Barbells & Sitting are like Chinese Food & Pudding

Barbell_Squat Many exercises in today’s health clubs and high intensity training classes involve pressing or pulling against a barbell. For the average American this is far down on the list of important exercises and here’s why.

The average American sits for more than one-third of their life and another third sleeping. This leaves less than eight hours for the body to experience purposeful physical activity. Unfortunately purposeful physical activity is at an all time low and the population must seek supplementation in the form of sports, gyms and health clubs. Often when sleeping, a person will assume a position which resembles sitting in a chair that has been laid on it’s side. This is reasonable considering that sitting is a strength workout and few people spend time “cooling down” with post-sitting stretches. Granted most people will not find sitting to be an intense form of exercise which increases one’s heart rate or breathing or induces sweating. Nonetheless sitting is very demanding on the body.

Hips and knees are trained to remain in flexed positions for prolonged periods of time. Ankles have a tendency to plantar flex (toe pointing) more than necessary. The spine allows gravity to pull it forward into flexion, rotation and side-shifting which weakens the muscles on all sides of the trunk. The shoulders follow the spine as they allow gravity to pull them forward into a rounded position. The shoulder blades slide away from the spine and upward as they become “glued” to the rib cage. The head projects forward and the neck extends to help counteract the spine’s forward flexion.

It only takes twenty minutes for the connective tissue (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) to learn and lock into this posture. This means it requires effort to reverse the posture of sitting more than twenty minutes at a time. The more we sit the more likely we will experience pain due to this new trained posture. If you do the math and consider the ramifications, you will understand why the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.” is taking on popularity.

So what does this have to do with barbells? Barbell exercises require a great deal of functional movement from the entire body but especially shoulders, scapula (shoulder blades), thoracic spine (mid back) and hips. Functional movement refers to the body’s ability to move in a manner which requires the least amount of compensation. If the average person has trained their body to distort to a seated posture with aforementioned positions how can it be expected to move in a functional manner? Functional exercises will not restore proper posture to a distorted frame but instead reinforce compensatory movements, or create new ones, and increase the risk of injury.

When a person pulls on a barbell the shoulders should move posteriorly, the scapulae should retract toward the spine, the thoracic spine should move into extension as the hips also go into extension. How can this be achieved if they are spending two-thirds of their life in the exact opposite position?

The answer is they cannot, unless they choose additional exercises to help correct the postural distortion prolonged sitting creates. Choosing single limb movements and getting out of seated environments are a good start. Taking yoga instruction from experienced practitioners. Also having a competent professional analyze your movements to determine which exercises are the most beneficial for your body is something to strongly consider. The ultimate answer of course is sit as little as possible and move with purpose as much as you can. Now get up out your chair and go hunt and gather like you mean it.

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