Are posture and breathing our secret weapons?
Adapted from their book The Feel Good Body, authors Anna-Louise Bouvier and Jennifer Fleming recommend you look at the integration of clients’ global and postural muscle systems to achieve better results.
Research shows that when global and postural muscle systems work together, they produce optimum results. After treating clients for many years, I (Anna-Louise) came to realise a large number of issues stemmed from poor postural habits. If someone sits at a desk all day with their back shaped like a banana, the local/postural muscle system crashes and the global system needs to work harder to compensate for a lack of stability. Over time, this can lead to body breakdown. If clients learn how to switch on their local/postural muscle system when training – and for the rest of the day – they will achieve better results.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, you only see part of the muscle system – the moving/global muscles. There is another key system that’s invisible – the local/postural system – that does the job of supporting the skeleton. These two muscle systems work together. While you can activate the moving/global muscles as easily as flexing a bicep, the postural system is a bit trickier, only switching on when the body is lined up correctly. If the postural system collapses because of sloppy posture, the moving system steps in to support the body. But because these muscles aren’t supposed to be used for extended periods, they become tired and sore. This manifests itself as niggly aches and makes people want to slump even more.
There are a couple of implications for personal trainers. Naturally, it’s essential to watch your client’s form when they are working out, but it’s also important that clients monitor how they position their body for the rest of the day. If they routinely slump, prop and lean, it means they are not using the postural system and are missing out on the optimal functioning of the muscle systems. The problem is, most people have forgotten how to ‘line up’ properly. Activating the postural muscle system isn’t about exercises, but alignment and transforming bad postural habits into good ones.
We have developed a 21-day Feel Good Body program featuring seven simple steps, with good habits to incorporate into daily life. From standing, sitting, rebooting the core or releasing neck tension, the secret to maximising your client’s progress is to encourage good postural habits 24/7.
One of these steps is breathing. Factors such as poor posture and stress can cause people to only breathe from the upper lobes of their lungs. It means they often can’t get enough oxygen when running. The correct way to breathe is from the base of the lungs. A helpful way to describe it to clients is to tell them to imagine that there is an umbrella opening at the base of the lungs. As they breathe out, they should imagine the umbrella is closing with the diaphragm contracting inward and drawing in the ribs. Breathing like this all day, every day, correctly engages the core and ensures a more efficient and effective workout. The following step-by-step instructions make it easy for you to explain to clients exactly what they need to do;
Habit one: Create Space
- Lungs need space to work properly. Place the fingers of your right hand on your breastbone and your left hand underneath your belly button.
- Slump, then gently lift your top hand and ribs away from the bottom hand without swaying your back.
- Breathe out and relax your shoulders. This lengthens your torso and correctly activates your deep core (or ‘sucks in your lava’ as we like to say!).
Habit two: Use your base
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of four to fill the base of your lungs without moving your breastbone.
- When you feel air reach your lower lobes, imagine your diaphragm, which is at the base of your ribs, is an umbrella. As you breathe in, feel your bottom ribs expand at the front, sides and back.
- Breathe out to a count of four and imagine the umbrella is slowly closing and drawing in your ribs and stomach wall. You’ll feel your stomach deflate like a soufflé. Keep your chest up. Repeat for five slow breaths.
Changing breathing habits will take time. It is a good idea to practice when stopped in the car at traffic lights, or when watching television. Once the habit is ingrained, there are positive flow-ons into training. I (Jennifer) found my running improved dramatically because I engaged my core and pelvic floor when breathing. As you breathe out, the stomach wall should draw in. If the stomach bulges or hardens or you hold your breath, the core has crashed, along with the support.
If you can encourage clients to get the foundations right when standing, sitting, walking and breathing, they will be able to achieve much more when undertaking more complex activities, such as exercise. The other bonus is that they will look better when their posture is aligned and feel better through boosting their confidence and activating their body’s internal elastic support. You’ll be surprised at how much your client’s progress improves when their posture is aligned and they start breathing better.
Anna-Louise and Jennifer have created The Feel Good Body: 7 steps to easing aches and looking great. Based on the latest research into posture, muscles, habits and stress, the book shows you how to change everyday bad habits into good ones. The Feel Good Body is available at all good book stores or via
www.thefeelgoodbody.com.au where you can also download the iPhone reminder app
Anna-Louise is a respected physiotherapist, former Australian Fitness Network Presenter of the Year, and creator of the successful Physiocise program run at two Sydney clinics including the Sydney Football Stadium. She is an injury prevention consultant to the NSW Waratahs Super 14 Rugby Union team.
Jennifer was the co-author of the runaway best-seller, Spotless, and is a successful author, radio producer and consultant with over 15 years experience working with prominent journalists and media presenters.
NETWORK • SPRING 2010 • PP 22-23