Back to Basics

The more I read about functional anatomy and its relationship to the typical sports/weekend warrior aches and pains like pulled hamstrings, aching knees, and limited range of motion and soreness in the shoulder, the more I think that physical therapists have it right that most of us could use a basic makeover of how we use our joints and muscles.

No matter what the sport or activity, the body really performs a few basics: pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, and single leg movements. Because we do them so often and have done them for so long, we don't think much about them. But that doesn't mean we do them in the optimum way to maximize how our muscles perform and minimize the risk for injury. In fact, often we are our own worst enemies.

Take the squat for example, the one we use with a barbell on our backs or to drop down to lift a bag of dog food. Squats are often a source of back and knee pain if they are done incorrectly. Watch yourself  when you squat. Do your knees go forward  and your heels lift off the ground? Do you bend your back? You are what they call quad dominant, meaning you rely on your quadriceps instead of the powerful glutes in your lower back and butt. When you squat with quad dominance, you place tremendous sheer forces on the knee and ACL, and your rounded back places undue strain on the lower lumbar area of the spine.

The safest and most effective squat starts with pushing your hips backwards so that your pelvic area acts like a hinge. The back remains strait, tilted slightly forward at the hips. Your body lifts itself back up by the contraction of your powerful glutes, not the quadriceps on the front of your thighs. Your feet remain solidly flat, heels pinned to the ground.

Most of us who are a little athletic - maybe run a race every now and then or lift some weights - assume we're in pretty good shape. We get injured sometimes or have pains and figure that's just goes with the territory. But that's not really true. The real problem is that all our joints are not mobile or stable enough to do their work through a full range of motion. For instance, the 10K runner out there training will pull a muscle if he has to step quickly sideways to dodge a kid on a tricycle. Or the guy who can do 50 push ups pulls his deltoid lifting a piece of baggage into the overhead bin on an airplane. We are very one dimensional in our skills - we can run forwards, but not backwards, we can push, but not pull.

If you'd like to get a better grasp of what this is all about, pick up a copy of Pete Egoscue's The Egoscue Method of Health Trough Motion or Michael Boyle's Advances in Functional Training.

Strange as it sounds, most of us need some remedial work on posture and basic movements and less preoccupation with speed and power.


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