Posture Modulates Action Perception

Have you ever wondered if your posture influences your actions?

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Picture from http://www.sri.com

Marius Zimmermann, Ivan Toni, and Floris P. de Lange did, and published a paper on the subject of “Body Posture Modulates Action Perception” on 3rd of April 2013.  It is a fascinating read on the effects that our posture has on our brain and our ability to take action.

“Recent studies have highlighted cognitive and neural similarities between planning and perceiving actions. Given that action planning involves a simulation of potential action plans that depends on the actor’s body posture, we reasoned that perceiving actions may also be influenced by one’s body posture. Here, we test whether and how this influence occurs by measuring behavioral and cerebral (fMRI) responses in human participants predicting goals of observed actions, while manipulating postural congruency between their own body posture and postures of the observed agents. Behaviorally, predicting action goals is facilitated when the body posture of the observer matches the posture achieved by the observed agent at the end of his action (action’s goal posture). Cerebrally, this perceptual postural congruency effect modulates activity in a portion of the left intraparietal sulcus that has previously been shown to be involved in updating neural representations of one’s own limb posture during action planning. This intraparietal area showed stronger responses when the goal posture of the observed action did not match the current body posture of the observer. These results add two novel elements to the notion that perceiving actions relies on the same predictive mechanism as planning actions. First, the predictions implemented by this mechanism are based on the current physical configuration of the body. Second, during both action planning and action observation, these predictions pertain to the goal state of the action.”

The full paper is available at the link below.

Body Posture Modulates Action Perception

Is Sitting Harmful to Your Health?

Modern lifestyle has forced us into spending much of the time in a sitting position. Most of us sit a lot through the day. We sit to eat breakfast, travelling to and from work sitting in a car or train/bus, resting on the chair while working. After we have finished our day giving the best at work we come back and have a deserved rest in comfortable couch in front of the TV or relaxing with a computer.

All of this is accumulating to about 15hr of sitting. This is an awful lot and it definitely is not good for our health. But what is actually happening when we are sitting for long time and why this is bad for us?

  • Lack of stability provided by our hips position via glutes and torque from lower limbs while we stand, is creating an unstable base for the spine when sitting, and results in two possibilities while sitting. Flexion (hunching over) or extension (leaning forward) position in the search for stability.
  • Due to the lack of stability our body is starting to compensate in an attempt to keep our torso upright, tightening one of the quadriceps head (rectus femoris) in the effort to bring the pelvis forward and it becomes isometrically loaded and results with time in shortening that muscle,
  • Next muscles to help with the compensation are the hip flexors (Iliacus and psoas) which are running from the front of our spine to the pelvis and pelvis to thigh bone, tensing and shortening in order to support the stability of the spine.

This shortening of the muscles will reduce our mobility in the hips not allowing us to stand up properly and resulting in further compensations by the extending lower back which might cause back pain.

Reducing our time spent in a chair is a great way to help preventing this process, so we should move around and stretch every 30 minutes, also the way we sit can reduce the stress on these muscles. We can learn how to sit more efficiently from people who meditate in the lotus position on the floor, as this set up is creating far more stability for our spine than the European way of using a chair.

  • By taking the lotus position we are we are providing more stability to our pelvis through activating the hip capsule in the end range of flexion and rotation of thigh bones,
  • Rotating our hands palms up (supine) we are creating stable position for our shoulders providing a neutral positioning for our head.
  • This set up is providing support through the pelvis and lumbar region.

It is not always possible to sit cross legged at work or when traveling to and from, but we can use this position relaxing at home after work, helping our body to get out of the shortening pattern. This is not the solution to the modern day office worker problems. The best way is to keep moving as we are not designed to sit for so long.

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About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.

Kettlebells training and shoulders

I often meet clients who have problems with shoulder pain due to the misalignment of the shoulder joint.  This misalignment leads to pain in the shoulder or a shooting pain down to the elbow or even numbness of the fingers.  This pain is generally caused by bad posture at work and/or a sedentary lifestyle.  A lack of exercise makes our muscles weaker and slouching when sat in a chair causes the stretching of only one group of muscles around the shoulder, which leads to instability and enables this misalignment to occur.13775517_1077329549010191_3538635373911155626_n

After realigning the joint I recommend that my clients work on bringing stability to their shoulder by training the weak muscles and stretching the shortened muscles.  One of the best ways to do this is via kettlebell training.  Kettlebells are a simple tool that provides us with dynamic strengthening and stretching of the muscles whilst enforcing stability to ensure that we do not drop the weight.  Kettlebell training is also inexpensive as it does not require much space or equipment and is relatively easy to learn.

