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!!

Straighten up Girls !

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http://www.infintyhealth.org
Being a 6′ tall woman, I have always been particularly aware of my posture. There is nothing worse when you are tall than to slouch. It draws even more attention to yourself. So I have always worked to keep from “slunching” ( combo of slouch and hunch) forward to hide my height. Afterall, I really couldn’t hide it by slunching. Much like the girl who started to blossom earlier and more voluptuously than the average girl, they rounded their shoulders and slouched forward to hide their ample bosom. Or were you the girl who felt self-conscious, not one of the “in” crowd. Did you try to hide behind your forward posture to get lost in the crowd? Or did your posture problems begin with motherhood? Carrying heavy children around on your hip, hauling large carriers around.
Many of our poor postural habits began when we were developing and growing, some reflect our state of emotions, and some have started as we go through our adult lives raising families. Now we are faced with muscles that are lengthened and weak and other muscles that are tightened and short, a spine that has shifted or changed it’s shaped. Postural pain and syndromes are directly related to the way we hold ourselves to face the world and it’s challenges.

Besides sapping your energy and making it more difficult to accomplish everything you’ve got packed into your day, poor posture has a slew of health consequences that can put a damper on your fit lifestyle; back pain, neck tension, disc herniations, arthritis, headaches, digestive issues just to name a few.
Learning to perfect your posture, can boost your active life and also your efforts in the gym. Why? Because it’s ALL about alignment ladies. The better your posture, the greater range of motion in your joints and spine, the better your muscles are able to work efficiently. When the spine and joints are in their optimal alignment, the muscles can respond without strain. If you are working out in poor alignment you will encourage and strengthen that poor alignment. If you are in good alignment then you encourage and strengthen GOOD alignment. If aligned you will prevent pain and injuries, boost your flexibility, improve your breathing, and after a workout feel more energized.
So how do you do it, how do you change years of poor posture? Well,first you need to have someone evaluate your posture. A licensed physical therapist can do this. They will be able to tell you where your problems are, which muscles are weak and which muscles are tight, and what position your spine is in. This way you can streamline your workout to focus on only strengthening the muscles that need it and stretching the muscles that need lengthening so you can balance your posture.
Once you become aware of your postural habits you can work to improve them during your daily activities and during your workouts. The therapist will be able to tell you exactly how to strengthen your form and which exercises specifically will be effective.
It’s not too late once your posture has changed. Most of the time with the right program you can stop or even reverse these postural changes. So what is this program? Well, I am knowledgeable in many programs and the reason I felt inspired enough to confidently leave the clinical setting and pursue a new career in Pilates is because it’s the best. I saw changes in clients posture and pain that I never saw with any other exercise program. It is really the most efficient exercise program there is for postural changes and back/neck pain issues. Pilates exclusively focuses on alignment, core strength and breathing that can help change alignment like no other. It will not happen overnight OR if you do not practice and follow through with your exercises at home. TRUST ME ON THIS. You cannot change posture by just doing one class a week with no follow-up exercises. Seriously? You know that right? So if you have done 6 or 8 classes and expect miracles they will not happen. Postural change happens with continued practice and dedication. YUP.

So are you in a class? Once you are upright again in fabulous posture you’ll not only look better visually, but feel better and feel more confident.
Interested in an evaluation and possibly a class? Visit http://www.infinityhealth.org for current classes and to register. You won’t regret it.