Connect: compensation

Here’s a very kind way to discuss a problem that I have.

“Given the body’s remarkable ability to find and adopt a compensatory movement pattern when faced with weakness or dysfunction, it is very important to use a gradual, progressive exercise program when attempting to strengthen and stimulate use of a weak muscle/muscle group.”

Isn’t that the sweetest? Notice the focus on the body’s remarkable ability? 

Here’s how it plays out. 

My abductors are weak. I hate that. I don’t like to think any part of me is anything but bad ass strong. But that’s in the past. My focus now is on how totally Bad Ass it is of me to understand my weaknesses and then to slowly, gradually strengthen.

My first ah ha, the first connection I made in the past few weeks, was that my core isn’t strong enough so I recruit my shoulders to do more work. Then my shoulders get hurt. Happens every time. 

On some level, deep down, I’ve known this for decades. While other people were doing their Pilates-like exercises, I would tank out way before them. When doing floor play movements that emphasize using the core to stay up, I’d end up kind of crunching down, my shoulders and ribs shifting down, my waist collapsing into my hips. I hunch often and easily. Mainly, I simply overwork movements so that instead of the flow and ease of moving from a strong core, I move from a strong base. My quads and adductors are strong. 

While running, I got that ah ha! moment that happens after hearing and reading about this kind of thing for years. Yes, runners have to have strong hips and core -- but surely that couldn’t mean me? After all, I cross-train with Nia, so that means I must be perfectly balanced in strength throughout my body. Mm hmmm. I read Runner’s World “The Whole Body Fix” by Katie McDonald Neitz in its March 2014 issue. That helped. Here was an experienced runner, an editor at a running magazine, and she needed pros to tell her where she was weak and how to fix them. So, it’s not just me. We’re all blind to our weaknesses, and, yes, that’s a metaphor, too. 

Because my core isn’t strong, I collapse downward, shifting ribs down into my belly and forcing my hips and psoas to work hard and preventing the hip flexors from releasing and swinging as I run. I also --and this is very difficult to do so do not attempt it -- run with my energy shifted to the back of my body. I’m straight up, though collapsed a bit at the middle, and coming onto my heels even when I’m running without a heel lead. As I said, this is very difficult, even counter-intuitive, but that’s the adjustment that I made to compensate for a weak core and weak abductors. I am, says the wonderful woman who’s been rolfing me for the past 3 decades, very grounded. I have what rolfers call a ground orientation. 

I’ve been focusing on running form by giving myself a slight forward lean while engaging my core muscles so that I don’t simply lean the top half of my body forward (this is a neat trick many runners know). I engage my core to keep one long line. It’s tiring, mentally and physically, and it goes more like this: straighten, lean, run, forget, oh yeah, straighten, lean, run, get tired, okay, straighten, lean, run, all the way home. 

I focus, too, on a light, quick cadence, and my helpful achilles tendon will begin to ache when I forget to do so. I focus on allowing my hip flexor to release so that my leg can kick back behind me, which is how a runner gets forward momentum with the lean. While running is natural to all of us, many of us develop dysfunctional form. Our injuries often are not where the primary dysfunction lies. The injury is where we’re overworking to compensate for the weak place. 

Go ahead. That’s a metaphor, too. Where are you overcompensating and causing yourself stress? What’s the root weakness? Can you address that place in your life?