In order to achieve optimal muscle balance and body biomechanics all exercise positions should be looked at through the lense of proper postural alignment. Today Friday Fit Tip? Embrace Your Curves! Work with the natural curvature and inclinations of the spine and your muscles will be more effective and more balanced. Optimal muscle activation and whole body balance prevents chronic pain and injury.
As a Pilates specialist with a focus on muscle balance and postural health it has been interesting over the years to see what many people’s interpretation of good posture is. Many people think that good posture means having a straight spine. When in fact, the spine it is meant to be made up of gentle and equal curves. If you were looking at yourself from the side what your ideally want to see is this: head over shoulders, shoulders over chest, chest over hips, hips over knees, knees straight and centred over the whole foot. The line that forms through the centre of these structures is referred to as the Plumb Line. Within this architectural framework you want to see an “S” like curve of the spine stemming from the pelvis up to the base of the skull. When movement is introduced into the picture this static guideline becomes challenging. Think of it as base station however, the place you are aiming to begin from, and return to between reps. Within the exercise repetitions themselves your positioning should be inspired by this alignment and by the natural movements of the spine. Do this and your body will work in a more optimal way.
This has gotten lost in translation in a lot of ways in the fitness industry. Take for example your basic abdominal crunch: where are you looking when you do this? The ceiling? A lot of people do! What you want to try to do is follow the natural curvature of the spine. Meaning that in your crunch as you flex the spine to come up of the ground your neck should flex as well. When you look at the ceiling what you are in fact doing is the reverse: extending the neck while your thoracic vertebrae (ribcage) are rounding to create the abdominal movement. Think of equal and matching movements in the spine at all times. Try looking at your knees instead of the ceiling without letting your chin chin push forward in space. A good guideline for this is the image of holding an egg between the chin and chest. You don’t want to let the egg go as you crunch but you also don’t want to break it!
This simple change in positioning takes the work from your upper trapezius and neck extensors (muscle groups that shouldn’t be involved at all) and allows the deep neck flexors to engage. This is also an important tip for people who spend a lot of time on a computer! The “computer slouch” causes your head to push forward in space, forcing your upper traps and neck extensors to over work. This offsets the balance of strength in the neck forcing the neck flexors into a constantly elongated and weakened state. By thinking about your spine’s positioning in your fitness routine you are ensuring that the right muscles do the work. Check out this Ted Talk. I like the way Angelo Poli physically demonstrates the way the body tries to correct postural issues by compounding postural problems. He exercises he gives however are only effective if you know how to maintain good alignment while doing them (as with any exercise).