Check your posture. Without even realizing it, you are deconstructing one of the most important traits of your health and well-being.
I’m going to cut to the chase and deliver the take-home message, just in case you have a short attention span. If you train with good form for 5 hours per week and you move like poop the other 163, you’re not helping yourself out. It’s as simple as that. Educate yourself, and take control. Precise movements that you can control, things like sitting and standing with “good” posture, will single-handedly make you feel better and move better.
For the sake of keeping this post simple, we’ll assume good posture is the ability to control the movement in and out of what our society considers neutral alignment (head in line with upper back in line with low back in line with hips). Turns out your mother really WAS doing you a favor when she would harp on your posture at the dinner table. Now do yourself the favor and — read on.
Ask yourself this,
- How long do you spend in a seated position each day?
- How long does it take you in that seated position for you upper/lower back to feel “tight and achy”?
- Do you constantly complain of having “tight” hamstrings?
- Is neck pain and/or frequent headaches a part of your everyday life?
- Do you have shoulder pain?
- Do you have pain back or front of your thighs?
Question: What is the telltale sign that you’re doing something wrong in regards to stagnant posture?
Answer: Any slight or excessive Hunchback of Notre Dame thing going on. That big (or not so big) bump on the lower portion of the neck is known as Dowager’s hump. Not pretty and not comfortable. Don’t be a caveman sitting at a fire.
Examine your body
We sit for hours each day with the back rounded, shoulders and shoulder blades rolled forward, and our head sitting inches in front of your torso looking too far up or too far down. This may be, more likely than not, how you are currently sitting (unless of course, you tried to sit up tall because you’re reading a post about posture).
Let’s chat about the two main posture based issues we deal most often with, lower cross syndrome and upper cross syndrome.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Lower cross syndrome
Lower cross syndrome deals with every day “sitting around” and the joint that pretty much effects all other joints of the body: the hip joint. In the body, you can have “long and weak” muscles as well as “short and weak” muscles. Excessive sitting without proper mechanics can often result in: short/tight hip flexors (psoas, reclusive femoris, TFL); long/weak glutes; and long or short/weak lumbar/core stabilizers.
When standing after excessive poor sitting posture, these two bullet points cause the hip joint to “anteriorly tilt.” For visualization’s sake, an anteriorly tilted pelvis is best described with a tight, arched lower back. When your pelvis tilts forward for an extended period of time the glutes have a much harder time doing their job to contract fully. Inefficient glute activity forces the low back (erector spinae and quadratus lumborum) and hamstrings to overwork. These overactive muscles do the work that the glutes should be doing, causing them to complain, creating pain. So is your problem from the areas where you feel the pain or is the problem really the underactive muscles that need to be addressed? (I hope you know the answer by now.)
Tight Hip flexors → Weak Glutes → Overactive Hamstring & Erector Spinae/Underactive core stabilizers → Pain
Upper Cross Syndrome
Upper Cross Syndrome has a similar short/tight long/weak relationship within the upper body. The rounded, forward posture of our beloved hunchback friend is caused by excessive tightness in the front of the chest, including the pec muscles, and short, tight muscles in the back of the neck. The front of the neck is long and weak, and the upper back muscles between the shoulder blades become long and weak. Overall, lengthening the chest muscles and strengthen the upper back muscles will allow you to be able to sit in a more upright, neutral position.
There are multiple things we do at Greenwich Sports Medicine to address this issue. We perform different activation patterns, as well as mobility exercises that target the issues. It is important to realize that form in the gym and form in your everyday movement are two huge factors that can and will impact your body. Trainers and physical therapists can help you control your form and movements inside the weight room. Once you walk out of those gym doors, the rest is on you!
In conclusion :
Help me help you! Sit up straight like your mother told you to do. Put your feet flat on the floor, drop your shoulders down, and put your head, neck, and chin forward. Look at how much taller you look already! Ok, wait, maybe I AM turning into my mother …
A final note on Stretching and Mobility Work:
Strength training is super helpful in the fight against upper and lower cross syndrome. However, it happens to only be about one-third of our solution. We must hammer stretching and mobility of the antagonist muscles (chest, shoulder internal rotators, hip flexors) to complete the circle and do our best to prevent back pain as well as improve posture.
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