Many times, clients are referred to Pilates to strengthen specific joints or target muscle groups that have become weak, tight and inhibited. Lower back is a common issue as are hips and shoulders..
But often, they’ll find that before their instructor starts to train and strengthen the area they want to improve, they’ll hone in on their posture first.
Read on to see why your instructor may begin your Pilates workout by focusing on your postural alignment and why posture matters in improving the condition of any injured or weakened joint.
Every joint has an optimal, neutral position that we’re looking to achieve in a static posture. But it’s fairly common for many of us to veer away from that ideal posture by continually putting our joints into habitual positions that just aren’t great places to begin moving.
For example, if you tend to stand with your weight shifted to the left foot with your left hip jutted outwards, the shift of your pelvis will put your femoral head (the top of the thigh bone that sits in the acetabulum to create the ball and socket of your hip joint) in a non-neutral alignment.
You’ll see in the picture below that instead of the left femoral head sitting directly in the centre of the socket (acetabulum), it’s shifted to the right (medial) of it’s socket joint because the pelvis has shifted over to the left. Consequently, it has pulled the right femoral head to the right of the pelvis (lateral) creating a turnout in that leg for stability.
This imbalance in weight distribution can weaken muscles in both hips. So if this posture isn’t addressed before movement is introduced, then over time, there’s a potential that instability, weakness and possible injuries can pop up in the knees, feet and lower back.
Similar to the hip joint, the shoulder is also a ball and socket by design.
But unlike the hip, it’s a non- weight bearing joint and has some of the weakest muscles in the body supporting its ball (humeral head) within the socket (glenoid fossa).
It’s large range of motion is designed to manipulate our environment by being able to reach, pull, push, grab, lift and bear weight in many different movement patterns, giving mobility a greater precedence than stability.
And because much of our repetitive, everyday shoulder movement takes place with the arms out in front and generally below eye level, there can be an incongruence of strength when we do put it in different positions or through new movement patterns.
So if a weak posture is part of the equation, chances are so is wear and tear.
Take a look at these 2 pictures below. In both of them, Alexandra is doing the same exercise; external rotation of the shoulder joint standing at the Cadillac with arm springs.
But in the first picture her rounded spine and slouched shoulders are causing the top of her arm bone (humeral head) to roll forward.
So each time she moves to rotate that shoulder joint externally (pulling with her hand to rotate outwards while keeping her upper arm still), chances are she’ll just exacerbate that forward position and never get an opportunity to strengthen the posterior (back) shoulder muscles.
As time goes on, if she continues moving her shoulders with this less than ideal posture, she’ll end up doing greater damage than good. This can result in a decreased range of motion, chronic pain and overall progressive weakness in the shoulder joint and girdle.
Now imagine if she was to move with that same posture in the left hand picture above and incorporate a rotation, as in golf or tennis, or an overhead press at the gym?
Without the strength in her posture to absorb and integrate the force and load of that swing and impact or the push and pull of the overhead load, compensatory movement patterns will become part of her body’s habits.
And this will reduce her strength and eventually decrease her range of motion.
Without your posture being properly assessed, addressed and integrated into your program, your habitual movement patterns will sneak their way into your Pilates training (or any other training you participate in).
So if your instructor is initially putting greater emphasis on your posture instead of your shoulders, be happy!
Because it’s a great indication that you’re working with someone who can identify the root of your weak or injured shoulders and is able to program so that better awareness and full body movement patterns are integral steps to achieving stronger, more functional and pain free movement.