Building Proper Posture

Recently I injured my shoulder by exercising poor judgement at the gym. One thing led to another, and I found myself at the mercy of a physical therapist. On my first visit, she explained that shoulder injuries are always treated by first addressing posture deficiencies. . . regardless of age, she hesitantly added. I reminded her that I had sustained my injury exhibiting super-human strength at the gym, not because I was old. She had no reply.

Proper Posture Devolves Over Time

Athletes suffer from the SAID Principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Any given sport will produce adaptations specific to the activity performed. If you’re a figure skater, you’d adapt to the specific strength demands required for figure skating. For runners to develop the endurance for long distances, we must train by running long distances. Adaptations occur in the muscles and systems that are stressed by that activity.

With repetitive movement (or non-movement such as prolonged sitting), the muscle and soft tissue remodel to become stronger in the direction of stress. This is good as it relates to our sport, but long term repetition can create muscular imbalances that slowly devolve into poor posture. As posture deteriorates, joint movements become restricted allowing muscles to weaken. The joints then try to compensate causing pain, stiffness and loss of mobility.

A quick review of exercises that improve posture yields a variety of core strengthening exercises. Most athletes rely on a strong core, and we already spend a fair amount of time on the effort. However, good posture is not only derived from a strong core, but also from the neck, shoulders and hips. Although my strengthening exercises were effectively targeting the core, they were not targeting these other areas that are also essential to good posture.

The Crossed Syndrome

Photo: Triathlon-Hacks

A cyclist‘s position on the bike causes tightening of some muscles while the opposing muscles lengthen and become weak resulting in upper crossed and lower crossed syndrome. Both have negative effects on posture and efficiency for cyclists.

Pinterest Photo Origin Unknown

Upper Crossed Syndrome occurs when the back muscles of the neck and shoulders (upper trapezius, and levator scapula) become extremely overactive and strained. The muscles in the front of the chest (the major and minor pectoral is muscles) become shortened and tight. Potential injuries include headaches, biceps tendonitis, rotator cuff impingement and thoracic outlet syndrome.

With Lower Crossed Syndrome the gluteals (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus) and abdominal muscles become weak or inhibited, and the hip flexors (rectus femoris and iliopsoas) and lumbar erector spinae become tight. Injuries can include hamstring strains, anterior knee pain and low back pain.

One-sided rotational sports (such as tennis, golf, hockey, baseball…) can also cause this type of muscle imbalance, although all athletes are at risk of injury from muscle imbalances regardless of the cause.

Uncovering Posture-Enhancing Movements

Over these past few months of recovery, I’ve formulated a routine that stretches and strengthens those muscles that cause our posture to devolve over time while also targeting the core muscles that are normally part of a runner’s strengthening regimen. The goal was to create a sequence that was easy to remember, could be completed in about 10 minutes, and wouldn’t require equipment.

There’s dozens of exercises that target the neck, shoulders, core and hips, so it’s easy to add or substitute other exercises to more intensely target one area or another. This basic routine provides a good starting point, however, as to the types of exercises you would want to include in a personalized program.

This program hasn’t completely replaced my regular strengthening program, but it’s been an effective way to build core strength in a way that also helps support proper posture. The 10 movements include:

  1. Standing Half Forward Bend
  2. Camel Pose
  3. Child’s Pose
  4. Classic Plank
  5. Side Plank – Left
  6. Push-Up
  7. Side Plank – Right
  8. SpiderMan Stretch w/T-Spine Rotation
  9. Up Dog
  10. Child’s Pose
Disclaimer: If you are just beginning an exercise program, you’re dealing with a back, neck or shoulder issue, suffer from high or low blood pressure or have other health issues, please consult your physician or a physical therapist before performing this or any other exercise regimen.
Hold each position for 30-60 seconds, for 5-10 breaths, or as long as you can. Perform 1-3 complete sets.

1. STANDING HALF FORWARD BEND

Courtesy: Pinterest

Uttanasana: Sanskrit word combination: ‘ut’ means Intense, ‘tan’ means Stretch, and ‘asana’ refers to Posture.

Primary muscles involved: stretches the hamstrings and low back.

Tips: Keep feet shoulder width apart and parallel. Bend at the hips (not the waist). Beginners should bend the knees if necessary, but don’t worry if you can’t touch the ground. Go as far as you can. Don’t forget to breathe.

Variation: STANDING FORWARD FOLD WITH HAND CLASP

Courtesy blog.myfitnesspal.com

This pose stretches your hamstrings and low back, while the hand clasp opens the chest and shoulders. Keep a soft bend in your knees and use a strap or towel to make the pose more accessible. If you can, keep your torso long and your knees even.

