The Web of Persistence

Every few days, in a very specific area of the clinic, I notice an intricate spider web.

It’s silken threads form an incredible lattice of amazing beauty and engineering ingenuity. It comes complete with structural supports, kitchen area, living room and an array of the other amenities that would make any spider lucky to call such luxurious accommodations, home.

And every few days, I take it down.

I feel bad. I really do.

I can appreciate the hard work that went in to building such a functional structure. And I do understand that those spiders, and their webs, play a role in trapping the myriad of annoying insects that one will find in urban life.

But that doesn’t stop me and down the web goes.

Duster 1 – Spider web 0

Until just a few days later, when seemingly overnight, a new bigger, grander web has taken its place. With more silk. With more living space. With more effort.

What can we learn from this spider?

In this seemingly endless battle between me and Charlotte’s kin, there will be no winner, but we both will persevere. A battle of the ages.

And that is the lesson here.


Each time I “bring down the house”, that spider doubles down and rebuilds. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t quit, or give up, or even move to my neighbour’s unit. It stands its ground. And each time, the results are more spectacular that the previous.

Duster 1 – Spider web 1

Imagine we use the same mindset when dealing with with our human performance or injury rehabilitation goals?

Imagine we kept working at improving our physical limitations or deficiencies by exercising diligently? By endeavoring to regularly eat fresh, healthy, nutritious foods?

Imagine we consistently worked on building strength, endurance or stamina without stopping at every obstacle or set back? Imagine the foundational structure we could build.

Imagine the web we could weave…

Small steps, big results…

More often than not, by the time my clients come see me, they have a problem.

And to them, it’s often a big one. Well, big enough for them to seek outside help.

This can include general problems like low back pain or neck pain, sports injuries like sprained ankles or twisted knees, or functional limitations such as loss of strength or loss of flexibility after a surgery or medical procedure.

In almost every case, the rehabilitation protocol will follow a set procedure of problem solving which involves the use a technique called chunking.

What is chunking?

Chunking is exactly what it sounds like: breaking a bigger, more challenging problem into smaller, more manageable bits, or “chunks”.

Take for example someone coming in with low back pain.

Their present level of pain may be so bad that the idea of doing exercises makes them feel ill; their protective guards would go up and the minute I suggest exercise, they’d look at me like I was out of my mind – there would be no buy-in.

And without that buy-in, most physical therapy doesn’t work as well.

But if I know that specific movement would help get them out of pain and back to their regular activities, how could I overcome that initial resistance and get them to start?

By chunking it.

Instead of going head first in to more complicated exercises or rehab movements, I may just work on something that they already do or that they already need to do.

In many cases, I just work on the basic transition from lying to sitting, or sitting to standing – activities that they would need to do already anyway. By working on these simple tasks and enabling them to solve a small problem in the context of the bigger problem, my clients are empowered. Confidence goes up. And usually, pain levels go down. When pain goes down, function usually improves. And a positive feed-forward loop is created with subsequent chunks added in.

In the end, all these little chunks add up, creating big results.

The best part about chunking: it can be used for almost any problem, in any area of your life.

From human performance to debt management.

Now that’s a chunk of advice I’m glad I came across.



Human Performance

What does human performance even mean?

Does it represent how fast or far someone can run? Is it related to their stamina or endurance? Their strength or power? Is it related to sport specific skills? Dexterity, flexibility, or coordination?

Or could it represent mental abilities or fortitude?

Or is it simply the ability to tolerate stress, mental, physical and emotional, in order to achieve a lofty, desired outcome. Perhaps it represents the ability to avoid injury or recovery from one?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve really had an opportunity to think about the significance of those two words. I’m constantly surrounded by them. With every email I receive. With every phone call I take. The company logo and moniker. Human performance is everywhere…I’m enveloped by the words but haven’t spent any time putting down in words what they mean to me.

So here it is:

Human performance is more than a singular skill, trait or ability. To me, it’s the ability to do what you want, when you want, in the manner you want.

That’s a broad, encompassing statement, you say…

And so it is!

But that’s exactly what human performance is. It’s not one set of arbitrary designations or skills or abilities. It’s not just the physical attributes, nor is it just the mental or emotional ones. It’s the distinct balance between all three.

It is the ability for an individual to engage in the activities that he or she wishes to engage in, at the level of that he or she wishes to perform at given that the requisite effort, time and price has been paid.

That to me, is human performance.

And that’s something that we can all work on improving, if that’s what we choose to do.

