“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristole
Sports become a part of who you are, both mentally and physically. For children, sports become a means of socialization, but they also play a prominent factor in the development of movement. For adults, sports become a means of fitness, stress relief, competition and commonly injury. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of young to old, or novice to professional, sports have likely impacted your body in some way. Appreciating how and to what extent may help you address chronic problems, prevent future ones and likely maximize your performance.
Each sport comes with its own particular set of movement patterns required of its’ athletes. Dancers have chest up, shoulders down, butt clenched, toes out drilled into them. Tennis players and golfers spend hours twisting one way and not the other. Bikers ride hundreds of kilometers with their bodies tucked into a tight aerodynamic position with their head poking up, and runners get used to just going straight forward all the time. How much these movement experiences will affect you really depends on what stage of your life you do them, how much you do them, and if you also have a variety of other sports you do, or have chosen to specialize and commit to the performance of just one.
Early movement experiences will really mold a child’s posture and coordination later in life, which is why I encourage physical play with my kids. Activities like chase, wrestling, rolling, jumping, throwing and catching really help kids build an awareness of how to use their bodies. They get some bumps and bruises along the way, but it helps them learn that pain is temporary and that their bodies are really amazing at healing themselves if they give them a chance. As a physiotherapist, I can quickly tell the difference between adults that have a physical, athletic history and ones that have lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, both in their body awareness and their outlook on their current pain or dysfunction. Past athletes tend to have a more optimistic and in-control attitude about their rehabilitation because they have relationships with their bodies due to past experience. Conversely, adults that haven’t competed in sports in their youth tend to be much less assertive in their healing and much more dependent on health professionals because they are less in tune with their bodies.
I used to beat the hell out of my body when I was in high school. I played soccer, basketball, rugby and a variety of other sports on almost a daily basis. I would bang and crash and hurt myself, but it never really slowed me down because I just took it for granted that within a few days or a few weeks my body would heal up and be ready for more. In University I tested my body with little sleep, more sports and a lot more alcohol, but I still always bounced back and kept going. Around my mid-twenties to early thirties a few things happened that started changing my perspective on life.
By the age of twenty four, I had completed two university degrees and was officially a registered physiotherapist. I’d like to think I was a lot smarter after six years of university, but I learned much more in the following six to ten years than I ever did in school. It was a time when my body seemed to start getting less and less invincible and I started gaining more and more perspective on the importance of physical health. I still played soccer, hockey and squash, but my body started taking longer and longer to recover; things that used to take days to feel better, starting taking weeks and I was forced to consider the physical consequences of my activity choices more than ever.
As a physiotherapist, working with clients from nine to ninety years old, I started recognizing that I was not alone in the weakening of my invincibility around age thirty. I would hear an average of ten ‘getting old sucks’ complaints a week, equally spread amongst the thirty, forty and fifty year-olds. The sixty and seventy year-olds tended to phrase it more around ‘this old body is falling apart,’ and the eighty to ninety year-olds just seemed to be happy if something actually didn’t hurt. Read More
I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but I live in Vancouver, BC and it seems like everyone is either doing Yoga or feels that they should be for some reason. Its’ popularity has steadily grown over the past ten years to include a more and more diverse group of people. Business men, athletes, seniors and kids have all joined in the sun salutations and downward dogs in a quest for flexibility and inner peace. For the most part I think this movement is great, but as a physiotherapist I see countless injuries, postural issues and persistent pains that have their roots in people’s regular Yoga routines. There are a lot of great things about Yoga, but it is not meant for everyone and you can have too much of a good thing. In this post I discuss some of the negative consequences of Yoga, not to scare you away from it, but to help you go into it armed with the awareness of how not to hurt yourself.
Before you decide to start any new type of exercise you should ask yourself ‘what am I trying to get out of this?’ Many people blindly feel that Yoga is the answer to flexibility and although it can be for some, it can be an awkward, uncomfortable path to injury for others. Flexibility is partly genetic, but largely a product of what you do all day; how you stand, sit, walk, breathe and feel will and does affect your flexibility. It is a misconception that you are stiff because you don’t spend enough time stretching. You are stiff because you either don’t move enough or you don’t move very well, or both. Stretching more is simply not the answer. In fact, I would say that there are millions of hours wasted every day by people stretching in attempt to get more flexible.
