Posture & Exercise
Welcome back to the next post in my series on posture! This post will explore how posture can impact your fitness success. March is underway and I’m sure you all are feeling the aches from your, hopefully, consistent work-out’s. While some of those pains may be normal, some might be be due to an underlaying issue. That twinge in your back, throbbing in the knee or tweak in the hip could be due to a muscular imbalance caused by poor posture. Throughout this post I be discuss how poor posture can decrease performance, talk about how posture can cause injury, and I’ll then finish with an example exercises for the most common muscle imbalances.
So it’s 2015 and you’ve made a conscious effort to consistently exercise, but are you making the most of your time? I’m sure you have all have heard the phrase, ‘work smarter, not harder,’ so why not apply that same thought in the gym? Proper posture during exercise allows the body to work smarter allowing you to get the most out of your sessions. Have you ever tried to blow up a balloon while someone was squeezing it? Obviously, this would not be an easy task. Take this same illustration and imagine yourself hunched forward while the two balloons in your chest—your lungs—struggle to fill with air as your posture is squeezing them. As you start to exercise aerobically, your body (muscles included) consume more oxygen than they do at rest and if your lungs are not capable of keeping up with the increased oxygen demand than it is unlikely that you will be able to sustain the level of intensity to get the most out of your workout.
Poor posture may be responsible for more than just decreased efficiency, it can also lead to injury. I’m going refer back to my last post, “it’s all about posture,” where I talk about the hips and sitz bones. Sitting for a prolonged period causes an anterior pelvic tilt (think of your hips as a bucket, when the bucket is tilted forward water will spill out Photo 1).
I’m sure you’re asking yourself how sitting relates to exercise but bear with me; a tilt in the pelvis can effect the lower half of your body. For example runners have often been plagued with pain in their ankles, knees, shinsplints, etc. Often, this pain is attributed to poor footwear however it can also be due to an inward roll (also known as over pronation) of the foot upon striking the ground caused from an imbalance in the hips (photo 2).
Over-pronation increases stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot, lower leg, including shin and knee. As the limb rotates in too far inward it can can cause an injury. It can also cause strain on muscles that weren’t designed to perform this motion and, over time can cause an aesthetic disproportionality in the musculature.
Alright so now to the good stuff! As I stated in my last post, careful attention to daily habits that affect posture is a start but adding in a stretch or exercise could speed up the process (a myofacial massage wouldn’t hurt either)! But how can you tell which muscles are too tight and which muscles need lengthening? This requires a personal postural assessment and a well trained eye, but I’ll be saving the details of that for a future post. Since that doesn’t qualify as much of a helpful answer, I thought I’d share some of the most common muscle imbalances I see, and exercises for stretches to correct them. First, and possibly most common, is a hunched back with with the head forced forward.
There are numerous muscles in the neck that support that 8lb globe we call a head and a variety of muscular imbalances that can force it forward. However, the most common cause is a overly tight sternoclidomastoid (Photo 3) and pectorals major muscles (Photo 5) with corresponding weak upper thoracic extensors (Photo 4) **NEED TO FIND A BETTER PHOTO I CAN — USE**. Adding a chin tuck several times a day and a wall shrug to strengthen the upper trap will help the neck. Throwing in pectorals massage, will straighten you up in no time. Watch the video below on how to preform them all three!
SCM chin tuck
To tighten the upper traps we’ll do wall slide shrugs. Stand facing the wall in a split stance. Place your hands on the wall with bent elbows. Start moving your hand up the wall and as soon as your elbows get to shoulder height enunciate a shrug. Make sure when you do these though that you are trying to bring the shoulders up to the ears and not shrugging from the neck or rhomboids.
If you have any shoulder pain during this exercise then simply bring your arms down to a height where they don’t hurt and shrug from there until you are able to bring your arms higher.
Pectorals major massage
Continuing down the body, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a weak core. Often the weakest core muscle is the external obliques (Photo 6), and because they aren’t strong enough to hold the pelvis in neutral alignment the body arches (anterior pelvic tilt, see photo 1 above) causing lordosis. Simultaneously, the Latinisms dorsi (Photo 7) is often to tight adding to the lordotic curve. The video below will help your lumbar spine return to a normal curve.
To Stretch the Lats stand against a wall feet shoulder width apart. Everything from your neck to your low back should be against the wall. From here, bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Make sure your wrist and elbows are in a straight line your palms are facing each other. From h ere, raise your arms overhead and try to touch the wall without your lower back coming off the wall.
If you are able to touch the wall without your back arching watch to make sure your elbows and wrists staying straight and are not flaring out into an upside-down V. Since the lower back is staying nice and straight a tight lat is now rotating the upper arm inward.
If your lower back is coming off the wall, or if the arms are internally rotating, then just don’t lift the arms up that high yet. It takes some time to be able to get them all the way up to the wall.
So there you have it, next time you hit the gym be sure to monitor yourself in the mirror, and throughout the duration of your work out (muscles oven tire and form deteriorates). A little attention to fixing posture could lead to easier breathing and a little less pain on the tredmill.
To finish up the series I will focus on mom’s from pregnancy to birth so stay tuned!