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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Keep Your Body True, or It Will Be False To You!

Contributing Author: Chek, Paul H.H.P.

Paul ChekPaul Chek is a world-renowned expert in the fields of corrective and high-performance exercise kinesiology. For over twenty years, Paul’s unique, holistic approach to treatment and education has changed the lives of many of his clients, his students and their clients. By treating the body as a whole system and finding the root cause of a problem, Paul has been successful where traditional approaches have consistently failed. Paul is the founder of the C.H.E.K (Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology) Institute, based in California, USA.
» Website: www.paulchek.com 

 

Any good triathlete knows that their racing wheels need to be tuned and true for optimal cycling performance.  Yet how many of these athletes realize that they may be losing precious seconds, or even minutes, because their body isn’t running true?

Every coach or therapist with any experience in their game will know that prolonged exposure to any sport will produce sport-specific muscle imbalances. For example, look at any boxer with a few years training under his belt and you will see the characteristic rounded shoulders, rounded upper back and protracted shoulder on his lead or jab hand side. Tennis players commonly have a significantly depressed and medially rotated shoulder on their racquet arm side. Rowers commonly have forward head posture, increased thoracic kyphosis (hump in the middle back) and may have a flat lower back.

“This is all fine and dandy,” you may say, “but I’m a triathlete!” Indeed, you are a tri-athlete.  This simply means that you are three times as likely to develop a sport-specific muscle imbalance! To help you better understand how a triathlete can easily develop a performance hampering muscle imbalance, lets take a look at each sport individually.

RUNNING

Unlike sprinting, distance running does not require a significant activation of the gluteus maximus or the abdominal muscles. These muscles are lazy, relatively speaking, and try to do as little work as possible until they are needed during an intense sprint. To prove my point, simply look at the physique of any elite sprinter. You will see well developed gluteus maximus and abdominal muscles, both of which are critical to accelerating and decelerating a sprinter’s body.

The distance runner, who must conserve more energy, applies afraction of the effort per foot strike that a sprinter does, yet during a seven minute mile will take about 750 strides per leg. Therefore, the distance runner is very dependent on the actions of the soleus muscle (long calf muscle on the back of your leg), the quadriceps group and the hip flexors. As these muscles shorten and tighten with repetitive exposure to work, they increase their passive elastic tension, resulting changes to one’s posture and joint range of motion (ROM).  Common structural changes in distance runners include hyperextended knees, restricted ankle dorsi flexion, tight quads, and hip flexors which restrict hip extension and pull the lumbar spine into increased curvature.

The resulting hyperextension of the knees and increased lumbar curvature are what we call a “primary imbalance” in rehabilitation. The primary imbalance created at the lumbar spine and pelvis not only induces over pronation of the foot and ankle, it also encourages an increased thoracic kyphosis and forward head posture. This is because an alteration in one of the spine’s curvatures will proportionately alter the other curvatures of the spine. The resulting forward head posture and rounded shoulders would then be considered a “secondary muscle imbalance” in the running athlete.

To address the primary muscle groups that must be stretched, we start with the  calves, focusing primarily on the soleus (Figure 1). Next, the quads must be stretched which can be effectively accomplished using a Swiss Ball (Figure 2). To address the hip flexors, I’ve included the Lunge Stretch as seen in Figure 3.  Tight hip flexors tend to tip the pelvisforward which almost always creates a concomitant tightening of the low back.  This can be addressed by performing the Double Knee To Chest stretch shown in Figure 4. To correct the primary imbalance created by prolonged exposure to running, it is important to stretch the muscles that tip the pelvis forward and increase lumbar curvature.  Perform the stretches before running, after running and at night before going to bed. Stretching before bed is critical because the body heals a large percentage of soft tissue microtrauma at night.

CYCLING

When cycling, extended periods of time are spent with your head cocked into extension so that you can see the road. This requirement often results in chronic loading of the short extensor muscles of the neck and is associated with an exaggerated cervical curvature and encourages forward head posture. Cyclists are notorious for having an increased thoracic kyphosis from cycling in a seated position with a rounded upper back for long periods of time. This typically results from trying to relieve the load off the hands, although today this problem occurs less due to changes in handle bar design.

To improve posture and counterbalance the sport-specific muscle and postural imbalances created by the cycling leg, you will find the Prone Cobra (Figure 5) and the Bent Over Row exercise (Figure 6) to be very effective. However, before you perform these corrective exercises, it is a good idea to first stretch the pectoralis minor muscle (Figure 7). The pec minor tends to be a workaholic in that it is easily shortened, tends to take over for other synergist muscles and inhibits antagonistic stabilizer muscles. By stretching this muscle first, you will be more likely to get a balancing effect from the corrective exercises suggested here.

SWIMMING

Swimming is a sport that requires action from two main engines of the body, the arms and the legs. The arms pull, while the legs push through their kicking action. Unfortunately, between these two swimming engines is a torso that is commonly uncoordinated and improperly conditioned. As the torso muscles fatigue, the pelvis begins to sag, creating drag in the water, and making you look much more appetizing to a shark than the healthy, strong swimmers passing you!

One of the reasons that swimmers get premature and unwanted drag is the use of the wrong abdominal conditioning exercises. For example, performing crunches and sit-ups is about the fastest way to train the body and brain to overuse the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles as stabilizers instead of prime movers. The large outer muscles of the abdominal wall are predominantly fast twitch, or “phasic” muscles, which are best suited for short bursts of work. They are not well suited to support and stabilize the spine and extremities for extended periods of time, as is necessary in distance swimming.

To improve the function of the true stabilizers of the torso so that you can properly align and capitalize on the propulsion power of the legs and arms, you must perform exercises directed at specifically improving stabilization. Two exercises that will improve the performance of the slow twitch dominant stabilizer muscles are the 4 Point Tummy Vacuum (Figure 8) and the Lower Abdominal - 2 with Blood Pressure Cuff exercise (Figure 9).

Because the action of swimming requires repetitive internal rotation of the arms under load, there is a tendency for the medial rotators to become shortened and relatively stronger than the antagonistic lateral shoulder rotators. To combat this problem, which encourages forward head posture and rounded shoulders, we use an exercise called the Back Hand exercise (Figure 10). Again, remember that you should always stretch before you attempt corrective exercises; in particular, you should stretch the pectoralis minor. If you have any of the other imbalances indicated here, you will want to do all the stretches presented in this article before attempting any corrective exercises.

WHY ALL THE FUSS ABOUT POSTURE?

I am sure you have heard the word posture a thousand times in your life. I am also quite sure it is likely that no one ever explained what posture really means to the triathlete, or any athlete for that matter. To do that, we need only look at accepted definitions of the term:

POSTURE IS THE POSITION FROM WHICH MOVEMENT BEGINS AND ENDS. Simply stated, this means that if you begin any movement or motion in a position of poor posture, you will definitely end the motion in a position of poor posture. The result, accelerated wear and tear on your joints!

Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais method of movement therapy and author of the book Awareness Through Movement, stated that “IDEAL POSTURE IS THE POSITION FROM WHICH THE MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEM FUNCTIONS MOST EFFICIENTLY.”  As you can see that statement says it all, anything less than ideal posture results in inefficient movement. Not a good formula for any athlete!

In summary, if you want to perform at your genetic capacity and reap the maximum benefit from your many hours of hard training, include your corrective stretches each day, your corrective exercises two to three times each week after training, and if you keep your body true, it will be true to you!