In chaos theory, there is something called the butterfly effect, in which small initial differences may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time. Author Ray Bradbury illustrated this in his story A Sound of Thunder, in which time travelers go back to prehistoric times and accidentally step on a butterfly, thereby setting in motion subtle changes that affect the nature of the alternative present to which they return. In the same way, small postural tweaks and muscular imbalances can have a serious snowball effect on your body’s entire kinetic chain, changing the way you sit, stand and train. Check out these conditions and see where you can make changes to turn back time with your physique.
1. Issue: Slouching, aka kyphosis
We can partially blame technology for this issue, since it’s estimated that the average person spends more than eight hours a day in front of a screen. Staring at your phone while sitting poorly can cause forward head posture, stretching the deep cervical neck extensors, placing additional pounds of force on the upper vertebrae and causing weakness in your traps and rhomboids. Tight scapulae and inflexible shoulders arise as the rest of your upper body tries to compensate.
The Fix: Strengthen the upper-back muscles and re-stack your vertebrae with an incline rear delt Y-raise and chin tucks, and lie over a soft foam roller placed just below your shoulder blades to stretch out your thoracic spine.
2. Issue: Rounded shoulders
We use our chest, front delts and abs for a lot of daily activities. Combine this tight chest with poor posture and inflexible shoulder joints and you wind up looking like Quasimodo, reducing the amount of space within your shoulder socket, inhibiting full range of motion and decreasing workout effectiveness. This also can trickle down the chain and cause elbow pain* and inflexibility, especially in moves such as front squats in which you’re required to lift your elbows high in front of you.
The Fix: Release tightness by rolling out with a lacrosse ball where the shoulder meets the upper chest preworkout, and strengthen the upper back with moves that include a rotary component such as bent-over rear delt raises.
*Note: If you have elbow pain, stick to moves that use a reverse or neutral grip.
3. Issue: Pelvic obliquity
Think of your pelvis as a bowl of water: It should be level or the water spills out forward or backward. Having a neutral pelvis increases the overall power of your hip joints, allowing you to run faster, lift heavier and move better.
Anterior tilt, aka swayback (lordosis): When your pelvis is tipped forward, your hip flexors are too tight and your glutes are shut down. Sitting a lot is usually to blame here, though high heels are a major offender, and an anteriorly titled pelvis can cause low-back pain and significantly decreased performance. Additionally, when your glutes don’t fire, your legs don’t drive backward properly, reducing the effectiveness of your squats and lunges, and sprints — forget about it.
The Fix: Hip raises, bridges and the butt-blaster machine can help wake up the glutes in isolation, while Runner’s Lunge or Warrior I Pose can stretch the hip flexors.
Posterior tilt, AKA flat back posture: When your pelvis is tilted rearward, it reduces your natural lumbar curvature, shortening the glutes, hamstrings and abs and weakening the hip flexors.
The Fix: Pigeon Pose can help stretch out the glutes and hams, a small standing backbend can elongate the abs and hanging knee raises can fire up those hip flexors.
4. Issue: Pronated/supinated feet
When your foot rolls excessively inward (pronation) or outward (supination), your body has trouble stabilizing itself as you move. This improper gait can be caused by tightness, weakness or muscular imbalance within your calves and translates into issues with your knees, ankles and hips, which could lead to shin splints and chronic knee pain.
The Fix: Orthotics are your savior. Have an expert gait analysis and a professional shoe fitting for best results. At the gym, stretch and foam-roll your calves, IT band and tibialis preworkout as part of your dynamic warm-up and postworkout to break up adhesions.
5. Issue: One shoulder/hip higher than the other
Imbalances between your two halves are common. Add to that a heavy purse or backpack carried consistently on one side and you’ve really got issues. A higher shoulder indicates shortened traps from continually having to brace or raise the shoulder upward against a force. And if your hips are uneven, the drooping side is likely because of a weak gluteus medius.
Strengthen your gluteus medius with quadruped fire hydrants, and help relax your traps with head rolls and gentle head pulls. For both parts, train each side in isolation to help balance their relative strength and correct the imbalances.
6. Issue: Protruding belly
Though you might not think your back would have an effect on your belly, tight lats can actually cause your torso to compress and your spine to arch, pushing your insides forward and giving you a pooch. Tight lats can be caused by a myriad of things, not the least of which is habitual sitting.
The fix: Strengthen your core with planks, and stretch your lats with Child’s Pose or standing side bends to prevent it from recurring.