In the words of Chang San Feng, “Up and down, forward and backward, left and right, it’s all the same . . . If there is a top, there is a bottom, if there is a front, there is a back, if there is a left, there is a right.” This excerpt, from the Tai Chi Chuan Treatise, sums up the reality of the synchronicity of duality; in particular, that of front and back. The human body has a front side (anterior) and a back side (posterior). The posture that one exhibits is a tell-tell sign of the balance between the two. When one exercises, engages in daily activities or just sits or stands, more than not, emphasis is skewed toward weakness and laxity in the back of the body. This can lead to poor posture as well as musculoskeletal complications. However, aside from just looking better, one can ‘Be Better’.
When we let our arms hang at our sides, the general tone of the back/shoulder musculature becomes apparent. Muscular balance between the front side and back side of the body, as evidenced by neutral spine, would be revealed by the longitudinal axis, aka the plumb line, extending from the top of the head, through the ears, through the shoulders and all the way down through the ankles. It is this degree of alignment along the plumb line that gives evidence of balance between the posterior muscles and anterior muscles of the torso.
Fitness activities are predominantly oriented towards strengthening the front of the body and the muscles of the anterior torso tend to be more developed than those of the posterior torso. Thus we see more pushing than pulling and more forward bending (spinal flexion) than back bending (spinal extension). Pronation (rounding) of the shoulders is the visible result of indulging the ease of pushing exercises and neglecting the beneficial challenges of pulling exercises.
Pronation of the shoulders makes lifting overhead more challenging. The scapula (shoulder blades) must be engaged on the rib cage (scapulothoracic articulation) in order for the shoulders to be properly positioned when reaching overhead. If this does not take place or is not taking place, dysfunctions of the shoulder can result. One of the more critical shoulder dysfunctions is impingement syndrome.
By maintaining the muscular balance between the anterior torso and the posterior torso, our posture, core engagement/stabilization and overall balance are more synchronous. The muscle groups of the back (i.e. rhomboideus, mid tapezius, low trapezius, infraspinatus, teres major teres minor, rear deltoid) should be addressed within the scope of our exercise routines. Some exercises that can be used for this are: cable rows, pull downs, bent over barbell row, pull ups, reverse dumbbell flyes, reverse table top, reverse cable flyes, reverse plank (purvottanasana), and supermans.
So it behooves the fitness enthusiast to work toward establishing that balance between the front of the body and the back of the body. The front of the body is stronger overall and is engaged in strength expression; both ballistic and sustained. Most activities require good anterior strength. The back of the body is involved with postural stability. One cannot have good posture without good posterior strength. The back of the body must be strong enough to counterbalance the pull of gravity, ballistic activities of pushing and the juxtaposition of anterior tightness/posterior weakness that is endemic in today’s modern society; amongst those who are exercise oriented, as well as those who are not.