Bring Back Biomechanics
Pain is not meant to be part of training! Sadly it’s becoming the norm for most people in a gym to have chronic pains or ongoing injuries, and although a lot of it is the mentality of believing that “it is a part of working out”, as much of the problem stems from negligence of movement quality. What’s worse is that trainers have physical pains themselves, and instead of figuring them out, trainers are not changing their exercise routines or looking at how to do things differently to alleviate and solve their imbalances. So we have the blind leading the blind. However, there is hope. Healthy training that improves posture, embodiment, and functional application in daily tasks is a matter of learning to do something new and unlearning doing something the old way. If you can develop a liking to this approach you will resolve several of the body’s ongoing stressors and begin to move with ease, balance, and strength.
Most training injuries occur because of bad biomechanics. The disconnection of mind from body during exercise leads to repeated stress on a joint, muscular imbalances or inhibitions, and dormant muscles not doing their job. And since the human being approaches all movement via the path of least resistance, you can bet that your nervous system will direct your body to move in the way that it likes best. Eventually throwing our bodies into a discourse of compensatory patterns, joint restrictions, and poor inefficient movement habits. Over time repetitive exercises done with lack of versatility turns even the most mentally-determined people into unstable and incapable movers.
The Duck Foot Squatter: A Case Example
An example I like is the duck feet in a squat. I’m all for squatting; barbell, kettlebell, bodyweight- I don’t have issues with squats. I do however see problems arise when people stop diversifying their squatting technique and not emphasizing the hip hinge. Without a hip hinge the squat falls victim of another movement that contributes to joint pain and muscle shortness. I’m not saying squatting with feet turned out needs to be abolished from your movement (because afterall, I encourage variety). But by not addressing the issue of why you cannot do it with straight feet sheds light on a slew of other restrictions you may have upstream of your ankle. The duck foot in a squat tells me a couple of things about somebody’s body: one, their tailbone is curling under so much that it is gluing their femurs to their sitz bones. Their femurs are probably so laterally rotated that medial rotation may not be able to happen. Two, ankle dorsiflexion is being overlooked, so all the weight is being absorbed by the IT band and adductors (instead of the quads, hams or glutes). Three, with the tailbone scooped so far under, and the knees splaying so far apart, I can guarantee that this athlete’s diaphragmatic breathing is thrown out of commission, minimizing the elasticity response potential of their muscular system.
So having made all these claims, one may think, “what sort of dogma is this? How can you prove any of this?” And all I can suggest is to meet with me or anybody else knowledgeable enough about human movement to feel the difference. When I have a client I make it my job to perturb their system and expose their muscular limitations not for pride, but to give them a sense of where their body is in space. I want people to have a visceral image or what their body is letting them do, and not letting them do. Today I want to share some ways I go about re-balancing tissue to optimize one’s biomechanics of human movement. The goal is to educate people on how to still progress while keeping their fitness injury-free.
First- understand your spinal integrity and understand where your spine is. Spend 5-10 minutes a day doing legs up wall breathing to get an understanding of where your lumbar curve is relative to your pelvic cavity. Figure out if you need to work on creating a lumbar arch (so you’re more of a posterior tilter) or figure out if you’re the opposite (anterior tilter) and need to learn to settle that arch down with deep abdominal breathing. Either way, this exercise will show you a way of finding a more neutral position. Spinal integrity and understanding where your spine and hips are will be a foundation in improving tissue length and strength.
Second- power doesn’t come from strength, power comes from movement. Strength develops as a byproduct of movement that is done on a deeper conscious level with control and effort. To fix muscle imbalances and improve joint health you’ve got to engage correct muscle systems to create the motion. Adopt the thought process of less is more. Do fewer reps, much more slowly and with a neutral spinal position. Use your conscious mind to bring the unconscious muscles into the subconscious movement. You can still have a cardio and aerobic workout, but you don’t want to do movements that drive your inefficient movement pattern deeper. Slow down when working.
Thirdly- spend more time doing integrative flexibility work. This can be self-myofascial release work or getting bodywork to rehydrate and re-balance your tissues. You need to understand the process of breathing and relaxing your entire nervous system and fasical system. Without relaxation, you will constantly have tissue tension that weighs you down and bounds you up. Work with your practitioner to develop a restorative exercise regimen that you can do each day to re-integrate your body’s functioning and get things working so that you can feel the change in your body’s positioning.
Lastly- stop overdoing repetitive movements that do not fit in accordance to your biological characteristics and daily activity. If you sit at a computer all day or drive in a car, why are you going to train 90% of your exercises in the sagittal plane? At the end of the day, somebody who spends 5-8 hours a day in a sedentary position needs to diversify their program with multi-planar training exercises. The goal needs to be, how can you exercise in a way that leaves you standing taller without any sort of inflammatory response on your joints? It may not be what you’re used to, but dammit- your body is going to appreciate you prioritizing tissue health over what exercises you like to do.
I want everyone to succeed in getting the bodies they want, feeling capable of doing whatever sort of activity their heart desires! But if we plan on growing old in this world and keeping our bodies healthy, we’ve got to partake in a sustainable exercise program and prioritize that over everything else. If you’re a competitor training for an event, this mindset may be different. But even the highest-level athletes understand the importance of the steps I listed above.
A sustainable body is an attainable body if you’re willing to work for it. For me that means keeping the bounce in my step, and the functioning of all my joint and muscle systems. It means working in all planes of motion (because we live in a three-dimensional world), using movements that carry-over to improved posture, and understanding length-tension relationships throughout my body. Stop going into auto-pilot mode when you’re exercising and meet with a coach who can show you how to achieve vitality and full-body involvement when you workout.