Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Why am I doing this?

Why practising the above exercise will help prevent having to get out of a car like this.

"Why am I doing 'this'?"

WAIDT is the plaintive cry I sometimes hear in class, usually from clients who are having problems doing 'this', whatever 'this' might be.

Most recently 'this' was a deceptively innocent little manoeuvre, a kneefold with a rotation. My client was lying on his back, one knee bent with his foot supported on the floor, the other knee was up over his hip, and he was attempting to rotate his thigh in his hip joint. Which is easy enough to say, and easy enough to do judging by the performance of most of the rest of the class. However this particular client’s experience of the exercise was more reminiscent of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa’s efforts to control his metamorphosed beetle body, than the effortless lift and twist that most of his classmates were performing. Fortunately for this client’s ego he was sandwiched between two other men, the left flank proudly declaring that he could do “this” with his left leg, while the right flank groaned in disappointment. In other words, between three middle aged men, they only had one hip between them which was supple enough to facilitate this movement. Most of the women however, had no problem. And expressed their surprise that the men were complaining. (A common theme.).

“Why are the women able to do 'this' when we can’t?”

I don’t want to be sexist about this: I’ve got female clients’ with stiff hips, and male clients with flexible hips (actually the second half of that statement is stretching the truth), but generally women have evolved with extra flexibility in this area, so that they can give birth without breaking bones.

The supplementary question, (I had yet to answer the first one) was why then, was I putting my client through this tortuous and evidently torturous 'this', when he would never have to give birth, not at his age at any rate. He would have been far happier doing the exercises he could do such as spine curls, hip rolls etc.

Why was he doing 'this', when 'this' was a movement which he couldn't relate to his daily life?'

Good question.

The exercise was both a test of , and then an exercise in, hip flexibility, in a couple of planes of movement. And no, its functional application is not terribly obvious, though if you have to turn a corner as you go up the stairs, then it’s useful to be able to lift your leg and rotate your pelvis at the hip joint as you straighten your leg – it’s the same movement, as in the exercise, reversed. And just changing direction on the flat involves rotation at the hip.

If you can’t do 'this' rotation, because of stiffness, how does your body cope with the task of climbing stairs where a change of direction is required? Or getting out of your car? Well, your body has a series of joints which facilitate rotation: the ankle, the knee (very limited), the hip, the pelvis/spine, the neck…you get the idea.

Out of all these mentioned, the hip, a ball and socket joint, has evolved with a greater degree of rotation than the other joints. (Similarly, the shoulder - also a ball and socket joint, and a shallower and more flexible one at that.). But if the hip joint won’t rotate when you change direction (because it’s become stiff from sitting for hours everyday at a desk, in a car), then another joint will have to, or going up and down stairs will take a lot longer than it used to. Going up the chain of movement from the hip, rotating your spine isn’t going to get you from A to B. Only your legs will do that. The next joint down the chain of movement is the knee – it’s a hinge joint, stabilised against excessive rotation with cruciate ligaments. If the hips are stiff, those ligaments will stretch and the knees are going to suffer - but they will twist if they have to.

Fundamental to our work in Pilates is maintaining and increasing where appropriate, the range of motion at the joints. If any part of the body is stiff, (the muscles, the fascia, the joints,) then in order to get about, the body will accommodate movement by increasing flexibility elsewhere. You often see this when the lower back is stiff: the upper back becomes excessively mobile and weak. Knee problems may also ensue.

So, the answer to the WAIDT question was to improve the flexibility of your hips and to save your knees and back. Keep practising!