Both of them involve asking part of your body to do MORE while at the same time allowing other areas to do LESS. Our bodies are always trying to function at 100%, so if muscle group or joint is doing MORE there is a corresponding part of your body with will be doing LESS.
Your body craves efficiency and continually wants to do things better with every breath you take. Often the easiest way to get better at something is to stay within your comfort zone and get even better at something the way you are already used to doing it. To some extent this is a similar to being right hand dominant vs your left. Interestingly enough I often find that people will tend to have a dominant leg as well. You may notice that you tend to stand shifted over to one leg or you have an easier time balancing over one leg compared to the other. We get good at what we practice and if you use your right hand for most activities and stand on your right leg more of the time, your body will develop certain muscle groups more than others. The muscle groups that get used and developed on one side (pullers) of your body vs the other side (pushers) will be different. As more time goes on and your life gets more routine, your body just gets better at holding your current posture and keeping it in your current movement habits even though this is continuing to make you more asymmetrical. Within this asymmetry there will be certain muscle groups that you rely on for most support and begin to dominate your posture and movement. If you do this to great enough extent you will notice pain, inflammation, arthritis or other structural changes where your body’s shape or joint alignment just doesn’t look very good. No amount of people yelling at you to fix it does you any good because that is all your body knows how to do, how to be, and how to orient.
If one day you start to notice something that is tight, stiff, or painful it is likely because the your body is near its capacity to comfortably handle WHAT it’s being asked to do. You are now in a situation where you need figure out how to increase the capacity of what your body can do. This is where your TWO options come into play.
Option #1 is to get better at using MORE of what you are habitually using…heading further into an asymmetrical dominance.
Option #2 is to get better at using/doing LESS of what you are habitually using…heading towards balance.
How would you decide which one is better or which one you are working on? This is where things get nuanced. Context, posture, and activity specific demands can make things seem really complex and the fact that there is nuance involved in figuring this out is probably why I can make a living as a physical therapist. If there wasn’t any nuance then you’d be able to find a simple stretching and strengthening program from just about anywhere and it would fix the problem.
In general, the body sensations we tend to me most aware of are the things that we are already using too much of. If a problem is new, it’s likely that stretching or strengthening that muscle group will help you feel better. By doing this, you are asking that muscle group to TOLERATE higher levels of tension than it is currently under. If you do that for a few weeks and feel better, then stop doing the exercises and feel worse again its likely that you are working into option #1 of asking something that is already doing more than it’s fair share to do even more. Your body knows this is not sustainable and lets you know by bringing back that sensation of pain or tightness. This may help you feel better for a while if you make the stretches a daily part of your routine, but eventually this strategy will wear out its welcome and something will start to feel worse. It may be the same thing more severely or something new that didn’t hurt before.
Many people ASSUME that the muscles they feel/look tight and weak are things that they need to stretch or strengthen. Core strengthening and neck stretching are probably the most common things that people try to address to fix a multitude of problems that actually just end up perpetuating the problem. Treating the right side of your body for a problem without consideration for the left side is another common thing that holds people back. I would invite you to look at the problem differently and ask the question…what posture or position are you in that is making it difficult for your abs or your legs to work well and FEEL weak? What are the muscles that aren’t supporting you very well that end up forcing your abs or your leg to do so much work and FEEL tired during activity.
See the difference? CONTEXT is huge if you want to make a sustainable change. Weakness is a SYMPTOM of a posture/body position problem.
Here are the 2 questions I always ask myself when I’m working with a client.
#1…Does the change I’m trying to make support a better feeling breath and breathing position?
#2…Does the change I’m making support a better feeling walk and walking position?
Breathing and walking are VERY important functions in your body and it wants to get better at it above most any other activity we do. To that extent, your body will only hold on to changes that allow it to breathe and/or walk with less work or effort.
Note: holding tension in your abs while sitting or standing makes it MORE difficult to breathe…sure your back may feel more supported, but at what cost? And will your body ever do it authentically without requiring conscious effort? If you need hold your breath or can’t do a belly breath while you are strengthening something I can guarantee you that you are not doing something that will serve you in the long run.
Here’s a more general question…
Does the change I’m making help my body feel more supported in a way that I can relax my body where it feels tight? Even though I’m relaxing, can my body generate tension when I need it with less effort?
Do I feel as though I’m creating more tension in an area that’s already tight to hold myself in a position that I think I should be?
The latter will feel difficult as you notice all the blood rushing to your head as you struggle to not hold your breathe.
The point here goes back to something I said in the beginning…your body WANTS to be more efficient! Learning a new way to move can be a bit of a mental challenge (something I have the pleasure of observing in a regular basis) but afterwards should leave you with a feeling of ease. If it doesn’t feel like your body is learning something new, it probably isn’t.
Once you have learned a more balanced use of your body, go ahead and do some strengthening exercises to either keep you in balance or develop the muscle groups you need for your sport/activity. They might feel more helpful and sustainable now that your body is more supported…but always go light on the static stretching.
What is the right shoe for your foot? How much cushioning and arch support do you need? Should a shoe be wide or snug? How stiff or flexible is best?
