“My husband/boyfriend/dad needs this stuff!”, I hear it all the time! So, in response, I’m teaching an Alignment for Guys workshop February 28th (details below). I work primarily with woman, but corrective exercises, alignment principles, and natural movement apply to men too. Other than our reproductive organs, men and women have the same basic anatomy & physiology. It’s nothing new, just worded differently, because it’s hard for a man to read something about pregnancy and vaginas and think “yes, I can see how this applies to me.”
My classes are full of women, and we talk a lot about pelvic floor issues–things like incontinence, painful periods, sciatica, etc. Today, let me be clear that men have alignment related pelvic floor issues too! Several sources estimate 95% of prostatitis (prostate inflammation) isn’t bacterial. Meaning there is inflammation that isn’t caused by an infection and can’t be treated with an antibiotic. In many cases, there is a mechanical/muscle tension component. In the year 2007, John Hopkins estimated over 18 million men in the US over the age of 20 suffer from ED. (I’d be willing to bet it’s higher now.)
Another thing I’d like to be clear on is this: the alignment principles aren’t just for pelvic floor issues. Problems with pelvic health and function are common, so I tend to talk about them a lot, but they are just one small piece. The tension and misalignment created by our modern life creates issues for every part of our body. Improving alignment can help rotator cuff problems, arthritis, plantarfasciitis, headaches, back pain, hernias, prostate issues, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. We like to blame these things on “getting old”, but all of these aliments can have mechanical causes. How you move (or don’t) can cause or exacerbate these common male issues.
Bear with me as I make an over generalization. Men are less likely than women to do activities like yoga, walking and stretching. I know this is a stereotype, but look around the yoga studio or the stretch class at your gym, and TELL ME this isn’t true. (Funny story about guys trying yoga here.) What I teach is different than than yoga, but the trend applies here too. When I used to teach “co-ed” classes, they were usually 80-90% women. When I teach at a certification week, it’s at least 95% women every time. Men are more likely to do activities that are about speed, strength, endurance…..things like weight lifting, running, sports, cycling…. None of these activities are bad, but when you combine short bouts of very intense workouts with longer periods of sedentary time, pain and injury are bound to follow, despite your best intentions. In order to continue doing the acitivites you enjoy, you need something to help fill in the gap between your sedentary time and your workout time. Exercise and sports have a lot of benefits, but we know now that they can’t undo hours of sitting each day. Our bodies have adapted to a lifetime of chairs, couches, cars and computers creating tension and misalignment. When we take these bodies to the gym and ask them to do challenging things, it’s like taking out a rusty, misaligned, uncalibrated machine that has been sitting in your garage for the last 20 years and expecting peak performance. Not going to happen. This is why even the most fit, athletic guy you know has pain and injuries.
I think there is a widespread belief that when it comes to exercise, the harder it is the better it is. The “easy” things like stretching and walking aren’t worth doing because they don’t make you sweat and don’t make you want to puke. If you want to remain active, pain free and have all your parts function well, you need to start doing some of the “easy” things. As you learn to move differently and move better while doing the “easy” things, you can start doing the more challenging things without injury and pain. If you come to one of my classes, you’ll find very quickly that the things that appear “easy” can be quite challenging.
If you (or the men in your life) are experiencing any of the above mentioned issues, feeling a bit achy or older than you should, here are some suggestions:
- If you are local: Join us for the Alignment for Guys Workshop on February 28th! This class will be an introduction to alignment for better health, mobility, and strength. We’ll identify and review exercises that address common aches and pain brought on by hours sitting in front of a computer or behind a steering wheel, overcorrecting a slouch with “military posture”, and “getting old.” Register and see details here.
- Try these movement breaks for the office.
- Read “Don’t Just Sit There” by Katy Bowman to figure out how to move more and still be productive at work. Another good resource is this list of ways to create a more active workstation.
- For male pelvic floor issues: David is a Restorative Exercise Specialist who works with men experiencing pelvic pain and dysfunction. This article has lots of resources too.
Happy New Year!
I thought I’d start off 2014 by addressing one of the questions I was most commonly asked last year: “Alignment, is that like posture?”.
When I tell people that I teach alignment, what usually comes next is something like “Alignment, is that like posture?” or “Oh, I need that, I have terrible posture.” While they may sound like the same thing, alignment and posture are actually two different things. Posture is how something looks. Alignment is how something works. Posture is subjective and cultural. Alignment is objective and scientific.
“Good posture” means different things to different people. We decide that a particular posture is good if it creates a look that is seen as desirable. Certain postures might look good, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Different sports or activities require a particular posture to maximize performance or to create a certain aesthetic. (This usually occurs at the expense of tissue longevity. Look at all the best athletes and dancers. They are REALLY good at their sport, but their career is usually over by age 40.)
Whether it’s intentional or not, we often use our body position to say something about ourselves— a macho guy who puffs up chest to look tough, a tall kid who stands slouched over to appear shorter, a woman who sucks her stomach in to look thinner—you get the idea. Sometimes we adopt a particular posture for a good reason, such as coping with an injury or surgery, but continue the habit once the need is no longer there without even realizing it.
I’m writing this on an airplane, and one of my seatmates asked me what I’m writing about. We got to talking about posture and where the notion of good posture comes from. Seatmate #1 said her parents told her good posture meant standing up straight and holding your stomach in. Seatmate #2 said she spent time living in another country (I wish I could remember which one…. somewhere in Asia) and that the desired posture for women in that culture was a stooped over position because it showed humility. A woman who walked around with her head held high and “stood up straight” would not be respected. Subjective & cultural.
