Posture Made Simple

Consider your body to be an automobile, and your posture the alignment.  Can a vehicle still function when out of alignment?  Certainly, but at what cost?

Driving a car out of alignment can have consequences on the tires.  Similarly, living with poor posture can have consequences on longevity and health.

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The New Normal

Many people are completely unaware of their own poor posture.  I can’t tell you how many times I have mentioned posture during a lecture and all of a sudden every student gets two inches taller; draw attention to poor posture and suddenly people take notice.

I always tell clients that the body is smart, and will adapt to the easiest positions.  So if posture muscles aren’t strengthened, they fade away and poor posture becomes comfortable; it becomes the new normal.

A Little Experiment

The next time you are around a baby, check out how they sit—legs straight out in front, back straight, not slouching.  Now try sitting that way.  Not going to happen, am I right!?  Part of baby posture comes from the different body proportions that babies have compared to adults.

However, a large part of the ease with which babies hold themselves up is the fact they have not developed a lifetime of bad habits, centered on compensating for weak posture muscles with external support (e.g. chairs with backrests).

Biomechanics

In order to understand why strengthening posture muscles is so essential for longevity and health, one must understand what posture truly is: the appropriate application of biomechanics.  In a nutshell, biomechanics is simply the scientific discipline that applies principles of physics to the human body.

Our bodies are a system of muscles and bones, which rely on levers to enable correct movements.  The different joints in our bodies are created around mechanical advantages to either gain more structural support, or increase speed and range of motion.

If the body has poor posture, it is unable to function efficiently within the parameters it was designed to perform within.

posture muscles_2

Health-related Posture

The American Chiropractic Association suggests that training the body to maintain good posture can:

1. Keep joints aligned and allow muscles to function optimally, thus preventing joint degeneration and pain.

2. Minimize the chances of injury to the back by preventing excess stress on the ligaments holding the vertebrae together.

3. Prevent muscle fatigue by not requiring the muscles to work harder than they have to.

4. Prevent overuse injuries caused by weak and improperly used muscles.

Maintaining poor posture is simply setting your body up for eventual soft tissue and joint problems down the road.  So strengthening the posture muscles is essential for maintaining health over the long-term.

What to do?

The following are four tips to improve your posture:

1. Don’t maintain the same position for too long.  If you have a desk job, stand up every 30 minutes.  Depending on the nature of your work, you could also make your desk job more active by hand-delivering information, instead of using email.  Another trick I use to break up my day is to use the restroom on the floor above mine, to help me get some extra time strengthening posture muscles instead of sitting.

2. When sitting, don’t succumb to poor posture:

– Keep your head neutral over your shoulders.

– Keep your shoulders back and not slouched.

– Elbows should be at your sides at about a 90 degree angle.

– Feet should be flat on the floor—not crossed—with your knees at the level of your hips, or lower.

3. Actively pursue good posture.  Always be conscious about the positions you put your body in, whether you are giving a presentation, taking a coffee break, or watching TV.

4. Strengthen your posture muscles!

Strengthening Exercises

Let’s take a moment to unpack point number four.  How do you strengthen muscles that are made to keep your body aligned all day long?  First of all we need to define which muscles are postural.

I consider posture muscles to be those muscles directly attached to the axial skeleton (the head to the tailbone, including the spine).  These muscles can be trained so that your brain can more effectively communicate with those muscles and learn how to keep them active at the right times throughout the day.

The following are my five favorite posture exercises to keep your body aligned and healthy, in order to promote longevity.  Start out with 1 set of 10 reps, then progress to 3 sets of up to 15 reps.

 1. Bird-dogs: Get on your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly over your wrists, and your hips directly over your knees.  Raise one arm straight out in front of you, while kicking the opposite leg straight out behind.  Keep your back flat and your abs tight the whole time.

 2. Windmill plank: Get into a push-up position with your arms straight.  With one arm at a time, reach underneath your body as far as possible, then bring that same arm back around, rotating your body until it points directly up at the ceiling.  Keep your back straight.  Repeat for both sides.

 3. Supermans: Lay on your stomach, with your hands up over your head.  Arch your back to bring your arms and your feet off the floor at the same time.  Hold for 1-2 seconds then repeat.

 4. Goblet Squat: Check out another article I wrote, about using kettlebells for the goblet squat (exercise #6) and some other great exercises.

 5. Lunge with a twist and press: Hold a medicine ball in both hands.  Every lunge step you take, rotate towards the leg that is out in front.  When you step and are standing tall, press both arms up overhead, balancing on the leg that was forward.  Each step will be repeated, except with right and left sides switching jobs.

Now you know why strong posture muscles are essential for health and longevity, but you also know how to get those muscles strong and keep them that way.  So every time an adult told you to sit up straight, they were just looking out for your health, so in that spirit—no slouching!

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