Go Wild: Moving Towards Our Nature


<figure><img src="http://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/My-Review-of-Go-Wild-by-John-Ratey-and-Richard-Manning.jpg" alt="GO WILD book sitting on a coffee table" width="584" Height="438" /></figure>

GO WILD: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-Being


Like so many other books that I’ve read, I stumbled upon GO WILD when I was not looking for anything in particular.  And I’m glad I did!  🙂

GO WILD is available on Kindle.  But I have to say, I still prefer the feel of a tangible book. I think there’s something to be said for the tactile sensations that can only be felt by holding an actual book.

Prior to picking up GO WILD at Barnes & Noble, I was somewhat familiar with John Ratey’s previous works. At various times throughout my travels, I’ve heard mention of his previous book entitled, SPARK. And I have since made the connection that he was the co-author of Driven To Distraction.

I don’t know about you, but prior to purchasing a book, I always go through the same steps: right after I read the title, I turn the book over to see which authors took the time to write a blurb for the book. On the back cover of GO WILD, I recognized two familiar names that offered up some high praise:  Jim Loehr, the coauthor of The Power of Full Engagement.  And Norman Doidge, MD, the author of The Brain That Changes Itself.

I read Loehr’s work when I was working at ESPN. The content in The Power of Full Engagement (affiliate) is one of the many pieces that’s incorporated into the culture there.

As an organization, the people at ESPN didn’t just talk about providing employees with a wellness program, they delivered on many different levels!

And I’m glad they did. 🙂  Because that’s how I got my start as an applied biomechanics consultant.  And over time, a position where I performed sports massage for their athletes and employees that were experiencing pain.

In my private practice, Doidge’s thinking on brain plasticity is a topic that comes up on a regular basis.


Much like Christopher McDougall demonstrated in his game-changing book, John Ratey and Richard Manning do a nice job reinforcing the point that as bipedal beings we’re born to run.

But for the authors of GO WILD (affiliate), their message on the value of human movement doesn’t end with running.  In fact, they go even further to say, “Humans are the Swiss Army knives of motion”.

[ Sidebar: Not to discredit an entire section in GO WILD (because of just a few paragraphs), but I do have to respectfully disagree with David Carrier, Ph.D from the University of Utah.

According to the authors of GO WILD, when it comes to the role of the gluteus maximus (read:  BIG butt muscle) in the running gait cycle, Carrier doesn’t agree with Dr. Bramble and the professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, Daniel Lieberman.

All of the people that I just mentioned were also referenced in Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run. ]

From the way the book reads, Carrier believes that the gluteus maximus muscle plays a much smaller role in the running gait cycle than Lieberman and Bramble led us to believe in the much talked about nature journal article.

And again, for a multitude of reasons I have disagree with David Carrier.

Although it’s not talked about when the subject of running mechanics comes up, the reality is, endurance runners that land on my treatment table all have a suspension system.

And when they are experiencing pain and/or an injury, a very high percentage of them have a suspension system that consists of muscles that aren’t capable of operating efficiently.

And the gluteus maximus is just one of many muscles that make up their suspension system.

<figure><img src="http://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/gluteus-maximus-running.jpg" alt="gluteus maximus muscle in running gait cycle" width="332" Height="379" /></figure>

Your gluteus maximus is also one of two muscles that make up the all too famous iliotibial (IT) band.  And once that long tendon is parsed out, you can see it running all the way down the side of the thigh to eventually attach to one of the leg bones (i.e., the tibia).

You might not have realized this: your gluteus maximus muscle travels the entire length of your thigh and ends on the outside of your knee.  And due the fascial connections of the superficial back chain – even farther.

Yes.  You did read that right.  Believe it or not, via fascia, your iliotibial band wraps all the way around the bottom of your foot and back up the other side of your leg.  To give you a visual, you and I could use that fascial line as a jump rope.

To give you a visual, you and I could use that line of fascia as a jump rope.


Every time your foot comes in contact with the ground in the running gait cycle, your gluteus maximus is responsible for some serious lifting!

Your gluteus maximus is elongating to decelerate your pelvis/trunk, thigh, and leg.  And not only that, your gluteus maximus has to shorten to accelerate the same bones out of those positions.

