Latest "Posture Improvement" Posts
Why Hips and Pelvic Placement Matter for Healthy Movement and How Pilates Exercises Can Benefit You
Are you dealing with annoying chronic aches and pains, or have you experienced an injury that seems impossible to fully recover from? Body posture and proper pelvic placement play a HUGE role in how easy (or challenging) it might be to maintain your whole-body health. Doing Pilates can be an excellent way to explore exercises to help you improve pelvic placement, enhance posture and body awareness, and put your pelvis where it belongs to help develop healthy movement habits for better functional movement.
If injured, we compensate. It’s not just the injury that’s the problem, it’s all the ways we compensated during the injury that reinforces bad body mechanics, increases wear and tear, and makes it more likely that we’ll get stuck in a pain-injury cycle. Who do you know that’s experienced the domino effect of the knee injury leading to the hip pain, leading to a low back problem? Or a shoulder injury, leading to the upper neck and back pain, then lower back and hip pain, and other related chronic aches and pains (that they might not even realize are related!). How about that fall you took as a kid when you landed hard on your tailbone. How long do you think your body has been compensating for that?
I had a new client this week who complained of a tight hamstring. She’s younger, has done lots of stretching, and just can’t get it to release. Her assumption was, “My hamstring is tight, it will always be tight, there is nothing I can do to fix it.” In less than an hour of discussing her posture, breathing, and pelvic placement, she began to realize that there are things she CAN do. The habits she’s been using to stand, sit, and move are contributing to the problem. With a better understanding of how to change your habits and get the right things working correctly, you can improve just about anything!
Another new client had a shoulder injury many years ago. Her shoulder still hurts, nobody’s been able to totally “fix” it. And in addition, she’s now plagued with hand issues and severe carpal tunnel problems. She’s had carpal tunnel surgery once already that helped for a little while, but now she thinks it’s time to do it again. Looking at her posture, it’s easy to see why her shoulders and arms hurt! And while hand surgery might help, there is no way it’s going to be a long-term solution. I’m confident that when we fix her posture issues, there will be less nerve impingement, so the notion of more surgeries can go on the back-burner as a last-ditch option (Because surgery is not really “fixing” the problems causing the nerve impingement in the first place!). But who would think that correcting pelvic placement would matter for a shoulder problem? Trust me, it does!
Here’s a question for you — Who is paying attention to your posture and pelvic placement?
When you go to your doctor and complain of a pain anywhere in your body, how often do they look at the one specific spot you’re complaining about vs. how it should be integrating with the rest of your body?
When you do therapy or rehab, are the exercises focused on the parts or the whole? Because it might not be your quad/hamstring muscle balance that is causing your knee pain but rather your foot/ankle mechanics, the ability of your thigh to rotate inward and outward, freely, how over-grippy your hip flexors are, or functional hip mechanics and pelvis placement that really need to be addressed to help your knee bend and straighten without hurting. And this is just one example… Pick a body part!
Is anybody looking at what is going on above and below what hurts and then recommending exercises to correct or adjust the things that are out of balance everywhere?
Yes, I know there might be so much to pay attention to and improve that it can be a little overwhelming at first. But would you rather focus on the pain, pop a pill, schedule and expensive surgery, or focus on finding new ways to support yourself, improve strength, flexibility, and body mechanics by changing how you use your muscles to improve body alignment and start feeling better?
If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to choose healthy habits. And sometimes that involves un-learning bad habits to replace them with better ones. Whether your aches and pains are above or below your pelvis, improving pelvic placement will improve posture, body mechanics, and help you find and use the right muscles to move without pain.
The first step to improving pelvic placement, is becoming aware of your posture habits and working to improve both posture and breathing. But muscle imbalances and old bad habits might make it challenging to stand tall. It will take movement to change muscle habits. It’s challenging to change standing still – which is why working diligently to improve balanced muscle development is so important. And this is a built-in feature of the Pilates system! When you get it right, it’s easier to move, your muscles and joints can start doing their job effectively, you will get stronger, more flexible, and quickly start to reduce or eliminate pain.
If it’s difficult for you to notice what you’re doing when you’re standing still – can you imagine what havoc is happening when you’re moving?
Possible Pelvic Placement Positions
In very un-technical terms, when you look at Pelvis Placement there are three basic positions your hips might be in:
- Tuck Butt
- Duck Butt
- Middle of the Road Butt
The Trouble with “Tuck Butt”
If your preference is to live your life in a “Tuck” butt position, here are a few ways this poor pelvis position is harming your health. First, your glutes are over-working as stabilizers. Second, this position shifts a lot of stress straight into the knees. Third, the ball of the thigh bone is jammed up into the socket – so it’s impossible to effectively get a good leg swing to the back when you walk.
