Our bodies are incredible.
They are mad feats of improbable engineering with bone, muscle and connective tissue working in balance to move smoothly and with accuracy.
We have pretty much the same bones as a llama, a bat or a seal. Variations the lengths, tension and kinematics mean that we move and function completely differently. That's awesome.
I've been fascinated by movement since I was a teenager. I remember being a precocious 17 year old at my university interview. I had taken a trip out to the Equine Sports Medicine Centre to look at the high speed treadmill. It's an amazing (and very expensive) bit of tech that allows a horse to gallop while being relatively stationary, so accessible for all kinds of diagnostics. My interviewer asked what I thought of it. I said it was pretty impressive but I wasn't sold on how the horse moved on it. They still offered me a place. I still don't like to assess movement on a treadmill, you don't see natural locomotion.
I'm supposed to be telling you what that title was about.
Your body is amazing, when you shift your gaze down, say to phone level, or squint to read something on your computer screen, a very funky little reflex acts to correct your centre of gravity by tilting your pelvis. You hollow your back and stick your bum out. This is automatic, try it.
Due to the relationship between the pelvis and lower leg (and a bunch of other stuff) this movement transfers downwards. Your leg muscles aren't the correct length to accommodate this shift, so you rotate your knees inwards to compensate.
That is going to throw out the balance of your foot and ankle. So you roll your ankles.
If you adopt this posture chronically, your muscles are going to start working with it. Some muscles will overtighten and shorten, some will stop working so well. You won't be able to use your glutes properly in this position, so you lats might take over to stabilise your lower back. It's not a stable or healthy position to be moving from and you might end up more prone to injuries, like ankle sprains, or back pain. Injuries mean less mobility around your joints as your body protects itself, this leads to more compensations, more injuries and a pretty uncomfortable cycle.
I'm not suggesting you stop using your phones here. So don't panic!
Hopefully you are starting to see how a small issue can lead to a cascade of dysfunctional posture or movement.
Once you have rolled your ankle a couple of times, you are likely to become prone to it and assume it is "weak". This is because during the process of healing, you will adapt the way you move, and that sticks, making your movement patterns even less healthy. And that is what I often encounter with personal training clients.
Everybody adapts in different ways. If I see a tilted pelvis, I can't say from the outset whether it's from a forward head position, weak core, or if it comes up from the feet or knees. Without investigating further I can't tell you if your "dodgy knees" are a result of your tilted pelvis, or if both are a result of your flattened feet. And I kind of love the "detective process". Our bodies tell incredible stories.
We are all a bit wonky.
Healthy "general-population" people (especially those who have lived a bit more) almost always present with an issue:
"I've got a bit of stiffness in this shoulder from an old rugby injury".
"My ankles have always been weak".
"My lower back is sore after I exercise".
Or I see it in the way they move:
Their knees turn in when they squat.
Their shoulders shrug when they reach overhead.
Their ankle rotates on a lunge.
But why are we all so wonky?
It took our bodies millions of years to become the lanky falling machines we have become, yet our lifestyles change quickly, and because humans are such delightfully weird creatures, we do really surprising things with our bodies like:
Sitting at desks for a lot of the day.
Wearing shoes, particularly those with a raised heel.
We chronically carry ourselves and move in ways that are not optimal for our anatomy, and our brains and muscles adapt to compensate for this - but not always in helpful ways.
We also do things like have babies. I have yet to meet a postnatal woman who does not carry the impact of her pregnancy somewhere in her body - even the ones who stay really fit and active through pregnancy.
Sports also have an impact. If you train for a sport you probably use a lot of sterotyped, one side movements (like a tennis swing) and training hard on one kind of movement can leave other parts of the body behind. Or you become more prone to a particular injury and board the train of the cumulative injury cycle.
I'm not really a sports person, but I see this a lot as a dancer. In fact I am presenting a workshop at the Majma Dance Festival this year where I will be working with Arabic dancers on techniques to counter the body imbalances that can occur with intensive dance practice.
Lastly, some of us were just made that way. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which makes me naturally hypermobile and poorly coordinated. When your joints are wobbly and keep dislocating, your body finds ways around that, or just moves inefficiently. I also have fibromyalgia, and like anyone with chronic pain, a tendency to avoid movement that might result in pain. When I train people with chronic pain my goal is to teach their body that movement can be safe, and build patterns of movement which make managing their condition easier.
So how do we sort this out?
Correcting unhealthy movement patterns is a process that should be addressed before pushing into any demanding programme. There are too many people who aren't being active in ways that they love, because when they try to do so, they end up injured, but it doesn't have to be that way.
The first step is a thorough assessment, which can be conducted by a Corrective Exercise Specialist or physiotherapist, to identify the overactive and underactive muscles. This is really important. There's no point doing "ankle strengthening" exercises if the cause of the weakness is poor alignment that originates from the pelvis. That's just a sticking plaster.
Then we need to look at joint movement. If a joint can't move freely, it can't move correctly, so we need to look at those spasmed and shortened muscles. The root of this is actually in your brain. We need to let your brain know that it's OK to "let go", and we do this through myofascial release and neuromuscular stretching techniques, which are designed to "hack" the systems that control the activity in the muscle groups.
Once good mobility is achieved, we can look at activating the muscles that weren't previously able to do their job properly. We are simply training the brain to start "switching them on". Then we strengthen.
Now the fun can begin. The joints are moving, the muscles are awake, but not too awake, now we can start integrating them into larger, functional movements. In other words we practice moving better.
And that's how I can take someone from a point of not being able to exercise for fear of pain or injury to someone who can love being active again.
I offer training both in-person and online, contact me here for more information.
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