Punctuate Your Posture!

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Do you look like a comma when you look in the mirror? Do your neck, shoulders and head hurt? If this is you, you need to change your posture from a comma to an exclamation mark!

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Here are four tips to get you standing and sitting better.

  • Practise sliding your shoulder blades downwards. Think "sliding them into your back pants pockets". This will allow you to extend through your thoracic spine - the part of your spine that runs between the base of your neck and the middle of your back.  This will help you to open up through your chest and take your shoulders away from a very rounded position. Do several of these every day. (Get up from your chair and do them!)


  • Stretch your upper trapezius and levator scapulae (upper back and neck muscles), and your pectoral (chest) muscles. A bent-over, flexed-spine posture encourages these muscles to tighten and restricts proper movement.


  • Do chin tucks daily to strengthen the muscles that keep your head aligned over your shoulders (upper thoracic extensors). When you have done these for a couple of days, combine the tucks with Tip #1, sliding your shoulder blades downwards. To add resistance, hold a light or medium strength tubing  in your hands, with thumbs pointing up to the ceiling. As you pull your hands away from each other, do the chin tuck and shoulder blade slide.


  • Strengthen your abdominal muscles. Start with the basics like the abdominal vacuum and plank. You can then add side to side movement to the plank, or raise one arm off the ground for a few seconds to intensify the work in your abs. Avoid crunches or curl-ups - they pose risk to the lumbar spine, and encourage poor and painful neck movement.


Push-Ups: Which Version is Best for You?

Think “push-up” and the image of a buff bodybuilder sweating his way through a hundred reps comes to mind. We may think that this is the only option for this exercise, and then avoid doing them because it’s too difficult, or intimidating. However, there are several versions of this common exercise available, to benefit everyone from a deconditioned beginner, to a seasoned exerciser. Each version will work your pectorals (chest muscles) and triceps (back of the upper arm), your shoulders (deltoids), and will also engage your core muscles. 

The Seated Push-up: This exercise works well for someone who has difficulty standing. Sit in a chair or locked wheelchair, about an arm's length away from the edge of a sturdy table or a kitchen counter. Place your feet on the floor, wider than the chair, for stability. Pull your belly button (navel) to your spine by tightening your abs; then place your hands on the edge of the table. Keeping your back flat and abs tight, bend your elbows and lean in towards the table, breathing in. As you breathe out, slowly straighten your arms, and push yourself away from the table, keeping your hands firmly on the edge of the table, and keeping the abs braced. Repeat slowly, until you reach fatigue (can’t do any more with good technique).

The Standing Push-up: If you have difficulty getting down or up from the floor, this is a good choice. Stand in front of a wall with your feet slightly wider than your hips, and several inches away from the wall. You’ll need to experiment with how it feels, to determine your distance from the wall. First, place your hands directly out from your shoulder onto the wall. Next, draw the navel towards the spine, and keeping your abs braced, and your back flat, inhale and slowly bend your elbows, moving towards the wall. Do not allow your hips to sag forward. As you exhale, slowly straighten your arms, engaging the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. Do not allow your hips to lead the way; keep your body in a straight line. Repeat until you can’t do any more with good technique.

The Side-Lying Push-up: The level of difficulty here is more than the standing push-up, but not as strenuous as a push-up from the knees or toes. To do this one, sit on a mat on your right hip, with your legs out to the left, and comfortably bent, and your hands on the floor in front of you. Tighten your abs and keep your back flat. Spread your fingers out a bit for stability, and inhale as you bend your elbows, and lower your upper body towards the ground. Exhale as you slowly push back up, straightening your arms. Do one set to fatigue on this side. Rest, and repeat this movement on your other side, until fatigue.

Push-up From Knees: This is the next degree of difficulty. Get face down on a mat, with your body weight resting on your hands and knees. Your arms should be placed a few inches outside of your shoulders, with the hands below shoulder level. Lower your hips until a straight line forms between your shoulders and your knees - your hips should not be elevated in the air. Brace your core muscles, and inhale as you slowly lower your body to the floor, and exhale as you straighten your arms and push up.

Push-ups From the Toes: This is the most challenging of the push-ups described here. The technique is the same as for the version from the knees, but the body weight rests on the hands and the toes. Make sure that the core muscles are braced, and do not allow the lower back to sag. 

