I recently saw two clients over the span of an hour and a half. One was 7 years old, and the other was 93 years young. What I found quite interesting was how similar their needs were.
The 7-year-old was born prematurely and did not develop her core muscles properly at birth. She was laid face down in her first few weeks of life as is often the case. Unfortunately, this did not allow for proper abdominal function nor did it allow her to lift her head off the bed like other infants. Typically, the first month or two, after being born, as infants lie on their backs they begin to lift their heads off the bed. This is what develops initial core strength. Because she was face down this did not occur in the traditional manner. Therefore, right from the first days of her life, she was forced to find new ways to breathe and move. The outcome was a very different way of life; she used the muscles along her spine in place of her abdominals. This adaptation caused her to arch her back in ways that were not commonly seen. This could be changed and improved with the proper movements, coaching, and diligence.
The 93-year-old man was also having trouble moving in a way that was less than ideal. Gravity was winning the contest with this man, and his body was being pulled closer and closer to the earth. Whereas the 7-year-old used the muscles along the spine for much of her movement, the 93-year-old had trouble using the same area because they had been stretched for so long that they had lost the ability to shorten properly. One individual was being pulled into extension while the other was collapsing into flexion.
You might think that these are two completely different situations and in some ways, you would be correct. The thing both individuals had in common was their inability to return there body’s back to a centered and balanced position. They were both unable to travel to both ends of the movement spectrum: full flexion and full extension.
Question: How does one determine where the center of anything is? Answer: By measuring or experiencing the end ranges and finding the midpoint. Think of a pendulum. They way we can determine where the center of the swing is, is by measuring the distance traveled in both directions. What if you only travel to one end? Your “center” would be very far from the true center.
This is why both the 93-year-old and 7-year-old were similar in their needs. Each only got to experience partial movement and was not able to experience the swing of the pendulum. They both needed to know what flexion and extension felt like even though they were living at different ends of the spectrum. As we began to have each experience movement where before there was none curious things began to occur. Their overall movement began to change. The 93-year-old stated that he felt better, and his energy level increased. The 7-year old could not put into words how she felt, but her movement was not so heavily favoring extension.
The ultimate goal with exercise and movement, in general, is not necessarily to achieve perfect balance, but rather, to pursue the path toward better balance. The really cool thing is that it is not age dependent. No matter what your age, your brain can adapt and choose to create a different set of instructions on how your body moves. You’re never too young or old to improve.