White Belt Fitness

Posture

I find myself in arguments about posture all the time, so let me be very blunt. I emphasize posture in this book, not as a method for completely avoiding pain or preventing injury, but because I know that people generally move better when they are more capable of demonstrating good static posture. Especially before they are asked to display dynamic postures. The static postures near the end of this chapter are only a few examples of some of the more common static postural spine issues that might be relevant to your training, and the reality is that it’s really hard to know if you’re one way or another for sure. Even physiotherapists and chiropractors are inconsistent in their assessment of static posture. Is the posture the result of a nervous system change to work around the brain’s perception of a threat? Or is it the cause of the brain’s perception of a threat? Really you have a chicken or egg scenario, is posture the problem or the symptom?

The only thing I can really say about posture’s influence over training is that your chances are good that you should train in a way that counterbalances postural strains that you find yourself in repeatedly throughout the day. If you sit all day, make your training provide balance to that postural strain by putting yourself in other positions that provide a postural strain in the other way. This just seems to be the most logical thing to do, so the only reason I discuss posture in this book is because it relates to the movements I think are useful in life and as such should be trained.

Try this. Stand nice and tall and raise your arms over your head. If you took a photo from the side it should look something like this:

I would not add load until your overhead posture looks like this

I would not add load until your overhead posture looks like this

Notice that my arms are almost completely vertical, at around my ears, perpendicular to the floor and parallel with the rest of my body (for the most part) and I’m capable of keeping the elbow locked out. Now I have a kettlebell in my hand in this photo, so my arm is leaning slightly forward to counterbalance the position of that kettlebell, but if you removed that kettlebell, I am still capable of getting into this position. If you see further down the chain, the length of my spine, I’m capable of maintaining a good position the whole way down, I’m not compensating with excessive movement at my hips. This is a prerequisite for overhead pressing. This is the most advantageous way to lift overhead.

Many people with poor range of motion here will try anyway they can to cheat the position, or give the illusion that they can in fact get into this good biomechanical position. They may lean back from the spine, or they may try to bend the elbow to get there. That in itself isn’t really a problem, but if I add load and you can’t get into a good position to move that load, then you’ve just increased the strain in that movement. That excessive strain, if it crosses a certain threshold, could eventually lead to the brain perceiving a problem and registering that excessive strain as pain. It might not too.

I want you to avoid that risk. Physics and biomechanics teach us that the least stressful position to be in, is controlled straight up and down. A common reason people can’t get into this position is a chronic postural strain that pulls the head and shoulder forward over time. For comparison sake, even if you don’t have poor posture, try slumping and pushing your head forward, then try to lift your arms straight above your head. What happens?

Look at the door frame relative to my arms, something not seem right?

Look at the door frame relative to my arms, something not seem right?

Notice a difference? Can you get your arms straight above you, perpendicular to the floor? Doubtful. You might also find it hard to breathe from this position. This is the real reason posture matters to me, because it gives you an indication of movements that you will be able to do well and movements that you will struggle with. If you have good range of motion above your head, you might also have noticed that you had to strain significantly more to slouch, push your head forward and then try to pull your arms straight up overhead. That’s unnecessary strain that I think is generally just better to train around, and simultaneously, try to improve your range of motion without load.

In my mind, you can’t train with the greatest effectiveness, if you can’t first get into the least stressful positions for each movement. If your natural posture is slumped forward, imagine for a moment how effective you’ll be at pressing heavy things over your head or pulling yourself up towards a bar that is straight overhead. I think I’d be an idiot to tell you to lift heavy stuff overhead, if without load you can’t get your arms straight overhead, the most efficient leverage position to be in. If you can’t get into a good position, you’re just going to find ways to cheat or compensate for a lack of range and this creates unneeded strain somewhere else, that tends to assert itself as pain eventually. You posture will put limitations on what you’ll be able to do through a specific range of movement, so to combat that, we have to find workarounds, or hacks, that allow you to train similar muscles in a similar way, but without excessive strain that could eventually result in the perception of pain in your unconscious brain.

I’ll break some workarounds down more specifically throughout the book.

