What is posture all about?
Posture is all about the position that you hold your body in. Attention needs to be paid to your body when you are moving, sitting, sleeping and exercising, that’s pretty much all the time! Your body needs to be held in its natural position when moving, sitting, sleeping and exercising so that you aren’t causing any uneven wear and tear on your joints, ligaments or tendons, this uneven wear and tear could have lasting effects on your body. It is important to learn how to move correctly. We are all born with the ability to move properly but as we age and become lazy we find short cuts (poor posture). These shortcuts (poor posture) can lead to wear and tear and imbalances on joints, ligaments and tendons which we call injuries.
Posture is all about balance. Our skeletal system is based upon muscles supporting and helping each other to function. Every muscle in the body has a muscle that works with it in an opposing movement. This is known as the agonist and antagonist.
For example: the bicep and the tricep. The biceps muscle is found at the top of the arm closet to your chest. The biceps function is to flex the arm (bringing the joint closer together). The triceps is found on the back of the upper arm (also know as bingo wings). The triceps function is to extend/straighten the arm (lengthens the arm out, lengthens the joint away from itself). While one is working the other is relaxing. It is this balance between these muscles that allows pain free unrestricted movement.
If one muscle is stronger (over worked) and tighter then the opposing muscle will become weakened and lengthened. This muscle group is then unbalanced. Which will have a knock on effect on the joint that these muscles are connected to. Eventually this imbalance can lead to an injury, pain and discomfort. This is why keeping your muscles balanced is key to maintaining good posture and pain free movement.
You need to move your body in its optimal pattern so that when you move your body from moment to moment and movement to movement you aren’t doing any harm. This is what is known as Functional Movement. If you are not moving your body in an optimal movement pattern you maybe be causing damage to your joints, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
It is so important to learn how to move correctly. We are all born with the ability to move properly but as we age we become lazy and we find short cuts. These shortcuts can lead to poor posture and eventually injuries. Look at a toddler they can sit in a perfect squat position all day long. Ask a 35 year old to sit in a squat position, unfortunately most 35 year olds cannot even get into a proper squat position let alone sit in the position for five minutes.
You need to learn how to protect your back most importantly. Learning good posture is hard to do from a book you really need to get someone (a trained professional – personal trainer, pilates instructor, physiotherapist) to help you here. This is well worth the investment.
Good posture is key to performing any movement.
- Chin is parallel with the floor.
- Shoulders should be under your ears, rolled back and down.
- Chest out.
- Arms should be by your sides, with your ring finger facing out to the side of your body not to the front and under your ears.
- Belly button activated and pulled in towards your spine.
- Hips/Pelvis is in a neutral position, should be level with a good lower back curvature (lumbar spine).
- Knees and feet should be pointing forward
- Weight should be evenly distributed between both sides of your body.
- Head is straight
- Neck is nice and long with shoulders lengthened away from your ears.
- Shoulders are level
- Hips are level
- Knees and feet should be pointing forward
Activate your core (like a corset – switch your core muscles on, tense up as if protecting yourself from a punch in your stomach) to keep your back supported, when you are lifting or picking something up like your shopping, your child up (or grandchild) or lifting weights in the gym. There is a lot going on here that is why you need a trained professional to show you how achieve good posture.
When attempting to lift something:
Make sure to square off, what is meant here is do not twist or bend from your waist to pick something up. Come in front of the object, keep your back in a neutral position, bend your knees (not from your waist) and lift with your legs not your back.
Think of your back as being made from a string of 24 bones called vertebrae. The spine is divided into 3 areas:
1. Cervical vertebrae (the top 7) – run from your skull to the bottom of the neck.
2. Thoracic vertebrae (middle 12) – attach to your ribs, so where you have a rib you will have a thoracic vertebrae – from the top of your back to your last rib.
3. Lumbar spine (lower 5) – goes from your last rib to the base of your back. This is generally the area that gets injured most.
To prevent injuring your back when lifting something up try to keep your back in a neutral position aka your back from hips to head should not move (your 24 vertebrae should act as one). If your back breaks (a bend or a curvature) when you are picking something up you have weaken the strength of 24 bones working together and most of the weight that you have just picked up is now going through one of your vertebrae instead of the whole string of 24. Your back works best when it can distribute the weight between all 24 vertebrae and your legs not just one single vertebrae on its own. The problem is vertebrae breakdown from overuse. In our teens and twenties we get into lazy bad habits with our posture, as the back and body has not been overused and still functioning optimally with no pain. As we age, our body with this poor lazy posture can start to breakdown and pain occurs (remember – pain is our bodies way of communicating with us that something is wrong). In our thirties and forties one day we can twist and pick something up like a pencil from the floor and your back just “goes” don’t be fooled into thinking it was picking that one pencil up, its been your lifetime of lazy poor posture and lack of training (keeping your back strong) that has led to your injury.
When lifting anything up and when you are lifting weights it is really important to maintain a neutral strong posture. When doing a squat, deadlift, a clean, snatch, shoulder press, carrying a load over head or any exercise where you are carrying a load. It is really important to keep your back in the best possible position.
