Posture is the position in which you hold your body against gravity while standing, sitting, or lying down. Unless you’re some sort of yoga master, chances are yours could do with some improvement.
The benefits of proper posture are plenty:
- Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.
- Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in arthritis.
- Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
- Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions.
- Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
- Prevents strain or overuse problems.
- Prevents back pain and muscular pain.
- Contributes to a good appearance.
But what does good posture look like? Check the image below:
The key is in the imaginary dotted line that crosses the midline of the body. In the ‘good posture’ guy, that line goes over his ears, middle of the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and midfoot. That means that his muscles are working the way they should, keeping the joints in alignment and holding the body in the most efficient, least injury-prone way.
Why does bad posture happen?
Today, posture-related problems are increasing because we have become a society that spends more time seated than any previous generation; we are a more electronic society than ever, with people working at sedentary desk jobs in front of computers or staring at their phones all day.
In most cases, poor posture results from a combination of several factors, which can include:
- Careless sitting, standing, sleeping habits
- Poor sleep support (low-quality mattresses)
- Being overweight
- Foot problems or improper shoes
- Weak muscles, muscle imbalance, tightness
- Accidents, injuries and falls
To understand why posture worsens over time if we don’t address it, we must first talk a bit of human anatomy:
Muscle in the body is made up of two types of muscle fibres – Type I or slow twitch, and Type II or fast twitch (Type II is actually subdivided into Type II a and Type II b, but this is not relevant for this topic).
The deeper muscles in the body that help us maintain posture without much effort are usually slow twitch. They also ‘sense’ the position of our body and communicate with the brain to make adjustments. Slow twitch fibres can work for longer periods of time without getting tired, whereas fast twitch are more powerful, but quickly run out of gas.
Poor posture causes muscle fatigue and imbalances because it forces the Type II fibres to act to maintain position, instead of Type I.
Over time, those deeper, supporting muscles become weak and short from lack of use. When the muscles containing mostly Type II fibres take over, it also affects the deeper layers of muscle’s ability to relay spatial information to the brain.
They send an incomplete message and so the brain assumes that further adjustment is needed, triggering more muscle contraction, worsening posture and increasing the discomfort and pain felt by the person.
But bad posture affects more than just your body. It will also affect your stress levels, mental health and even your wallet!
How big a problem is posture?
Bad posture can have very damaging effects on your physical health (joint problems, fatigue, headaches, etc) not to mention your physical appearance.
But how pervasive is the problem?
Statistics show that lower back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010.
In the US alone, half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year and it is the second most common reason for doctors visits after upper respiratory infections.
In Australia too, back pain has the third highest disease burden of any condition, meaning the impact of a health problem as measured by financial cost, mortality, morbidity, or other indicators. Only cancer and cardiovascular disease rank higher, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, conditions that are also greatly correlated to physical activity and an active lifestyle.
Lower back pain caused over 3.4million lost work days in Great Britain last year – more than a third of the total days lost to ill health, UK Government Health & Safety Executive stats show.
What this means is that back pain and by extension, poor posture practices and lack of physical activity are costing you a lot not only in terms of health and quality of life but also money through missed work, chiropractic visits and costly pain medication.
A recent study also tried to prove that sitting in a bad posture (slumped seated position) can influence your thought process, stress levels and self-confidence, and came up with very revealing conclusions:
“Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus.
“Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress. The research is consistent with embodied cognition theories that muscular and autonomic states influence emotional responding.”
Chances are if you work at a desk all day, your posture is exactly the kind examined in this study that produced the negative results – bad posture could actually be harming your career.
Employee absenteeism and performance of staff could be causing problems for business owners too.
What can you do to fix the problem?
By now you’ve probably realised that your posture needs some improvement and you’re aware of all the physical, mental and economic consequences of not doing so. Great! But where do you start?
If you have pain or dysfunctionality in any region of your body, the first step would be to contact a health professional to discard any serious injury or disease that needs medical assistance.
After you’ve done that, if there are no contraindications, your next logical step is to engage in a professionally designed exercise program, based on your specific needs, to achieve structural balance.
Structural balance, referring to the human body, means having proportional strength and muscle balance in different areas of your body.
When talking about poor posture, lack of structural balance in most people means that the muscles of the back of your body (your posterior chain) are weaker and less developed than the front of your body. This plays a role in hunched shoulders, misaligned hips, etc.
When talking about poor posture, lack of structural balance in most people means that the muscles of the back of your body (your posterior chain) are weaker and less developed than the front of your body (anterior chain). This plays a role in hunched shoulders, misaligned hips, and other potentially problematic imbalances.
Here at Ultimate Performance, we pride ourselves on being the best when it comes to achieving results and creating the right program for you.
When you sign up to train with one of our expert coaches, one of the first things we’ll do is watch and assess how you move in basic movement patterns to diagnose muscle imbalances and postural issues.
From there, your coach will craft the training program that best suits your needs and start working towards fixing any structural imbalances that you might have, with the end goal of making you healthier, leaner and stronger.
Below you can see two examples of common postural deficiencies and what we would do in each case.
The most common problem here is having exaggerated Kyphosis/rounded shoulders. This can also indirectly cause forward head posture (head poking out in front of your body). This can cause neck pain and headaches, as well as developing a hunchback over time.
To check if your shoulders are internally rotated, stand upright in a normal position. Are your thumbs facing each other? If so, your shoulders are internally rotated.
We’ll focus on strengthening your upper and middle back muscles via pulling and rowing exercises to balance out the front and back of your body, thus pulling your shoulders back and correcting the hunched posture, as well as give you stretches and mobility drills you can do to release and lengthen muscles that are pulling the shoulders in.
More often than not we see clients with Anterior Pelvic Tilt (especially women, due to different hip structure and wearing heels).
Anterior pelvic tilt (APT) is the condition in which your hips tilt forward and create excessive lumbar curvature (lordosis). Too much lordosis can cause pain in your neck, upper and lower back; and hips.
The best way to check if you have APT is having someone take a picture of you from the side. If your stomach protrudes out, your glutes are pushed back and your lower back has excessive curvature (you’ll notice if your underwear looks like it’s sitting higher on your back side compared to the front side) then your hips are anteriorly tilted.
Correcting APT without professional supervision is a hard task. Excessive lordosis will make it very hard for you to exercise correctly and target the right muscles, because the dominant and tight muscles that are causing it will take over, thus making the imbalance more pronounced and exacerbating the issue rather than correcting it.
At UP we’ll strengthen your glutes and abs exercising with correct technique, stretch your hip flexors and lower back, as well as teach you how to hold your body in the correct position and how to brace without overextending your back.
A sample workout that would address these two postural issues would look similar to this:
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Why this workout helps improve your posture
Rack Pull – This exercise strengthens the glutes and hamstrings as well as isometrically working the core and upper back muscles in order to keep your spine straight.
Pronated Shoulder Width Grip Chest Supported Row – Strengthens the upper back postural muscles.
Front Foot Elevated Split Squat – Opens up the hip joint and stretches the hip flexors.
Neutral Wide Grip Lat Pulldown – Strengthens the back muscles to create balance between the front and back of your body, similar to the chest-supported row, but from a different angle, thus emphasising different muscle fibres.
Hip Bridge – Maximally activates the glute muscles when performed correctly.
Face Pull with External Rotation – Isolates the posterior deltoid and the external rotators of the shoulder.
Reverse Crunch – Strengthens the abdominals to alleviate APT.