3 years ago

PART 3 (Final): Why Boot Camps Are Bad for Your Posture

In the first article of this series, we learned about how particular exercises, done repetitively, can compromise your posture.

In part two, I gave suggestions about finding a well-trained fitness instructor who can balance your workouts effectively.

Now, let’s explore additional exercise options and evaluate how they affect your body’s alignment. This will help you make smart choices about the type of workouts that will help you slim down and look leaner, yet will aid you immensely in reducing pain from improper alignment.  I could go on for pages about this topic, but let’s focus on a few popular fitness trends.

Pilates

I’m going to address Pilates first, as it’s the exercise methodology that I know best.  Pilates is grounded in principles of body alignment and core control.  Joseph Pilates himself advocated learning to engage certain muscles, particularly those related to postural alignment.

The problem, however, is that when Pilates created his work in the early 1900s, (called Contrology at the time) postural problems were nothing like they are today. It was a different world.  We didn’t have computer-sitting and commuting and texting to alter our bodies.

The original Pilates work involved a large amount of “round back” positions, which utilizes frequent posteriors pelvic tilts and thoracic flexion, or what we know as the crunching position.   Nowadays, people are often already posteriorly tilted and flexed in the thoracic area, therefore these positions are not optimal.  Rather, the goal should be to open up the thoracic area of the spine with exercise and align the pelvis into a neutral position.

Many talented Pilates instructors have adapted the original Pilates repertoire, making it far more appealing to the needs of the human body in today’s world.   This new “contemporary” form of Pilates has moved the pelvis into more neutral positions and have added more back extension work.  I am intimately aware of the amazing work the Pilates community is doing in this regard.

There are still many Pilates instructors who teach far more flexion than extension, who don’t balance the muscles groups and who don’t pay attention to form. In turn, these exercise programs can make back and neck issues worse, and are not enhancing overall body alignment.

Like anything else, try a particular Pilates class out and evaluate.  Ask questions.  How many teacher training hours did they do in their course? Do they have experience working with injuries? Do they spend the whole hour doing crunches on their back? If the answer is “yes” to that last question, walk out.

Pilates is amazing for the posture, if done and taught correctly.

Yoga

When people think of improving their posture, they often think of yoga as a solution.  What are my thoughts? Honestly, it depends.

There are SO many kinds of yoga.  Yoga can vary from intense exercise in a class like Power Yoga, to the meditative relaxation of a restorative yoga.

Upward Facing Dog

Upward Dog Posture

Many people jump into a popular vinyasa flow yoga class, which involves a series of exercises called sun salutations.  In the sun salutation, there is a position called upward facing dog, in which the lower back is placed in an extended (or arched) position.  This is a wonderful position for stretching the abdominals and strengthening the lower back, except for the fact that it’s extremely difficult to perform properly.  The reason some people get “hurt” in a yoga class is because they have very rarely extended their lower back (due to their sedentary lifestyle), and now are being asked to do so quite aggressively.

The opposing position, downward dog, is a wonderful hamstring lengthener, but can place stress on the shoulder joints if the client has kyphosis, or a shoulder joint that rounds forward.  Some aggressive forms of yoga use these positions extensively, which can be effective in solving postural issues if done properly; however,

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Dog Posture

these positions can be disastrous if not performed safely and properly.

Much like I mentioned in the Pilates section above, the yoga instructor should be schooled in the art of modifications and progressions.  Downward dog is an exercise I use extensively in my posture training, but the client is progressed slowly and watched carefully.  If someone is new to yoga, they should start with a beginner class for a few private sessions.

Yoga (like Pilates) is amazing for the posture, if done and taught correctly.

Spinning

Visualize yourself in a spinning class.  Do you think this class has positive postural implications?  If your answer is NO…. ding ding ding, you win!

Spinning is great for cardiovascular health but less than ideal one of the worst things you can do for your posture.  Not only are you rounded forward in the upper back, the hips are chronically flexed and the knees bent. This position has been associated with rounded shoulders and a super-duper tight IT band.  What is the IT band?  It’s a band of connective tissue running down the side of the leg. If the IT band is in a chronically in a shortened state, it can wreak havoc on the hips and knees.

My recommendation when choosing spinning as a form of exercise is to be very conscious of your body position when on the bike.  Many instructors will cue clients to keep their shoulders down, back flat, hips back and elbows in.  These are wonderful cues and can help improve the situation.

The most important thing to remember with spinning (or any biking for that matter) is to off-set the effects of spinning with stretching, and by doing exercises that will work the opposing muscles.  Spinning is one of those exercise modalities where moderation is essential.  I do not recommend doing it every day.

