By Tony Holler
I met Douglas Heel ten months ago. I’ve now listened to Douglas Heel speak for over 100 hours.
Douglas Heel is a surfer from Cape Town. Last month when Mick Fanning punched his way out of a shark attack, I couldn’t help thinking of Douglas. I could picture Douglas doing the same. Douglas Heel is fearless.
Douglas Heel exudes a bouncy enthusiasm and an unshakable confidence. His confidence is never I’m right, and you are wrong. In matter of fact, Douglas is as carefree as he is confident. At his last Chicago seminar, Heel said, “Don’t worry about being right. As soon as you are right, you stop learning. I have techniques, not answers. My journey is just beginning.”
Confidence comes not from being right but from not fearing to be wrong. -Peter T. McIntyre
I’ve written seven articles about “Be-Activated.” I’ve recently introduced myself as the biographer of Douglas Heel. Ha.
- Hamstrings, Activation, and Speed
- Speed Never Sleeps
- You Only Know What You Know
- 3 Reasons Why Activation is a Game Changer
- Don’t Implode, Explode (Be-Activated)
- Seeking the Truth
- Focus on the Result
If you are reading this, odds are you have read one of the above articles. If not, you have some catching up to do.
Let me sum it all up. All movement should originate from zone-one (diaphragm, psoas, and glutes). Breathing is central to life. Movement is central to life. No one doubts the fundamental importance of breathing and movement to the human experience.
The diaphragm, psoas, and glute form the nucleus of the human body. Movement, correctly done, must initiate from the psoas that partners with the diaphragm. The glute is the reciprocal muscle of the psoas.
Practitioners of Activation will tell you, most people live their lives with zone-one dysfunction. Activation corrects dysfunction. I can do zone-one activation on an athlete in less than ten minutes. Activated athletes are injury-free, confident, and perform at a high level. Athletes love activation.
If you want to hear a physician’s summary of Be-Activated, see the synopsis written by Dr. Tom Nelson, Activate and Dominate. By the way, the athlete pictured in Dr. Nelson’s PDF is Julian Love, one of the best football players in the country. Julian is an activation-guy and has committed to play at Notre Dame.
You can read all the above and still not understand Activation. You must experience it.
One more thing, Activation is a manual therapy; no drugs, no technology. No tools are necessary. No certification is required. Activation causes short-lived pain, but people come back for more. The mechanism is not as important as the result … and the results are amazing. If you are skeptical, good for you.
The people who change the world aren’t the people who ask the questions, but those who question the answers. — Ann Brown
Douglas Heel works from outside of the system. Douglas sees “the system” in a negative way. Too many surgeries and too many pharmaceuticals dominate the medical world. Douglas Heel questions the answers.
For twelve years, Douglas Heel has been on a world tour. He teaches everywhere. I went to Douglas Heel looking for ways to keep my athletes injury-free. I’ve learned so much more.
At the IHSA State Track Meet last May, over 100 athletes were activated before their competition. Edwardsville had five athletes activated and later won the team championship. Hinsdale Central’s state championship cross country team were students of Activation. Nazareth won the IHSA 6A Football Championship with a total commitment to Activation. Chris Korfist coached an activated Elmhurst York team to the track state championship in 2014. Coaches from eleven states attended last summer’s Holler-Korfist Speed Activation Consortium.
On June 18 and 19, I attended my 4th Be-Activated Seminar. Four days later, I drove Douglas from the north side of Chicago to the house of Chris Korfist. When Doug comes to Chicago, he stays with Dr. Eric Janota or Chris Korfist. With late afternoon traffic, the trip took us two hours. We talked the entire time. When we got to Burr Ridge, Chris took us to Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, once featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. After dinner, I finally got the chance to try the new tape-recorder app on my iPhone. My first-ever interview lasted over an hour. Douglas kicked back on the couch comfortably answered every question.
Tell me about your background, college, and work experience.
