Category Archives: Posture and alignment

Common Training Troubles – Neck

I spent time this week working with two separate clients to help them manage their neck pain and stiffness. Both of these individuals get headache symptoms when their neck gets bad, so they’re very motivated to make improvement.

Sitting atop the rest of the body, your head and neck are subjected to a lot of different loads and forces, depending on how you move and carry yourself. Think about it. Through your vision and balance mechanisms, your head is always trying to right itself and stay level. If your pelvis is unlevel, you have stooped, forward posture, or your overall movement is off-balance and erratic, your head and neck are going to have to compensate.

Additionally, because of our jobs and technology like computers and smart phones, most of us spend time in a position of forward head carriage, which overloads the muscles of the neck and upper back. Any time the head or neck is out of neutral alignment, some muscles are getting an opportunity to shorten and tighten, while others become overstretched, creating muscle imbalance.

It’s usually not very effective to address problems at the extremities without discussing the body’s central stability and power centers of the core and pelvis. I’m going to assume you’ve been reading my earlier columns, and have taken a good look at your overall posture and alignment, while working to develop good neutral spine and pelvic positioning and core function.

When exercising, always remember to perform a progressive warm-up beforehand, and be sure to get medical approval before starting a new fitness program. Because the neck can be particularly sensitive or unstable, I always recommend very slow and careful progression of any movements. Be sure to stop if you feel anything negative, like pain, dizziness or numbness or tingling in your limbs.

Knowledge – More than any other area of the body, it’s important to know exactly what is going on with your neck. Because of the high degree of mobility of the joints in your cervical spine, and the complicated spider-web of muscles and other connective tissue in the area, there is a lot that can happen in this region, and a lot that can go wrong. Without any prior knowledge, I’ve had clients who’ve had X-rays of their spine reveal significant misalignment of the bones in the neck, with advanced degenerative changes, including bone spurs, reduced joint spaces and so on.

In instances like this, I’ve heard the rationale of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’, meaning that if the person with the degenerative neck isn’t experiencing pain or discomfort, why change anything. My rationale is always the same. It’s only a matter of time before the stress that has caused the physical changes to the neck results in some kind of serious, acute incident. Why not get a thorough assessment by someone you trust, and begin to change your lifestyle and exercise habits to improve your neck, rather than letting it get worse? This includes focusing on your posture and head position as much as possible.

Treatment – I fully appreciate how fragile you can feel when your neck gets very bad and you’re experiencing sharp pain and headaches. If you’ve already had a thorough diagnosis and are aware of problems with the bones, joints or disks in your cervical spine, it can be very daunting to try to exercise your neck. However, just like any other part of the body, if you don’t use it, your neck will get less and less healthy.

For acute neck issues you may need to ice the injured area, or possibly taking anti-inflammatory medications. I also recommend the help of a good physiotherapist or chiropractor to manage the acute injury. Very gentle flexibility and range of motion activities, can really help to loosen a painful neck. For chronic tension in the muscles, try applying heat, or rolling the muscles on a roller or small ball.

Prevention – One of the best ways to avoid neck problems is to pay close attention to your overall body alignment during your daily activities. For example, I use an excellent ergonomic chair and keyboard when I sit to write my columns, and take frequent micro-breaks to move my body and reset my alignment. When you’re exercising, always use good body position and core function strategies to improve your movement efficiency.

Another key point is to remember to focus on balanced flexibility and strength in your neck. Regularly performing light range of motion movements and stretches should help your mobility, and it’s very easy to perform gentle strengthening exercises in a variety of directions using only the pressure of your hand. Of course you want to be sure that your cervical alignment is healthy and stable before doing any resisted work with your neck, so as to avoid any risk of injury or complications.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 16 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition, and can be contacted at Williams Health Group.

Performance Sport Conditioning – Shear weakness

The more athletes I work with, the more amazed I am at how well some of these individuals manage to perform, considering the physical weaknesses and imbalances they possess. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but foundational core strength is pretty important, and is often less than ideal.

