“The Human Performance Mechanic” Explains Why Exercise Is Sometimes The Best Medicine
NEW YORK — Health is a year-round issue.
Nick Rolnick, also known as “The Human Performance Mechanic,” says exercise does more than improve our looks. It also reduces stress and anxiety, and helps prevent some illnesses.
The former college baseball star found his passion for physical therapy and his clients are grateful he did.
Rolnick shares his fitness philosophy with Zenger.
Zenger: How did you go from baseball player, to gaining interest in the science and fitness of the human body?
Rolnick: I’ve always had a love for health and fitness, particularly working out, since I wrestled in high school and played baseball in college. It really wasn’t until I graduated college that I found my calling. That was through my mom on Craigslist. I partied a lot and did my thing. I never had the grades to go to graduate school at that time, and I didn’t have direction.
She found something on Craigslist, and it was an aid at a PT clinic. I saw how a caring physical therapist could shape the lives of their patients. It was something I could see myself doing. The rest is history. After getting my master’s degree, I went to Columbia for my DPT, doctorate in physical therapy. Fitness has always been important to me, keeping active. Now, being able to help people stay active when they’re injured is probably the most rewarding part of my day.
Zenger: Do you deal with professional athletes, everyday people or both?
Rolnick: I don’t deal with a tremendous amount of athletes, but I do deal with the everyday person looking to get back to playing tennis, running and working out. I love the idea of balance. Pain is the ultimate enemy. I view the body as a perfect machine — a machine programmed to coordinate many moving parts to work in unison. That allows the body to be in a state of balance. Unfortunately, our body can’t recognize an imbalance when it happens, so my job is to scan the human body through my knowledge of physiology and anatomy and find out what’s causing that imbalance.
The most obvious imbalance is pain. But it also can be feelings of stress, anxiety or overuse. That’s why I call myself “The Human Performance Mechanic.” I try to treat the body as a whole and not actually treat the site of the symptom. Programming exercises can keep a body in balance.
Zenger: Where did “The Human Performance Mechanic” come from?
Rolnick: My dad would be smiling right now. My dad labels himself as “The Marketing Lunatic.” He has been instrumental in translating my science-focused brain into messaging the general population can understand. We had numerous discussions years ago about my philosophy, but the underlying premise is looking at the body like a mechanic. That’s something that can be easily grasped. I have to credit my dad for helping shape that. My dad is also part of my other business: Blood Flow Restriction Training. It’s using lighter weights to gain the same effects as heavy strength training.
Zenger: How important is the use of science to you?
Rolnick: It ultimately comes back to being relatable. In my experience, when I first starting working, you’re almost exploding to offload all your science knowledge to your patients. But what I’ve learned through teaching other practitioners — chiropractors, athletic trainers — and working with my patients, it’s really important to break it down into manageable pieces, using strategies, analogies or visual representation.
There is this push to escape some of the science talk, but I think that’s misguided. What’s really needed is to be able to bring the science to the person you working with. We have an obesity and overweight epidemic in the United States. Certainly, that’s been accelerated by COVID-19. Science helps communicate, in a simple manner, why an exercise routine and behavior changes matter.
Zenger: Tell me about your thought process for your “Antidote for Anxiety.”
Rolnick: Anxiety is a multi-factorial issue. It’s not going to be solved purely with one type of approach. But if you look through the same lens that I view the human body — then a system in balance is in balance, spiritually, physically, intellectually. When I’m working with people who have additional stress, exercise has a positive benefit on managing stress levels. My job as the “Human Performance Mechanic” is to provide evidence-based strategies for my clients and patients to get them back to the activities they love, as quickly as possible.
If you look at the body of evidence, exercise is something that can benefit numerous types of conditions. Exercise is the medicine. That same philosophy is translated to those clients that have additional stress in their lives. It’s not going to replace some of the medical management, which is necessary in some cases. But judging from experience and research, there is evidence to show that exercise can provide meaningful change.
Zenger: Could you give us more information on “Blood Flow Restriction Training?”
Rolnick: Have you ever heard of the “SNL” skit “Hans & Franz?”
Rolnick: Basically, that was born out of the 1970s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was all about the muscle pump. That muscle pump, where you’re exercising strenuously, has blood fill the muscle. Some people say it’s almost euphoric. That pumping sensation, when you experience that, is actually a physical signal that there is something going on inside of the muscle that provides a positive benefit in your system.
“Blood Flow Restriction” is just a way to harness that same type of pump effect. But instead of using traditional moderate-to-heavy strength training, we can actually leverage that with light load-strength training. You go about 20 percent to 30 percent of your one repetition maximum. Weights that you can do 45 to 60 times — but are very light. “BFR” can be used as a potent tool to create a muscle pump, because we like to chase the pump.
You put a cuff on your proximal part of your arm or leg, then we selectively reduce the amount of blood flow going to that extremity. We use specific tools or technology that can safely restrict that blood flow. Then we exercise with very light loads. We replicate that pump with people that for whatever reason, can’t lift heavy. As a physical therapist, I’m dealing with people that may be injured or load-compromised and unable to strength train.
“BFR” allows me to bio-hack the system and give them the same benefits as if they were lifting heavy.
For additional information, Rolnick’s website is www.thehpmny.com and his Instagram is: thehpm