Polar vortex, polar invasion or just plain winter. No matter what you call it, it’s HERE already and I am beginning to hear and see what this cold weather does to people. Living in the north I hear the best excuses on why people can’t come to exercise classes- ” it’s dark outside when I get home”, “it’s snowing “, ” I just feel sleepy in the winter “. Crazy or arctic hysteria I don’t know, but when we give in to those thoughts we sabotage our continued fitness efforts and this can lead to what I see and have now started calling-POLAR POSTURE. Here’s what it looks like- forward head, rounded shoulders, flexed low back, tight hip flexors- basically the couch sitting, Snuggie wearing, cocoa drinking posture we assume to hunker down and hibernate in front of our TVs for 5 months. Ughhhh. From lack of sunshine, prolonged sitting, to changes in eating habits all of these winter behaviors can really take their toll physically.
Musculoskeletal imbalances from posture changes result in back, shoulder and neck pain, and can be impacted by our postural hibernation habits. These imbalances can increase our risk for injuries. So let’s talk about why. First off, with the days being shorter and weather worse we spend too much time indoors mostly sitting. Our bodies are designed to stand not sit, and the more we sit, the worse our posture gets, as our spine rounds forward, neck protrudes forward and shoulders round forward. These postures result in increased upper neck tension, stiffness in joints, increased risk of disc protrusions, referred pain like sciatica, shoulder impingement and even more shallow breathing due to the forward posture restricting rib movement.
The cold temperatures do not help. When we are cold, the body’s response is to curl up to conserve heat. What do we do again? Round our shoulders, round our upper back, flex forward and breathe more shallowly. Sound familiar? Again the same posture as sitting on the couch.
Abdominal core strength is also impacted by this winter postural position. When the core is not used to support the spine in a neutral posture it becomes weak. It weakens from the inside out. So the deep postural muscles are no longer supporting the bony structure as needed to provide stable movement.
In the winter we eat differently too. Summer salads and fresh foods are replaced with warm cozy comfort foods. We are less active. This combo leads to weight gain and reduced muscle tone. Our muscles lose some of their elasticity from the disuse, making it harder to cope with the above mentioned postural imbalances. This then makes us more prone to strains and injury when we finally do roll off the couch and out from under our fur throw.
So what do you do? Be aware of all these issues first. Know that you have complete control and the power to make the right choices. Keep up with your regular fitness schedule. Don’t make excuses because of the weather. You cannot control the weather but you can control your fitness routine. If you cannot get out of the house because you are snowed in there are many quick exercises you can do to keep that posture in check.
Here are a few exercises that only require a chair and a foam roller. If you don’t have a roller, you can get one at http://www.optp.com. I like the black axis foam rollers best.
1. Deep lateral breathing exercises- Sit up tall on the edge of a chair. Place your hands on your lower rib cage. Inhale for 10 counts and let your ribs expand. Exhale for 10 counts and feel your abdominals pull your rib cage down compressing all the air out of your lungs. Repeat 5 -8 times
2. Chest Stretches– Open up your rib cage and shoulders by laying on your foam roller vertically with your arms open to a 90 degree angle. Breathe into the pectoralis muscles and feel the chest stretch. Allow the muscles to relax and lengthen. Repeat breathing at your own pace for 3-5 minutes.
3. Chin nods– While laying on your foam roller, inhale and tuck your chin towards your chest as if squeezing a small ball between your chin and chest, exhale and let the chin resume it’s normal posture. Repeat this 10 times.
4. Upper Back Stretch– Place your foam roller horizontally in your upper back. Place your hands behind your head with your knees bent and hang backwards over the roller stretching your upper back and reversing the thoracic curve. Hold for a few breaths, then lift your pelvis and roll on the upper back muscles to relieve any tension.
5. Hip flexor stretch– Stand up, hold onto a stable surface, reach back and grab your ankle while bending your knee and pull your leg back. Hold for 15 seconds to stretch the front of you hip and thigh. If you just have to lay down at this point 🙂 you can do this while laying on your side.
These exercises can be done daily to help keep you out of the “Polar Posture”. Remember to keep up with your regular classes for flexibility , strength and cardio too and you should make it out of the Arctic weather season unscathed.
If you would like more foam roller stretches. My e-book-” On a Roll@Home, Stretch and Massage” has all the exercises you need to get you through that long winters night. Visit my website store page to view retailers.
Need more ? Classes and private training is available , just be warned. You must leave your house during the winter to attend!!