What is our muscle, tendon and bone configuration? Today I am going to examine in more depth how muscle, tendon and bone work together to create your posture. We will examine the concepts of habitual structure and held structure.
In the previous presentation on Posture we discussed muscle, tendon, ligament and bone configuration and how it underlies our body structure. In this presentation we define what we mean by Muscle, Tendon and Bone Configuration, which we abbreviate as MTB Configuration.
Definition of Muscle, Tendon and Bone Configuration (MTB Configuration)
Ligaments join bone to bone, while tendons join muscle to bone. Because we choose to focus on the more dynamic effect of muscle on tendons and bones, we ignore ligaments in the title of this definition. Although ligaments play a part, the primary focus is on the tendons.
The configuration of muscle, ligament, tendon and bone (MTB Configuration) is to a large extent outside of our voluntary control. Muscle, tendon and bone hold our body together, and this is relatively stable and consistent due to the rigidity of bones and the stiffness and elasticity of tendons. If our body was more like a jellyfish and not stable in structure, then there are a lot of things we simply wouldn't be able to do. A structure made of a configuration of muscle, tendon and bone is something we share with all other vertebrates, like mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes. Without such a structure, vertebrates would not have the distinctive shape and structure that we are all familiar with. Without such a structure, mammals would not be able to walk and run, birds would not be able to fly and fish would not be able to swim.
In the previous presentation on posture I explained that bones are rigid and generally do not flex at all, nor do they stretch. They supply unmoving, rigid structure. Meanwhile tendons and ligaments are elastic; they are the springs in the body, and will stretch slightly when we move but always returning to their original shape. Muscles in contrast, are flexible and their main purpose is to supply movement. Muscles contribute to body structure in a different way. They have tensile strength. They are like rope. When you pull rope it provides resistance and will hold. When you push the ends of the rope together, however, there is no resistance and the rope folds. Muscles behave just like this. In fact the only way we can use muscles is to stretch them. When not stretched they are just limp bits of flesh hanging on our bones.
We have big muscles, such as those in our arms and legs, which enable complex movement such as walking and running, jumping and swimming. We also have many smaller muscles, some of which work in closely with tendons to help maintain the structure of our body. Examples of the latter include the intercostal muscles which join between the ribs, and the nose, eye and forehead muscles which help construct features in the face. These are the muscles that are crucial to emotional fitness and during the course of these presentations we focus almost exclusively on them.
I've said that muscle, tendon and bone configuration is to a large extent outside our voluntary control. Now let's describe how we might alter muscle, tendon and bone configuration. Whenever we do things with our body and we come up against the boundaries set by our muscles, tendons and bones, we tend to retreat to avoid hurting or breaking something. We could, however, persist with pushing the boundaries, and in so doing apply pressure and stretch muscles and tendons to temporarily change the structural configuration.
These are the two different states that we can explore, which we call habitual structure and held structure, as follows.
Habitual structure is the configuration of muscle, tendon and bone that your body has when it is operating within structural limits. These limits are the result of habit. Within those limits, tendons always return to their previous configuration. Let's understand this by focusing on the face and the chest. You can voluntarily move many muscles in your face; smile vibrantly, or frown like a clown, but when you relax them all, your face will generally return to the same posture each time. You can voluntarily breathe into your chest and expand, or flex the muscles to lift heavy objects, and when you relax them, again, the chest will return to the same posture each time. During the course of those actions, if you don't put much stress on tendons, then you remain within your habitual structure.
Held structure is the configuration of muscle, tendon and bone that occurs when you stretch beyond those boundaries. To illustrate, if you frown strenuously, you can feel muscles and tendons working hard, and there may be discomfort or pain. Similarly, if you flex your chest hard, you may come up against a slightly painful wall of resistance. When you do this you are attempting to stretch outside your current limits, and if you are able to hold it for a period of time, then this can be described as a held structure.
The human body is a mechanical engineering system of muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. In engineering, stress is described as the application of force to a structure that does not damage its integrity. All structures are built with some level of stress tolerance in place. By activating muscles and stretching tendons, we cause stress to parts of our body and create a held structure. Provided this does not break any muscles, tendons or bone then this is a normal and healthy activity. Stress is healthy provided it doesn't break anything.
Most of us know what it is like to build muscle mass by lifting weights, doing press ups or similar. This involves stretching muscles and enduring pain, after which the muscles gradually grow in size. Held structure is similar, but the target is primarily tendons, rather than muscles. Because tendons are stiff and much harder to stretch than muscles then more effort is required to make changes and changes can only be made in smaller increments. The way to build your underlying body structure is to do exercises that stretch the tendons to create an enhanced habitual configuration.
At university I studied, a year of engineering, a year of architecture and finished off with a degree in psychology, so I bring a hard science approach to human behaviour. The ideas expressed here represent an hypothesis for you to test, but I wouldn't be publishing them unless I had tested them myself and found that they are valid.
The basis of human posture is the configuration of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones that make up our structure. This structure is stable and consistent over time. The most relevant structures in our body are the chest and the face. It is useful to distinguish between habitual structure which is the structure that is formed by our daily habits, and held structure, which occurs when we go outside our normal boundaries and try something new.
Challenge to audience
I challenge you to look at your body as a complex structure of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones and understand better how it works. Try to understand the difference between your habitual structure and held structure and how using held structure can lead to changing your habitual structure. We will cover this in more detail in following presentations.