It’s not sexy. It’s not fierce. But it’s got to be discussed. I’m talking about posture.
Having terrible posture can make you look and feel small, incapable, and weak. Good posture, by contrast, makes you feel large, confident, and ready to take anything life gives you.
Poor posture can be responsible for everything from digestive problems to poor circulation to depression (source). But we’re here to talk about strength training, right?
It’s all about symmetry
Practicing good posture is incredibly important during strength training because it promotes symmetry of the muscles. If you train symmetrically, you build muscle strength evenly across your body. Having even strength and muscle mass ensure you are moving about with maximum efficiency, which is not only good for health but also for injury prevention.
Easy ways to fix your posture
Readjusting your own posture is a little like using an eyedropper to erode a boulder: it takes a little effort for a long time to see big results. Below are a few of my most common afflictions and what I’m doing to make them better.
Nick the Trainer gave me a simple exercise to overcome the horrible slouch most of us who work at a computer all day get. Gaze in amazement at my Skills of an Artist:
Basically, if you notice yourself hunching over (or if your significant other tries to set a bottle or can on your prominent hump), you’ll want to do this fancy move:
- shrug your shoulders up as far as you can,
- move your shoulders as far back as you can,
- push your shoulders as far down as you can.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel a stretch across the chest and shoulders, as well as some tension on the tops of the shoulders. You’ll also think you look like some kind of jerk with your chest puffed out and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Go look in the mirror. You look like a regular guy, right? Only a little taller.
Your shoulders should now be aligned above your hips, which should be aligned above your knees. Your head should be a little bit back and your neck should be straight and tall. This is the correct alignment position for things like squats (wide chest, shoulders back, major joints on top of one another). Try to hold this position while sitting, standing, or walking as much as you can; it’ll become easier and more comfortable the longer you do it.
Ever since I was very young, I’ve had a lot of turnout in my feet. Like, a ballet dancer’s worth of turnout. Since it had always been that way, I just figured that I was mildly deformed. Here are three sad stories about that:
- I had a friend in middle school whose feet wrapped around each other at the ankle in utero. He had severe pigeon toes. I figured I must’ve had a similar (but opposite) incident happen to me (never mind that in that case, I would’ve been born like a sort of upside-down Mary Poppins).
- After seeing the movie Misery as a kid, I became convinced that my parents were going to take me to some ankle specialist who would tie me down, break my ankles, and reset them straight. It took an inordinate amount of reassurance from my loving mom to convince me that wouldn’t happen.
- I used to sprain my ankles a lot as a kid. It was to the point that my folks would only let me wear the highest high-top sneakers, laced all the way up to try to give me the support I needed.
With the help of Nick the Trainer, I’ve come to discover that my duck feet stem not from an issue with my ankles but from a lack of strength in my inner thigh muscles. It’s true! Because the adductor muscles of my legs are so weak, they can’t aid very well in the regular act of standing and walking. The feet turn out to give my body a wider base, thereby creating a kind of structural balance and stability instead of a muscular one (yeah, I’m pretty much making up all this terminology).
While an abnormal amount of turnout can be helpful in ballet, muscular deficiency is never a good thing (especially since thigh exercises increase testosterone production). Here’s what I’m doing to rectify the situation:
- All the squats in the world. Seriously, squats and lunges are on the menu every time I train.
- Activate knee and thigh muscles during walking. I was trying before to correct my turnout by just rotating my ankles. I’ve since learned that having a bit of tension in my inner thighs and (especially) the muscles just above my kneecaps takes care of that for me. No hyperextension here!
- Be aware of turnout. I (and my trainer) have a kind of mental running list going of all the situations in which my feet want to go their separate ways. These include during squats and lunges, during balance yoga poses, and while laying down. I police myself pretty heavily, making sure to practice good foot alignment, and go slow to ensure I activate and strengthen the right muscles.
A common affliction among those who sit at desks is lumbar hyperlordosis, AKA lordosis, AKA sway back. What happens is due to weakness in the lower abdominals, the lumbar muscles in the back begin to shorten, tilting the pelvis back but on top of the thighs.
Interestingly enough, lordosis behavior is the term that describes a four-legged female mammal (especially a cat) “presenting” during copulation.
The fantastic thing about lordosis is that it can be treated with simple stretches and diligence. I pretty much just do one thing at the moment to help straighten my curvy back:
- Scoop or pivot your pelvis forward. You should feel a bit of a stretch at the top of your hamstrings. This is because all the sway back walking is actually shortening them.
- Oh, you should sit less too. It’s a serious affliction.
Don’t sweat it (but do, too)
Posture is really the basis of all body mechanics. It’s the culmination of the incredibly complex system of engines, scaffolding, pulleys, and levers that make human locomotion possible. I mean, hell, just look at the best we can do trying to simulate human movement with robots.
Basically, it’s not something you can change overnight. Much like flexibility, good posture must be worked on both actively and passively for any real change to happen. You’ll have a better time if you treat it more like a habit you’re trying to pick up than like a giant obstacle you’re trying to overcome.
You may find that your new posture and point of articulation are not quite comfortable yet, while your old, bad habits just feel wrong. This can be frustrating but don’t give up. Discomfort is life-change pay dirt!
Keep on reinforcing good habits and, as the man says,
Your patience will be rewarded.