Exercise and Neurostructure: An interview with Dr. John Stenberg
NOTE: The following interview with Dr. Stenberg does not constitute medical advice. If you suffer from any specific issues or are looking for specific exercise advice, please ask your doctor or another certified or licensed professional for recommendations specific to your needs.
Doug Hering: Dr. Stenberg, you and I have talked a lot about exercise and fitness. You exercise and also advocate functional movements in exercise. What are the NeuroStructural benefits of exercise?
Dr. Stenberg: To answer this question adequately we first must define “NeuroStructural” health as it relates to the human body. “Neuro” refers to the nervous system – the electrical communication system of the body, and “Structural” refers to the spine – the structural foundation of the body. A NeuroStructural perspective of health is an approach focused on the optimal functioning of both systems and their intimate relationship one to the other. To illustrate this point, consider your automobile. When the STRUCTURE of your automobile is ABNORMAL (i.e. out of alignment) the FUNCTION of your automobile is negatively impacted (i.e. uneven wearing of tires and breaks, shaking steering wheel, pulls to one side of the road.) The human body operates the same way in that the Structural stability of the spine directly impacts the functional capacity of the nervous system. Generally speaking, exercise is beneficial for this system in a number of ways. Exercise has been shown to act on the Structural system of the body by increasing bone density, improving joint mobility, and maintaining functional strength as we age. In addition to those benefits, exercise has been shown to increase cognitive function (mental capacity), boost blood flow to the brain and spinal cord, and stimulate regions of the brain that tend to degenerate as we age.
Doug Hering: What do you see in people who do not exercise?
Dr. Stenberg: Generally speaking, folks who are not engaged in some sort of structured and consistent fitness regimen tend to have deconditioned (weakened) spinal stabilizing musculature and more frequently experience spinal injuries and chronic pain. Anterior Head Syndrome (AHS) is a common structural condition that we see frequently with these folks. Often these individuals also exhibit signs of Attenuated Autonomic Imbalance syndromes (AAI) which is synonymous with a decreased level of adaptability. In laymen’s terms, AAI leads to decreased stress resiliency.
Doug Hering: What do you see in those who do exercise properly?
Dr. Stenberg: Although each situation is unique to the individual’s lifestyle, those who engage in exercise at a consistent frequency with proper form relative to the activity tend to also display other habits that lead to improved long term health. Often these individuals are more cognizant of their nutrition and hydration and prioritize functional movements over aesthetics. Quite often these folks do present to the office with abnormal spinal shifts, but are generally more motivated to achieve correction and are more compliant in following recommendations than the “average Joe.” These individuals often have developed a solid base for us to continue improving upon and often respond quicker than their deconditioned peers.
Doug Hering: What do you see in those who do not exercise properly?
Dr. Stenberg: There are potentially two answers to this question, each representative of a different group: those who engage in exercise that is improper for them, and those who utilize the correct exercises improperly. In both cases, it is unlikely that these folks have consulted with a qualified professional prior to implementing their exercise regimen. Second hand information from a friend or colleague, bad information found online, or outdated and obsolete systems can quickly lead to injury. Proper exercise selection and implementation is dependent generally on three factors – your individual goals, your level of time and energy commitment, and your general level of fitness (including flexibility.) ALL THREE of these factors must be taken into consideration prior to engaging in any new exercise regimen, and you should always consult with your physician and a qualified coach or trainer to establish your baseline in these areas. Understanding these variables for YOU will enable you to both choose the correction exercises and loading strategies AND allow you to implement them properly. For those who have not taken these steps I often see asymmetry, instability, and imbalance. Along with these physical manifestations, I also see that these folks are often unsatisfied with their progress and have chronic nagging injuries.
Doug Hering: What is proper exercise for NeuroStructural health?
Dr. Stenberg: In my opinion, there is no ONE way to exercise for optimal NeuroStructural health. There are so many factors that contribute to an effective and sustainable exercise regimen if the PRIMARY goal is to maximize spinal stability and neurological performance. It really is an individualized experience. However, there are certain principles that I apply when planning and implementing exercises for myself with these goals in mind. Again, these are not necessarily recommendations for the reader but rather the things that I personally find most effective. You should always consult a physician and qualified coach or trainer before implementing any new or different exercises.Warming up and cooling down are essential, but should be specific to the workout and should be time efficient. Lately I have found that a 10-minute warm up comprised primarily of bodyweight movements in many different planes (i.e. directions of the body – horizontal, vertical, rotational, etc) is sufficient to get the body and the mind ready for the primary workout. Perhaps we can go more in depth in this topic in the future as I think it is extremely important and extremely misunderstood. While warming up I am moving and scanning the body for areas of tension or restriction, and focusing on improving flexibility in those areas. While cooling down, I focus on again moving through various full body ranges of motion and spending time stretching specific muscle groups.Multi-joint compound movements performed under load (with resistance) should be prioritized as both a means to improve flexibility and build functional strength. Examples of these types of exercises that I like and implement regularly are squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses in their almost endless variations. Bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, lunges, various forms of crawling, and sprinting are phenomenal exercises to compliment the compound lifts. These are also multi-joint movements that build core stability and provide a barrage of sensory input to the brain. Introduce variability (changing exercises, times of day, length of workout, frequency per week, etc) in your training WHILE maintaining structure and consistency in your long-term plan. This allows you to adapt your regimen to the unpredictability of life. Staying consistent is the hardest and most important part of getting results with any exercise regimen, and this strategy allows you to stay on track if life gets in the way of your scheduled routine.Scaling exercises and workouts realistically allows for gradual and sustainable progress. Focusing on yourself and your individual progress rather than what someone else can do is ESSENTIAL for long term success. Everyone has a different reason for exercising – whether for competition or just to blow off some steam. As such, there is no one-size fits all approach to exercise selection and implementation. Just because someone else can do more weight or repetitions does not mean that you should. Check the ego and focus on what you need to accomplish to reach your goals.
Dr. Stenberg is a fitness enthusiast and a participant in weight lifting and crossfit. Dr. Stenberg is originally a native of Colorado Springs, but grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. He was first introduced to chiropractic care in college when a family member received tremendous results with a serious health challenge. Dr. Stenberg then moved to Marietta, Georgia to attend Life University and study chiropractic with a focus on improving human performance. While studying at Life University, Dr. Stenberg was drawn to the specificity, effectiveness, and efficiency of NeuroStructural chiropractic care, and is one of four Doctors in Colorado utilizing the Blair protocol of NeuroStructural correction.
His office is Zenith Chiropratic in downtown Colorado Springs.