Postural Strain

I think massage therapist Paul Ingraham paints a more accurate picture of posture when he describes postural strain. As far as I know, he coined the term, and I find it more appropriate to use here. In the above example, slouching my shoulders and head forward, induces an excessive postural strain. If I did this frequently enough, it would most likely result in one or both of two things; A natural slouching posture and potentially pain, given that it is outside my normal, typical posture. Overdone, this is generally what leads to painful situations and that’s a big reason why posture is an important consideration in your training. Your training could in fact be leading you towards excessive postural strain, especially if you over do certain movements, beyond their functional purpose, or movements that encourage you into less advantageous positions too often.

In a nutshell, though not the focus of this book, pain is your brain’s unconscious interpretation of threat via experience, feedback, stress, environment, psychology and various other inputs. For instance, knowing that you have a herniated disk in your low back, could create a chronic sensation of pain, where there was none, prior to your knowledge of the tissue damage. Many people have the false assumption that tissue damage alone is the cause of pain, it can be, it’s certainly a factor in your brain’s perception of the situation. However, there are many other potential influencers. Many people experience chronic pain without showing any visible tissue damage or experience it long after the tissues have healed from damage. This isn’t to say that pain is all in your head, or that you’re some kind of ‘head-case.’ It is mostly outside of your conscious control, and is characterized as a survival mechanism. We’ve all had a scratch or bruise that never leads to pain until after we notice we have it, often long after it occurred. It is similar to that experience. 

It’s not necessarily that situps and crunches lead to back pain. It’s that they tend to be done with such a high frequency, under a lot of fatigue, with more spinal strain than you realize, so the postural strain inflicted by them is actually extremely high. Eventually this frequent postural strain leads to a problem, and how long it takes to reach that point, depends on your threshold of tolerance. Some people can go years, others only weeks, before that issue presents itself, and the brain perceives a threat. It depends on the person, the postural strain and psychology, or at least that’s been my observation.

In another example, carrying a backpack on one side of the body, induces a postural strain that over a long period of time could result in a postural change. This type of strain, might manifest itself as a shoulder that is significantly lower than the other, but the slouched shoulder is probably not the problem, it’s the result. After a long time of being weighed down by the bag, you might take the body past it’s pain threshold, by forcing the body to lean to one side into a postural strain.

Removing the postural strain is often easy to implement and creates a significant impact within weeks for many people, but it requires a great deal of conscious attention to rework an unconscious pattern. Think of the woman who carries a heavy purse on the same shoulder all the time, without knowing it, or wears high heels with a great deal of frequency. Many of our postural strains are created unconsciously, and must be patterned like a new habit consciously, until the nervous system learns to make a change automatically in a way that no longer requires conscious intervention. This can take a few days to several months, don’t believe that 21 days or 28 days thing to form a new habit, it’s not true. You have to teach your brain on the unconscious level over time, “see…there is no threat here anymore!”

When I was in my early 20’s, I was jolted awake one night with a sharp shooting pain down to the outside of my lower leg. A sensation that is associated with a common condition called, Sciatica. Sciatica is typically an impingement or chronic pressure on the sciatic nerve, that runs out of the low spine and into the legs. Typically that impingement is caused by a vertebral disk bulge (herniation) and the recovery process can be lengthy. It can result in a pain. However, it often ends up being a different situation altogether, an easier to manage problem, called Piriformis Syndrome. Luckily enough for me it was the latter. The fix? Turns out removing the wallet I had worn in my pants on my back right glute for ten or fifteen years, removed much of the postural strain and a week or two later, the pain subsided. When I combined this with some stretching of the piriformis (the muscle that was potentially contributing to the impingement), the results were even better, but undoubtedly, removing the postural strain helped me the most.

It is incredibly likely to me that the piriformis tightened up in reaction to my brain’s long term perception of my right hip being elevated whenever I was seated. It was the symptom of unconscious perception. It probably wasn’t that stretching somehow changed the tissue length in such a short period of time, or that the tissue length itself was the problem, but rather frequent stretching provides new sensory input, signalling the nervous system to relax over time. That’s why stretching will often make you feel better. It impacts the feedback loop to your brain, but removing the strain is probably the most important factor overall.

Something for you to consider the next time you find yourself in pain. Do you have any habits, like carrying a purse or bag over a specific shoulder? Maybe you put a wallet somewhere? Do you play a sport that is involves a lot of the same repetitive movement, like golf or baseball? Does your sport favour using one arm or one leg only? Is there a particular type of exercise you do a lot of? Do you wear high heels, or a shoes with even a little bit of a heel often? Maybe you always sleep on a certain side? Maybe you always sit a certain way? How is your computer workstation set up at work? How do you sit at work? How often do you move or change positions?