I have broken the exercise videos on this site into a 3-Step Program for you that will start by building awareness and mobility in your body, progress to higher level movement patterns and finally help you build functional strength and power without hurting yourself. Most of the exercises can be done at home with very little equipment.
*The following is a suggested order to progress through the movements, but is not all encompassing.
1. WTH Step 1: a video summary of the exercises below (same as YouTube above)
2. 4 point neutral spine
3. 4 point rock backs
4. Breathing as an exercise
5. Rib shimmy
7. Kneeling squats
8. Vacuums: introduction to strong core
9. Weight bearing tripod
10. Ankle skewer + forward lean
11. Standing squats
12. Thirsty Birds
13. Reaching up 11
14. Air Bench Press
15. Counter Top push ups
16. How to Sit & How to Stand
As I write this post, my wife is 32 weeks pregnant with our third child in three years, so I dedicate this one to Katie….you, and your body, have endured more than most can imagine.
I will concede right off the bat that I am not a woman and have not been pregnant, but I have worked with and treated women at all stages of pregnancy, including immediately after C-sections and women 20 years later that are still trying to get their bodies back. From what I have seen, there is no other experience a person can go through that is both physically and mentally more challenging on your body than getting pregnant, having the baby, and making it through the first five years in one piece.
Medicine has come a long way in making sure that the mother and baby are physiologically OK from conception through to the birth, but there still remains a significant lack of proper support and education for women when it comes to pain, posture, movement and physical function both during and after pregnancy. The most important factor to consider is that most women don’t have great posture, movement mechanics or strength before they get pregnant, so this issue it not solely created by pregnancy, but merely exposed by it. Most women are not used to carrying 10-30lbs around all day, or having to bend and pick things up off the floor sixty times a day, or hunching over breast feeding time and time again. These are physical demands that would be hard on anyone, but particularly hard on someone whose body has changed so dramatically in a relatively short period of time and is functioning on very little sleep.
There are a lot of systems that function subconsciously in your body that you likely take for granted and very rarely, if ever think about; among the most important of these is breathing. It is an amazing physiological process that allows you to draw oxygen from the air and filter it into your blood stream to keep you alive. Your brain and spinal cord automatically just do it for you. You breathe faster when you run and slower when you sleep; it’s a great deal, your body just figures it out how much oxygen you need and alters your breathing rate for you. The drawback of not being an active participant in your breathing pattern is that you can lose touch with what is ‘normal’ for your body and be unaware of how things like pain, stress and posture are affecting you.
A basic understanding of the biomechanics of breathing and posture will help you understand what I mean. Your ribcage and thoracic spine are the structural foundation of your torso. The rigidity of it protects your organs and supports your shoulders and neck, while the mobility of it helps you breathe, twist and move. Your lungs line the inside of your ribcage. In order for you to draw air into them, your ribcage needs to expand slightly and your diaphragm needs to contract and pull down; this will create a negative pressure and air will be pulled in. The elastic recoil of your ribcage and diaphragm passively push the air out to complete the breathing cycle. This keeps you alive.
There is a difference between being alive and breathing well. Just because you can breathe, does not mean you are doing a good job at it. Just because you can stand, doesn’t mean you have good posture. Just because you can walk, doesn’t mean you are using your body properly.
– If you have low back pain that means your “core is weak” and a “core strengthening” program would help you.
Sometimes the above statement is true, but just as often it is absolutely not. There is not a direct correlation between low back pain and core strength. In fact, many people that have incredibly strong “core” muscles suffer from regular low back pain, which is because strength is only one element of having good posture, alignment and movement. It is the overall muscle balance in your body and your relative ability at controlling movement that is the true sign of good core stability and a preventative factor to low back pain.
Many, many, many people are stiff as hell, many of these people have low back pain and many of these people think that their planks, crunches and strength program will make them better. Well I am here to tell you that there is a good chance it will make them worse. Granted some will get better, but the most efficient way to improve your strength, flexibility, alignment and pain is to first learn a bit about your body type before pursuing any type of new program.
