Your Biological Domain: What Is It And How You Can Squeeze Strength From It
I’ve driven across the country a few different times, each time a different route. The first time from New York to California – my buddy and I took route 70. It was amazing! We took our time and stopped for some sights at the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The second time was with my dad – just the two of us. We were on a bit of a deadline and had to push the pedal to the metal – no pun intended (I did get a speeding ticket 20 miles into our trip though – so there’s that). We took the southern route, hauled ass, and made it from New York to California in less than 48 hours! While he drove I slept, while I drove he slept. We changed drivers every tank of gas.
The most recent was from California to Chicago – not quite cross-country – but I did get to enjoy that trip with my grandfather and my dad – three generations, pretty cool.
Why the travelers stories?
We all have goals; getting from point A to point B requires a process and a thought out program – at least if you’d like to attain said goals.
Understanding where you are currently is crucial in taking you from where you are now to where you want to be.
Otherwise you might end up in Seattle if you just say, “let’s head north” without knowing you’re in California. OK, my driving analogies stop there.
My point being, strength is no different than a road trip – you need a thorough understanding of where you are currently before embarking on a journey to get stronger.
Those who know me or have worked with me know I’m a big fan of The Postural Restoration Institute. Back in February I had the pleasure of taking my first in-person course, Integration for Fitness and Movement – taught by James Anderson and Julie Blandin. If you’ve taken any PRI courses you know that PRI can be – and in fact is – a deep, windy, rabbit hole.
My goal today is to shed some light on the “biological domain”, it’s influence, and how it relates to your strength journey.
What Is Your Biological Domain and Why Should You Care?
Understanding what your biological domain is paramount for many things but especially in grabbing a better understanding of why something as “simple” as learning how to breathe properly can dramatically change your life.
Your biological domain is your well-being; how well every system of the human body integrates with one another. Additionally, it’s how well each is able to do their jobs to support normal healthy everyday function. It covers areas such as:
- Sleep – quality and quantity
- Respiratory health
- Internal fluid/pressure management – headaches, swelling, blood pressure, etc.
- Mental, emotional, psychological health – anxiety, stress management
- Vascular and cardiac function
- Gastrointestinal function and digestive health
- Neuro-musculoskeletal health – gross motor and joint health needed for daily function, gait, etc.
- Lifestyle habits – nutritional eating habits and movement lifestyle
Essentially how our bodies adapt to their environment and how those stressors affect our quality of life.
Why does this matter?
I’ll assume you care about the quality of your life if you’re reading this article. If you don’t than there’s a much bigger issue at hand.
Let’s hang on to the easy points people can relate to:
- GI Health
- And Mental/Emotional Health
Let’s also assume you’re on Program Minimum (Simple & Sinister) cause why wouldn’t you be?? – 5 sets of 10/10 1-handed Swings and 5 sets of 1/1 Getups on each side 3-5 days a week.
Simple? Yes. Easy? Debatable.
But regardless, it’s a minimalist program that has you in and out of the gym in less than 40 minutes – at the most.
Even with a program as simple as Program Minimum, your biological domain will play a heavy role in your ability to not only complete the program but also do so in a manner that yields the strength benefits that come with it.
Julie and James talked about how “optimal performance integrates all three domains” – the other two being fitness and athletics.
Punching the clock in the gym is only one small factor in the overall equation that results in increased performance. For optimal success you need:
- Sound, quality sleep
- A healthy functioning GI system
- And a happy, stress-free environment
… or, at least the mental tools needed to overcome adversity along the way.
Sleep, your GI health, and mental/emotional states can all be driven by one biological factor – the ability to take a breath properly… and now you’re entering the rabbit hole…
Life’s a Balancing Act
Simply stated we are not the same inside as we are outside. While we have 2…
- Hands and feet
We are completely the opposite internally. For the sake breathing and how it relates to sleep, GI health, and your mental/emotional health, let’s look at one of the many asymmetries in our bodies – the diaphragm.
