If we’re being totally honest, we’d only recently heard of biofeedback here at Living North. But, as we’re always keen to learn something new, we spoke to fitness experts, Duncan O’Brien and Mike Paul, to find out what exactly biofeedback is, and how it can help us.
‘Even though you might not realise it, you’ve been using biofeedback throughout your whole life,’ explains Mike. ‘When you’re hungry, you’ll eat. When you’re tired, you’ll sleep. And when you feel energised, you want to move.’ As human beings, we use feedback from our body to make decisions on a daily basis, and this should be exactly the same with our exercise.
Using a specific example, we may use a heart-rate monitor when we run to ensure we’re reaching a target beats-per-minute rate. ‘So if my heart rate is too fast when I run, I’ll slow down. Likewise, if it’s too low, then I’ll speed up,’ Mike tells us. And this is biofeedback in its simplest form – we need to listen to our bodies and respond to them to get the most of our exercise. ‘Another example would be taking my blood pressure reading, and if I saw that the reading was too high, I would know to carry out a breathing exercise to bring it back down,’ Mike continues.
Whilst all of this sounds simple enough, the trouble is that most of us just don’t listen to our bodies when we exercise. This can have devastating physical consequences, as Duncan explains. ‘Growing up, many of my sporting heroes were suffering career-ending injuries. I couldn’t understand why, because there was so much fitness advertising going on, so it certainly seemed like the professionals were knowledgeable enough to avoid these types of injuries,’ he says.
When most of us exercise, we’ll base our routine on what we’ve been told by a professional – whether we’ve read about it in a magazine, or it’s been recommended to us by a doctor or fitness expert. We assume that because we’ve been told to do it by someone suitably qualified, the regime must be good for us. But this doesn’t work for everyone, as there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to getting fit. The result is that we’re following an exercise pattern that might not be completely effective, and we see results flatline. Or we might be experiencing continual pain by following these sets of movements. The truth is that exercise programmes need to be personalised, to ensure that they’re the best fit for us. And that’s where biofeedback comes in.
‘When I’m leading any fitness session, I know that there’s an individual person in front of me, with their own unique movement patterns and personalised postures, and their body will have a complex system of communicating and compensating when they move,’ explains Duncan. To ensure everyone can train effectively, without injury, and see results throughout, it’s vital to train using beneficial movements only, that build on strengths and avoid unnecessary injuries.
‘Every movement should be corrective,’ Mike tells us. ‘When we’re training clients, we’ll use a series of tests to assess every part of the body and its functional needs, as well as the responses different muscle groups have to different ranges of movement.’ The results of these tests show whether the body should continue to be exercised in a particular way or not. This in turn differentiates between exercises which are going to have a positive physical effect, and those which won’t be as effective, or worse, may even cause injury.
‘By noticing our biological response to a particular stimulus, we can then choose if we continue to expose ourselves to more of the same by repeating that exercise, or whether we leave it for another time,’ explains Duncan. In a gym, this helps us to build up a greater degree of physical and self-awareness. By noticing how sensitive our bodies are, and how they react to certain movements, we can develop a fitness regime that will keep us injury-free, and continually increase our flexibility and mobility.
‘By training in this way, I can exercise effectively without feeling sore afterwards,’ Mike says. ‘At 52 years old, my flexibility and mobility are the best they’ve ever been.’ There have been various forms of research carried out regarding biofeedback and its usefulness in terms of exercise, and the results have been enormously positive. Findings have shown that by using biofeedback tests, we can assess our bodies far more incisively to find out which exercises make us both feel good and are good for us, and how we can therefore train most effectively.
‘Part of me wants to call it witchcraft,’ laughs Duncan. ‘But now I’m beginning to understand the science behind biofeedback, I know it’s just a method of working out where I can carry on the next day and train consistently, and see continual improvements without the injuries. And the results we’re seeing in ourselves and our clients are amazing.’
For more information, or to book a session with Duncan, call 07545 079124