What exactly is posture? Posture is the position of your limbs or the carriage of the body as a whole. Having great posture gives our spine its optimal position by distributing the force of gravity equally throughout the body. No matter if you are sitting, lying, standing or lifting, gravity will be exerted onto your joints, muscles, and ligaments. So, great posture helps to decrease the gravitational stress applied to our body’s structures.
Having poor posture doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s associated with years of poor body positions and the body adapting to these poor positions in order to compensate. For instance, if you excessively bend forward at the waist for prolonged periods of time, this can strain your postural muscles and could cause them to relax in order to compensate for the poor position. In turn, you have a greater chance of getting injured or having back pain.
Other factors that contribute to poor posture is stress, obesity, high heels, excessive sitting, and poor standing habits.
How can we fix this? You probably already know the answer! Let’s review just in case:
How do I sit properly?
- Keep your feet on the floor or on a footrest, if they don't reach the floor.
- Don't cross your legs. Your ankles should be in front of your knees.
- Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat.
- Your knees should be at or below the level of your hips.
- Adjust the backrest of your chair to support your low- and mid-back or use a back support.
- Relax your shoulders and keep your forearms parallel to the ground.
- Avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time.
How do I stand properly?
- Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
- Keep your knees slightly bent.
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Let your arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.
- Stand straight and tall with your shoulders pulled backward.
- Tuck your stomach in.
- Keep your head level-your earlobes should be in line with your shoulders. Do not push your head forward, backward, or to the side.
- Shift your weight from your toes to your heels, or one foot to the other, if you have to stand for a long time.
What is the proper lying position?
- Find the mattress that is right for you. While a firm mattress is generally recommended, some people find that softer mattresses reduce their back pain. Your comfort is important.
- Sleep with a pillow. Special pillows are available to help with postural problems resulting from a poor sleeping position.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
- Sleeping on your side or back is more often helpful for back pain.
- If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs.
- If you sleep on your back, keep a pillow under your knees.
A patient will commonly show up to my office with decreased mobility in the shoulders and upper thoracic, consistent tightness and pain in the upper back and shoulders, anterior shoulder pain (forward round of the shoulders), and neck pain (forward head posture). Most will have possible trigger points in their scapula stabilizers, levator, pectorals, and traps, along with a weakness of the scapula stabilizers (commonly in the rhomboids). These are all symptoms of poor posture, whether that be due to sitting or standing improperly for long periods of time, lifting things incorrectly and even TEXTING poorly. Yes, there is a proper way to text and I can guarantee you’re probably doing it wrong. Did you know there is now a medical diagnosis called “text neck”? I don’t know what’s more sad, the fact that we spend most of our days on our cellular device or that we are now injuring ourselves doing so?
As far as CrossFit goes, posture is extremely important and should not be ignored. Daily posture affects your quality of movement in the gym. We spend 1 hour in the gym. If we’re sitting, standing, texting, and sleeping poorly the other 23 hours of the day, we certainly can’t expect to exhibit full range of motion in our squats or overhead. Everything affects something.
We all know that technique and form is an important foundation and focus at the gym. Having poor posture contributes to poor form/technique and puts you in disadvantageous positions when it comes to movement. When we learn the lifts and the immediate mobility isn’t there, then we learn to adapt by recruiting other muscles that put us in the position necessary to complete the lift. We can only compensate for so long before something breaks down. The list of injuries can go on and on from constant stiffness to surgical repairs. Fix your posture first then stretch and mobilize your positions of restriction in order to GREATLY reduce your chance of injury. Here are a few quick tips to start working on poor posture (you know who you are):
- Stretching your stiffness – typically if you sit at a desk all day long or in front of a computer, you may suffer from extreme stiffness in certain areas. Get up and move around, stretch in your down time and show up early and stay late after class to address these things! Stretching right before bed and immediately upon waking can do wonders as well.
- Pre-hab exercises - exercises like “I’s”, “Y’s”, and “T’s”, crossover symmetry (correctly), glute and hip work. These all can strengthen areas and sometimes PREVENT future injury.
- Be present - just being more conscious of your position and posture away from the gym can have a huge benefit. Sustaining good positions can be difficult. Our bodies want to revert to “comfortable” positions that at times can be awful positions for our body to be in. It starts with a conscious effort to first notice you’re in poor positions. Once you are aware, work to correct them as often as possible!
You need to start being more conscious of your daily positions so that you can make corrections to your posture as frequently as needed. Remember, long-standing postural problems will take time to fix, so it’s not something that can happen in a weeks time. It can be difficult to consistently have to remind yourself to stand, sit, sleep and text properly, but you must be very clear with what is truly important to you. Do you want to live in constant pain and stiffness by giving into the detriments of gravity or would you rather optimize your mind, body and movement by making simple corrections to your everyday actions? Its not a difficult decision, but at times a difficult application. Choose wisely and think about your priorities. Being injured is no fun, especially if it affects the things you desire to do that ARE fun. Make the changes necessary to optimize your body, your movement, your workouts, your life!