One of my favorite principles of war is “economy of effort.” I used to say this as a joke, but now I appreciate it on a different level.
If you asked yourself who best exemplifies this principle, I am sure that you could come up with at least two people who live life at the most extreme edges of either constant action or extreme lethargy.
Infantry soldiers are often heard reciting “Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lie down? And of course, “never lie down without getting some sleep.” But they can often get away with this, without being labelled as lazy, because for most of their working day they are moving their body. Your body is no different, and will always opt to do less if it can, in order to do what it thinks it needs to survive.
Your body is the ultimate pessimist, and has evolved to be this way through years of hard, Chuck Norris-style, evolutionary roundhouse kicks to the groin. It has learned some serious lessons the hard way and adapted to be the ultimate predator in its environment.
One of these hard lessons was famine. You didn’t always know where your next meal was coming from, or how much energy it was going to take to get those nutrients into your head. It has learned to store energy as much as possible, and to use as little energy as it needs to perform any given movement. This is its rainy day fund.
It is often quoted that it takes 10,000 years for the human genome to evolve 1/10th of 1%. And the Information Age, along with our need to sit on our asses drafting emails, writing code, looking at spreadsheets, checking the swell forecast and surfing articles on “The Inertia” is such a small fraction of that 10,000 years that it’s not worth considering.
Our bodies have not, in any way, evolved to cope with the excesses of abundance that we have created for ourselves. We have achieved an “economy of effort” so remarkable that now people like me exist, who teach people how to move their body functionally again, so that they don’t hurt themselves when they try on their own. And don’t get me started on obesity.
Your body thinks that it needs to conserve energy, because tomorrow it’s going to starve. So when you sit on your ass, it downregulates the need for your legs to really do much at all. That’s a massive energy saving. When you lay on your back, that’s a huge energy saving. But there’s a cost.
We have created an environment so efficient that we are literally breeding ourselves out of the food chain. We are just not designed to sit on chairs. Did you know that the act of sitting significantly increases the compressive loads in your low back? Sitting for long periods is seriously disruptive to how your body likes to function.
We are designed to crawl, stand, squat, jump, bend, push, pull, walk and run. We have trained ourselves to paddle, pop, carve and get kegged. Every one of these movements encourages blood flow to various parts of your body, bringing vital nutrition into your tissues, and carrying waste product away. The very act of walking rhythmically pumps and twists your entire body, improving your circulation, digestion, elimination and even your sleep.
For every compression, learn to decompress. For every tight, overworked muscle, learn to give it relief. For the office-bound surfer, this generally involves getting stress and tension out of the neck and shoulders, learning to extend everything that has been compressed, and giving some much needed relief to your low back and hips.
Watch this video:
I like to stretch from the top down, which often means starting with the neck – be gentle, because your neck is important. I teach people a “contract-relax” (PNF) style of stretching for the neck, which is more akin to switching off hyperactive muscles than stretching them.
This is characterized by contracting the muscles around a joint for a short period to excite the muscle spindles, then using the relaxation (Golgi Tendon Organ) response to allow your joints to open. If your neck is already overworked, stretching may generally be a bad idea. I suggest investing in a massage every week or two. tennis balls, lacrosse balls and other self massage tools are fine, but they will never be as efficient as a pair of hands that know what they are doing.
I have written quite a bit on shoulders here. Shoulder injuries, in my opinion, are often the result of problems elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take better care of them.
I have found a strong correlation between shoulder injuries and poor functioning spines, necks, and hips. A problem in any one of these key postural control centres often leads to faulty head carriage, which places excessive load through the sternum, pulling the shoulders forward and away from their natural alignment. This pronation (where the head of the arm rotates forward in the shoulder socket) sets you up for long term hassle.
They key pronators of the shoulder are your pec minor and your lats, so learning to extend and relieve these overworked parts of your body will not only improve your health, but help prevent long term paddling injuries. In the video I show you two ways of relieving these using a swiss ball.
According to a study of lumbar disc pressures relative to standing (where standing is considered 100% of lumbar disc pressure), the act of sitting increases the load on your low back by as little as 140% when sitting with good posture, and as much as 185% when you sit with a slouch.
Instead of dispersing this load throughout the whole of your body, your low back tends to make most of the brunt when you are sitting, mostly because your legs don’t have to work as much when you sit.
This simple exercise uses the swiss ball to help you extend and open your whole trunk, while decompressing and unlocking your low back.
If you were just to sit on a ball at work instead of a chair, your legs and stabilizers of the hip would at least stay slightly more active throughout the day. Taking time to get up and move around makes a vast difference to your long term back health. If you can perform this exercise at work without looking like a douche, then go for it.
This is one of my all time favorite exercises, but take caution if you feel any dizziness or nausea when performing it (which can be quite common), as this could be a symptom of something more concerning in your neck. So get that checked out first.
Your body is just not designed to sit all day. We have created an environment so efficient that we are literally breeding ourselves out of the food chain. Stretching is a bandaid solution (but is a good start). The real solution lies in learning to reshape our workspace to be more natural. To move continuously throughout the day, and in my book Phoenix by Boddy Language, I offer a rationale for using movement to increase your brain’s potential to access flow and to solve problems more creatively. Yep, I give you all the tools you need to justify surfing as a business expense.
Until we can sort out how we can interact with our new virtual environment in a way that is conducive to your body’s natural way of looking after itself, we need to use movement as a way to pump, energize, envigorate and enhance your life. If your body isn’t doing it naturally, you need to start taking responsibility for it now, especially if your goal is to live with the joy of surfing as an integral part.
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