My current podcast obsession is the Industrial Strength Show with Joe DeFranco. Joe is a strength and conditioning coach who does a lot of work with NFL players and is also a masterful teacher and storyteller. I first listened to this podcast for an interview with Jill Miller (as a side note, you should really listen to the episode – it’s a great one) and was blown away at his humor, sensitivity and ability to relay lessons simply with his voice. He’s super easy to listen to and drops knowledge bombs all over the place.
Now, most of Joe’s audience is heavy-duty strength and conditioning coaches and some of the time, I have no idea what he’s talking about, but because the human body is the human body, regardless of the type of training you are or are not doing, his suggestions always can carry over.
In a recent episode, he explained the importance of strengthening upper back stabilizer muscles, as opposed to the big movers. This got me thinking about how much time we spend staring down into our laps or slouching at our desk/steering wheel/workstation each day. If you imagine the upper back as the root of the neck, gravity and your posture spends a lot of time trying to overstretch and uproot as much as possible.
The more time you can spend with your head directly on top of your shoulders (think ears over shoulders with eyes on the horizon) the less pressure this puts on all of the musculature around the neck. But better positioning is not enough and what if you don’t have the body awareness or strength to maintain your head in this position?
I know I’m not alone in the atrophy of my upper body – all of our devices continue to get smaller and lighter with each passing generation. The iPhone 6 weighs 4.55 ounces – and this might be the heaviest thing you carry all day! Add to this that we tend to carry stuff in our hands all day (how often are your hands completely empty?!) – the cumulative effect is that your upper body is tightening up and shriveling away.
So much dysfunction sits right at the nape of the neck – tension headaches, shoulder pain, neck pain…the list goes on – but what are we doing to help it? Rolling on your YTU Balls is not enough – while the stretching and kneading feels totally awesome, you also need to strengthen this area to give your myofascias a better chance at keeping your head upright against gravity.
Instead of shoulder shrugs and rows, which most of us consider “enough” for upper back strengthening, try holding your arms out against gravity. Do it in standing, do it laying face down, just do it. Make sure that your posture is pristine – head in line with shoulders/ribcage, scapula in neutral (not up in your ears like earrings) and spine in neutral. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find that there is a TON of weakness lurking in here!
Think small building blocks before you go for larger movements. Regardless of if you train or workout often, going back to the basics to refine your posture and positioning is a regular requirement to undo the slouching that stress, life, gravity and technology induce. Do yourself a favor and continue to save away in your reserve bank to help keep your heavy head upright!