In part 1 of this article series I touched on posture and the effect modern life is having on it. It is becoming a major problem and unfortunately due to the rat race that most of us live in, sitting for long periods is more-or-less inevitable. But what can we do to help overcome the postural problems associated with too much sitting? We can’t tell a client to quite their job (or quit our own desk-job, if we have one) as it’s bad for their posture. So we need to design workouts to combat and overcome the problems that everyday life brings up. We also need to give more correct information on the small lifestyle changes that can be made to help improve posture without needing to make major career changes and go live off the land like our palaeolithic ancestors.
In part 2 of this article series I’m going to tear into current fitness trends and, hopefully, point out how wrong they are. There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings of human movement and biomechanics, and unfortunately these have filled the industry with conflicting information that at best leave people confused and at worst could be causing more problems than they solve. So, today I’m going to attempt to cut out the bulls**t, then in part 3 I’ll come back in with some good advice based on my understanding of human movement…
1. Forget about maintaining neutral spine
As I already mentioned in part 1, the spine is amazing at generating power from the smallest and simplest movement (e.g. a small amount of rotation, flexion or extension). Furthermore, do you really want a rigid posture like you’ve just sat on a very long pole? Hopefully not! You should want your spine to move and adapt to the environment it is in – a flexible spine will improve your posture no end. If all you can do is hold it straight then you are just opening the door for other movement compensation problems. Check out this great blog from Neil Poulton (aka. physioblogger) for a little more info on movement compensations.
2. Stop cueing the action of squeezing muscles
I’m talking about cueing specifically when doing certain exercises – for example, it’s very common to hear in an exercise class or gym ‘squeeze your glutes/abs’. In my opinion this approach just doesn’t work long-term and it won’t help with muscle activation – you don’t walk around all day squeezing your tummy and bum so there is no carry-over into everyday function. (Note: This is different to the concept of bracing, bracing is needed in many sporting situations but it doesn’t affect posture – you only brace for short bursts whereas posture lasts all day. It’s different muscles of different types doing different functions.)
3. Stop performing seated exercises with an extended spine
For example, stop pushing your chest out to maintain form – this will not help your posture! Exercises like cable rows where you push out your chest don’t resemble sitting at your desk at work and won’t help with keeping your back straight….they will also just hinder performance! Just watch an Olympic rower in action – they get huge amounts of flexion of the spine to fully engage the Lats….the spine flexes then extends! It may feel like ‘cheating’ on an exercise but you’re really just getting the most out of the muscle and unleashing its full potential.
4. Building up muscle strength in your back will not make much of a difference
Being able to stack the Lat pull down with twice your bodyweight will not guarantee good posture. In fact if you take a look at most ‘meatheads’ in the gym, they don’t have great posture but they can load the Lat pull down with ease….in fact, I could argue that muscle strength is part of the problem (just not a major one).
5. Stretching your pecs and chest won’t do anything
It is unlikely that building muscle in your chest will have much effect on your posture. Stretching may help a little with muscle stiffness but to increase flexibility a little 30 second stretch at the end of a heavy concentric weight session will do sweet FA.
6. Strengthening your abs will not take the pressure off your lower back!
As I said in point 4, it’s not strength in the muscle that is the issue. It’s more about subconscious muscle activation – coming back to point 1, we need the abs to be ‘subconsciously active’. This is why the sit-up is useless…”ok, now lie down and squeeze your abs to slowly bring your head towards the ceiling, and don’t tense your neck and do this and do that!” Basically, too much cuing = too little subconscious movement.
Ok, so I got up on my high horse a little there! This is not an exhaustive list on all the rubbish out there on postural improvement but it does highlight the ones that I have come across time and time again. In part 3 of this article series I’m going to talk about and demonstrate what we should be doing to improve our posture and get our muscles active with some basic kit and simple exercises that anybody can perform.
Again any and all comments and questions are welcome. Until next time!