In this two-part series, I will be addressing ways in which you can fix asymmetries (muscular imbalances, movement impairments) to unlock your athletic potential and reduce your likelihood of injury. While there are certainly a variety of factors that go into addressing and fixing asymmetries, part one of this series will focus on the components needed to establish the strongest and safest position in all of movement – the neutral alignment/braced athletic position. The first step in truly eliminating asymmetries is establishing a symmetrical and neutral posture. Those two components, as I will address them, are:
- Neutral alignment
- Maintaining system tension
I have a confession to make. I people watch, a lot. I am constantly looking at movements and joints and determining if they are functioning optimally. I love analyzing and critiquing how the body functions as a unit, it’s my hobby. So much so, that my members are all probably sick of how many times I address their posture and alignment in their hour-long training session. But the fact of the matter is, posture and alignment is nothing to take lightly. It must be consciously coached to the point where it becomes subconsciously perfect. Proper posture and alignment isn’t just for gym settings. Rather, it should be for everything we do. One universal position for all of life’s tasks, whether it be squatting, deadlifting, overhead pressing, carries, running, performing a pushup, driving to work, raking the leaves, re-caulking around the bathtub, laying down carpet, sleeping, ironing, washing the dishes, texting. And while there are some old-school iron-sluggers out there somewhere saying “relax kid, quit being so anal about every little detail. I lifted through the 70’s with Arnold and I turned out fine” or “we didn’t have all this science nonsense in the 60’s, and I was still able to set athletic records that still stand today”, the fact of the matter is they left something on the table. Imagine how much better they could have been had they truly had a bulletproof, highly functioning UNIT for a body, and an anal coach behind them nitpicking their alignment with every move!
Components of the Perfect Posture
1) Neutral Alignment
A true neutral alignment consists of stacking the joints and segments of the body into a position where they can optimally absorb and produce force. The slightest deviation in this alignment can cause a kink in the system that not only impedes on athletic performance but can lead to detrimental injuries as well. An ideal position consists of the ears, shoulders, ribcage, pelvis, hips, knees and lateral malleolus of the foot forming a perfectly vertical line, while the natural “S” shape curvature of the spine is maintained. Movement too far forward, too far backward, too far inwards, too far outwards, too far rotated either way at any of these segments and joints results in a breached position, and thus an improper alignment. Conscious thought must go into always maintaining this posture.
Note: There are a variety of conditions and circumstances that can cause any of the aforementioned default positions to occur, including spinal and other joint abnormalities, muscular imbalances and neural adaptations. While it may seem logical to discuss these areas first (as they are most likely inhibiting the proper alignment), I have instead chosen to focus on re-training our conscious thought to master this proper positioning so that when the aforementioned areas are corrected, they can be incorporated into the already introduced ideal perfect posture. In part 2 of this series I will be covering in greater detail the joint, tissue and neural restrictions and their role in asymmetries.
2) Maintaining System Tension
Maintaining system tension is the more challenging of the two components needed for a strong, stable unit. While proper alignment can often be cued through either auditory, visual, or kinesthetic cues, maintaining system tension (especially with movement) requires a lot more conscious thought. Proper system tension is achieved by ‘removing slack’ around a joint or segment, and requires a combination of torque and expansion principles.
Torque: a measure of how much a force acting on an object causes that object to rotate.
Expansion: the action of becoming larger of more extensive.
A truly strong, stable and safe unit involves creating tension and torque throughout the entire system. We’ve all heard the expression you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. Think of your body as a canoe – if you can’t maintain tension and torque throughout that canoe, the cannon will fire and fall right through the base. If you provide that cannon with a strong, rigid structure to fire from however, the cannon will be able to do a lot more damage. This theory can be extended to the joints of the body. Specifically, the shoulder and hip joint. The shoulders and hips are essentially the gateway of delivery for the upper and lower extremities, respectively. By utilizing torque, we can maintain system tension that will allow us to powerfully (and safely) transmit harnessed force out to our extremities (whether to throw a football, perform a squat, or climb a ladder).
The Hip: torque can be created through motor learning by actively engaging the hip musculature in order to stabilize and produce tension at the hip. Some cues you can use to actively think of this are:
– Corkscrew your feet into the ground
– Spread the floor with your feet
The Shoulder: torque can be created through motor learning by actively engaging the shoulder and scapular stabilizers.
Some cues you can use to actively think of this are:
-Break the bar/Bend the bar (deadlifts and bench press)
-Corkscrew your hands into the ground (pushups)
The True Weak Link: The Midsection
No matter how much tension and torque we are able to produce at the upper and lower extremities, the amount of force we will be able to produce (for performance) and absorb (for safety) will always be dependent on how stiff/rigid the midsection is for energy transfer. It’s for this reason that core stability (and not core strength) has gained more popularity over the last decade. A true rigid core can be achieved by ‘removing slack’ from the segment through a two-step process via the principle of expansion. Step 1: Maintaining a stacked posture where the ribcage and pelvis are directly inline with one another allows for optimal bracing and apical expansion. (For more info on breathing and it’s role in performance, look HERE.)
Some cues you can use to actively think of this are:
-Lock the ribcage down (don’t allow your ribs to “open up”)
-Engage your glutes
-Maintain abdominal bracing (think of getting punched in the stomach, your abdominals, obliques, low back, pelvic floor muscles should all tighten)
Step 2: Once braced, utilize diaphragmatic breathing to ensure you have 360 degree apical expansion. Take a deep belly breath so that the air expands and pushes your midsection (front, sides, low back) out. Read more on that HERE.
While these are the introductory tools required in order to begin fixing asymmetries, and thus performance and injury risk, it is not enough to consciously think of these things only when we are performing a record-setting bench press. It needs to be consciously ingrained in all of our movements, whether that’s a bodyweight lunge in warmup, a banded lat stretch, a plank variation, a heavy farmer carry, or a sled sprint. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Looking to take your performance (while remaining durable and eliminating your injuries) to the next level?! Join the Adult Performance Program today! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.