I spent six years as a college student at the University of Cape Town. I spent my first two years as a physio (physical therapist) in the UK. The money was better there. Then I had to come back home because my dad had cancer. I’ve never left.
Were you disillusioned as a young physio?
At that point, I didn’t care because I was newly qualified. I was unimpressed. I was totally unimpressed. I was enthusiastic, and I was good at getting people motivated to get up and move. It was entirely about motivation.
When did you go from unimpressed to totally disillusioned?
I started looking for more answers. I studied a bit of acupuncture. I took all these different courses and tried different things. I’d think, there you go, this might be it. These are the type of people I teach these days. These are people who are sick and tired of all these things that they’ve been taught.
Since the age of 15, I’ve always been interested in the mind and the subconscious mind. It was all about understanding more about myself and understanding other people.
The physiology didn’t match what I was seeing and the stories I was hearing. I’ve always been a story person.
I believed in the human spirit and the possibility for change, but tools we had been given were pitiful, terrible.
When I eventually got into the field of Kinesiology, I was like, wow, this is going to be it! There was some wonderful, amazing stuff in there. But then I started asking questions, and they went, “This is how it’s done, stop asking questions.” They didn’t know the answers. Maybe the guys who put it together knew the answers but they are both dead now. People are carrying the torch, but I don’t think they get it. Kinesiology has been around 70 years, and it still has no major reach anywhere in the world. It is quite set. But, there were some tools there that opened my mind to other things.
I was a kid searching for answers.
How did you discover what you teach now?
I don’t think anyone discovers anything. Everything is an ongoing process. Is the 1-2-3 exclusively mine? Yes. Muscle testing? No. Physios and kinesiologists do muscle testing. They do it in different ways for different reasons. Muscle testing is not new.
Nothing you do is truly yours. There is a book I am reading called “Borrowing Brilliance.”
What I was teaching 12 years ago and what I teach now is totally different. When I started, I was teaching a technique-based system. It’s now evolved into a philosophy that has techniques. The techniques are just tools. It’s the philosophy that makes it way more powerful.
There are only a few people out there talking about the importance of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Nobody is talking about what you don’t know, you don’t know within your neural system.
There are two feelings in this world, love, and fear. Love is an expanded state and fear is a collapsing state.
This may be a dumb question, but why do people have such a positive response to “Be-Activated”?
Because it’s the right thing for the body. It’s not a dumb question; it’s an important question. When you do the right thing for the body, the body will respond immediately.
Is “Be-Activated” trademarked?
Yes, trademarked in South Africa.
So you are the creator of “Be-Activated”?
I am, yes, apparently so.
Even though many things you do have been around for a long time?
Do you have an estimate how many people are practitioners of “Be-Activated”?
We have probably trained 4,000 people around the world.
The first American who discovered you was Dan Fichter, correct? He attended a seminar in London five years ago? (Dan Fichter is a friend of Chris Korfist and the head football coach at Irondequoit H.S. in New York.)
So, it is true that you work less than four months a year?
You probably shouldn’t say that in the article. You should just say, “Doug spends a lot of time surfing.”
Where do you teach?
Taipei, Jakarta, London, all over the UK, Chicago, South Africa, Spain, Denmark, Montreal, Australia (Melbourne, Sidney, Brisbane), Dubai, and India.
I’ve done private work in Ireland, Scotland, and Germany.
So you have only one paid employee?
How about your competition? Are there turf wars between practitioners of ART (Active Release Therapy), MAT (Manual Activation Techniques), TPT (TriggerPoint Performance Therapy), and NRT (Natural Reset Therapy)?
For them, there may be turf wars. I don’t give a shit.
At the end of the day, people need to find what works for them. If someone is doing a good job, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they’re doing. If you are getting good results, keep doing what you are doing; I don’t care what you call it.
But that’s why it’s so important that we are results-driven. The thing is, we measure ourselves; we are getting feedback. Are we successful or not? And maybe that’s the weakness in many of the systems. They plug you into the system and forget to check along the way to see just how effective they are.
