Something many of us are unaware of on a daily basis is our own posture, or the way we carry ourselves. Spending time at a desk, or on your electronic device often leads to bad posture, which, if unchecked, can have long-lasting negative consequences on your health and fitness. One way to become aware of your own posture is to perform a self-check. Below, I take you through two exercises. The first was a self-check done on myself, and the second is an assessment done on a friend.
The first posture test I performed was a self-check. To perform the self-check, I stood with my back and heels against a wall and observed my side profile in the mirror. The first deviation I noticed was my head not touching the wall. My head was about 3-4 inches forward in my natural standing posture. With my upper back touching the wall, my shoulders appeared rounded and slightly slumped forward. As I noticed this, I straightened my back and pulled my shoulders back, which presented my chest and caused me to straighten my neck, allowing the back of my head to touch the wall. I also noticed that my pelvis had slight posterior tilt, but as I consciously corrected my upper torso posture, my pelvis returned to a more level position. It does not help that I spend many hours a day sitting at a desk, reading or typing on a computer. I often become aware of my slumped posture and make an effort to sit up straight. This typically lasts for 5-10 minutes until I become so engrossed in my work that my posture again begins to suffer.
I assess my own posture to be most similar to the deviations associated with lordosis. As stated in the Hatfield (2016) Table 6.1, it is common for those exhibiting conditions consistent with lordosis to have tight lower back and hip flexors. Additionally, weakness in the abdominal muscles and hip extensors may also be present. This diagnosis stands to reason because I have had a history of having a weak lumbo-pelvic hip complex (LPHC) region. As a runner, this is an area of my body that I have neglected over the years and this neglect manifested itself in 2015 at a 24 hour endurance run in San Francisco. About 60 miles into the race, my hip muscles, gluten, and inner core musculature became so fatigued that I began putting additional stress on my legs muscles and subsequently my form suffered. Eventually, as I continued to run with poor form, I developed an ITB injury. It wasn’t until after the race, as I assessed my injury and worked with coaches and therapists that I realized the root cause of the injury was a chronic weakness in the LPHC muscles.
Having identified my deviations are primarily weakness in the hip/pelvic region, here are a few stretches and exercises that I can perform to help overcome the weaknesses and regain proper posture. Some stretches that I can incorporate include: butterfly stretch, frog, happy baby, deep squat, pigeon/seated pigeon pose, deep lunge, and supine adductor with strap to name a few. To strengthen my weaknesses I can incorporate exercises such as single leg hip lift, forward-lateral-rear lunges, back/front/one-legged squats, and deadlifts. A regular yoga practice will also likely prove highly beneficial to correcting some of my deviations.
The second posture check I performed was on my wife. She is a yoga teacher, CrossFit Instructor, and massage therapist, so she is perhaps more aware of her own posture than most people. Therefore, I expected to find perfect posture. I performed the posture check by having her wear form fitting clothes so I would be able to see her body lines in reference to the wall. I had her stand with her heels, butt, upper back, and head against the wall, then told her to relax into her normal posture. As she did, nearly nothing changed, although her head did move slightly forward and her shoulders slouched just a bit. For the most part, her posture looked in alignment.
After the posture check, I continued to casually observe her throughout the day to see if I could notice any further deviations. I did notice several times as she was seated at the table, he shoulders slouched and upper back rounded, more so than I noticed during the check. I would recommend several exercises for her to help correct the slight deviations, such as back extensions, supermans, and reclined dumbbell fly. I believe she maintains good flexibility and mobility as a result of a normal CrossFit and yoga practice, so for that reason I would not recommend any additional stretches.
An understanding of posture, posture assessment, and posture correction is crucial to my future success as an athlete, fitness trainer, and coach. Without an understanding of how to recognize and identify postural deviations, determine corrective stretches and exercises, and how posture affects athletic performance, I will not be able to provide clients and athletes with the best possible training program that fits their unique needs. The posture check is one of the initial screenings that should be performed with a new client, as any modifications to their posture will take consistency and time to really show improvement. It will require ongoing attention and discipline to “unlearn” posture that has been a part of that person’s life for a long time.
Hatfield, Frederick C. Fitness: The Complete Guide, Edition 9.0. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), 2016.