build your body

Build Your Body Like A House

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If you want to build your body properly, I want you to imagine how a house is built: find some land, erect four walls, and put some stuff inside. Houses do not need to be so complicated for them to be defined as a house. However, if you so desire, you can get lost in a wonderland developing your own house to be exactly what you want with all the custom trimmings you desire. A pool, a screened-in porch, a sunroom, a gym, a game room, a deck, or a patio, the list is endless.

What if you did all that, it was perfect, and then it all caved in on itself? The years of work and vast sums of money are all gone. You would feel pretty shitty, right?

No matter how simple or fancy you want your house to be there is one detail that is paramount for your home to last: the foundation. Build a house without a safe foundation and the work you put into your house may be for naught. Even if you catch it early and your house remains standing, fixing a foundation that is broken can require redoing the foundation via excavation; a lengthy process that is highly expensive and time-consuming. Probably not how you imagine building your dream house, right?

Our bodies are not so different than building a house. You can train various aspects of your body to have different features much like the house has different rooms. But just as the house needs a strong, safe foundation, so does your body. Building up your body without taking the time to build a sturdy foundation can be a costly, time-consuming mistake too.

build your body: the foundation

With a house, the foundation is usually some kind of poured concrete slab over flat ground. With our bodies, it is our posture. I know, I just talked about posture a few days ago, but think of this as a more technical post about why you need to improve your posture before you lift heavy weights.

As I said before, bad posture leads to compensations in your body. Compensation is when your body has to move in a way that is abnormal in order to keep you balanced or to keep you from caving in on yourself. Let’s take a really easy example that we have all seen: someone is doing a curl, the weight is too heavy for them, and they bend their back backward to help heave the weight up. What’s happening is that their body recognizes the biceps are not strong enough to lift the weight and their core cannot support their torso to be upright any longer; so, instead of toppling forward and potentially harming themselves, their brain says “Okay, lean back!” Now that they are leaning backward, there is no risk of falling forward, the weight has a more horizontal path to reach the end position and therefore is easier to curl. All good, right? Wrong.

While that compensation works in that one-off scenario and the person may not experience any complications in doing it that one time, doing it over and over will lead to problems. What will end up happening is that the body will condition itself to keep those back muscles tight and keep the spine curved backward because it has learned that you can lift a weight that way. What your body does not know is that eventually, your back muscles will spasm, and bending your back like that can lead to serious spinal cord injuries.

So how do you fix that from happening? Well, there are a few ways, the quickest fix would be to simply lower the weight. That would hopefully solve the leaning back problem and allow you to build the appropriate muscles, but when you try to challenge yourself, the problem will likely return. To truly solve the problem, you have to attack the root issue: posture. In this specific case, core stability. You see if the person in our example had a strong, stable core, they would be much better off trying to lift that muscle. They could keep their spine in a neutral position and force their biceps to work without the risk of falling forward. That is good posture; good form.

Your core is a major source of stability and power for your whole body but that is not the only area that needs addressing. If you bench press and your shoulders are rounded forward because you slouch, you will only tighten the chest muscles more which makes it harder and harder to ever get your shoulders back into their proper position. If you sit all day in a chair, you are tucking your pelvis under your body which causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten and tighten. Doing this means that when you go to squat, you will not be able to rotate your pelvis appropriately which causes your lower back to round which will become a serious issue if not corrected.

How can you avoid this?

While the results of not training your posture are detrimental, training your posture is not difficult or time-consuming. In fact, with just a little know-how you can still lift your weights and get stronger, you just need to know what to look for. There are three main postural faults to look for when you are lifting and all of them are pretty easy to spot and easy to correct.

Let’s list the three main things you want first:

  1. Shoulders back. This means squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  2. Spine neutral. This means flexing your abs and butt.
  3. Knees out. This means that if you drew a line from the center of your knee cap outward, the lines would move slightly away from each other.

Shoulders back are a cue that everyone has probably heard in their life at some point and the reason is that it is very important. By bringing your shoulder blades together, you are putting your shoulders in their proper place inside the shoulder joint. This means that any movement you do will recruit all the muscles necessary and appropriately. Lifting with your shoulders back means that your body will develop musculature to keep your shoulders in that position which will lead to stronger, pain-free lifts.

Spine neutral is something not-so-common. In our bicep curl example, leaning backward to help lift the weight is a non-example of a neutral spine. Engaging the musculature around your spine (also known as your core) means that when you move your arms or legs away from the midline of your body, your spinal cord will remain in its optimal position. Apart from building excellent core muscles, this keeps your spine safe, and if there is anything about the body you should definitely know it is that spine safety is crucial.

Knees out are a cue that people may have heard in their high school weight room with their athletic coach. Unfortunately, this cue is usually “push your knees out,” which is not really what you want to do. Instead, you want to rotate your knees out. If you imagine standing hip-width apart and with your feet straight, trying to screw your feet into the ground or spread the ground apart will effectively rotate your knees outward. It will also create an arch in your foot. Knowing this, when you go to do a squat, your knees will naturally track away from the midline of your body which is good. All too often, I will see people go to squat and their knees actually get closer to their midline and maybe even come together. Guys, this is so bad for your body. There is a multitude of bad things that can happen in this position but the most obvious one is that you are causing your knees to cave in on themselves. If you want to keep your knees safe, rotate them externally and they will naturally want to track away.

Even if you never train the muscles to support these movements naturally, although I hope you do, remembering these three cues and doing your best to implement them right away will have immediate results. You may have to lower your weights a little to get used to it, but you will be happy that you did in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Building a beautiful house on a broken or unstable foundation is a really bad idea. You will lose money, time, and maybe even the house as a whole. There is a reason why building houses is such a heavily regulated process: because regulating it like that protects your investment.

Just like your house is an investment, your body too is an investment. Building your body to be the best that it can be is a noble pursuit and one that will yield gains in more areas than just aesthetics. However, doing so without the proper foundation is as detrimental to you as building a house without a safe foundation. If you are to engage in physical activity, spare yourself the excruciating injuries that can arise from lifting or moving with poor posture. Having to undergo surgery at age 40 because you tore your knees apart from poor posture is not a good place to start the second half of your life. Take care of your posture, protect your investment, and you can safely build your own body.

Jordan Tank, Personal Trainer, Columbus, Ohio

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