Improving posture should be the cornerstone of every workout program. This is why I give all my clients a postural assessment before they step foot in the gym. Every time I mention about posture during a consultation, clients will suddenly sit upright and pull their shoulders back. You are probably doing this right now while reading this article.
We all seem to be aware of it but what defines good posture and how can we maintain it? Posture is the position from which movement begins and ends. In Ideal posture, the ear lobe, shoulder girdle, knee and ankle joint should all be aligned. If you have a look around the next time you are at your office or walking down the street you will notice that the majority of people have poor posture.
This is from typically sitting at a desk all day with poor ergonomic workstations, performing repetitive tasks with bad form and an overall lack of awareness about how good posture should actually feel.
Some common postural dysfunctions in the upper body are a short and tight upper abdominal, a depressed breastbone, a forward protruding head, and an increased curve in the upper spine. This is known as the Upper Cross Syndrome and is easily identifiable by the ‘hunchback.’ Think of Quasimodo. It’s not a good look!
This is a real problem for most people. The approximate weight of the head is about 8 times your own body weight. For every inch the head protrudes forward, it is adding huge amounts of tension to the neck muscles, leading to specific pain in the neck and upper back as well as headaches due to the restricted blood flow to the brain.
For the lower body, prevalent dysfunctions are tight, short hip flexors and lower back muscles, lengthened and weak lower abdominal, hamstrings and upper back muscles. This is the Lower Cross Syndrome. The best description would be Daffy Duck with the bum sticking out and curved lower back. Again, not the look you are probably after!
So how can we fix these problems? By performing a corrective exercise plan. It is very important to stretch tight muscles prior to exercising.
Dr. Vladimir Janda, an expert in the rehabilitation field states that the ‘tonic’ muscles, which are the flexors of the body, are always involved in repetitive activity. They become tight and shortened and often facilitated. This is opposed to ‘phasic’ muscles, which are the extensors of the body and prone to lengthening and weakening.
If a muscle group becomes facilitated, it will try to take over the function of the other muscles assisting the movement, resulting in muscle imbalance and often overuse injury to the facilitated muscles.
To correct these imbalances, we need to shorten the long weak muscles through strengthening exercises. These areas are typically the buttocks, thighs, lower abdominal and all the muscles in between the shoulder blades and at the front of the neck.
The short, tight muscles must be stretched and this should take place before exercise. These usually include the calf, hamstrings, hip flexors, hips, chest and the muscles at the back of the neck.
Correcting your posture will not only make you look great and add a few inches to your height but it will also make you feel so much better.
Poor posture is responsible for muscle tension, fatigue, back pain, headaches, joint degeneration and problems with the spine.
In addition, a 5-10% contraction of a muscle can significantly reduce blood flow by up to 50-75%.
Also the Lymphatic system is only pushed around by the contractions of muscles in your body when we move. It doesn’t rely on the heart like your blood does. If we have poor posture and tight muscles then the lymph, which is recycled blood plasma doesn’t get pumped. This leads to stagnating pools around the body and will cause a decline in your immune system making you susceptible to disease.
Knowing which muscles to stretch and which muscles to strengthen will help you improve your posture so you don’t ever have to worry about Quasimodo or Daffy Duck again.
The Prone Cobra
One of my favourite corrective exercises. It’s an excellent choice for strengthening the postural muscles and correcting forward head posture and increased curvature in the upper spine. Follow these steps:
- Lie face down and rest your arms by your side.
- Lift torso while simultaneously squeezing your shoulder blades together and externally rotating your arms. You should feel the muscles of the upper back working, not those in the lower back.
- Your palms should face away from your body, your head and neck in neutral alignment and your toes touching the ground.
- Aim for three minutes of time under tension. You can start with 3 sets of 60-second holds. It’s a lot harder than it looks!