Our bodies are designed to move, but in today’s ‘urban jungle’ we spend a huge amount of time sitting and when we do move we do so mostly with bad posture. Look around and you’ll see numerous examples of bad posture where many people have rounded shoulders, hunched upper backs, tense necks, overarched or flat lower backs and protruding abdominals.

Unless you are applying for the position of the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’, that’s not a desired look! When the body is out of alignment, there’s abnormal pressure on joints and this can result in injury and faulty movement patterns. Good posture not only looks great, but it keeps the muscles and skeleton in alignment and balance.

Bad posture causes muscle imbalances

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When a muscle is repeatedly put into a shortened position, it will shorten and become tight. For example, continuous rounding of the shoulders may tighten and shorten your chest, front shoulders and neck muscles. On the opposite side, the antagonistic muscles on your upper back may be getting weaker and long in relation to the ones in the front.

As these muscles lengthen and weaken, weight bearing relationships change as the head moves forward leading to neck tension/strain and possibly headaches. If you also go to the gym and do more chest to back work, this can make the problem worse by pulling your shoulders further forward by tightening your chest muscles. We’ve all seen men at gym who train their chest more than their backs and as a consequence have rounded their shoulders forward.

Are you doing lots of glute exercises but yours are still saggy?

Tight hip flexors (the muscle to the top front of your thighs) may be to blame. If you sit for hours daily, your hip flexors are being put into a shortened position and may become tight. You may also get tight hip flexors from repetitive movements such as cycling because they are continuously being used in a shortened position.

Muscle Imbalances_2

The Law of Reciprocal Inhibition

Your hip flexors – and every muscle in your body – have nerves in. So when your hip flexors are tight they receive an increased nerve signal called ‘neural drive’. The functional antagonist (glutes) receives a decreased nerve signal. This is called ‘reciprocal inhibition’.

The law of reciprocal inhibition states that, ‘When a contraction of a muscle is stimulated, there is a simultaneous relaxation (inhibition) of its antagonist’. Since these two muscles share the same nerve loop, the glutes can’t get the nerve signal if the hip flexors are ‘robbing’ it. This causes muscle weakness/inhibition of the glutes. So the hip flexors keep getting tighter and the glutes keep getting weaker.

Lose 2kgs/5lbs in 1 second!

Standing up straight is the easiest weight loss trick there is – as it makes you look a couple of kilos/ pounds thinner and an extra inch taller. To stand with perfect posture push shoulders back and down, pull the tummy in, keep the back straight and lift the chest up. Presto! Great posture gives you an air of confidence and ease about how you stand and move.

Lose 2kgs/5lbs in 1 second!

Standing up straight is the easiest weight loss trick there is – as it makes you look a couple of kilos/ pounds thinner and an extra inch taller. To stand with perfect posture push shoulders back and down, pull the tummy in, keep the back straight and lift the chest up. Presto! Great posture gives you an air of confidence and ease about how you stand and move.

Synergistic Dominance

This weakness of the glutes can cause other muscle imbalances in the body, for example, hamstrings and lower back will do the work of the glutes in an attempt to maintain functional movements. They get stronger in relation to your glutes.

This is called ‘synergistic dominance’. A synergist muscle is supposed to aid the action of a prime mover (a muscle which has the main responsibility for a particular movement). Synergistic dominance occurs when synergists (low back and hamstrings) are forced to take on the role of the prime mover (glutes) due to inhibition.

This makes the glutes even weaker as the other muscles get stronger. Similarly, this example can be transferred to many other muscle groups in the body. Tight hip flexors can also pull your pelvis forward (anterior tilt) which can cause an overarched curve in your lower back and cause lower back pain by putting unwanted pressure on your disks.

Correct muscle imbalances with stretches and exercise

To correct imbalances, you must first stretch the tight muscle to ‘turn off the nerve signal’/decrease the neural drive. This allows a window of opportunity to then train its antagonist fully. For example, to get your glutes ‘firing up’, first stretch your hip flexors and then do a glute exercise.

What else can you do?

The other half of the programme is to sit and stand straight so these newly activated muscles will ‘stick’. Beware though, hours a week in a slouched position may undo your corrective exercises. So, try sitting on a Swiss ball at your desk to be more aware of your posture and put a post-it note on your computer to remind yourself to sit upright.

Good posture and balanced muscles for a lifetime

For perfect posture add the corrective stretches and exercises below to your gym or home routine. Once you have corrected your imbalances and your muscles are working correctly, your other gym exercises will benefit as all of your muscles will start to ‘fire up’ properly.You’ll have more overall muscle symmetry and strength in the gym. Corrective exercises combined with sitting and standing straight will strengthen the muscles that will keep your posture perfect for a lifetime.

