Catholic School Posture - Thoracic Mobility

Posture, while important aesthetically, also plays a vital role in the function and health of almost all the joints in the body. My latest blog, will help you assess your posture with a simple movement screening, and evaluate the results to tailor your training.

Whether by threat of a ruler toting catholic school nun, or the gentle reminder from a loving parent, many of us have been encouraged at one point or another to sit up straight with our shoulders aligned. What you may not have known then was the impact you may have been having on the soft developing tissues of your posterior and how that would effect the way you move as you age. Fortunately, because these tissues are soft, with the proper exercise prescription, many of us can offset a life of slouching at the desk, computer, car, and couch.

A straight and neutral spine is important every time you sit into or out of a chair, pick something up, or work out in the gym. Lack of stability in the lumbar spine and or rounding or kyphosis in your thoracic or mid back increases compressive and shear forces in lower back. While some may argue that we should not sit at all, (see The Sitting Disease), its apart of our daily life, and therefore, proper spine strength and alignment is important to avoid lower back injury when performing tasks of daily living and while under loads in the gym.

An unloaded overhead squat, is a great movement screening for thoracic spine mobility, popularized by Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screening (FMS). Not only is it indicative of core strength, but is also a sign of shoulder rhythm. If you dont have someone to watch or video you, use a mirror.

1. Assume a square, shoulder width stance with your feet.

2. If available, grasp a stick or dowel, and place it on top of your head, bending your elbows at 90 degrees.

3. Extend your arms directly overhead with straight elbows.

4. Proceed to squat down as deep as you can while maintaining straight extended arms

5. Repeat step 4 a few more times

Keep an eye on the mirror or watch a recording of yourself:

Do your head and shoulders collapse down to the floor?

Is your back curved and rounded?

Did you have to bend your elbows or move your arms forward to squat to 90 degrees or more?

If your squat looked like this:

You may have a kyphotic immobile thoracic spine. This is going to limit your range of motion and load bearing capacity while performing simple movements like sitting up and out of a chair, or picking up small loads, not to mention limit your training in the gym. Additionally, the rounding in your mid back, disrupts the natural rhythm of your scapulas and their relationship with your shoulder. This may lead to shoulder issues doing things requiring overhead lifting, or pushing movements in the gym.

To look like this:

Add some of the thoracic mobility drills I have on my demo page to your corrective movements, dynamic warm up, or active rest for several weeks and begin to reap the benefits of a better aligned spine, stronger core and shoulder mobility.

(Updated) Sketchers Shape Up Shoes and Other Negative Heal Footwear

Toning ShoesVia:

You may have noticed the latest in footwear technology hitting the streets, the negative heal shoe. Forbes Magazine recently included them in an article on 20 Ways You are Getting Ripped Off. You have seem them, they are big and bulky, resembling orthopedic or moon shoes. I have been getting a lot of questions from clients about these shoes and if they are worthwhile. Common brands include Sketchers - Shape Ups, Reebok's - Reetone, Fit Flops, and MBT, among others. These shoes are ergonomically designed with a soft, depressed heal, and rocker bottom, to promote greater lower limb muscle recruitment. They claim to tone leg muscles and abdominals, improve posture, and burn more calories. The marketing campaign, targeting mostly women, are a goldmine. Who wouldn't want to reap these great health benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of these claims are unfounded or based on company financed research and anecdotal evidence. They are the latest foray of quick fix fitness gimmicks. While they may serve some purpose in the realm of balance training and simulating a hyper-proprioceptive environment, there is little research to support efficacy of instability training anyway. With the exception of your lips and genitalia, your hands and feet contain more nerves than any place in your body. Wearing these shoes, pads and dulls vital sensory input from the ground and up through your sensory rich feet, via proprioceptors to your brain. Intentionally placing yourself in such a precarious position may expose you to injury, ankle sprains, falls, etc. I would not allow a client to do anything beyond moderately walking in them. They are definitely not conducive to resistance training, which will yield greater health and weight management results than a change in footwear; $100+ footwear! Yes, you may initially feel an increase in muscle activity. Any change in your footwear and or posture will elicit a similar effect until your body adapts and realigns itself. Better to reinforce a natural, healthy gait pattern, strengthen the muscle in your feet, and improve your posture with proper alignment, then to reinforce a negative pattern, shifting your weight onto your forefoot, stressing your knees, and anteriorly rolling your pelvis, crunching your sacrum.

So what can you do to improve leg and abdominal toning, improve your posture, and burn more calories? Stand up from your desk and take your shoes off. Turn your feet parallel to each other, toes spread, big toes straight ahead, slightly tuck your tailbone and engage your abdominals, take a deep breath, pull your shoulders back, tuck your chin, and lift the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Now stand and be mindful of your renewed sense of posture and alignment. Maintain this mindset and walk around the room. Feel your feet in contact with the floor and the transfer of energy up through your feet, into your legs, through your core, and up to your neck, shoulders, and head. Continue to be mindful of this posture with each and every step you take and notice the immediate benefits in muscle activity. Remind yourself of this postural ideal tomorrow as you go about your day and start reaping the benefits. Because you can't walk around barefoot all the time, consider a flatter soled shoe that keeps your foot closer to the ground. Stay tuned for my next blog where I will delve into choosing proper footwear, the latest in barefoot training theories, and why yoga practitioners may know something we don't.