Please Police Your Posture

After my winter class ended this past Tuesday, I tried to ‘catch up’ on my reading; I cracked open that exercise physiology textbook I took out from the library, and I perused the blogs and websites where I find a great deal of information from coaches who are ‘in the trenches’, working with athletes every day.  I probably spent 6-8 hours from Thursday to Saturday reading articles, blog posts, watching training videos, and taking notes.  I’m compiling a ‘required reading’ list of articles to add to my blog, and putting together my own required reading list of books, using the lists recommended by the coaches that I follow.  Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I can get pretty smart.  That would be swell!

Thanks to a number of the podcasts that I listen to (The FitCast, Stop Chasing Pain) I’ve been hearing more and more about the late Vladamir Janda, a medical doctor and professor from Prague.  With my little exposure to his work, the most I’ve been able to figure out is that I’m going to need years of schooling to truly understand it, but I’m drawn to that gray area between physical therapy and strength and conditioning; as Charlie Weingroff says, “Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training”.  In fact, he named his newly released, highly acclaimed DVD set that, and if you’re my mom and wondering what I want for my birthday, the link is HERE.

Now, about posture:  In my recent web-crawling, I came across THIS article, found on Bret Contreras’ new website.  (Go there; he’s smart.)  The article, from Science Daily, details a study done at Ohio State University using 71 students.  From the article:

“Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.  On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.  The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.  “Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people,” Petty said. “But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.”

How cool is that!  Just by maintaining good posture, you’ll feel better about yourself; simply kinesthetic awareness relating to psychology.  Unfortunately, too many people have crappy posture and don’t even know it.  Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re inundated with pictures of high-fashion models walking around like this; it’s no wonder that nobody wants to pull their shoulders back and keep their chest up.

Equally as unfortuitious are the occasions when those with better posture are critiqued by the hunchbacked for “walking around like an ass.” That was actually said to me one day, when I decided to consciously fix my posture while out in public.  Oh no, somebody standing up straight?! What a catastrophe!!

You might be wondering: “Harold, how does that models’ poor posture relate to your minimal knowledge of this Janda guy?”  Well, dear reader, let me tell you!  Of all of Janda’s work, his explanation of the upper and lower crossed syndromes is the most prevalent in popular culture.  Put simply, poor posture can relate to sets of antagonistic muscles being either short/strong or long/weak.  The upper cross syndrome is related to the shoulder girdle, while the lower cross syndrome is related to the pelvis/hips.  This picture may be worth more than one thousand words:

If you need help decoding this chart, it’s simple:  The ‘facilitated’ muscles are usually tight, while the ‘inhibited’ muscles are usually long.  These muscle imbalances can pull joints out of alignment, lead to pain and discomfort, cause injury, and according to the study above, effect how you feel about yourself.  Hopefully you’re beginning to see that posture is a wee bit important.

Restoring the natural balance of these muscles can simply come down to lengthening and strengthening.  If you lengthen the short muscles, while simultaneously building strength at the weak muscles, you’ll help to establish that natural alignment.  While I’m cutting out many variables, I think that increasing flexibility of the hip flexors and the pectorals will help ‘loosen’ these muscles, while strengthening the glutes and lower trapezius/serratus anterior, will help ‘tighten’ these muscles; individual requirements may change, but if you’re often confused for Quasimodo, the following might help.

For Upper Cross Syndrome, you’ll need to open up the chest and activate the back.  I think that this can best be accomplished with the following two exercises: The Split Stance Dowel Pec Mobilzation, and the Face-Pull.  (If you don’t have a dowel, you can use almost anything else under the sun: a hockey stick, a golf club, a broom, your bassoon; find something that works.)

 

For Lower Cross Syndrome, you’ll need to take yourself out of anterior pelvic tilt.  This can be accomplished by increasing hip extensibility; stretch the hip flexors while increasing end-range contraction of the gluteus maximus.  A simple combination for this would be the kneeling hip mobilization and the glute bridge.

 

With these four moves, you’re bound to undo some of the damage we experience in our every day lives; constant sitting and slouching takes it’s toll on the body, and it’s important to undo this; not only can it help to prevent pain and discomfort, it can also make you feel better about yourself as well!

If you’re interested in additional reading, here is an article and a series from T-Nation:

Finally, I leave you with this nifty little chart of postures.  I hope that you find yourself as the picture on the top left, but don’t worry if you don’t; a little bit of corrective exercise can go a long way, and you can still complete all of your regular training. (You are deadlifting, aren’t you?)

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