“Tuck Butt” Pelvis Placement can lead to low back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and upper back, neck, and shoulder problems. With the hips in a posterior pelvic tilt, it pulls the low back out of it’s normal arch, glutes and legs are doing so much that the low abs get lazy. Because the low back tucked, the mid to upper back is likely trying to reverse its curve and arch more, making it impossible to get a deep breath into the bottom of the lungs. There is a chain reaction that goes all the way up. Because the natural curves of the spine are gone and the back is weak and out of position, the chest and upper trapezius muscles take over and pull the shoulders too far up and forward. I could go on… but I hope you get the point. If your normal posture position is to stand and sit with your butt tucked, it’s inhibiting functional movement. Sooner or later when your body can’t take it anymore, you can expect chronic aches and pains, or a more serious injury to occur.
The Difficulties of “Duck Butt”
If you’re comfort zone is a “Duck Butt” there’s a ton of stress on your low back and it’s harder to find your abs because your back wants to do all the work. Because you don’t have the support in the pelvis, chances are you live life overworking your chest, arms, and shoulders. Aside from the structural aches and pains, you might also experience digestion/bowel difficulties because all your internal organs are falling out to the front which means they’re not in position to function optimally. With a forward tilted pelvis, it is impossible to get a good leg swing to the back when you walk, so your gait will be compromised and the chain reaction of poor posture and bad pelvic placement begins…
“Duck Butt” Pelvis Placement can lead to similar low back, knee, hip, upper back, neck and shoulder pain issues but for different reasons. Because the pelvis is tilted too far forward, the lower back muscles end up on lock-down. The body weight is usually resting more on the heels with the knees locked. In trying to stand upright with the pelvis tilted forward, the shoulders will be too far back and may end up behind the hips – which throws the entire back into an arch. Instead of the three normal curves of the spine, there is one long arc (like a banana). Abdominals pooch out and the head shifts forward to counter balance the weight on the heels. Because the whole back is now inappropriately arched and the shoulder blades need a curve to rest on, the shoulders will hike up and round forward. Duck Butt pelvis placement people tend to have super-tight lower backs, usually have super tight quadriceps, and hip flexors that are working overtime. Know anybody that looks like this?
Remember I’m speaking in general terms here. Your pelvis placement might be creating other issues not mentioned above!
Here’s the deal. If your hips and pelvis aren’t living in the optimal position for movement, you will be unable to move efficiently, effectively, and without pain. Without good posture and the right muscle firing patterns it is almost impossible to maintain (or improve) your health. If you’re one of the millions of people struggling with low back pain, SI joint issues, hip, knee, or foot pain, there’s a very high probability that your posture and pelvic placement could use fine-tuning for new and better movement habits.
Sometimes the pelvis needs to be stabilized. Sometimes it needs to move into an arch, sometimes it needs to move into a c-curve or scoop. Sometimes both halves of the pelvis need to do something different at the same time (Gait and WALKING for example!)
Next couple of questions…
How are you going to improve your Pelvic Placement when you’re not sure:
- Which position the pelvis needs to be in?
- Is the pelvis supposed to be stable or mobile?
- What is MY pelvis doing and what do I need to do to fix it?
If you’ve been doing exercises that are supposed to be “good for you” but they’re not. or they hurt while you’re doing them, or you’ve been doing them for months and don’t see the improvements you’d hoped for – your pelvic placement, posture, breathing, and body mechanics might need to be adjusted to work effectively. Not everybody cues all this when they tell you to do every exercise in your workout!
When you understand the difference between tucking and scooping – and learn to scoop correctly when you need a posteriorly-tilted pelvis, you’ll have the right support to do exercises like the Pilates Roll Up.
When you understand how to tilt the pelvis forward and hinge from the hips effectively with good core support, you’re going to get big improvements in your hamstring flexibility, and significantly reduce stress on your lower back.
And when you understand how to stabilize the sacrum and mobilize each side of the pelvis independently – you’ll be well on your way to a healthier stride.
Ultimately it would be great to find, feel, and learn how to live with “Middle of the Road” butt as your neutral or functional pelvis position. Not too arched, not too tucked. There are a lot of other little details that can help you fine-tune your posture and figure out where this pelvic position is, and this is where working with a great Pilates teacher can help you figure it out.
How Can Pilates help Pelvic Placement?
I am such a huge fan of Pilates! Of course, teaching Pilates daily for the past 25 years has given me the opportunity to see how powerful it can be to connect mind, body, breathing, and movement. The Pilates equipment can help both support and assist developing new and better habits for pelvic placement. Because exercises are done lying on the back, side, belly, kneeling, standing, right-side up, and upside down, Pilates students are given the opportunity to learn how to organize the body and keep everything working well regardless of where they are in space. The spring resistance on the Reformer, Cadillac/Tower, and Chairs help the muscles learn to work and release properly, meaning that unlike lifting weights where it’s difficult in one direction and gravity does the work the other way, you must work to control the springs in both directions. Pilates Barrel exercises, especially the Pilates Arc Barrel can be fabulous for becoming more aware of pelvic placement, core support, and spine, shoulder, and hip mobility. There is so much variety with Pilates that it’s never boring, there is always something to focus on and endless variations and exercises to modify for those who are working their way out of pain or to challenge even the most highly skilled athlete.