Weight Training

Lifting heavy things, be it dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, machines, medicine balls, children, or anything else heavy, can be amazing for your musculoskeletal system.  The key to successful weight lifting is maintaining awareness of your posture as you’re lifting at all times.

The basic rule: do more exercises for the back side of your body than the front. Focus on rowing, pull ups, deadlifts, glute exercises and back extension MORE than chest press, quad extensions and crunches.  Get someone (ideally someone with a posture certification like me) to watch your form and provide feedback.  Weight training can be a fantastic form of exercise, with many benefits, but you must be hyper aware of your form.  Engaging the right muscles properly takes time, focus and attention.

Cardio Machines

The three major cardio machines in the gym are the bike, treadmill and the elliptical machine – are all different in how they will affect your alignment.

Postural considerations for biking are similar to spinning, as discussed above. The recumbent bike doesn’t involve as much bending over as the upright bike, however both situations involve sitting.  We sit too much!  You don’t need to be in a position with additional hip flexion.  Unless you are recovering from knee surgery, or have another limiting physical factor, biking should not be your first choice.

The elliptical can be an effective way to do cardio without too much impact.  If you are holding the machine properly, and not hunching over, there is minimal negative impact on posture.  Because of the low impact and upright nature of the elliptical, this machine can be a wonderful choice if you’re just starting out with exercise.

The treadmill would be my favorite choice for anyone looking to get indoor exercise.  We don’t walk enough as human beings and walking properly is good for you! We were meant to walk.  It involves proper pelvic movement, hip flexion, hip extension and bilateral shoulder movement.  Of course, standing upright as you walk is key!  Walking, hunched over on a treadmill staring at your cell phone, is NOT what you should be doing on a regular basis.  Like everything else, be mindful of your posture, and walking is a great way to exercise.

Look Before You Leap

As you can see there is a theme here.  Some forms of exercise are clearly more effective at maintaining good posture than others.  It’s important to evaluate the class, the instructor and the movement.

Every type of movement requires attention to form and alignment.  The mind body connection is critical to the success of improving posture and pain.  Regardless of what activity you choose, if you continue to do it with careful attention as to how you are performing the exercise, then you will affect real change in your posture.

3 years ago

Exercise While At My Desk? It’s Possible!

I bet you’ve been reading my blog and you’re thinking about how you need to get in some exercises and stretches today.  Wait no longer! Introducing 4 exercises to sneak into your desk bound day (without looking like you’ve gone completely crazy). 

For this information I send you over to a blog called Fitness 4 Back Pain by William Richards. I was a guest blogger for his very important and relevant blog.  We have so much in common and it’s always wonderful to collaborate with fellow fitness practitioners.Zeena Sitting Chest Stretch

Here is a sneak peak of an exercise you can easily do at your desk.  Hop on over to William’s blog to read more and check it out!

Post a picture to our facebook page of you doing this stretch (or any of the exercises in the article) and it would MAKE MY DAY. You’ll also feel the benefit of the stretch while you’re at it!

3 years ago

PART 2: Why Boot Camps Are Bad for Your Posture

If you’re following the Posture Geek newsletter, you learned last week that boot camps are terrible for your posture!  Many fitness classes around you fail to focus on the long term physical ramifications of repetitive, “front-loaded” exercises in a competitive setting.  The instructors probably have not been schooled in how this can wreak havoc on your posture. Rather than balanced workouts, the goal in a boot camp class is often to “burn out” the client with as many difficult exercises as possible.  Weight loss…that’s really the bottom line.

What should you do instead? You might ask…

Before I recommend other exercise routines that help balance the body load (this will be featured in part 3 of this series), let’s brainstorm ways to make your boot camp experience better!

First and foremost, you could point out solutions to your current instructor.  As a group instructor myself (on occasion), I always enjoyed feedback from clients.  HOWEVER, it is always better received when in privacy and not in front of a large group of people.  So, wait until most of the class leaves before talking to the instructor.

Second, you could actively seek out instructors who cue and correct proper form.  What does this mean?  When planking, instructors use their cuing to ensure you are bringing your hips down into a straight line and “pulling in your abdominals”.  When you are doing lunges, they make sure your knee/hip alignment is correct and cue you to push through your heel.  When you are doing squats, they making sure you don’t round your lower back and that you are properly hinging from your hips.  You get the picture!  If the instructor is standing next to you at 5am, don’t let them just get away with counting reps.  You’re paying for their expertise and you should get it.

