My husband has become a big rucker over the last year, participating in many GORUCK and F3 events in Charleston, SC and Jacksonville, FL. At first, I thought he was nuts, as you probably get from many people when you try and explain the method at which you like to get after it. But, overall, he has gotten great health benefits from it, comradery, and confidence. One thing we have had to work very hard with him though is his form.
He attempted the 50 mile Star Course in Jacksonville last November, and while his team was able to complete the miles, they didn’t navigate effectively so they didn’t finish. He developed shoulder pain after that event, and I diagnosed him as having shoulder impingement. I took a closer look at his rucking posture and gait. The GORUCK backpacks, while I shook my head in disbelief over the cost of the darn thing, does have the correct support for the body at the shoulders and back. But support only goes so far, when you aren’t moving in the right position.
Posture is driven largely by our respiratory system, and our ability to control air flow. When you control air flow appropriately, your diaphragm and ribcage remain in a proper position, and since the diaphragm and ribcage are attached directly to the thoracic and lumbar spine, proper position means proper spinal position. How do you know if you are controlling air flow appropriately?
When you take a breath of air in through your nose, your entire ribcage should expand, in all directions: front, back and on the sides. Inability to expand in the posterior cavities (i.e. the back) will prevent the spine from flexing. Poor flexion, means more extension, and more extension means your ribcage will start to elevate, because well, you have to breathe somehow. Having a weight on your back only makes this position worse, because it’s even more difficult to achieve proper airflow through the back. This will become extremely apparent when you start to fatigue, such as a long ruck. Your ribcage will elevate and you will start to arch your back more, raise your chin, and lean forward. While it is an effective means of bringing in more air, it really puts a ton of pressure on your neck, shoulders, lower back, hip flexors, front of your knees, and calves/arches of your feet.
Back to my husband, he exhibits this same posture, however it’s not as obvious to the eye. But when I physically assessed all of his joint positions, they were all positive, the ribcage being the worst of all. After working on extensive breathing exercises designed by the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI), blowing up some balloons in odd positions, and driving air into his back while simultaneously controlling his pelvis position, his shoulder motion improved, pain improved, and posture improved. He’s back to getting after it with GORUCK and F3, and while I’m super proud of his accomplishments, I still think he’s a little nuts.
Here’s one of my favorite breathing exercises and how you do it:
- Start on your hands and knees. Keep your head down and your tailbone tucked under you slightly
- Inhale through your nose and as your exhale through your mouth, slowly push through your hands so your sternum moves towards the ceiling. Picture your shoulder blades moving towards the floor, but your sternum moving in the opposite direction.
- Exhale fully, get all that air out through your mouth. Pause for 5-7 counts before inhaling again.
- MOST IMPORTANT STEP: Do not move or drop your position while you inhale through your nose. Focus on driving the air into your upper and mid back. Your ribs in the front should not move. If you do this correctly, you won’t be able to breathe in very much, especially when you get to breath 4 and 5.
- As you exhale, try and push your sternum even higher. Pause 5-7 counts.
- Repeat sequence for a total of 4-5 breaths. Repeat exercise 5 times.
In short, posture is largely controlled by your respiratory system. Most joint pain is also attributed to your ribcage and diaphragm position, which is, again, largely influenced by your respiratory system. Added weight makes it even more difficult to control, so you best make sure you are working on airflow and breathing exercises, especially during fatigue. Of course, there are other lesser factors that also contribute to musculoskeletal problems such as pelvis position, glute control, abdominal activation, and weight distribution (using one side more than the other), but those are for another topic.