That is why it’s a worthwhile investment to find a well-qualified Pilates teacher and take some private sessions. Having a well-trained and experienced set of eyes helping you become more aware of your good/bad habits, and helping you with specific exercises to improve pelvic placement, posture, breathing, and movement – can be worth every penny! It’s difficult sometimes to see, or feel what we’re doing on our own, and in a group class – you will miss out on some of the hands-on help you get with privates. Logically understanding what to do, and confidently knowing in your body that you can do it well takes time, practice, and a good movement mentor can help speed up the process. Exercise is designed to keep us healthy. But if your Pelvis isn’t in a good position to start with, it will be impossible to activate and strengthen the right muscles to keep you moving well – regardless of the exercise!
Are you ready to improve health and eliminate pain? It might be time to start paying more attention to your posture and pelvic placement.
Take the Centerworks Posture Quiz and become more aware of your current posture habits.
I mentioned that gait and walking is an important activity that requires good pelvic placement and functional movement habits to get optimal benefits from. If you’re interested putting Pilates principles to work when you walk, (whether you’ve ever taken a Pilates lesson or not…) check out my Pilates-Walk book. It’s a simple system of tips, techniques, and exercises to break down the complicated aspects of improving gait to help improve your stride.
Another one of my favorite places to focus on pelvic placement is with the Pilates Arc Barrel. If you have an Arc Barrel at home, there are lots of great exercises you can do not only for your hips and pelvis, but to help your whole-body. Get yourself a Pilates Arc Barrel, then grab a copy of my book, A Barrel of Fun! Pilates Arc Barrel Workout and start practicing better pelvic placement to improve how you move, help enhance posture and help eliminate pain.
Do you have Kyphosis?
It’s a fairly common back problem. In fact, there are more than 3 million cases of Kyphosis in the US per year. What is Kyphosis? It’s commonly known as having a “hunchback.” Kyphosis is an excessive outward curvature of the upper back and is most common in older women, often is related to osteoporosis. But it’s not just a women’s problem, men can have Kyphosis too. Some people experience back pain, neck pain, and stiffness. Kyphosis is a body posture that can become disfiguring. Sadly, with the increased number of hours that we’re sitting in front of our computers and ducking our heads forward to look at our cell phones, everyone is at a higher risk for developing Kyphosis with our poor posture habits! And just because you have Kyphosis, doesn’t mean you’ve got osteoporosis. There are different ways you can treat Kyphosis including, pain meds, physical therapy, back braces, exercise, and surgery.
How can Pilates help Kyphosis? Dramatically! First of all, Kyphosis is mostly a postural problem. Yes, there might be underlying medical issues or a genetic predisposition to carry yourself with a hunchback. But ultimately it’s about body alignment and developing better muscle function to help you stand taller and be straighter. Exercise is crucial to develop better body alignment.
Pilates is one of the best physical activities on the planet to help eliminate hunchbacked, Kyphotic posture. Why? Because there is so much emphasis in a Pilates workout on moving the spine. By bending forward, backwards, sideways, and twisting the muscles of the torso in both the front and the back, the spine is getting stretched and strengthened in ways designed to help lift and lengthen it for better posture.
When the body is bent forward in Kyphosis, the upper back can become both over-stretched and weak while the chest muscles end up being too tight and strong. Added to this is the fact that 98% of what we do in life is in front of us – we’re ALL at risk for developing Kyphosis.
To begin re-balancing the upper body, the chest muscles need to be stretched and the upper back, arms and shoulders needs to be strengthened. Getting stronger with the hips, pelvic floor, and low core will also provide an anchor of support to help lift the spine into a taller position.
Why is Pilates a great way to help kyphosis? So many Pilates exercises are done flat on the back – and lying on your back can be a great way to let gravity start opening the chest and straightening out the spine. In the weight room, most exercises are done with a flat back. But staying flat isn’t going to give you the best benefits for improving Kyphosis – it’s the movement of the spine that will help elongate the muscles and re-align the spine. Every Pilates exercise is a combination of work and release. And Pilates exercises focus on both stability and movement. This is key in alleviating back pain and improving Kyphosis.
If you think the Pilates Roll up is making your Kyphosis worse, you’re wrong. Rolling UP on this exercise is strengthening your low center and stretching your back. Rolling DOWN is helping to strengthen both the abs and the back. As you lay each segment of your back on the mat one-by-one, you are helping to reinforce taller posture! This is just one example of a spine flexion exercise from Pilates. (And every exercise that bends the body forward and returns the body tall is helping you get the back muscles working more effectively.) It’s all about sequential, segmental, articulation of the spine. If your upper back is stuck like a chunk the segments cannot move freely. Pilates is designed to help free up the body for better movement.