You’d be surprised how making a small change in your habits, can often remove the postural strain, and almost immediately benefit your situation. You’d also be surprised how good homeostatic training can provide a nice balance to postural strains and impact your brain’s perception. Movement itself is one of the best things a person can do to reduce pain and improve the feeling of well being.

Structure

It’s important to keep in mind that not all static posture can be ‘fixed’ or ‘altered’ significantly through training or manipulating postural strains. I think this is a misconception, as there are structural issues at play, that can prevent someone from using exercise as a way to improve it. No matter how much exercise, yoga or stretching you do, you can’t make changes to bone all that well. The good news is, if you put an intervention strategy in place, you’ll know fairly quickly if an issue is structural or not. Changes to the nervous system will occur relatively quickly, typically by about 5 sessions, you should notice a significant change in positioning. If an intervention doesn’t create that change relatively quickly, chances are good the issue is structural or that intervention strategy was just the wrong strategy.

For instance, women have a certain natural postural tendencies that are the result of structure and not static posture. They generally have wider hips, which results in a greater structural hip-to-knee-angle (called the Q-Angle) between the hip and the knee. This larger angle of load leads to more inwards rotation of the hip, and increases the likelihood of knee injuries in women. The forward tilt of the female pelvis also tends to be a few degrees more than a male’s, so women are more likely to sit in a natural anterior pelvic tilt and no amount of training will be able to bring them back beyond that structural limitations in a lot of cases. Of course, not every woman has really wide hips or a really great anterior pelvic tilt, those are just gross generalizations. The point is, no amount of training will change your Q-angle, or the natural rotation of your femoral head, or the natural tilt of your pelvis.

In a more extreme example, baseball pitchers will get develop permanent structural changes in their throwing shoulders that allows the shoulder to get more range of motion, so that they can throw 90 mph. It’s the result of years and years of throwing and won’t be undone with a few simple stretches or strengthening exercises. Trying to create a change back to a more perceived ‘normal’ position, could even mess with that player’s performance.

It’s been my experience that if you can make postural changes through soft tissue changes, they are usually seen dramatically within the first few weeks of implementing a good strategy for improvement. Typically this includes teaching the nervous system to relax the tissues to permit the stretch, and strengthening the opposing muscle groups so that greater control of movement can be made. Meaning a multi-faceted approach of massage, relaxation techniques, various stretching techniques, and various forms of resistance training. Please keep in mind that the details of that is beyond the scope of this book, this chapter is only meant to provide some context to the rest of the training methods discussed. It is not a book specifically on improving your posture, or postural strains.

Obviously you probably can’t just work intensely on postural strain issues for a short while, and then ignore them entirely, or you risk some kind of relapse. Often you must continue to work on strain issues, long beyond that, but it is unrealistic to assume that if you’ve held a certain posture for twenty years that it can be undone in a matter of a few weeks or months, even with a phenomenal training strategy and a great deal of consistency. It’s also important to keep in mind (and I’ve seen it happen numerous times, myself included) and if you keep with the strategy, you can also put your body too far in the other direction from your current postural strain. You end up just creating a new postural strain, which can lead to it’s own movement problems. Posture that can be altered is a goldilock scenario, you looking to get it to be ‘just right’ and then manage it through good training to keep it there. Too far in one direction or the other and you alter apparent function, or ability, so find your equilibrium, then train hard. Reassess periodically.

It’s important to keep in mind that training itself is often a postural strain. It can be therapeutic, taking you away from any existing excessive postural strains. Or it can be detrimental, moving you more quickly towards an existing excessive postural strain. The purpose of this section in the book, is to help you determine some simplistic approaches to manage common postural strains, so you can do more of the former and less of the latter.

It is not my intention to steer your clear of training, until you can ‘fix your posture.’ Training is corrective by nature. I also do not want to imply that posture must be fixed, merely that it can be used to help you guide your exercise choices. I don’t really believe in ‘good’ posture or ‘bad’ posture, just that static posture might be indicative of repetitive postural strains. It just provides a small clue in the grand scheme of things.