But here’s the thing: it’s not uncommon to have a pelvis that is pre-positioned in a variety of different ways.  Which means the starting position of the pelvis is off prior to the foot and the entire chain absorbing shock.

To put it another way, in order to have efficient motion as a runner, you want to take advantage of as much elastic energy as you can.  And having a pelvis that can’t load and unload optimally is going to allow for energy leaks at various different points throughout the chain (and ground!).


In keeping with the theme of the pelvis and the gluteus maximus:  If the pelvis is off from the start, it won’t be capable of moving at the right time.  Since the gluteus maximus attaches to the pelvis, sacrum, and tailbone, it is not capable of lengthening as much as it should.  And if it can’t lengthen at the right time, it won’t be able to shorten optimally, either.

To give you a visual (that is an admitted exaggeration on my part) of what I’m referring to here; try this:   Imagine sitting in your vehicle with both hands on the steering wheel.  Now, try to visualize turning the wheel counterclockwise to approximately 10 o’clock.


An image of a pelvis that shows the attachments of the muscles.


And there you have it, that’s the starting position of the pelvis for most of the athletes that I work with.  They are coming in with shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, runners knee…

You name it.  And the fact still remains:  The muscles that are supposed to be providing stability throughout the athlete’s suspension system aren’t capable of contracting at the right time.  Whenever that is the case, that runner will touch down (much!) harder.


And because of that, there will be tight muscles to compensate for the pre-existing instabilities throughout the chain.

As to which direction(s) your pelvis is turning, it depends on how your brain (and muscles!) chose to protect you from an injury.  In other words, that tight muscle that you feel in your hip and/or lower back is tight for a *very* good reason:  to protect your pelvis from going into a position that your brain perceives as being vulnerable to pain and/or an injury.

Again, even though it’s not talked about, it’s not a stretch to say that every endurance runner is getting from point A to point B differently.

If you don’t believe me, the next time you find yourself at a trail race, just look around.  I guarantee you won’t find two runners that are moving across planet Earth in the same fashion.

The glutues maximus is not the only muscle contributing to a pelvis that is torqued, but even still, it is a HUGE contributor.


An image of an endurance runner with xero shoes stepping off of a log that is lying across the trail.

Photo Credit: Shamma Sandals via Compfight cc


Much like Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run (affiliate) before it, the authors of GO WILD take the reader through what we now know about persistence hunting.  An updated version of the story, if you will.  Providing us with further evidence that we were in fact, born to run.

Whether you agree with the messages in Born To Run or not, it’s extremely difficult to argue with the HUGE contributions that Carrier, Bramble and Lieberman have made for runners everywhere.

According to John Ratey, MD and Richard Manning, “Their findings figure front and center in a way-too-common experience: a runner consults a doctor to complain of some injury and then hears the doctor intone the sober advice, “You know, the human body is just not made for running.  Thanks to Carrier’s work, the runner can confidently answer, “Nonsense.”

If you’re a runner, I’m betting you *paid* for a doctor to tell you that.

Now we find ourselves in a different time, but still not acknowledging the all-important role that the muscular system plays in all of this.  Sure, there are times where muscles are mentioned.  But the thought process usually involves some form of stretching or mobility drill.  When, in reality, the muscles throughout the chain are crying out for an increase in stability.  Then (and only then!) can there be more mobility and flexibility that lasts longer than twenty-four hours.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, on a daily basis, brains are being conditioned to believe that we have to look outside of ourselves for the answers.  Purchase the next roller or trigger point gadget that comes along.  Have somebody apply a colorful tape in a pattern that promotes a particular brand (and mindset!).

And then, you’re being charged for all of these things that don’t deliver results that last.  You might reconsider handing over your money, if before they took it, they told you that there is little to no research to back up any of it.

And then there’s Albert Einstein’s famous quote to ponder as well:  “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  (i.e., insanity)  

Tomorrow, instead of somebody telling you that you should stop running, you will be told that your running shoe is the culprit for your injury.  Have you heard that yet?

