10 Fitness Lessons With a Movement and Pain-Relief Expert Jeremy McCann

“You can learn a lot about the person under the squat rack. I think it really shows what kind of person you are,” says Jeremy McCann, a pain relief expert from Riverside, California.

Jeremy is also one of our regular contributors on topics of health, movement and pain-free living. He runs a clinic Range of Motion where he helps Crossfitters perfect their movement in a way that any kind of pain is avoided.

We talked to Jeremy about his movement philosophy: 

1. I will always be a student. I am never going to stop learning.

Q: Work a little harder, be early, stay late… Tell us about the baseball story that influenced the work ethic you have today.

Growing up all that I ever wanted to do was to be a baseball player. The problem is I am not very tall. I would be reminded of this each year, when it came to taking the team photo and (as the shortest person) I got distinction of holding the team sign. My parents were always my biggest supporters but it was my dad who would tell me that my chances of making it the sport weren’t great because I wasn’t blessed with height.

He told me that if I wanted to get anything out of the game and if I wanted a shot to play, I always would have to do more work than anyone else. He went ahead and put a batting cage in my backyard and I would wake up the neighbourhood by hitting balls as soon as the sun would rise. I mean, I would head to park with a bag of balls and just throw for hours…to no one.

Ultimately, his message was really about life. He would dream with me, but he knew that no matter what I do in life nothing will ever be handed to me. I came home with a “C” one time and I expected him to be mad as a hornet at me. He wasn’t. He just told me that the average guy “flips burgers,” and if I wanted to do that, then that’s ok. I really took that as, “You have to work harder”.

Quote: You have to be relentless. You have to try to do the little things because if you don’t there is another person out there who will be ready to steal all the dreams that are bouncing around in your head.


2. Most of the population has trained their brains and adapted their body to squat to the depths of their toilet seat.

Q: From baseball to exercise science studies (while also being a trainer at a popular fitness club). What inspired you to choose the path of helping people (perfect their movement to avoid pain and injury)?

Most people across the United States don’t exercise because they actually like it. Most people view exercise as a form of punishment and redemption. What I mean is that they start exercise after feeling “guilty,” for eating too much and they want to “redeem” the body they once had. Couple this with an increasingly sedentary population and you now have the ingredients for all sorts of pains and injuries when a person suddenly feels the urgency to “move more.”

It is crazy when you think about the world we live in. Nowadays we have high school kids run under 5 minute miles regularly and every year we see the back squat world record get closer to 2000 pounds. What a quandary, because during this era we have more people who are overweight and dying of preventable diseases every year.

I think I got really tired of seeing good people get hurt because they wanted to jump right into “extreme” levels of exercise and they weren’t ready to “move” yet. I appreciate all forms of exercise. People should have the right to enjoy whatever type of fitness that they want. I just got really tired of seeing people try hard, and get hurt. And to feel as if I was a part of that, didn’t sit to good inside me.

So I went back to books, and decided that I was going to help people understand how easily it is to “take care” of their joints, muscle and connective tissue. Really, what I found along the way is that fitness industry as whole puts a ridiculous amount of emphasis on physiology, while neglects the importance of biomechanics. I equate this to the looming disaster we would have if we tried to put a rocket ship engine in a horse carriage. If we don’t have a solid structure, then eventually with movement we will have a problem.

When it comes to movement, our lifestyles’ have created so many deficiencies. People see the sexy exercise videos and they want to overhead squat to full depth but most of population has trained their brains and adapted their body to squat to the depths of their toilet seat. I am the guy that helps people fix that so they can chase their fitness related dreams.


3. My little girl couldn’t stand up-right without having strength in her core area first.

Q: You mentioned how your daughter, now 2.5 years old, taught you the patterns of the movement. The development of her spine, seeing her first “stand up”, take first steps… Based on that experience, how would you compare the mobility and biomechanics of babies (toddlers) versus adults?