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I would recommend reading this article (link below) about the benefits of kettlebell training by Braking Muscles.

It beautifully explains in detail seven kettlebell exercises and their effect on your shoulders. I hope you enjoy the read and look forward to seeing you at one of my kettlebell sessions.

http://breakingmuscle.com/kettlebells/7-exercises-to-optimize-shoulder-health-with-kettlebells

Thank you and keep Standing Tall!

“It’s easy for you, you’re a personal trainer”

“It’s easy for you to be fit and healthy, you’re a personal trainer!”  Erm, not so much.  I often hear this statement used by my clients who believe that being fit comes easier to fitness professionals.  However, let me just explain my reality and how I became a personal trainer and therapist in the first place.

In a nutshell, it all happened as a result of me trying to resolve my own injuries and imperfections, but let’s start from the beginning – my right ankle.

When I was a young boy I was (apparently) a promising goalkeeper at one of my local football clubs and had the potential for a career as a footballer.  Unfortunately this dream was cut short as a result of a cycling accident.  I had been riding around my neighbourhood and fell from my bike, spraining my ankle.  It was pretty painful, but after a quick visit to A&E it had seemed to be on the mend, or so I thought.  After two weeks in a cast the pain was unbearable.  I was in tears and it felt as though the cast had been shrinking, squashing my ankle.  My dad decided to take the cast off to release the pressure and then take me to the hospital.  To our horror, my ankle was now yellow and had swelled to be three times the size of my other one.  We went off in a panic to the hospital where the doctors took me straight into theater to operate as it transpired that my ankle had started to rot and had turned into a huge abscess.  As a result I had to spend two months over the summer holidays in hospital following the removal of over a glass of rotten fluid and some fragments of my ankle bones.  Along with parts of my ankle, my hopes of becoming a footballer had been taken away from me.P7200059.JPG

To this day the consequences of this accident still give me problems.  My right ankle is weaker and less mobile than my left and the lack of stability of the ankle joint forces my calf muscle to compensate, causing me stiffness in my lower leg as well as knee pain.

Moving onto my shoulders…  When I was 15 I developed an interest in weight training.  All of my friends had started building muscles and so I too dreamt of becoming a body builder.  Being a teenager it is natural to be rebellious and alas I was no different.  So when the gym instructor said to start training with smaller weights we were all of the opinion that this was just a waste of time, after all, we wanted to be big and strong now!  So instead we went for the maximum weights that we could lift.  This approach worked very well – until a few years later.  Over these initial few years my strength grew significantly and whilst I only weighed 55kg I could bench press 105kg.  In hindsight I now realise that I really should have stuck with small weights as to this day if I try and perform a bench press with a significant weight my shoulders just say “no!” and I get a pain that feels like someone is trying to rip my arms off.  I still enjoy weight training today, but I now train with moderate weights and have switched to functional training with kettlebells, which reduces the pains and aches in my shoulders.

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Then there is my beloved left knee.  During my time training at the gym I discovered my biggest passion, Karate, which I am still actively engage in both training and teaching.  As young students we did not have much understanding of body mechanics and how to train smart, all we wanted to do was to train hard and nonstop.  This resulted in me pulling one of my tendons (ACL) in my left knee.  After consultation with a doctor he suggested I have an operation to fix it.  Given my previous ankle operation experience I was less than keen with this approach and so decided to seek opinions from a variety of other doctors.  I came across a sports doctor who advised me to keep walking for as long as I can on the knee as it is and to avoid the operation.  That was 14 years ago.  I still have problems with my knee, but I have created my own strength programme and mobility workout that helps me get along and enjoy a largely pain free walking existence.  Although occasionally I take a wrong step and my knee just collapses, taking the rest of my body with it.  These situations make me focus more on the postural aspects of my training.