What is the best position to keep your back in? I call it strippers pose – always think “stick it out!” chest out, bum out. By sticking the bum and chest out you are holding your spine in a neutral position. A neutral position ensures that any weight being carried is evenly distributed through all the 24 vertebrae; this is essentially to prevent injury.
If you pick a weight up in an “ugly” back” position (rounded back) the weight generally ends up going through one vertebrae. This is not what we want; if you constantly lift in an ugly back position you massively increase your risk of injury. You can get away with poor lifting technique but it will catch up on you eventually, (remember picking the pencil up off the floor). Unfortunately by then it will be too late as you will have done the damage, prevention is better than cure. Learn to get your back in a good position.
When learning how to get your back in a good position it’s not done using mirrors etc. you need to FEEL it, remember it and then put it to memory. It is your nervous system that is responsible for this. The best thing to do is to spend a session or two doing deadlifts with a professional. They need to get you into strippers pose, once there you need to feel it and remember what it feels like to be in that position. Then you need to lift so that you learn to maintain neutral when a load is involved. This can’t be done with a mirror. Why? Looking in a mirror at yourself with naturally bring your body into a poor position. You can’t see everything and everyone generally needs some pointers.
Where does poor posture come from?
- Not being conscious of our posture and our daily environment, modern life and fitting into our one size world.
- Slouching – slouching to sit on a sofa, to hear someone shorter than you, slouching to pick something up. Slouching places excess pressure on your spine and the muscles and ligaments surrounding your spine.
- Slouching can also decrease the amount of space that is available for your internal organs to function in. This can have a knock on affect to the functioning ability of your internal organs primarily on your breathing and digestive functions. Next time you catch yourself slouching think about your spine, your lungs and your digestive organs.
- Carrying extra weight around your belly places pressure on your spine.
- High heels throw off your centre of gravity and your body needs to readjust where its weight is distributed in the body. Unfortunately it’s your back and knees that take the brunt of this readjustment.
- Sleeping position can have an influence over your posture as you can sleep up to eight hours a night, your body is holding that position for a third of your day (even if it is while you are sleeping it still counts), that a third of your life.
- Sitting is one of the major problems with posture. Sitting tends to make us slouch and come into a flexed position. Being in a flexed position with make some muscles stronger and shorter and the opposite muscles weaker and longer. This is not good for our posture. As posture is all about balance.
- Using electronic devices, sitting at your desk and driving these all bring us into a flexed position. Being in a flexed position will lead to rounded shoulders.
Poor Posture mainly stems from Rounded shoulders:
Rounded shoulders can be caused from – Slouching:
- Your chest muscles being too tight (performing too many chest exercises to back exercises) and a weak upper to mid back.
- Being in a flexed position for too long. Sitting watching television, sitting at your desk, texting and driving these are all examples of being in the flexed position. Being in one position for an extended period of time will affects your muscles, one group of muscles will become tighter while the opposing group of muscles will become looser and weaker. These imbalances can lead to uneven wear and tear on the joints which will lead to pain and discomfort
- Carrying your body on a daily basis in a lazy posture.
- The taller are you are the more you stoop to listen to people and use “average size” equipment/furniture, unfortunately as human beings we are not one size fits all. We modify our bodies around the furniture and surroundings we come across daily. It needs to be the other way around. We need our surroundings to match the size of our bodies.
- Being in a rounded shoulder position can lead to shoulder injuries as your shoulder joint tends to have less space to perform its movement patterns. Leading to inflammation, pain and discomfort.
- Carrying yourself with tension around your shoulders and neck can also affect your posture. Tightening some muscles and weakening others. AKA stress.
Areas to be aware of: Next time you are out in public try to spot these postural problems.
- Forward head position – especially with our over use of electronic devices especially smart phones.
- Rounded shoulders from sitting/slouching to much.
- Tight hips from sitting too much can be seen by the angle the foot hits the ground, the more the toes point out (not in front) the tighter the hips.
- Knee falling in wards , when walking up the stairs, when you are squatting or sitting down – Weak glut muscles.
Tips to help improve your posture
- Pretend that you are 10 years of age again. You and your family have just stopped by your cousins house. Your cousin says hey “I’m taller than you”. You both go back to back and you stretch every little fibre inside of you to make sure you are still taller than your cousin. Phew that worked you are still taller than your cousin. Try that right now, stretch up! You will feel your body elongate.
- Walk with your chest out and shoulders rolled back and down, this will help to improve your posture but it will also make you feel more confident.
- When sitting on a chair, if you find you are sinking into a lazy slouched posture. Move your ass to the edge of the seat. When sitting on the edge of our seat we tend to stack our vertebrae on top of each other, this is where your spine should live on a daily basis.
- When picking something up off the floor don’t bend from your waist, bend your knees to pick that something up.
- Avoid high heels.
- I Y T – these are exercises that help to activate your back postural muscles. (To be explained – video).
- Become aware of how you carry yourself. From day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Figure out what activity you have the worst posture. Work on consciously trying to improve your posture.
Pay a personal trainer, a pilates instructor or a physiotherapist to educate you on improving your posture, trust me your older/future self will thank you for investing in your posture!