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Realigning My Body to Achieve ‘Design Motion’

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Right about Christmastime, I did 100 squats during a single workout for the first time. My legs ached a bit for a few days, but then I was ready for more. A lot more, as my latest fitness adventure showed me.

I believe I did 100 again and then 150 the next time out. Before I knew it, I was experimenting with a modified version of Jeff Sekerak‘s workout. Jeff largely builds his workouts on squats, push-ups and crunches, doing these exercises in sets of 50 to 100 with no breaks. My workout is based on the Egoscue Method, whose program of stretches and bodyweight exercises enabled me to reverse a decade of chronic pain. Come mid-January, I found myself doing, after my Egoscue Method E-cises, roller-coaster push-ups one day, squats the next day and then free crunches, with my legs raised straight and high, with ankles crossed, on the third day. On the fourth day, I took a breather from doing these extra bodyweight exercises, completing only my E-cises. Unlike Jeff, I took breaks between my sets.

Watch a Demonstration of Roller-Coaster Push-Ups

I started tracking my progress January 24, when I reached 100 roller-coaster push-ups. The next day, I hit 500 squats, and the day after, 500 free crunches. During every workout, I added 20 of these very demanding push-ups or 100 squats or 100 free crunches. Come February 21, after having had to take an eight-day break in early February to focus on a Fruit-Powered project, I mustered enough energy to crank out 200 roller-coaster push-ups, with my completing 1,000 squats and 1,000 free crunches on the successive two days. I was amazed at my ability to achieve such marked gains in very little time. After all, I could barely do two consecutive roller-coaster push-ups just about six months ago despite knocking out 300 push-ups in April 2015.

On the day I progressed to 900 squats, I wound up doing 100 and then four sets of 200, marking the first time I eclipsed 100-squat sets. On my march to 1,000, I thought I’d aim for four 250-squat sets but managed to dig in deep enough to produce two 333-squat sets and one final 334-squat set. (Side note: I discovered listening to choice high-energy selections from the Rocky 4 soundtrack helped motivate me while working out.)

I was pleased with my progress but knew I had to cut back the length of my workouts, which were ballooning in time. It took me in the neighborhood of 45 minutes to do 1,000 squats, including breaks lasting two to three minutes between sets. It took more than twice as long to do 200 roller-coaster push-ups. I went on February 23 to see my Egoscue Method exercise therapist, Joan Adams, who heads up Egoscue’s Philadelphia office in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. I told her what I was doing, and she fired up a camera. Photographs showed that, despite my almost-daily practice of E-cises as well as additional bodyweight exercises, my alignment was off.

Fran Adams demonstrates Static Back, with Joan Adams looking on, at Egoscue Philadelphia
Fran Adams demonstrates Static Back, with Joan Adams looking on, at Egoscue Philadelphia on March 12, 2015.

It took a few hours for this jarring news to set in. I came to terms with the reason for this news: constant hunching in front of a computer screen the past eight months. My practice of another method, the Bates Method, is helping me improve my vision, but my vision is so poor I have to lean in to see my computer screen. (I cannot simply move my monitor closer because its light is too strong when viewed at a comfortable reading distance.) Over these hundreds upon hundreds of hours of computer use since mid-July, when I began going glasses-free, I’ve undone some of the wonderful progress I’ve made in my posture since building E-cises into my routine in April 2010.

Headshot of Pete Egoscue
Pete Egoscue, creator of the Egoscue Method.

Joan’s photographs showed my left shoulder is elevated, and my right knee turns in. My hips are also off. All this hunching and shifting weight to one side and occasionally keeping my feet splayed outward so as to enable easier leaning has taken a toll—and pushed me beyond what the E-cises I was practicing are designed to manage. Simply put, I developed some compensations in my body because of a poor sitting position. I’ve been aware that my alignment has been suffering since summer but never envisioned I’d be this off! This visit signaled a tremendous reminder of a powerful lesson for which I’m grateful. Now, I’ve got to get back to what Pete Egoscue, the visionary force behind the Egoscue Method, calls “design motion.”

There is motion and there is design motion. Only design motion [or proper motion] restores health. Motion that is at odds with the design is, at best, wasted; at worst, it is harmful. It is possible to systematically restore functions that will result in proper movement and in the maintenance of a fully functional musculoskeletal system—and in being pain free.

—Pete Egoscue in Pain Free

The past several weeks, as I chased continuous gains in strength based on completing evermore repetitions, served as an exercise in mere motion—not design motion—and ultimately was against my body’s interests. With my shoulders out of alignment, my body compensated to do these roller-coaster push-ups. With one knee pointing inward, I risked injury by doing so many squats. Joan told me she’d rather I do one picture-perfect push-up purely in line with my body’s design than a sky-high number when my body might’ve compensated to complete the exercise.

With a new E-cises menu in hand, thanks to Joan, I’m on the fast track to getting my body back into proper alignment. This new menu couldn’t be delivered at a better time. I’m pursuing study of the Egoscue Method this winter and spring to become equipped to guide others in this revolutionary approach to exercise and therapy, and now I have one more lesson to add to my notebook to help folks exploring ways to improve their physical condition and/or relieve or prevent pain. When we change our regular sitting or standing position or any aspect of our routine, we have to closely examine postural changes—ideally with the help of an eagle-eyed Egoscue exercise therapist, able to spot misalignment in our eight load-bearing joints and how this affects our bodies as a whole—to know how we can function in line with our design to achieve true design motion.

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