I noticed his book shelf off to the left. To be expected, it was filled with anatomy, exercise science, manual therapy and Pilates books. I smiled feeling comfort from being with a familiar place of books.
We ventured out together, walking to the tube (metro). We were headed to his studio in the Reebok Club in Canary Wharf. Alan has three studios in London. The one in the Reebok club is the newest one. It was closer to Moss Pilates, where I was teaching a master class at 5:30. Our plan was to give me time to warm up and prepare for my class while Alan did some errands. After, his errands, we would work with each other.
I began moving, while Alan’s assistant, Brian, was working with clients. Again, I have a feeling of comfort, like being at home. Alan returned from his errands and asked how my knee was doing. I have a medial meniscus tear. My daily practice is restoring the mechanics and muscular connections from my foot up into my spine. I exercise my feet with my foot program with the consciousness of the alignment and movement of my tibia with the subsequent firing of my hip. This is the topic of my workshop this weekend and I am a living example of how it works.
Alan says to me “well, let’s take a look at your footwork on the reformer.” After watching one repetition, he places his hand on the inside and just above my knee as I move into my second repetition. He says “your VMO is not engaging well. Try using the adductors more.” I did another repetition, “no, not good enough, come over to the table.” We move on to the trap table. I am experiencing a mirroring of myself in Alan. I thought, if my clients could see me now, they would be satisfied knowing I too have to be guided to wake up sleeping muscles. That is what happens to our strength when we get out of alignment. It is amazing how quickly certain muscles turn off when there is tightness and dysfunction in one’s movement. My knee injury is causing my foot to favor the outer edge (arches out position) which then places my weight on my leg too much on the outside line not in the center. And then my pelvic rim moves back and up which displaces my hip joint out, all turning off my posterior hip muscles (back and side of the hip). This in turn weakens, through inhibition, that inside line Alan was focused on restoring for me.
I am now side lying on the table on my left side (the not functioning inner line of the leg) with my left leg straight. The right leg is bent being supported so that my pelvis stays stacked. This position is a common side lying position for working the adductors. Typically, one would lift the leg up and down. Alan cued me by placing his hand on the center of my heel. He asked me to press into his hand. As I reached my leg long, he said, “more, straighten your knee fully, more, press more”. “Bend your knee slightly and relax it”, he said after my efforts to engage that inner line of my leg without lifting it off the table. His hands-on cueing is exactly how I would coach someone. We repeated this movement, he pressing on my heel, me pressing on him while fully straightening my knee. After about three to four repetitions, I finally felt the VMO and whole inner line of my left thigh engage fully. I stood up and could feel my whole leg adjust into a more centered place through my leg into my foot. Now, I am ready to do the foot work to truly strengthening my whole leg, which I was unable to do before.
Alan and I are like minds when it comes to defining what physical training encompasses. Strength is when you move, the motion is present in the joints, the bones, (not at an end range stuck place) and the musculature is called upon to engage appropriately allowing for development of strength. Strength is also a balance between stability and mobility. When one plays a sport, the interplay of the motion between when the body is stabilizing while the other side or diagonal is mobilizing or moving without being stuck in the end range. As we walked through the large gym, watching people doing all sorts of movement, mostly not healthy, he says “why is everyone pushing so hard and moving in their end range, you cannot strengthen if you are at your end range continually”. I look over at a man on a rowing machine and I see is neck is locked out, his spine in the end range of flexion and his hips are also not moving. As he pulls, it looks like he is getting whiplash with each repetition, and his knees are doing all the movement. The parts that should be moving are not and the parts that should be stable are well, taking the brunt of his efforts.
My turn to look at Alan’s foot. I began with orthopedic massage of his foot, specifically the medial arch, the spaces in between the metatarsals opening the lumbricals, and a maneuver for the first toe joint to restore movement. I had Alan do the foot exercises, moving his toes in flexion and extension at first. Then, I added the toe waves with dorsi and plantar flexion. I tied a light theraband around his big toes and in between his toes to maximize the alignment of his toes while he moved his ankles. I also did the compression and decompression of the first toe joint (MP joint) and enhancing the movement of that joint. I recommended that Alan do more prehensile work on the Reformer. Afterward, we went walking. Alan said his foot felt so much better. I was concerned he would be very sore the next day.
Alan and I boarded a bus at Canary Wharf toward the Fruit Exchange Building where I was to teach my master class. Alan attended the class, wanting to watch. My class was focused on the feet up to the spine. It was a movement class with no apparatus. When I got to the part of working the whole leg in extension, some of the participants were struggling with the specificity of how to connect the foot to the hip. Janie, my assistant and I were running around the room helping them find the alignment and subsequent muscular engagement. I turned around to see Alan off his chair and cueing one of the teachers. He just couldn’t sit still while seeing the bodies that needed some guidance. I smiled and felt I would do the same!
Alan and I headed to a restaurant in his neighborhood. We discussed my class. Alan appreciated the sequencing of the class. He kindly said, “I hope it was okay to step in and help during the class”. I told him that I felt supported by his participation and really appreciated it.
Our conversation centered around the need to listen. Alan spoke about how teachers hold on to preconceived ideas. If they would listen to the instruction without jumping ahead in their thoughts, their body would have a different experience. I saw this during my class. I was explaining exactly where to place a ball under the foot using a skeleton of the foot, pointing to the landmark. I looked around and saw a few people had the ball in a completely different location on the foot. It was as if they were somewhere else, not present in their body. Alan noticed this and confirmed I was exceptionally clear but that these few teachers were not listening.
Alan and I continued talking about how listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. Alan commented on how some teachers are stuck on knowing one way to teach an exercise. He recalled a number of times, while teaching workshops, a teacher will say to him “well, I learned it a different way”. Alan’s response is “it may be helpful to learn a different approach so when the way that you were taught does not work for a client, you have another way that may work for that person”. Alan’s philosophy of listening and seeing as a teacher means flexibility in your approach. We discussed how some training programs today teach set formulas rather than teaching a teacher to use their critical thinking skills, listening and having options of movement choices. It is important not to be stuck on preconceived ideas and work with what is in front of you, the client. I suggested maybe we expand these ideas into the teacher training program.