In my post Compensation, And Not the Money Kind, I wrote about how the body gets around deficiencies in strength and mobility by recruiting other parts of the body to accomplish the task at hand.
While I am not trained sufficiently to identify many individualized compensation patterns, there are recurring ones I see in my client population, and the population at large. Through my work with Restorative Exercise, I can assist clients in breaking out of those patterns.
In that prior post, I promised to share some of the ways that I help clients unmask and remedy a compensation pattern. The two big ones are alignment and pacing.
(H)ow can we assess a movement’s effect on the cells, to ensure that we are delivering the oxygen and mechanical stimulation they need? We need a tool to measure the loads, both on the whole body and on every body part. The tool I use is alignment.
Alignment is the study of the interrelationship between body parts, and between those parts and the ground. Alignment science considers how particular body positions change the various loads and forces generated within the body.
Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA, page 87
That’s all well and good, but how does that translate into the group fitness context? Again, from Move Your DNA, speaking specifically of the corrective exercises she provides:
These corrective exercises are to be done within the specific alignment parameters given, so that a grid can be used to determine where the loads are being placed.
Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA, page 89
It’s “where the loads are being placed” that is crucial here. By offering up specific alignment instruction, I am working to ensure my clients are experiencing the loads the exercise was designed to elicit.
Here’s a real world example:
We often do a tricep movement in my classes from the “on all fours” position. I cue clients carefully before we begin because if their arms and shoulders aren’t meeting the alignment parameters I set forth, then THEY WON’T BE USING THEIR TRICEPS. Their triceps won’t experience the desired load, therefore they won’t have a chance to adapt or enjoy increased blood and lymph flow. But the client, meanwhile, will be thinking, “Oh, I worked on my tris today.” Or, “I’m so super strong in my triceps.”
If a client doesn’t maintain the alignment points, then her body will likely engage in a compensation pattern that will make her think she’s working hard on her triceps, but instead will hammer this compensatory pattern further into her brain, cause wear and tear on joints and connective tissue, and (again) not work her triceps.
I love this tweet from Perry Nickelston, DC, NKT, FMS, SFMA:
When you slow down movement and really watch you can see a ton of information. Compensations can't hide so easily. Momentum is a disguise.
— Perry Nickelston (@stopchasingpain) October 27, 2013
I couldn’t agree more. One of the easiest ways to unmask a compensation pattern is to slow the heck down.
So, in my classes, although we use the standard 32-count “fitness” music, I only use 128-130 BPM music, and even then I often slow it down. We purposefully engage in many movements to my count, ignoring the music.
And, when we slow things down, the evidence cannot be ignored.
Those tricep movements I describe above? We don’t do those to the beat of the music. Ever. I usually cue folks for the first set and we do a slow 4-up and 4-down count. Then, I walk around the room and check everyone as they go on their own pace. Invariably, they go faster than I would have them go, so I verbally slow them down.
One of the key alignment cues is that the elbows need to go down toward the ground and the second they start to “bulldog” out to the sides, that’s when you know you’ve reached the edge of your boundary and you need to stop. But, if you go quickly, those “bulldog” moments are tougher to spot. They kind of get glossed over because by the time you feel them or I see them, you’ve gone somewhere else.
Rely on muscles, not momentum, and you can better see the truth of your movement patterns, stability, mobility and strength.