Body Blind Spots
Training. It should make you stronger, more mobile, and more easily able to do things you want to do outside the gym. I believe it should also teach you something, and make you a better owner/operator of your own body and mind. Often that experience comes in the form of realizing you are capable of more than you thought possible, which is really fun and inspiring! But what happens when you discover something about your body isn’t working as well as it should be? Something that you had no idea was even a problem until you asked your body to do something only to find it couldn’t or wouldn’t? This is what my Yoga Tune Up® mentor Jill Miller calls “body blind spots”.
I first started training with kettlebells in 2008. Up until that point, I had never done any type of weight training or spent any significant amount of time in a gym. I went jogging and took dance classes, and that was about it. I was able to learn deadlifts, swings and squats fairly easily, but when it came time to do get ups and military presses, that was another story. Not only was I not nearly as strong as I thought I should be, my shoulder mobility was so bad that I couldn’t keep my elbow straight while keeping my arm vertical in line with my body. My shoulders and thoracic spine were not functioning well, but I wasn’t really aware of it until I asked them to do something challenging, like put a 12kg kettlebell overhead. A big “body blind spot”.
My initial focus in training was to pass a kettlebell instructor course, which thankfully I did without incident. Though overhead work was still not completely comfortable, I was able to practice enough to get my body into a shape that looked like a vertical arm and straight elbow. My next education target shortly after that was Functional Movement Systems training to get better at assessing movement, and learning corrective strategies for asymmetries and mobility/stability disfunction. Unfortunately before I was able to take the FMS course, I ended up getting injured with a subluxation to my right sterno-clavicular joint.
At that point I was still new in the fitness world, and I remember getting some comments from people I knew in other walks of life: “See, those kettlebells are dangerous.” “That’s why I don’t lift heavier than 10 pounds.” “I think yoga or pilates is probably better for you.” Yes, those are all real comments (sigh).
Obviously I didn’t get injured because kettlebells are dangerous, or because girls shouldn’t lift more than 10 pounds. I got injured because I had a movement problem that wasn’t being addressed. A problem that I didn’t really even know was there until I started training and the problem was exposed. I had a neck/shoulder injury as a teenager, and I was in three car accidents where I was rear-ended as a young adult. And I never did any physical therapy or other rehab work because I was young and didn’t think I really had a problem.
Fortunately the injury wasn’t a major one, and I was able to start rehabbing it fairly quickly. However, it was abundantly clear that I was going to need to address the root cause of the issue and not continue just forcing heavy weight overhead by sheer stubbornness. Thankfully I had now gotten tons of info from my FMS training, and also enlisted the help of a few trusted mentors and medical professionals.
Having the ability to screen and look at movement quality for our members is of the utmost important to us, and helps us better prevent injuries like mine. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t sometimes some frustrating discoveries ahead. We’ve had people become aware of all sorts of things they might not have recognized if they hadn’t started training. Sure, an old injury like mine that was not treated properly can reveal itself years later… but what about less obvious areas of underuse, overuse or misuse? You might not be aware how tight your back and hips are from driving, spending hours seated, or hunched over gardening until you start learning squats and deadlifts… You may not realize how unhappy your feet and ankles are from wearing high heels to the office everyday until you start working lunges and other single leg stance drills… You may discover just how much tension and stress you carry in your neck and shoulders when you start to do upper body work.
Knowledge is power, and the good news is that making these sorts of discoveries can help you make positive changes to the way your body moves and feels, and hopefully head off injuries before they occur. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Treat yourself with curiosity and kindness. If you discover a movement pattern that is challenging for you, be willing to work on it with patience, ideally with the guidance of a coach or physical therapist. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to progress as quickly as you’d like. When I was treating my shoulder injury, I was encouraged by my doctor that there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to recover and take heavy weights overhead. But with years of not treating previous injuries, and doing absolutely no upper body work whatsoever, I would need to be patient and take my time.
Don’t focus only on what you “can’t do”. Sometimes when we discover an area that needs a little extra TLC, all we can focus on is the stuff we aren’t able to do as well as we’d like. While I was being a good girl and doing my shoulder correctives, I was sometimes annoyed that I couldn’t do get ups and snatches, of course. But mostly I just tried to find the ways that I could still challenge myself, and as a result I learned how to do pistol squats during that period!
Look at how you are moving (or not moving) your body as a whole, not just in the gym. Do you train a few hours a week and spend the rest of your week seated at a desk during the day and a couch at night? Do you perform lots of repetitive motions? How is your posture and body mechanics when you are doing regular activities? How often do you practice mobility drills, self massage or other recovery strategies outside the gym? The truth is, if you only ever practice these things in the gym a few hours a week, it’s not nearly enough. I find I need a daily practice of some kind of mobility, strength and self-massage work in order to keep my neck and shoulders feeling and performing as well as they can.
Starting (and maintaining) a physical practice can show you all sorts of wonderful things about how strong you are, and what you can do when you put your mind to it, including developing your awareness of “body blind spots”. What you are willing to look at and take action on, you can improve!
Strength & Love, Kati