Posture basically refers to the body’s alignment and positioning, and the demands it places on our joints, muscles and other connective tissues.
When you have good posture, it allows you to distribute the force of gravity, (and other external forces) throughout your body so no one particular joint or muscle is overstressed.
It’s like an architect has to take the laws of gravity and weight distribution into account when designing a building, or a car that needs to be in proper alignment to drive properly in a straight line. So much like a building with a badly designed or worn structure, when you have poor posture you are less resistant to the strains and stresses you face from day to day
In fact it’s what you do on a daily basis that has the biggest impact on your posture.
For a lot of you, the majority of your day to day time is spent time sitting at a desk or driving in a car which typically leads to the same common postural issues, and niggling aches and pains as a result.
So in this post I’m going to go over a few of these common issues with some action steps you can take to address them.
Now when was writing this post, I thought that adding some photos to help with my explanations would be great. But my wife Ella wasn’t home and it’s actually quite hard to take action photos of yourself from an iphone.
So I kidnapped my little boy Jackson from his room and got him to be my model for the action shots…those of you who train with me in the evenings at the gym would have met Jackson a few times running around like a crazy person.
He’s only just turned 4, and I think he does a very good job…maybe he’ll be a personal trainer one day…
Ok so back to common postural issues – here goes…
Tight Hip Flexors
Your hip flexors are a group of muscle that quite literally, produce flexion of your leg at the hip joint. So if you’re standing upright, lift one leg so your thigh is parallel to the floor. You’re using your hip flexors to do this.
When sitting down, your hip flexors are in a constantly shortened state, and in this day and age where sitting down for a lot of the day is common, our hip flexors will tend to become constantly tight, which can lead to inhibition and weakness too.
Often tight hip flexors will also pull down and cause a forward tilt in your pelvis, which leads to an excessive curve in your lower back. It can also make you look like your bum and belly stick out too!
(tight hip flexors will ‘pull down’ the front of the pelvis causing a pelvic tilt)
Unfortunately wearing high heels all day at work will exacerbate this pelvic tilt due to the way you have to stand, and it is a common double whammy for women.
This pelvic tilt will often mean your glutes (your bum) which are the opposing muscle group on the opposite side of the pelvis will find it hard to ‘switch on’ and activate during squats and lunges, which means you’ll have weak glutes and you won’t really be using them during training when your squatting & lunging. Because of this your body will compensate and overuse your quads (on the front of your thighs), which will tighten the hip flexors even more! It’s a vicious cycle…
This pelvic tilt and inactive glute situation is a really common cause of lower back pain too,
A) because your spine is in a constantly hyper extended position placing stress on your discs, and the supporting muscles in your lower back and
B) because your glutes don’t work your lower back muscles will have to compensate and work overtime for a lot of movements you do.
Which is why it’s such a good idea to do lots of glute bridges whenever you can to get those glutes activating and fired up. If we can first get the glutes working, then strengthen them – it will help to even out this imbalance!
Glute bridge – end position. If Glutes aren’t working – do as often as possible.
This needs to be attacked from both angles so you also want to work on loosening up those tight hip flexors, and the best way you can start addressing this is… foam rolling.
Foam rolling your hip flexors will do wonders in terms of immediately loosening them up, think of it like a massage for your legs. Once you’ve done a good stint with foam rolling, frequent stretching of the hip flexors will really help. Keep in mind the foam rolling may be quite painful initially if you are very tight, but if anything this indicates even more the need to fix them.
Position yourself so the front of your leg is on the roller, supporting yourself on your forearms and ‘brace’ your core. Roll all the way from the knee to the hip, focusing on any particularly tender spots.
And after a good stint on the roller, you’ll feel a lot looser and you’ll get a lot more out of your hip flexor stretches.
You want to feel this stretch on the front of your back leg, right near where your leg joins the torso. You can also lift up your back foot towards your bum for a better stretch.
Internally Rotated Shoulders
Again this is just a result of your body’s tissues adapting and shortening due to the position they are in for hours on end every day sitting at a desk or from bad programming in a your weight training. I’ve had to counteract internally rotated shoulders from doing way too much bench press, and not enough rowing exercises when I was in my teenage years.
Internally rotated shoulders look like you’re always hunching your shoulders and they are being pulled in front of you. This is mainly due to tight pectoral muscles (your chest), and often weak upper back muscles, so stretching the chest on a regular basis to counteract the posture you are in is a great idea as well as appropriate strength training exercises.
To stretch your chest, anchor your hand on a wall or anything solid, rotate your body away till you feel a stretch on one side of your chest. Stretch both sides.
‘Rounded shoulders’ often cause pain, tightness and trigger points in your neck and upper back muscles, as they are constantly lengthened and working overtime to counteract the pull from the opposing tight muscle groups in your chest.
A ball in sock to massage out those tight muscles in the chest and the upper back will do wonders here. Or you could get a professional massage from someone.
Any rowing or ‘pulling’ exercises like dumbell rows, ring rows, band rows will help out here, and exercises like face pulls, band pullaparts, and Cubans are great corrective exercises which will strengthen your shoulder external rotators to help counteract this imbalance. If you’re an active member here at the gym you should be getting in plenty of these movements on a regular basis.
If anyone wants a band to do more band pullaparts intermittently at home or at work for their posture, we have some spares at the gym you’re welcome to take.
Head Pokes Forward
Again, this often comes from constantly poking your head forward trying to read your computer screen (are you doing it now?). So every cm further from the midline of your body your head protrudes, the heavier it’s going to get for your neck muscles to support your head, especially your trapezius and levator scapulae muscles
A ball in sock will again do wonders for tightness in these muscles, and will really help in managing pain and stiffness. Or alternatively you could just pay to get a massage.
(personally I think I get a better massage with my ball in sock)
And stretching regularly will also help.
To stretch your traps and levator scapulae – pull your head down and to the side (like you’re sniffing an armpit), and reach your other hand around your back to rotate your scapula (shoulder blade) away to get more of a stretch.
This stems from adaption of you thoracic spine (upper back) to the hunched position usually adopted when sitting, or just getting around with poor posture. So we’ll tend to lose mobility in the thoracic spine (upper back) when this is the case, specifically ‘extension’ of the spine (the movement you make when you stand up tall).
When you lose mobility in your upper back, you body will compensate with extra movement in your lower back to perform certain movements during exercise or day to day activities. This is not good as we want to promote stability as much as possible through the lower back, not mobility.
This will affect nearly every movement you make from a push up to a squat. A great way to counteract this and keep healthy and mobile is to do back extension mobility drills on a foam roller.
Repeat this moving up and down – start up high near the base of the neck work your way down to about midway down the back. It almost looks like you’re doing sit ups (but your not) you want to be focusing on being loose and increasing mobility through your upper back.
And last but not least, the best exercise for your posture is to keep good posture throughout the day! So watch you’re not sitting down for longer than 30 mins without either changing position, or getting up to walk around. Watch your shoulders from rounding forward, your back from hunching over and your head from poking forward
Do the opposite of this…
So hope this helps you understand things a little better, remember just because bad posture doesn’t necessarily have immediate consequences, it will affect you sooner or later if you adopt bad postural habits. On top of that, no one wants to look like a hunchback when they’re older!
It is a lot easier to prevent than to fix so try remember to maintain good posture and you will be grateful down the line when you have a healthy, pain free, and strong body.
In fact if you’re at your computer now, set a reminder in your Outlook (or your phone) to remind you every 30 mins to adjust your posture, or to get up and walk around, or to have a quick stretch. Little things like this can make a big difference!