Brace Yo Self!

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“In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance. You must research this well.” -Miyamoto Musashi, “The Water Book”.

Ahhh, 90’s hip hop and Japanese warrior culture references. Taste-T.

A few of you may have seen our recent YouTube video on “Bracing Sequence”. While we gave a general overview of the how and why, I wanted to expand a bit further on the importance of this foundational skill.

Yes, your mom was nagging you. No, she wasn’t wrong to tell you to stand up straight.

The Mess You’re Causing All By Yourself

Most of the muscular, skeletal, and even neurological issues we encounter during our lives can be traced back directly to our daily postural habits. Do you slouch? If you look down at the front of your shoulders right now, are they resting ahead of your nipples? Congratulations! You are slouching and simultaneously wrecking your skeletal, muscular and nervous systems all at once!

Here’s why: when your shoulders sit that far forward, your rotator cuff muscles (those muscles that keep your shoulders from slipping out of their sockets) turn off. Completely. Now you’re hanging on the meat of your shoulder capsules, your labrums and your ligaments. Not the structures The Man Upstairs designed to keep your arms in working order.

It gets worse. Your rounded shoulders pull your shoulder blades and your upper back into a rounded position. And those two force your head and neck to start leaning forward, otherwise known as “turtling”. Unless your name is Shrek, your head weighs about 10 pounds. For every inch forward your head sits from neutral (directly over your spine), add 10 extra pounds of vertical load coursing down your cervical spine. Hold your cell phone at waist-level and look down to furiously type out that text message? You’re stacking an extra 60 pounds of vertical pressure on your cervical spine.

Make it stop, PLEASE, make it stop!!!

If only that was the worst. Your turtling, unfortunately, is wreaking havoc on your nervous system while you’re hard at work wrecking your musclo-skeletal system. A rounded forward cervical spine creates greater tension on the nerves that exit your neck and feed sensation and motor control (strength) throughout your arms. Carpal tunnel, anyone? So often in the clinic I see folks referred for carpal tunnel syndrome who are simply just over-tensioning their nervous systems by sitting and standing in this dreaded C-posture. When  they learn a systematic way to find good standing and sitting posture, their “carpel tunnel” symptoms magically disappear.

Recent research has also revealed that your rounded upper body posture decreases the ability of the respiratory system to function normally while simultaneously increasing the activity of your sympathetic nervous system-the antagonist to your body’s ability to sleep, burn body fat, and down-regulate from stress. Good times!

Save Yourself, While You Still Can!

Now the good news: These are normally fixable problems. Fixing your posture is mainly about practice. Cultivating the habit of standing up straight takes plenty of practice, especially if you’ve spent a lifetime spacing out on how you were holding your body.

But our bodies are amazingly resilient and adaptable. Your body adapts to what you do most regularly and if your regular practice becomes getting yourself out of your horrible postures, over time the mental and physical effort becomes considerably less.

How long does it take? Everyone is a little different but the basic physiology works like this: skeletal muscle cells are replaced every 90 days. The cells that compose your tendons, ligaments and fascial layer are replaced every 200 days. Bone cells are replaced every 18 to 24 months. Again, your body adapts to what you do most regularly. Down to the cellular level. Fellow physiocoach Kelly Starrett likes to say, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in your body’s physiology, your body’s physiology believes in you.”

One last piece of advice. I’m lucky enough to be married to a physical therapist who catches me in all sorts of wretched positions. One (of the many) awesome things about being married to “J.C.” is she’s observant enough to call me on my b.s. posture and that’s all I need get in a better position. I would love to see the rest of you guys to start holding each other accountable. Again, the goal is to keep you out of my treatment room. This is some pretty low-hanging fruit. You don’t need to be posture Nazis, but don’t be afraid to slap the people you know in the back of the head if you catch them abusing their own bodies.

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