The Pilates prep exercise “FLIGHT” is a great way to open the chest by strengthening the upper back. If you don’t lift too much with your head and low back, you can begin to activate the middle-upper back muscles which is where the hump is. To do this effectively, the bones and muscles in the back almost need to relax first to fall closer to the breastbone (going from a hunched position, passing through a flat spine, to then begin lifting the back into arch.) In learning how to do this on Flight, the motion can transfer to all the other Pilates back extension exercises like the Swan, Single Leg Kick, the lift up in Open Leg Rocker, Pulling Straps, the T, Down Stretch, Kneeling Knees Arched, Back bend over the Barrel. There are so many great Pilates exercises that focus on back extension!
Side bending and Twisting exercises are the other two ranges of movement that are needed to help improve posture and reduce the exaggerated curve of Kyphosis. And both side bending and twisting exercises are excellent ways to begin mobilizing the mid to upper back for better posture to reduce the excessive outward curvature of Kyphosis. But as with any exercise, it might be challenging to get the parts of the back that really need to be moving to do the work to twist and side bend for maximum benefit.
There are many ways these concepts and exercises can be incorporated into a Pilates workout. For side bending exercises there’s the Mermaid on the Mat, with the Chair, on the Reformer, with the push-thru bar, over the Arc Barrel, Side bend on the Short Box, Side bending on the Ladder Barrel, Arm Waves on the Arc Barrel, Kneeling Side Legs, and more…In particular, emphasizing the upper back doing the side bending, rather than just side bending from the waist will be most effective for mobilizing the upper back to improve posture and reduce the unnatural curve of a Kyphosis.
And finally, twisting exercises. In my opinion, twisting exercises are one of THE best ways to free up the spine! If you think about getting water out of a wet washcloth you twist it, and then fold it. To help improve mobility through the upper back, you can apply this concept for similar results. There are lots of great twisting exercises in the Pilates repertoire. Saw and seated twist in Matwork; Short box twist (and variations); Stomach Massage Twist; Saw with the Push Through bar; Spiral Twist with the Arc Barrel; Seated Twist and Teaser Twist on the Chair.
This is not an exclusive list of ALL the Pilates exercises that will benefit your back if you have Kyphosis. But an example of some of the exercises that might be included in your Pilates workouts to help improve your posture if you have Kyphosis, as well as to help keep your back in great shape to avoid getting Kyphosis.
There isn’t one exercise that you must to do to help Kyphosis. But a better understanding that you can improve posture and re-educate your muscles to reduce problems caused by Kyphosisis important. When you improve strength, flexibility, and body support it is possible to improve your alignment and alleviate the aches and pains. Pilates can be a valuable part of your exercise program to help improve posture and reduce the severity of Kyphosis and its associated aches and pains.
Johns Hopkins Medicine has a nice article in their health library that goes into more details about kyphosis, the different types of kyphosis, and different treatment options. It’s interesting to note that postural kyphosis is the most common type and can improve with exercise!
You don’t have to live with a hunchback. By improving your posture with Pilates, you can stand taller, undo the bad habits that have you bent over, and keep your spine moving in a more normal and natural way.
Get started improving your healthy movement habits by paying attention to your posture! Discover more about your current posture habits. Take the Centerworks Posture Quiz
Have you ever wondered if doing Pilates can make you taller? It’s an interesting question… Can Pilates make you taller? We assume that we hit that growth spurt in our youth and then at some point the tables turn and we seem to start getting shorter. You go to the doctor for a checkup one day to discover that you’re not as tall as you used to be! Poor posture, as well as gravity, have somehow stolen a quarter of an inch or more from what we once thought of as our “adult” height. And for most of us, we just assume that this is the natural order of things, and that as we age, not only do we decline in health, but we decline in height. Did you ever stop to think that there might be something you can do about it?
It’s a great question: Can Pilates Make You Taller? The Answer is: YES
I gained a quarter of an inch during my first Pilates Teacher-Training workshop! And, I have clients who regularly tell me that they went in for a check up and are taller since they started Pilates. A few of these folks gained up to three-quarters of an inch!
Is it some weird adult growth-spurt? Not quite… So what’s happening to help make participants who practice Pilates get taller? Is it the magic of the method? Something in the water at the studio? A revelation from working out on the Reformer? Perhaps some of this might factor in… but there are 3 key principles that are cornerstone philosophies of the Pilates Method that contribute to helping Pilates students get taller.
Three Pilates Concepts to Help Make You Taller:
- Balanced Muscle Development
How can Pilates Breathing make you taller? Well it’s an interesting concept that should be the way you breathe all the time, not just during a Pilates workout. Learning Pilates posterior-lateral breathing techniques can help you more efficiently improve lung capacity, get more oxygen into your system to nourish your cells and, most importantly, assist in the compression/decompression of the spine that helps reduce back pain and makes you taller. Strengthening your diaphragm and lungs with better Pilates breathing habits also helps improve core support. Every exercise you do has a breath pattern connected to it that makes the exercise easier to execute. Getting a grip on good breathing improves efficiency not only for breathing but also for movement.
