Preventing Polar Posture

http://www.infinityhealth.org

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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!!

ARE YOUR HAMSTRINGS TIGHT?

http://www.infinityhealth.org

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Since we are doing the 8- week Hamstring Challenge in my classes this fall I thought I would write a bit about why those tight hamstrings are a problem. They are really relatively easy to stretch and easy to measure the range of motion, so there really is no excuse for not taking the time to do the stretching exercises.  And you will feel the results happening quicker than you think. Stretching only once is a while can stretch them but the results will only be short lived. The stretches must be done over a period of time to see the long term results. After that then a maintenance program can be done.
You can liken stretching the hamstrings to stretching a rubber band. The rubber band will eventually bounce back to its original length unless stretched again. In that way there is a carry over from one stretch to the next.
A study by J. Yimen et al, found that after a 4- week stretching program at home, straight leg raise angle increased by 25%. participants in his study were men in their 20’s who stretched their hamstrings in standing for 30 secs, 6 reps, once a day. You will be doing an 8 week program and performing the exercises twice a day !

WHAT ARE THE HAMSTRINGS?

Your hamstrings consist of a group of three posterior thigh muscles located on the back of your leg which run from just below your knees up the backs of your thighs, all the way to your gluteus maximus. As the name suggests, your “hamstrings” refer to the string-like tendons (that you can actually feel) behind the backs of each of your knees.There are three hamstring muscles on the backs of each thigh, two on the inside of your thigh and one on the outside of your thigh. The scientific names for these muscles are:

  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Biceps femoris (long head)

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Your hamstrings actually play a pretty important role in your day-to-day life and can have far-reaching effects on your movement, stability and joint health. Your hamstrings are responsible for:

  • Hip extension
  • Flexing your knee
  • Knee rotation and bending
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Jumping (and controlling trunk movement)
  • Deceleration (particularly where your knees are involve

WHAT CAUSES TIGHT HAMSTRINGS?

Imbalanced quadriceps are most often the cause of tight hamstrings. Your quads are a large, strong group of anterior muscles located on the front of your thigh just above your knee. When your quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings, it creates tension because your hamstrings are weaker. When your hamstrings (or any muscle for that matter) is weak or fatigued, you are more susceptible to injury.

In sports such as soccer or running (particularly sprinting events), your hamstring muscles work overtime to help you extend your legs to run fast or jump. It is somewhere during the point where our foot or leg is fully extended, that we are most susceptible to a hamstring injury or strain.

Runners, cyclists, rowers and soccer players are all at higher risks of developing “tight” hamstrings as all of these activities require quite a bit of strong knee flexion. However, other causes of tightness can also be the result of sitting for long periods of time (Hello, desk job and long road trips!).

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR HAMSTRINGS ARE TIGHT?

You often don’t realize you have tight hamstrings until they start affecting movement or start creating back or knee pain. Tight hamstrings affect the position of the pelvis which can directly affect the posture of the spine and this can cause mechanical low back pain. Poor low back posture could also be a sign that your hamstrings are tight. You will see a flattened lumbar spinal curve if your hamstrings are tight.  You also may notice that you have hamstring tightness if you are doing programs like Pilates or Yoga. Tight hamstrings interfere with normal flow of movement and your ability to get into the correct position to execute your moves.  A quick note – is that your hamstrings are not all “equally”tight. Meaning your right and left hamstrings may be different lengths.  This can cause problems too.  You want them even.

HOW DO YOU ASSESS TIGHT HAMSTRINGS?

This is easily measured by a physical therapist or trainer, and can be done in a variety of ways. My favorite testing method is done while you lie on your back. The hip is bent to the 90 degree position and then the knee is straigthened from there and the angle at the knee is measured. To do a quick test to see if you may have tight hamstrings withoutthe help of  a professional. Sit on the floor with your legs straightened out in front of you. Can you sit with your knees straight while keeping your back in a neutral posture ( meaning good sitting posture with your spine straight)? You should be at a 90 degree angle.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Here is the program that we are doing in the hamstring challenge. Give it a try for the next 8-weeks. If you can get measured at the start and then again at the end it would be a great idea and rewarding to see your progress.
Here’s the plan:

Perform the exercises at least 2 times a day
Perform them EVERY day for the 8- weeks

WHAT YOU’LL NEED – a wall, a yoga strap or belt, foam roller

1. Legs Up the Wall: Lay on your side with your knees bent with your sit bones on the wall. Roll onto your back with the legs extending up the wall. Make sure your tailbone is on the floor, that you are NOT arching your back. Flex your feet and tighten your thigh muscles to touch the back of your knees to the wall. Lay there for 10-15 mins (tip- you can use your yoga strap over your feet to help flex your feet more and stretch the hamstrings)

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2. Single Leg Supine Hamstring Stretch: Begin by lying on the back, legs extended and chin tucked in. Place the strap to the arch of the left foot. Inhale and slowly raise the left foot up towards the sky keeping the right leg and hip connected down towards the floor. Grip the strap with both hands and only go to the point where you feel the first initial stretch in the hamstrings. Flex the left foot and contract the quadricep muscles. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. Repeat 3 times

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3.  Foam Roller: Massage hamstrings by sitting on the roller and rolling up and down them length of the hamstring from gluteals to the knee.

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Let me know how you did in the feedback !  You CAN rid yourself of tight hamstrings and feel yourself moving more freely and maybe even notice pain syndromes disappearing !