Standing Tall

Posted on October 27, 2011. Filed under: Exercise, Healing, Joints, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

by Dr. Gregory Steiner~

One of the little, silly catch-phrases we use at the clinic is “Take the Ouch! out of the Slouch.” It’s pitched at the level where everyone can remember it, and even for it’s simplistic -soundingness, there’s a lot in it.

So, let’s deal with real basics, and talk about posture from a chiropractic, mechanical and cosmetic view points.

As in so many areas of my professional life, while I learned a lot form my teachers, I’ve learned even more from the good ones and bad ones in weight training. As a general group, I would say that an unfortunate league table exists for rating how well or how badly people who lift weights wisely use their bodies natural capability. Here’s my evaluation – general impressions formed over years of watching, participating and treating men and women in all the categories.

In bottom place, bodybuilders.

In middle place, power lifters.

In absolute first place, Olympic lifters – as I’ve written many times and will do again, these people know how to stand, how to move, and how to lift great weights with great speed with impeccable co-ordination. All deserving kudos to them!

Ok, not all bodybuilders. In fact, the best ones will have learned how to balance out all main postural muscle groups in order to stand well, to present themselves in the best possible way.

Look at it this way. If you stand straight, you look better. If you stand straight, you breathe better. If you breathe better, your energy is better – and possibly your sleep. If your energy is better, you train better. You’ll have already completed the sequence – if you train better, you get bigger and stronger.

Sometimes various writers discuss posture, usually a physiotherapist, an alternative health practitioner, or another health professional. All the technicalities are good, and alternative health models that talk about releasing energy are fine as well – if they serve their purpose to motivate you to actually stand up straight – habitually. Not for an hour, or when you feel like it, but as a natural way of life.

Probably not “sexy” enough a topic to warrant much discussion in many magazines, you’ll find it’s more the authors who maintain something of the old-time physical culture approach to training that may mention or talk around the topic of posture. Bradley Steiner’s writing has a lot of this flavour – he deserves a read as well as a lot of attention, for two simple reasons. One, he walked the walk – Bradley built himself up from frailty to power and vitality by following these principles, and two, he’s has helped and inspired many, many others to do the same for many, many years. I don’t know if we have a common ancestor somewhere back there, but we share that experience, building from relative frailty to vitality and strength through training in both fitness and martial arts. Seek him out.

The physical culturists were way ahead of their time, though the word hasn’t been used much since WWII, as far as I know. So, why were they ahead of their time? For one, their philosophy from which they designed their training methods was wholistic. That word – “wholism” refers to a certain mindset on how things fit together, the emphasis in on systems. It’s one of the main reasons why wholistic practitioners have enjoyed an tremendous increase in popularity and utilisation of their methods, whether it be wholistic medical doctors, chiropractors or Alexander technique coaches.

In direct terms, the wholistic practitioner in the best sense of the word recognises how this bit connects and interacts with that bit, and how those two bits together work together to interact with the third bit. By contract, old-school medicine perceives the “person” as distinct from the body, and each part of the body as more or less distinct from the other parts. While strictly speaking in orthopedics – sorting out joints and other musculoskeletal structures there is a real use in fixing a battered knee, for example, how that knee affects the gait, and how that altered gait causes pain in the low back or neck receives little attention. In my clinic, for we assume from the start that whatever the problem, it’s connected to something else. Of it’s pain of long standing, there will almost always be some type of distortion as the body shifts to alleviate pain as best it can. If a problem is new, we look for underlying , undiscovered weaknesses or “stuck bits” that set the stage for injury, such as bent or twisted spines in muscles imbalances front and back (or agonist antagonist).

What I’m trying to do here is give some illustration of the principles in action. Physical culture expressed a philosophy enacted in total lifestyle. If I have a criticism about most of modern body building, it’s the overly narcissistic mind set that inverts priorities that lead to long life, good health and lots of energy. What I see is body-beautiful first, strength second, and health as an after thought.

Ok, we know that culture being the way it is, no one except really close family and friends really have much concern for your health, but I can equally guarantee you that every author in Hardgainer look at things the other way round, especially if they have a few years of experience and a few miles on the body. We want to stay fit and strong and looking good – forever! And it can be done.

Ok, we also know that many more people will reward you, shun you and form impressions of you, as you do of yourself – based on how you look. Your gym buddies will categorize you on your strength, and both of these are sources of real motivation.

So, what’s all this leading to? Remember what we said about some doctors looking at the body like a collection of body parts, each one with little relation to the others? And, recall how we discussed the wholistic viewpoint? Physical culture was like the wholistic way of seeing things – healthy mind, in healthy body, in a life lived according to those principles. In daily terms this meant acting and doing in ways to promote that bigger picture of health and vitality. You train hard, you train wisely, you rest well, you eat wisely- and guess what, you look fantastic as a result. Except there is an added bonus – you radiate a certain energy that others can sense, it’s part of what makes some people “naturally beautiful.”

There is some hard-edge scientific research that shows “symmetry” be a Very Big Deal in judgements of attractiveness. Muscle size is certainly part of it, but relative balance and shape counts for much more than sheer size – unless being a strength athlete is your driving goal. The point is, some of our desire for the Better Body may be biologically based, and it operates within us all the time though our exact expression of the desire can be modified according to culture and person.

As a case in point, picture any “charismatic” person you choose. How does that person stand? If you are picturing a slouch, let’s say your tastes are “unique!” The clearest examples of straight posture come from the military of course, and while the military posture can be too stiff – not at all like that of the Olympic lifters who have more “bounce and carriage,” it’s a lot more right than wrong. In my clinical experience I’ve worked enough years to track people’s posture. I rarely, rarely have seen long-term military-types develop that hunched over shuffle I see so much in either desk workers who don’t exercise, or manual workers who have strong back and weak stomachs. Rather, you can read the non-verbal communication that slouching – to the ex-military man – was and is seen as a sin with damnation as the penalty!

Believe it or not, taking postures (in conjunction with adopting facial expressions) characteristic of certain emotions generate real, measurable changes in physiology. For example, if a person assumes an angry posture and expression, heart rate and body temperature rises. If a person assumes the characteristics of fear, heart rate rises but temperature drops. So, there seems to be a direct posture – physiology connection, independent of environmental events that trigger.

So, let’s take this the other way around. If you slouch, there is more chance to feel depressed feelings. But, if you stand straight and tall, everything balanced and working well – you have much more of a chance to feel on top of your game.

In relation to training, what we’re trying to do is establish a basic level, foundational mind-body connection that let’s you know when your posture is “right.” If you can feel this, your margin of safety and future productivity in training has just increased dramatically – as well as your training longevity.

Look in a mirror – or better yet have a tailor look at you and measure you up; tailors and dress makers have an eye to rival the best health professionals. In my clinic I take digital photos of people to let them see what I see – which besides the off-balance and tilted shoulders and hips are shocked looks on patient’s faces when they recognise that being the human Tower of Pisa is not “normal.” After they accept that, we’re usually ready to get to work!

If you see a tilt, consult a sports oriented chiropractor, physio or doctor to advise you; Alexander technique practitioners do a good job as well. So, get to work and take the Ouch out of the Slouch!.

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