2. CAMEL POSE

Courtesy: yogabycandace.com

Primary muscles involved: Shoulders, Chest, Core, Hip Flexors

Tips: Keep the legs vertical, and push the hips in the forward direction. Bend the head and the spine backward without straining, and don’t allow the shoulders to extend past the feet. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

Variation: an easier variation of this pose is to position the palms on the lower back while slightly bending the head and spine backward. Relax the muscles and breathe normally.

3. CHILD’S POSE

A relaxation and resting pose that normalizes circulation, and gently stretches the hips, thighs, ankles and spine. Leave the arms stretched out in front, or rest palms beside your feet.

4. CLASSIC PLANK

Courtesy: lifehack.org

Primary muscles involved: biceps, neck, and shoulders

Secondary muscles involved: arms, biceps, core, thighs and gluteus.

Tips: Keep your torso straight and rigid, the body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending. This is the neutral spine position. Ensure your shoulders are down, not creeping up toward your ears. Your heels should be over the balls of your feet.

Variation: TALL PLANK

Courtesy: wikihow

5. SIDE PLANK – LEFT

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

Lean on your left elbow and forearm in a side-lying position, with your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Place your right hand on the hip. Hold the position without letting your hips drop.

Primary muscles involved: deep abdominal muscles (obliques, transverse abdominis), quadratus lumborum (muscle in the lower back)

Secondary muscles involved: erector spinae, adductors, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus.

Variation: SIDE PLANK ON HAND

Courtesy: bodybuilding-wizard

6. PUSH-UP (perform up to 30 reps, or as many as you can)

Courtesy: healthline.com

The New York Times says, As a symbol of health and wellness, nothing surpasses the simple push-up. The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness.

Starting from the tall plank position, keep the pelvis tucked in and the neck neutral with palms directly under the shoulders. Keep the back flat while lowering the body by bending the elbows until the chest barely grazes the floor. Extend the elbows and repeat as many reps as possible.

Primary muscles involved: chest muscles/pectorals, shoulders/deltoids, back of your arms/triceps, abdominals, the “wing” muscles directly under your armpit, called the serratus anterior.

Variations: bend your legs at the knees to make the pushup easier. If necessary, start out doing the exercise against the wall instead of the floor or from the edge of the kitchen counter.

To make the pushup harder, adjust the position of the hands either wider or more narrow, use the fingertips instead of the palms, or place your feet on a high surface such as a bench to increase resistance.

Advanced: The Hundred Pushups Training Program (a 6-week program)

7. SIDE PLANK – RIGHT

Courtesy: plankexerciseroutine

8. SPIDER-MAN STRETCH W/T-SPINE ROTATION (perform 10 reps each side, or as desired)

Courtesy: skimble.com

According to the renowned strength coach Mike Boyle, the Spider-Man is extraordinary because performing it to one side simultaneously develops mobility in both hips. The movement requires you to tilt your pelvis backward, which prevents your back from arching and forces you to stretch the opposite side’s hip flexors, Boyle says.

Take a long lunge forward. Place fingertips or palms on the ground in line with the front foot. Make sure the knee is on the outside of the arms, not between them. Keep back knee off the ground. Look up and create a neutral spine. Step through and repeat with other leg. After attaining a neutral spine, lift the outside arm towards the sky. Watch your hand as your lift the arm.Attempt to create a straight line between your arms.

9. UP DOG

Courtesy: yogabycandace

Stretches the chest and abdominal muscles while strengthening the shoulders, triceps, forearms, and low back.

The palms should be aligned under the shoulders, the shoulder blades engaged and pulling the shoulders down and away from the ears, the chest open, and the eyes looking forward.

Only the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet should be touching the floor. Push strongly into both.

Primary muscles involved: Chest, shoulders, abdominals, triceps, forearms, low back

10. End with CHILD POSE

Read More:

Yoga For Runners, Darebee.com

8 Neck and Shoulder Stretches to Relieve Pain: Work and play both stress the neck and shoulders. Here’s how to recover; OutsideOnline

5 exercises to correct lower cross syndrome in cyclists, Canadian Cycling Magazine

Building Strong

Strong means different things to different athletes. The strongest among us are usually described in terms of their knockout rate, explosive dead-lift strength, or that rare football player that is said to “produce the most locomotive force of any human on the planet” – the label given Houston Texans’ defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in 2014. But strong, no matter the sport, seems to have at least one thing in common. Hard work.

