August 16, 2010

What Your Posture Is Telling You, And Why It's Important If You Want To Get Maximum Results

One of the more alarming issues confronting the majority from a structural perspective is poor posture, which stems from muscular imbalances developed over a sustained period of time from a combination of improper training (exercise selection and execution), poor/inefficient lifestyle habits (sitting at a desk all day for work), lack of understanding of anatomy, or simply not caring enough to train muscles that can’t be seen because they lie beneath more superficial, aesthetically appealing muscles.

To give an idea of how predictable it is for poor posture to be developed, try walking into nearly any gym on a Monday evening and take note to how great the percentage of members are that are performing exercises that target the chest. The same could be said for Tuesday in which you’ll be hard pressed to get in a solid back workout due to lack of availability of equipment, Wednesday is generally shoulders or legs, and Thursday is generally whatever wasn’t trained on Wednesday, leaving arms for Friday. Take note to your surroundings next time around and see what percentage of people are performing exercises specific to those bodyparts on those respective days, I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how accurate that claim is.

One thing you won’t see much of is anyone performing exercises specific to the rotator cuff, primarily the the external rotators of the shoulder, which is likely due to them not being visible, which makes them mistakenly perceived as unimportant.

What is beyond the knowledge of most people is that, aside from being aesthetically pleasing to the eye when developed, the pec and lat muscles are also internal rotators of the arm, and when these muscles become overpowering they begin to pull the arm down, as well as into internal rotation. This increases the risk for shoulder impingement in a resting state, let alone during dynamic movement in which the arm is moving through various ranges of motion. When the internal rotators (pec and lat) over power the often neglected external rotators, the result is faulty alignment, which manifests its way into our line of vision through what appears to be a plateau, as the body will not allow itself to keep getting stronger and worsen the imbalance. In fact, it will do everything in its power to prevent the imbalance from getting worse, even if deliberate action is being taken to continue doing the same thing which created the problem in the first place.

It’s not uncommon to see the same people year after year who perform the same exercises, in the same order, on the same days, and appear to have no idea why they aren’t progressing. Combine the fact that their body has completely habituated to their mundane routine with the fact that they’re routine lacks balance, and you have a recipe for one imbalanced physique at best, and the breeding ground for serious injury at worst. The concept of habituation is another story in and of itself, but as it relates to imbalances in both posture and routine, the only people who seem to ever focus on postural movements to improve or maintain optimal alignment (exercises that target areas like the external rotators of the arm) are the ones who have been instructed to do so by a chiropractor because of a musculoskeletal injury they sustained, most likely stemming from imbalances they unintentionally created themselves.

Ones posture is the most direct visual indicator as to what muscles need to be lengthened, and what muscles need to be shortened. Correcting imbalances and recreating balanced development is of paramount importance for anyone if continued progression is highly valued. Without balance, progress will be limited, and the likeliness of getting injured will be elevated. This begs the obvious question of, ‘just what is proper posture?’

Proper posture from the ground up is arched feet, flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, with 60% of your weight on the front of your foot and 40% on the back. The knees should be very slightly bent, never completely extended, hyperextension being indicative of tight/short hamstrings. The hips should be aligned with the shoulders when looking from the side of the body. The hips should also have a very slight anterior (front) rotation. The lower abs should be slightly flexed to maintain proper positioning of the hips. The sternum must be held high for optimal lung function and to prevent rounding of the upper back. The shoulders should remain down and back and from the side you should not be able to see any of your upper back because the shoulders should be in the way. The arms should rest at your sides and palms facing the body from a side angle. The head should be near the vertical line of the hips and shoulders.

Now that you may have clear idea of what proper posture is, the following will outline some very common postural deficiencies.

Lordosis – is when the hip flexors become tight or short due to being in a shortened position for a prolonged period of time i.e. sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. When the hips become tight the lower back has to engage to a greater degree to continue staying upright. Other possibilities for this to occur are weak or under active abs, especially in the lower region, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. To correct this very common postural imbalance focus should be on properly stretching the hip flexors daily, and strengthening the abs, glutes and hamstrings. On a side note, now that you know what lordosis is, hold yourself accountable to contracting your glutes and lower abs as best you can while standing and/or running or participating in any sort of activity to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and maintain more optimal lower spine alignment.

Kyphosis – is when the spine is rounded forward in the thoracic (upper) region. This is common in people who have rather excessive lordosis. Basically, the back rounds forward to compensate for the hyperextension in the lower back to bring you back up to a more upright position (otherwise you’d be leaning/swaying back while standing). Focus should be on strengthening the extensors in the upper back as well as stretching the trunk flexors (abs).

Forward head posture – (pretty self explanatory) when the ear is further forward then the shoulder, given that the shoulder is where it’s supposed to be and not rounded forward, is known as forward head posture. It is very common for this to happen to people who have spent the majority of their young life in school studying like crazy for years on end. It’s also a common issue with people who sit in front of a computer daily for work. Focus should be on strengthening the neck extensors in the cervical region as well as stretching out the cervical flexors (always take caution when dealing with the neck).

Winged scapula and protracted shoulder girdle – these two go hand in hand. When the muscles on the front of the body over power the muscles on the back side the shoulders roll forward and inhibit you from going through a full range of motion on most upper body exercises. The shoulders rolling forward will also place additional stress on the lower back and cause mild discomfort. There’s a lot of work needed to correct this, but focus should be on strengthening the serratus, rhomboids, traps (primarily lower), external rotators as well as thorough lengthening of the pecs and lats.

Internal/External rotation of the legs – if the feet are turned in or internally rotated, this is an indicator of weak VMO and glute medius combined with tight or short internal rotators. To correct, simply stretch the internal rotators and strengthen the VMO and glute medius. If the feet are turned out the opposite is the case in that the piriformis is tight or over active and the internal rotators/adductors are weak. Stretch the piriformis and strengthen the internal rotators/adductors to correct this issue.

It’s important to pay attention to posture, as it’s highly indicative of what muscular imbalances need to be addressed sooner than later as they not only are visually unappealing, but they’ll ultimately prevent you from progressing while increasing the likeliness of sustaining an acute injury or developing chronic pain.

Most people simply aren’t aware of their imbalances and unknowingly make them worse even though they may think they’re doing the right things because people seem to equate planes of movement with balance. For example, it’s not uncommon to think that performing just as many, if not more, pulling movements as pushing movements will create balanced development, but this theory is dramatically flawed because of the effect that the major pulling and pushing muscles have on internal rotation, and following this advice will NOT create structural balance, as logical as it may sound, but rather could end up making things worse.

If you have any questions regarding posture and structural balance, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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