Ten Minutes With Joseph Antoine Alston
A professional movement specialist with a unique exercise prescription
Photo by Christina Rahr Lane
Joseph Antoine Alston, owner of the new CORx fitness studio in Great Barrington, offers this prescription: “First move well, then move often.” Measured, confident, and with great passion, he defines fitness as the body’s ability to distribute oxygen through itself while under stress or load. Inside the bright, airy space that Alston views as a lab for incubating wellness in individuals, there are a myriad of exercise conventions, but what makes him unique is what he has to offer: an exercise prescription.
What is an exercise prescription?
A combination of different movements and modalities created for an individual to specifically deal with his/her underlying weaknesses; this inevitably increases blood flow and oxygen to the areas of the body which have not been functioning properly and works to alleviate myriad conditions, from sciatica, shin splints, and plantar fascitis to chronic fatigue, acne, and erectile dysfunction.
How are fitness routines now missing their mark?
It is important to move well before moving often. More than 80 percent of individuals who join traditional fitness centers or attend group classes end up moving often before they learn to move well. Over time, engaging in asymmetrical or dysfunctional movement patterns will actually lead to the breaking down of the body. In the end, the exact thing they were trying to avoid is what they find faster: injury, pain, and defeat.
What can you suggest to people in their daily lives to live in greater harmony with their bodies?
Integration, not isolation, is the key. Therefore, movement, in the absence of practical application and function, can actually be harmful. Learning how to perform a basic fitness move correctly, like a squat for instance, suddenly makes myriad daily activities more functional, from bending down to picking up a child, to carrying a load of firewood, or checking on something baking in the oven.
How do you envision exercise prescriptions intervening on aging and disease?
Disease occurs where the body has dissected from a normal movement pattern. The body, like any other structure requiring a solid foundation, will break down in the presence of asymmetries. Therefore, physical, not chronological, aging can be interrupted by continually addressing these asymmetries as they present themselves.
Where did you come from to reach this point in your professional life?
One basic belief has shaped my philosophy on life thus far: An individual has to know dysfunction in order to understand function. Much of my early life was built on dysfunction. I was born in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to parents who, both under the age of 16, were children themselves. My younger brother and I were raised by a single mother until I came to the Berkshires to be raised by my grandparents in the tiny village of Housatonic. We were the only black family in our neighborhood, and the quickest way for me to get into relationships with other kids was through my athleticism.
On the playground and ballfield, it became clear that I was pretty good at moving. With no older siblings, I realized I had to get strong quickly as there was no one looking out for me. So I took the path of exercise. I soon got into weightlifting, which led to martial arts. I had a short stint as a semi-professional football player, and then I opened my first gym. The fact that I had grown up as a minority who was bullied left me eager to empower others. Once I figured it out for myself, I wanted to help others to get strong both physically and mentally and achieve some of the same success I had found.
How about younger children and older folks, what can they do to keep themselves more physically and mentally fit?
Individuals at all ages need to listen to their bodies. An elementary-school child, who feels uncomfortable while sitting criss-cross applesauce, for instance, should advocate for a more neutral position that feels good to her. An elderly person first needs to understand the difference between chronological aging, which cannot be stopped, and physical aging—the accumulation of asymmetries in the body—which by addressing one dysfunction at a time, can not only be combated, but also stopped and reversed.
Who are your clients?
They range from infants with sensory-integration issues and children suffering from muscle-skeletal deficiencies to highly aspiring athletes and senior citizens looking to stay independent.
What is your biggest challenge?
Getting an individual to realize how much control he actually has in changing his physical situation. I want to be seen as a facilitator who helps individuals understand how to identify and then integrate what I teach them into their lives.
What does the terrarium on your desk communicate about your fitness philosophy?
It’s an excellent metaphor for the human body. If the baseline is maintained, there is very little required to keep it perfect. Conversely, if it becomes unbalanced, something must be done to return the environment to its baseline. The simplicity of the terrarium speaks for itself. It is truly functional.