Personal Trainer in LondonArticle by Dax Moy, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist, Master Personal Trainer and pioneer of Functionally Integrated Training (F.I.T) System

April 2002

Today's society is plagued by postural imbalances. So much so that statistics show that over 80% of us will experience lower back pain at least once during the course of our lives, with many of us suffering repeat episodes on a regular basis. It's never been a better time to be an osteopath, physiotherapist, chiropractor or massage therapist!

Unfortunately, even these eminently qualified and well-intentioned health care professionals will very rarely be in a position to afford much more than pain relief in the short term, as they deal primarily with the effects of postural distortion: pain, range of motion limitations etc. Simply put, the one or two visits per week with your therapist do not effectively counter the postural effects of 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This is not an attack on the complimentary health fraternity. They have a success rate so far in advance of traditional medicine that the two do not even compare! The point being made here is that in most cases of lower back pain and joint dysfunction the cause is postural and can only be corrected by the individual living 'within' the affected posture.

It's time to focus on cause rather than effect.

What causes postural distortion patterns to occur?

In a word: Life. The cumulative effects of our lives create the postures we wear. Unfortunately, modern lifestyles are about 180 degrees out of phase with the intended use of the human body.

Excessive time spent in seated postures at work, the car, the bus and in front of the TV are the main culprits here but aren't the only problem areas. Surprisingly, the much-hailed 'magic pill' of exercise shares a lot of the blame too!

Poorly designed exercise programs (that's most of them) have been shown to increase postural stress, alter length-tension relationships between opposing muscle groups and create pattern overload including repetitive strain injury, tendonitis and bursitis. Not to mention the fact that you'll probably spend half of your time at the gym sitting down!

Leg press machines, shoulder press machines, chest presses, lat-pulldowns and even exercise bikes are all designed so that you can push, pull and pedal from a sitting position. But wasn't that why most of our clients came in - to relieve their bodies from the sitting position they've been in all day?

The subject of posture and its relationship to human performance should be the primary concern of all exercise professionals who are serious about helping their clients to achieve their goals.

Posture is the very foundation of strength, power, balance, agility and endurance and as such requires close inspection before further training is prescribed - if you try to build on poor foundations don't be surprised if your building crumbles!

According to Paul Chek, internationally accredited corrective exercise specialist, ideal posture is:
'That state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity, irrespective of the attitude in which these structures are working or resting ' (Chek 2001).

The key to the above statement is the word balance.

'Muscle imbalance occurs when a particular agonist is significantly stronger than its antagonist, or when one or the other is abnormally shortened' (Norris 2000).

This second statement highlights the biggest problem that we face as exercise professionals; encouraging our clients to address their postural or exercise induced imbalances.

Many people commence exercise programs with purely aesthetic goals in mind. This is fine - we all want to look good! Unfortunately, the current paradigm for exercise prescription is based upon bodybuilding methodology with its primary emphasis on mobiliser strength and hypertrophy. This would not necessarily be a problem if muscular size and tone were your clients' primary goal (it is for many) however most exercisers lack the interest and commitment to develop the relatively balanced (if somewhat large) physiques of bodybuilders and adopt a 'mirror muscle' mentality. If you can see it in the mirror you train it- if not, you don't.

This approach to exercise creates dysfunction within joints and their surrounding musculature and is in part responsible for postural distortion patterns and the subsequent pain that they cause.

At this point I can hear many of you thinking 'this doesn't effect me, I always pair up agonist / antagonist groups and apply whole body stretching techniques to my clients programs''. If only it were that simple!

Any evident postural distortion is usually part of a chain reaction with numerous adaptations and compensations occurring at once with each new compensation creating its own 'offspring' thus compounding the problem until injury is inevitable. By this stage it's too late! Again we're dealing with effect and again it's our clients that suffer.

What can we do about it?

  1. Get back to basics. Improve your knowledge of functional anatomy, biomechanics and kinesiology and learn how to apply that knowledge to 'real life' situations.
  2. Learn how to identify the common postural distortion patterns and kinetic chain dysfunctions that cause them.
  3. Make postural correction techniques the foundation of your exercise prescription and progress through the stabilisation - strength - power continuum at a rate that allows optimum postural alignment during functional movement patterns.

If postural distortion were merely an aesthetic problem one might be forgiven for dismissing it as being of minor importance to those who partake in regular exercise. However, the resultant faulty movement patterns can (and do) give rise to chronic pain syndromes and disabilities that affect quality of life and choke the NHS with 'self inflicted wounds'.

As exercise professionals we have a duty of care to those who seek out our services. If we ignore fundamentals such as posture and functional integrity aren't we endangering our clients and setting them (and ourselves) up for failure? Worth thinking about!

Part 2 of this article will teach you how to identify postural distortion pattern and understand why they occur.

DaxMoy : Personal Trainer in London