Training will help remove postural strain if it is good training. As physiotherapist Charlie Weingroff likes to say, “Get Long. Get Strong. Train Hard.” Coincidentally he also conducts a workshop entitled, “Training = Rehab. Rehab = Training.” A good philosophy to consider, because while if you’re in pain, you should definitely see a medical professional like a physiotherapist, that doesn’t mean you should stop training. Good training is supportive of the rehabilitation process and good physiotherapists understand that. You might not be able to do a certain movement you love, and have to resort to movements you’re less fond of, but you’ll recover faster than if you did nothing. On the flip side, training is often rehabilitative, preventative and therapeutic itself.

All you really need to focus on is improving your execution of the movements in this book and adding cyclic, progressive load to the equation. For movements you cannot do, it might be because of postural constraints, it might not be. Don’t worry, if it’s structural there are always easy workarounds you can use to get a really good training effect, despite your structural limitation. If that doesn’t appeal to the purist in you, then consider it more of a common sense suggestion. If it’s not structural, than in many cases you can train with workarounds, while working to improve your postural situation via your mobility training. Practicing good movement can help a lot, and if it doesn’t, consider that you may need the intervention of a good a coach or therapist beyond that.

Static vs Dynamic Posture

Another important consideration that helps people put the subject of posture into good context is to discuss the typical definition of posture. Most people think posture is some specific static position that I can take a picture of and assess. A slouch here, a slumped shoulder there, but posture exists everywhere, from your feet (flat feet), to your head (forward head). It really just refers to the position of the body at any given moment. I like to divide posture into two different contexts, that I think makes it’s importance easier to understand. You have dynamic posture (arguably more important) and static posture.

Most people identify with the latter and think about things like pulling their head back, not slouching, or sitting up straight. Posture can mean some of that, but you are still displaying posture when you kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball, that are specific to those activities. It’s hard to throw a baseball effectively without an open, whipping posture. There are joint mechanics that we can analyze and provide feedback on, via video and still shots. As a coach, I can usually watch movement, look at video or stills and get a sense of what might be worth changing for improvements, if performance is not where it is desired to be. That’s a big part of sport and movement coaching in general.

However, I’m weary of giving any corrective postural advice to people who already demonstrate a high level of success for what they need to do. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Providing or encouraging postural correction has the potential to mess with a good thing. So be mindful of this and use it at your discretion in the rest of these pages. If you perform well despite being in what appears to be a postural strain, then the chances are good that you are in your postural sweet spot and that your natural structure likes where you are currently. It may be unwise to deliberately try to change things, unless you do not perform well and are looking for changes you can make to help you improve.

Through mechanical analysis we may eventually be able to make science based recommendations on technique, however this will no doubt be individual to a certain extent. For example, naturally long limbed people will certain move more efficiently a different way from short limbed people for certain movements. Short limbed people are great at pressing movements, while longer limbed people tend to do better with pulling oriented movements. Those are just two small examples, but at this moment in time we probably don’t have an ‘ideal’ for all movements, and body types. We can only form an opinion on technique based around accuracy, speed of execution, fluidity of movement and a few other not-so-scientific assumptions. Those suggestions will either improve performance, or they won’t.

Mobility training to me is really just being able to display the necessary postures for whatever your sport or daily activities consist of. Stretching is only necessary in so far as it allows you to express necessary postures. Strengthening a movement is necessary in so far as it allows you to express necessary postures. You don’t need to be able to do the splits unless your sport requires that, like you’re a hockey goalie or a gymnast. The splits is just one display of posture. However, everyone squats to a toilet seat every day, so to me that is a necessary display of posture everyone should have.

If you have difficulty expressing movement as you’d like to, you could look to posture of movement as a starting point. Maybe you need to lengthen your stride to run faster, or maybe you need to get your elbow in on your basketball shot to shoot in a straighter line. These are expressions of dynamic posture. To express dynamic posture you need a combination of stability in certain places, strength in other places, and the flexibility to get into good positions. In the context of movement, I’m still going to use a few static posture positions to help you choose more appropriate exercises that will make life easier on you in the long run.

Just remember that the expression of dynamic posture — AKA movement — is what truly matters. In light of that, every time you move you have the opportunity to assess dynamic posture. This is why I gravitate towards ‘baseline’ diagnostics when I do assessments, rather than a sole focus on posture. Many of the initial movements in the book are diagnostic by nature, if you can’t do them, then you should work towards being capable or finding an appropriate workaround for the time being.

If you can’t breathe well, even in a strained position, how are you going to breathe under load? If you can’t get into Periscope or Sphinx, then you’ll have a difficult time expressing a good squat movement. These are seemingly silly details, but the relatively ‘low threshold’ or simple exercises from the ground, can actually provide very useful feedback for the higher threshold, more difficult exercises. That’s why dynamic posture is relevant to the conversation.

