Everyone knows posture is important, I am sure many of you were told when you were younger to sit up straight or keep your shoulders back… Whether you are sitting, standing or working out you need to be aware of your posture, once you become aware you will be more likely to continuously correct yourself until it becomes automatic.
The way you spend your day can affect your posture, if you are sitting at a desk all day, pouring over paperwork, staring at the PC, constantly bending over, even the way you carry your bag – all of these activities can cause you to have poor posture and the longer you continue to have poor posture the more normal it will start to feel.
Emotions can also have an effect on how you hold yourself. People walking tall with their held up, shoulders back etc. will be seen as confident, happy etc. Whilst those that are walking with their head down looking at the ground, maybe hunched and round their shoulders inwards will look like they are trying to protect themselves from the world, maybe they are depressed, sad, feeling unwell, shy.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
You can improve your posture. Yay! The key is that you need to correct your posture all the time, you need to be aware of what good posture looks like and constantly check your own posture and correct it if necessary. Exercises can help you improve your posture but wont make too much of a difference if you spend the rest of your day enforcing poor posture.
Poor posture can lead to:
- Tightness or weakness in certain muscles;
- Weak abdominal muscles;
- Neck, back and shoulder tension/pain/aches;
- Nerves, blood vessels being restricted and even our digestion can be affected;
- Impeded breathing, if your lungs do not have enough room to fully expand and deflate because you are hunched over your desk you will not be getting the maximum amount of oxygen;
- Injury – caused either from not having good form whilst performing an exercise or by bending down incorrectly to pick something off the floor.
Visually poor posture does not look good. Enough said – it doesn’t take much searching to see find people with poor posture, even celebrities on the red carpet can suffer from it.
Ask someone to take a photo of you from the side; you should be able to draw a straight line down from your ear passing through your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.
Whilst walking or standing think about having a balloon on a string attached to your head pulling you up. You will have your chin up, shoulders will be back but relaxed, chest will be out, stomach in. The bonus of good posture is you will look taller and slimmer.
Ensure your chair has a lumbar support. You can get lumbar supports to place in your chair or even a rolled up towel can help.
Imagine a straight line passing from your ear through your shoulder and down to your hips. Whilst sitting (and standing) the head can easily move to a more forward position without you noticing (especially when working at a desk) so keep those ears over your shoulders.
Thighs should be parallel to the floor with knees bent at approx 90 degrees (or slightly lower – so your knees are lower than your hips), you can raise/lower your chair to get the desired position. If chair won’t adjust enough and you cannot adjust the desk height you may need to use a foot rest to get the 90 degree angle.
Keep both feet flat on the floor. Crossing your legs at the knee whilst sitting can constrict circulation.
Check your monitor: Is it high enough? The top of your monitor should at or slightly below eye level. Is it too far away or too close? You should be able to reach out in front of you and touch the screen with your finger tips.
Take a minute or two (more if you can) every 30 minutes to stand up and stretch. Even better, walk around the office.
- Injuries When exercising it is important to complete the exercises with the proper form to reduce the risk of injury.
- Muscle Imbalance Imbalance in your muscles can be corrected through strength training i.e. if you have rounded shoulders you may have weak back muscles and tight pectorals so you would want to perform more back and shoulder exercises to strengthen these areas and stretch your chest. Your posture may be affected in other ways e.g. maybe your knees or ankles collapse inwards – the cause or imbalance of the muscles may not always be obvious so I would advise getting a professional assessment.
- Core Strength Work on your core to help prevent lower back pain and to stabilize your torso. Your core consists of all the muscles in your midsection. The abdominal muscles (Rectus Abdominus) are responsible for keeping you upright and stable when you move, they assist your spine in flexing and also supporting the spine through stabilising the pelvis. They also play a big role in breathing and protect your internal organs. Try either pilates or yoga to help improve your posture and core strength.
A poorly designed strength/weight training programme can lead to an imbalance in muscles creating poor posture so make sure your programme is balanced and tailored to your needs.
Often overlooked, the type of shoes you wear can affect your posture. From flip flops to high heels and anything in between. How our feet are positioned on the ground affects how we stabilize ourselves and keep upright.
High heels – In order to walk and stay upright in high heels the body adapts by changing the lumbar curvature, pelvic tilt and increases pressure on your forefoot.
Flip flops – Great for the beach! Offers no support.
Shoes to exercise in are not all made equal – wear different shoes to run in than you would to do weight lifting.
Common types of poor posture and ways to correct it
The following are forms of poor posture commonly discussed and suggestions for ways to improve it. If you are unsure of what type of posture you have or what is causing your poor posture visit a professional for an assessment, this could be a physical therapist or even a fitness professional who has studied postural alignment and corrective techniques.
Lordosis is an exaggerated curve of the lumbar spine, there will be an anterior pelvic tilt and the abdomen will be pushed out.
What to do: Strengthen your hip extensors and stretch your hip flexors.
Exercises that strengthen the posterior chain are the ones you want to be performing to help correct lordosis. Work on strengthening your glutes and hamstrings (e.g. 1 leg glute bridges, Romanian deadlifts). Stretch those hip flexors and quads with static stretching or foam rolling. Also strengthen your core (that’s all the muscles of your mid section).
Similar to lordosis due to the exaggerated extension of the lower back, but the difference in a swayback is the lower back is flattened and there is a posterior pelvic tilt. The pelvis moves forward (not to be confused with tilting forward) causing the hip joint to extend and the back sways backwards to counterbalance.
What to do: You want to increase hip flexion – strengthen the psoas, tensor fascia latae (TFL) and rector fermoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles) e.g. squats, side lunges. Stretch abs and hamstrings your glutes are likely to be tight but weak so you should stretch and strengthen these.
There appears to be a lot of different opinions on the internet with swayback being referred to as lordosis or a more extreme form of lordosis, it is important you know the difference so you are not making the problem worse – Do you know if you have an anterior pelvic tilt or a posterior pelvic tilt? If you are unsure of what type of posture you have visit a professional who will assess you and give you corrective exercises etc.
An increased thoracic curve in the spine – an over curvature of the upper back, the back looks hunched or rounded. There are two forms of kyphosis; postural kyphosis and Scheuermann’s disease. Surgery or a back brace and physical therapy are ways of treating Scheuermann’s disease.
Postural kyphosis can be caused by bad posture.
What to do: Strengthen your upper back and stretch your chest. Keep correcting your posture throughout the day.
Also known as postural kyphosis, shoulders roll inwards, back looks slightly rounded, head goes forward. Common posture for those who sit at a desk all day.
What to do: Work on strengthening your back muscles – Cable rows are a good exercise (not with the rowing machine) use the seated cable row, or you can use a resistance band. Concentrate on squeezing those shoulder blades together when pulling back. Stretch your chest.
Easily recognized as the ear will be forward of the shoulder.
What to do: Keep correcting your posture so your ears are above your shoulders and work on correcting the other areas that may be contributing – i.e. rounded shoulders.
So there you go!