Most people want good posture. Here’s why:
- Having a hunched forward posture is correlated with increased neck, shoulder, and back pain
- Having a hunched forward posture makes breathing more difficult
- Having a hunched forward posture reduces self esteem and projects a lack of confidence
- Having a hunched forward posture reduces mobility and function.
So how do you fix bad posture?
Through improved habits and exercise.
Interestingly, if you choose the right exercise and more importantly perform them correctly, you can also improve habits.
This is vital: most people think exercises help posture, making muscles strong and joints mobile. But that isn’t the whole picture. Exercise also grooves movement patterns, so that they become second nature and effect how you move throughout the day when you are not exercising.
Just like in the Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi has Danielson repeatedly perform movements, like sand the floor and paint the fence. He is trying to engrain motor patterns, so these movements are quickly and easily recruited at a moments notice. While in reality, the process is a bit more complex, Mr. Miyagi’s tactics serve to illustrate the point.
Exercise has shown to improve posture and reduce pain in a recent meta-analysis and systematic review (Shekhhoseini, R, et al J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2018 Jul.)
Unfortunately, exercises can also engrain bad habits as well and thus negatively impact posture.
That’s why today I wanted to share with you some common exercises that may facilitate poor posture. While most exercises when done properly will not harm posture, the following have a high potential to negatively impact posture, yet are often done:
Sit ups often require high degrees of spine flexion, which is usually the posture we are hoping to minimize in most, especially those who sit frequently. Sit ups can also place a high compressive load on the posterior part of the disc, which in some is more vulnerable to damage. While a necessary position to train in for some, like mixed martial artists, the risk to reward of this movement, even when done properly, is often not optimal for most.
Upright rows are a good exercise to challenge the shoulder and upper traps and are commonly used in exercise classes. However, the exercise requires the shoulder to be turned in while elevating the arms, which can often cause extreme joint compression at the top of the shoulder. It also makes the rotator cuff work from a stretched position, which is tolerated very poorly in those who have had some shoulder problems. Finally, the movement often causes the upper traps to be emphasized, which are commonly overworked already in those who have neck and shoulder problems. With skillful instruction, this exercise can be helpful, but only for a select few with good shoulders that can also perform them with excellent technique.
Seated bicep curls
While most like to give the biceps attention because they are often in full view for others to see, these muscles rarely need isolated exercises beyond what a good exercise program consisting of pulling exercises would provide. However, there are certainly occasions when focusing directly on biceps work is warranted. Unfortunately, the seated biceps curl is commonly chosen. Not only is this exercise not the most effective way to challenge the biceps, it often promotes a forward bending motion at the spine, as well as protracting the shoulder blade forward. There are many other more effective ways to challenge the biceps that won’t foster these postural problems.
So what should you do to improve posture?
That mostly depends on your unique body type, mobility, goals, strengths, and habits. Most will do well with some motor control exercise (scapula tilts, upper cervical flexion, brace and march), mobility exercises (thoracic mobilizations, ankle dorsiflexion mobs) done daily. And a few times a week, several strength movements that require squatting, lunging, pulling, pushing, rotating, and stabilizing.
Just as important as having the right program matched for your needs is making sure you are performing that program properly.
By doing so, you just may notice that your posture, pain, function and more improves.
As always, reach out if you need help with this.