Sit Up Straight!
Does this line sound familiar to anyone? When I was around company as a child my mother would consistently and lovingly remind me to sit up straight and stop slouching. At the time, I thought her concern over my posture was simply in regard to its aesthetics. I thought that she didn’t want me to be a slouch because it looked bad and she didn’t want to be embarrassed.
As I grew older and my body became more mature, I started to realize that my slouching not only looked god awful, but it also seemed to be causing pain in between my shoulder blades and neck. It slowly started to occur to me that my mother had been trying to impart some sage like wisdom in me that far transcends the concern for sitting like a gentleman and looking good.
It was at this point in time that studying the effects of posture became an interest of mine. I simply wanted to know more. I wanted to know why people knew bad posture needed be addressed, but couldn’t explain how or why. Through my research, I discovered that posture plays a incredibly crucial role in regulating every bodily function. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Pain Management (1994, 4: 36-39), posture affects and influences hormone production, cognitive functioning (brain power), lung capacity, mood, stress level, and blood pressure.
In this article I will explain the importance of posture, its causes, and a few simple things that can be done to significantly improve it.
Sitting at a Computer Makes You More Stressed
To keep things simple, I will define posture as the position of one’s body while either standing or sitting at rest. Most people already have a solid grasp on what posture is so I will not go any further into this subject.
Bad posture not only looks bad, but could also be wreaking havoc on your body in more ways than one. Harvard Business School’s Amy J.C. Cuddy performed an extremely fascinating study with her colleagues on the effects of “high power poses” prior to high stakes social evaluations like job interviews.
High power poses are postures characterized by having a straight back, open chest (shoulders rolled back), and sitting or standing in an expansive stance. An example, of this would be sitting at a desk with shoulders rolled back away from the ears, head up, chest out, with arms spread out wider than shoulder width on the desk. A low power pose is the exact opposite characterized by taking a narrow, hunched, and small posture typically seen when someone is working at a desk, on a computer, reading a book, or text messaging.
The results of Cuddy’s study were incredible. She discovered that sitting or standing in high power poses can actually make one feel less stressed out and more confident. On the contrary, low power poses, typically seen in the office actually had the opposite effect.
The change in stress and confidence is tied in with the hormones cortisol (stress hormone) and testosterone (male sex hormone). According to Cuddy’s blog, the change in these two hormones was quite dramatic. Individuals in a high power poses experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and about a 25% decrease in cortisol, while the same happened in reverse for the people in low power poses. She found that it only takes 2-5 min for these hormone changes to take effect.
What this research tells us is that by sitting with a rounded back, closed chest, forward head, and narrow stance, we are literally lowering our own ability to feel confident with ourselves while simultaneously making ourselves more stressed out.
I knew mom was onto something…
Often times, with the exception of work station lay-out and job duties, poor posture is a direct result of muscle imbalances that have been formed over a lifetime of dysfunction. I do not want to get too technical here, but basically what I am saying is that because of the modern lifestyles we live, we have certain muscles that are too short and strong, while we have other muscles that are too weak and long that literally pull us into bad postural positions. These imbalances act as extra resistance for us, making it even harder to maintain good posture.
To make things worse, many people actually exacerbate there bad posture by training the wrong muscle groups while at the gym. A common example would be a desk ranger that sits at a computer for 8 hours a day and then decides to hit the gym after work. If he is a true macho man he will probably head straight for the bench press, bust out a couple of sets, and then finish his workout with some bicep curls.
Little does he know that by performing these exercises he is actually tightening and strengthening the muscles that pull his head and shoulders forward out of ideal alignment. This will simply make it harder for him to sit and stand with good posture at work because his muscles will be very imbalanced which will ultimately cause him to experience more stress and less confidence in himself.
Who knew that working out the wrong muscles in the gym could have such a profound effect on your entire life?
Below are a few corrective exercises designed to address common postural distortions that I often see in office works. These exercises will help most people achieve ideal balance and symmetry. Obviously, there is no one size fits all, but these 3 exercises can help the majority of office workers:
I Raises Upper Back – Be sure to keep your thumbs pointed straight up at the ceiling during this entire exercise. Use just your arm’s natural weight at first, and then progress into weights weighing 1-5 lbs.
T Raises Upper Back – These are very similar to the above exercise, but the angle is different. Be sure to keep your thumbs pointed straight up at the ceiling during this entire exercise. Use just your arm’s natural weight at first, and then progress into weights weighing 1-5 lbs.
Rear Deltoid Fly Back of Shoulders – Grab two weights ranging from 5-12 lbs. Sit at the very end of the bench with weights directly under your knees. Exhale as you raise the dumbbells to about shoulder height.
Foam Roll Your Way to Balance
If you have a gym or fitness club membership, chances are you have seen one of those white or black foam cylinders laying around. Hell, you might have even seen somebody rolling around on one and asked yourself “what on earth are they doing?”. They were most likely performing self-myofascial release which is just a fancy term for self massage.
Through the combination of corrective exercise and targeted foam rolling, it is possible to lengthen and relax your over-active strong muscle groups while also strengthening and shortening your under-active weak muscles groups. Doing so can have a dramatic effect on posture.
Below are a few targeted foam rolling exercises that work in a complimentary fashion with the corrective exercises I have given you above. Once again, there is no one size fits all, but these will help the majority:
Latsisimus Dorsi – Put as much pressure into these muscles as possible using your foam roller. If you find a knot or trigger point then stay on it for 30 seconds until it releases itself. Don’t forget to roll out both sides!
Erector Spinae – Put as much pressure into these muscles as possible using your foam roller. If you find a knot or trigger point then stay on it for 30 seconds until it releases itself. Make sure not to put pressure directly onto the spine. The muscles that we are trying to release with this exercise run parallel to the spine, not on it. Don’t forget to roll out both sides!
If you do not have a foam roller then you can actually make one quite easily. I simple way to make a cheap and effective roller would be to wrap a foot long PVC pipe in padding like foam or a towel. Foam rolling can be extremely painful if you have never done it before, or if you have never had a massage. Because of this, take it easy when starting. Don’t go all out and end up not being able to walk the next day. Remember we are trying to help ourselves, not make things worse. Each foam rolling session will get progressively less painful, and you will progressively become less tight and restricted.
I hope this post has been helpful to you! Remember, it is never too late to start making lifestyle changes. A slight shift in routine can cause a change in posture, and consequently a dramatic improvement in your overall quality of life! If you have questions or concerns about your own posture then please visit guerrillazen.com or email me at [email protected].