In the Chicago Be-Activated Seminar (July 18-19), we had two high school students, a fireman, personal trainers, osteopaths, chiropractors, physical therapists, and an engineer. However, coaches usually make up the majority of your U.S. audience, correct?
How about Be-Activated Seminars in other countries?
Physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and personal trainers make up the majority of my audience in other countries.
There’s no such thing as being certified in Be-Activated, correct?
No, you attend a seminar and you get a certificate for the 18-20 hours you spend with us.
To “certify” we would have to have a system of checks and balances, little boxes you would have to check off to show you know what you are doing.
It goes back to how I teach it. Don’t get too caught up in doing it perfect as long as you are doing it. I’d rather have people doing activations somewhat right than to have someone do activations perfectly and actually being a dumb-ass. Their technique is right, but their environment is wrong.
They are focused on the mechanism not the result, the process and not the content?
Exactly. And maybe that’s a differentiating point. I’ve been offered that option to “certify.” What if someone has not done the course, and they are doing a vaguely good job, well, good for them. The bigger goal is to reach people.
I’m not saying this is the answer, I am saying it’s an answer, but it’s a very different answer.
I’ve heard that ART and MAT charge over $10,000 for certification.
Yes, good for them. Wonderful.
When someone can take your seminar for a relatively low cost, MAT and ART probably don’t like that?
Yes, but that’s not my problem. That’s the wonderful thing. I’m not competing with them. They might be in competition with me, and that’s OK. It’s not about them. It’s not about being better than anybody; it’s about how many people we can help.
It’s interesting to me that many people attending seminars are “certified” in other areas. They come to you wanting more tools in their toolbox.
Yep. But at the start of the seminar, they don’t know what they don’t know. They actually don’t know what they are here for actually.
I don’t teach with the same slides (no PowerPoint), and I don’t say the same things. There’s a hell of a lot more going on in the background. The principles are the same, but the teaching evolves. Chris Korfist has probably attended 12 seminars, and he will tell you, they are never the same.
Which goes back to the certification idea. If this course were for certification, you would have to teach from a script, standardize the test, and teach to the test … everything that’s wrong with education in America.
Yep, certification would require standardization, everything taught in the same way. The course would become hoop-jumping and passing exams.
At the end of the day, we all know certified people who are useless. They have the paper, but it makes no difference in their attempt to help people.
As a teacher, I’ve always argued against standardization. If everyone is teaching the same PowerPoint from the same script, nothing is evolving.
And I think that’s an incredibly important point. When I was teaching 12 years ago, I was teaching much different than today. It’s constantly changing. So have we got the answers? No, no, no. We have an answer that seems to work incredibly well and maybe seems to be a more effective answer. Maybe in a year’s time we will have even better things.
Don’t be so caught up in being right, because the minute you think you are right, you stop learning. You also have to defend your position if you’re right. I stick my stake and say, “this is the way!” Now someone can come and say, “Ahh, let me show you how you are wrong.” Now you have a fight. Now I’m distracted, and I’ve stopped learning.
It’s too easy to get caught up in righteousness. I don’t need to show anyone this is right. They either feel it or they don’t. If they feel it and love it, they will come back and they will send you people. We don’t want to market on anything else.
We’ve seen enough magic and miracles. I’ve heard many game-changing or life-changing stories told by people working with clients that don’t fit the current thinking in reality. And the question is, why not? Aren’t we meant to be quite amazing and incredible beings? If we are that clever and so evolved, shouldn’t our ability to heal and change be profoundly quick?
If I can shut down and go into trauma in a split second, shouldn’t I be able to let go of that trauma in a split second? And the medical system replies, “No, it will take five years of counseling and drugs.” It’s bullshit.
The mechanisms are there, we just have to do the right things to uncover it. And really, what we are doing is revealing the human spirit. The ability is underneath all these layers of collapse and implosion.
How many athletes have you seen that have more in them? How frustrating when you work, and you work, and you get nothing. And not with everyone, sometimes you work with someone and poof, it works.