Posture problems can wreak huge havoc on your height! And for the most part nobody realizes how big a contributor poor posture and bad movement habits are to chronic pain, stress, and strain. If any small part of the body is out of balance, the entire body is out of balance. Over time, we try to adapt as best we can – until we can’t… and an injury occurs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny part of your body (like your big toe) or something bigger and farther up the chain (like your low back, shoulder, or neck). Posture problems can create life-altering issues not only for your height (which is no big deal really), but the repetitive stress, chronic aches and pains, and injuries caused by poor posture are what can keep you from enjoying a healthy active life.
The Pilates Method is a system. There are specific exercises, done in a specific order with specialized equipment that is spring-tensioned and designed to work just like your muscles do. One of the biggest benefits of using Pilates equipment is that it gets you out of a weight-bearing position (i.e. that crappy posture position that you’re stuck in) and helps you learn how to re-organize your muscles for more efficient and effective movement. With both the resistance and assistance of the springs on the Pilates Reformer, Cadillac, and Chairs, you can start to re-train your body. By discovering your strengths, weaknesses, and muscle imbalances with the exercises on the Pilates equipment and working to improve your strength and flexibility, your body will get longer and stronger. As you improve, these new muscle habits transfer off the Pilates equipment and back into your everyday life. Pilates Matwork (which is the other half of the Pilates system) is designed to really test this, since there is no equipment for the Pilates Mat exercises, you must use your muscles to work against gravity, reinforcing what you’ve learned with the benefit of the Pilates equipment. By using the Pilates System (both equipment AND Matwork) you can quickly start to experience the benefits of getting taller that Pilates can help you achieve.
Balanced Muscle Development is the result of a well-designed Pilates training program. We all have dominant and weaker muscles. If you’re right or left-handed, by default you’re stronger on one-side of your body. If you play sports, your athletic endeavors may create a wider-gap between your strengths and your weaknesses. If you’re a mom and always have a kid perched on one hip while you’re moving through your day – mommy life is could be creating some imbalances in your body. If you’re a dentist or surgeon – you might always be on the same side of your patient. If you’re a hairdresser or play baseball, how overused is one arm and shoulder? Do you play golf, tennis, or bowl – all of these are somewhat lop-sided sports.
Pilates is one of the best athletic endeavors to help counter-act the imbalances that life puts into our bodies. By improving body awareness and focusing on posture and breathing during Pilates training sessions you get the benefits of working the whole body to improve whole-body health. When breathing, posture, and body alignment are all working together, the result is balanced muscle development. A body in-balance can move easily and effortlessly. With room to move and space to breathe, the spine will be lifted, separating the joints and giving you not only the appearance of being taller, but I bet you’ll be able to see a measurable difference the next time you decide to check your height. It might be only a few millimeters, a quarter-of an inch, or more, but Pilates can be a great way to help make you taller.
Take the Centerworks® Quick Posture Quiz – and start discovering what you can do to stand taller. Start improving your health with the power of better posture.
How is your upper back mobility? Is it easy to arch, bend, and twist your spine? Or, do you feel kind of stiff, sore, and tight?
Ever wonder why it’s a challenge to improve how you move for a healthy spine and pain-free arms and shoulders?
Are your Pecs on overdrive? Do your Anterior Deltoids do too much work? Are Your Lats on Lock-down? Do tend to hold up the weight of the world with your shoulders? Are your low abs pooching out more than pulling up, back, and in? Do you tend to get grippy with your Hip Flexors, or do way too much with your Glutes?
Heck, in the one quick paragraph above, I’ve given you at least 7 reasons why your upper back mobility might be compromised and why your neck and shoulders might be giving you grief when you’re exercising. Or maybe you aren’t exercising because they hurt!
You might not even realize that the bad habits you’ve been using are creating the posture problems you’ve developed. Perhaps you’re thinking, “but I used to be able to _________________ (fill in the blank),” “and then one day my (upper back, neck shoulder, arm, elbow, hand, hip, knee, foot) started hurting. I have no idea what I did to injure myself?”
Or maybe you DO remember the moment that your poor posture and bad functional movement habits caught up with you and your body reached the tipping point of no return and said, “I can’t take it anymore!” And poof… pain or injury occurred. You might not have realized that it was a lifetime of bad body mechanics that’s landed you in the state you’re feeling yourself in now.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting weights, lifting children, or pulling straps in Pilates, if the balance of work and release for proper muscle support and free range of movement is not quite right, sooner or later the wear and tear is going to get you.
Proactive is always better than reactive. But sadly, its usually not until we hurt that we start looking around trying to figure out how to feel better and get our life back. A part of this includes taking responsibility, becoming aware of good and bad habits, listening to the body better to ensure that the new and improved muscle habits you’re working on are actually moving you towards better health.
