The Truth About Good Posture
It is generally accepted that the “S” curve is the ideal shape for an adult spine. However, sedentary culture has accentuated the thoracic (between neck and the low back) curve to a point where it is now wreaking havoc on our bodies. New research is showing that the “J” shape is healthier and can help avoid back pain. Today I want to share two common problems that be be avoided by working on your posture.
The most common problem I see related to posture, aside from underdeveloped back musculature, is a ribcage that sags into the core. This might result from slouching at the desk or even, in the case of women, a modesty around the chest.
This causes a few problems. By tilting the chest down and forward, we're moving our head in front of our line of gravity, which will put stress on the neck. By sagging into the core, we deny our organs enough room to function properly. For example, when slouching, your lungs don’t fill with enough air, and we eventually experience fatigue from lack of oxygen. In extreme cases, with osteoporosis this stature can lead to organ failure.
A sagging core is often accompanied by an anterior pull and internal rotation of the shoulders(palms face backwards instead of toward your thighs). In most cases, this is caused by spending too much time with your hands on a keyboard, but can also be the result of an unbalanced workout habit with too many push ups and not enough back exercises. Either way, that tightness and shortening of the chest muscles and internal shoulder rotation wreak havoc on the shoulders, usually causing some kind of impingement. Ow.
Here is a great 2 minute(ish) video about the Prone Cobra. It's not a glamorous move or a heavy lift, but it's value towards combatting the thoracic curvature cannot be disputed.
"Use your legs, not your back."
I have a theory that modesty is the reason behind a fair amount of our back issues. When bending over to pick something up, many people, especially women, will bend at the waist, right in the middle of the spine, compromising the integrity of the core. This ultimately compresses the discs and, when weight is added, will certainly cause injury to those discs.
Proper lifting technique is a deadlift, standard or romanian. Both require the spine to be straight(or neutral, with lumbar curvature present) throughout the lift, protecting the vertebrae. The problem most find with this is that it requires you to stick out your butt which is a tremendously un-modest pose. Still, this is the way your body was built. If you use the hips as a hinge, the contraction is powered by both the glutes and hamstrings, two huge muscle groups. Hence the saying “lift with your legs,not with your back.” Compare that to bending at the waist, where we leave the heavy lifting to the muscles around the spine. These muscles should be stabilizers and asking them to perform the job of primary movers is a recipe for backpain.
A Posture Challenge
How do we correct poor posture? First, we need to know what good posture means. When it comes to the back, many people think posture is all about pulling the shoulders back. It's not. That is an afterthought. The key to posture is lifting the ribcage to tilt it up and away from the vital organs. When we do this we move the weight of our head back in line with our gravity line, removing stress from the neck. From there we can roll the shoulders up, back and down, where they finally land in a relaxed and open position requiring little to no activation in the back to maintain the posture. Think of the J-shaped spine of a toddler. Keeping our backs tall and straight like this - even as we bend over - goes a long way in ensuring good back health.
As we all are well aware, though, simply knowing what good posture is won’t do the trick. Habits play a big part and movement patterns can be difficult to change. As a first step, why not challenge yourself to increase your mindfulness when it comes to posture. See if you can catch yourself slouching or bending from the waist. Keep a tally of how often it happens. The attention alone might very well lead to posture improvements. As an added bonus, doing a deadlift every time you need something on the ground will be a nice addition to your leg day. :)