Primal Human Performance






Digging In: The Primal Patterns and You

Here’s a quick recap of the six Primal Movement Patterns that almost every human movement can be broken down into:

  • Squat/Lift
  • Lunge
  • Push/Pull
  • Twist
  • Gait
  • Balance

As promised, we’ll briefly discuss each movement in general terms and then give you examples of when you’re likely doing it. After, we’ll summarize some of the common faults and some quick fixes that may help resolve some of those movement related issues.

Squat/Lift: The squat/lift pattern is one of the most commonly recognized patterns out there. It involves bending through the knees and hips with the feet staying in the same relative position. We recognize it in young babies even before they start learning to stand upright. We can see the squat motion as they lie on their backs kicking their legs out together, over and over, building up strength for when they need to be able to do it against gravity. As we grow up, it’s how we sit down, stand up, pick groceries off the floor, and go for that massive 360 reverse slam dunk (jumping off two feet) over top of Shaquille O’Neill.

Lunge: The lunge pattern can be broadly described as stepping forward, backwards, to the side, or to any angle between them. While similar to the squat pattern, the difference is that one leg moves away from the other. We use this pattern when we dodge oncoming pedestrian traffic on Yonge Street (side-stepping the bankers engrossed in their Blackberries), stepping back from the yellow line when the subway car pulls into the station (so we don’t lose the tip of our nose), and even when we “step” into our cars, to a certain extent.
Flickr - chascow - ana lunges

Push/Pull: This Primal Pattern can be described as any pushing or pulling motion. It can be directed vertically, horizontally or on any plane in between. In daily activities, this can be seen when we are opening or closing doors, dragging our suitcases behind us, or pushing a grocery cart at the store.

Twist: Twist, or torque, refers to our ability to create rotational forces. Torque is created through our bodies when we chop wood, swing a golf club, or complete any other similar type activity.

Gait: This represents our movement strategies: it’s how we get from one place to the next. It can include crawling, walking, and running to name a few.
Skeleton walk02Balance: Balance is our ability to maintain our centre of gravity with as little excess movement, or sway, as possible. We balance our bodies when we stand up. We balance as a component of our walking. This is an integral movement pattern that allows us to avoid falling down and is often used in combination with other movement patterns.

A few common faults across all categories:

  • Excessive movement through the spine (e.g. flexing forward through low back, twisting excessively with golf swing)
  • Improper or uneven weight distribution (e.g. weight shifted to one foot or the other, weight shifted forward/backward)
  • Faulty body positioning with pushing or pulling a load (e.g. shoulder hiked when dragging suitcase)
  • Not actually using the right muscles/joints to complete a movement pattern (e.g. “plopping” down into a chair)
  • Altered or compensated gait pattern (e.g. limping, excessive pelvis rotation etc)
  • Poor balance levels (e.g. inability to control body sway when standing on one foot)

The Fixes:

  1. Education: If you’re having problems, learn what pattern is being done incorrectly. Learn how to stop it. And learn how to replace it with a better, safer one that protects your body. Or at the very least, doesn’t wear it down as quickly. If you’re not having any problems, prevent them from happening in the future.
    • Find out what’s got you in pain, or keeping you in pain (e.g. the way you bend through your back every day)
    • Find out how you can avoid injuries or dysfunctions (e.g. keep your bones and muscles strong as you age)
  2. Motor Control: Train your body to consistently move better.
    • Fix poor postures (e.g. slouch at computer desk)
    • Improve mobility/stability (e.g. loosen up immobile hips, stabilize spine)
    • Reduce or eliminate imbalances (e.g. stretch tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles)
    • Re-train faulty movement patterns (e.g. improper squats, excess twisting through spine with golf swing)
  3. Get in shape: Train your body to tolerate these various stresses. Improve your level of conditioning.
    • Push your cardiovascular system to its potential
    • Build your strength, power, and endurance to their highest levels of performance
    • This can be done with any physical activity you enjoy: running, biking, swimming, weights or sports.
    • Just get active and start!

The Primal Team

Dangerous job? 40,270 injuries per year! Are you at risk?

Photo Credit: Sylvain Pedneault

If this is your profession, that should scare you.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency in a 3-year period, there were an estimated annual average of 40, 270 firefighter fireground injuries in the U.S. Of these injuries, 24% were attributed to minor sprains/strains, 12% to pain and 34% moderate to severe sprains/strains (1). This accounts for a whopping 70% of total fireground injuries reported!

