Health and Fitness Specialist, Michael McCarthy
We’ve all heard it before – sit up straight, don’t slouch, keep your head up. We’ve been having our posture coached and corrected since we were kids but chances are it didn’t stick (I know I ignored a few of my cues as I sat on the couch watching the Super Bowl for a few hours.) Our professions have become more desk bound and we’re finding our height shrinking, upper backs rounding, shoulders more forward, and lower backs aching as we commute to work or hang over the computer.
Sitting for extended periods can have negative effects in general, but sitting with poor posture will amplify problems. It doesn’t take long for the body to adapt to the position it is being put in. In as little as 30 minutes the muscles will “creep” into the posture that they are put in. Certain muscles will become over active while their counterparts become underactive. Let’s take the example of rounded shoulders: Sitting in a hunched position for extended periods will cause the pectoral muscles to stay in an internally rotated position, effectively making them overactive. Because they are in a constant state of being active, the scapula muscles adapt and become underactive, leaving the shoulders in a forward position. Without intervention, this posture can lead to kyphosis (rounding) in the spine and the shoulders are at a much higher risk for injury.
Being mindful of how you sit or stand is a great way to stay on top of your posture. However being mindful alone will not repeal the adaption that has taken place. A recipe for success, in addition to being mindful, is releasing the overactive muscles and strengthening the underactive muscles by means of soft tissue work and strength training. Having a massage or myofascial therapist is a great way to help release that tension. Another option is to use a tool like a foam roller or lacrosse ball on the soft tissues. Not only is it an affordable and effective way to relieve tension on the overactive muscles – it also helps introduce additional blood flow to the underactive muscles to help get them moving.
When choosing an exercise to target a specific element of posture, choose an exercise that is opposite of the action that is taking place. Staying with the example of rounded shoulders, I would choose an exercise that externally rotates my shoulder, such as a cable row, because it is the opposite of the internal rotation that is caused by the pectorals. Start small and progress slowly. The underactive muscles need to relearn their job and doing too much too soon can result in an injury. Combing deliberate and consistent strength training with consistent and deliberate soft tissue work, over time, will work wonders for your posture.