Usually when we want to change a habit we go through a process in which we have to examine ourselves from head to toe and figure out where to start. When it comes to fixing posture, sometimes the problem we need to fix is from head to toe. The five most common postural deviations are over-pronation, anterior pelvic tilt, excessive thoracic kyphosis, internally rotated shoulders, and excessive thoracic kyphosis. From a postural standpoint, a person with these deviations is marked by a concave appearance. Their shoulders are noticeably rolled-in and their hips tilt forwards. In the battle against gravity these folks look as if they are getting pushed from behind. If we don’t do anything to alter our skeleton, we should be allowed to stand tall from the moment we first learn to walk throughout adulthood. Whether it is our more casual attitude we have adopted or interruption from modern technology, many more of us are “slouching,” these days. This has long term negative effects on our musculo-skeletal health.
Excessive thoracic kyphosis is marked by a rounded upper back and a forward head position. A person with ETK,will also have a rib cage that has dipped forward. We will see a rise in the scapula because it is attached to the rib cage. With this rise, the shoulders blades tilt forward and collapse on the head of the humerus. This pushes the arms in to an internally rotated position. Internally rotated arms make getting you hands overhead a real problem. A lot of times what we will see is that a person tries to compensate for this structural restriction by arching their back more. If someone does this enough, then they will alter the position of their pelvis and create an anterior tilt. The anterior tilt of the pelvis will shove back the femur into the acetabulum of the hip and internally rotate the legs. This could ultimately flatten out and abduct the feet. With all this being said, we still have people wanting to move very dynamically.
There are more people who suffer chronic pain and exhibit movement dysfunctions than ever before. Yet, at the same time we are spending more than 265 billion dollars a year to treat these pains, we are seeing more and more gyms pop up around the country. The answer isn’t just to move more, it is to move better and smarter. In the same way that we wouldn’t try to drive a car with a flat tire accross the country, we shouldn’t just pick and chose exercises to do for absolutely no reason. Exercise should require more prescription. In today’s world we see more people who are “falling” forward. Our goal for those us in fitness industry should be to get those folks to “stand up,” again.
The latest trends in fitness are towards very dynamic and explosive type workouts. Whether this is due to the obesity epidemic or the simple fact that people are in a hurry and need quick, effective workouts those of us in the fitness industry need to honor preferences and need with caution and well thought out programs. There really isn’t a “best” style of exercising but if we are talking about curing obesity and being efficient with time Olympic weight-lifting may prove to offer the most bang for the buck. From a metabolic stance, there isn’t a style of training that can create a thermogenic effect the way that full-body Olympic type exercises such as snatches and cleans can. In addition, try loading a bar up to 70 percent your maximal loads and do more then 6 reps in three minutes and tell me that it doesn’t have a huge cardio-respiratory effect as well. Kinesiologist’s around the world would all agree that there can’t too many other activites that would combine so many positive elements of physiology such as co-ordination, power, flexibility and balance. The other great thing about Olympic movements, is that they can influence posture in a huge way. My proposal is the Snatch Pull, may be the most important exercise of our time. Five reasons why:
- A snatch from the ground starts with an explosive pull. In fact, most coaches will teach you to load up the hamstring and initiate the movement the ground by falling backwards. If our problem is falling forwards, this would seem to be a great benefit.
- To drive the bar upwards, we need a powerful posterior chain. Most people who sit for long hours are constantly loading and weakening the muscles that make up the extensors of the hips. The gluteus maximus is very integral in all the things we do in our functional life, such as walking and lifting things from the ground.
- Looking at the fourth frame above, we can see how much thoracic extension is need to pull the bar through. Those that sit behind a desk for any hours at time will have elevated and protracted scapula. This limits the amount of t-spine extension available. Lack of thoracic extension, means an inability to get into an overhead position.
- Keeping the bar stable overhead requires a great deal of external rotation in the humerus. Someone who has ETK will have a protracted shoulder girdle and be unable to lock the head of the humerus in place. In addition, an elevated shoulder girdle is indicative of a weakened lower trapezius which would prevent the humeral head from centrating in the glenoid.
- Finally finishing under the bar we need a neutral spine position or tragedy awaits. This means, we need the ability to stack the rib cage over the pelvis. Being able to maintain this position, loads up the muscles of intrinsic core. Making this exercise carryover to many facets of life.
Each of the common postural deviations is addressed in just one exercise, which really makes it very special and provides us with an easy answer for what people should do. The problem lies is in the simple fact that people shouldn’t just do it right away. Although it helps reinforce all that we desire from ideal postural alignment, if a person has any significant deviation than all this exercise will do is create movement dysfunctions. For instance, overpronation demonstrates an in-ability to maintain the neutral foot position. This means that as the foot comes in contact with the ground the tibialis posterior and peroneus longus muscles that attach the lower leg to the foot can’t act as a stirrup to create stability in the foot. This is absolutely necessary to load up the glutes so they can slow down the knees as they head into internal rotation as their hips flex. Basically what this means is that during hip flexion our upper leg is going one way, while the lower leg is going another way. This puts the poor knee in a bad position and forces our body to find a compensation pattern to finish the movement.
The problem that most fitness professionals have isn’t that they don’t know the correct exercises to do, its just that that it is hard to see the problem until it is a problem. Movement is very fast and complex. In the fitness industry there is a need for simple assessments before exercise prescription. If we are servicing clients with potential to break down by asking them to perform movements that they are structurally not capable of, we are asking for problems.
While the ultimate reflection of a properly designed corrective exercise may be the snatch pull it is definitely not the place to start. Let’s first address skeletal deviations and put bones back in the right place.