None of us intend to injure ourselves when we train – but it seems all too common. So, what can we do to help avoid it? Dai Richards, Alexander Technique teacher and gym enthusiast, shares a few thoughts.
UNKNOWINGLY, everyone builds up habits of movement during exercise that can range from the free and fabulous to the downright punishing. The problem is that, as habits, they will all feel “right”. The good ones are fine but the bad ones end up causing us pain and injury, especially when we put some force behind them.
Changing those habits requires some help, and lessons in the Alexander Technique are a great way of getting that help. But some self-discovery is also useful. As a starter, here are three things to bring into your training: Maintain a great “head, neck, back” relationship in everything you do; move using the joints that are designed for that particular movement; and last but by no means least, take a moment to stop and enjoy your session.
The head-neck-back relationship
Try this: Get a friend to take a full-length profile picture of you on your phone (so that your right shoulder is facing the camera). Stand easily upright, vertical and relaxed. Look at the picture afterwards and in your mind’s eye draw a smooth line from your forehead over the top of your head, down the back of your neck and along the first few centimetres of your spine. You will end up with a smooth S curve with a funny little tail on it. Let’s call that your “Today’s Neutral” head, neck, back relationship.
Now pick one of your favourite gym movements which involves bending down and standing back up again (for example a bar-bell lift or a simple squat). As you go through that movement see if you can easily maintain the same S shape all the way through. Easy enough?
As a test get your friend to video you from the same angle as before – in slow motion if your camera allows it (iPhones do). Now watch the video a couple of times and stop the video at various points in the movement. Check out that S curve – be quite honest with yourself – is it always there?
It is surprisingly difficult. An easily maintained S shape will be kind to your spine! A little trick is to put an object such as your keys or a towel on the floor about six feet in front of you. As you begin your descent, let your eyes focus for just a brief moment on that object. It helps break the powerful habit of fixing on the horizon with your eyes – which in turn often leads to a very strong shortening of the neck muscles – leading to long term discomfort, strain and injury.
Find your hip joints
If we move around using the joints as they are designed to be used, then all should be well. However, all too often we become injured because, out of habit, we use the wrong joints to achieve a movement.
Here is a game to play: Before you read the next sentence, stand up and within two seconds put your index fingers on your hip joints. If you did that without thinking you probably have a fairly honest indication of where you move from whenever you bend, run, jump, swim or do anything that involves moving around your mid-point.
Your hip joints are actually buried deep in your groin a good few centimetres in and down from the level of the top of your bony points of the pelvis. Was this where you pointed?
If not, again recruit your friendly camera operator. This time take a video of you going from standing to sitting on a stool or simple chair. First do it as you normally would. Take another video but this time from standing, initiate the movement by pushing your fingers strongly into your groin where the hip joints really are, and let those joints do the flexing. Experience, then see the difference! If we don’t use our hip joints to move, this leads (among other things) to hip, knee, low back and neck problems.
Try to make each gym session a pleasure
Here’s a useful tip: As you walk into the gym, find a place where you can actually stop. Then, without trying to change anything, notice the way you are standing, notice the way you are breathing, then gently ask your neck and back to let go of any tension. Make a decision in that moment that you are going to enjoy the next 10 minutes without stress or tension. Then go ahead and get started.
If you stop enjoying your workout, or you feel stress and tension building up – then stop – and go through the game again. Who knows, you may even start to smile!
Stress and tension lead to dissatisfaction, pain and injury. If you get injured you will have to stop training, recover and restart… or give up. Where’s the fun in that?
2) Bending – without the S curve
3) Bending – with the S curve
4) Hands on hips
5) Finding the hip joints
Article from TalkBack, Spring | 2018 (BackCare)
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