By: Benjamin Cole
Perhaps the biggest phrase the fitness industry next to "what'd you hit yesterday?" is "form fits function." This phrase expands beyond fitness but finds a good home here in that our bodies fit the function we need them to, for better or worse. In this week's Evolve Blog, we're going to talk about ergonomics and morphology, the underlying sciences of the "form fits function" mantra in the fitness industry.
Ergonomics = Environment
The study of ergonomics is crafting our tools, equipment, and environment to better suit the human body and our productivity. Wikipedia states that ergonomics is a combination of numerous disciplines, ranging from engineering and biomechanics to psychology, physiology, and UX design.
Something that is 'ergonomic' is intended to fit your function. A quick Amazon search of 'ergonomics' will provide you with well over 100,000 different tools and equipment, from chairs and desks to mice, footrests, neck pillows, keyboards and more. If you want to work comfortably and productively, you have to do so in an environment that's conducive to those goals.
If you're writing your thesis or working from your computer there's a good chance you'd rather do that in a comfortable chair in an office with good wifi and a cup up a coffee (or two) versus a concrete floor with no support. In ergonomics, you are crafting your environment and equipment to suit your function, with you being the fit.
Morphology = Form of Organism
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, morphology is "the study of the size, shape, and structure of animals, plants, and microorganisms and of the relationships of their constituent parts." Said another way, morphology is the study of how an organism is structured in relation to what it needs to do by looking at what makes it up and how it "is."
If ergonomics is matching function to fit, morphology is analyzing fit to function. Quite simply, the human body's morphology has been designed over millennia by Mother Nature to be active, move often and stand more than sit. Modern society has forced us to sit down for our work, our commutes, our entertainment, and our gatherings. Some health experts are even saying sitting is the new smoking.
This recent Evolve Blog dives deep on that and spine health. Basically, our modern world and way of life is opposite to how Mother Nature designed us to function. Human Being's morphology indicates that we are meant to move, stand, and run regularly, not sit 10x more than any of those. A lot of us don't have a choice; our work demands of us that we "sit down and get to work."
How can we make the work fit our morphology? You might have seen the relatively recent craze for standing desks and even treadmill desks that are pushing the limit on how we work. This is a great example of abiding by our morphology by using ergonomics to match our function to our fit.
Mindful of Morphology
The point of this article in a large sense is to bring awareness to how the human body was designed by nature and how our modern work environment is at odds with that. Trainers and PTs all across the world deal with their client's postural distortions through corrective exercise and remediating their everyday positions that lead to their conditions. Upper and lower crossed syndrome and kyphosis and lordosis; all-too-common posture dysfunctions caused from excess sitting and poor posture.
So be mindful of your morphology. You don't have to buy a treadmill desk, but buying a more comfortable chair, walking every 45-60 minutes, and taking the stairs are all easy ways to be in accord with how the human body was designed to function. What is your function and how can you either improve your function to your fit or your fit to your function?
Form Fits Function
Now you likely have a good idea of what this phrase means. Your form, how you are, is the perfect fit to your function. If you have an arched back, forward shoulders and protruded cervical spine (forward head posture) there's a good chance you sit more than stand in a day and don't do any corrective exercise to combat this everyday positioning. Your form fits your daily function.
On the flip side of this, you can imagine how an athlete's program is designed. What function is the athletes body or mind needing to form to? What a defensive lineman needs is going to be vastly different from what the quarter back or wide receiver needs; their functions are different mentally and physically but their form fits their function individually. Trainers and PTs work to create the environment and fit for their clients function, be it reverse engineering how it's given them pain or how they can excel in game.
Deliberate Program Design
On a final note, trainers and PTs often look at what your day-to-day is like so they can combat what might be causing your pain or keeping you from your goals. In a way, we reverse engineer your lifestyle, showing you how your fit is matching your function, and we design programs that help you "fit better."
If there's ever a good reason to hire a PT, it's to have another set of eyes see what's your function, how you function, and how you can be more fit to lessen any pain or struggle you might have.
Ideally, this short piece gave you a new lens to view how you function, what "form fits function" means, and what trainers and PTs are doing when they ask you all these questions about how you do your life.
