Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

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