Weight lifters hold a unique perspective on the pursuit of strong. The strength coaches of some of the most seriously strong of these athletes discussed what they believe separates the strong from the weak (10 Things the Strongest Athletes in the Weight Room Have in Common). They say the attributes of the strongest athletes include perseverance, consistency, having a plan, and working toward a goal. Very few athletes – even the ones who are gifted – are particularly strong from the get-go. They work at it for a long time.

I can vouch that it is possible to be a fairly good runner for some period of time with barely an ounce of true strength. A couple of years had passed after my first marathon before I discovered the plank or felt any need whatsoever to do one. Eventally I suffered through an endless list of injuries.

Writing a series on the anatomy of a runner has taught me that one of the major causes of injuries is muscle imbalance. Muscle balance is considered to be the harmonious action where muscles that surround a joint work together with normal opposing force to keep the bones involved with that joint centered. An imbalance occurs when an opposing muscle is incapable of contributing its share of the load, which may cause joint inflammation, tissue damage, pain, or abnormal muscle movement. Strength training is a simple remedy for the imbalances caused by the repetitiveness of our sport. Perhaps our individual rate of injury coincides with the time it takes our muscles to fall out of balance, and you need not be a runner or even an athlete to suffer these ill effects.

The strengthening program I’ve used for several years comes from Coach Jay Johnson. His Core H and Better Myrtl are a series of mostly 1-minute exercises specifically for runners that definitely create a burn.

Maybe they look easy enough. No kidding, they’re tough. The thing is that at the height of marathon training I don’t always have the energy (or the commitment) for tough. This year I decided there must be a fix for those few weeks of the most intense running of the year that would maintain strength without zapping me mentally or physically – a minimalist approach of sorts. Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking this way.

Strength coaches tell us that when we don’t hold onto the strength we’ve built in the off-season, it takes a long time to build back up to where we were. “In-season training doesn’t need to be hard and heavy—just enough to maintain and pick up where you left off” – Tony Bonvechio, strength coach and co-founder of The Strength House.

Brad Stulberg writes Outside’s Science of Performance column (and author of the new book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success). Last month he wrote “The Minimalist’s Strength Workout: Five exercises that will guarantee you have the strength to adventure all weekend, well into your eighties.”

The article came out at the peak of my last marathon training program, and I immediately added the minimalist’s five to my weekly routine. I saved them for late afternoon 2-3 times each week rather than following a run, and it made all the difference in the world.

Having fully recovered from my latest marathon, I’ve reverted back to the Core H and a Better Myrtl program (Coach Johnson has since updated the Better Myrtl with a  Strength & Mobility version) although the minimalist exercises still have a spot in my routine. I’ve come to appreciate their simplicity and their added-value, and finally I’ve been able to pick up where I left off in the last off-season.

Following is a brief guide to each of the five exercises, but it’s worth reading Stulberg’s full article here.

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(Erin Wilson)

Grip the bar with your palms facing out and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Hold for one second. Then extend all the way down so your arms are straight and elbows are locked. Throughout the movement, focus on keeping your core taut. You’ll know you’re achieving this because your legs won’t be swinging around. 3 sets x 6 reps.

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(Erin Wilson)

Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, feet pointing slightly out. Hold a kettlebell by the horns, or a dumbbell with palms facing up, close to your chest. Squat down, keeping your heels on the ground. At the lowest point, your butt should be parallel to or just below your knees. Then push up to a standing positioning, locking your knees at the top. 3 sets x 8 reps.

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(Erin Wilson)

Begin with your chest down and palms pressing into the ground, thumbs at or a little outside of your nipples. Press up, locking your elbows at the top. Lower your back all the way down, so your chest hovers just a centimeter or two off the ground. Press up. Repeat. Be sure to tuck in your stomach and keep your core tight throughout the movement so you have minimal arch in your spine. 3 sets x 16 reps.

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(Erin Wilson)

Stand straight, toes pointing forward, feet about six inches apart. If you’re using dumbbells to increase the challenge, hold an equal weight in each hand at your sides, arms straight. Step forward with either foot so your knee is above your ankle. Push through the heel of the forward leg to return to an upright standing positioning. Repeat, this time stepping down with the opposite leg. 3 sets x 8 reps.

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(Erin Wilson)

Stand on one leg, keeping your knee slightly bent. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them on the same side as the leg you’re standing on. Bend forward at the hip, extending your free leg straight behind you for balance. Continue lowering until your chest is parallel with the ground, dumbbell almost touching the floor. Then press back to an upright position. 3 sets x 8 reps.

 

Additional Reading:

Champions Are Made In The Off-Season

General Strength and Mobility Training

Periodization: you can’t train the same way all of the time.

Commit to your goal and never quit.

The word of the week is firewood.

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The guys have spent 6 days so far cutting up the trees that fell a few weeks ago.  Joe says we have enough firewood for three years.

