If you could build your body all over, starting from scratch, getting rid of the aches and pains, the arms that tire from overhead work like the weekend painting projects, the abs that give out when you are trying to carry your toddler halfway through the mall during a diaper emergency, those hips that just can’t carry you to the finish like you think they should during those last four miles of the marathon. What would life be like, you think, if I just had a better body; if I just had a stronger body! Capable of carrying you through the toughest functional obstacle courses the world will throw at you on any given day. What if you could gather all of the tools to build a body not only ready, but saying, “Bring it on!” to whatever life throws at you today?!
That is what this series is all about. This is the first of several upcoming articles on how to build your better body. While we cannot take away arthritic joints or true neuromuscular diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, lupus, and others, we really can improve our body, and there definitely are some key areas that can help all of us by investing a relatively small amount of time. This is actually the approach we take in treating our patients in the physical therapy world. While we cannot always change disease processes, there are many things we can control, and these things can make a huge difference in a person’s ability to function in everyday activities.
One of the most important and most malleable of tissues that we work on in physical therapy are muscles. Between lengthening and strengthening, there’s lots of improvement we can make here! In every new medical journal that comes across my desk, a common theme in each is that strengthening muscles are the key not only to improving functional status, but to reducing injury risk in the young (reducing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear risk) and old (fall risk) and in the moderating the effects of current diseases processes specifically for hip and knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, and neck pain, among many other diagnoses.
In fact, if I had a chance to talk to the Physical Education (PE) teachers of the world, the exercises in this series are what I would want included in all of our PE curriculums in our schools, because if all of our kids learned these exercises, they too would have a well-balanced, strong body, capable to handling the physical challenges they will come across with a far reduced injury risk, no matter what sport or recreational endeavor they pursue. They also would have a reduced risk of low back pain, hip pain, sprained ankles, and knee pain later on in life. All from maintaining their muscle strength and flexibility in a few key areas! And then as they would age, even as cartilage and discs may deteriorate, the strength they would maintain by performing these exercises would help fill in the performance gap left by any deteriorating tissue, maintaining joint and trunk stability even in joints with sub-par anatomic features compared to the shiny, pristine joints of their youth.
Come on, you say, even young kids need these basic exercises to strengthen? Aren’t natural play activities enough to strengthen these muscles for kids? Actually, no, they are not. We now live in a world where infants who walk early are heralded far above toddlers who crawl with prowess. We often push our kids into one or two organized sports earlier than ever and skip the ages where kids used to have had the opportunity to climb trees, monkey bars, walls and tread tire obstacle courses, leaving the chance to gain wide-ranging motor skills in the dust of organized soccer and T-ball fields. And now we have kids with computer, gaming, and texting skills beyond our wildest dreams as adults. As proud as we are of our tech geniuses, let’s face it. We have a group of kids with rounded shoulders, forward heads, weak abdominals, hollowed out spines, who may make millions, but will look older than our parents’ generation by the time they make their first million. Even the athletic kids who break the mold, excel in their sport, and get that Division 1 scholarship, don’t have the strength in these very basic key foundational muscles contained in this series, because they simply aren’t the muscles we use in our sport or everyday activities unless we have been specifically trained by someone else in how to use the right body mechanics to activate them.
But, here’s the good news! Even if you are not athletic, not a student any more, or even if you are over-weight and out of shape, people from ages 3 to 103 have the ability to lengthen and strengthen their muscles, and will still reap the following benefits of performing the exercises in this series…
So, I encourage you to step up to the challenge, starting this month, to build you better body. It will come at you only one to three exercises at a time. Think of it as little building blocks, starting with a strong foundation of strengthening your hip muscles. Spend as little as 5 minutes, 3 times a week on these exercises for 4 weeks, and see what a difference it makes. Hint: you will be zipping up and down your stairs, and walking faster than your friends in the mall or your spouse on your evening walks in less than 2 weeks. Sound good? Read on, join in, and feel the burn!
Part I: Hips: Laying the Foundation
Part II: Myth Busting Abs
Part III: Stabilizing the Scapula: The Secret to Strong Shoulders
Strengthening Stabilizing the Neck
Part V: The Big Picture
Part VI: Have a Ball
Part VII: Advanced Exercise Ball Routine
You can now Build A Better Body at MotionWorks by joining one of our Build A Better Body fitness classes!