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Hands up for Anatomy

hands

How many times have you been in an exercise class and heard the phrase ‘lower your shoulders from your ears.’  It’s quite common.  People put their hands above their heads and end up with their shoulders up around their ears.

I was approached in my yoga class the other month by someone whose other yoga instructor was telling her that her arm position in downward facing dog was wrong and try as she might, this person could not correct her pose.

‘Show me how you are getting there.’  I said, and there in lay the problem.  Depending upon how you take your arms above your head, your shoulder position will differ.  One way your shoulders will end up around your ears and it will then be difficult to bring them down or to move your shoulder blades around on your back, as needed for many yoga asana.  The other way of getting your arms above your head will result in your shoulders being lower and more mobile.

So, what’s going on?

The bone in your arm, your humerus, has two large ridges towards the top of it, your greater humerus2and lesser tubercules.  These are the sites for a lot of muscle attachments, in fact the whole of your rotator cuff inserts around these as does your chest muscles and your back muscles (pecs and lats).

Just above the top of your humerus you can see we have the tip of the acromium process of your scapula and the end of your clavicle.

The acromium is the continuation of the spine of your scapula, the bony part you can feel on most peoples shoulder blades.

If you lift your arm straight out to the side you will reach a point, just above horizontal, where the tubercules of your humerus meet your acromium process and then the two things (your arm and your shoulder blade) move as one.

If you’ve been to a yoga class then your instructor might have told you that as you take your arms up above your head you should rotate your arms outwards so that your palms end up facing upwards.  They might have told you that this is something to do with spiral anatomy or to do with spirals that are established in the development of the foetus.  They aren’t entirely wrong.

Why is this a better way to get your arms above your head?  As you rotate your arm outwards you move the tubercles of your humerus so that the arm can lift higher before the bone meets the acromium process.  Your shoulders stay down.

There is nothing magic about it – you just need to understand the shape of your bones.

 

A Little Knowledge …not always a good thing

Let me start this by saying that I believe that any movement is good.  That is not the issue.

The issue is people saying one thing and then doing another.  That is an issue generally in life but I have a particular problem when the anatomical and exercise world collide.

If you scroll back through my tweeter feed you will find the video I sent to one of the Doctors on Operation Ouch when he was using the terms ‘jumping jacks’ and ‘star jumps’ interchangeably.  They are two different exercises.  To be fair he changed the voice over and now a generation of kids know the difference.  (That exercise mix up is my number one pet peeve closely followed by people who tell you how they are really sticking to their paleo lifestyle as they get into their BMW and drive down to Waitrose.)

Following the last post I have been in lots of conversations about ‘lateral leg raises’.  No problem with that term – moving your leg out to the side – that generally describes what people are doing when they perform that movement.

My issue is with hip abduction.  Now we get into specifics.  You’ve narrowed it down to one joint and you’ve narrowed it down to a very specific term that means moving away from the mid line.  It’s a common exercise, usually performed lying down so that you can work against gravity and you see some excellent trainers making sure that their clients are pointing their toes down towards the ground so that the only movement happening is hip abduction – its not a big movement.leg

Hip abduction should never lead to the movement pictured, where your toes point over your head.  That’s not hip abduction. That is a mixture of hip abduction, lateral rotation, hip flexion and arguably circumduction, which is an all encompassing term.  There is nothing wrong with that movement if that is what you are trying to do.  Its a compound movement using lost of muscles and arguably more of a functional movement than isolated abduction.

Sometimes one leads to the other because the body is a clever thing and will attempt to expend as little energy as possible.  Why use the small muscles at the side of your hip when it can use the big muscles at the front?  All it has to do is twist your hips slightly so that they are no longer stacked one on top of the other and hey presto, it looks like hip abduction but its much easier and it looks so much more impressive because the range of motion is greater.  The toe position gives it away.

As I said, any movement is good.  My issue is with trainers (and it tends to be the more expensive ones) who throw in anatomical terms like hip abduction and then get you to do an exercise that is not hip abduction.  Their clients are impressed because they sound like they know what they are talking about and the myth of what the movement is called is perpetrated.  More anatomical input into exercise professional education is what is needed.  I live for the day when no one is told that they over pronate their foot.

