All athletes want to feel and perform their best. It’s natural to want a pain-free and balanced body to work out in. The reality is, regardless of gender, age or ability, most athletes are not always aware of how subdued yet chronic aches and pains are directly connected to poor movement patterns caused by muscle and joint imbalances. The body you take through activities of daily living and exercise can easily be a medicine or a poison to your system.
Have you ever experienced the feeling of getting “banged up” during or after an intense workout? I’m not talking about normal muscle fatigue and soreness from challenging your physical capacity. What I’m referring to is the accumulation of day-after-day chronic muscle and joint pain that just doesn’t seem to go away even though you’re doing all the right things with your nutrition, hydration, rest and exercise programming.
Sound like you?
Discomfort, movement restriction(s) or chronic pain are often the direct result of moving with subtle muscle and joint imbalances. The harder and more frequently we load a poorly aligned body, the more stiff, achy and out of balance it becomes.
Day in and out I hear clients erroneously chalk up their problems to all sorts of mythical explanations like aging, genetics, gender or their “luck” in life. While some of these explanations can certainly contribute toward aches and pains, in my experience there is one major culprit missing from the list: posture.
Why Posture Is The Key
Your day-to-day movement habits and positions have far more impact on athletic performance than you may realize. The human body has an optimal joint alignment, muscle balance, and function in every known plane of movement. When it veers away from this, it naturally compensates finding the path of least resistance to get the movement done. You may think your body is balanced. Your brain might not immediately register pain. But I promise it heard the message.
The connection between posture (body position) and pain (condition or symptoms) is intrinsically linked. Your daily movement patterns and habits in activities of life are the things you do the most. The demands of these movements and how we do them all day and every day affect our body balance and athletic performance profoundly. In my opinion, it is these postural positions that make a major impact on our ability to move, perform and recover optimally.
Building strength on crooked… means more crooked!
You know that eventually loading weight and velocity on a bent surface will cause something to crack or break. Would you take imbalanced muscles and joints into a workout? Probably not but if you don’t know you’re doing that, then how can you correct it?
Why It Is Important
Take the average CrossFit athlete with a desk job who puts in 60 to 90 minutes of exercise four to five times weekly. Which one do they spend more time doing? Now think of what the demands of sitting do to the body. For over 40 hours per week, week after week, the low back is compressed, hips and knees flexed, head forward of the shoulders and arms internally rotated. Do you think this athlete will automatically place their body into its ideally aligned muscle and joint position for an overhead squat in a WOD?
Unless an athlete is incorporating a posture correcting program to bring the body back into balance as part of their recovery plan, probably not. This typical athlete has varying degrees of muscle and joint imbalances affecting the ability to put their ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, neck, and head in the right position consistently. Sure, he/she might get the weight up overhead, but without addressing the compensations in their exercise journey, they will struggle, stop progressing, feel twinges of pain, or worse eventually suffer an acute and avoidable injury.
This scenario is amplified more if an athlete consistently takes a body unable to heal from abnormal soreness, movement restrictions or repetitive strain into workouts without correcting the problem. The body naturally compensates even further to figure out a way to avoid the pain and restrictions. These compensations are no joke and leave an athlete vulnerable to an acute injury. Even more distressing is that these joint and muscle imbalances can give you pain symptoms far away from the original actual site of the problem.
If you’re not in the habit of correcting your posture before or after strenuous physical demand, you are increasing your risk of forced time off of training. When chronic pain or an acute injury occurs, forced rest can be absolute torture for a person with an athletic lifestyle.
So what’s an athlete to do?
Restore Postural Balance
Implement a posture recovery workout plan. Posture Recovery Workouts target common areas of muscle tension, weakness and tightness that come from moving in an asymmetrical way. They help restore ideal muscle balance and joint alignment. Think of it as a multivitamin in your preventative healthcare toolbox.
Done consistently as part of a cool-down or active recovery day, these workouts will help distribute your body weight more evenly throughout the kinetic chain. You’ll have better mobility in the major load joints (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders), improved joint stability and function and long term, reduced chronic muscle, and joint pain.
A balanced body moves and performs with ease. It is even and symmetrical in all three planes, so weight is distributed more equally and makes it less likely to get injured or plagued by pain due to compensations. Movement efficiency increases, which means energy is used optimally from the start to finish.
Spending a few focused minutes to align the major load joints and muscles of the body will catalyze all the other good recovery habits implemented into exercise programming and recovery routines (rest, nutrition, hydration, supplementation). You’ll reap the most physical benefit from your exercise effort and maximize recovery from workouts, allowing you to enjoy activities of daily living and workouts even more.
10 Exercises for Balance
Posture Recovery Workouts add a bit to your day but provide priceless value in that they keep the body balanced and help avoid injury/chronic pain.
- Standing elbow curls
- Runner’s stretch
- Cats and dogs
- Downward dog
- Static back (add pullovers and snow angels)
- Knee pillow squeezes lying supine
- Frog (add arm glides)
- Hip crossover stretch OR
- Assisted Hip Lift
- Repeat Downward Facing Dog (a great way to reassess the body balance and function changes you made from start to finish)
Try the routine for 30 days following your workouts and record your progress in your workout tracker. You’ll begin to notice that you’ll sit, stand and move more comfortable throughout your day. You should also see improved posture and athletic performance.
This is a generic program designed with the average person in mind. It will work for the majority but not everyone. If something doesn’t “feel right” to you or causes an increase in symptomatic pain, stop! An increase in pain means it’s not the right move for you to be doing at the moment. It’s not the exercise that’s the issue. It’s the inability of the body to get into the demand due to muscle imbalances and load joint dysfunctions. Seek help from a local CES in your area and get your posture evaluated by a trusted professional who can put together a targeted corrective exercise program customized for your unique needs.
Focus on the quality of movements and how you set them up. Quality trumps quantity or how quickly you can rush through them. Take time to set up the exercise from a good postural position and allow yourself to notice the differences in front/back, side/side, and top/bottom. Perform them in a slow and focused manner. At most, you should feel a gentle muscular engagement — never an intense pull, strain or stress to your system. Awareness is key.