Getting Back to Your Sport
I'm often asked the question, "When can I get back to....." fill in the blank....Hiking, running, chopping wood, chores, etc. The question is asked, a lot. But the answer is rarely heeded. I'm guilty of this as well. It's a beautiful day out, I want to go for a run, but how do I know that pain in my back isn't going to return after mile 3. For running, biking, hiking, any sport that requires our legs (most if not all) I use two archetypal movements, the squat and the hip hinge (dead-lift). Additionally, and most importantly, I assess how am breathing in those motions.
First, I look at my squat and my hip hinge (dead-lift). Without getting too deep into the proper form of these movements, as that is another blog post, I check to see that I can maintain reasonably good form at the end range of motion of the squat and hip hinge.
Squat: Are my hips at or below the level of my knees? Are my feet flat on the ground? Is my upper back straight? Can I do all of this without any pain? I don't have a perfect squat and I work on it regularly, but these check-in points are a reasonable assessment of the quality of a squat. With the squat position I described I can be assured I have functional range of motion in my ankles, knees, hips, low to mid to upper back.
Hip hinge: Does my low back maintain a slight curve towards the floor. Is my upper back roughly parallel to the floor? Are my knees slightly bent? Can I do all of this without any pain? Again, with these basic hip hinge points covered, you can be reasonable sure that you have functional range of motion in your hips, knees, and upper back.
Ok, I have cleared the squat and hip hinge so my range of motion is looking good, functional. The next question to ask is, "Do I have a stable spine in those positions?" This is not a difficult question to answer, although most clinicians, for some reason, do not provide the answer. The answer to the spinal stability question is... if you can maintain a slow and controlled nasal inhale (5 seconds) and exhale (5 seconds), that is a 10 second breath cycle for 5 cycles, in those positions, you have a stable spine in those positions.
Breathing: Can you maintain the bottom position of the squat and the hip hinge for 10 nasal breath cycles (5 second inhale / 5 second exhale)? If so, you have a stable spine in those positions.
Why? Your diaphragm has exactly two roles in your body, respiration and spinal stabilization. The former we can't live without, the latter many of us live without or at least with a diminished capacity. A spinal stabilizing diaphragmatic contraction should happen automatically with most movements and the stronger the movement, the stronger the stabilizing contraction. But, a previous back injury, and/or sitting too much, and/or habitual mouth breathing, and/or etc. diminish the competence of our diaphragm. If you can't engage in slow controlled breathing in a position, your spine is not stable in that position because your body will focus primarily on the respiratory role of the diaphragm at the expense of the stability role. We will always sacrifice spinal stability for respiration. But if you want to have fluent motion to functional end ranges, you need to be able to breath in those end ranges.