I guarantee with every breakthrough you’ve ever had with an athlete, it began with an incident where you contracted with them. You’ve made a conscious or unconscious agreement that you’d work together, and they felt safe. You moved beyond the bullshit with that athlete. No matter what tools we use, our goals are the same.
Why do some people hurt when they get activated, and some people are tickled?
Both are defensive patterns. Both are responses to keep people away from vulnerability. Both are the same response, just manifested differently. Kids tend to be tickled. Adults tend to hurt.
So what is Activation?
You are looking for things that break down the body. Sometimes they are internal, sometimes they are external. What distracts you? Your body goes weak, and now it’s vulnerable; it’s lost its resilience. It’s not a body philosophy, but it is a body philosophy. It’s a life philosophy.
Your 1-2-3 concept is a body concept where movement is initiated in zone-one (diaphragm, psoas, and glutes) and radiates outward. Couldn’t the same internal to external concept be applied to athletes in a more figurative way? In my experience, the Holy Grail of coaching is to nurture intrinsic motivation.
Absolutely! The outside can encourage, nurture, and support, but it can’t be a pressure driving in. Pressure causes implosion.
This is also true in business. If you make the client the most important thing in your business, then you are screwed. Then you will sacrifice everything in your business to meet the client’s need. You will no longer look after the needs of your employees first. Then you are soft in the center. The center is you. If you haven’t taken care of you, you may have the greatest product in the world but you are too damn exhausted to sell it.
So many businesses get caught up in what you can’t control. I like to refer to the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen Covey. The first habit is be proactive not reactive. What you have is your outer circle, everything in your world. Then you have the inner circle, the things under your control, and at the center is you. When you focus on the outer circle, your inner circle gets smaller and smaller. When your inner circle implodes, you get crushed. You feel weak, helpless, overwhelmed, blah blah blah.
I recently spoke with doctors who had been taken over by a corporation. If it’s all about the corporate and the client, then you lose sight of your staff, and you lose sight of the individual as the staff. The staff stands alone and unsupported. In the end, the very people you are trying to help the most, the client, has a bad experience and will go somewhere else.
Bringing this back to athletes, you must get athletes to control the inside of the inner circle. Where do you start? Breathing. The principal is always to come from the inside out, just like movement must begin in zone-one (diaphragm, psoas, glutes).
I’ve attended four of your seminars in the past ten months. I see “Be-Activated” being beneficial in three ways:
- Correction, restoration, and injury prevention
- Performance enhancement: feeling lighter, running faster, jumping higher
- Mental clarity, awareness, focus, and living in the parasympathetic state.
Would you agree?
If someone comes to you with back pain, they are looking for correction and restoration, correct?
Well not exactly. Sometimes it’s something else creating the pain in the back. If we jump in too quickly, we may miss the point. We focus in too quickly. It’s the medical concept of matching signs with symptoms. It’s what every medical student is taught. Symptoms are what the patient tells you; it’s their story. Signs are how the testing relates to the systems. What the person is saying and what their body is doing must fit, it must make sense.
Pain and performance are linear. Pain and performance are on the same line. Pain is at one end of the line; performance is at the other. In the middle, you may be pain-free but not performing well.
Pain is a part of dysfunction.
Why do some people get hot and sweaty during activation?
It’s an autonomic release of stored up energy.
Here is the question that every coach wants to know about Activation. How long does it last? For example, I worked with an athlete this morning who had zero for a psoas. In eight seconds, he was as strong as anyone I’ve ever tested. If I had tested him an hour later, would he still be strong?
It depends. How well did you educate? How well did the body integrate what you did? If you are just pressing buttons with no empowerment of your client, it’s hanging by a piece of string. I’ve worked with people who come back five years later, “Check me, my life has changed!” They have never activated again. They were kick-started and everything changed. If someone walks back into the environment that triggers the problem, they will shut down. If an athlete goes back to a training system that locks up the core, they will shut down. If you want activation to last longer, you must get their involvement and their buy-in. I always give my clients a couple important activations, giving them the chance of staying activated and feeling the difference.
