When we start doing new movements, they require you to compensate a lot. The illusion of perfect balance and grace sometimes demands the creation of muscle imbalance. This is why we need to find our way to do the movement. We modify the movement in the best way our body can perform. Our posture undergoes constant change from teenage years “Hey, this position feels bad, but it looks pretty nice for me, so I’m gonna keep doing it!” or “I know that sitting at a desk and using a mouse is bad for me, but what I can do? its my job!” Changing long-formed habits requires clearing the compensation patterns we apply to ourselves. The challenge here is to be aware of what we are doing and reverse what is not good for us. Why try to reverse something if I do not have pain? If you want to shape your body differently, it is safer and more productive to perform compensations starting from a more neutral state than from a position with muscle imbalances and dysfunction. Reversing postural dysfunction and movement compensation patterns happens, if you understand and you are motivated to do it, adding a few specific exercises to your routine warm-up/cool-down, and embracing a balanced full-body strength training program (which is intermediate, advanced scheme).
Some common compensation patterns
Do you recognize some in yourself? We already know the brain’s ability to tune out pain, instead of changing posture…
1. Breath holding
Holding your breath causes the diaphragm to contract and it stays contracted, so why do we do it? To have more stability. But our diaphragm should not be used like an “ab”, this causes any number of other muscles to function poorly, though most commonly it’s the core muscles (abdominals, QL, psoas, glutes ). If something is hard, we hold our breath to make it easier. On the contrary breathing is always a good place to start if you’re unsure of your bad habits (compensations). Diaphragm is the KING of dance injuries. I had a repetitive contracture from the liver area until the hip and lower back for years. I thought more than once that I was growing a cancer in the liver… It was just bad efficiency of the diaphragm especially in this situation: difficult abdominals sequences; hold inappropriate weights, do static repetitions of the same movement (instead of giving you strength, you lock your diaphragm, participating in stressful meetings in which your desire is to go out and get fresh air but instead you sit and hold rage as breath…I suffered about this a LOT in past career)
2. Head alignment and chin out of axis
I’m sitting at a computer and this is the worst! When we lack core strength to stabilize the body posture, we compensate by placing the head forward, provoking the neck muscles to tighten up and act as a “core”. You can tell who these people are because their necks resemble a ‘turtle neck’ – it means the gluteus muscles are not activated. This is why we use the head and the neck to counter-balance. Sit and squeeze the butt and put your shoulder back and elbows in. The last thing in this position you would like to do is move the head forward!
3. Back arched and pelvis not square
When we don’t have core and hip strength we still like to lift the leg higher! We don’t have glute strength but need to lounge forward and arching the lower back will help us to do anyway! But It will also help your back pain and hamstring injuries! Getting stability from excess lower back extension means that the abdominals, glutes, and other important muscles are not activating properly. This also causes pelvis instability and little twists that force even more hips and lower back, then we try to compensate twisting a little bit the shoulder as well…
4. Shoulder impingement
We tend to use larger ranges of motion than we can truly control. When flexibility and control are not equal, things become problematic. This can happen at almost any joint that has hypermobility, like the shoulder or the hip. If you lift your arms up over your head without control, bones, nerves tendons, etc in the shoulder area might get impinged! Or poor activation of the mid and lower traps, and often increase the tensions in the shoulder area instead to release!
Sometimes our postures “felt comfortable” to us, but we have no explanation for the random pain in the body such as headaches, shoulder tension, low back pain and sciatica. Amazing to realize that once we change posture and begin to search for our postural “cheats”, the pain is gone!