Since the job requirements are likely fairly similar, it’s not hard to imagine these injury percentages being equivalent here in Canada.

As a firefighter, what does that mean to you?

Quite simply, firefighting is a high risk, dangerous profession!

These types of injuries can cause all sorts of problems, both personally and professionally.

  • Lost time at work
  • Inability to safely complete physical job requirements
  • Placement on modified duties
  • Risk of further injury or disability
  • Challenges with everyday tasks such as playing with kids, exercising
  • Drop in morale and confidence
  • Increased rates of frustration, depression due to pain and dysfunction

So what can you do to protect yourself?

In our opinion, there are two things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position to have not only a long, safe career as a fire fighting professional, but also a healthy life outside of work as well.

Photo Credit: AMagill

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

The first item is simply represented by the quote above. This means decreasing your risk before you get hurt. This means doing all you can to make sure your body is in the best possible position to tolerate the rigors of your specific work tasks: that your shoulders and rotator cuff are strong enough to pull heavy hoses, that your legs can tolerate repeatedly climbing ladders in full gear, that your back and core are tough enough to withstand crawling through dangerous terrain, or smashing down walls.

Research has shown that having your body conditioned by improving certain fitness factors, much like a professional athlete, will allow you to perform safely at the highest levels possible, with the lowest risk of injury (2, 3).

These factors include:

  • Improving your cardiovascular fitness and stamina to buffer against thermal stress
  • Augmenting anaerobic capacity, allowing you to perform bursts of high intensity work such as breaking down walls and doors
  • Bolstering muscular strength and endurance to help you lift, carry, and drag anything you need to, with greater ease and less strain on your body
  • Optimizing core strength to protect your back against potentially harmful job-specific movement patterns
  • Maximize shoulder stability to avoid disastrous rotator cuff or shoulder injuries

Photo Credit: Joshua Sherurcij

By addressing these important fitness factors before you’re injured and increasing your body’s capacity to tolerate profession-specific stresses in a preventative fashion, you can avoid the unnecessary aggravation and pain of common firefighter sprain/strain injuries to your shoulders and rotator cuff, your neck, your back (upper/lower), or your knees and legs. Your workplace benefits package may cover treatments with highly trained physiotherapists and chiropractors who possess specialized knowledge of your job-specific needs, so be smart – Think prevention, not rehabilitation

“You don’t fix the problem until you define it” John W Snow

Secondly, it’s imperative to treat and rehabilitate your existing injuries properly the first time. This means not just dealing with symptoms and giving you a band-aid solution. These only work superficially, but don’t really fix the problem. Proper treatment and rehab should first involve a comprehensive and thorough assessment to find out the underlying causes and risk factors relating to your injury and it should include a complete treatment plan which addresses them in a task specific, functional manner.

Let’s use the example of a firefighter with low back pain. An assessment would look at the typical positions or movements this individual is exposed to throughout the day:

  • Do they slouch?
  • Do they bend or twist through their back too much?
  • Do they bend forward and backward repeatedly?
  • Do they twist and turn through the wrong parts of the spine?

During treatment, specific exercises or interventions would be implemented to reduce pain, address problem areas, and protect against further injury. These can include:

  • Postural corrections
  • Hip mobility drills
  • Core strengthening exercises
  • Functional retraining

Photo Credit: Joshua Sherurcij

This comprehensive assessment and treatment approach not only treats your injury, it also improves your performance. Not as an afterthought. Not as an aside. But as an integral part of your rehabilitation program.

At Primal Human Performance, we’re focused on specialized treatment for emergency service professionals.  Our practitioners, using a variety of specialized assessment, treatment, and therapy techniques, can diagnose your problem and trace it back to the root causes. From here, we will design and implement an individualized treatment plan that will not only deal with the causes of your injury and get you out of pain, but also take your performance to the next level in the shortest time possible.

Yours in Optimal Health,

Dev Chengkalath, Physiotherapist and Katie Au, Chiropractor


(1) Patterns of firefighter fireground injuries. Karter, MJ. National Fire Protection Association, Fire Analysis and Research Division. May 2009.
(2) Curr Sports Med Rep. 2011 May-Jun;10(3):167-72. Firefighter fitness: improving performance and preventing injuries and fatalities. Smith DL.
(3) J Occup Environ Med. 2010 Mar;52(3):336-9. Implementation of a physician-organized wellness regime (POWR) enforcing the 2007 NFPA standard 1582: injury rate reduction and associated cost savings. Leffer M, Grizzell T.

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