Lessons in Posture From the Muscle Mechanic

March 19, 2013 Updated: April 3, 2013

 NEW YORK—Hold still. How is your posture right now? Chances are, as you’re reading this, you’re slouching, leaning your weight, or straining your neck. An occasional slouch isn’t going to kill you, but if you notice yourself doing these things often, they can be indicative of a structural imbalance that will lead to chronic pain or physical dysfunction.

Brant Amundson, owner of Chelsea personal training Muscle Mechanic, makes it his life’s work to alert his clients to these little things—many that are so habitualized that we don’t notice them—that eventually could take decades of activity off your life.

“Overuse of force on a compensated structure means you’re multiplying preexisting strains, and speeds up decline,” Amundson said.

1) DON’T stretch without knowing which of your muscles are compensating for weaknesses in other muscles. One of Amundson’s clients had weakened neck muscles due to whiplash. To hold her head up, she came to rely on her back muscles. Having relaxed her back muscles, her neck suddenly gave her pain since the muscles had been inactive for so long.

2) DON’T join a group class, especially if you’re competitive and the class is large, or the instructor isn’t qualified to give you individual guidance based on your body’s limitations and injury history.

3) DON’T wear shoes with arch support. The strongest point of an arch is the keystone at the highpoint. The easiest way to weaken the structure of the foot is to stick something up right underneath it. As Amundson likes to say, “Let your foot be a foot.”

4) DON’T give into inactivity. Even light activity like walking can keep your frame in decent condition, maintain aerobic and cardiovascular function, and maintain muscle tone.

5) BUT DON’T put too much stress on an uncorrected form. Exercise moderately and stop if you experience pain.

Source: Brant Amundson

1) Eye function. Your eyes are your chief tools for survival. Proper convergence on objects near and far gives you the most accurate information about where you are in space.

2) Maintenance of the muscular system. Periodically consult someone who can assess the integrity of your muscular system so you can identify areas of weakness and strain. If you exercise a lot, make sure to get consultations more often.

3) Develop a well-rounded exercise program. Pay attention to muscular strength, cardiovascular health, diet, hydration, and sleep. They are all integrated.

Source: Brant Amundson

Since the age of 10, Amundson has been a fearless athlete. He pushed himself through every sport, and played football on his college team.

“There was a time I could bench press the world,” he said. He collected a bevy of injuries—sprained his ankle, had a concussion, and underwent knee and shoulder surgeries, none of which stopped him from pursuing the next challenge. Then, one day, he was surfing and disabled his shoulder to the point that he was unable to lift it above his head. That’s when he realized how far past its limits he had pushed his body.

He did some research and found out about muscle activation technique, neuro-kinetic therapy, and posturology, each of which improves communication between the muscles and the brain. Through these techniques, Amundson, now 48, is able to do things he was too injured to do in his 30s.

He begins by taking the client through exercises that diagnose asymmetries in the body. An important part of this are eye exercises.

If the eyes are pulling the same amount of weight, the brain does not get an accurate report on where one is in space, and the body compensates by tilting the head and/or angling the body. This realignment happens unconsciously, and since the neck muscles are connected to the back and arm muscles, and those muscles are connected to others still, the stress put upon the neck muscles have implications for the rest of the body. Ultimately, this results in a twisted form.

Posture can go wonky from the feet up, too. The sensory nerves in the soles of our feet send information to our brains about our balance and where we are in space. You could be shifting your weight in ways you can’t recognize because your feet aren’t giving accurate information. A number of events can spark miscommunication between the body and brain, including trauma, overuse, and even natural asymmetries that get worse over time.

After underlying asymmetries are found, Amundson does body work on his clients, releasing tension in perpetually stressed muscles and activating uncommunicative muscles so that they “speak” more readily to the brain. 

Since everyone’s problems, needs, histories, and goals are different, Amundson designs a custom program for each of his clients.