Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Head Portage

I was struck by a recent article on about carrying objects on your head, aka head porterage. The article, Head Case - The art and science of carrying things on your head, by Jessica Dweck, outlines briefly some of the pros and cons of head loading.

Amusingly, the article says:

Based on studies [. . .] researchers have found that people can carry loads of up to 20 percent of their own body weight without expending any extra energy beyond what they'd use by walking around unencumbered. Above that figure, however, metabolic costs seem to increase proportionally with load weight. [. . .] The subjects in these studies began head-loading as children and had developed a peculiar gait that's one-third more efficient than the one we're likely to use.

Interesting, eh? But "For untrained controls who have not had years to strengthen the right muscles and build up spinal bone density, carrying things on your head actually requires more energy than using a backpack." So add in increased spinal bone density and better strength in the appropriate muscles (presumably the neck and spinal erectors, plus probably the abs since they'll help keep you in a proper spinal alignment as you move) to that more efficient gait.

The article reminded me of a book I read (and didn't review, since it was before I had this blog) called Ageless Spine, Lasting Health: The Open Secret to Pain-Free Living and Comfortable Aging by Esther Gorkhale. Her book makes a case that our way of living negatively affects our posture. What's more, it also punches a few holes in the idea of the usual "stand up straight" advice we get. She's centered entirely on lining up the spine and hips and head in a natural way to reduce the stress on your body from poor posture.

Naturally, her book contains a number of pictures of men and women carrying head loads.

I think I'll have to add that book back to my "to read and review" list. The ideas are interesting, and it's worth investigating. Not that I see myself adding head loading into my workouts straight away, but anything that equals improved "spinal bone density" sounds like it's worth reading. In the meantime, enjoy the article.

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  1. I carried a loveseat on my head for about 100 yards once. It was no joke.
    I think as a PT it is your duty to refashion the "Farmer's walk" into the "bwana's walk" and make your trainees carry crates of jungle explorer's effete British bespoke clothing on their heads. For strength. Wear a pith helmet and shout out encouragement.

    PS Title your post!

  2. I like the term "Bwana walks." We may need to do those with lighter sandbags at first...

  3. Peter--women here in PNG carry loads, not balanced on top of their heads, but in big bags hanging from a strap that is slung over the forehead. I'm sure that the biomechanics of this are different. I'm sure that they often carry well more than 20% of their body weight. We see a lot of neck and back pain, which we attribute to this practice. They too start young. Men will occasionally carry a bag this way, but not nearly as heavily-loaded as the women do.


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