Fitness Classes

I don’t know how common this is, but many of the stretching/strengthening exercises in my fitness class at a local senior center (yes, I am that old.) involve some kind of bending-forward . This is particularly true of the mat exercises, which include crunches (modified sit-ups) for strengthening abdominals, several types of jack-knife type positions (sitting while leaning backwards with legs extended and raised) while holding weights in various positions,other variations of sit-ups and also the bending-forward, reaching-for-the-toes exercises for stretching hip extensors (hamstrings), and even though the instructor says to keep the back straight many of the students hunch their upper backs to reach their toes, which elongates/weakens the thoracic back extensors which worsens the hunch  And too many crunches can worsen sway back posture. Meanwhile strengthening back extensors, the muscles that pull our backs erect, is ignored.  If exercises only target front abdominals for strengthening and end up stretching opposing back extensors, that is a prescription for worsening hunched posture. More bending forward exercises to strengthen abs increases the tendency for the body to bend forward all the time. After all, isn’t that what these exercises are training the body to do?  For healthy balanced posture, at least equal attention must be given to back extensor strengthening.  And for those who already have hunched posture, more attention must be given to back extensors, and depending on the type of faulty posture, only particular abdominals may need to be strengthened and perhaps abdominal strengthening is not needed at all, in fact may be counter-productive as in flat back posture.  For a senior population already tending toward hunched posture because of increases in chronic illness and age-related decline in bone density (a risk for wedging of vertebral bodies and compression fractures with bending forward exercises), a balanced muscle strengthening program is even more important.

The rest of the class, which includes 30 minutes of aerobics is enjoyable. Doing the steps to “up beat” music keeps participants coming back and that is  important. I intend to stay with the class especially for the step aerobics, which gets the heart pumping but not excessively. There is no pressure to do all the exercises and I can opt out of the exercises that are counter to my posture type (flat back).

 

Tai Chi classes: Tai Chi is done slowly, mindfully, with arms and legs coordinated and both moving throughout the movements. Learning it well takes balance, understanding the logic and flow of the movements, and sensitivity to the proprioceptive senses — all of which is very challenging,

From the aspect of improving posture, you’d think that good posture would come automatically with Tai Chi practice, however, from what I saw in this Senior Center Class, Tai Chi by itself does not improve posture. Over half the participants have a more kephotic upper back than is healthy.  Perhaps if there were mirrors on all the walls or practices were video-recorded, and people actually saw themselves  maybe they’d straighten up. But how likely is that?