Assess Hard, Treat Soft


Assess Hard, Treat Soft

Jeremy Fein


“Assess hard, treat soft” – Dr. Perry Nickelston


To Dr. Perry, this is a quote about the amount of physical force used in manual therapy. He needs enough force to initially see how the body responds, but ultimately it’s the soft touch that drives his predictably positive outcomes.


For me–the thief of his quote–it’s about mobility. The quote represents the evolution of my training and thinking over the last 7 years.


In 2011, I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, and headed to circus school. I entered with about as much mobility as you’d expect from an Economist (okay, maybe even less…), and proceeded to have my oh-so-supportive coaches and classmates sit on my hips, press on my stubborn ankles, and try to pry open my sticky shoulders. In other words, the approach was not to “treat soft.” On the flipside, I also didn’t assess my mobility very strictly–I was willing to work hard, but I didn’t have much direction.


Why suffer without direction? I’m all for hard work, but to what end? Maybe to increase mobility, or maybe you just enjoy hard work–that’s cool too. But if you’re crying while your coach stands on your knees in the hopes of getting a split, it might be time to rethink some things.




Looking back, I think we need to flip the script. If you want to be good at splits, you’ll need to control your hips. Assess them “hard”–be strict about it. Here’s a demonstration:

The first circle I make is really big, but I’m actually moving much more than my hip. In the second, it’s a more “properly” executed Controlled Articular Rotation (from FRC–stop reading and look it up!). It shows some glaring holes, which is GOOD INFORMATION TO HAVE. The pole rep doesn’t make me feel as cool, but it tells me where to put my valuable time and energy.


The actual training can be softer, though. There is absolutely a time for intensity, but you don’t need to agonize your way through it (if you currently are, please consult a professional…). Be gentle with yourself, and find a process you can enjoy. It will be a lot easier to ask your body to find new range from a place of love. Think it sounds cheesy? Come at me.


In this next video, I’m working with my hips. I appreciate everything they do for me, and I want a lot more. These aren’t mutually exclusive. In some of these movements, I’m following the “rules,” and in some I’m not.  (sound on!)


Assess Hard, Treat Soft. Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Perry

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