I didn’t particularly want to pay for three years of firewood – and, I would rather not have three years of firewood stacked all over the yard.

He brought his gas-powered splitter to my house yesterday and they’ve been splitting the massive trunk-sized pieces into something more manageable, which will save me oodles of time on my old manual splitter this winter. In the meantime, we need another wood shed just to stack it all.

My job is to haul the split pieces in the wheelbarrow, up the winding path from the driveway and to the yard up above. One practice run last night tells me there will be dozens and dozens of walks up the path with my wheelbarrow.

Running this week brings what I consider to be the first serious long run. Your body tends to have its favorite distance and for me this is 10-15 miles. Anything less is fairly easy, anything more is challenging.

Sunday’s long run is 16 miles bringing the 20-mile runs ever so near. I’ll pair the 16-mile run with two 4-mile and two 8-mile runs, the last one again at race pace.

I watched as Tiger Woods won the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday afternoon. He had a difficult approach shot once when his ball landed in the rough just below the green. He turned his putter length-wise and hit the ball with the tip of the club rather than along the face so that the putter cut through the grass and the ball popped right out and onto the green. He made it look so easy.

The announcer commented that you don’t just come out and get lucky with those shots. Rather than practice a million easy puts, Tiger throws the ball into difficult lies so he can practice those jaw-dropping shots before the match.

They took us back to a similar shot where he literally reached around a tree to hit the ball out from the other side.

The “ball-in-the-rough” for me this season is the hill at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon. Their website says, “Finally, the course unfurls alongside the Arlington National Cemetery then offers a final, up-hill challenge to the finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial.”

They want to make it sound beautiful but nothing about up-hill and finish in the same sentence is beautiful. Nonetheless, during the first week of marathon training I found myself two routes that end on a hill so I can practice the unfurling of an up-hill challenge to the finish.

I ran this route for my pace run on Saturday, forcing myself to hold pace up the hills and all the way through the finish.

Tiger says:

“I’m always trying to improve, whether it’s on the golf course or in the gym. So I ask myself: What do I need to do today to be better than I was yesterday? What am I going to work on tomorrow to be better than I was today? The key to improvement is to commit to your goal and never quit.”

Sounds like good advice for this week – especially when it comes to that pile of firewood.

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A “Step-Back” Week

This is the week. I’ve been given the directive that the house should be finished by the end of the week. Usually it takes me 3 weeks to unpack, organize and decorate a house from scratch. This one is going on for four now. I can’t say exactly why except that everything has to be re-thought.

imageSome spots are beginning to look normal, if you ignore the bird house sitting on the chair or the ladder propped against the wall.

I spent 2 hours yesterday creating a linen closet in the butler’s pantry…inspecting every napkin for stains, deciding what to keep and where to put it. Nothing is ironed but at least they all have a home.image

Today I must do the same with all the bed linens except, we don’t have a closet for the bed linens yet. Same thing goes for all the deck accoutrements. The deck isn’t finished because of all this rain.

So, bird houses, plants and baskets sit everywhere. Trees have been lying in the flower bed and grass is growing in between all the bricks. The pots and pans are sitting on the counter in the guest house, sheets are in stacks on the dining table…. and then the kitchen has to be totally re-organized. It’s no surprise that’s its been hard to focus on anything else.

Halfway through the long run on Sunday, my mind was still racing through decisions I left back at the house.

This is the first step-back week in my training program, which means the long run drops from 11 miles last week to 8 miles this Sunday. In the program I’ve selected, this happens every third week giving your body a chance to catch its breath before pushing on to higher and higher mileage.

Training this week includes two 3-mile runs, two 6-mile runs – one at marathon pace, and one 8-mile run on Sunday. After much practice, I can finally do the jumping block kick although it has left my legs very tired.

There are more of the kicks on the schedule this week and I also have to practice holding the horse stance for 15 minutes.image

In the Shaolin style we practice, our legs are wide apart as we sit low to the ground. It is used to strengthen the back and legs so that we are stronger fighters. For each sash we earn, a longer and longer horse stance is required.

My next test only requires 10 minutes at the man level (not quite a full squat) but I will practice for 15 minutes to be sure I can make the 10 minutes under stress. If my legs don’t hurt now, they will by the end of this week.

Twenty-six miles of running, power kicks and three hours of horse stance (15 minutes, twice a day for six days), two days of Core H and two days of a Better Myrtl, four hours of tai chi and kung fu class, a few more pots, pans and sheets, a little gardening and my week is a wrap.

My husband said he had meetings all day and I thought to myself, that might just be the next best thing to a day at the spa.

When the bough breaks… a lesson on injury prevention.

We woke up yesterday around 4:30a to a storm brewing……loud, booming thunder and sharp bursts of lightning. It scared the dogs and we finally just got up. The radar implied it would be over around 8a so I took my time with coffee and breakfast before the morning run.

We were in the kitchen when we heard a big POP, a long swoooooosh and a final Boom. I knew this sound. I flew from window to window looking for the source of the calamity. A massive, old Beech tree had fallen behind the house and into the waterfall.image

Where we live, the question is not if a tree will fall but where will it fall. By all outward appearances, this tree looked healthy. It grew on the side of the hill, by the two Adirondack chairs where we sit with a glass of wine on warm summer nights.

As soon as the rain stopped I went out to inspect the damage.To my surprise, the middle of the tree was rotten…completely hollow. I instinctively touched my abs and gave them a little press – look what being a little hollow in the middle will do to you!

If you’ve never done a strengthening routine, you would feel the difference on your first long run. There’s an added strength it gives you….stamina. More important perhaps, it helps prevent injuries.

Running injuries are associated either with imbalances in the strength of different muscles or with weaknesses in a specific muscle.

If you think of running as a pull on your body’s muscles, tendons and bones in one direction, over time making things lopsided from the singular effort – kind of like a tire that is never rotated. Strengthening the opposing and supporting muscles prevents your body from wearing out on one side so to speak.

imageAnd look what this tree did to the trees in its path. It took several others out on its way down – just like your body does. If your hips aren’t strong, they’ll take out your IT bands. If you have weak abs, your back may hurt. It’s a chain reaction.

Even if you’re not a runner, it’s a good reminder of how important it is to stay strong as you age. I heard Tom Brokaw talk about doing yoga with his wife after he retired. He said he was in the best shape because the yoga gave him more all-around strengthening. My friend from Ecuador said the same thing after he started yoga. I have recently read and seen the obvious results a fellow runner and blogger had with P90X.   (racesrepsramblings.wordpress.com)

It’s not the path you take that’s important, it’s the outcome. Funny how lessons can be learned from the most unexpected sources. I did my Core H routine this morning with just a little more vigor and determination.

General Strength and Mobility Training

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When I started running, I didn’t worry about anything but running. There were no cross training days, no worries if my core was strong. I woke up and ran the number of miles written in my calendar. That’s it. If you asked me what I was, I would have said, “I am a runner.” Yes, I was a runner through and through.

 

Ignorance is bliss. And, with knowledge comes responsibility.

I don’t know how or exactly when it happened, but I became aware that runners needed strength training. This knowledge created more layers to my identity as a runner, more depth. As with everything else, I poured myself into this new task. There were books to read, research to complete. Time was of the essence – I needed to be a strong runner.

I found Ryan Hall on YouTube demonstrating his core strengthening routine and it became my very own. Over the years, I included exercises I learned in Kung Fu, tweaked things a little here and there, added weights and plyometrics.  All of that was just fine…..until last week.

There seems to be a requirement for even more layers to my running…. I had become bored with my strengthening routine and realized it was no longer getting me as far as I’d like to go.

Some time ago I read about Coach Jay Johnson, although I must not have been ready for quite this big a change. I let the research go in one ear and out the other. In an interview by Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running, he mentioned Coach Johnson and the Core H routine.

Jason, also a coach, author and 2:39 marathoner, suggests doing about 10 minutes of strengthening exercises daily and recommended some of Coach Johnson’s routines. My strategy had been to set aside 30-40 minutes 2 or 3 times a week, so 10 minutes a day appealed to me.

Part of my problem was the exercise time on these 2-3 days could be easily interfered with – said differently, easily cancelled. Running takes priority so if something came up and there was a reduced amount of time available, the strengthening is what got cut. Not to mention the fact that these exercises were no longer creating a burn.

I took a look at Coach Johnson’s web site one morning while I was eating breakfast to see what it was all about. In the same amount of time that it took me to eat a bagel, I watched Coach Johnson’s student go through the Core H exercises – the whole routine, And she was working hard. Each exercise was performed for one minute – sounded easy but was obviously challenging.

I tried it that very day.

The new schedule was to stretch, run through my Tai Chi forms and whatever Kung Fu I should practice before my run (approximately 15-20 minutes), go for the scheduled run, come home and do the 10 minutes of strengthening.

It’s been a great change for my schedule. Ten minutes of work after the run is nothing, but the workout is intense and these exercises help build strength in a lot more than just the Abs. I feel the burn.

Suggested Research:

Building a Better Myrtl

Eight week general strength progression

feeling good, being uncomfortable and suffering