As with any exercise, make sure that you pick the appropriate level to start with, and that you perform it with good technique, to avoid injury. If you are new to exercise, please check with your doctor to ensure that it is all right to engage in physical activity, and seek out proper instruction for all activities.

Protect Your Knees

One of the most common sites for injury is your knees. In fact, there are dozens of separate documented types of knee ailments and injuries. Chances are that you’ve fallen victim to at least one of them in the past. The knee is essential to walking, running, kicking, sitting, using the stairs and getting up from a chair. If the knee weren’t there to bend, none of these activities would be possible. However, the knee doesn’t think for itself! This hinge joint will do whatever the hip and/or the foot will tell it to do – which makes the biomechanics of your leg crucial to good knee health. So here’s a checklist of things to look at:

  1. Assess your shoes. Worn-out shoes can cause knee problems. If they are worn down at the heel, or you’ve been wearing them for quite a while, your shoes can’t absorb shock as well as they used to. The average shock absorbing capacity of athletic shoes is reduced by 50%, after you’ve logged 300 hours in them, and goes down to 20% after you’ve worn them for 500 hours. So do the math on the “real age” of your shoes – and go shopping for new ones.
  2. Ditch the high heels. I know fashion dictates that women wear these, and they do flatter our legs – but they are very harmful to our knees! In fact, women who wear high heels (higher than 2”) every day have a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee. High heels force the foot into an unnatural angle, throw the body forward and increase the pressure on the knee joints by 23%, especially under the kneecap – a prime opportunity for osteoarthritis.
  3. Examine your gait. You should be striking on your heel, rolling forward through the length of your foot toward your lesser toes, and then pushing off the floor with your big toe. If you are not doing that, your gait is likely compromised, and you should have your movement patterns assessed by a qualified personal trainer or physiotherapist. There may be dysfunction in the hip muscles that can be addressed through corrective exercises or therapy.
  4. Are you overusing your knees? If you do the same kind of exercise, whether cardio or strength training, over and over again, you are setting yourself up for repetitive stress injuries. Vary your workouts in type, time, and intensity during your week.
  5. Are your leg muscles weak or is their strength imbalanced? Often the vastus medialis (part of the quadriceps) is the culprit in knee pain. If this muscle is weak, the kneecap can be pulled to the outside, causing knee pain. Mini squats with a small ball between your knees, or sitting on a chair and squeezing the ball between your knees, can help strengthen this muscle. Also, your quadriceps muscle (the front of your upper leg) should be not more than 30% stronger than your hamstrings. Cyclists and runners often develop such an imbalance. Check out hamstring exercises, such as weighted curls, to regain balance in your muscle strength. Cycling in particular is all about the quads, so do other types of cardio and strength training, such as cardio classes. Classes ideally will have forward, rear and lateral movement patterns to balance demand on the muscles. 
  6. Observe your form. Keep your knee from going over the end of your toes, stop a squat when your knee angle is 90 degrees or greater. Don’t take very deep steps on a stepper machine – keep the bend at no more than 70 degrees here. Safe movement patterns will protect your knees.
  7. Use your butt! Engaging your glutes (butt muscles) is important when standing up, returning from any lunge or squat position, or climbing stairs. If you don’t engage the glutes, the strain travels down to the next joint – the knee – and this work is not the knee’s job! The knee then undergoes tremendous strain it wasn’t designed for.
  8. Cyclists need to have the proper height on their bike seats. If it’s too low, you may have pain on the inner side of the knees, and if it’s too high, you may have pain on the outside of the knee. When the bike pedal is at the bottom position, your leg should be almost straight, with a soft knee.
  9. Excess body weight can contribute greatly to stress on the knees, and put you at much greater risk for osteoarthritis. A pound of body weight creates 6 pounds of pressure on the knees, so even 15 pounds of excess weight adds 90 pounds of stress on the knee joints.
  10. Are you stretching daily? Stretching restores your hard-worked muscles to their resting lengths, and reduces the stress on all joints. Plan to devote 10 minutes of downtime after a workout, or at the end of your day, to gentle stretching. It’s great for both the body and the spirits!

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