Be Well Personal Training

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The real reason I can't squat, compliments of the PRI postural respiration workshop

My bodyweight squat leaves something to be desired.  I can squat all of the way down, heels remaining on the floor, and look pretty good once I am down there.  My knees stay straight ahead, my feet stay in good contact with the floor and don't rotate, and my pelvis remains level.  So, where is the problem, you ask?  My torso.  It folds neatly forward, with good alignment in the spine, rather than remaining upright and vertical with my tibia (proper squat form).  It kills me when I do videos of myself squatting because it is the one area I can't seem to improve.  I have elevated my heels on little risers to see if it's an ankle mobility restriction (it's not).  I have worked on my deep intrinsic core muscles, ala NASM's CES protocol, because according to NASM, it's an intrinsic core issue.  I thought maybe my regular DNS work would improve pelvic positioning, thus improving my squat pattern.  All of this has been to no avail.  Still, when I would squat in front of a mirror, I would watch with dismay as my torso folded forward.  The slightly analytical (and perhaps overly compulsive) part of me wanted to be able to squat well.  It's the signature of a good movement pattern, always the first thing people look at when they begin to understand how you move.  I began to feel resigned to the fact that maybe I would never squat well and my movement pattern would forever be less than perfect.

Enter the Postural Restoration Institute Postural Respiration workshop.  I went because a) Eric Cressey mentioned PRI in his blog, b) it was local (this never happens in Monterey) and c) it sounded neurologically based, which seems to resonate with me.  Something that should be understood about these types of workshops is no matter how well you think you move, you are going to discover you have areas you need to work on.  Like most people in the industry who spend oodles of time analyzing others movement patterns and helping them move better, I apply that same overzealousness to my own training and (with the exception of the squat) think I move pretty well.

It turns out, of course, that I was mistaken.  There were all kinds of things wrong with me, most notably my lack of thoracic curve.  When you are a short, athletic female, you spend a lot of time "standing up tall."  Part of that "standing up tall" means pulling the shoulders back and, prior to my DNS training, retracting the scapula.  (I have gotten completely away from that, and have noticed a HUGE improvement in my clients' shoulder function.  I now cringe when I either attend a class that encourage scapular retraction or read a blog/watch a youtube video that encourages this motion).  While scapular retraction is no longer part of my movement pattern, thoracic flexion is something I have never given much thought to, or, more appropriately, my complete lack of thoracic flexion in just about any movement.  I have very good hip flexion (probably to spare my lumbar spine), and because of that bending forward has never been an issue.  However, (and I couldn't find anything online to support this theory), if you take away one of the curves of the spinal column, it only makes sense that the balance of the spine would be thrown off during activities such as hip flexion.  Instead of being able to keep my spine parallel to my tibia during squatting, my lack of thoracic flexion caused me to fold forward to balance the weight of my hips.  In fact, when I hold a medicine ball or kettlebell in front me, I can suddenly stay more upright (again, makes sense.  I am counterbalancing with my upper torso superficially).  Once I realized I lacked sagittal plane mobility in the thoracic spine, I started playing around with things to improve it.  I also tried maintaining a more neutral spine (read: a little bit of thoracic flexion) during my bodyweight squat and low and behold, I could actually squat past 45 degrees with a more upright torso!  Now, I still can't get down to 90, but this has been a huge improvement.  It also led me to think about something that was mentioned during the workshop.  James, the instructor, noted many of us are in an extension dominant pattern,  I thought he was nuts.  With all of the sitting and screen time, how can this be the case?  However, after my squat discovery, I reflected on all of the women I have worked with over the years who have a very similar squat pattern as mine.  They all have a flat thoracic region and, like me, are "stuck" in a more extension dominant pattern.  Restoring flexion in the thoracic spine makes a lot of sense and will further improve lumbar spine and pelvis stability and position.

Yours in health and wellness,