Friday, July 13, 2012

Are You Balanced?

Front and Back Body Balance

When I first started writing this blog this was one of the first topics that I wanted to cover but for some reason just never got around to writing it.  I've hashed it around in my mind on some of those long solo bike rides. Here goes... let's see if I can make any sense.

As athletes and pretty much most people in society these days we have very unbalanced front and back bodies. We are all typically stronger in our front body muscles and weaker in our back body muscles.  When I was in college my gymnastics coach told me that my quad to hamstring strength was about 4:1!!  Ever see a little old man walking in a "C" position with his pants hiked way up in front?  How much time do our older population live in a seated position?  Pretty much all day.  What happens is that our hip flexors - the illiopsoas and the illiacus - get strong and shortened.  These are the muscles that help hold us in a seated position.  And when the front body muscles are overused the back body muscles are overstretched and weak.  Long ago we spent most of our time standing up and working.  Think about our lives today.  We sleep, usually curled on our side, get up and sit at the table to have breakfast, drive to work in a seated position, sit at a desk all day.  All of those front body muscles are being used all day long.  Arms in front of you using chest muscles.  Mostly front body muscle -  all strong and short.

All of the muscles in your body have antagonist or opposing muscle groups.  Quadriceps vs. Hamstrings,  Chest vs. Back, Biceps vs. Triceps.. you get the picture.  Think about when you get a headache that starts in the back of your head by your neck.  Usually it is from having a forward head position and the muscles attaching to the occipital ridge are pulled tight all day long. They get achy from the tension. While at the same time the scalenes, SCM (sternocleidomastoid muscle) and the attachments at your clavicle are shortened as our head leans forward.  So what do we usually do when it starts to hurt?  Pull our chin to our chest - just exactly the opposite of what you should do.   Or how about when you've been driving in the car for a long time and your upper back starts to get sore?  Again we usually drop our chin to our chest and stretch forward with our arms, maybe across our body.  Next time you feel this soreness, contract your upper back muscles and hold for 5 seconds, repeat it 10 times and see if the soreness decreases. 

As triathletes and runners pretty much all of our motion is forward - moving down the road.  Utilizing the front body way more than the back.  How about when your bent over on your aerobars for hours on end.  Overstretching the back body again.

As a massage therapist for 17 years I always started my clients face up rather than the typical face down that most therapists use.  The last 4 years spent working for a wonderful Chiropractic office where I learned so much about the back and neck. Why did I start them face up??  Because most people come in complaining about their backs and necks. Why would you work on an overstretched and weak muscle before you loosened up the tight opposing muscle groups??  So first I would release the front shoulder and the pecs, the anterior neck and all the attachments at the clavicle and sternum.  I could see their shoulders can come back and rest on the table once the front body was opened.

So what does this have to do with how it can help you??  It's simple.  "Stretch the Front Body and Strengthen the Back Body".  And every morning when you wake up, before you get out of bed flip over onto your stomach and bring yourself up into a modified cobra pose.  Legs out behind you and gently raise yourself up onto your elbows bringing your chest off the bed.  Then slowly lift your face up to the ceiling.  Lower back down and do this a couple more times.  For a great hip flexor stretch stand backwards at the edge of your bed, bring one knee up to your chest and hold it there with your arms, lay back on the bed letting your standing leg hang off the bed (continue holding your bent knee).  You'll feel a great stretch in the hip flexors - be sure to keep your core strong while doing this, don't arch your back.  Lie backwards on a stability ball letting your arms fall out to the sides to open the chest.

Think about your posture, keep your shoulders back (like your Mom always told you to do) and keep your head up, as if there is a string pulling you through the top of your head toward the sky.  Do exercises that strengthen the back of your body.

And here is another totally unrelated tip.  We use the front and sometimes the back of our bodies way more than the lateral sides.  So while you're brushing your teeth do some side leg raises to use the abductors in your hips.  Left leg while you brush the top teeth, right leg for the bottom teeth.