My Ongoing Obsession with Posture
In the world of working out and personal training, it can often appear that it’s about lifting big weights, weight loss, being tough, and getting strong. But if you don’t have good posture and you don’t have proper movement patterns and do have muscle imbalances, a lifetime of pain-free movement and optimal strength will likely not be in the cards.
Posture has a fundamental impact on how we move and our strength abilities, and a direct connection to injury and pain. That is, movement, being fit, alone isn’t enough for total health.
I know. I’ve been a competitive athlete almost my entire life, but after years of bicycle racing followed by years at a desk job writing and editing, I experienced two slipped discs within a year and a half. The excruciating pain these malfunctions caused was a wake-up call like no other. When you can’t sleep, walk, or sit for three days, you pay attention, fast! I have always been fit, but clearly, my body wasn’t optimally healthy.
This led me on a journey of self-healing that resulted in me becoming a personal trainer and having an obsession with the fundamentals of movement, which starts with posture. So let’s just get to it. What constitutes healthy posture?
Starting at the top, your roughly ten-pound head ought be situated so your ears are directly over your shoulders. This requires a slight chin tuck and reaching up through the top of your head. Think elongation of the spine. Next, check in to the shoulders. If you have correct posture, with your arms resting at your sides while standing, your thumbs should face forward. This is generally not the case with most people; for most, our thumbs will face each other, indicating that there is a forward rotation in the shoulders. To correct this, rotate your arms from deep into your shoulder sockets until those thumbs face forward. Note that many times people recommend for this correction to move the shoulders “up, back, and down,” but I find this deep shoulder socket rotation to be much more effective.
Moving down, check in with the rib cage and abdomen. A common habit when correcting your shoulders is to jut out the rib cage. This isn’t where we want to go. To avoid this, tuck in from your diaphragm area up and back; in Pilates, the cue of “zipping up” your ribcage is commonly used. In your abdominal area, pull your belly-button up, as opposed to sucking in your stomach; this helps brace this area. Going around to the lower back area, think of wrapping your muscles close to the spine. Activating the front and back area of your torso this way should have a lifting and supportive feel.
Down to your hips, the best suggestion I’ve heard for finding a neutral positive for your pelvis is simply to squeeze your glut muscles together strongly, and once you’ve found that position, you can loosen that grip, but keep your pelvis in place.
The final adjustment is down at your feet, which need to point forward and be situated just below your hips. Then, think about rotating your feet outward—right foot clockwise; left foot counterclockwise—without actually moving them. This creates a rotation of the leg into the hip, a “screwing in,” that further provides strength to this foundation.
I know! This sounds like a lot. But if you regularly go through this routine, it will eventually become the way you hold yourself naturally; you’ll also recognize how your old habits were contributing to or could result in pain and even injury. Don’t be deterred if you find that keeping this corrected posture is tiring at first: you’re calling on muscles you may not have enlisted in a while.
I find that an easy way to remember to check in with how you’re holding yourself is to set a timer at regular intervals. I usually set mine for 20 minutes, but do what works for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of good posture, and pitfalls of poor posture (as well as why prolonged sitting is disastrous for your body), I highly recommend Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Kelly Starrett. For hands-on practice, I suggest finding a good alignment teacher at your local yoga studio. In these classes, the instructor typically has students hold poses longer and addresses the fine details to tune into to achieve the most optimal way of holding yourself. I have borrowed from both of these sources for my suggestions here. This is the method I use to fine tune my own posture, and I find it’s not only a great way to move toward more fluid, healthy movement, but also to become ever more in tune with the body.