Reprogramming The Body

The purpose of my last post was to draw attention to the ever growing problems that often result from poor ergonomics. The repetitive and, often, inactive physical nature of our daily routines is taking a toll. Sitting at desks all day, standing in a fixed position on hard surfaces, or repetitively lifting and lowering objects for hours are just a few of many examples common in our modern society. Recent research describes sitting as ‘the new smoking’ owing to the harm that it can do the body. Not mentioning the many problems that inactivity causes psychologically and with the cardiovascular system, sitting plays havoc on our hips and lower back. Prolonged standing, common amongst teachers, can lead to neck, back, hip, knee, and feet issues. Repetitive lifting can lead to severe lower back issues, especially if flexion with axial rotation (bending and rotating simultaneously) are involved. Our daily routines are setting off the warning signals in our bodies and we are, in large part, ignoring them. If corrections are not made at the warning stage, the result can be the progression of the problem leading to pain. This is the point when people tend to seek out professional help.

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As a society, we are becoming less proactive and more reactionary in our approach to health. We wait until we feel pain to do something about it. We wake up one day with back pain and then we go to the doctor for relief. We wait to see a dentist until after we develop a toothache. We drink water only after we become thirsty. We become overweight/obese and then decide on a diet. A broad reactionary approach to health is a poor idea.
The oil needs to be changed in our cars before the oil light comes on or the engine seizes up. We fill the gas tank before running out of gas. Why are we so proactive with our automobiles, but not with our bodies? One reason is that our cars simply will not run without oil and gas. On the other hand, the human body will find a way to keep us moving, even at our own detriment. When discussing this topic, I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

As stated in the previous post, non-athletes need to train like athletes. Athletes, with the help of their coaches, evaluate what they need for their sport. If speed is what is required, they train for speed. If strength is what they need, they train for strength. They dissect their sport and their findings dictate their training modality. For those who sit behind a desk, stand at an operating table for hours, sit in a cockpit, stand in front of a classroom for 8hrs, etc., we need to dissect our jobs and train our bodies for the requirements. Each job presents several physical obstacles, which lead to limitations, which lead to compensations and can eventually lead to pain. We should train with the mindset of reprogramming our bodies to move better. (It should be stated that, in the process of dysfunctional movement patterns, pain is usually the last thing come and first thing to leave. It is usually preceded by tightness and/or limited range of motion. More times than not, the activity that you are performing when you first notice the pain is likely not the cause of the pain. It’s just the proverbial “last straw”.) Dr. Perry Nickelston says it best when he says: “Pain is your body screaming out for change.”
Mike Boyle and Gray Cook coined the phrase, ‘Joint by Joint Approach’. This was discussed in the previous post. To quickly recap, the human body is designed in an alternating pattern of mobile and stable joints. If this pattern is disrupted, dysfunction is likely to occur and often times is followed by pain. If the hips, which are typically mobile joints, tighten up and are limited in rotation in any way, the joints above and/or below, the knee and lumbar spine (low back), are likely to take on the mobile characteristics. As a result, the low back and knees, which are typically stable joints, are likely to destabilize. This dysfunction can lead to pain in joints and muscles when they are forced to perform jobs that they are not designed to perform. This is the reason that when you go see a quality chiropractor, they will listen to where you are experiencing pain, but then begin to check above and/or below the area. They could easily attack the area of discomfort and give some immediate relief. But if they don’t actually locate and treat the source of the problem, the cascade of events will likely be repeated. Cervical (neck) issues for golfers can sometimes be traced to limited ankle mobility. When musculoskeletal pain is experienced, often the location of the pain is not the location of the problem.

man slouching at desk

How to plan your attack
As previously stated, we need to train with the same mentality of an athlete. We need to understand what areas of the body our job/school/activities effect and then begin the reprogramming of our bodies. Think of your body like a computer. If you save a bad program to your computer, it is unlikely that you will ever get anything other than bad information from this program. Your body is being programmed everyday by what you do and the positions you put it in. You are saving some bad patterns. An example of this would be if your job requires you to sit for most of the day, hours at a time, just staring and typing on a keyboard. Your hips, shoulders, neck, and upper back are going to suffer the most. Your shoulders will likely be in a rounded position and this will promote a forward neck position, as seen in the picture above. Your chest muscles will be in a shortened state causing them to become tight. This will likely become your posture outside of work at some point because most of us spend more time working than anything else. Hip flexors will also shorten and this can lead to dysfunctional movement which may cause low back pain. We are spending a great deal of time saving poor patterns due to the nature of our jobs.
Take a moment and evaluate what your job requires of you physically. Is sitting at a desk and typing at a computer a good description of your job? For an increasing number of people, this is an accurate description of their job. To combat this, we need to do exercises that help us reprogram our bodies. This might entail holding the shoulders back and down, and your chest up. This can be accomplished by doing some pulling exercises such as deadlifts, seated rows, bent over rows, face pulls, etc. All of these exercises incorporate muscles in the back, such as the latissimus dorsi (lats), posterior deltoids (delts), trapezius (traps), rhomboids, teres groups, etc. These are the muscles that are key for good posture. One common problem amongst people who exercise is performing exercises primarily to enhance the front of the body. This is all well and good, but these muscles pull us forward and we don’t, as a whole, need any help with a forward position. We need to spend more time pulling in the gym so that we can balance the tug-a-war between our front and back. Below are some examples of loaded pulling exercises.
T-bar rows

Deadlift

Single leg deadlift

Loading the body is very important. However, if the body cannot move properly, then mobility is more important. In order to load the body safely, there are two criteria: mobility and stability. If the body is not stable, it makes it very difficult to load. If the body cannot move in its natural planes of motion, then mobility supersedes all else. The example of watching babies learn to move was given by Gray Cook and is probably the best example. Babies can barely hold their head up before they begin to roll over. Their patella (knee cap) is not developed before they begin to try and stand. Even though they don’t have stability, they have an innate desire to move. Mobility is the most important ability because without it we would be stuck where we are. Below are some mobility and activation exercises that can be very useful.

Rock back reach backs

Arch & flattens

Cat & camels

Bridges

Hip flexor stretch

Prone shoulder mobility

Obviously this is not all the mobility exercises that one can do to improve the mobility of their body. These are a great starting point. There are many other techniques and exercises that can be utilized as well.
It is also worth noting that sometimes our bodies are tight for a reason. If someone were to injure their low back and it began to spasm, the best thing to do is to have a doctor (ortho, chiro, etc.) examine you. It would not be a great idea to stretch your way out of an injury. You are tight for a reason. Your body is trying to protect itself from you. Understanding your body and the way it moves can go a long way toward a better quality of life.

Move as intended: be strong, be fast, be quick, be balanced, be flexible and be able to do these things on command. Don’t be afraid to face your weaknesses. A discovered weakness is just an opportunity for growth. Growth is your opportunity to be better. The opposite of being great is not being bad, but settling for being good.

Jeremy Crowe, MS, CSCS

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