Reduce Weight, Gain Strength – Instantly!

military posture

We all know we shouldn’t slouch.

We should stand and sit “ up straight”.  In our culture this usually means military type posture –  chest out, shoulders back.

Think about the change in the load of a heavy object when it is held far away from the body and then brought in close to the body.  It seems to get lighter.

The weight of the object and the strength of the muscles did not change, we are just better able to access our strength with this simple shift.

In the same way, how we hold our body changes our weight and strength instantly.

Seems simple enough.  Let’s take minute to play around with this together and see what we can discover.

Ready?  First let’s slouch.  Just notice how the body feels.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit up straight,  with “good posture”  chest out shoulders back. What do you notice?

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

Now, let’s sit in the chair with the feet on the floor.  Tilt the hips until the weight of the pelvis is neither on the tailbone, nor the front of the pelvis, just balanced in the center.

Then tilt the rib cage up and down until it is like an upside-down bowl facing the pelvis. (Placing a hand on the breastbone can be helpful.  It will be straight up and down, not tilted front or back in this position)

While keeping the rib cage in that position, rather than pulling shoulders back, gently open the shoulders and chest area.

Finally, let’s move the head around until it feels almost weightless.

Continue to make small adjustments to the position of the pelvis, rib cage and shoulders until the the torso feels comfortable.  Now lets notice.

  • the weight of the head and shoulders
  • the effort of the back muscles
  • how breathing feels

JengaHow much effort does it takes to hold each position?

Just like Jenga blocks, all lined up, they are quite sturdy and stable.  jenga6Out of alignment, the blocks need extra support to stay upright.  In the same way slouching and military posture both create more work on the body.

When the skeleton stacked as it was designed, we become lighter and stronger all at once.  We reduce wear and tear on joints.  Breathing is easier.  With the body at ease, the mind can rest easier too.

In this aligned position, the core muscles are perfectly designed for their job of stabilizing and supporting the spine (and all the other important “stuff” in our torso).   Alignment is the foundation of core strength.

When we are exercising is another great opportunity to notice our alignment in order to access our strength while supporting key areas of the body.

Out of alignment, the body uses its language of pain and other symptoms to say “help, we are working too hard – we are not designed for this.”?

alignmentDiscomfort in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet, pelvic floor issues, a hernia, digestive symptoms, and low energy level are just a few ways the body speaks to us about how we are using it.

Alignment is a science (biomechanics) and the body is complex.  Yet this awareness can be an amazing resource for finding ways we can take charge of our health and well-being.

Here’s the thing though. The pile of all we should be doing for our health can weigh us down.  Let’s be careful alignment does not add to the pile.  These “should’s” have the opposite effect on our health.

To keep it truly healthy,  the intention is about giving the body what it needs to be well as a way to be kind to ourselves.

We can start by simply shifting our attention inward, listening to what the body is saying, and gradually discover our natural alignment.   Alignment then becomes a practice of mindful self compassion.

In this way, learning about our own natural alignment becomes one of the simple yet powerful ways we activate our own well-being.

I look forward to hearing what you are discovering.   Please share it in the comments.

May You Be Well,
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Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC

P.S.  Check out the resources page, stay tuned to this blog, or contact me for more ways to discover your natural alignment.

The Core of The Core

thCAYICAA1The core is a popular focus area for many exercise programs.

Let’s chat about how to work it efficiently and effectively.

First of all – remember that spot reducing is a myth! No matter how many crunches and planks you do, you will not burn more fat in your abdomen area.

What does come close to spot reducing, however, is cardiovascular exercise  During cardio the body utilizes more intra-abdominal fat – the fat that is closest to the organs of the abdomen. This is great news.  These fat cells are very active in promoting inflammation and disease – so keep the cardio going to reduce this hazardous type body fat and improve health.

Beyond that – more core work does not mean less fat around your core. Please consider this if you spend a good portion of your exercise time on your abs/core.  Ask yourself why am I doing this?  Am I trying to spot reduce (myth based) or  improve function (science based)?

The core is a general term used for all that is in the middle of the body – the abdomen, the core muscles  side body and back.   The core is specifically designed to hold the body together while protecting some really important parts – the spine and the organs. If it didn’t have to be so flexible to allow us to move, it would probably be a bone – like our rib cage-  that protects our heart and lungs.  For this reason, the network of muscles in this area is designed for stability with flexibility. transverse

There are several muscles at work for different function in this area.  The key muscle for stability is the Transverse Abdominal (TA) muscle. It wraps around from the spine to the front of the belly.  The TA helps support the neutral alignment of the spine. When it contracts it also stimulates contraction of the muscles supporting the spine and the pelvic floor. Talk about an efficient design!    The key for improving function is the ability to activate it when we need it.

Certain exercises, like planks, strengthen the TA.     However, we gain the most function when we are able to consciously turn on this muscle when we are upright andthe transverse using our arms and legs.   So, we need to train our brain to activate this muscle while doing other things like lifting, carrying, lifting overhead, etc. Some core exercises can cause more harm than good. See this video by The Tummy Team about why crunches don’t work.    It is difficult to teach the proper way to use the TA in writing.   For starters, check out this video .  Hope Zvara does a nice job explaining how the ribs are a key part of core health and function and how to start working the TA.

The Bottom Line:

  • Spot reducing is a myth.  Extra core work is not the answer to extra weight around the middle – regular exercise and managing food intake for general weight loss is the key
  • The purpose of core exercises is to maximize function and stability in this area to protect the spine and organs
  • Some core exercises can harm the core muscles and the structure of the spine, especially if you have a weakness in this area such as a hernia, diastasis recti or pain/injury to the back
  • Proper alignment of your skeleton is essential for the best function of core muscles. The correct positioning of your joints – especially the hips and rib cage – then using the muscles designed to maintain that position improves function and reduces the risk of injury
  • To train the core for function, learn how to activate it consciously in an upright position and practice using it during daily activities

Check out this article. It is a useful summary of the mindset for efficient and effective approaches to exercise for the goal of living well.

Want to learn more about how to effectively use this information in your exercise routine and daily living? Contact me to set up a 30 minute video phone coaching session.  

I look forward to your comments.

Be Well,

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Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC