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Functional movements teach body awareness

Sitting is a large part of today’s lifestyle. Most every task we perform is or can be done from a seated position.

Prolonged sitting can lead to several issues when the time comes to start moving again.

Sitting puts the hip flexor in a shortened position. The hip flexor connects the upper leg, pelvis and lower spine together. If these muscles adapt to a shortened position by prolonged sitting, it can become difficult to perform functional movements. Hips may feel tight and the low back can start to ache.

The body will always find the path of least resistance. This way it can conserve energy. When sitting in front of a computer screen or reading a book, the body will find the easiest position. This often includes a rounded upper back.

Day after day a rounded back can lead to some elongated upper back muscles being stretched around the spine. With the shoulders rounded forward, the chest and lat muscles can become shortened.

These various elongated and shortened muscles can cause a variety of problems. Gym movements such as lifting and even cardio exercises can become difficult as the body has a harder time trying to hold itself in an optimal position.

Daily activities can become more hazardous as the spine and hips increasingly tighten. Lifting heavy garbage bags or groceries with a rounded spine and poor hip mechanics is like a ticking time bomb for injury.

If you have a career or lifestyle that requires prolonged sitting, there are a few things you can do to improve and maintain optimal length-tension relationships among your muscles. Some foam rolling and stretches of the various tight muscles will help to bring them back to an optimal length. See my earlier columns on foam rolling and stretching at www.lvrj.com/trainer.

Functional movements such as squatting, dead lifting, pressing and pulling will teach you body awareness. Practice these movements. If you are not comfortable doing them on your own then get a trainer to help. Feeling what it’s like to have a straight and properly braced spine will go far in preventing injury.

Pursuing good mechanics in functional movements will lead to increased flexibility as you explore ways to perform those movements better.

You don’t need to be a heavy lifter to perform functional movements. Daily tasks require some strength. You can train in the gym with weight amounts similar to the things you move or lift routinely. For example, kids weigh anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds. It would be beneficial to be able to dead lift and squat that much with good technique. Dog food comes in bags as heavy as 40 to 60 pounds. Items on the top shelf may have a 10-to15-pound maximum weight. Pressing and manipulating this weight overhead efficiently can keep your shoulders safe.

In addition to the functional movements are some I have chosen to help upper back and hip mechanics. The scapula retraction is a good awareness exercise. You would be surprised how many people have trouble with this exercise. It is not generally a strength issue but a patterning one that mixes people up. Since they cannot see their back they have to feel their body move. This is often one of my first drills with athletes. It tells me how well they can perceive their own body position.

Kettle bell swings are another good exercise to combat sitting. They require a straight back and full hip extension. That is the exact opposite of sitting — tight hips and rounded back. It also teaches a good hip mechanic for standing with weight and using the hips to move weight. And it combines weight exercise with cardio exercise.

Performing sets of five to 10 with heavier weight will help build strength. Sets of 20 to 50 will build strength and endurance.

Be sure to master the basic technique first. As athletes fatigue, they exhibit form faults such as rounded upper backs and decreased hip activation. This leads to the shoulders taking over for the lift instead of the hips.

Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer and can be contacted at 702trainer@gmail.com. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician.

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