How To Make Your Body Anti-Fragile
by Johnny Bouchard (CFL3, MS, LMT)
Fragile things break when put under stress. Anti-fragile things benefit from volatility and shock. Trauma makes anti-fragile things more resilient and more capable.
An excellent example of something anti-fragile is the mythical greek Hydra—the many-headed serpent who would grow two heads for everyone that got cut off.
Humans can be made anti-fragile. We are non-linear adaptive organisms, not machines. Our biology is wired to endure stressors, learn from them and improve. An example of this truism in practice is mithridatism, ingesting small amounts of poison to gain immunity. The greeks and Romans did it for decades to ward off assassination attempts. Vaccinations work the same way. We take a bit of the virus to develop immunity.
So this week, I wanted to share a few secrets to making your meat wagon (aka the musculoskeletal system) anti-fragile against injuries.
- Expose yourself to controlled and progressively more intense stressors – weights, sprints, ice baths, extreme heat, assault bikes, free diving, taking on more responsibility, a period of sleeping less, and long periods of fasting are a short list of examples of stressors that you should regularly expose yourself to gain anti-fragility.
- Learn from your errors (aka injuries) – when you suffer physical setbacks and injuries, you must detail all the circumstances and find out what the weak link was AND FIX IT. We need these failures to become anti-fragile. So don’t let injuries bum you out; learn from them and prepare against the next bout of stress.
- Tranquility = fragility – Human nature always looks for ease and less stress. It’s a biological process baked in from the days when humans had to hunt, gather, and almost died every day doing it. Now food is easy, and our most significant stressors are mental. That mental stress can make us look for tranquil environments, but unfortunately, tranquility makes the human body more fragile. Consider a trust fund kid who decided to spend their entire life in the comfort of their couch eating easy foods like Doritos and Coke: no stressors and volatility = a slow death via chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The message here is to embrace things that make you uncomfortable and will make you less fragile.
- Manage Risks – By reading this, you may think that to become anti-fragile, you must be recklessly physical. You must smash your body into walls to make your bones more resilient. That idea could not be further from the truth. While you need to be exposed to stressors and volatility, it must be controlled and risk-managed. A good ratio is that 90% of the physical stressors should be done in a planned manner (like a weight training program), and 10% of the time, you should open up the throttle and send it (aka compete). Read this, as you can’t go full send every day and expect to avoid getting injured at some point.
- Be Prepared For The Unknown and Unknowable: The Fukushima nuclear reactor was built to withstand the biggest earthquake that had ever been recorded, which was great until a more significant earthquake than ever had been recorded came along, and it imploded. We can’t predict injuries in sports. Anyone that says they can is full of ca-ca. The only thing humans can do is subject ourselves to as many controlled stressors in as many different ways as possible to create adaptations that could limit the damage from black swan events.
- Practice > Theory: My dad is a brilliant aerospace engineer and scientist at the University of Dayton Research Institute. My dad would kill us all if he was our pilot. Although he knows more about aviation theories and science than any pilot ever will, he has no practical flying skills. The same framework applies to creating anti-fragile humans. There are lots of sexy new theories and products out there to help “increase longevity and make you more resilient,” but the reality is that tried and true well, practiced methods that have been around for thousands of years will always work best. The foundation of being anti-fragile is sleep, exercise, stress management, and nutrition. If those are in line, you can tolerate more physical stressors than those who don’t take care of those things.