One of the perks of Pilates is that we’re not just working on strength with the spine in a stable position, like you should be doing in the weight room. But instead, there’s a focus on improving spine mobility. Not just upper back mobility, but improving both support and mobility through the entire spine – to flex the body forward, arch and extend the spine back, side bend, and rotate the back segmentally and sequentially. Sometimes this is done independently without the arms involved, but more often exercises involve multi-tasking where the back is moving in conjunction with the arms and shoulders moving too!
Here Are My Top 7 Training Tips To Help You Get Started on Better Upper Back Mobility:
- Improve Your Standing and Seated Posture Habits
- Improve Your Pilates Posterio-Lateral Breathing Habits
- Improve Pelvic Floor and LOW Core Support
- Work to Release the Pecs and Strengthen the Serratus
- Find and Use the Lower Trapezius to Actively Pull the Shoulder Blades Down
- Wake up the Posterior Deltoid and Activate the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock arm position.
- Let the Lats go (so the spine and ribcage can swing freely from under the arms)
All of this involves teaching the spine, ribcage, shoulder blades, and arms how to work independently of each other and with each other effectively depending on the action and the movement needed from the body.
Globally, these are the seven big concepts that can transform your body for better upper back mobility. There is not a quick fix, but changes can happen quickly once you’re aware of what’s needed and can start feeling and finding the changes happening as you work at it.
There are a million little nit-picky pieces to each of these seven concepts that can provide you with lots and lots of valuable things to pay attention to not only during your workouts, but throughout the day, at work, at home, and when you’re exercising.
The best place to start is Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/ Low Core. Without these three KEY components in place, getting the rest of the upper body to play nice and work right is going to be an impossible challenge.
But get confident with Posture, Breathing and finding/using your both your Pelvic Floor and Low Core, and this will take a huge chunk of stress out of your neck, arms, and shoulders (not to mention the positive health benefits to your feet, knees, hips, and back!). I’ve seen the positive results of following these strategies repeatedly with my clients who’ve come thru my door complaining of shoulder pain problems.
Once you’ve got a grip on the three key concepts of Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/Low Core, it gets easier to tackle the focus and fine-tuning needed to get the final 4 concepts that really matter for strong, flexible pain-free shoulders and better upper back mobility.
I know, you started reading this looking for the one magic “exercise.” Well, there isn’t one! It’s everything you do in life, done as efficiently and effectively as possible by maintaining good posture habits while you find and use the right muscles to move. Re-educating your body for better body mechanics will help you more easily improve not only upper back mobility, but strength and mobility for your whole body.
It can be overwhelming to think about all seven of these key training tips happening at once, so take it a step at a time. Keep in mind that it’s a process…and it will be easier to practice the exercises needed to make lasting improvements for better upper back mobility and eliminate arm and shoulder pain once you’ve got more awareness of body alignment, breathing and better support.
There is never going to ever be one be-all, end-all exercise that’s the magic pill because there are a lot of moving parts and pieces to the upper body and shoulder girdle that need to integrate and work as a team. And the one exercise that makes the most sense to you, might not be the one that helps the next guy figure out the same thing… But on every exercise incorporating good posture, breathing, and body mechanics will give you the opportunity to improve strength and mobility for better health.
If you are weaker in your “low center” chances are you’re using “high center” to support AND move. How well does your car function when it’s high centered? Guess what, your body doesn’t work too well high centered either. Are you ready for a change?
Get the concepts first, and the right exercises will follow. I’ve got a few favorites to help improve upper back mobility that I’ll share in future posts. If you want an action step to get started, take the Centerworks Posture Quiz and see what you discover about your current posture habits. It just might reveal some interesting clues you never knew were compromising your whole-body health and restricting your upper back mobility. You don’t have to live with a stiff back and painful arms and shoulders (or chronic aches and pains anywhere). Once you start improving your body posture and movement habits, it becomes easier to let go of stress where you don’t need it, and find support where you do.
Take the Centerworks quick Posture Quiz Today!
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Shoulder Tension, Stress, & Shivering
Have you ever thought about relationship being cold has on the amount of shoulder tension and neck stress you’re holding onto in your body?
If you’re in a colder climate do you seem to feel worse in the Winter, and not-so-bad in warmer months? Are you one who usually blames the stress of the Holidays for your neck and shoulder pain? Lack of sunshine might not be the only reason your body is feeling more tight and achy than usual.
This year it has seemed quite a bit chillier here in Kansas, and maybe that’s why I’ve noticed how the winter weather is effecting shoulder tension. It seems a lot of my clients are catching on to the connection too. The body’s natural reflex response when cold is to shiver. These little micro, muscle contractions are designed to create heat and energy to keep us warm, maintain our internal body temperature. These micro, muscle contractsion are a great reminder that hypothermia might be where we’re headed if we don’t do something soon to warm up. However, in the process, we end up creating lots of internal shoulder tension we might not be taking the time to clear out of our system.