If you want to read more about hip movements I published an article at yogamoo about hip rotation
Thanks to my model who would never perform a lateral leg raise like that if left to her own devices.

Can you help?

 Can You Help Me?

I recently moved house and discovered some manuscripts that I wrote over 20 years ago.  They tell the tale of a group of research scientists.  I worked on it over Christmas and it has just come back from the proof reader.

She really enjoyed it!

‘Just the right mix of humour and drama!’

Here is the plan.  I am going to publish it later this year as an E book and feed all of the profits back into research science.

If you have ever worked in research science then someone thing in this book will resonate with you.

If you have ever worked with me, or research science in Edinburgh, then you might even recognise some of the events and incidents that have helped fuel the story.

If it could raise enough money to buy a few plastic tubes I would be happy but why think small?  Could it raise enough to send someone to a conference or inspire someone to become a research scientist?  Could it even support a summer studentship, a PhD?

I would like to see how many research labs and Universities we can get this publication into.  A countdown to publication will appear on this site as we get closer to the date.

What would be really great is if everyone could spread the word as far as possible and we can coordinate everybody downloading it in the first week.  That might cause a blip on amazon and people might start looking at why scientists are essentially having to crowd funding research.

Why I started this

 I returned to the gym this month after a considerable absence and I was reminded why I started down this anatomical journey.

I came from an exercise background and I felt that people were maybe missing out on the possibilities of exercise because they didn’t have a complete understanding of their bodies.

Boy was I reminded of that this week!

I went into the gym with the intention of just doing my own little workout but quickly got drawn into the observation of others. (You know what gyms are like.)

The person to my side took quite a bit of observation. Was that a plank? Was that a push up?  I honestly couldn’t tell.  If you can’t do a press up, and God knows a lot of us can’t, then there are other ways to work your chest.  Maybe they would have been better off doing those.

The two people to my other side were the epitome of what I was hoping to help resolve.  The two of them were doing lunges.  They started with normal lunges, only one of the participants was maybe demonstrating 10 or 15 degrees of motion.  They then decided this was too easy so did it with weights in each hand and then progressed to Bulgarian split lunges with their back leg raised off of the ground.  Nothing wrong with that, a normal progression through the possibilities with lunges.  If you can only demonstrate 10 degrees of movement at your knee joint with a lunge then why make it harder following a progression like that?  Why not just add more motion to the basic exercise?  If you have some pathology that means you can’t get a greater range of motion then don’t pile weights on it?  Or maybe you don’t appreciate what the exercise is doing.  You don’t have the understanding to work around it.

The last case – and the real epitome, if you can have two – was the person who was doing what I have recreated in the picture at the top.  Lying on their side they were raising their leg.  I presume they were working on their leg adductors.  They progressed this by adding a weight.  Look where the weight is.  They added the weight to above the fulcrum of the motion.  That position is above the belly of the muscle they are trying to work.  That weight is doing nothing!  Maybe they were training for some new sport of balancing weights on their hips and this was a thoroughly thought out gym session.  I suspect not!  I suspect that they don’t actually know which muscles they are trying to work and hence have no idea how to progress it.

Back to the gym next week.  My greatest exercise at the moment is trying to keep my mouth shut.

Knees and Winter Holidays

knees

I was recently on a winter holiday.  As I broke my wrist at the beginning of January, I was not participating in some of the more adventurous winter sports leaving me lots of time to eat coffee and cake at the top of some beautiful ski resorts.

It was whilst at the top of a ski lift at Adelboden that I started watching the snowboarders.  They fell into two groups; the experienced ones who seemed to have the ability to get off of the chair lift, place their back foot on the board, although not secured in position, and slide along to the start of the run, and the others who ended up trying to manoeuvre their board with their back foot whilst the front one was strapped in place.

This looked horrible – see the picture above.

This group then further divided into two.  We shall call them the group who are going to be able to walk at the end of the day, and the group of inexperienced people who are going to go home complaining about snowboarding.

The group who are going to be able to walk at the end of the day manage to get into the position above by internally rotating their femurs.  The second group get into this position by trying to twist their knees.

I’m reminded of a talk by Leslie Kaminoff where he tried to look at how we should protect our knees by coming at it from the other angle; how would we try to damage our knees.