This answer could be really long. Number one, I can’t be the dad that has joints that crackle and pop whenever I go to pick her up. Watching her grow from the little infant that she was to the toddler that drags our kitchen chairs form one room to the next has been a great learning experience. What has been reinforced is that fact that the acquiring movement capabilities is as much a of learning process as a it is a development of strength.

My little girl couldn’t stand up-right without having strength in her core area first. Her first movement milestone was the ability to lift her head, while lying on her stomach. You have to understand that she was only doing this because she was curious and wanted to see things with her eyeballs as they go stronger. Her head is the heaviest part of her body and is an extension of her spine. Being able to lift her head upwards and hold it, required her spine to bend in new positions and really asked the muscles attached to it to work for the first time.

The more curious she was the stronger she got. Once she was able to get stronger to keep her head up, she naturally was able to sit with head with above her hips and eventually stand and walk. One of things that was interesting for us to note is that when we are born into this world we aren’t born three bends in the spine. In the womb, babies don’t deal with gravity, they just kind of float around. It wasn’t until Nova sat up and stood that Annette and I, have gotten to see the curvatures of the spine develop.

This whole story is important for a few reasons but I think the most important things is that it shows that we can manipulate our muscular skeletal environment. We become what we do.

For example if you sit a lot, the muscles in your hips, legs and back will actually change lengths to allow you to become the best “sitter,” that you possibly can be. What this means for athletes is that if you are missing something like the ability to flex your shoulder to get it in proper overhead position, you can improve it if you keep working at the way she did. She didn’t just jump up and start running, each part of her developing forced muscles to grow so that she could perform the next movement.

So I guess the message for Crossfitters is that if you have a lift or movement that does not look or feel right, we need to take a look at the anatomical pieces that make up those movements.


4. When you look at a toddler who doesn’t spend hours rounding their shoulders while texting or have a pelvis that dips too far forward from having to carry excessive abdominal weight, you can really see just how our lifestyle influences the position of our bones.

Q: What do you think adults can learn from babies (toddlers) when it comes to movement?

As adults, we can really appreciate the influences of gravity when we look at a toddler that has just begun walking. In my business I look at bodies all day. I look for bony landmarks that are out of place. This allows me to better understand which muscles are under chronic tension and those that aren’t.

From this, I can create a program to elicit better balance and restore proper movement capabilities. When you look at a toddler who doesn’t spend hours rounding their shoulders while texting or have a pelvis that dips too far forward from having to carry excessive abdominal weight, you can really see just how our lifestyle influences the position of our bones.

My wife and I understand this really well and for this reason, we let Nova run around barefoot as often as possible. Our feet are so very important for accepting the impact of the earth and using that energy to turn on all the muscles of the body. During her developing years, we have wanted to make certain, that her forefoot develops enough mobility that her arch will be fully created. By putting little boxes (shoes) on the ends of her feet we understood right away we were limiting just how strong and reliable her feet could be. Thinking about the number of feet we would see collapse inwards and the knee’s that they drag with them was enough to influence us to keep her shoeless.


5. I learned that squatting isn’t just a vertical displacement of the body by bending the ankles, knees and hips.

Q: What is your definition of “The beauty of movement”? When is the movement beautiful?

As a trainer, I was paid very well to watch people move. As I evolved in the fitness industry, I learned that squatting isn’t just a vertical displacement of the body by bending the ankles, knees and hips. I started to see that as the hips would flex, the femur would externally rotate while the tibia would internally rotate so that the ankle could get locked in place as the foot maintained a neutral position.

Jeremy-mccann

The beauty in seeing all that, is that I could tell when something wasn’t right. What is important to understand is that if movement is like music, then our brain is as magnificent as the greatest of composers. Our brain is so special in that even when movement doesn’t look so good, it can figure out a strategy to get the job done. We call this compensation. Now we know that if we compensate enough we get injured, but our brain has this incredible capacity to help over-ride muscles that are working effectively.


6. Crossfit has almost single-handedly erased the fears that many women would have with weight training.

Q: You talked about Crossfit being an answer to many traditional problems, but in a combination with “cleaning out” the movement, perfecting it to exercise towards healthier, stronger bodies. Can you explain a bit?

