How many hours a day do you spend in your car’s bucket seats? Slouching on the couch? Slumping at your kitchen counter’s bar stools? Hunched in front of the computer? If you’re like most people living life, it’s quite a few. The good news about all this hunching, slumping, and slouching is that your body is already really good at a two common Pilates maneuvers—tucking the pelvis and flexing the spine. On the other hand, how many hours a day do you spend arching your back and popping your ribcage forward to counteract all that hunching? Then tack on the number of hours spent practicing backbends like upward dog, wheel, and camel pose in yoga class to reverse the slumping from the day. It all adds up to your body being able to do two things: flex the entire spine or extend the entire spine.
A lot of yoga classes start with a simple warmup called cat/cow- which involves flexing and extending the spine. Many Pilates classes teach pelvic bridging and roll downs which involve only flexing the spine. So if you do Pilates and you start to embody that shape as your daily posture, you might be pretty good at tucking your pelvis like Elvis and rounding your spine like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Or maybe you’re really good at backbends but continually thrust your ribs like Mary Lou Retton long after your “heart opening” yoga practice has ended?
When people who are doing all the “right” exercises yet still have pain, their body blind spots are often the culprit. When I look at the kinds of movements my clients and students are doing, I sometimes find that the exercises they’re practicing a lot—because they’re so good at them—are actually reinforcing the same postural positions they hold all day long in their daily life and in their fitness routine.
Which side of the fence are you on? Are you Elvis with a tucked pelvis— really great at roll downs and roll ups in Pilates? Or are you a back-arching, booty-popping Beyoncé—a master at urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) and ustrasana (camel pose)?
Perhaps you’re good at both: you can flex your WHOLE spine or extend your WHOLE spine. But herein lies the problem of differentiation: most people can’t flex their lumbar spine while extending their thoracic spine, and most can’t extend their lumbar spine while flexing their thoracic spine.
Challenging yourself to break out of the box of your established movement patterns can help get you out of pain and improve your posture. On Friday, I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty with an exercise I happen to love called the WAVE. It’s great because it forces people to do the opposite of what they’re good at, whether that happens to be tucking your pelvis and flexing the spine or arching your back and sticking your bum out.
Here’s what you’ll get out of the WAVE:
1. YTU ball placement is used to help locate bony landmarks in the front and the back of the torso. The breathing strategy fosters a “rest and digest” response that establishes a calm environment to explore body blind spots.
2. The wave-like pattern of movement helps establish new neuromuscular connections for students who have only experienced cat/cow pose or the traditional Pilates bridge using flexion in both directions.
3. Awareness of the interconnectedness of the diaphragm, TA, multifidus, and pelvic floor.
One thing the WAVE is especially good for is becoming much more aware of spinal articulation, the ability to exert muscle control over a particular part of the spine while revolving back and forth through flexion and extension into what’s called undulation. I started teaching this exercise when I noticed that many of my students had difficulty differentiating their pelvis from their spine, and their lower back/lumbar spine from their ribcage/thoracic spine. Many complained of back pain but were unable to pinpoint where it was coming from. Thanks (no thanks!) to stiffness, weakness, and/or imbalances in the spinal muscles, my students found it challenging to engage in multidirectional spinal articulation.
The lesson here is that you need to pick exercises that you aren’t good at and that may be frustrating. If an exercise is so ingrained you can do it in your sleep, then there are going to be a multitude of other types of movements that you need to do to challenge your motor control. If it is too familiar and comfortable you may be on the road to a repetitive stress injury.
With spinal articulation it’s not all or nothing—undulate a bit, and explore the spectrum from Elvis to Beyoncé and back again.
Come back Friday to see how to do the WAVE!