Conversely, if you can express a movement easily, it’s probably less relevant to prioritize with your training. You don’t need to do periscope every session, if every time you do, it feels so easy you could do it in your sleep. It’s worth revisiting periodically, just to see if you have lost that ease of movement, but you can probably get away with checking it a couple times a year. So the expression of dynamic posture, helps us determine where your training should lead.

The Risks of Poor Posture

The evidence with a direct correlation on poor static posture and pain seem relatively weak, but there may be other potential problems worth mentioning quickly according to Paul Ingraham, massage therapist and independent researcher:

  • Posture may increase the likelihood of developing arthritis (the evidence isn’t incredibly clear, but it exists)
  • Posture may alter or contribute to ‘trigger points’ in some way (trigger points are more commonly known as knots, and knots as you might know, can be quite painful, but we really don’t understand a whole lot about them, or their impact on pain, health and performance)
  • Awkward postural positions held for periods of time, could trigger pain mechanisms (probably not your static posture though, but rather postural strains, addressed above)
  • Posture can affect mood. If you sit straight, big chest, smile, you can improve your mood in a matter of minutes. If you slump or slouch, then frown, the opposite effect tends to happen. If posture affects mood/emotions, then I think there is a high likelihood that it can affect pain tolerance [emphasis mine], even if it doesn’t itself cause pain. You’ll experience less pain if you’re in a good mood, have good mental health, sleep well and have less distress in your life overall.
  • [My emphasis here] People with chronic slumped posture seem less attractive than people who present themselves with a more confident postural position. People with good posture also exude more confidence and that makes them more attractive. That might not matter to you, but I think it also stems from how posture affects mood. People in good moods are more attractive.
  • [My emphasis again] Posture affects how you execute movements. People can create tissue damage, by creating excessive postural strain through strainful postural positioning. Trying the hip hinge with a rounded spine, has literally been shown to be degenerative to the spine if excessively done. Basically it induces a larger postural strain.

I often like to think of the difference between tennis player Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Roger is extremely fluid and strain-free in his play and as a result has been able to stay quite healthy in his career. Rafael’s style of play is aggressive, constantly putting himself into postural strain situations and as a result has been plagued by injury most of his career. Roger has won the most Grand Slam tournaments of any tennis player, ever. Yet, Rafael has the better record in their head-to-head matches. That’s the cost to benefit ratio I’d ask you to consider.

What is Good Posture Then?

I think most people think of good posture as that classic military look. Sit up straight. Stand Tall. Feet together. Stick your chest up and out. However, this in itself is actually a postural strain. That’s why you often see military folks with what we call a flat back posture. It takes people too far in the other direction, but what direction?

“Your best posture is your next posture.”

~ Morgan Freeman

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I think the ideal posture, doesn’t last too long and doesn’t ‘feel’ particularly strainful. The reason I create the distinction above between static and dynamic postures, is because it’s been my observation that dynamic posture matters significantly more. Move well, and move often. Good posture puts you in various positions throughout the day, everything from standing tall to bending over, to seated positions on various items and everything in between. Just moving regularly will most likely make you feel better in general. Good postural training provides some balance to the postural strains you find yourself in repeatedly throughout the day.

If you find yourself seated a great portion of the day, it may be wise to stand up and reach up and behind you several times a day to provide some kind of counterbalancing strain to a postural strain you find yourself in often. Periscope and Sphinx might also be good movements, if you don’t mind getting on the floor at work. It’s been my experience that these little ‘movement’ breaks throughout the day are by far the most useful postural training methods around. As a person who has dealt with low back pain off and on for many years; Moving, shifting, and changing positions often has been by far the most useful thing I do to prevent symptoms. Of course this could be in my head, but at least specific to low back pain, my observations have been somewhat corroborated by the work of spine biomechanics expert Dr. Stuart McGill. He put the idea in my head in the first place…

Forward Head Posture

Took one for the team, took my shirt off and put my head forward.

Took one for the team, took my shirt off and put my head forward.

