Updated: Jan 16, 2020
We all know that obesity is a huge epidemic facing this country. We also know that smoking is dangerous for you and can cause harmful effects. But there is another problem that is facing nearly every American, and it’s a problem that is only now beginning to be addressed: sitting and the impact it has on our musculoskeletal system, in particular the Posterior Chain. Not only is it problematic to how we move, this crisis can lead to serious injury. The great news, however, is that we can easily improve the critical state of our Posterior Chain by making a few minor changes.
WHAT IS THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?
The posterior chain is pretty much everything you don’t see in the mirror: the back of your neck, the muscles surrounding your shoulder blade, your lower traps, lats and spinal erectors. The posterior chain continues down the body and includes your glutes, your hamstrings, and the much smaller supportive muscles. Beyond allowing us to lift efficiently and injury-free in the gym, the posterior chain allows us to move and keeps us upright.
HOW DID THE CRISIS OCCUR?
We sit… a lot. Most Americans sit up to 13 hours a day and then sleep another 8. If we are sedentary for 21 hours a day, it leaves only a couple hours for our body to actually do what it’s designed to do. Move. By remaining stationary, the muscles of our posterior chain remain elongated for too long and aren’t under any type of tension. Because the back side is long and relaxed, our front side (the anterior portion of our body) is the opposite: shortened and tightened. This imbalance causes the short and tight muscles of the front side of our body to constantly pull on the lengthened weak back-side muscles. This results in rounded shoulders, hunched backs, hips that tilt forward, low backs that are stiff and ankles that are tight and just perpetuates the cycle.
WHY IS THIS SUCH A PROBLEM?
As we age the neglect and underdevelopment of the posterior chain can lead to serious health issues that can shorten your life-span and drastically decrease your quality of life. What starts as a small imbalance compounds over time and leads to major reduction in range of motion, stability, and health.
Humans are hinging creatures meaning that our hips are the fulcrum we use to create leverage to move and support the rest of our body. This leverage requires the associated muscles to be actively engaged.Our glutes and hamstrings enable us to pick up pretty much everything. When we pick something up, our back muscles helps keep our spine safe and stable and our hamstrings allow us to use our legs efficiently. Our posterior chain also enables proper arm function. We have the shoulder girdle to help our arms lever around our rib cage, and the shoulder joint is surrounded by muscles that are important for posture, exercise and daily movement. If these muscles are weak, we can’t expect our spine or our shoulders to move properly. When they don’t move properly your body is at a significantly higher risk of injury, in particular to these muscles of the Posterior Chain.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS CRISIS?
The easiest way to start making improvements is to stand and move more. Make a conscious effort every day to make a progressive change. Even if it is as small as 5 minutes an hour throughout your work day, that can really add up: 5 minutes every hour at work x 8 work hours a day x 5 work days a week x 52 weeks a year = 10,000+ minutes of more standing a year. Something small today can lead to big changes down the road.
The second thing to do is add more mobility exercises into your routine. Mobility movements allow joints, and therefore the corresponding muscles, to go through a full range of motion. Focus on all your major joints: neck, back, shoulders, hips, ankles. If you’re unsure on how to incorporate mobility into your daily routine, our partners at Performance Care Clinics offer a monthly Mobility Seminar designed to work through all ranges of motion and address muscles of the Posterior Chain.
Finally, exercise under the guidance of a knowledgeable coach. Since you’re stuck in a seated, hunched over position for hours on end, the last thing your body needs is to go sit on a bike and pedal at a high intensity in the same hunched over position; similarly, hitting a ton of crunches is an equally poor choice. These types of exercises will reinforce the poor postural habits of sitting at a desk rather than allowing your body to go through opposing positions.
At Bodymass, we address all aspects of engaging the muscles of the posterior chain during both private training and small group training. Our workouts are designed in conjunction with Physical Therapists to ensure we are moving well. We cap classes at ten participants to ensure every participant receives individual coaching and has proper form. Every workout includes moving joints through a full range of motion, focusing on the small and neglected muscles, then lifting to activate those muscles.
We can all take steps towards addressing this crisis. Stand more, move through full ranges of motion and exercise with the proper guidance. We’re here to help you get started!
Written By: Sam Pfister