We’ve all heard this saying, but very few of us stopped to think about it at length. The entire reason that we are able to lose weight and gain muscle is that the body adapts to anything (except dehydration, but that’s another matter entirely). If you really think about it, that short sentence is the answer to most fitness related questions. You look the way you look and feel the way you feel, only because of what you eat, how often you move, and how you stand/walk/sit/sleep. That being said, an athlete has great body composition only because his/her body has adapted to moving constantly and eating healthily and as a result the body knows that it cannot carry around excess weight because it must move fast/jump high/run long distances etc. Whereas for someone who doesn’t move much and eats excessively, their body piles on excess fat because that person does not have to move fast, and apparently has access to extra food, so the cycle begins.
Everyone knows that you gain weight by eating too much, and lose it by eating less, so let me lay a few ground rules before getting to the point of this article. The S.A.I.D. principle stands for specific adaptations to imposed demands. Most people know that flexibility is important, but relatively few people know just how important it is. That being said (no pun intended), our muscles will shorten, when they have no reason to be elongated.
For instance, when one has a 40 hour per week job which involves sitting at a computer for a long period of time, many things happen that are very detrimental to that persons’ health. Due to spending a third of the day (8 hours) sitting, the hip flexors shorten, because the body spends more time sitting. In addition, one starts to hunch, because the body adapts to what it does most often; staring down at a computer screen. The pectorals (chest) shorten because the arms are consistently forward, and this shortening effect actually pulls the shoulders downward making it even harder to stand straight. Things can get even worse if this individual has a weak lower back (very few people put focus on the lower back at the gym, by the way).
It isn’t just those with a desk job that can suffer from postural distortions. Depending on what an individual does, such as lean against the cash register, lean over the counter, bend down frequently, lean to one side, stand on the balls/heels of their feet, or whatever one consistently does, the body will adapt to those movement patterns by shortening some muscles and elongating others. This is a vicious cycle leading to serious problems.
Even in the very rare case of one who has no repetitive stresses or movement patterns in their daily life, that person can STILL have a postural distortion that only gets worse with time! Birth defects, genetics and simple evolution have dealt their own problems to our joints. Another important point to consider, is that the position of any joint affects the position of all the other joints. For instance many people are flat footed, or have internally or externally rotated ankles. These imbalances can lead to altered force distribution at the ankle, which leads to irregular stress distribution at the knee, which affects the hip, and so on. There are many other postural distortion patterns, but you get the idea by now.
Scared yet? Don’t worry, just like every single problem in this universe, there is an accompanying solution. This one is actually simple; just stretch! Most postural problems, at least those in the early stages, can be corrected through what is so accurately named corrective flexibility. Corrective flexibility focuses on stretching the muscles that are shorter than need be for normal posture. If you don’t have a personal trainer or other health professional with knowledge of this sort, it is always a good idea to simply stretch your entire body. Even if you don’t remember a single stretch from P.E. class, its ok, we’re in the information age! Check out my videos here as well as the infinite others on the internet, just try to make sure you select a credible source, someone who practices what they preach.
In addition to stretching, mobility work is also important. Using your newfound range of motion properly is ultimately what will get your body functioning better. Try to take into account every joint in your workouts, from your toes to your neck and jaw muscles. Small things like ankle/wrist/neck circles are very important. Involve some free flowing motion in each joint during your warm-up, your body will thank you!
Every single human being can benefit from stretching and mobility work. Flexibility is incredibly underrated in today’s society, and you will feel so much better when your muscles are the right length, not to mention a decreased risk of injury. So get on the floor of your living room or the stretching area at the gym, or take your mat to the beach or park and stretch those tight muscles! Try incorporating stretching before AND after the workout, for a number of benefits that I’ll list in a future article, and remember: MOVE IT OR LOSE IT!!!