From a very young age, as you were learning to function in the vertical position, you have been developing strategies for how your body deals with gravity. You picked up some by watching how your parents stand, walk and move. You picked up others from your gymnastics classes and soccer practices when you were six. The hard fall you had on your butt 20 years ago likely altered things and that car accident 5 years ago probably created some compensations. Long story short, your posture, flexibility, movement and breathing patterns are a cumulative product of everything you have done up until today. Read More
Your deep inner unit consists of four muscle groups that should work subconsciously to stabilize your pelvis, spine and ribcage under low load postures and movements like standing, bending and walking. Accidents, injuries and developed muscle imbalances can cause portions of the deep inner unit to not do their job properly; the result can be pain and/or compensation from other muscle groups to try and brace to hold everything together. Some of your other stronger muscles can make up for the deep inner unit, but this usually leads to too much compression on the joints and immobility in the area. You function best when your body can use the little muscles to do light stuff and the bigger muscles to do harder stuff. You can get away with purely building strength in your outer sling muscles, but you will be prone to breaking down more often if the little guys aren’t firing.
The four muscle groups are your pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, multifidus and diaphragm. They form the bottom, front, back and top of your abdominal and pelvic cavity. Recruitment of these muscles is more about thinking than doing. They provide gentle compression to stabilize so your bigger muscles can move you. I don’t like to re-invent the wheel so the best resource to learn about recruitment of these muscles can be found on Diane Lee’s website here: Training the deep muscles of the core
Although becoming aware of these muscles and consciously training them can be very important, they are supposed to act subconsciously and if you align your body in the proper way they will likely fire on their own. I find it is the compensation strategies people choose in their posture that are inhibiting these deep inner unit muscles and that helping a person unlearn bracing strategies helps to fire up the deep inner unit more than trying to focus on them alone. Read More
The word core has been very popular for quite a while now in the health, fitness and rehab worlds, but there isn’t really a true agreement as to what it actually means; it really depends on who you talk to. If you ask physiotherapists, most will focus on the deep, subtle, picky muscles like your transverse abdominus. If you ask strength and conditioning coaches, most will strive to build bracing stability using the obliques. If you ask a Pilates instructor, most will focus on breathing and dissociation of movement. Finally if you ask a lay person, most will just pat their stomach and say ‘I know I need to work on my core,’ without really knowing why.
You can watch the associated video at the end of this article.
So who’s right and who’s wrong? The answer is you should be able to selectively use your body for whatever task you ask it to do. The picky little muscles should work subconsciously while you stand, sit, walk and breathe. The bracing muscles should work when you pick up or push something heavy and you should be able to bend, twist and stretch if you choose. The people that are wrong are the ones that think their method is the only and best thing for everyone. Typically the personal trainers need to be introduced to the Pilates instructors and the Pilates instructors need to do some personal training. Most people have a need to work on something, but it is a misconception that building more strength and stability is always the best option.
Some people are naturally strong and stiff as a board while others are loose jointed with low muscle tone. The first and best thing you can do for yourself before you attempt to do more of anything physically is to learn about your body type and learn what type of exercise would give you the most benefit. Read More
Please review each level below then read the explanation that follows.
Level 1: Personal Control
Level 2: Gravity
Level 3: Mobility
Level 4: Function & Prevention
Level 5: Athleticism
Level 6: Pushing Physical Limits
The Six Degrees of Movement Framework is a categorization of day to day movement challenges that people face throughout life. The first two categories are the most important as well as the most mentally challenging. You learn how to move at a very young age when you can, and do, take everything in life for granted. Who you are, both physically and emotionally, develops before you are old enough to have any control over it. Your parents play a big role and so does gravity. As you get older, you progressively take back most of your emotional/personal control from your parents, but unfortunately most people don’t learn to take back their movement control from gravity. Just because you can sit, stand, walk and breathe doesn’t mean you are doing any of it correctly. Movement and posture are skills that some people learn well and others do not; those who do not, tend to suffer from far more pain and health concerns throughout life than those who move well.
The six levels are not a linear progression of how we learn to move as humans; instead, they are a categorization of the complexities of each movement skill. Day to day life provides us with ample opportunity to be strong, mobile creatures, but poor Level 1 skills tend to make people move very inefficiently and in an inherently lazy way. There is nothing more persistent on Earth than gravity so one of the best things you can do for yourself physically is to learn how to be persistently aware of how it affects your day to day life. Read More