For what it’s worth, I can tell you that the person telling you this most likely has very little knowledge in the area of running shoes.  But, because they have a title, the majority of the people that are struggling with an injury will take the advice seriously.

In fact, you could make the case that the whole maximalist shoe category has taken us a few steps backward.  Instead of having one unnecessary shoe category on the wall at the specialty running shoe store, now, we have two (e.g., “stability” shoes  and maximum cushioned shoes).  Both of which are taking away from your ability to perform optimally.

Having spent two years of my life fitting running shoes in a high-end store; I can tell you that it only takes one shoe company to do something that is completely different than anything else on the market.  Then, within a very short period of time, every other brand will introduce their own version to take its place in the same category.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was tuning up an athlete post-run at a trail race, I noticed a runner by my tent that appeared to be struggling.  Out of habit, I glanced down at his running shoes.  As I’ve done more sports massage at these trail running events, I have grown accustomed to seeing inexperienced participants wearing road shoes for an event that includes terrain that can be treacherous even when you’re being careful.

Just mash in a lack of training for the specific demands, muscle fatigue and lastly, a foot that is super slow to react to every root, rock and hole that is underfoot.  And there you have it:  A recipe for an injury.  Or in this case, cramping.

As it turns out, he wasn’t wearing a road shoe.  He was wearing a maximum cushioned trail shoe, and even though he didn’t realize it at the time, his choice of shoe was a major contributor to his cramping.  (More on that in a little bit.)

When I noticed him, he was so exhausted that he was having a difficult time standing. So much so that his torso and shoulder girdle were flexed forward.  As you can imagine, under these circumstances, he was doing all that he could do just to keep from falling over.

Having seen this many times before, I asked him if he was cramping.  Even in his weakened state, both emotionally and physically, he managed to nod and say yes as he sat down in the chair that was in the shade next to my tent.

While he was sitting still and contemplating his first ultra, a well-known member of one of the tribes brought him a chair to elevate his legs.  Shortly after he elevated his legs, his wife brought him some water.

As he sat still with his wife by his side, the more experienced ultra runners that were gathered around the massage tent included him in the conversation as they reflected on the days events that unfolded on the trail.  They went on to talk about the difficulty of the downhills, the variations in this trail compared to others, the 98-degree temperature, and the value of a good trail shoe.

From there, with what was essentially a stranger who was in a weakened state, the various members of the different tribes focused in even more on the conversation that was unfolding.  Then, another first-time ultra runner joined in.  I can’t say for sure, but I’m thinking that nobody recognized that the guy who barely made it to the chair minutes earlier was starting to look and feel better.  No big deal, right?

Well. Not so fast.  When you read John Ratey and Richard Manning’s book, you start to see why what was taking place right in front of my eyes was so special.  If I wasn’t familiar with the various tribes that attend these trail races, I would have thought that everybody around me knew this guy.  But that was not the case.

As the conversation kept going, the runner that was completely out of gas just minutes ago, started opening up and showing vulnerability to these kind people that he had just met.  He went on to tell everybody in the conversation that he didn’t listen when his friends told him to check out the course prior to running the event.  And although he was a runner who had completed a marathon, he didn’t really train for the events that would unfold that day. Having run a marathon in the past, he did feel like he hydrated well the night before, and throughout the day, so he was wondering why he was cramping. (answer coming)

So what was it that transpired around my massage table that day?

When you read the book, you will see how the authors make the case that it’s not just one thing.  It’s many different things.

  • Focus
  • Movement
  • Nature
  • Connection
  • Empathy
  • Community
  • Culture
  • Tribes

 And then there is the power of story to consider as well!

I must say, based on my experiences at these events, I have to agree.

If you want to see for yourself, attend a marathon.  And then shortly afterward, spend some time around the finish line of a trail run.  I have no doubt that you will recognize that there is something special in the air.  For the full experience, I recommend taking it all in at a trail run on a sunny day.



At this point in the conversation, try putting yourself in the maximum cushioned shoes of the guy that was cramping that day.  Now, think about all of the different factors that could have contributed.

By the way, he was tall and thin.  So, as you can imagine, there wasn’t much load to compress all of that cushioning throughout the midsole of the maximalist shoe that he was wearing.