The Spine: What it is & Why it's Important
The word spine typically refers to both the vertebral column and the spinal cord. The spinal cord starts at the base of the brain and runs through the vertebral column, a flexible pillar of approximately 33 bones that houses the spinal cord for protection. Approximately because some lower vertebrae can fuse together over time. This column encases the spinal cord, a nerve network containing 31 nerve pairs that send information to initiate movement and action and receive stimuli to react and respond in the world. The spinal cord floats in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a unique water-based conductive liquid that envelopes and protects it.
The spine is the most important structure in the body because we can't move without it and all major functions are done through it. The nerves that run through it and to the rest of the body are critically important for motor function and recruitment, and without that, we are immobilized. When you think about it, you can't do anything without a functional and healthy spine. Bending over, twisting, reaching, and leaning all require some degree of spinal flexion, extension, rotation, or lateral flexion.
CNS & PNS: The Body's Orchestra
The central nervous system is the conductor to the orchestra that is the complex collection of nerve networks, neurons, and all other major and minor bodily functions that make life happen. It primarily resides in the spinal column, where it then branches out into the peripheral nervous system, the portion of the nervous system that enacts movement and receives environmental stimuli for response and reactions. If the CNS is the conductor, the PNS is the band where the neurons listen and make the music.
Thirty one pairs of nerves stem from the spine, starting at the cranial and cervical nerves running all the way down this nervous superhighway to the lumbar and sacral nerves. This complex and deeply interwoven series of nerves is critical to proper functioning of any kind; this is why neurodegenerative and neurological diseases are so pernicious. Any damage done to the spine can be life altering forever.
Common Postural Distortions
Major institutions, such as Stanford Health, are going as far to say that "sitting is the new smoking." Why? Because a sitting lifestyle is a sedentary lifestyle; a sedentary lifestyle is an unhealthy lifestyle.
Imagine this all-too-common scenario: A man wakes up for the day. He gets his coffee and sits to check his emails. After that, he sits in his car to go to work. When he gets to work, he sits at his desk. Maybe he'll go out for lunch and sit with friends. When he gets home he sits at the couch for some TV time and/or at at the table for dinner. Sitting won't literally kill you--but sitting 50+ hours a week, every week of the month, every month of the year might. Worse yet is the postural distortions that occur from this.
The spine has three natural curves to it, called the cervical, kyphotic, and lordotic. We'll skip the latin, but basically these are the natural curves that give the spine that S shape. When these curves get too severe, though, postural distortions occur, like kyphosis and lordosis. These can worsen over time if uncorrected.
Kyphosis, Lordosis, Upper & Lower Crossed Syndrome
Let's go back to our sitting man. This man who sits (and doesn't sign up at Evolve Fit Studios) will eventually develop kyphosis, an over-curving of the spine. This will lead to upper crossed syndrome, or the shortening of anterior (front) muscles, which can lead to a host of issues including but not limited to shoulder pain or impingement, a tight or stiff neck, and back pain. If not corrected and he goes to lift something heavy without right mechanics, he can throw out his back and have problems for a lifetime.
Don't be the sitting man.
Lordosis, on the other hand, can be considered the inverse. Again, sitting will exacerbate this natural curve. Prolonged sitting will lead to inactive glutes, making them weak, which the body will compensate for in other ways. This might create tight quads, pulling down the pelvis and making that lower lordotic curve more severe, leading to pinched nerves, back pain, hip pain and more. So get up and move!
Technique & Lifestyle >
This sitting man is an extreme example to illustrate a point. A healthy lifestyle with walking, cardio, and a functional fitness program (created by a stellar trainer at Evolve) will combat the worst of these harms. The most important thing to keep in mind is movement often and to exercise the full range of your body's abilities. The old adage, "if you don't use it, you lose it" is a very real maxim when it comes to the body.
Engage your core properly, hire a trainer if you're not confident in your technique, and don't skip out on your workouts. Our body was built to move and move well, so get out there and move some dumbbells!
ps: lots of clean water with electrolytes will keep that CSF lubricated and conductive for a right functioning CNS for all your days tasks, cognitive, movement, or otherwise.
I hope this brief piece on spine health taught you something you didn't know about the spine and how important it is to move often and properly. Taking care of our spine is the most important thing we can do when engaging in lifting of any kind.
Evolve Fitness Studios
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