Category Archives: Muscle health / posture

Common Posture Problems and how to fix them

by Patrick Flege

We live in very comfortable times – sitting in a nice, air-conditioned room all day, driving home, enjoying our favourite show on TV! Yet, this comfy lifestyle has a price – the once heroic posture of our forefathers (and foremothers) is gone, and we’re doomed to live our lives as nerdy hunchbacks! Well, not quite. As common as those posture problems are, there are effortless ways to correct it, and get a real power-posture!

Expansive postures are pretty cool things! They do a lot for your overall sense of control [1]. Changing your posture, i.e. sitting upright for example, has a range of additional benefits: in a 2015 study, published in Health Psychology, researchers exposed subjects sitting either in a slouched, or straight, upright position to speech and stress tests. The results were crystal clear: ”Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress” (Nair et al., 2015). Interestingly, an exaggerated self-focus is at the root of many psychological diseases, such as depression, and high stress levels reduce your sex-drive! So, sitting upright could spice up your sex-life! In an interview with the BBC, physiotherapist Sammy Margo pointed out that standing up straight makes you more awake, improves digestion, and ups your circulation and general energy levels [2] Needless to say, an upright posture makes a much better impression during interviews for jobs, and makes you appear more confident, and thus more trustworthy! A good posture is also essential for your joints and muscles – it minimizes the amount of excess force that they need to absorb, according to Eric Robertson, spokesperson of the American Physical Therapy Association (https://www.livescience.com/54289-how-posture-affects-health.html).

For women especially, an upright posture eases pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles – continuous pressure wears out the bladder and those muscles, which makes it more likely for you to accidently leak urine during laughter or coughing. A nice posture strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, and makes for more and better orgasms, says Margo [3]! if that is not motivation enough, I don’t know what is!

If posture has such an amazing effect on our wellbeing, why don’t we all stand up straight like Superman and Wonder Woman? Well, you probably already know the answer – once upon a time, our forefathers spent all day searching the Savannah for big game, then hunting it down and carrying it home. You see that in the way our body is shaped – compare, for example, the amount of muscle we have in our legs (and buttocks) compared to the rest of the body. For a primate standing upright to scout the savannah in search for prey and predator, and quickly running towards (or, in the latter case, better away from) those threats, it is quite useful to have strong legs. Compared to them, our upper body is actually pretty weak! You can run for 4 hours, but not do push-ups for that long – and why would you? By diverting the heavy job of movement to the legs, the upper body became free for low-intensity, precise object manipulation. Your legs make you hunt down that gazelle, your hands make you craft the spear you thrust into it. But to run well on your legs, you need to stand upright!

Our whole body is adapted for being in an active, upright position, shaped throughout millennia of evolution. Even after the dawn of agriculture, most work was done standing upright, or involved lots of walking (imagine soldiers marching through vast lands or messengers walking for days and weeks)! Even during the industrial revolution, most work was done standing!

Today, we live a very different lifestyle. Gone are the days where our grandparents laboured on the fields or the mines, today we sit, from 9 to 5, on our desks, study, check facebook in between, eat, study and work some more, drive home (okay, in The Netherlands we cycle, but you get the gist!), sit in front of the television and watch Game of Thrones.

From this lifestyle, some common posture problems emerge, because we’re basically still adapted for the high-intensity environment of the past – evolution is pretty slow catching up with the speed of change of our modern economy, so don’t count on your selfish genes suddenly re-arranging your whole physiology! We’re basically mismatched to our environment, and our genes think we’re still in the grasslands chasing gazelles.

According to the British National Health Service (NHS), [4] there are 8 common posture problems: the aforementioned slouching in a chair, your bottom sticking out, standing with a flat back, leaning on one leg, hunchback and ‘text neck’, poking your chin, rounded shoulders, and cradling your phone.

Each of these posture problems is quite common. Let’s go through them step by step.

Slouching:

It might not cause you immediate discomfort, but it can pressure soft tissues and muscles, and in the long run cause severe muscle pain. Get in the habit of sitting up straight. This might feel uncomfortable at first, given that you’re probably not used to a new position, and your muscles need to ‘train’ first to eventually support this position. Exercises which help with this problem are those that strengthen your core and your butt. Deep squats are perfect for this! Planking is also pretty great!

Sticking your bottom out, or “Donald Duck posture”

while we all think Mr Duck is funny, you shouldn’t walk like him. Your lower back has a pronounced inward curvature, and often this is caused by wearing high heels, excessive amounts of belly fat, or pregnancy. Imagine a string which lifts you up slightly- that is the proper posture. Here again, a strong butt and core are key for getting a better posture, so squat and plank a bit more often. Also, hip flexor and thigh stretches help!

Flat back:

your pelvis is tucked inwards, and your lower spine is straight instead of slightly curved. Often, your neck and head also lean forward. This stance makes it quite hard to stand for long, and the tilted neck and head cause muscle strain. Sitting long hours and muscle imbalances are frequently the cause. Once again, train your butt and core, but don’t stop here. Pull-ups, rowing, and exercises strengthening the rear shoulders(so the back part of your shoulders) help.

Leaning on one leg:

This posture might not look so bad, but places extensive pressure on one side of your lower back and hips, instead of core and buttocks. This posture, while it might be seductive especially if you stood for a long time already, might cause muscle imbalances and strain in the pelvis, and pain in your lower back and butt. Anything that causes uneven pressure (like holding your backpack on just one shoulder) can contribute to these imbalances. Try to stand on both of your legs evenly, and train your butt, your core, and do some planks!

