Posture: Look Good, Feel Good.
Daily life is full of situations where your posture may be lacking and, as a result, hard on your body. Counter the laziness that leads to slouching, having your shoulders rounded forward, and your head jutting out. Eliminating these from your life will make you feel and look better.
What is Perfect Posture?
The spine is engineered like a spring. There is a gradual S-like curve that allows for shock absorption and acts as an anchor for your arms and legs to securely attach to. Slouching or hunching can compromise the spring.
When you analyze your posture in the mirror, there are a few things you need to look for. Looking from the front you should be able to draw three straight and level lines connecting your ears, shoulders, and hips. You may notice one shoulder is lower than the other. This could mean that the muscles on the low side are not doing their job and need to be strengthened to hold your shoulder up. The other possibility is that the muscles are too tight on the high side and are pulling the shoulder up too much. Both are bad and create problems.
If you look from the side you should see your ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle line up. If any of these checkpoints are off, it will have its effect downstream. For example, if you notice your ear is way in front of your shoulder, gravity is going to put extra stress and tension on your neck, upper back, and shoulders.
Think of it like holding a bowling ball right against your chest. In that position, the bowling ball is not significantly heavy. If you were to straighten your arms and hold it out in front of you, you would feel a significant difference in the stress placed on your body. This concept applies for each aspect of your posture.
What Can Bad Posture Lead to?
Every day I find myself talking to patients about improving their posture to decrease their pain and improve the efficiency of their body. Many times they will look at me as if to say “That is too easy of an answer. There has got to be more to it.” The truth is, poor posture sets you up for a wide variety of aches, pains, and injuries. It is a slippery slope with negative effects that can add up throughout life.
The common conditions that occur as a result of poor posture are headaches, decreased range of motion (feeling perpetually tight and achy), increased sprain/strain risk, joint degeneration, and disc injury. Most of these can be summed up by two syndromes: Upper cross syndrome and lower cross syndrome.
Upper cross syndrome involves the neck, upper back, and chest. Your traps, levator scapula, and pecs become tight. This pulls your shoulders forward and slightly up giving you the feeling that your shoulders seem to always be touching your ears. Because of this, your rhomboids, serratus anterior, and deep neck flexors become stretched out and weakened.
Lower cross syndrome involves the low back, hips, and abs. Your low back and iliopsoas muscles become tight. This results in hyperextending your low back. From there your glutes and abs begin to weaken.
Activities That Usually Need Improvement
So much of what we do throughout the day discourages good posture. Desk work, electronics, and driving are especially difficult because these activities happen right in front of you which makes it easy to gradually start hunching and slouching. The longer you stay in these positions, the more difficult it is to maintain your posture. Here are some things you can do in and out of the gym to increase your odds.
Break up your stagnant time. Have you been working on a project and looked up at the clock to realize that you have not moved for a few hours? Set a timer for every 30-45 minutes to remind you to get up and walk around a little bit. This will help reset your body.
Elevate your electronics. Where the head goes, the body will follow. Before you know it, you’ll virtually be laying on your desk. Make sure your computer monitor is elevated to eye level so that you are not constantly curled forward and looking down. This same concept applies with smartphones and tablets.
Don’t rearrange your mirrors while driving. When you first get into your car, sit up straight. Put your back and headrests in the right position to support your posture. From there arrange your mirrors accordingly. If you notice that you cannot see as well through your mirrors while you are driving, fight the urge to move the mirror. Instead, reset your body. You most likely began slouching, hunching, or leaning.
Exercises Outside of the Gym
Most of the success with posture is about creating and maintaining the habit. Sometimes you may need a reminder such as someone poking you between the shoulder blades when you begin hunching forward. Here are some exercises you can do throughout the day to remind your muscles what their jobs are.
Chin tucks. The purpose of this exercise is to keep your chin from jutting forward. The easiest way to visualize this is to give yourself a double chin. Be sure not to pull your chin to your chest. The roof of your mouth should stay parallel to the floor. You will notice a tension deep in the front of your neck and a stretch at the base of your skull. If you feel a sharp pain, do less of a pull.
Scapular squeezes. This exercise is to remind your back to pull your shoulders down and back instead of letting your shoulders fall forward. Simply squeeze your shoulder blades together and down.
Abdominal contractions. All you need to do is sit/stand straight and firmly squeeze your core/abs. You should feel the contraction in your abs and low back. You may feel like your spine is getting longer while you are doing it. Do not contract in a way that curls your spine forward.
For each of the exercises, do 5-10 reps, holding the position for about 5 seconds each time. Since consistency is the most important part, choose numbers that you are confident you can be consistent with. Do these a handful of times throughout the day. Most people prefer to link them to an activity such as getting a drink or going to the restroom making it easier to be consistent.
Exercises at the Gym:
Each of these exercises have many variations. In general, each of the variations will work the right muscles in a slightly different way. Since life is variable, it is important that your exercises at the gym account for the ever-changing obstacles of life.
Back exercises are especially important since the pecs can easily overpower the muscles of the upper back. I usually recommend that people do 3 back exercises for every 2 chest exercises to maintain a healthy chest to back ratio.
When doing these exercises, shoot for 3 sets of 10 and feel free to adjust the numbers as needed. Be sure to hold the end contraction point for a few seconds to ensure that you’re focusing on the right muscles. For example, it is easy for rows to become more of a bicep exercise than a back exercise. By focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end, you will be reminding your back to engage throughout the lift so that you can reap the benefits.
|Upper Back||Abs & Lower Back||Other|
|Rows (Seated,bent over, etc.)||Planks (Neutral and Side)||Yoga|
|Lat Pulls & Pull-ups||Supermans||Pilates|
|Reverse Flies||Back Extensions|
To Sum It All Up
If you are lazy with your posture throughout the day, it will follow you to the gym. You will not be able to simply flip a switch. This will lead to inefficient body movements or even injury with exercise and daily activities. Remember to keep you head and shoulders back, chest out, and back straight.
About the author
Dr. Stephen Workman is a chiropractic physician practicing in Cedar City, Utah. Dr. Workman specializes in sport injuries and performance. He has treated many professional athletes, dancers, and musicians over the years. In addition to his Doctorate in Chiropractic, he has a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine and two Bachelor’s degrees in Human Biology and Exercise Science. Dr. Workman enjoys all forms of exercise, sports, and outdoor activities. He is also a drummer and an avid foodie. Dr. Workman can be reached at DocSWorkman@gmail.com.