One weakness that regularly surfaces is the inability to maintain neutral alignment of the ribcage on top of the pelvis even under light lateral or rotational loads. The energy leakage or shearing that occurs across the mid-section can compromise performance and permit unnecessary stress to the spine. Proper core activation can increase 360˚ stability and prevent this problematic shearing from occurring.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 20 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob’s parent company is Williams Health Group. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. He is a sought-after posture and performance coach for professional and amateur athletes and celebrities.

The Power of Posture

Over the holiday season I was fortunate enough to work with four elite Canadian athletes, from two different sports, each playing at the national and international level. I have to admit that I continue to be amazed at how important posture is for overall health and athletic performance.

With each of these athletes, a preliminary posture analysis was performed to identify any asymmetries in their standing and neutral athletic positions. These observations were closely related to existing or prior injuries that these individuals have been managing during their playing careers. It’s always rewarding for me at this stage to watch an individual have that ‘AHA!’ moment, where they can actually see how their posture is contributing to their problems.

Once I’ve analyzed someone’s posture, it’s important to get an understanding of how their body functions. This is done through manual testing, for things like core function, joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, as well as with analysis of movement patterns and strategies. Poor posture causes faulty movement, which leads to pain and injury. In each athlete there were weaknesses identified that were clearly related to the athlete’s performance limitations or prior injuries.

Through thousands of posture assessments and related training sessions, I’ve observed how closely postural alignment is related to dysfunction at various parts of the body. The most notable areas are the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips and knee joints. If you’re dealing with overuse or chronic injuries in one or more of these areas, try improving your posture as part of your corrective rehabilitation program. You’ll be surprised how much it can help.

As always, consult your physician before beginning or modifying your exercise program, and be certain to perform an effective warm up.

Posture and back pain

If you deal with chronic lower back issues, or get recurring episodes of acute pain, there’s a good chance that your posture is part of the problem. Because of the complexity of the spine and pelvis there are many things that can go wrong to cause pain and dysfunction. Making sure that you sit, stand and move in the best position possible will prevent muscle imbalance, joint stress and increased pressure on the intervertebral discs of your spine.

One of the most common posture deviations is the anterior pelvic sway, where your hips and pelvis begin to drift forward of your body. As the pelvis migrates it often tilts forward as well and the upper body must lean backward to keep you from falling face first. These displacements result in an increased or sharpened curve in the lower back, as well as a rounded upper spine with forward head carriage. This increased curve in the lower back puts strain on the joints and extra pressure on the discs. One way to prevent this is to remember that your ribcage should always be aligned directly above your pelvic ring, with 360˚ support from the entire core complex.

Posture and shoulder injuries

Clients often come to me with mild to moderate shoulder problems caused by sports or their occupation. Most of the time they’ve already tried various forms of therapy and treatment, but not had any permanent resolution to the problem. When this is the case, a posture assessment usually gives some indication of why.

Most posture deviations result in changes to the position and alignment of the upper spine and torso. When this happens, the arms will hang forward of the body and the shoulder blades will swing outward around the ribcage, often winging or rolling forward. This is one of the worst positions because it increases the risk of shoulder joint injuries. By realigning the rest of the body, the arms and shoulders will become more neutral, and the joints won’t be as susceptible to trauma.

Posture and how you move

Rob training Scott Richmond on Core X

Likely the most stimulating aspect of my professional practice is the part where I get to analyze a client’s movement strategies and improve upon them by optimizing their dynamic posture and alignment. Everyone should understand that training their bodies to maintain the best positions possible during movement will maximize their strength, balance and function. Even the elite athletes I work with see an instant improvement in their stability and athleticism when I coach them into better body position. This might involve getting deeper into the hip joints to encourage the big glute muscles to fire, or neutralizing the curves of the spine so that the core muscles can work from a position of strength.

When considering your own body position, check if your spine and pelvis are square and neutral and that your core system is engaged. Be sure you’ve balanced your bodyweight between your two feet, keeping them active rather than collapsed. All movement should begin from the center of your body, and happen with efficient precision. Try to avoid excessive, unnecessary motion, or weak, imbalanced body positions.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes on the North Shore