He suggested that the first thing we should remove is the protection that the ankle joint and the flexibility of the foot afford us.  Often on uneven ground the twists and turns never make it as far as our knee because the foot and ankle accommodate these movements.  Let’s remove that protection by clamping those joints in place.  Then let’s look at a way we can amplify those twists.  We could attach a massive lever to the end of the stabilised joint.  That would be a sure fire way to do maximum damage to the knee joint.  Obviously, what is described there is a ski boot with a ski attached.

I’m on a mission now to find a snowboard instructor and see how they explain what this movement should be to those learning to snowboard.

Is this yet another example of where a little anatomical knowledge could make life more fun?

A fresh perspective

feet-up

During December I spent a short time each morning looking at things from a fresh perspective using this – my feet up stool.

It allows you to invert without putting any pressure on your neck – the way you are meant to if you know what you’re doing anyway.

Did it help?  Well, I felt better for it, but why?

Inversions are credited with a lot of benefits, a lot of which have no scientific credibility at all.   They are meant to affect your blood pressure.  The blood doesn’t all go to my feet when I stand so why should it all go to my head when I invert.  The body has a very complicated system of controlling your blood pressure.  It would be great to look into what inversions do actually do it but I’m not sure it would be significant.

I read the other day that inversions flush out your adrenal glands.  Your adrenal glands have a very healthy blood supply from at least three different directions.  I’m not sure why inverting would affect that and I’m not sure that flushing them out would be of any benefit, if I even understood what it meant in the first place.

What do I think it actually does?  Well, I think it might help with stress in the same way that juggling does.  When I invert I can’t really think about much else other than balancing.  I have to concentrate, I have to control my breath.  That would affect my blood pressure, that would affect my adrenal glands.

 

In short – its never just one thing and does it matter what it is if it works for you?

A gait too far

During 2016 I managed to destroy the art of people watching for one of my friends.

It was a similar scenario to one I read in a sports psychology book that suggested the best way to win a game of golf was to ask your opponent whether they breathed in or out during their back swing.  The over analysis would ruin their game.  So it was with people watching.

It was a conversation about gait analysis and high heeled shoes.

I pointed out that you simply had to watch people trying to walk in high heels to realize that very few people can do it. The plantar flexion needed to accommodate the heel of the shoes is beyond most people’s flexibility and so the knee has to move forward to accommodate it.  If the knee moves forward then the hip must flex to avoid falling forwards and so you end up with people walking with permenantly bent knees, permenantly flexed hips and wondering why their back aches.

She spent a morning watching people on their way to work and was convinced.

Walking is a very complicated process.  After decades of development no robot can yet do it.  It requires hip abduction and adduction to balance and hold the pelvis in place to create enough room for the leg to swing through,  internal and external rotation of the femurs to accommodate the legs moving one at a time, the coordination of all of the muscles in the lower limb to place the foot and then the muscles of the core to ensure everything stays balanced on this moving base.

I’ve often thought about running a workshop on walking. I face it with the same apprehension about running a workshop on breathing.  Everyone can clearly do it so why would they need a workshop on it?

The first breathing workshop I did everyone present managed to drop their breathing rate from 12-14 breaths a minute down to about 4.  I didn’t offer any instruction, I simply explained the mechanics of breathing, how it is designed to work, things they could be looking for to see if their breathing was working as designed or whether something else was going on.  Maybe it would be the same with walking?

I did try a little experiment at the start of one of my exercise classes.  It was a simple question.  From standing, which is the first muscle you use when taking a step? The class spent sometime walking around trying to work it out and then everyone one of them got it wrong, or had they?  The answer is meant to be your hamstrings, or any of the muscles up the back of your leg.  You release these muscles and you start to fall forward, you then bring your leg through underneath you and place it on the ground to stop the fall.  The hip extension of the second leg is passive, the glutes do not work when walking on the flat. But actually in that class we had some people where the first muscles they used were their hip flexors.  They did start walking by lifting up their leg and then putting it in front of them and that initiated the fall forwards.  They all had back issues.  They tried the other way and went away happy.

Which do you do? Do you fall first? Think about it the next time you are out walking.  Then try spotting it in others.  It brings a whole new dimension to people watching.