Now that’s a sexy posture isn’t it? Of course most people would look at me and think that I have pretty good static posture, so many of these photos look a little awkward as I have to strain to get into them. Originally I had a photo with a huge slouching position, but thought the exaggeration was too great, so I hope you can still notice that my head is significantly forward from the rest of my body. You can see the marker of the door frame behind me, that should be perfectly perpendicular. I might actually have a slight natural tendency to strain with my head forward often, so at the gym you will often find me doing wall neck drills between clients. That movement break makes me feel better throughout the day, even if the effects are only psychological. If you have a natural tendency to fall into this position you will typically find the following difficult:

  • Periscope
  • Sphinx
  • Four Point and Six Point Stance (Quadruped or the All-Fours Positions)
  • Front Plank, Side Plank, but really any ‘core’ or spine oriented work (the forward head posture typically reduces spinal stability, as we’ll discuss in the ‘packed neck’ section)
  • Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups
  • Overhead Pressing
  • Hip Hinging

You may also be more predisposed to shoulder and neck problems, due to the altered mechanics of your movements. Simple physics tell us that i is more strainful for the muscles of your neck to have to hold up your ten pound head when it’s center of mass is further away from it’s base of support (the spine). If it’s more centrally positioned above the base of support, the lever is shorter and the strain is smaller.

To see this in action, grab something reasonably heavy, a backpack or purse for instance, and with both of your arms hold that heavy object with straight arms out in front of your chest. Keep your arms straight for a minute or two and you’ll probably start to notice that your neck is tense, your shoulders are tense, and you may even get that burning muscle sensation. Now hold the same object against your chest with arms bent. You’ll instantly notice that it’s easier for you to hold the heavy object closer to your chest without a great deal of strain. The energy requirement of a longer lever, further away from the base of support is just greater and more straining to the system. It’s the same thing happening if your neck is far away from it’s base of support.

Some movement practices that may help provide a counterbalancing strain:

  • Auto-Correcting yourself throughout the day
  • Wall Standing – Stand with your butt, upper back and head against the wall, then try to give yourself a double chin and reach the very top of your head to the ceiling
  • Finding ‘Neutral’ (wall standing is one such method)
  • Dowel Supported Movements that help you find a less stressful position
  • Periscope (only if you don’t get neck strain/pain)
  • Sphinx (again only if you can do so pain free)
  • This posture is often observed as a way to provide additional stability to the spine, so any torso/spinal strengthening movements like deadbugs, planks, and so on generally appear to help as well. Essentially you’re improving the strength of your base of support. That’s why the packed neck position and neutral spine position also appear to be the strongest positions.

Excessive Kyphosis/Rounded Shoulders

Rounded Shoulders

The only difference between this and forward head posture is where the strain appears to come from.

I really should try to get more flattering photos for some of these. Kyphosis is an excessive curvature of the upper back. The main difference between it and forward head posture is that where my head is positioned appears to come from near my shoulder blade area, rather than the neck. So although my head position is often still forward, it can often look like I’m straining to keep my neck backward and a person’s shoulders will have a tendency to excessively round along with the mid-back.

A lot of the movements that are difficult with a forward head posture will be even more difficult with a full on kyphotic posture. The spinal deviation with this posture is occurring almost directly in the middle of the spine and can often co-exist with an excessive low back lordosis and forward head tilt.

If you have a natural tendency to fall into this position you will typically find the following difficult:

  • Periscope
  • Sphinx
  • Four Point and Six Point Stance (Quadruped or the All-Fours Positions)
  • Front Plank, Side Plank, but really any ‘core’ or spine oriented work (significant alterations in the position of the spine, that are not structural in nature are often the result of a lack of spinal stability, somewhere) – you’ll have a tendency to want to play into this posture, rather than a more neutral position
  • Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups (Vertical Pulling)
  • Overhead Pressing
  • Horizontal Pressing (In the push up, you’re likely to lead the movement with your chin, instead of your chest)
  • Horizontal Pulling (Like Rows)
  • Hip Hinging
  • Squatting (you will find any movement that requires extension in your mid-back, difficult)

You may also be more predisposed to shoulder problems in particular, but maybe neck and low back due to the altered mechanics of your movements. Particularly if this posture co-exists with other postural strain positions. Like the forward head posture, you’re creating greater postural strain because of the longer lever from the base of support.

