Chances are you’re reading this with your neck craned downwards, fingers scrolling over a smartphone. Or, you’re at your computer screen, shoulders hunched forwards, back curled and spine locked. If those seem all too much like default positions for you, it sounds like you’re in dire need of a few functional, back strengthening exercises to remedy the downsides of a digital-heavy, sedentary lifestyle.
When you’re sitting at a desk for most of the day, you’re locking your joints, neck and shoulders in for prolonged periods, which can cause lower back pain and upper back stress. Worse, staring down at a mobile phone for long stretches of time is extremely detrimental, in some cases delivering over 60lbs of pressure on your neck (hence the term ‘smartphone neck’). After a while, you may have noticed your spine and shoulders beginning to curl inwards.
To combat this, Joint Dynamics, an all-in-one physiotherapy and personal training studio based in Central, has partnered with the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong to offer personal ‘intelligent movement’ classes (45 minutes; starting at HK$1,250 during off-peak hours) and primal movement small group classes (60 minutes; HK$395) at Oriental Spa’s newly refurbished fitness centre. The goal is to complement whatever training you may already be doing, whether it’s weights or cardio; improve your range of movement and strength; and in general, help your body reset and recalibrate to what a fit human being should be capable of doing.
With its science-based therapy and training programmes, Joint Dynamics has worked with elite sports teams such as the New Zealand All Black Rugby 7s team, as well as athletes such as Geoff Cheah of the Hong Kong Olympic swim team, and Rodrigo Caporal, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and MMA star.
During a one-on-one media session with personal trainer George Chan, he reveals to me that he’s studied under movement training pioneer Ido Portal (who has also trained MMA fighter and boxer Conor McGregor) as well as Jozef Frucek, the founder of the ‘Fighting Monkey‘ style of dance-infused martial art.
Outlining what goes on in a regular Intelligent Movement personal training session at Oriental Spa, Chan taught me multiple strategies to improve my shoulder mobility, which started with arm rotations with free weights, and a move called the ‘German Hang’ where you lean forwards away from a steel bar to really stretch the chest and shoulder muscles. This movement helps to reverse the effect of walking around with a hunched back and curled-in shoulders all the time.
When I mentioned I was looking to improve my push-up (or let’s face it, even be able to do a proper one), he taught me wrist strengthening exercises that would help take the pain off of holding up my body weight. For long hours seated at a desk, Chan showed me how to stretch with external hip rotations, and to take the edge off of back and spine pressure with some back protraction and retraction exercises — what yogis will recognise as the cat and cow poses.
To briefly get into what goes on in a Primal Movement class, George demonstrated several low-gait movement exercises that get you moving like you used to as a child, with hands and feet on the floor. We walked like ducks, sideways like crabs, spine and core strong like a bear, and low on the ground like a skulking lizard, a surprisingly sweat-inducing exercise.
The sessions are not meant to replace your regular workout, but to complement them. And to round out the brand new fitness programme at Oriental Spa, you’ll also find a selection of specialist yoga and pilates classes targeted at spine alignment and overall conditioning, such as Spinal Health Yoga and Pre-Natal Yoga (group classes HK$380; private sessions start from HK$1,310).