There is not a one size fits all ‘good posture.’ In fact, I have seen more instances of people who have basically over corrected their posture for so long they’ve fundamentally made it worse than it might have been to begin with. In my opinion and many others in different biomechanics and kinesiology professions, having ‘good posture’ correlates into having optimal bone and joint alignment. This does not refer simply to how straight you maintain your spine in a seated or standing position. Postural alignment flows from your neck, through your shoulders, the trunk, down to your pelvis. Over time, lack of control, stabilization, and activation in the postural segments and musculature can cause discomfort or pain within ones daily life and physical activities.
The purpose of the article is not to define “good posture” but rather understand how “good alignment” can be beneficial to everyday life and training efforts by decreasing pain in joints, correcting under and over active musculature, and improving technique in lifting and sports performance.
Physiotherapists acknowledge there isn’t a unanimous decision in what truly ideal posture is, because as I mentioned- it is not a ‘one size fits all’, but tend to agree that upright lordosis/neutral spine is more optimal a position than slouching and forward head posture. (1) I am sure most of us grew up with a parent or grandparent who told us time after time to “stand up straight” or to “stop slouching.” I don’t believe they were wrong by any means. Forward head lean increases front load on your cervical spine, causing neck pain. Rounded spinal columns accompanied with anterior rounded shoulders causes weak abdominal muscles, overactive anterior deltoids and pectoral muscles, under active posterior deltoids, and under active erectors. But if we ‘over-correct’ the suggested upright alignment and unintentionally reinforce anterior pelvic tilt (APT), we then have the reverse happen: hyper-extension of the lumbar spine causing excessive lordosis and the erectors to now be over active and the abdominals to be under active. (2)
How Posture Effects Everyday Life (and Appearance):
By having better alignment you will have less “wear and tear” in your joints and ligaments. Less stress and pain in your joints will essentially keep you active on a daily and long-term basis and able to do every day functional movements without pain or discomfort from your neck down to your toes. On top of feeling better from your joints being in proper alignment, you will likely notice a better appearance thanks to an elongated spine and lifted chest. For example, when you ‘slouch’ your abdominals become shortened, causing the appearance of a midsection with rolls. Contrarily, if you over-correct causing an anterior pelvic tilt, you’ll essentially be creating a prominent midsection/rounded stomach. This being said, as vein as it may sound, correcting postural alignment will inherently make you look slimmer/have a flat tummy.
How Posture Effects Athletes:
As mentioned, posture has to do with joint alignment. When training in the gym or in sports, if proper alignment is not there you are more susceptible to injuries, especially in the shoulder girdle and lower back/erectors. This is due to postural muscles being highly involved in all compound and stability training. Among many possible issues, weak postural muscles can cause imbalances in the shoulder musculature and erectors, two of the most common areas vulnerable to injury when weak and under used. If these weakened muscles take on too much load or intensity, it may become more than they can handle resulting in minor to major injuries. I am a big believer in that pure habit is a large contributor to posture/alignment. If postural alignment was under or over corrected over an extended period of time, it began out of habit and has been reinforced by the response of the muscles conforming to that position. Therefore, in my opinion, it can be reversed partially with habit as well as a little help from a thoughtful and consistent program. A study by Toprak Çelenay Ş
and Özer Kaya
provided a group of college students an 8 week program to help stabilize their thoracic spine. The results were effective in not only helping in t-spine stabilization but also decreased postural pain and sway, correcting excessive spinal curvatures, and strengthening both core endurance and balance. Though I believe this program and any with the same intentions will be beneficial, it does also take being intentional in engaging and maintaining the alignment your body feels best at even outside of executing a program.
“Good posture” is an extremely common term with little scientific evidence as to what exactly that means. Therefore, you really have to distinguish it for yourself! If you are showing signs of having postural muscle imbalances and weaknesses, find yourself slouching or with forward head lean more often than not, or over-doing “good posture,” then perhaps a few minor tweaks could be beneficial for you. Below I have a 5 step program with the purpose of increasing T-spine mobility, lengthen anterior upper extremity muscles, and activate the posterior deltoids and core. This program could be used as a morning routine for better alignment after a night’s sleep or whenever you are feeling stiff, or if you just want a good well-rounded movement sequence before a lift to set the tone for postural joint alignment and muscle activation!
1. To begin our drill we need to loosen up our posterior chain. Using a foam roller, lie on it long ways right down the spine. Relax for 30-60 seconds allowing the back to relax and fold around the foam roller.
2. Next we need to increase the mobility in the thoracic spine. Turn the foam roller, placing it directly under the shoulder blades while sitting on the floor, knees flexed comfortable. Hold head with hands and slowly “back bend” over the foam roller. Hold for 10-15 seconds before sitting back up and repeat 3-5 times. Increase difficulty by reaching arms straight overhead.
3. Using a band we then need to stretch the anterior upper extremity muscles. Take a long light resistance band, hold out in front of your chest and rotate your arms back over head and down behind you as low as you can, pulling the band a part as much as necessary to allow your arms to rotates all the way down behind you, and then back up and over. Repeat 4-8 times.
4. Now that your chest is elongated from the anterior band stretch, we need to activate the posterior deltoids and help pull your shoulders back. Using the band again hold out in front of your chest and pull it apart with straight elbows to create a ‘T’ shape. Control the resistance in bringing it back to the starting position and repeat or 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
5. Lastly for our drill we need to activate the core with an anti-extension exercise, the ‘deadbug’. The core involves not just your abs but the muscles that wrap all the way around your torso, as well as your pelvis. All these muscles stabilize your entire body when standing, walking, sitting, and exercising. To do the deadbug, begin by lying on your back, hands either by your side or behind your ears, chin tucked. Lift your knees up positioned in line with your hips and shins parallel to the floor creating a 90 degree angle.
**It is important to note that your knees should not move inward towards your belly button and feet should not drop towards the floor otherwise you lose the contraction and decrease the effectiveness of this exercise.
Next, press your lower back and ribs into the floor and maintain this position while breathing into your lower abdomen for the duration of the exercise. Slowly lower one leg to the floor by unhinging at the hip, keeping the 90 degree angle intact. Bring leg back to starting position then slowly lower opposite leg. Do each leg for 5-10 reps, starting with the lower end as this is a difficult exercise when done correctly.
Author: Alyssa Parten