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Lower back pain, yet another issue.  At a similar time to when I damaged my knee I started to experience lower back pain.  Going back to the doctors again I was faced with a now familiar story – we need to operate as we have diagnosed that you have narrow nerve channels in your lower back.  I was like “what?”  There was no way I was going to risk my ability to walk to get rid of this pain.  I would rather be in pain than bed bound.  After many visits to different doctors it turned out that there was a simple solution to my problem, which maddens me even now to think that so many doctors were so keen to operate!  One of the doctors I saw simply looked at my gait and told me to invest in a good pair of shoes that will stabilise my ankle and hold me upright.  Et voilà!  After buying a decent pair of shoes my lower back pain eased off.download (1)

Finally there is my upper back problems.  Being an experienced martial artist I decided to broaden my skillset and joined a Wrestling club, which I still visit whenever I can.  Wrestling is full of acrobatics, which is awesome when it goes right…  However, with me being confident that I was invincible and could perform any stunt I decided to prematurely try to perform a back flip without assistance.   I had been warned that I might get hurt as I was too inexperienced, but I knew better so I tried anyway.  I failed big time!  I landed on my head and it felt like my spine had been crunched and was falling apart.  When I got up I had troubles with breathing, lifting my arms up and moving my head.  It felt like I had been interrogated by a medieval inquisition.  Surely someone had just put a metal band around my chest with two spikes pointing at me and had started to tighten it!  Another visit to the doctors, but following an x-ray that did not show up anything I was told to rest for a few days, take some pain killers and all will be fine.  Well, all was not fine and I spent seven years in pain whilst doctors told me to get used to it as there was nothing wrong with me.  Nothing wrong?  I could barely move my arms above the height of my shoulders, how could this be normal?  I had lost hope that I would ever have this issue fixed, but by chance I met a martial artist, who is now a close friend, who used his Chinese massage therapy on me and within a week the pain was gone.  I was so grateful and so intrigued by his methods that I decided to become a Therapist and to help others like me who are being told to just get used to the pain.download

All of these injuries and experiences have led me down the path of becoming a Personal Trainer and Therapist, not in the search for riches, but in a search for self-help.  Through my experience I feel driven to help others and can empathise with what my clients are going through.  It is not always easy to find a fix.  My battle with my own body has been ongoing for more than 30 years now and along the way I have tried a range of conventional and nonconventional methods and am able to appreciate what has and has not worked for me.

It is easy to assume that people who are currently fit are able to achieve/maintain this state easily, but you never know what their story is.  It is very difficult for me to keep motivated to do workouts and mobility drills and present a cheerful character at all times, but whenever I slack and slow down my body starts to fall apart.  That is quite a good motivator for me to continue to study and complete my workouts.

Best wishes from a self-fixing Personal Trainer and Therapist.

It’s not WHAT you eat, but WHEN you eat…

Wouldn’t it be great to shed some kgs without cutting out our favourite meals?

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There are studies that show that this is possible.  It all started with tests on mice where scientists discovered that moving their meals closer together during the day and lengthening fasting periods overnight caused a drop in sugar and cholesterol levels, making them healthier and leading to weight loss.  In this study the mice under test ate exactly the same meals as the control mice (see study abstract below).

http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(12)00189-1

Following this, a study was conducted by the University of Surrey to test the same principle on 16 human volunteers, as shown in the BBC TV programme, ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’.  All of the volunteers initially had their blood fat, blood sugar and body fat measured following 12 hours of fasting.  The volunteers were then separated into two groups and the test conducted over 10 weeks.  The first group was the control group and could eat as per their normal routine.  The second group was asked to shift their breakfast to be 90 minutes later and their dinner to be 90 minutes earlier and to exclude all drinks and snacks after their evening meal.  As a result of these changes the second group had 3 more hours of fasting per night.  All of the participants had to keep a food diary to make sure that they had been eating similar amounts of food as normal.

At the end of the 10 week period both groups repeated the measurements that were taken at the start of the test.

The study demonstrated significant changes that were very similar to the tests on mice.  The group that had the longer fasting period showed a change in their levels of blood sugar and cholesterol, but no change in blood fat.  This group was shown to have lost body fat as a result of the experiment.

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Consequently, this study has confirmed that the time that we eat DOES matter.  Eating late dinners is likely to result in weight gain and longer periods of fasting will improve the chances of losing some kgs.  Combining this knowledge with exercise and a healthy diet could produce incredible results.

For more information about this study please see the link below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/zBx3JZJCKfNBrWgT0Qyj93/the-big-experiment-could-i-lose-fat-just-by-changing-my-meal-times