Fix Your Forward Head Posture

Did you know it has been estimated that up to 90% of us have forward head posture?  Want to know if you do?  Stand up right now, turn your camera on, hold your arm straight out to the side and snap a pic of your profile, including your shoulder.  Take a look.  Are you ears forward of your shoulders?  Congratulations!  You have forward head posture.

Let’s take a quick look at what causes forward head posture (from now on we will call this FHP to save me some time sitting at the computer).  There are the obvious culprits – prolong sitting, computer use, texting, and trauma such as whiplash from a car accident.  But there are also things we don’t think about – the sports we play, the heavy backpack we carry, our jobs, the way we breath.

{Side Note}  Let’s talk about this last one for a hot second.  The stress of our daily lives has left most people with shallow, stressed, labored breathing.  We no longer take relaxed breaths.  Instead, most of us have a habit (without even noticing it) of holding our breath or breathing faster than we need.  This alone can not only affect things like your heart, your oxygen intake, and your mood, but it can also start to tighten down the muscles at the front of the neck, pulling your head forward.  For more on how to help your breathing, check out my past blog post, Breathe Deep.

Symptoms of FHP don’t just include looking like a sad puppy, there are also REAL issues that can occur.  Because of the strain FHP puts on the cervical spine, every system is affected.  This includes the musculoskeletal systems (headaches anyone?), the nervous system (maybe you are a tingling hands kind of person?), and the vascular system (raise your hand if you have sleep apnea!).  The longer your head hangs out there, the more vulnerable you are to muscle spams, bulging and herniated discs, and even TMJ.

So, let’s get to work.  Perform these 8 moves a couple times a week.  Use them as a warm-up to your other activities or do them right before bed.

6 Exercises for Stronger Feet

We all know our feet are important.  They are our foundation and help keep everything above them safe.  But weak feet can lead to aches, pains, and injury.  So, here are 6 exercises you can do using a rolled up yoga mat (I use a 1/2 roller in the videos).  That’s it!  That is all you need to help strengthen your feet and simultaneously improve your balance, strengthen your hips, and take stress off your spine.

Swing Your Arms!!

With the days getting longer and the temperatures getting a bit warmer, Spring has invited to me to start walking more.  I am a person who loves to stack things, so I have started walking to my weekly Yoga class.  I have to leave only about 15 minutes earlier than I usually do, and I get a nice 25 min walk there and back through my local parks.

Last week, I walked to class and it was fairly pleasant outside, but after class, the temps had fallen a bit.  I mention this because this lead me to put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm.  I noticed about 15 minutes into my walk that my mid-back was getting stiff and my neck and shoulders were a little achy.  I tried to think about what we had done in class that would have caused this to happen.  I thought “I just took a Yoga class.  I should feel awesome!” when I realized my hands had been in my pockets this whole time.

With my hands tucked into my coat pockets, my arms were unable to swing in their natural movement.

No swinging = no natural rotation of the spine = pain in my mid-back and shoulders.

When we don’t swing our arms when walking, we lose the subtle rotation of the spine that needs to happen for proper movement.  That rotational force needs to go somewhere, meaning we rotate too much at other places, including the low-back.  In my case, not only was I putting extra force through my low-back, but my mid-back and neck were also bracing against the rotational force that should have been happening.  Hence, the tight back and shoulders.

So the quick lesson of the day is Swing Your Arms!  And make sure you are swinging them with a whole-body movement.  None of this moving from the elbow BS (more on this later).

Play Day-to-Day

The world is a heavy place with a lot of responsibilities.  You have responsibilities to your family, to yourself, to your work, not to mention simple responsibilities like taking out the trash and washing the car.  It seems everyone right now is weighted down with this sense of responsibility.  I normally add to those responsibilities with solutions of how to take better care of your body, but today, lets take a breather.

Today, I want you to approach your day with a little more play.  This doesn’t mean you have to skip the office for the playground (but you should skip instead of walk), just add a sense of joy and lightness to your day.  I will even make this post brief so you don’t have to be so adult and READ, you can just DO!

Here are just few easy ways to bring some play to your day-to-day:

  • Play games – Busy at the supermarket?  See if you can duck and dodge your way through the crowd without bumping into anyone!
  • Notice what you like – The sky, the color of the car next to you, some ladies hat, the wagging tail of a dog.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.
  • Engage with strangers – When you lose the game in #1 and you bump a stranger, smile, laugh, make eye contact, or give them a compliment.  You can do this with people you don’t bump into (and probably get better results) as well.
  • Enjoy music – Sing or dance or just carry the tune in your head as you go about your daily errands.  When you notice someone belting out Whitney Houston in the car next to you, don’t you smile and think that person is having the BEST time!
  • Smile – Just cause.
  • Move – Exercise is great, but as adults, we have even taken the fun out of that.  Challenge yourself to skip, hop, crawl, chase (children and dogs are excellent playmates), instead of just going for a jog.
  • Laugh – At how much we take ourselves seriously when we have absolutely no control over anything.

