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  • Dr. Kristen K. Schulte, PT

What Do Both Weight Lifters and Office Workers Need?

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

That title was not meant to be a riddle. Strap on those seatbelts, folks, because I am about to venture into a territory I don’t normally go: weight lifting. I gave up thinking about Olympic weights shortly after my collegiate career ended, though I would like to take a moment to thank my college lifting coach for making this distance runner rather competent on deadlifts, cleans, good mornings, etc. (as well as to apologize for never actually achieving an unassisted pullup). However, I have had a rash of serious lifters in my clinic over the last couple of weeks, so I think it is time to speak up about the posterior chain.

Full disclosure: I was listening to a peer presentation during my final year of PT school and heard the term “posterior chain” for the very first time (and subsequently doubted my entire education for a moment), so if you nearly closed this screen at the mention of fancy jargon, hang in there. Posterior chain is just a term for all of the muscles in the back of your body. (See picture to left.) Many weight lifters are familiar with this term, but in physical therapy, I tend to refer to them as postural or stabilizer muscles.

Regardless of the term that you use and regardless of whether you are a weightlifter or not, every last one of us need to care about the muscles on the back side of our body. I am not just talking about true low back muscles, either; I am also referring to our glutes (butt muscles), shoulder blade, and neck muscles as well.

I spend all day revealing to people (weight lifters included) that though they may be strong globally, their stabilizer muscles mentioned above are actually weak when isolated. When these small muscles are weak, then your joints are not supported as they should be. Believe it or not, weakness of the muscles mentioned above leads to a very wide variety of orthopedic issues: low back pain, rotator cuff injuries, neck pain, numbness and tingling in the arms, sciatica, pulled hamstrings, and piriformis syndrome. Yikes! That’s almost my entire patient population.

Why are most of us so weak in some (if not all) of these muscles? I am about to sound like a broken record: We sit. It’s life. No number of standing desks or walks around the office can combat the amount of time we sit during the day. I like to think I have a fairly active job, but here I am, sitting at my computer for 60 minutes writing this. Most of us are not hunters and gatherers anymore, so we aren’t spending our days in the more optimal upright position. So just sit up straight already, right?!

The problem is that you cannot just tell yourself to sit up straight. Well, I suppose you can tell yourself to sit up straight, but what happens two minutes later? You relax and sink back into that slouchy comfort zone. Believe it or not, your postural muscles have to be trained just like any other muscle to gain strength and endurance. Then—and only then—are they truly able to support you. I had a very young and active engineer who had had a long history of shoulder pain. On his very last day of treatment, he told me that his co-workers scoffed at him for sitting with such great posture during a recent meeting. He was so surprised: He wasn’t even aware that he was sitting with “good posture”! His postural muscles were just strong and were supporting his body as they should.

So to my lifters: More posterior chain please. Less chest press and more rows and T,Y, & I exercises. And to my non-lifters, work those glutes and shoulder blades! Of course, if you need ideas on where to start, stop in. I can get you set up on an individual exercise program that fits your specific needs so that you can take your weight lifting and office posture to the next degree.

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