Guidelines to Help You Exercise Safely
By Ruth Sova
Originally published in Body Sense
magazine, Spring 2003.
Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
An estimated 80 percent of the population will have back problems at some time in their lives. If you're part of that unfortunate majority, and you've started exercising to alleviate the issue, attention to your posture can help you do so safely.
Proper body alignment is extremely important in all fitness programs. Alignment simply means posture, or how you hold your body. Proper posture allows your body's weight to be balanced, so you avoid overworking the back muscles.
From the front, draw an imaginary line down the center of the body. If a properly aligned body is cut in half down the middle, each side will look equal. The center of the hip joint, the center of the knee and the center of the ankle will all be in a vertical line. You will move out of this position for some exercises, but it is important to move back into it as soon as you finish the exercise.
From the side, the ear should be centered over the shoulders and the shoulders over the hips. This is an extremely important postural and safety tip. Leaning forward or letting your head lean forward puts undue stress on the back muscles.
When the body is in the proper position, it is said to have an aligned neutral position. This is also referred to as good alignment, proper alignment and good pelvic mechanics. Of course, when you deviate from good postural alignment in one area of your body, there is always a reactive deviation in another area. Deviations from proper body alignment can be caused by genetic defect or injury, but more often they are caused by muscle weakness and imbalance.
Here are some hints to help you maintain good postural alignment:
- Let your shoulders drop away from your ears. Shoulders move up from stress. Relax your shoulders and upper back muscles.
- Think about lifting your rib cage.
- Think about lifting your pubic bone up toward your navel, but allow your natural back curves to remain in place. Do not try to move with a completely flat back.
- Imagine a helium balloon holding up your head.
- Imagine a string coming out of the top of your head lifting the weight of your head for you.
- Think about your head moving up, not forward.
- If not doing specific arm movements, allow your arms to move naturally with the exercise.
- Move easily and naturally. You'll usually be able to tell if you're trying to move too far or too fast, because you will lean forward.
- Keep imagining how you look from the front and from the side. Simply imagining yourself standing tall will help keep you in alignment.
The good news is the human body is designed for movement. With proper mechanics, it is not likely to break down with use. When the body is in good mechanical alignment, all the forces acting upon it -- both internal and external -- are balanced.
Ruth Sova, M.S., an internationally known speaker, author and consultant, is on the Wisconsin Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and is the author of numerous articles and 15 books including Backhab: The Water Way to Mobility and Pain Free Living. She and her husband, Bud, live in Port Washington, Wisc., where they hike, boat and regularly kill their house plants.