- Larger diameter
- Thicker central tendon
- Larger central tendon
- Higher central dome
- Better able to maintain its domed shape (placement over domed liver – which you might remember you only have 1 of)
- More crura fibers and fascia
- Has crura that attaches lower on the lumbar vertebral bodies (1-1 ½ lumbar levels lower)
- Smaller diameter
- Thinner central tendon
- Smaller central tendon
- Lower central dome
- Less able to maintain its domed shape (placement under the heart)
- Less crura fibers and fascia
- Has crura that attaches higher on the lumbar vertebral bodies (1-1 ½ lumbar levels higher)
Regardless of whether you know what all of this means its safe to say there’s a clear difference between our left and right hemi-diaphragms.
Another piece of information to consider is that we take 20,000-22,000 breaths a day!
Clearly these asymmetries are going to have some influence on our performance, right?
Key Principals to Consider
The force of gravity dramatically influences our posture, performance, and ultimately how we move throughout the world. Gravity is a big player in your biological domain.
Your COG = COM – center of gravity = center of mass.
Your COG is constantly changing as you move your mass through space.
What’s interesting about your COG is how much it can be shifted by as little as a forward translated rib cage – in other words, being stuck in a posture that allows for the ribs to protract forward.
To read more about it’s influences on posture check out this article.
From the article above you can understand that:
- Your rib cage position can cause your COG to shift,
- Which can lead to excessive loading on your paraspinals, and lumbar discs,
- Which can lead to decreased performance, potential pain, and/or future injury
So, if you’re swinging with a protracted rib cage and wonder why your back hurts, a possible culprit could be your rib cage position itself….
Every position/posture/movement creates a unique load the body has to manage.
The body needs to be able to create an internal force/load to stabilize and combat said external loads.
How the extrinsic load influences the intrinsic load on the body depends on position.
- Position of the body parts relative to themselves
- Positioning of the body relative to the LOG
- Position of the load relative to the body
- Quality, quality, quality
“It’s not the weight that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it” – Lou Holtz
Using our above example, “closing the canister” as I like to say – fully exhaling so that the ribs drop into a retracted position while at the same time engaging your pelvic floor – is an ideal way to create intra-abdominal pressure.
This pressure provides the intrinsic loading you need to battle the external loads of say swinging a 48kg kettlebell for reps.
Meet force with force!
The thorax is a HUGE GEAR!
An intact, well-placed thorax provides mobility in all three planes, allowing the body to properly:
- And Rotate
In other words – function optimally in any setting!
Key takeaway – your ribs are very, very important to your performance
What To Make of This?
Perhaps now you’re a little more aware of what your biological domain consists of and can connect how it relates to your strength journey.
I think it’s safe to say that you understand that:
- Sleeping poorly
- Frequent headaches
- And high stress levels
…Aren’t exactly a winning combo for any goal.
Narrow your focus on two things: Your rib cage and your breath
Your ability to take a breath properly trumps everything in the biological domain.
It’s the catalyst for the cascade of sympathetic, stress-inducing symptoms while at the same time being the catalyst that triggers the relief of said symptoms.
Here’s a trick I picked up from StrongFirst the other weekend and how you can tap into your diaphragmatic breathing abilities immediately:
- Lay on your back in the 90/90 position – hips at 90, knees at 90 with feet either resting on the edge of a chair/coach or flat on a wall.
- Plug one of your nostrils with your finger and slowly start to inhale through your nose
- Inhale to the fullest capacity, hold for 2-3 seconds, then open your mouth and exhale as if it were a sigh of relief
- Exhale fully so that you start to feel your rib cage drop down, in, and back towards the floor.
If you did it slow enough you should have felt like you were able to inhale much more than normal, while at the same time having the feeling of your rib cage “dropping” during your exhale.
This simple drill has just taught you how to breathe using your diaphragm and in turn, has influenced your rib cage position. Win, Win!
If you want to take a step further, plug the other nostril ½ way so that you’re only inhaling with ½ a nostril – the effect should be a bit more profound.
Practicing this simple trick can help you:
- Fall asleep easier before bedtime
- Improve the p.h. of your stomach – it’s crazy but it works! 10 deep breaths like this could take away the need for a TUMS!
- Place your rib cage in a better position
- Decrease stress levels
- Manage your emotions
- Improve GI functioning
And the list could go on and on.
My point is this: while swinging heavy bells and pressing heavy sh** overhead is quite possibly the meaning of life – really though – pay some attention to your biological domain, not only for recovery-sake but also as a means to help increase your performance.