Think about it; If you just sit in your chair reading this and “pretend” your cold, how does your body react? Do you slouch more, trying to curl up in a fetal position? Did you draw your shoulders up and forward around your ears? Did you head drop even farther forward off your neck? Did you slump into the pelvis and collapse the ribs and back? Did you start shivering a bit while you were “pretending” to be cold?
Here’s the thing… If this is what happens when you’re “pretending” for only a minute, how long are you hanging out in this awkward poor posture position throughout the day? Or, for days on end? But what if we hang on to this awkward, poor posture position throughout the cold winter months? Aren’t we just reinforcing bad body alignment and creating chronic neck pain and shoulder tension?
Awareness is the first step in taming winter neck and shoulder tension. Pay attention to your posture, because there’s a very good change that YOUR posture habits are creating the problem!
Is it possible to just never be cold so you don’t shiver? Probably not. But knowing that the posture you put yourself in while shivering is wreaking havoc on your health, means that taking the time to bundle up to stay warm when you’re outside is important, and taking a little extra time to “undo” the effects of shivering will do your body worlds of good to help keep your neck and shoulders happy and stress-free through the winter while we await warmer months.
Have you taken my quick Posture Quiz? Improve body awareness for better posture to help get those shoulders down away from your ears. For more low center support (and fitness for whole-body health) get a copy of the e-book The Pulse-Power Daily Dozen – 10 minute Workout. The Pulse-Power Daily Dozen exercises are easy-to-learn, and great for a warm-up, cool-down, or as a stand-alone quick whole-body conditioning program to deepen your mind-body connection and help you get more from your core to help keep your shoulders away from your ears to reduce shoulder tension.
Do you have good posture, or poor posture habits? How fine is your spine? Do you stand and sit tall with everything in line? Or do aches and pains cause you to be out of line?
Practice ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, good abdominal support, with well-balanced natural curves of the spine. Keep your shoulders relaxed with a long tall neck…and BREATHE!
Your office chair, your couch, the seat in your car… at the dining room table, sitting in a pew at church – anywhere you are stay consciously aware of YOU, your body, how you sit, stand, and move. Your posture habits will either set you up for good health or injury! Pay attention and practice good posture for better whole-body health.
Take the Centerworks® quick Posture Quiz Now…
Good Posture, something we know we really should work on, but seemingly insignificant to pay attention to until our body hurts. Why isn’t it possible to just have perfect posture? Because maintaining good posture takes effort. We have to maintain balanced muscle development to support our bones and our bodies for better body alignment. Without using our muscles to fight gravity, gravity will win every single second of the day! You have to think and stay conscious of your posture and movement habits to maintain good posture.
Moving with grace and ease should not just be reserved for dancers. Every BODY can thrive, stand tall, and enjoy effortless movement when good posture and balanced body development is focused on for during every exercise and activity throughout your day.
*** Take this quick Posture Quiz and see where you rate for Good Posture.
Good posture is not important for posture’s sake but is necessary to maintain good working order for our joints, muscles, and vital organs. By becoming aware of our daily life habits and what our posture habits are like to stand, sit, and move, we have the opportunity to fine-tune our form and improve function.
Good posture habits involve the use of our muscles to fight gravity to stand tall, breathe deeply, and move with grace and ease! We need SPACE to move – Joint space to bend our limbs, run, jump, and be active. And inside – organ space for our heart, lungs, digestive system and other vital organs to function optimally.
Whether you’re 5 or 95, by paying attention to your posture you can ensure that you’re developing the right balance of strength and flexibility to “stand tall” and maintain excellent whole-body health.
Take the Quick Posture Quiz now and find out how your current posture rates, and discover simple training tips to keep you standing tall.
Everybody knows that posture is important, but we don’t always know what we need to do to improve things.
Continue Reading ‘Natural Posture is Key to Improving Whole-Body Health
According to the American Chiropractic Association a staggering one-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year!
Back pain is one of the most common reasons to miss a day of work, and in most cases the cause of the pain is mechanical – meaning poor posture, muscle imbalances, strength, flexibility, and faulty bio-mechanics are the reason we hurt.
In the US $50 billion, or more, is estimated to be spent on back pain! And experts believe that 80% of people will experience a back problem at some point in their life.
Manipulations, massage, acupuncture, pain pills, back braces, shots, and surgery all have their place and can be utilized to alleviate pain or manage chronic back problems. But if you were given the choice to invest your hard earned dollars in something that provides only temporary relief for back pain, or instead invest in gaining the knowledge, strength, flexibility, and fitness to manage your own health to enjoy a pain-free and active life without pills or potential surgery, which would you choose?
