Habits can make you and habits can break you. This is not only in life, but also in how we move.
The body is great at remembering how it is moving. Or perhaps phrased a better way, the body is great at remembering how you are allowing it to move or choosing to move.
Look at any toddler or young child and you will see them perform a great squat – weight on the heels with the butt below the knees – and be able to hang out there for long periods of time while playing. Watch the same child run and you see nearly perfect running form with the foot striking under the body. But that doesn’t last forever; things begin to change.
These changes can occur for a number of reasons: “natural” progression, learned patterns, and injuries are the big three.
As you become more sedentary in your lives – sitting in school, sitting in jobs, sitting in commutes, sitting to relax in the evening – areas of the body begin to get tight and stiff. Without realizing it, you stop challenging the full range your body is able to move and instead begin to move in shortened ranges. You don’t realize you are no longer squatting down to get things from the floor, but instead are bending forward. You think you are getting your arms up overhead like you used to, but you aren’t. You start rotating your body to check your blind spot when driving rather than just your head.
The small regressions of the body occur over time; it’s a slow process, so you don’t realize you are doing it.
Many things that we do in life are done the way those around us did them. Many times, people do tasks in the same manner they watched their parents do them. Think about the way you do simple tasks such as washing the dishes, cleaning, or cooking. Are they done the same way your roommate, significant other, or spouse do them? I can say for me, the answer is “no.”
The way we move is no different. We learn how to do things from watching the people around us. How many times were you in the backyard as a kid and attempting to throw, kick, run, jump, etc. just like your favorite athlete or someone you looked to emulate? In the same way, the way you have learned to move in your day to day life and in the gym is likely from things you have learned from watching people as well – and this includes the good and the bad. Unfortunately, when we are watching people we don’t actually know if they way they are moving is a good or bad way. We just pick up that they are being successful with what they are doing at that moment so we begin to do it as well. And yes, much of this occurs subconsciously.
Our bodies are great at compensating without us realizing it. When we have an injury, our bodies will do what they can in order to still allow us to function in our normal tasks and activities. This results in us moving a little differently than we were before. After just a short time – a couple weeks – that movement becomes “normal” to our brain, resulting in us continuing to move that way even after the injury is resolved. Many times, the compensation pattern is very subtle so it is often not picked up on until it results in an injury.
Why is all this important? Because the habitual movements we create many times result in our injuries. These habitual movements place increased stress and strain on our joints and soft tissues. Over time, the body says, “enough is enough” and creates pain so you can address the situation.
Here’s where the tricky part comes in. The pain you are experience is the symptom of how you are moving. The pain is essentially the easy part to fix. The why is the part that is not so easy to fix. The why involves retraining habits that you have had for years, and most likely decades. It is teaching your body to move in what feels like a very unnatural and abnormal way to move because your body has been telling itself for years that the other pattern is normal.
And the most important thing to remember in all this. If you only take the time to do the quick fix and address the pain that is present, the injury you are experiencing (or a worse injury) will occur again in the future. The problem is never fixed until you address the why behind it.
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