You’ve been told: “Don’t slouch”, “Keep your shoulders back”, “don’t drop your head”, and by God, “Sit up straight”. You’ve been nagged ever since you graduated from the highchair; always told it’s important to practice good posture. But until now, you’ve never been told why.
When it comes to working out, what are our main concerns? If you’re a guy, you probably want to build a bit of muscle, burn some fat, gain strength and get lean. If you’re a girl, you likely focus your efforts on weight-loss, getting toned, and total body conditioning. But goals aside, let me ask you this: How many hours in the gym do you spend working on your posture? Whether you’re a beginner, or an Olympic athlete, I’m willing to bet “None” is your answer.
Why should you devote your time and effort to something as mundane as posture when strength and toning exercises give you all the rewards you’re looking for? Or do they? The truth of the mater is, you can spend all the time in the world getting lean and building muscle, but if your building on a poorly aligned foundation, all you’d be doing is furthering the development of an awkward physic. If that’s not enough to get you thinking, consider this; muscular imbalances, movement compensations, back pain, joint pain, and injuries of all sorts, are a direct result of maintaining and nurturing, avoidably bad posture.
Before we begin taking steps to correct bad posture (next week’s installment), let’s have a look at some of the things we do on a daily basis that contribute to it: Like it or not, we have become excellent at sitting. Many of us sit at computers all day. We sit in the car on the way to work, we sit the whole time we’re at work, we sit on the ride home, and then, when we get there, we’re so pooped from all that sitting that we fall back on the couch, click on the TV and sit some more. All the while, keeping our legs bent up at the waist and hip flexor muscles in a shortened position. You’d think we’d give our bodies a break from this position, but then what do we do? Get into bed and spend eight hours with our legs curled up in the fetal position. And we wake up the next morning wondering why our belts slope forward and we have low back pain.
Tight hip flexors are just the tip of the posture-distorting ice-burg. Other common problems include: a forward set head, rounded shoulders, flattening feet, turned out hips, knocking knees, excessively curved lower backs, and the list goes on.
Think about the way your bodies are being used; the points of tensions, and the compensations you make: Secretaries; sandwiching the phone between their ear and scrunched up shoulder, mothers; hiking-up their hip to carry their child, women; walking with shoulder bags. Not to mention the slue of problems that come from wearing those high heals.
You see, all of our daily movements have a direct effect on our posture. And, in turn, our posture dictates what types movements we are capable of making. Whether you place greater importance on abilities or aesthetics, I assure you this, your parents were right… good posture is important and should be practices.
Stay tuned for next week’s column when I give you the posture test, and reveal what exercise you should be doing to improve yours.
First things first, how can you tell if you have bad posture? Stand up with your back to the wall, making sure your feet are together, toes point forward and heals are against the wall. You may feel the urge to stand tall and straighten yourself out, but for the purpose of this assessment, try and refrain from “fixing” your posture on the spot. Instead, stand in a position that feels normal for you, one that is relatively relaxed.
Ok. If in this position, the back of you head and shoulders lie flat against the wall, belt line is parallel to the floor, and you can fit only two fingers between the wall and your lower back, then congratulations, you have good posture. But, if you find that your head is moved forward, shoulders round away from the wall, you can fit three or more fingers behind your lower back, and belt buckle points to the floor, then read on, there’s work to be done.
Your posture is determined by the relationship between strength and flexibility. When you flex (or shorten) one muscle, its apposing muscle lengthens. Over time, imbalanced movement patterns cause the over-active muscles to remain in a shortened position, while their antagonists lengthen in order to compensate. They also weaken as a result. Because our muscles cross over our joints, our joint alignment then becomes reset, and in effect, our posture distorted.
Here’s what you can do to restore your body to its most efficient, functional, and aesthetically pleasing state:
Problem: Forward set head – weak cervical muscles and tight neck –
Solution: Stretch neck muscles – look straight ahead, tilt you head to one side until you feel a stretch along the opposite side of your neck. Hold here for 4 seconds, then, tilt to the other side. Repeat 5 ~ 10 times. In addition to this, drawing your chin backward during all standing exercises, odd-looking as it may be, will serve to strengthen your deep cervical muscles and help train them to hold your head back.
Problem: Rounding shoulders – weak upper back and tight chest –
Solution: Stretch chest muscles by spreading your arms out in a doorframe with your elbows above shoulder level. Step your feet back and lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your chest. Then work on strengthening your rear shoulder muscles by lying on your side and using a light weight, five pounds should do it. Holding the weight in your top hand, keep your elbow to your hip and forearm at a right angle as you raise and lower the weight in front of you by rotating out from the shoulder. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.
Problem: Hips tilt forward – tight hip flexors, tight lower back, and weak abdominals –
Solution: Stretch hip flexors by kneeling down on one knee and arching your back. Shift your weight forward until you feel a decent stretch in the upper thigh of your back (kneeling) leg. Stretch your lower back by lying flat on the floor and hugging your knees to your chest; then release and repeat, this time pulling one knee in at a time while leaving the other leg extended.
Make these exercises a part of your regular routine. They’ll only take up a small portion of your time, and it won’t be long before you can proudly show off your new and improved, sleek physic.