There is a lot of debate and conflicting research studies around this issue. Back in 2014 the was a big lawsuit with Vibram’s Five Fingers shoes because they overstated the benefits of their shoes without any clear evidence to suggest it was better than the more modern shoes. Minimal shoes help some people, but create potential for injury for others. Shoes that are more substantial help some people do more, while they feel terrible for others. I’ve seen it go both ways for my clients and based on what we learn about their posture, walking, and running form it always makes sense why some people prefer a certain type of shoe over the other. It’s no surprise that there is such conflicting evidence for what it right for you…
SCENARIO 1…In an ideal situation with good hip, knee and ankle control and sequencing, you can wear really flexible shoes with minimal cushioning without a problem (as long as you transition into them slowly).
NOTE: I did NOT use the words good FLEXIBILITY or STRENGTH, as those are completely different aspects of posture and movement. People typically use stretching or foam rolling as a way to alleviate a feeling of tightness that gives temporary relief, but does little to nothing that will change HOW and WHEN your body uses that muscle. People will typically use strengthening exercises to make muscles that are already being overused even stronger so they are able to tolerate their movement habit for longer before it becomes noticeable. Increasing your volume of movement without a baseline quality of movement and posture is a dangerous road that will eventually get you hurt.
PRO TIP…if you have a tight low back, please DO NOT ASSUME you need to strengthen your ‘core’. The stronger and better you get at using your abs/core to stabilize your hips and pelvis, the tighter and weaker your back muscles will get because you will be teaching yourself to live your life with tight abs that pull your ribs down in front and require your low back to work even harder to keep you upright. (This is a wonderful way to create compression in your spine btw). Stabilizing your posture predominately with your abs throughout the day will also require you change how you breathe in order to maintain a normal breath rate. You now have to hold a constant tightness in your throat and jaw to help slow your breathe out and then your neck muscles help pull air in because your abs will no longer yield for easily to support belly (diaphragmatic) breathing. Belly breathing can now only happen if you brace your abs and then push you belly out, which means your chest isn’t expanding anymore. You can now only breath with your belly or your ribcage…not both…and we WANT BOTH! (I get anxious just thinking about it.) What needs to happen is to focus on your hip, leg, and foot positional control and timing.
SCENARIO 2…You have some areas of your body that tend to be tight like your inner thighs, hamstrings, glutes, calves, IT band or low back. These problems will change how your foot is able to move and interact with the ground so having a more structured and cushioned shoe will help make your movement more comfortable so you are able to keep moving with a problem that is now less noticeable.
NOTE: This is not the same as addressing the problem…it is just supporting your body a bit better within the current posture and gait mechanics you have access to and are best at. Some people are happy with this solution as it seems to allow them to keep doing what they want, but I would caution that the tightness that you are feeling won’t just get better on their own and they will likely get worse if you aren’t actively trying to teach your body to hold itself and move differently.
SCENARIO 3…If you have been wearing more supportive shoes based on a recommendation from a trusted source, but never really had a problem that required a shoe with more support or cushion, it is possible that a more structured shoe has the potential to create a dysfunction as the shoe’s structural properties will changing how your foot moves and the entire sequence of gait. It’s like teaching someone to bowl with the bumpers in the lane, never telling them they aren’t supposed to be there, and saying that just need you knock some pins down to feel good…not all 10. They won’t have a need or desire to learn precise technique because they can hit the pins no matter how they throw the ball. If you are wearing something that changes your habits of how you move, you better have a darn good reason for it!
If you made it to the end of this long post…thanks for indulging me. I hope you found these scenarios helpful rather than feeling lost. I often help to answer these types of questions for my clients and I know they appreciate the comfort of have specific advice that is specific to their body and their goals.
Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions. I’d love to help you find more clarity around this topic.
Are you feeling some tightness or stress building up in your neck? Tension headaches?
Let’s take a look at your JAW?
The jaw and it’s musculature are often involved as a reaction to or as a reason for tightness in your neck.
Here’s a simple check you can do yourself that can help to discover how much tension you hold in your jaw and if a postural imbalance is contributing to your jaw and neck tightness.
#jaw #headaches #tension #posture #selfassess
Want to take some stress off of your knees, hips, and back?
Feet are wonderful shock absorbers! You don’t need outsource the job to cushioning in your shoes.
Studies have shown that running in a more cushioned shoe can actually increase the impact forces through our legs even though the shoes feel soft under our feet. (https://go.nature.com/3gkGPO0)
Cushioned shoes can make you a bit more comfortable because it’s a different experience for your body, but you probably aren’t doing your body any favors in the long term if you are completely reliant on cushioning in your shoes to get you through the day or through a run.
If you find yourself wanting more cushion under your foot, it’d probably be a good time to see a good physical therapist.
I offer a free consultation by the by…
If you have low back, hip, knee, or foot pain and nobody has told you anything about your feet other than “your arch is collapsed and you need an orthotic or special insole”, it’s likely that you’re skipping over something that could be massively helpful if you want your pain to actually go away.
Our feet have many pieces and can seem complicated, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate a bit and see what we can learn before we put an arch support in our shoe.
There’s a world of difference between looking at your feet and deciding if you need orthotics and looking at your feet and deciding what types of exercises your body needs so that your whole body moves better…including your feet!