Have a happy day my friends!  If you feel like it, let me know how you found play in the comments below!  Also, let your friends know so they can start playing too!

Opt Outside! Treadmill vs Outdoor Running

The great debate – treadmill walking and running versus outside.  Well, you can tell by the title, I have my own clear winner.  But, if you are still reading past the headline, I bet you want to know more…you want to know the WHY.

In a nutshell, when you run or walk outside, the muscles of the leg have to propel you forward.  When you run or walk on a treadmill, the muscles of your leg have to catch you as you fall forward.  So even though it looks like the same exercise, they are actually two different exercises using different muscles.

When you are on a treadmill, the floor is moving under your feet.  With each stride your body is hitting this moving surface and getting pushed into a forward motion.  Your opposite leg then has to get out in front of you and hit the treadmill before you fall forward.  So with each stride you are literally just catching yourself from falling instead of running forward.

Outside, the ground is stable, so your foot has to push against that stable surface and push you forward.  For one, this takes a lot more strength and muscle activation to do than running on a treadmill so you will actually burn more calories and get a better workout.  Secondly, and my favorite part, is that it is safer on your body.  By pushing yourself forward, you are using your body the way it was designed to be used, as well as using all the muscles of the back of the leg to help counteract the effects from all your sitting time.  Total win.

When we go around catching ourselves from falling instead of propelling ourselves forward, we put a lot of stress on our hip, knee, and ankle joints.  Not to mention the load we put on our feet.  This extra load leads to some of the most common aches and pains among runners – plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy, and runner’s knee just to mention a few.  Where as running (correctly, more on that below) outside can actually help strengthen some of the most commonly weak postural muscles in the body.

So you are now convinced to take your run outside.  Fantastic!  Just a quick word…It is also possible to do the “fall and catch” outside as well.  This usually occurs because the mobility in our hips and ankles restricts our body’s ability to move our legs in the appropriate way.  So make sure you spend time opening up your hips (try these hip openers) and your calves.  In fact, you can start right now with the exercise below!

Move That Mid-Back to Save Your Neck and Low Back

I know I know.  You are probably sick of me talking about the thoracic spine, but I can’t help myself.  A few months back, I talked about the thoracic spine in my post “Exercises for a Tight Neck and Shoulders“.  Today, I want to dive a little deeper and talk about the whole spine and the importance of movement and fluidity especially in the thoracic spine.

For an array of reasons, your spine needs to move fluidly.  Proper movement in your spine not only allows you to move properly and avoid injury, but it also helps nourish the discs in your spine and move cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to and from your brain.  Today, due to high levels of stress, constant sitting, and working on computers, our spines do not get a lot of chances to move forward, back, side-to-side, and in rotation.  The place this shows up the most, is in the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine is the the middle portion of your spine.  The spine should move like a snake – flexible but strong.  Imagine you are holding a snake (I know it’s gross, but it’s just pretend), if you hold onto the center of the snake, his head and tail are going to move like crazy!  The same thing happens to your back.  When we lose movement in our thoracic spines, our necks and low backs become hyper-mobile.  This excess of movement puts huge forces on our vulnerable discs and vertebrae and can lead to muscle soreness, nerve pain, and bulging discs.

So, now that I have scared you into moving your spine (I am totally proud of that by the way), let’s give you something you can actually use to help yourself.  Below you will find videos to move your thoracic spine in 3 different ways – flexion and extension, lateral movement, and rotation.  Do the whole set or pick one from each movement and get your mid-back moving!

Thoracic Mobilization – Flexion/Extension

Thoracic Mobilization – Lateral Shift

Thoracic Mobilization – Rotation

Is Your Squat Helping or Hurting You?

The Squat – it is the epitome of a gym exercise, the king move amongst gym rats, the foundational move for all athletes.  Anyone can do a squat.  It should be a no-brainer, right?  Sorry, not so fast.

When we were kids, squatting was a part of life (think of the kid in the diaper who you know is doing his business because of the squat position he is holding).  As we get older and we spend more time sitting and working and trying to squeeze in a workout here or there, the tighter our hips become, the more our squat goes awry.  Once our hips have become off-kilter, the squat work we were hoping would sculpt our hammy’s and glutes is actually putting pressure into our low back, knees, and other vulnerable joints.

Focusing on the position of your pelvis and hips during a squat, can not only help you get stronger in the areas your are trying to target, but it can also help you retrain your hips into a balanced position.  Watch this short video and learn how to squat to help you balance your pelvis, remain injury-free, and get the most out of your squat.