Use the Alexander Technique to Help You Get Stronger

TV’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor  – ‘How to get stronger in just a few weeks without going to the gym!’

In the first programme of a new TV series, Dr Michael Mosley demonstrated novel ways to increase muscle strength in a few weeks, purely through performing everyday tasks such as washing up and hoovering differently – and he could almost have been showing us how to use Alexander Technique procedures during daily activities in order to become stronger and healthier! I really like this approach to exercise and it is one that I have worked on with some of my pupils. This is in addition to their standard Alexander lessons and we do not use a ‘set of exercises’. One big thing missing in the TV programme, as is so often the case, is that there was little mention as to how to perform these tasks, apart from a warning to ‘look after your back’. In the info available on the programme’s website, there are a few more instructions available but they could be refined and extended, to great advantage.
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Deep Monkey for Picking Things Up and Cleaning Teeth
A partial squatting movement, or monkey position, was suggested by Mosley to use for both picking up shopping bags and for cleaning the teeth – both of which are standard applications of AT procedures. One difference was that Mosley used some deep squats repeatedly, in order to strengthen the leg and buttocks muscles. Unfortunately he twisted round towards the camera as he cleaned his teeth, which would not have helped his back – of course he wouldn’t usually have cameras in his bathroom, so perhaps he wouldn’t twist as he bent forwards. This twisting is the type of problem to look out for and the sort of thing that so easily creeps in when we perform tasks repeatedly, particularly if we are endgaining and just doing ‘x’ amount of repeats in order to ‘get stronger’. However, they are difficult to notice on our own ans our habits are so familiar to us. If an AT teacher can help us be mindful of how we perform such movements, this is a simple exercise to add in our our daily routine in order to maintain leg strength whilst incorporating the AT. How wonderful our language is! I’ve just realised that ‘incorporate‘ means to ‘take in’ and ‘embody‘ so yes, we want the AT to be embodied within us, so that we use it for everything we do.
Lunges Whilst Hoovering
I also teach people to use a lunge whilst doing tasks such as sweeping and hoovering but Mosley uses a much deeper lunge than usual, in order to increase leg strength. An important aspect of this movement to be aware of, is to keep the hips knees and ankles in line with each other, so that you avoid twisting them The programme website repeatedly states ‘do not let your knees go out in front of your toes’ and if you are unused to exercise this can be a good maxim to follow but make sure you do not lock in your hip and ankle joints plus over-use your thigh muscles in order to block the forward movement of your knees. However, if you are aware of your body-use, allowing your knees to ease out over your toes is no problem and this can help you to move more freely and to maintain a central balance over your feet.
Cleaning, Using Calf Raises
Rising up onto our toes to ‘demi-pointe‘ as ballet dancers call it, is another movement sometimes used in AT lessons, in order to explore our balance and the use of our feet and ankles. Many people have rather rigid ankles and rising up onto he toes can help free them up. As the TV programme suggests, this movement can be fed into daily activities when you want to reach up high or when drawing curtains for instance – Mosley demonstrated this whilst at a kitchen sink. It is easy to habitually lead with the hips when rising to the toes, which causes the back to arch, creating an imbalance throughout the whole body. This habit can be avoided which allows us to direct the movement so that the head leads and the whole body follows, rising up onto the toes whilst continuing to be in alignment. Balance will improve too.
Interestingly, a pupil brought an air-filled cushion to her AT lesson and told me that she has been using it like a wobble board and has been standing on it whilst washing up. That adds some fun and interest to a daily chore! What she noticed was that she has a habit of thrusting her pelvis forwards (like Mosley) in order to rest on the sink, which actually threw her off balance. When she thought through how she was moving, she allowed her head to lead her into the standing movement and was then able to stand on the wobble board using a small monkey position over the sink. This protected her back and allowed her to balance more easily.  
Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, Deadlift and Oblique Twists
I haven’t used these in AT lessons unless someone has specifically
asked to explore such movements and sometimes this can be a useful thing to do, in order to learn how to avoid habits which could contribute to strains and other problems. I do often work with people to find a way for them to rotate their bodies with greater freedom and flexibility – this is a useful movement to make occasionally if you are desk-bound for several hours – and I have found it helps free me up as I am sitting writing this. Take extra care if you want to include weights whilst rotating, as Mosley suggests!  Strenuous twists holding weights could be a quick route through to hurting your back…
Wall Press-ups
This is another movement which has been explored by my students quite frequently in
Alexander lessons and it can be performed quite easily. The most important thing to think about from an Alexander Technique perspective, is to keep noticing your body-use and not get caught up in endgaining in order to just do lots of press-ups. As soon as our attention wavers from thinking about the means whereby we are performing such a movement all sorts of mis-use can start coming into play – the neck can become contracted, the lower back can start arching, the jaw can tighten and a load of unhelpful tension can build up – which is not strength, just tension.
I love working with people in order to explore how to use the Alexander Technique to underpin and enhance their movements. Yes the AT can help us be calm and quietly balanced as we sit, stand and lie down and it can also help us free up so we are more dynamic, moveable and even stronger without having to pump iron!

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