Most of the clients I work with want to improve their posture because they either want to get pain free, change the way they look, or reduce their risk of future pain and injuries – or sometimes all three!
In my opinion there isn’t much good information out there on the world wide web about how to do this, but there is a tremendous amount of nonsense that doesn’t work. Here are five myths which are prevalent but not particularly helpful.
Myth No. 1 – To have good posture, you must think about it.
The idea is that having good posture is all about consciously forcing your body into a certain position so that you sit or stand up straighter. This has four problems in my opinion. Firstly, it doesn’t last. How many times have you tried to sit up straight, and then after two minutes you get distracted and end up back in the position you started with? You can’t spend your whole life thinking about your posture, so this strategy is not sustainable. Secondly, to get into this ‘better posture’ you may be using muscles which aren’t ready to hold you in this way and forcing your body into a position it’s not ready for, which is why it can often feel uncomfortable or painful. Thirdly, how do you know you’re ending up in a better position? I sometimes ask my clients to show me what they think good posture looks like and when I take a picture of what they’re doing and show them, they are surprised that they look so out of alignment, because to them it felt like they were ‘straight’. This is a problem as the position you’re forcing your body into could be straining certain parts of your body and eventually lead to (more) pain. Fourthly, it assumes that only your sitting and standing position matter. This is not correct. I’m interested in what your posture is like in everything you – how you walk, bend down, reach for something, lift something, run and play sports. Your body is designed to move and you can’t consciously think about the position of every part of your body in every movement you do.
Myth No. 2 – Pull your shoulders and head back
This is similar to the thinking in myth no. 1. I do want your shoulders and head to be in a good position, but we need to find out why they are out of alignment in the first place. There could be many reasons, but one common one is that your upper back has rounded forward, and so is pushing your head and shoulders forward too. In this example, if you just try and pull your shoulders and head back it won’t last, it might feel uncomfortable and how do you know you’re in the so-called right position? A better strategy would be to tackle the upper back rounding!
Myth No. 3 – This is the way you were born
With most of the clients I work with, the postural misalignments they have are the result of habits, stresses and injuries they’ve had during their lives. It’s rarely their DNA and in most cases I think it can be improved.
Myth No. 4 – Pull your stomach in
This is silly. Imagine I told you to tense your biceps constantly as you went along your day – it would be crazy. The same is true with your abdominals. If your body is working the way it should, then the abdominals will engage when they need to. I often tell my clients not to consciously alter how they walk and move. Your body should know what it’s doing – it’s the creation of millions of years of evolution. Don’t get in the way!
Myth No. 5 – Strengthen your core
The problem is when this advice is given out as a general way to improve posture. In some people it might be a good idea if it’s done in a targeted and safe way, but with many people it would be a really bad idea. If you had a tall building leaning over to one side with cracks forming, would you just want to put more concrete on it to make it stronger? It might help it withstand the extra stress for a while but then those cracks would appear again. It would make much more sense to get that building into proper alignment first and then add the concrete. The same is true for your body. I often tell my clients “before you strengthen, you need to get straight”, otherwise you could just be strengthening and locking in your imbalances.
So what should you do to improve your posture?
Well, your posture is affected by the balance and function of your muscles. If they’re working well then your body is likely to be in good alignment. So a much better approach is to improve the balance of these muscles from left to right, and from front to back. I give my clients gentle posture correction exercises to do daily. These exercises stretch and strengthen certain parts of their body and over time improve their posture without them even having to think about it!
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Ameet Bhakta BSc, DipHE – I’m a posture correction specialist certified by the Egoscue Institute, and founder of Health Through Posture.