by Thomas Kurz
Information on this Web page is for educational use only, and is not intended as medical advice.
Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before treating yourself or others.
Always consult a physician before beginning or changing any fitness program.
One of the first steps in a sports training or fitness program is evaluation and—if needed—a correction of posture. An exercise program that does not take into account one’s postural problems will likely cause chronic injuries and dropping out of the program. In the best case, the uncorrected postural imbalances will limit one’s progress.
There are many common postural problems, relating to the head and neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, hips, and legs. The common ones, which may be fairly easily fixed with corrective exercises, are caused by the so-called modern lifestyle. Here are the activities of this modern lifestyle that cause bad posture:
- Sitting for long periods of time and reading or writing with the work surface at an angle that forces stooping
- Doing manual work, leaning forward, with arms in front of oneself (think a machinist, or an assembly worker)
- Not exercising arms through their full ROM (e.g., not climbing, rowing, or shooting arrows)
- Not exercising legs through their full ROM (e.g., not squatting deeply enough, not running and walking enough)
These are exacerbated by stupid exercises, such as the bench press (vain men mostly) and spinning (naive fitness maniacs).
Now, I could list many postural problems, with their causes and remedies, but that would take a lot of space, and then, some could still be left out. So here is something better: a set of principles. When you understand the principle of a matter, then details fall in place without your having to memorize them. Without knowing the principle (or principles) that makes a system work, one has to memorize the “routines” and do them without the understanding needed to individualize them. Yes, the “devil” is in the detail, but each detail is governed by a larger principle.
Principles of Posture Correction
1. Find and remove the cause of poor posture.
It is useless to prescribe (or do) corrective exercises while still doing the same activity, in the same way, that has ruined the posture in the first place. Or not correcting the poor eyesight that forces one to assume a harmful head and neck position for work. Or the weakness of muscles holding and moving an eyeball, which causes a compensatory head tilt.
2. