I was at the Ironman Triathlon over the weekend and whilst I have great admiration for each competitor’s drive and self-discipline, I was amazed at how many people had terrible posture and poor movement patterns. Many of the cyclists had excessive curvature of their back, inadequate hip bending and their knees were turned inwards close to the bar. Many of the runners also were hunched over, with excessive turning in of their knees and turning out of their feet.
Injuries waiting to happen
In effect, all these people are just injuries waiting to happen. Why? Because the one thing that most determines if you will suffer from a physical injury is your technique. Your technique for swimming, your technique for cycling, your technique for running, walking, standing, sitting, everything.
The way to know if your pain is due to a posture or movement habit
These are the sorts of pains and physical problems that come on for no apparent reason. They just seem to appear and you can’t quite put your finger on it as to why. Any physical problem that has come on out of the “blue”, is likely to be due to a faulty posture or movement habit.
You see, it is not often what you do but how you do it that will cause you pain and problems. Poor technique doesn’t just lead to poor performance, it leads to injury as the excessive or abnormal stresses generated cause cellular irritation, inflammation, pain and tissue breakdown.
The problem for you is that many of these techniques are habits, ingrained in you from the day you were born. Most of the time you don’t even know that you are doing them.
Think about it. Many people have devices which record how many steps they take, with the target being 10,000 steps a day. How many times do you move your head, bend over, cross your legs, lean forward, sit down and stand up? Thousands upon thousands of times. And how long do you spend looking at computer screens, TV screens and smart phones? Potentially, hours upon hours.
What you may not realise is that many of the positions and movements you do each day, you do every day, in the same way, at the same speeds, in the same directions. These are called habits and you have been doing then since the day dot. They are part of your very fibre, bound up in the very way that you perceive yourself and the world around you. They are also as unique to you as your voice and fingerprints.
Poor habits = Poor health, Good habits = Good health
Now, can you imagine if you do each of these activities in a slightly “faulty” way. Perhaps you sit at a computer leaning forward, or turn your head to look at the computer screen which is off to one side. Perhaps people approach you from one side or you find yourself twisting one particular way time and time again.
If you are a gardener, builder or cyclist, it has been proven that you will finish up with a flattened lower back (Claus 1996). In other words, your body will adapt to your daily activities, much the same way that an athlete’s body will adapt to their training program. In effect, your body will reflect not just what you do, but more importantly how you do things.
Magill and associates (1992) showed that if you stretch a soft tissue (e.g. sit slouched) for 20 minutes that it takes longer than 40 minutes for full recovery. And yet, we may hold certain, “stretched” positions for hours (e.g. gardening), over-stretching tissues and never letting them recover. Is it no wonder that these tissues develop over stretch weakness that may then lead to over-stretch strain (tearing of fibres)?
Your body will follow the path of least resistance. This means that the muscles that you use more will get stronger, whilst those that you move less will get weaker. Its the same for joints, as those that you move most will get more mobile, whilst those that you move less will get stiffer. This reinforces and perpetuates the joint mal-alignment and muscle imbalance. It also causes compensation to occur, often at the least desirable joint, in the least desirable direction, leading to pain and dysfunction.
“Hands- on” treatment techniques whether they be from a physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath, massage therapist, acupuncturist, are essential as they "loosen up" specific stiff joints and tight muscles. However, "hands on" techniques will generally give just short term relief as they generate just short term changes in joint mobility and soft tissue tension, thereby alleviating symptoms for the time until the tissues become irritated again. Likewise, corrective exercise alone will generally give just medium term relief as while they may correct muscle imbalance, they won't correct the posture or movement which is causing the actual problem. To achieve long term, sustained relief, you must correct the posture, movement or activity which is causing the problem.
How to fix these problems for good
To turn these problems around, the first thing you need to do is become aware. Listen to your body. How does it feel as you do or just after doing a particular activity? Does it feel abnormally tight, stiff, tender or achy? Does it grate, lock, click or give way? All these are signs that an activity may be doing you harm and are often a precursor to symptoms. These signs are to be distinguished from normal exercise muscle soreness which should last about 24 hours and indicates that your soft tissues are adapting to the exercise “stress”. Pain longer than this, probably means that you have exercised too hard and / or have sustained some sort of tissue damage.
So what is good technique?
Good technique refers to the optimal alignment and function of all the body systems, structures and tissues so that the highest level of performance is achieved and a person’s physical, psychological and spiritual health is enhanced.
5 Tips for achieving good technique
- Listen to and work with your body. Become aware of what feels good and what doesn’t feel good. Use mirrors or other biofeedback tools to check your form and stop the activity when you notice that your technique has become “faulty”. Make adjustments and then test to assess what works and what doesn’t work. Then keep doing what works and refine the process through practicing to improve everything that you do.
- Become informed by reading books, blogs and articles. Watch films that educate you in how to perform better. Attend seminars or join groups that have the same values, goals and interests.
- Get an assessment. You don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, you may have no idea that the way that you are doing something is potentially causing your body and health damage, let alone detracting from your performance and results.
- Get a coach. Whether it be by yourself or with a group, a qualified coach who is knowledgeable, competent and has a track record of results will be able to help you avoid technique and training mistakes that may lead to injury.
- Use equipment and training techniques that enhance your health and performance.
Your technique determines everything. Poor technique pretty much will guarantee you injury. Good technique will not only minimize your chances of suffering from an injury, but also means that you may swim better, cycle faster and run easier. So not only will you spend less time on the injury sidelines, you will have more fun doing what you love.
I hope that this helps.
Next week, I will share some quick and easy tips on how you avoid the most common injuries and / or if you are injured, how to recover faster from them.
If you are concerned about your physical and nutritional health and would like to reduce or prevent pain, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 (BODYWISE) 263 994 to book your FREE Physical or Nutritional assessment.
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