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Physical limits aren’t super well understood in today’s exercise and sports culture. Except that it’s all about blowing past them.

Just Do It.

No Limits.

Go The Distance.

Impossible is Nothing.

Great for selling stuff, but so not great when this ideology gets translated into what you do at the gym or at yoga class. It’s entirely possible to create amazing changes in your body, but if you’re blowing past your boundaries to do it, you’re 1) cheating yourself of a whole bunch of true change, and 2) almost certainly damaging something, whether it’s now or later.

Why is this? Because if you bypass a boundary (which we’re all really good at doing), you are using some sort of compensation to create a movement that *looks* like the what you’re trying to do but is actually using different bits of you to fake it.

Let me demonstrate. With something pretty simple. I’m going to raise my arm up over my shoulder.

No problemo!

No problemo!

This is awesome until you start looking closely. I didn’t actually move my arm much at the shoulder itself – the point where the long arm bone, called the humerus, joins the rest of my body (the glenohumeral joint or GHJ). In fact, I totally cheated it by lifting my scapula way up to my ear. Check out how much higher my shoulder area is on the side of the lifted arm – this is a dead giveaway.

Cheater!

Cheater!

What does it look like if I don’t let my scapula do the work?

My shoulder girdle is level here, both scaps where they belong, and the bend is coming at the actual glenohumeral joint.

My shoulder girdle is level here, both scaps where they belong, and the bend is coming at the actual glenohumeral joint.

In case you can’t tell from the front, this is not very impressive:

There's the true angle of shoulder flexion I've achieved.  Maybe 15 degrees?

There’s the true angle of shoulder flexion I’ve achieved. Maybe 15 degrees?

But although it’s not impressive, it’s actually more awesome, because now I am at my true boundary. If I anchor all my cheating bits, and start doing my shoulder work by moving at my true glenohumeral joint, I will be able to enlarge the range I can actually achieve. And eventually I’ll be able to lift my arm way above my head without faking it. Your body can only make this change if you’re working at your true boundary though – it doesn’t get the movement input it needs to know that you want to make a change if you don’t respect your body as it actually is.

So why is this a big deal? Since I can get my arm overhead, I can easily reach the wine glasses and apparently have no need for being able to have true range of motion at the GHJ, right? Wrong. Although it’s super awesome that my body compensates for my miserable lack of range, because I really do like wine, it’s bad news for my body if the GHJ never moves.

Lack of movement in any joint means two things: the tissues around the joint atrophy, weaken and starve, and the compensating tissues get overused and damaged.

Anyone get a tight neck and upper back? Because guess what – every time the scapulae fake your GHJ motion, that’s one of the spots that’s being overused.

Because we’re a non-moving population, we end up doing this kind of compensation and fakery all day everyday. Almost everyone fakes their hip action with their lower back, their GHJ action with their scapulae, and their head position with their mid-back, to name some of the most common every day compensations. Plus we fake walking by falling. This always amazes me – our population is not able to actually walk the way were designed for. TO WALK. What a basic human activity to get wrong!!

Even if your gym is awesome and does focus on mobility work, the concept of working within our boundaries is not often or effectively used. So a lot of the time the stretching you are doing is actually just pulling you further into your hypermobile areas and totally missing the bits you are trying to affect. This is a huge issue with yoga, unfortunately, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to find a really good teacher (if you’re a stretchaholic, check out this article by yoga goddess, Jill Miller).

What to do about it? Restorative Exercise™ will teach you how to find your boundaries and then work with them to safely change them. This website, and everything on my Want More? page, is full of information and ways to learn how to move your body better.

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