To Modify or Not to Modify

So let’s talk modifications. First of all let me explain what a modification is for anyone who might be saying, what is she talking about.  The definition of modify is “make partial or minor changes to (something), typically so as to improve it or make it less extreme”.  So if we are applying that to exercise or Pilates, we are going to take a specific exercise and adjust it so it’s more manageable for all people.

Here’s an example of a modification.  The exercise we are going to modify is a double leg lower.  The position is supine (lying on your back) both legs lifted, straight (starting with them up toward the ceiling) and then slowly lowering the legs toward the floor.  Just a note, that is a pretty hard exercise, so how can we make it less difficult? A modification to that would be bending your knees instead of keeping them straight and keeping the range in which you lower them very small.  So you can see in this example that it is making a very difficult exercise more doable for more people. Win-Win!

So when do you know you need to modify?  Does everyone need to modify?  How do I know?  Here are a few reasons someone would want to modify.  If you are just starting a new exercise routine it is probably a good idea to modify even if you feel you are pretty strong because it something new and you want to make sure you learn the basics well before you perform all the exercises full out.  Another reason would be if you are injured or just post rehab on an injury.  It is always a good idea to modify in this case to see what your body feels like doing exercise before you do it full out.  And lastly another reason would be age related, and I am NOT discriminating against people who are older.  However, there are certain things that are not appropriate for people of a certain age and can end up doing more harm than good.

Movement Without Pain – Sitting

So for my blog this week, I’m continuing in the Movement Without Pain series and I want to talk about sitting.  I know you may be thinking, “OMG, not another gloom and doom article about sitting”.  Well it is another article about sitting BUT in this post I have some simple solutions that should help and they don’t require spending a ton of money so hang in there with me.

It’s true our bodies were not meant to sit;  we are designed to move, but at certain points we ALL have to sit.  Whether it’s sitting at work,  sitting in a car or plane, or sitting in bleachers — we all do it.  And sometimes you just can’t avoid it.  So the problem becomes HOW we are sitting.  Most of you reading this just sat up straight thinking I might be able to see you — haha!  Think about it, how do you sit?  It’s a good question isn’t it? And most of us probably don’t pay much attention to the way we sit because it’s something we have been doing for as long as we can remember and doesn’t require much thought.  Actually it does, but it doesn’t require as much thought as it requires more awareness.  So I’m going to challenge you to start paying attention to how you sit.  Do you have two feet flat on the floor or do you cross your legs? Do you have a lengthened spine or does your spine and pelvis look more like the letter “C”?

I think most of us sit for long periods of time with poor posture and wonder why our bodies are protesting.  If  you are sitting with your spine in the shape of a letter “C” sooner or later that position will  become uncomfortable.   The reason for that is because it is  “unsupported load” (here comes the technical stuff but don’t worry I’ll be brief).  We all weigh something our bodies contain bones, organs and ligaments/tendons and  all of that has weight to it and our muscles are responsible for holding all of that up against gravity. So the “load” of us most be supported by our muscles.  If there is “unsupported load” the muscles that should be supporting you are not.  In other words, if you are sitting in a chair with poor posture you are relying on the chair to hold you up.  And in a way it is; it is holding you up off the floor, but it is not holding the whole of you up.  So when you sit like that none of the muscles that are supposed to support you (think neck, back and abdominal muscles) are active.  Not to mention  what it does to your breathing (but that’s an  article for another day).

Ok so now you know how NOT to sit, but how are we supposed to sit?  I thought you’d never ask!  When you sit, the first thing you want to do is make sure your butt is all the way to the back of the chair (where the seat and the back meet).  Then you want to make sure your spine is long (think head, shoulders, ribs and pelvis as being stacked on top of one another), and keep your feet flat on the ground.  If you are short, you can put a little stool or something under your feet so you have support and your feet are not just dangling.  And lastly, and this part is really important, make sure you are sitting on your “sitz” bones!  And if you aren’t sure what “sitz” bones are, they are the bony things you probably feel when sitting on a hard surface. So make sure you are sitting up on them and not rolled back toward your sacrum (your sacrum is just above your tailbone).

Now you may be thinking ok I’m sitting up straight but I can’t see my computer screen.  If you have to slouch to see your computer screen your screen should be raised.  Most monitors can be adjusted and if it is a laptop you can get a stand to put it on or simply put some books underneath it.

Sitting correctly can make all the difference in the world to how your body feels. And if you do have a job where you must sit at a desk take breaks and get up and move around.  Take a walk at lunch just try to move whenever you can.

Movement without Pain

I think everyone has experienced some pain or discomfort during movement at some point in their lives, but what kind of movement causes pain? Lifting something heavy?  Emptying the dishwasher? Shoveling snow? Gardening? Raking or sweeping?  Can these everyday movements really cause us pain?

I know it’s probably easier to imagine picking up something heavy can cause pain versus emptying the dishwasher, but the truth is NONE of these movements should cause pain.  Yes, that’s right, I said it, but how can that be?

So here’s the thing, it’s not the movement that causes the pain it’s the WAY we do these movements.  I know most of you are probably thinking that’s crazy, but just think about it for a minute.

How many times in a day do you bend over?  Whether it’s picking up your kids/grandkids, emptying the dishwasher or picking something up from the floor we all do that ALL the time, but do you think about how you are doing it?  I’m gonna guess and say NO, right?  And why should we think about it;  we have been doing it since we were babies.  We know how to do it, but do we really? Well we do know how to do it, but that doesn’t mean it is correct and that it won’t eventually cause us pain.

I know it is a little overwhelming to think that how we are moving is what is causing the pain, but just bear with me because the good news is you can fix it.  Yes, I said you can fix it.

And it’s really not that hard to do.  Changing the movement is pretty easy the challenging part is being mindful when you do it so you can change it.  It is being mindful while performing a mindless task like bending over.

Let’s take bending over as an example.  When we bend over most of us flex (round) our spines which puts your lower back at risk because you are changing the position the spine is naturally in which puts your lumbar spine (lower back) at risk.  So you may be thinking why does that put your lumbar at risk?  I’ll try to explain and not geek out with a lot of anatomy speak.

The spine has natural curves; the cervical spine (neck) and your lumbar spine (lower back) have what is called a lordotic curve (think of the letter C) and the thoracic spine (mid back, just below your neck and above the the low back) has a kyphotic curve (think of the letter C backwards).  When you change these curves (and you can with load) the spine becomes compromised.  So if you are performing a task while reversing the curves in the spine and adding load (picking something up while flexing the spine) you get pain.  Thus ends the anatomy lesson.

Ok now we know why, so the question is how do we fix it?  Firstly, you have to be aware that’s how you are moving (that’s the hard part) because you can’t fix something you don’t know you do.  So let’s look at the mechanics of bending over, instead of flexing the spine (rounding the back) try to do a hip hinge.  Hip hinging is simply keeping the back long and straight (knees bent, think mini squat) and bend at the hip socket and make sure you stick your butt out.  If you are bending over with your tail tucked under that is what NOT to do.  Back long and butt out!

This position maintains the curves of the spine and distributes the load across the length of you.  And it can help you strengthen those deep back muscles and allow the bigger muscles to perform the task.  That’s it!  It’s that easy!

The best part is, you can practice it every time you bend over which if you’re like me is ALL the time!  Give it a try!