Some movement practices that may help provide a counterbalancing strain:

  • Auto-Correcting yourself throughout the day (imagine everytime you walk through a doorway, that you’re getting fish hooked under the chin into a tall posture position)
  • Wall Standing – Stand with your butt, upper back and head against the wall, then try to give yourself a double chin and reach the very top of your head to the ceiling
  • Finding ‘Neutral’ (wall standing is one such method, using a dowel for 3 points of contact is another)
  • T-Spine Extension Drills (Like Sphinx but also more specifically mobility drills over foam roller or bench)
  • Periscope
  • Sphinx
  • This posture is also often observed as a way to provide stability to the spine, so any torso/spinal strengthening movements like deadbugs, planks, and so on generally appear to help. The reason is that the strength improvements allow you to express a different posture more frequently.

Excessive Lordosis/Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Notice the strain my lower back, this is a hard position for me to get in.

Notice the tilt on the waistline

This is actually a difficult posture for me to get into because I generally display in the opposite direction. A good visualization is to think of your pelvis (hip bones) as a bowl of water. The waistline is the top of the bowl, and in this photo you can clearly see that a lot of water is spilling out the front. And ideal standing posture to shoot for, is an even waistband. Ladies will almost always spill a little out the front. It’s been my experience that this posture is often the result of chronically tight hip flexors, combined with weak gluteal muscles and anterior trunk muscles. Then you provide additional stability to the torso, and most people are good to go. However, those could just as easily be the symptom and not the cause. If it can be resolved, it can usually be resolved in a matter of weeks. If you have a natural tendency to fall into this position you will typically find the following difficult:

  • Touching Your Toes (any spinal flexion movements really)
  • Glute Bridging/Deadlifting/Hip Hinging
  • Lunging/Stepping
  • Four Point and Six Point Stance (Quadruped or the All-Fours Positions) Movements
  • Front Plank, Side Plank, but really any ‘core’ or spine oriented work (a heavily arched low back, usually means there is some weakness in the anterior trunk, so holding good neutral postures is often a challenge)
  • Push Ups (you’ll likely lead with your hips, instead of your chest)
  • Overhead Pressing (you’ll arch your low back and often feel it in your low spine)
  • Wall and Dowel Drills (where you have to express 3 points of contact against the wall or dowel)
  • Any drills that involved tilting the pelvis forward and backward

You may also be more predisposed to low back problems in particular, if for no other reason that your unconscious brain might perceive it as a threat long-term, not because this position is actually doing any tissue damage. In fact, simply my telling you that this posture could lead to low back, could in fact lead to your unconscious brain perceiving a threat that was not initially there. If you have no pain, and suddenly have pain after reading this, that’s the brain mechanism we were talking about above.

Some movement practices that may help provide a counterbalancing strain:

  • Auto-Correcting yourself throughout the day (practice tilting your hips backward in the other direction often)
  • Wall Standing – Stand with your butt, upper back and head against the wall, then try to give yourself a double chin and reach the very top of your head to the ceiling
  • Finding ‘Neutral’ (wall standing is one such method, using a dowel for challenging positions is another)
  • Gluteal Strengthening Drills (particularly bridging and from all fours)
  • Anterior Core Strengthening Drills (particularly front plank variations, with a dowel and the deadbug)
  • Hip Flexor Stretching (90/90 position, AKA the bottom of the lunge position)
  • Vertical Pulling (Pull Ups/Chin Ups) – provided you can reduce the arch in your low back
  • Lunging Movements with Dowel Support
  • Squatting and Hip Hinging with a Dowel
A dowel is an excellent equipment purchase, particularly for dealing with posture. You can stroll down to any local hardware supply shop and find one for under $10. Everyone should have one in their home. They are a piece of equipment I use every day, but particularly for helping people find ‘neutral’ lifting positions. The sensation of touch, with 3 points of contact on the head, upper back and tailbone/glutes, is incredibly useful. If in doubt, ALWAYS check your position with a dowel. So useful, you’ll see it recommended on almost all of the face down core exercises and lower body exercises, so that you can practice maintaining a good position and be more capable of tolerating additional load. We generally want to put you in a good dynamic posture and then be able to hold that stable position, while you move somewhere else, like your legs.

Flat Low Back/Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Now I'm tipping water out the back

Again keep your eyes on my waistline and the direction it’s tilted

This is still exaggerated for me, but I have a predisposition to this type of posture. If you think back to the pelvis being a bowl of water, the water is now spilling out the back of my pelvis. My lower spine looks almost completely flat. This posture is becoming more and more frequent in my practice, I think because people are sitting into a low back rounding posture more frequently. Unfortunately it also seems to lead to back pain even more frequently than an excessive tilt the other way, I think because the brain has a stronger perception of threat in this position.