With all of that cushion between the ground and the bottom of his foot, combined with the varying terrain below, the bones, joints and muscles throughout his foot and the entire chain were *very* slow to react.

Under normal circumstances, movement starts when the foot is driven by the ground, gravity and momentum.  But in order for all of those things to occur at the right time, in the right plane and at the right joint, the foot has to be in an environment that allows it to take in as much information as it possibly can.

In other words, on every single leg landing, all of that cushioning severely dampened any and all of the feedback that is supposed to come in through the bottom of his foot, and then up the remainder of the chain.

All of this being said, the running shoe and the feedback from the ground are not the only factors as to why he was cramping that day.

Which brings me back around to something that is being overlooked on a daily basis in many (most!) rehab settings throughout the country:  The role that the muscular system plays in all of this.


“The unity of the perceptual field…must be a unity of bodily experience.  Your perception takes place where you are and is entirely dependent on how your body is functioning.” — Alfred North Whitehead  


If he is anything like the athletes that spend time on my massage table, he has muscles that are not capable of contracting optimally.

To say it another way, there are muscles that are not receiving an adequate amount of neurological input to generate the necessary force to pull (Read: Contract) at the right time.

Believe it or not, athletes at every level need to hear this message.  (emphasis added)

Cramping is very rarely caused by a lack of hydration or even nutrition.  That is a myth. Like so many other things in the world of rehab (and prehab!),  it keeps being repeated over and over again, e.g., Stretching.

Muscles that are under-performing will cramp when they have reached the point of exhaustion.  No matter how much desire the athlete has to continue on, the muscles are responding with enough is enough.  You could also make the case that reaching the point of cramping is a good thing because they stop the athlete before they reach the point of an injury.

Speaking of injuries, John Ratey and Richard Manning also have a section dedicated to the various benefits that can come from participating in CrossFit.  They use Matt O’Tool, the head of the international sports gear manufacturer Reebok to tell the story around CrossFit.

That being said, prior to writing this post, I listened to an episode of the Mind and Body in Motion Podcast when John Ratey was the guest.  At one point in the interview, Ratey acknowledged some of the same things that were presented in the ESPN, Outside the Lines piece on CrossFit.  If you haven’t seen it, and you’re curious about CrossFit, I think it’s worth watching.

For the record, when it comes to CrossFit, I don’t have a bias.  But I do think there’s value in doing your homework on the CrossFit Box that you’re considering.

If you’re looking for a good resource to dive deeper into so many areas of health and wellness, I think you will enjoy this book.  There’s just so much valuable information packed into this book!

Just to reinforce all of the material even more, I’m considering getting the audio version to listen in the car.

There’s a section on fuel, and an entire chapter dedicated to food.  There’s also some *great* content in the chapter entitled Aware.  That chapter touches on a lot of different things.  Including meditation.

I really enjoyed the chapter entitled Bodies at Rest – Why Sleep Makes Us Better.  That chapter changed my entire perspective on sleep.  And I’ve already implemented some of what I’ve learned.

And there’s so much more that I haven’t even mentioned.

If you know anybody that you feel can benefit from this phenomenal book, please share my blog post with them.

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Affiliate links for the books that were mentioned:

To get any version of John Ratey’s book, GO WILD go here.

SPARK by John Ratey

Tribes by Seth Godin

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D.

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall 

Photo Credit: Shamma Sandals via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tenisca “Alexis Martín” via Compfight cc

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I have held a license to practice massage therapy for over 20 years. For the first 18 years of my career, I was a nationally certified personal trainer. During that time, I completed thousands of one-on-one personal training sessions. And I went on to teach biomechanics to personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and physical therapists throughout New England. I worked as a sports massage therapist at ESPN. Over the last few years, I have been quoted in Runner’s World UK, Massage Therapy & Bodywork, Massage Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, Massage & Fitness Magazine, and The Guardian Liberty Voice. I have also served as an applied biomechanics consultant for the fitness staff at Canyon Ranch, The Greenbrier, and ESPN. For the last 7 years, I've been teaching applied anatomy & kinesiology at Parker University. I have a private sports massage therapy practice in Dallas, Texas.
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