Corrective stretches

Always perform the stretches first and then follow with the exercises. The stretches can also be done throughout the day.

CORRECTIVE STRETCHES

Always perform the stretches first and then follow with the exercises. The stretches can also be done throughout the day.

NECK SIDE FLEXION STRETCH

Relieves neck tension. It can easily be done at your work desk during the day.

Targets: neck, upper traps

How to perform:
*Sit with your back straight on a Swiss ball/chair/bench
*Extend your right arm down the side of the Swiss ball or tucked under the chair/bench
*Keep the right hand and fingers pulled toward the floor if on a Swiss Ball
*Bend your head to the left, aim your left ear towards your left shoulder
*Take your left hand to your head to intensify the stretch
*Hold for 30-60sec. Repeat for the other side
Do: 1-3 sets

Muscle Imbalances_4

CHEST STRETCH

Releases tight forward rounded shoulders and allows the antagonist (upper back muscles) to be worked fully afterwards.

Targets: chest, front of shoulder

How to perform:
*Position yourself on all fours
*Take your arm and place the elbow at a 90-degree angle on a Swiss Ball
*Sink your shoulder into the Swiss ball and then turn your chest away from it
*Hold for 30 – 60sec
Do: 1-3 sets

HIP FLEXOR STRETCH

Decreases anterior pelvic tilt and allows the glutes to be worked fully afterwards. This stretch is great for people who sit a lot.

Targets: hip flexors quadriceps

How to perform:
*Start in a lunge position with your back knee on the floor
*Make sure your front foot always stays in front of the knee
*Tuck your glutes under, and then shift your weight forward (keeping the tuck)
*Raise your arms overhead and bend to the same side as your front leg
*Hold for 30-60sec
Do: 1-3 sets

CORRECTIVE STRETCHES (continued)

FOAM ROLLER UPPER SPINE MOBILISER

Reverses the curvature of the upper spine (thoracic spine).

Targets: thoracic (upper) spine

How to perform:
*Lie on top of a thin foam roller at the end of the thoracic spine
*Keep your knees bent and start with your head on the floor
*Inhale and lift your head off the floor, exhale and return to the start position
*Repeat 3 times then roll upwards onto the next vertebrae
*Stop before you get to your neck (cervical spine)
Do: Each thoracic vertebra 3 times

CORRECTIVE EXERCISES

Perform directly after the corrective stretches 3-4 x/week. Rest 30 – 60sec between sets.

COBRA

Reduces the over hunched curve of the upper back and pulls your shoulders back and downwards.

Targets: back, back of shoulders

How to perform:
*Lie on the floor with your face down and your forehead on the floor
*Place your arms at 45-degree angles to your body
*Lift your shoulders and chest off the floor
*Push your shoulders down away from your ears
*Squeeze your shoulder blades together (Imagine you are holding a pencil between your shoulder blades)
*Externally rotate your hands
*Hold for 10 – 30sec, rest 10sec, repeat 4 times. This is one set.
Do: 3-4 sets

PUSH UP WITH A PLUS

Flattens winged shoulder blades (serratus anterior).

Targets: serratus anterior, core

How to perform:
*Start in a plank position with your arms straight
*Position your hands under your shoulders
*Draw your belly button up to your spine
*Do not let your back or hips sag and keep your belly button drawn in
*Sink into your shoulder blades
*Then push up out of your shoulder blades until you flatten your shoulder blades onto your rounded upper back
*Hold this position for 10-30sec then sink back into your shoulders for 5sec and repeat 4 times. This is one set.
Do: 2-3 sets

SIDE LYING HIP EXTENSION

This exercise isolates the glute medius muscle. It looks easy, but if it’s done correctly you will feel it. I have seen people who can squat their body weight, but can’t complete 12 reps!

Targets: glute medius

How to perform:
*Lie on your side in a straight line – you may lie against a wall to help alignment
*Bend your knees to 90-degrees, keep your ankles in line with your hips
*Draw in your lower abs
*Lift your top leg, keep contact ankle to ankle, but only with very light pressure
*Open your knee as far as it can go without rocking your body forwards or backwards
*Hold for 3 counts at the top
Do: 3 sets x 12 – 15 reps

LYING HIP EXTENSION

“Imagine you are holding a £5 note between your cheeks and squeeze it tight!”

After stretching out your hip flexors your glutes will be fully worked with this exercise.

 Targets: gluteus maximus

How to perform:
*Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor
*Place arms by your sides or hold a weight on your hips to increase the difficulty
*Squeeze your glutes together and raise your hips until your thighs are inline with your torso, hold for 3 counts then lower back to the start position
*Imagine you are holding a £5 not between your cheeks and squeeze it tight!
Do: 3 sets x 12 – 15 reps

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