People with this posture seem to have really tight gluteal and abdominal muscles, while having weaker hip flexors, particularly psoas. Again these could be symptoms, rather than causes. It’s possible that the illusive trigger points have something to do with these postures too, they may either be a cause or the symptom. You’ll likely feel a large stretch in the abdominals during Sphinx position if you present more in this posture. You might also have a hard time lifting your knee above ninety degrees.

It’s worth noting that these are incredibly ‘simplistic’ representations of static posture. It is very likely to display one of these postures, only while looking at one side. That’s because these conveniently ignore the three dimensional nature of movement and the spine. It’s possible for only one side of your pelvis or shoulder to be tilted a certain way. Actually this is often the case, right handed people tend to sit in more posterior tilt on their right hips and in more of an anterior tilt on their left hips. I presume because of the way most right handed people stand, this creates a postural strain that is supportive of that position. That’s a generalization, but just something worth noting, hopefully it’s that posture is not necessarily a cut and dry issue. You might want to look at spinal posture from both sides, and note differences.

If you have a natural tendency to fall into this position you will typically find the following difficult:

  • Sphinx (because of the stretch — any spinal extension drills will probably be challenging though)
  • Squatting Deep (which will tend to just encourage this posture, and aggravate the low back)
  • Lunging and Step Ups — Lifting the knee high (any hip flexion drills really)
  • Four Point and Six Point Stance (Quadruped or the All-Fours Positions) Movements
  • Front Plank, Side Plank, but really any ‘core’ or spine oriented work (a heavily flat back might mean is some weakness in the hip flexors [which are a part of the core/trunk musculature], and you may find your deep trunk stabilizers are often compromised as well, so holding a good neutral posture is often a challenge, as you’ll want to be in a flat back posture often)
  • Any drills that involved tilting the pelvis forward and backward

Some movement practices that may help provide a counterbalancing strain:

  • Auto-Correcting yourself throughout the day (reaching up to the ceiling and behind you)
  • Hip Flexion Strengthening drills (stand, keep still at the torso and put your foot on a chair, then back down for example)
  • Finding ‘Neutral’ (wall standing is one such method, using a dowel for challenging positions is another, there should be a little space between the wall/dowel and your low back)
  • Anterior Core Lengthening Drills (Periscope, Sphinx, Mackenzie’ Press Ups)
  • Gluteal Lengthening Drills (Glute Stretches, like Pigeon Pose)
  • Vertical Pulling (Pull Ups/Chin Ups) – will usually arch the back a little
  • Drills that practice anteriorly tilting the pelvis (like Cat and Camel)

Final Thoughts on Posture

This is really just to provide some context to the rest of this book. Like so many things I touch on, an entire book could surely be written about posture and postural changes. Including something a little more exhaustively researched. Like I said earlier in this book, I didn’t want to write something that I bog down with dozens of research citations. I can only really speak from experience, research I remember reading and talk about what has worked for me in the past. A great deal of what goes into postural change, appears somewhat trial error. Some of this could be flawed reasoning, as I’m just as prone to human bias, as you are. If you make an intervention, and there is a noticeable immediate change, then that’s probably a good path to pursue. Even if it’s in your head, it’s probably good. The placebo effect is awesome when it works in your favour.

If you try numerous strategies and nothing seems to work, it’s possible I haven’t been exhaustive enough and you need some additional help from an experienced therapist. Actually more and more, research makes it seem as if pain education in combination with therapy is the best overall route. We want to teach the brain that you’re fine, while also reducing strain. However, it’s also just as likely that your posture issue is structural and isn’t going to change much no matter what you do. The best you can do in this situation is attempt to manage your situation by not encouraging any additional postural strain on your natural structure, and then finding workarounds that allow you to train around the issue. Most of the movements I’ve decided to use are based around movement we all do in some respects, rather than extreme positions you might find in sport. The squat is something we do every time we sit and stand. Getting up off the floor is usually some kind of push up combined with a lunge pattern. Picking up and carrying groceries is an expression of deadlifting. There is a rhyme and reason to my madness.

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Darren Beattie

Coach, Writer and Founder of Fitnack and Skill Based Fitness. I'm going to change how you think about fitness and coaching. Quality of Life Crusader. Knowledge Junkie. Recovering perfectionist.

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