Optimal skeletal alignment is objective. It’s based on science—anatomy, physiology, biology and physics—rather than culture. It’s the orientation of all the parts that allows everything to work the way it is supposed to work with the least amount of damage. Think about the alignment of your car. You go to the mechanic, and they adjust the alignment. (No one ever took their car in to get the posture checked.) They make sure all the parts are in the proper position—not just to allow your car to run, but to help all the parts wear evenly, and ensure that the vehicle doesn’t sustain unnecessary wear and tear. The same is true for your body. When your musculoskeletal system is aligned, all your body systems can function properly, for as long as possible, with the least amount of unnecessary wear and tear.
This image is taken from the Restorative Exercise™ Specialist training manual. It shows the 25 points to consider when assessing skeletal alignment.
Here’s your first step to good alignment: Back up your pelvis.
First, let your pelvis shift forward. (Notice the picture on the left.) You will feel more pressure in the front of your feet than the heels. Now back your pelvis up until you feel more pressure in your heels. (Notice the picture on the right.) That’s where you want it. Your legs should be straight (no bent or locked knees) when you do this. Can you feel the difference?
Left: My pelvis is out over the front of my feet, and my upper body is actually behind my pelvis.
Right: My pelvis is stacked right over my ankles. There is a vertical line from ear, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle.
(Don’t let the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms confuse you…they aren’t part of it. I’m holding them up so they don’t block the view of my pelvis.)
NOW, check out the lines I can make with my super awesome (not at all nerdy) grid app. It’s much easier to see the differences when there are actual lines.
SO COOL, right? I’m not a very “techy” person, but I LOVE this app. Go by the objective alignment marker (a vertical line) rather than how it feels. If you go by what feels right (subjective), you will always go back to your old postural habits. To see the lines on yourself, you can hold a belt or strap at the center of your hip joint and watch where it falls. It’s helpful to do this in front of a mirror. You would want the weight bearing, structural beams of your house to be completely vertical (perpendicular to gravity), and it’s the same for your legs.
Just backing your pelvis up will reduce unnecessary damage to your feet, knees, hips, and spine. This position gives you stronger bones and better pelvic floor function. You will use more leg muscle which means a higher metabolism and better circulation– all this just by shifting your pelvis.
Whatever your health goals are for 2014– less pain, stronger muscles, better balance, fewer headaches– working on your alignment is the first step! In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about the differences between posture and alignment and giving you simple, practical steps to make big improvements.
Holy Moly, it’s been a crazy couple months. The blog writing “hiatus” started mid April when Matt was in the last month of school- writing a 20 page paper, applying to grad school, writing another paper, studying for finals, and living in the library. I thought I’d take a month off since we have one computer and my chances of seeing it were about as good as being hit by lightning (although, lightning did strike a boat I was in once). A month off….and suddenly I find myself staring down the barrel at July and a move date that is less than 4 weeks away. How did that happen? Let me break it down for you:
1) We find out that Matt was accepted to the Master’s in Military History Program at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN.
2) Matt graduates.
3) Huge graduation party to celebrate Matt (my husband) and Katie (my sister).
4) Trip to Kinesphere in Phoenix, Arizona to teach the Restorative Exercise™ Specialists in training.
5) Long awaited trip to Washington, DC.
6) On the way home from Washington, DC, pop over to Clarksville to find a place to live.
7) Do 1,000 projects that we have been putting off to get our house in Ventura to get it ready for renters.
All in 6 weeks.
In the last 4 weeks, I’ve been in 6 different airports, visited 6 different states, and been home a total of 9 days. So while I love writing about alignment, you can see why the blog took the back burner.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s been an amazing 6 weeks! It was exhausting but an exciting time of adventure and growth. I had a lot of blog ideas brewing while I was away, so let’s get down to business.
One highlight of our trip to Washington, DC was night time bike rides around the city. With Capitol Bikeshare, you can borrow a bike from a bikeshare station, ride it around the city (under 30 min is free), and deposit it at any other station when you are finished. Brilliant.
Now there is a pricinple in exercise science that we call the specificity of training. It states that the specific nature of the activity you perform produces specific adaptations, and to improve at a particular activity, you must train in a specific way that meets the demands of that activity. In other words, if you want to run a marathon, you have to run long distances to train for it. There are very specific physiological adaptations that occur in the body when you run long distances that you will not get if you swim or bike or play tennis. If you want to become a better runner, you have to run. You become more efficient at the things you train for and less efficient at the things you don’t. (Many of you have experienced this when you try to switch sports- you are a runner and when you try to swim you feel like you are dying, or vice versa.) It’s the same reason why, if you want to become a great guitar player, you don’t spend hours a day practicing piano. They are different instruments that require different skills.
I walk all the time, but bike? Not so much. Before this trip, I’d spent a total of about 2 hours on a bike in the last 10 years.
When we talk about athletes, we talk about better performance in a given sport. But what does this mean for the average person? Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you care about longevity rather than performance. What if your goal is not a faster mile or better free throw percentage, but instead it’s to walk without pain? Or to be able to get up and down off the floor to play with your children/grandchildren? Or to maintain control of your bladder? Or to avoid a joint replacement? Well, the specificity of training principle applies to you too. If you want to be able to get up and down off the floor, you have to spend time doing just that. If you can’t, you may need to do several weeks or months of stretching first to restore the joint range of motion in your knees and hips. Then you can add some squatting to start building the strength to lift and lower your body weight.
Ask yourself, “What is my goal?” Then build a training program specific to that activity. If you aren’t sure how, you can contact me or a Restorative Exercise™ Specialist near you.