Working Out Can Be Hazardous
to Your Health!
By Craig Valency, CSCS
Every year around the holiday season we all seem to finally show the signs of one too many chocolate-covered goodies, and we begin to feel guilty for never using that gym membership we purchased nine months ago! So the resolutions begin and you swear after all this holiday madness you’re really going to go to the gym and this time stick with an exercise program — right!? Well, the odds are that history will repeat itself and there is a very good reason.
If you’re like most people you start working out without first assessing your posture, how you move and which muscles are out of balance. Inevitably you soon get discouraged with your workout because it hurts as you reinforce existing imbalances and end up getting injured, or feel lousy and just don’t get the results you want.
You thought going to the gym and working out was supposed to be good for you, right? Well not always — what you don’t know could hurt you!
Odds are you probably spend a good part of your day either sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer or doing repetitive motions. If so, you probably have problems with your posture that can worsen over time if you work out improperly.
The solution to problems with posture is twofold, first stretch the shortened and tight muscles and then strengthen the lengthened, weak and flabby muscles.
Like building a house, the next step is to create a solid foundation on which to build your new body. This means you must start developing your stability and balance by working on the deep muscles of your trunk (core) first. These are not the glamorous 6-pack abs, so you don’t have to do 5,000 sit-ups! I’m referring to the muscles underneath that attach to your spine and keep you stable. (Try gently drawing in your belly button towards your spine to feel the action of one of these deep stabilizer muscles).
In addition to directly working the trunk muscles you should design a workout program where all the exercises challenge your balance and core stability. For example, you would do bicep curls standing on one leg rather than seated at a bicep curl machine.
With this solid foundation your body will be ready for more intense strength training, power training, cardio conditioning, sports or the rigors of the office!
Because many of us have a sedentary desk job, we have similar muscles that are tight and short, as well as those that are weak and lengthened. For example, because we are seated for so many hours of the day our hip flexor muscles are chronically shortened and so the opposite muscle (buttocks) must therefore be chronically lengthened or weak. That’s one reason why sitting all day contributes to a flabby butt!
Since the hip flexors are always so tight they get all the attention from the nerves that activate them and the nerves that activate the butt just “go to sleep”. This leads to the helper muscles (synergists) like the hamstrings working overtime to extend the leg because the butt is on strike! This overactive hamstring starts to put undue strain on the knee and hip joints and soon knee pain and low back pain starts to creep in. So when you’re in the gym remember to include stretches for the hip flexors in addition to exercises that work your butt. (see exercises at end of article)
Unfortunately, tight hip flexors are not your only problem with a sedentary job; your upper body suffers as well! Sitting at a desk day after day with your hands on the keyboard, your back rounded and chin forward as you gaze at the computer screen, will cause your chest muscles to adapt and mold to this posture by staying short and tight. At the same time you will also develop lengthened and weak muscles between the shoulder blades and the deep neck muscles that pull your head back. This posture can eventually lead to tension-type headaches, shoulder pain, as well as breathing problems!
To correct these imbalances, a fitness professional should assess your posture and prescribe specific strength and flexibility exercises based on your unique requirements. This program of corrective exercise should precede a traditional weight-training program, or you could do more damage by reinforcing poor posture.
Besides the physical problems of bad posture a great side benefit to your improved posture will be a new longer and leaner look to your body! Your friends will often think that you lost weight or just “look better”!
Now that you know some of the basics of starting a workout program properly, you could be very surprised that by next year you may need a new resolution!
Here is an example of two stretches and one strength exercise to help with “desk job” posture problems:
HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Stand with the left leg bent and slightly forward. Squeeze your butt and gently tilt your pelvis backwards. Slowly move your body forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the right leg. Now lift your right arm up and lean to your left while slowly rotating backwards. Hold this for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stand and place both arms behind your back. Interlock fingers with palms facing each other and extend your elbows fully. Slowly raise the arms keeping the elbows straight. Make sure to keep you head upright and neck relaxed.
To strengthen the deep neck flexors and muscles between the shoulder blades (rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius) you can do the prone cobra. Start by lying face down with hands to your side, palms down. Keep your feet on the floor, slowly raise your chest off the ground, keep your chin tucked and look towards the floor, keeping your head back. Gently lift your hands and externally rotate your arms until your thumbs point up. Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat 4 times. Please remember to consult your health care professional before starting any new exercise program.
Craig Valency, CSCS, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine based in San Diego. For further information you can contact Craig via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 405-5557.
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