By Pete Williams
Seven years ago, Jessi Stensland was on the verge of retiring from triathlon at the age of 27. Knees hurting, joints barking, she no longer could stand the constant pounding of endurance sports.
Then she met Mark Verstegen and his staff at Athletes’ Performance, who showed her not how to train better for swimming/biking/running but to train her body to move better.
Twelve weeks later, she had the race of her life. These days, she competes in endurance sports of all varieties – many off road – and teaches “Movement U,” one- and two-day seminars around the country geared toward showing athletes, as well as chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists, how they can optimize movement for performance and injury prevention.
Stensland, whose Web sites are gojessi.com and movementu.com, will be holding a two-day seminar in Melbourne, Fla., on June 25-26. Based in Boulder, she wrote the foreword to Core Performance Endurance, one of the five Core Performance books I’ve had the honor of writing with Mark Verstegen.
Q: What was your a-ha moment with this?
A: When Mark Verstegen and the staff at Athletes’ Performance took me under their wing and made me understand that I can train my body to be injury resistant and more efficient by working on movement-based training. One movement I’ll never forget is when they had me do a one-leg, one-arm, dumbbell row. I’m on one leg in a T position, bent over at the waist, heel kicked back. They’re cueing me to keep my hip, knee and ankle in a straight line, hips parallel to ground, and keep straight lines before I moved my arm. It took all of my effort to keep everything in line before I could think about moving my arm. I thought, wow, I have to get this right and then I can transfer so much more power to my hands. Twelve weeks later I finished a race with tears coming down my face because it all came together.
Q: You blogged recently about the starting line at a cycling event and seeing everyone all curved over on their bikes.
A: It was a pre-ride for an Xterra triathlon and you saw people hanging on their tissues, slouching with rounded backs. It’s so easy to relate that to the squat position. If ever you get into that position while squatting, with a rounded back it never looks healthy. To get the most out of your legs, you want that strong flat back and then you can power through your legs – glutes, quads – and to relate that back to the bike it’s how you apply force and power to the pedal stroke. Take simple those same principles and why would you sit on the bike slouched hanging on your tissues instead of being strong with good posture? It’s common sense and that’s what I hear all the time from people at Movement U. “I’ve had this body for all these years, how did I not know that?”
Q: What’s a Movement U weekend like?
A: They are very much interactive and a bit of lecture. We arrive, meet and greet, and head right into a movement session. Before you listen to me talk I put you through a movement session, not a strength or swim/bike/run session, but you go into your body in an athletic way, similar to yoga, but we’ll be more dynamic and athletic. It’s more Movement Preparation, preparing your body to take on swim/bike/run demands and then we head into a lecture. The main thing we talk about is posture, glute activation, spinal stabilization, and if these aren’t common terms to you as an endurance athlete they should be. They’re simple and we apply every point we give you to swim/bike/run and that’s why I started Movement U. This bridges the gap between the information you know is out there and how to actually apply it to move our bodies most efficiently. Most people never realize, for instance, how poorly their bodies are rotating.
Q: Why is it endurance athletes can’t get past this mindset of training harder and longer for races of longer and longer distances and not step back and think of how they can train smarter and more efficiently to go faster – even at shorter distances?
A: It’s hard to get that message across. Recently I read a publication and a well-known coach said the way to run 26 miles faster is to run 29 miles. And people are slugging out four, five, and even seven-hour marathons and thinking they’re somehow getting faster. It takes more intensity and some level of pain threshold to want to do those shorter distances faster. I was doing 5x5s, five-second intervals five times. I was putting so much power into that treadmill and it’s so much more fun. People want challenges as endurance athletes and if I could challenge you in that way so many people would crave that to get faster but it’s not in our culture yet. The smarter you train, the better your movement patterns are and the fewer injuries you’ll have. What movement-based training will do for you is speed up the time, making you time efficient and getting the most out of your body. That way you can make the same changes in two weeks that you might otherwise take two months – and you’ll be injury resistant. So it’s about showing people how to be more efficient. What if you could make those changes faster than slugging though a couple months and risking injury?