Emma has been a personal trainer since 2002. She's watched exercise trends come and go, researched health and fitness for more hours than she can ever add up, and loves working with the human body more every day.
fluid, functional, flexible
Do you have any freaky habits? I’m not talking about picking your nose in your car, even though t’s definitely freaky. Something your friends would roll their eyes at and say things like “Emma, you need to get out more” or “I really hope you don’t do that with me”.
Because this is a true story, I’m going to confess my freaky habit. And my friends have definitely said those very things to me (often with a lot more expletives) when I’ve told them what I’m doing.
I blame my job, but I’m obsessed with the way people move. Strangers on the street. People I know a little bit. My close friends and family. I do it to myself too.
I notice the way people walk, sit and hold themselves, because they’re ultimately clues to what’s going on in their bodies. Because I spend all day helping people change the way they move, or trying to find out what’s stopping them from changing the way they move, it’s tough to switch off.
You can tell a lot from the way someone walks. Are their hips stable, or do they lead with their neck? Are they fluid and relaxed, or abrupt and uncomfortable? It’s like a Rubik’s cube, only less colourful and you can’t pull it apart and put it back together if you get stuck.
Mathematicians probably have some methodology for the most common Rubik’s cube solutions. Since I’m crap with numbers, I’ll never know what it is. But the body has common issues, and there are similar solutions for a lot of them. There are also much more complex problems, but assuming there are no major injuries or undisclosed issues, these are the things most people are limited by.
Locked knees. It sounds crazy, but this is one of the biggest problems in most of the people I see, either officially at work, or unofficially, out in the real world. Locking your knees often goes hand in hand with lower back issues, tight psoas or hip flexors, neck problems and headaches. A lot of people who suffer from migraines have this habit, and the best solution for all these problems is to improve deep core strength, including pelvic floor.
Sway back. I used to think my super curved lower back looked pretty cool, but I was wrong. I had issues with my lower back, but much bigger issues with my neck. I put a lot of them down to stress, but never understood posture that mimicked a gymnast’s finishing position wasn’t good for my body. Sway back, or lordosis as it’s officially known, is caused by a lot of different problems. For a lot of women, it starts when they’re pregnant. It can be a result of being really flexible, sitting too much, standing too much (you just can’t win, right?) or weak glutes and hamstrings. The solution? You might have guessed already, but it’s creating deep core strength.
Unstable base. This one is my favorite, because it’s about sitting, standing and exercising. When people with an unstable base stand, they tend to kick one hip out to the side, or cross one foot over the other. When my daughter was little, I always held her on my right hip and moved my weight over to that side. Later on, I had massive problems with my right hip and lower back. Crossing one leg over the other is often a confidence issue , subconsciously this can be about taking up less space.
Sitting with an unstable base is usually about foot positioning. Your feet are designed to give you equal stability. The majority of us don’t have both of our feet on the ground when we sit. If you cross your legs, splay your feet out to the sides, or have your weight on your toes when you sit, you’re asking your body to do way more work than it needs to, and creating some choice postural issues at the same time, mainly in your neck and back.
This whole foot not being on the ground situation is an epidemic at the gym. Lat pulldown, bench press, anything on an incline usually involve weight on the front of the foot, or some kind of crazy ankle twisting. The saddest thing is people are robbing themselves of strength everywhere. Pushing your feet solidly into the ground gives you hamstring, glute and core strength, and helps keep your shoulders relaxed. In nearly every upper body exercise trapezius overworks, so if you can find a way to keep it even a little bit chilled out, it’s only going to be a good thing.
So, you might be sensing a theme by now, but the causes of an uneven base come down to primarily these things: weak hamstrings, glutes, and core and an overtight neck and psoas. What’s the quickest solution? Uhuh – strengthening deep core muscles.
Along with your deep core, there’s a regime of stretches which will help correct all three of the postural quirks we’ve touched on, and a reeducation of the way your brain approaches not only movement, but stillness too. Most of us hang off our skeleton, and if we can encourage our musculature to work automatically, it can only mean positive things for our wellbeing.
If you feel like doing some simple homework, check out your knees next time you’re standing for more than a couple of minutes. Are they relaxed or totally locked? When you’re sitting, especially if it’s at work, what’s going on with your feet? Experiment with putting them both on the ground and really using them to give you some strength. How does your posture change? You might even start checking out the way other people sit and stand – which means I won’t be the only one.