The hunchback:

pretty common nowadays, and here, our mobile devices and “hunching” over our computer keyboard carry a lot of the blame. It is quite tempting to sit in this (slightly Gollum-like) posture during work, but don’t! Often, this posture deficiency is due to a weak upper back and a tight chest. Strengthen your upper back, your rear shoulders and your neck, extend and stretch your chest, and pay attention on how you sit!

A poking chin:

this can be caused by a lot of things, but probably it comes from you sitting too low, or your computer-screen standing too high. A hunchback might carry part of the blame as well. To handle this, first adjust your seating, so that your screen is in front of you and not above your eyeline, so you don’t have to poke up your chin. Tuck your chin down, so that the back of your head is lengthened upwards. Pull your shoulder blades together while sitting, towards your spine, and pull in your tummy so that your spine regains its natural curvature.

Rounded shoulders:

If your knuckles face forward once you let your arms hang sloppily on your side, chances are you got rounded shoulders. Those are often caused by a weak upper back and a tight chest – frequently also from muscle imbalances, if you get super enthusiastic about benching twice your bodyweight, but never even think of pull ups or rowing, it’s time to re-do your workout schedule. A weak upper back compared to your chest might be involved! Strengthen your core with planks and bridges, train your upper back, and stretch your chest!

Cradling the phone:

common in modern offices and desk jobs, we tend to cramp our phone between our ear and shoulder. This however places undue pressure on muscles and causes muscular imbalances. Here, the start of the cure is to avoid doing it. Hold your phone with your hand! It is quite easy to fix, just stretch your chest, and do some exercises which stretch and rotate the neck.

The common core disciplines of powerlifting (deadlift, squats, and bench-press) are quite neat for implementing these tips, as executing them properly demands that your back is straight and tight, and they work a substantial number of your muscles.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from consciously working on and improving your posture is non-medical: fixing your posture every time you think of it improves your capacity for self-regulation, commonly known as willpower, according to psychologist Roy Baumeister. [5] Plainly speaking, willpower helps you to do those things you know you should do but just don’t want to, like working on that boring term paper even though you’d rather play World of Warcraft. Willpower and intelligence are the two prime determinants of success in almost every aspect of life, and unlike the latter, the former is easy to train (for example with the conscious efforts for standing straight), according to Baumeister and John Tierney, authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

To sum it up, working on your posture offers several benefits for both your mood and your sex life. While a bad posture is an unlucky side-effect of our modern environment, to which our good old hunter-gatherer genes just did not have time to adapt to, there are plenty of ways to fix this circumstance. A few nice exercises can do a great deal for fixing your posture and your fitness, and working consciously and constantly on your posture increases your ability for self-regulation, an essential pre-requisite for success in life. So, time to stand up straight!

To finish it up, here are the 5 best ways to quickly improve your posture:

  1. Be consci ous! Not quite what you expected? Well, until a good posture becomes a habit (i.e. you do it automatically), it takes time! Get up frequently, make it a walk around a bit (like ten minutes) after 50 minutes of work, sit up straight every time you think about it! It will also improve your performance in front of the laptop. Every time you notice you slouch, consciously go into an active posture!
  2. Play! Don’t just lift for health (although this is great obviously), but perhaps get an additional motivation for it. Do competitive powerlifting or weightlifting, climb, play soccer, you name it. All this will strengthen your body, and better your posture by strengthening your lower body.
  3. Squat! My favourite exercise, deep, gluteus maximus heavy squats (after which you’ll feel your butt) are great for your posture! Strong glutes serve as a firm basis for your spine, keeping it in a proper position.
  4. Pull-up! As mentioned above, balance your chest work-out with an upper back workout (they are antagonists after all). This will counteract imbalances for over-zealous benching!
  5. Core-up (Yeah not the best abbreviation, but it fits well with pull-up 😉)! Your abdominal muscles keep your body from collapsing inwards (towards your belly), and they are always working when you are in an erect (i.e. not lying) position. Strenghten this region and your posture will benefit!

 

[1]http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/raiseyourgame/sites/preparation/healthybody/pages/sammy_margo2.shtml).

[2] https://arstechnica.com/science/2015/04/power-poses-might-not-be-so-powerful-after-all/

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2295420/Stand-straight-stay-fighting-fit-From-raised-blood-pressure-bloated-stomach-surprising-effects-bad-posture.html)

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain/Pages/back-pain-and-common-posture-mistakes.aspx

[5] Baumeister, R. F., & Tierney, J. (2012). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Books.

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Spinal kyphosis: Treating cavemen posture.

By Jasper Remmerswaal

Terminology for reading this article:

  • Postural deviations: a posture that is abnormally different from a healthy posture.
  • Kyphosis: A backward curve of the spine
  • Thoracic spine: The part of the spine that runs along the height of the thorax. Basically the part of the spine that is connected to the ribs.
  • Osteoporosis: A disease in which the density of bones decrease, meaning they get more and more brittle over time.
  • Back extensor muscles: Muscle involved in extending the back (think:  hollow back).
  • Postural muscles: Muscles influencing the posture.
  • Isometric: A contraction of the muscle with no change in length of the muscle (often stabilizing, example: lower back in a deadlift).
  • Shoulder retracting: Pulling the shoulders back (shoulders blades towards each other).

 

When reading this article, notice the stuff written in the brackets. These are the more thorough explanations of the subjects discussed. If you do not understand the explanation between brackets, try to read the text without them. It does not matter if you skip these parts. Read the rest of this entry