You know it’s true — you could probably improve your posture.
This isn’t a personal attack. It’s simply a generalization that is accurate more often than not.
But what actually is it about posture that makes it so important? Depending on the circumstances, the answer may be different.
Perhaps you find yourself stretching your neck after spending hours looking down at your phone. Maybe you saw someone hunched over their desk in the shape of the letter C. Or, maybe you met someone that oozed charisma like a Spartan soldier, but couldn’t pinpoint the reason why.
Regardless, it’s obvious that it’s an area which if improved, will benefit at least one aspect of your life — if not many. These benefits include:
1. Less strain on your body
Our bodies work in a similar way to a car. Each limb or section works in tandem with and relies on the others to create a whole that is incredibly durable and efficient.
Imagine a car with a flat tire. The car will still run, but the flat tire will impact MPG, turning responsiveness, and braking ability. In addition, over time the flat tire will place unnecessary strain on the engine, wheel rim, and perhaps even cause a horrible accident.
Now, in place of the flat tire, imagine someone with bad posture. They are still able to walk, run, lift, and do most things without any negative impact. However, over time, bad posture wreaks havoc on the body. Joints suddenly hurt, muscles ache, and athletic performance drops.
These issues are mainly due to the stress placed on the spine and neck. An adult head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. When in a natural position (ears aligned with shoulders), it is stable. However, once in a compromised position such as looking down at your cell phone, the extra force placed on the cervical spine can be as much as 60 pounds. It doesn’t take a master’s degree in kinesiology to realize that this isn’t favorable.
2. Higher self-confidence
Self-confidence is extremely important.
Not to be confused with arrogance or narcism, it dictates how we carry ourselves and perform in our everyday duties. Generally, self-confidence is associated with happiness, success, and overall wellbeing — all of which we should strive for.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to increase self-confidence is to improve your body language by improving your posture.
How many times have you seen someone walk into a room and command attention, even though they haven’t spoken a word? This is likely due to their outstanding posture.
The most known, and arguably most important postural position involves retracting the shoulders back and lifting the chin. This position screams confidence for many reasons, but, the main ones tap into our animalistic nature. By retracting our shoulders, the chest, which hosts many of the body’s vital organs, is open to the world, and therefore, potential dangers. The chin-up position works in the same way, as it shows a lack of need for protection of the throat. These positions show confidence in being able to ward off potential threats, whilst also offering a sense of security to potential mates.
Next time you’re in public or at work, try it out. Retract your shoulders, and lift your chin. The immediate difference will be obvious.
3. Improved productivity and energy
Good posture allows the body to be aligned correctly. This is important to ensure that the body works efficiently, however, it is especially pertinent for the respiratory system.
Studies show our lungs work more efficiently when our posture is optimized. By retracting our shoulders, we also open up our chest which allows for more effective breathing activity. Therefore, by increasing the volume of air inhaled per breath, the amount of oxygen that is consumed and transported throughout the body also rises.
Oxygen is necessary for the production of ATP, and therefore, it is directly correlated with the amount of energy that we produce. Additionally, by increasing our energy capacity, our brainpower also rises, which allows for improved productivity and overall vitality.
How to actually improve your posture
It’s great to learn about the benefits of good posture, but how do you actually achieve it? The answer may seem obvious, but there is likely more to it than you may think.
1. Shoulders back, chin up
This is the easiest and most effective way to improve your posture. The issue many of us face is that our shoulders roll forwards, and our head points towards the ground. While this isn’t a great position to be in, for many reasons, it is easily fixed by simply retracting the shoulders and lifting the chin.
The problem is, muscles have a memory. This means even if you spend an entire day with perfect posture, your body will still remember the hunched over position that it was in for many years prior.
But, we can also use this to our advantage. If you instead spend years with perfect posture, it will eventually become the default position that your body reverts back to.
The key is to make good posture a habit that you practice all day, every day. At first, it will be difficult, but as your body adapts, it will become much easier.
2. Strengthen the muscles of the upper back, loosen those that pull the shoulders forward
As well as having positional memory, our muscles can also become chronically tight or weak, inhibiting our ability to transition into the correct position. In a situation like this, greater intervention has to be made.
Often, this means that the pectoral (chest) and upper trapezius (extending from the neck to each shoulder) muscles are chronically tight and short. At the same time, the rhomboids and lower trapezius muscles (middle-upper back) are very likely weak and overextended.
As for the pecs and traps, they need to be stretched and loosened. In my opinion, the most effective trapezius stretch is the head tilt (sideways, forwards, and diagonal) and for the pecs, the doorway stretch.
A more direct (and painful) approach can also be taken by rolling out the muscles with a foam roller or lacrosse ball. For the foam roller, whilst on the floor simply apply pressure to the roller with either a trapezius or a pec (it’s better to do one side of each at a time). And for the lacrosse ball, substitute it for the roller and do the same. However, you may first want to use the ball standing up, applying pressure against a wall.
You’ll know when you’re on the right spot. It won't feel good.
3. Engage a tight midsection
The various abdominal (abs), lower back, and gluteal (butt) muscles mainly function to keep the body upright, and usually do so both flawlessly and unconsciously. But, the muscles are capable of much more and play a vital role in achieving good posture.
By slightly (~20% of a full squeeze) contracting the midsection and glutes, their ability to stabilize the body increases significantly. This position ensures that the back is flat and the pelvis is positioned correctly. It creates the most efficient way to carry out activities ranging from getting up from a chair to intense exercises such as the deadlift.
The best aspect of this position is that it is a great short cut to achieving good posture. Unlike retracting the shoulders, where you must ensure that they are neither too far back, nor too far forward, it is almost impossible to overthink. Regardless of whatever position you are in, simply contracting the midsection and glutes almost always immediately fixes the issue.