Fixing my body mechanics

Status: A placeholder to make me more explicitly model this damn thing.

Why?

  • I really love running, walking and soccer. I already had my meniscus removed after a major injury, which itself increases the risk of further injury.
  • I want to be functional and healthy for as long as possible, both selfishly and because it’s one of the best ways to increase the area under my impact curve over time (depending on discount rate of course).
  • By default, I don’t enjoy most strength training and hate the high-testosterone gym culture. Even if I could stomach that, most standard advice and ready-made exercises don’t work for me (even if they engage the desired muscles, they backfire in some other location)
  • The human body is endlessly fascinating. I’m currently particularly excited by conscious and unconscious control of movement trigger-action patterns by the nervous system.
  • Feedback on my processes. It’s harder (though far from impossible) to fool yourself into thinking you “know” something in a physical domain.
  • It’s fun to read Leonardo da Vinci and Norbert Wiener on the side, think about embodied cognition and robotics.

Main problems:

  • Injuries
    • Meniscus tear (post-surgery, removed)
  • Asymmetries
    • Scoliosis (S-shaped)
      • 2019-04-23 19_52_05-Photos.png
    • Lumbar hyperlordosis
    • Thoracic kyphosis
  • Chronic pain
    • Psoas (90%) or/and gluteus medius (20%)
    • Trapezius muscles
    • Spinal erectors, esp. around points of greatest scoliosis in lumbar and thoracic regions
  • Limiting range of motion
    • Squat
    • Sitting cross-legged
    • Anything relating to knees, e.g. kneeling
  • Other
    • Possibly restricted breath, possibly affecting sleep

Desired outputs

  • Understanding of my problems.
  • Effective and fun exercises/movements/habits. Important: after some initial investment they have to be very portable as I travel a lot.
  • Down the line, of course, greater range of motion, muscle mass, less pain, lower risk of injury

Anatomical symptoms:

Image result for kyphosis pelvic tilt
Hyperlordosis and thoracic kyphosis might not be the most useful labels (they aggregate of a lot underlying factors) but they do provide a good starting description of my back posture) Source

Weak muscles

  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transversus abdominis
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower traps

A major source of poor movement patterns seems to be unconscious protection of joints (primarily knee, also hip).

  • Is this response to a real threat or an oversensitive reflex?

Scoliosis and other forms of lateral asymmetry clearly lead to pain in some spots. It’s unclear at this stage how much of a role it plays in the front-back asymmetry (pelvic tilt).

Some things that work so far

  • It’s much easier to contract abdominals during squats or sitting cross-legged.
  • Intense scapular retraction seems to relieve pain and help me maintain an erect posture.
  • Training with weights generally seems to be much more effective than alternatives, but it’s harder to isolate a movement and stay mindful during movements.

Variables I want to look into:

  • Center of gravity
  • Breathing
  • Pressure on left and right leg
  • Scapulae and the muscles between them
  • Focus on neck posture (Alexander technique)

Open questions

  • Should I go through short term pain and increased tension in traps/neck region in order to strengthen my abs?
  • Traps: strengthen or stretch?
  • Traps: what are some good exercises?
  • How much weight training vs “boring posture correction”?
  • How can I improve my gait?
  • How to get the glutes to work during functional movement (walking, running)?
  • What are some good reading and writing postures?

Answering the open questions

 

Update, 5/2/2019

  • I seem to have significantly less pain, particularly in the interscapular region. This is true even after long flights which typically brought me a lot of pain. I think that might be a result of frequent scapular protraction and retraction and perhaps more conscious control exerted over the course of the day.
  • I’m starting to get a hang on scoliosis. This is by far the most helpful article I’ve found so far
Tight (red) and inhibited (green) muscles in scoliosis. Opposite orientation to my case. Source
  • Lunges are amazing for engaging hamstrings and glutes.
  • I’ve been mildly ill twice since starting this quest – so far, the biggest
  • I don’t seem to be gaining much muscle despite solid protein and creatine consumption. That said my exercises are currently not optimizing for that goal, so it’s not surprising.
  • Protecting the knees and ankles seems to be a major source of postural misalignment. GymnasticBodies has some good exercises for knee stability.
    • image.png
  • I still find it hard to find reasonable metrics of success/tests
    • Angles on X-ray scans might be informative but I’ll have to find out how detrimental X-rays are.
    • Leg raises, deadlifts, thoracic bridge and other exercises with good form could provide good metrics. I don’t have a good definition of “good form” but maybe I should just stick to “know it when you feel it”.

Update, 5/14/2019

  • I’m quite sold on the idea that the key bottleneck in improving posture is tight hip flexors. The main piece of evidence is that when I try to strengthen the weakest muscles (glutes, lower abs, transversus abdominis), the hip flexors (TFL, psoas, …)

Update, 5/22/2019

  • Using lacrosse ball for myofascial release seems extremely beneficial.
      • The primary desired effects are in releasing the tightest muscles (hip flexors, muscles on the concave sides of my scoliotic curves) and as a result make it easier to activate the key inhibited muscles that I’m going to need to achieve better posture. On this front, it seems quite helpful – using MFR on hip flexors and definitely makes it easier to engage the glutes.
      • There is a secondary effect that I didn’t realize and that might actually dominate – it is extremely helpful for creating mental maps of my musculature. I now have a much better felt sense of the curves in my spine and the tight muscles associated with scoliosis. As a result, it seems to be much easier to spot poor habitual patterns where tight muscles steal the show from the ones I want to strenghten, and intervene in the process.
      • It is extremely pleasant and I feel much less pain as a result.
  • I found what seems to be a relatively robust polaris – strengthening glutes, transversus abdominis, and lower trapezius. They’re not necessarily the first thing to work on, but a robustly good thing to aim towards

    Online advice on scoliosis is extremely inconsistent – to the point where people disagree on whether the tight/overactive muscles are on the concave or convex side of the spinal curves. I decided to go with internal feedback – with a lacrosse ball, it’s quite easy to locate the tight spots. They roughly correspond to concavities in the curves, but the heuristic is far from perfect.
    I still can’t make up my mind on the epistemic status of Naudi Aguilar / Functional Patterns. There’s a lot of red flags (language in books, “this is too complicated to go into”, antagonism towards mainstream schools), but also lots of good signs. Importantly, I feel like I’m making a lot of progress following the advice. I’ll keep experimenting and update my views
    A couple of surprises

    • My upper abs are probably relatively tight and contribute to kyphosis. When I was trying to “work on my core” in the past, most of the engagement was in the upper parts, so I was probably exacerbating the problems.
    • The best access to the psoas is right next to the belly button. It wouldn’t occur to me to try a “gut smash” if I hadn’t read about it.

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