It’s been rumored that you have worked with some high-profile professional athletes. One NBA player was rumored to have scored 30 points playing against LeBron James after being activated by Douglas Heel the day before. Can we name names?
No. Let’s just say, hypothetically, there was an athlete who had something going on with his left shoulder that nobody had picked up before. He also had a vision deficit where his entire left field of vision was shutting down. He had developed strategies to deal with this. However, his cheat patterns put stresses and pressures on the body that resulted in repeated injuries. Injuries are the result of stresses and pressures. Remember, as you move away from implosion and pain, you move towards performance.
If you went to a professional football, basketball, or baseball team, you would be worth a ton of money, right?
If someone would hire you, you would improve performance?
Injury prevention and injury rehabilitation would improve?
Yep. You can mention that I spent a week with the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
(FACT CHECK: In 2007 the Dolphins went 1-15. In 2008, they went 11-5. Injury-prone Ronnie Brown played in only seven games in 2007 but returned in 2008 to play in every game scoring a career-high ten touchdowns.)
Tell me about your experience with the Dolphins. You weren’t working with every player were you?
No, I was working with about 20 guys. In the afternoons, I trained the athletic trainers. I worked with them for one week.
Did the trainers continue “Be-Activated” after you left?
Yes, that was the point.
How did a guy from Cape Town wind up with the Miami Dolphins?
I was working with a well-known politician who was a friend of Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga set something up. I went the next day to meet with the training staff. What was going to be a 30-minute meeting ended up being a 3-hour training session. During that session, I worked with Ronnie Brown, who was trying to recover from knee surgery. Brown was in the middle of a 5-year, 35-milllion dollar contract. After 20 minutes of Activation, he felt great. I knew I’d be offered a contract.
Working with professional teams is not my favorite work. It’s not about sharing; it’s about gaining a competitive advantage. I like sharing. I have a care-less attitude towards professional sports. The money is not going to drive me
As soon as you sign with someone, you would be in the system, right?
That’s exactly it. As soon as you’re in the system, you answer to someone else. There’s a very different energy that comes from working outside the system.
I have a chiropractor friend who believes coaches should never have their hands on a kid. As a chiropractor, he has a “license.” What would you say to him?
Everything is permission-based. Coaches need to make sure the kids are OK. The coach cannot force a kid in anything, period. If coaches need to get written permission from parents, do that.
Here’s the thing. There are many people inside the system who have the “qualifications”, and they are dangerous.
This is not a fight. This is not saying that we are right, and you are wrong. At the end of the day, the coach wants to help the kid be the best they can be.
I see this as a pyramid. The people at the top are people like Dr. Janota, Dr. Nelson, Chris Korfist, and myself. The next level includes your physical therapists, chiropractors, and people who have solid understanding of activation. The next level is coaches and trainers who show activation to athletes and help them to feel activation and to self-activate. The athletes make up the base of the pyramid.
You might start off showing activation, but your job is empowerment. You start by showing what is possible; it’s the athlete’s job to keep it there.
How do you feel about Nazareth Academy’s football state championship?
What mustn’t be lost in the Naz story is their record of keeping kids safe. Staying safe is more important than the victory.
(Fact check: In all five playoff games, Nazareth dressed 52 of their 53-man roster. 46 of their 53 players played in all 14 games. While winning all 14 games, Nazareth’s varsity football team suffered only one concussion.)
As you are saying that, I’m thinking that safe has other meanings. You are referring to safe from injury. I was impressed with was the confidence that Naz showed due to Activation. They played fast because they felt safe.
There you go. Safe is everything. They learned to trust themselves. Confidence is the result of the parasympathetic state.
Confidence does not happen in a survival state.
Feeling doesn’t happen in a survival state.
Trust doesn’t happen in a state of fear.
Survival is not a state of performance.
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