Position is King – Part 3

STRESS.

This is a biggie!

So welcome back to Part 3 of “Position is King”. I really hope you’re enjoying the series and you’ve learned a great deal more about your body so far! Hopefully by now you’ve grasped the huge significance that breathing has on position and how position affects muscle length, strength and power!

If you haven’t done so already, to read parts 1 & 2 of this series following the following links:

If you are up to speed at this point however, you NOW need to learn how stress affects EVERYTHING.

For more information on what stress REALLY is you can read our previous article (CLICK HERE) and the following sections will make much more sense!

Stress and Position

Our brains are wired for survival. They always have been. The centre of the brain that kept our cavemen/women ancestors alive still exists in your brain. This part of the brain still plays a huge role in your life and in modern society. Your “caveman brain” is working behind the scenes every time you undergo stress. For example, if you have an incident of road rage, get excited or nervous about a competition or get pulled into the office by your boss and you don’t know why. Why you ask? For survival!

Fight or Flight.

Your caveman brain cannot distinguish between an angry boss or a sabretooth tiger from all those centuries back. All it knows is that there is a threat and it has to prepare you to survive. You see, your brain is hard wired to survive and in order to survive, it must prepare for the worst case scenario.

What your caveman brain does is shifts your body into a state where it has a tonne of energy so that you can either shift and move extremely quickly so that you can escape the danger (Flight) or stand and defend yourself (Fight). Your caveman brain also alters the POSITION of your body so that it can maximise power to run away in a straight line or stand and fight what is in front of you! This POSITION is known as an EXTENDED POSTURE. It is where your pelvis tips forwards, your chest rises up, your rib cage rises up and your lower back arches. This makes you fast. This makes you powerful.

Extended Posture in Action!

Now when faced with real danger, this is a great tool for survival. The problem is in modern society, there are a tonne of scenarios that your caveman brain is faced with where it BELIEVES you are in danger but the reality is, you probably aren’t. Think to the incident of road rage or your boss hauling you into the office, your brain kicks into “fight or flight” but how many times have you needed to get out of the car or how many times has your boss actually tried to kill you?? And that’s the problem!

Your Caveman brain is still wired back to the time of our ancestors but modern society has moved on. Back in the times of our ancestors, sure there were times of threat but there also wasn’t a society of “go, go, go”, never switching off, having to beat rush hour every day and filling ourselves with fast food and caffeine on zero sleep. The problem in modern society is that stress is constant and wreaks havoc on us.

Stress in modern society has become DESTRUCTIVE

So how does Stress affect position? Well, quite simply stress is now everywhere in modern life. We are now faced with chronic levels of stress. This means our caveman brains are working overtime.

With the constant activation of “Fight or Flight” (or the stress response as it is also known), our brains are constantly pulling us into that Extended Posture. It’s pulling into this position of power thinking we need to be able to fight or run. In the same instance, our brains are also constantly pumping us full of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol in an effort to provide us with immediate energy.

Now in the short term all of this is absolutely fine as long we can shut it down. But what happens if it is continuously happening? If this entire process is allowed to go unchecked? What does the constant mobilising of energy, increases in heart rate and blood pressure do to us long term? What does being constantly shunted into an extended posture do to us?

Well quite simply, chronic stress is a thief. It robs us of energy, movement options and changes us physically and mentally. If left unchecked it can cause chronic fatigue, pain, injury, anxiety, depression or even worse down the line illness, disease and death!  

Chronic Stress is a THIEF!

In terms of position however, well think back to the beginning of this entire series (How poor position affects hamstrings, abs, diaphragm etc). If stress pulls us into an extended position where our pelvis tilts down and our ribs flare up and our lower back arches, what happens to:

  • The diaphragm? (It gets chronically pulled out of position)
  • The Hamstrings? (They get chronically pulled out of position and become long and weak – elastic band scenario!)
  • The abdominals? (They get chronically pulled out of position – long and weak like a stretched elastic band!)
  • The lower back? (Becomes short, toned and extremely tight – the muscles fatigue and air cannot move into the back).
  • The neck? – gets pulled forwards and the muscles at the back become extremely toned up and tight.
  • Breathing? – the diaphragm cannot function so muscles in the back, neck and chest have to take over – increased perception of tightness, increased energy expenditure, pain, headaches and loss of flexion (bending forwards).

So now you have an individual who cannot breathe efficiently, cannot move air into the back of their body, has reduced core function, “tight” hamstrings and calves. Additionally they may be experiencing pain and reporting increased levels of fatigue.

Ultimately they feel very stiff and not very happy! It is these guys who constantly complain of tightness, pain, headaches and want to be “cracked”, massaged or foam roll all of the time!

What does all of this look like?

The Extended Posture

Getting Stuck in Extension

Think of it this way, stress drives us into an extended position. The change from effective to compensatory breathing locks us and keeps us there. We breathe in excess of 20 thousand times a day and if you have being pulled into a position where your lower and upper back muscles become short and tight and are now being asked to work as breathing muscles, there is no way you are going to be able to come out of that posture until you remove the stress and find a strategy to get back to normal breathing mechanics!

This is how you and high performance athletes “get stuck” or “locked” into poor position, become unable to move air backwards in your body and become unable to move, bend and rotate without having to compensate. This is why you then begin struggle with health, injuries, fatigue and pain.

Getting Stuck

Stress, Poor Position and Breathing robs you of movement options, it’s that simple. When your caveman brain decides you are under threat and need to fight or flight, it knows it needs to maximise your power. It also knows that you do not need to “apply the brakes” when you are running away or fighting so it removes the ability for you to flex (bend and decelerate ) or rotate (change direction) in exchange for additional power. Put simply, flexion and rotation are simply taken away from you as a movement option.

To be healthy or to perform well as an athlete, you need to have these movement options. You need to be able to bend, you need to be able to rotate and you need to be able to work and recover. If you have those options, you know what, you are probably doing ok! If you do not, at some point you are going to hit a bump in the road.

So in summary, in order to be healthy or an effective high performance athlete:

  • You need to prioritise POSITION
  • You need to learn how to effectively BREATHE
  • You need to identify and manage STRESS
  • You need to prioritise a positive balance between STRESS & RECOVERY
  • You need to have at your disposable, the ability to move in all directions!

So NOW you have a grasp of these concepts, hopefully you can understand WHY at Tier 1 Training and Rehabilitation Systems, everything we do revolves around restoring POSITION, improving effective BREATHING and managing STRESS.

This is WHY we have to not only look at the 1 hour that clients spend with us. This is WHY we have to look at the other 23 hours in their day, the other 167 hours in their week and the 365 days in their year. This is where their STRESS lies. This is where their BREATHING changes and this is what changes their POSITION.

It is this understanding of the human brain and body and our ability to manipulate stress which enables us to implement the strategies that restore breathing and position in our cleints.

This is what ultimately drives our ability to “fix people” and even……“fix the unfixable”.

Thanks for reading!

Stu Turner

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