Finally, you can take a class and evaluate if they are properly “balancing” the workout.  What does this mean?  Here are some examples:

BALANCE THE PUSHING WITH THE PULLING

Pushing exercises require you to use your chest, shoulders and triceps to push things AWAY from your body.  Pushups, planks, mountain climbers, burpees all follow in this category.

For every pushing activity, there should be an equal number of pulling activities.  In fact, I prefer incorporating more pulling than pushing.  However, pulling is very hard without gym equipment, hence the difficulty of muscular balance in a boot camp situation. So let’s aim for EQUAL to start!

Pulling exercises utilize the biceps and back and pull things towards the body.  Ideas for boot camp pulling exercises include bent over rowing, pullups, band rowing, and tug a war.

As you can see, these are a little harder to implement outside with no equipment, but with some creativity and out of the box thinking, your boot camp instructor should figure out a way to get these in.

Table Top Plank

Beginning Level

 REQUEST THIS ONE EXERCISE TO ALTERNATE WITH A PLANK

This exercise is one of my favorite in the Pilates repertoire that works the back muscles quite well and isn’t quite a pushing or pulling exercise.  It also opens up the chest muscles, which I love. It’s traditionally called “back support” but you can call it a “reverse plank.”  As you can see, you only need your body and a floor, so it’s perfect for any class.  So why don’t more boot camps feature this exercise?  I h

Intermediate Level

Intermediate Level

ave no idea!  But it’s a simple thing you can do to alternate with a face down plank.  Let me warn you… the exercise is HARD! This exercise also is wonderful for working the posterior chain, including the hamstrings and glutes.  You can perform it with bent knees as a beginning variation, then progress to straight legs, and then even progress to lifting one leg.  It’s a hamstring burner for sure!

Advanced Level

Advanced Level

BALANCE THE GLUTES WITH THE QUADS:

The glutes are the KING of movement and are super important for proper function of your knees, hips and lower back. Most people sit all day long on their glutes, underutilizing them, and making them weak.  Then, they show up to a boot camp and often the class is filled with exercises that work the quads (not the glutes!).  Clients who are dominant with the muscles on the front side of their body really need some serious balancing to strengthen the back side.

Lunges can work the glutes, but it’s important for the instructor to “cue” the student to work from the glute properly during this exercise.  If the weight on the front foot is in the toe, not the heel, and if the client is leaning forward too much, then the quads will take over and work harder hardest.

Squats can be great glute strengtheners, except when you do put them up against a wall (which a lot of boot camps do).  The wall squat position tends to cause the body to use the quads.  Regular squats: great!  Wall squa

Single Leg Deadlift

Single Leg Deadlift

ts: not as desirable.

Deadlifts are challenging to do in a boot camp situation without utilizing weights, but a single leg deadlift can be quite effective for working the glutes and hamstrings.  A single leg walking deadlift is amazing for balance and is easy to do in a boot camp setting.

The best exercise in a boot camp setting is the step up.  If cued properly, there is ample opportunity to really activate the glutes.  Pushing through the heel will maximize glute engagement.

If you’re able to lie face up, then bridging is a great way to strengthen the back side of the lower half.

Bridging (Pelvic Curl)

Bridging (Pelvic Curl)

BALANCE THE SAGGITAL PLANE WITH THE LATERAL AND TRANSVERSE PLANES

Boot camps often involve jumping and running which is great for the heart rate.  However, it’s important to think about the direction your body is moving.

Exercise in the sagittal plane of motion involves moving forward and backward. Examples are running and step ups.  When your body is moving side to side you are working in the lateral plan of motion.  Examples are side lunges and skater jumps.

The transverse plane of motion is when you move around in all directions.  Examples are bicycle crunches and woodchopper.

It’s easy to get caught up in pushups and burpees and step ups and jumping rope, which are all in the sagittal plane.  Your body, however, needs to work in all three planes of motion to fully activate every muscle in the body.  Working in the transverse plane also tends to work balance, which is great for long term injury prevention.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHOP AROUND

There is plenty of competition in the market when it comes to boot camps and other high intensity interval training activities.  Incorporate the tips above and make sure your class is hitting the mark with a well-balanced workout.

Or, perhaps, you can privately speak to your current instructor about your posture concerns.  Most instructors in this industry are in it because they want to help people, they just might have never been trained on this theory of muscular balance.  If you make them aware, we can hope that they will educate themselves and work towards finding better balance in their movement.

Tell me about YOUR boot camp below!  I love to hear about your experiences…

Read part 3 of this series HERE.