It seems that most people these days are looking for a “quick-fix.” In today’s fast-paced world, nobody wants to stop, yet back pain is the number one reason for a missed day of work. And how easy is it to just ignore the pain and continue on? What’s your mood like? How do your eating habits change when you hurt? How much sleep are you able to get every night? How is this affecting your relationships? How about your “fun” or recreational activities? What becomes your #1 focus in life? Is it feeling and dealing with back pain? How many hours, minutes, and seconds is your brain saying – “ I wish my back didn’t hurt.” “I’ll do anything to stop this pain.” How much money and time are you willing to invest in solving the problem and getting the pain to go away for good?
This past June I met Rosie, she commented that she’d injured her back during an exercise class in April and had been afraid to exercise ever since. It hurt to stand, sit, walk, and move. She thought she’d just wait, rest, and hope that it got better, but almost 3 months later things still weren’t resolving… She didn’t think it was a big enough deal to go to the doctor, and sooner or later it would be fine Well when we hurt do we want to feel better sooner, or later?
Usually it’s the desire for sooner, which is why a pain pill, shot, or surgery seems like a good option. I believe that a contributing factor to chronic pain and problems, is because we are patiently waiting for “later” and in the process, create so many compensation habits for movement, that we actually contribute to keeping our bodies in pain.
I’m all for a great manipulation. Chiropractors, Osteopathic Physicians, and even a great massage therapist or body worker can do us a lot of good to relive stress, and help balance and re-align the body, but what are YOU doing to keep the right muscles strong, and joints flexible to maintain great posture, muscle balance, and good bio-mechanics for functional movement?
You can get some pretty amazing results quickly for better body support with the right exercises, knowledge, and expertise. And of course putting these new and improved posture and movement habits into practice during your daily life activities as well as during your workouts will ensure that back pain becomes a far, distant memory, rather than something you have to deal with everyday.
Our bodies were designed to move. There is nothing that makes a body feel better than physical activity. Do you realize that the human body has approximately 206 bones in our skeleton. That’s a lot of levers to hinge, bend, and articulate for healthy movement. The muscles that are attached to these bones contract and release which is what supports the body for good posture, and what moves the body to walk, run, sit, stand…everything we do.
There are approximately 650 muscles in the human body. An exact number is difficult to pinpoint, as some muscles are not always present, and some sources group muscles differently. But regardless, that’s a lot of parts and pieces to keep in balance and control for good health.
If you think about it… if even one small bone is out of alignment in your foot (there are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments in each foot) it will affect not only the proper muscle action at the foot, but will create compensation patterns for every other muscle group in your entire system. It’s possible that your back pain may be directly related to a problem all the way down at the bottom of your foot! How often do you take the time to specifically do exercises to keep the muscles of your ankles, arches and toes working to keep your feet fit?
And our feet are just a small portion of the body that needs to be in balance. Our muscles work in opposition to each other. If we are in pain, the brain says, “stop using this muscle, it hurts.” But still needing to get around, go to work, make it through the day, we find other muscles (that shouldn’t really be doing the work) to get the job done. Use these incorrect muscles a couple of times, or for a week or longer, and the brain re-sets, accepting these new (wrong muscles) as the ones to always recruit and use for whatever the task is you need to accomplish.
So the “wrong” muscles get stronger, and stronger. And the muscles that really should be working for us get weaker, and weaker. Can you see how this can be a contributing factor to poor posture, bad body mechanics, and back pain?
Remember Rosie, who’d spent the past three months with excruciating back pain? Well after a quick posture assessment to identify how her standing posture habits were affecting / contributing to the problems, and learning how to find a few key muscle groups she hadn’t been using, within fifteen minutes, she came up to me and said, “You are amazing, my back already feels better!”
Becoming more aware of the muscle support we need standing still is critical to getting the right muscles to work when we move. This introduction to better body mechanics and good posture helped Rosie realize how much SHE could be doing to be proactive and a part of the solution to help alleviate her back pain. When I spoke to her a month later, she still had zero back pain, but also realized that she had to work on improving her fitness, and needed to develop an at-home exercise program, (for her feet, legs, hips, core, and well every single part and piece of her body,) to improve her whole-body health and ensure that she would not have future problems with back pain. Getting started and investing in herself for this was a no-brainer, because she’d already experienced how much of a difference becoming “intentional” with her posture habits had helped improve her health.
If you’re experiencing back pain, here are five critical questions to consider:
- How important is maintaining your good health?
- How is your back pain limiting what you want to do in life?
- What is it costing you today to deal with the frustration of living with back pain?
(lost work hours, lost sleep, weight gain/loss, other health problems,
medications, medical expenses, other issues)
- What are the long-term costs and expenses of living a life in pain?
- How much time and energy are you committed and willing to invest in you?
Taking the initiative to improve posture, body alignment, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and functional movement habits with the right exercises and a training program can be a priceless investment in your long-term, pain-free, whole-body health.
Take the first step… towards reducing back pain and enjoying better health. Become more aware of your current posture habits with this quick Posture Self-Assessment Quiz