I hope this post doesn’t discourage you, or make you think ‘Ugh, something else I need to worry about’. If you feel this way after reading this post, read it again and focus on the message. The execution of the message is a matter of changing what you do. It’s not going to be something else you need to add onto your busy schedule. Knowing that, this post can benefit you short term and long term. There is a Chinese proverb; “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best is now”. Lets plant that tree now.
You may have noticed that some of my posts cover the same subject but each in a different way. I like to think all things I write about are important, they are, but some are more important than others. Think of the car analogy, keeping your car clean is important for longevity, but changing the oil is more important. My goal is that if I write about these important things more than once, and in different ways, people will start to implement these things and ultimately benefit from them. We’ll see.
On that note let me write about something that we all have. Some more than others, some less. Muscle imbalances. Specifically 2 common imbalances. Pretty much everyone has imbalances from one side of our body to the other, left and right, but this post will focus on imbalances between opposing muscle groups.
Muscle imbalances can cause us discomfort, and can ultimately alter our posture to a very negative state (Postural kyphosis, or hump back is an example of this). Imbalances can cause injuries, injuries we had no idea were due to imbalances.
Through identification of the imbalances we have and taking corrective action these imbalances can be reversed. Let’s get into two common imbalances.
Rounded Shoulders: This is very common as a large amount of us work with our hands out in front of us. Another cause of this imbalance is having a workout routine that is heavy on the chest and pressing type exercises and light or non-existent pulling exercises.
Is this you? Stand up straight with your arms by your side. Relax. Look down at your hands. Are they more towards the front of your legs, or are they down the mid line of your legs. If they are front of the mid line, congratulations, you have pecs and front delts (shoulder) that are strong. Now all you need to do is strengthen the opposing muscles, the back muscles.
The antidote. Any exercise that has a pulling element to it will strengthen your back muscles. Seated cable rows, dumbbell rows, pull ups, lat pull downs, bent over dumbbell rows. These exercises will strengthen the back muscles and the rear delts. To help balancing things out, you will want to focus more of your stretching on the chest and front delt muscles. Try the chest expansion stretch, or the doorway pec stretch.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt: Have you suffered from lower back pain? Did you think it was due to spinal issues such as disks, vertebrae? Believe it or not, back issues can be caused from muscle imbalances such as tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. This can cause an anterior pelvic tilt. This is when the pelvis is no longer in a neutral position, and ends up with the front side lower than the back. A way to test if you have an anterior pelvic tilt is to see where your belt buckle points when wearing pants. Does it point straight ahead, or to the ground? If your buckle points to the ground, your pelvis is anteriorly tilted. How did we get here?
When muscles are tight, the pull on the bones they are attached to. The 3 muscles that make up the hamstrings are connected to the base of the pelvis and the upper tibia and fibula. So when these muscles get tight due to fighting the tilting pelvis, they pull on the bones they are connected to causing a change to our body mechanics that can result in injury. Have you wondered why you have knee or hip pain when or after running? This could be why.
Why do we end up with tight hip flexors? Mainly due to too much sitting which causes our hip flexors to constantly be in the contracted state. When we stand up the tight hip flexors, which are connected to the femur and the pelvis, pull. The femur (the bone in the upper part of our leg) doesn’t move so it’s the pelvis that ends up rotating. So what is joined to the pelvis? Yeah, our spine. If the pelvis moves the spine will move with it. It makes sense, the constant pulling of the hip flexors causing tension on the spine due to the pelvis be pulled.
Not only can this cause back pain, but it can also lead to hip, knee, shoulder, neck pain and headaches. Just like the song, our bones are connected. When one moves from it’s normal position due to tight muscles, the bones that are connected move too. And when the spine is moved to an unnatural position that can cause a lot of discomfort that may get misdiagnosed.
Does this sound like you? Wouldn’t that be great news that all your discomforts are because of an imbalance such as tight hip flexors? Something you can address and fix through stretching. Throw away the pain meds and stop worrying about back issues * see note below.
The antidote. Stretching. Stretching the hip flexors will help lengthen the already tight and shortened muscles. The kneeling lunge stretch is a good one for this. Some other stretches are the butterfly stretch and the pigeon pose. If your job requires you to sit for long periods see if you can get up out of the chair every half hour to walk around and relax the hip flexors. Have a phone call to make? Get out of the chair. See if you can get a work station that can accommodate you while standing. I know it’s probably an expensive option but so can being off of work due to injury. On a side note I wish companies would take workplace ergonomics more seriously.
Only two muscle imbalances but these two can cause a lot of problems if not addressed. If you have either one, or both of these imbalances try to change your workout to accommodate the ‘fixes’. Mark it in your calendar the day you decided to take control of your body and not let external forces rule you.
One more thing I want to say. By no means do I take back pain lightly. My comment to stop worrying about back pain if you happen to address your muscle imbalance is more of a perfect storm scenario. It would be great it that was the impetuous of your back issues. In no way do I mean to marginalize other issues that can cause back pain.
Make the change and do yourself and your body a favour. This small change might result in a large gain.
Yours in health,