When I started as a fitness professional most people who come to me to decrease their body fat and increase their muscle. Unfortunately during my career in fitness, I have seen too many people whose goal was to alter their body composition who were just too afraid to work hard enough to create change in their body. We are adaptive machine. Our body will change if we give it a reason.

Too often, people would substitute higher intensity with more time. Crossfit has really changed that. Whether people Crossfit or not, many more are now aware and inspired to do work harder than ever before. Crossfit really has done a great job of introducing some many different variables of fitness that before many never had included in their workouts. Particularly with lifting heavier weight.

Crossfit has almost single-handedly erased the fears that many women would have with weight training. We are now in this special epoch of time in which it will be very interesting to watch the physical capacities and athletic achievements of females continue to grow like never before. With all being said, I think we need to continue to look at it as a sport.

What I mean is athletes always look to improve their game during the off-season. They do this by examining their weaknesses. Crossfit is extremely well-rounded in the types of efforts that are required but many of the patterns of movements are the same. This presents a problem, (particularly) with the masters level athlete.

Over time, dominant muscles become so dominant that we will see the smaller muscles responsible for stability become too weak to do their jobs. When this occurs, pain and injury are soon to follow. As a sport, it may be suitable to plan off-seasons and create annual programming suitable to build up weaknesses. Starting with structural imbalances and ultimately working up improving individual WOD scores.


7. Usually we can make a strong case for the foot, creating the problem in both the back and shoulder.

Q: What are the most common injuries/issues you see in people (your clients) who do Crossfit?

It isn’t just injury so much, it is their history as well. The most common reason I see Crossfit athletes for are shoulder pains. After assessing foot function in three planes of movement, more often than not I learn that they had an old ankle or foot problem. It makes sense, most Crossfitters were former athletes.

Given that sprains are the number one injury in all the land, it is a perfect marriage. What is more common is to also hear them complain of back pains as well but it isn’t normally the reason they pay me visit. Usually we can make a strong case for the foot creating the problem in both the back and shoulder.


8. As he has aged keeping his mobility and strength has been a real trick.

Q: What was the most challenging case you had so far?

I have a man that I have worked with for the past seven years, whom I started working with from his hospital bed after he fell down a flight of stairs. He ended up with a completely torn both sets of quadriceps from his knee.

Within six months we got him back to his feet and walking again. As he has aged keeping his mobility and strength has been a real trick because he travels a lot. One thing I can say is that I do my best to give people regular homework assignment exercise. It is picture and video of the different stretches and self-massage exercises. One thing that I have understand is that it doesn’t matter how much information that I can spill out of my brain to my clients, if they don’t understand and it isn’t important to them, they won’t do it.


9. You can learn a lot about a person under a squat rack.

Q:  Please explain the statement above.

I learned this while watching my wife. Squatting heavy is scary but necessary if you are chasing fitness or athletic related goals. Think about it. Most people don’t like to bend over and tie their shoes. Yet to squat we have to stack hundreds of pounds on top of your spine, slow gravity from crumbling you to the ground, and defeat the forces of Earth as you return to the rack. You have to be tiger to attack that. I mean that first feeling you get from the weight pushing down on you as you unrack the bar.

The doubt, the fear that creeps in your head is enough to have many walk that sucker right back up. To take that deep breath and brace your spine before you descend takes an act of courage because you no idea if you will be able get back up.

Then… You do it all over again. What does it show? I think it really shows what kind of person you are because it takes every muscle in your body to squat, but it also takes every ounce of courage you have and every bit of trust you have in yourself.


10. Do whatever it is that you love to do and remember there isn’t just one way to do anything.

Q: You have a family of 5… Which thrives on empowerment and strength. What’s the philosophy here?

Jorgie (13) and Mia(10) have been homeschooled their entire life. Their mommy is an amazing leader. Daily, the message that she has allowed them to have is that they don’t have to walk the same line as everyone else. That they can do whatever it is that they love to do and that there isn’t just one way to do anything.

Thank you Jeremy for taking your time.  

Follow Jeremy at Range of Motion.

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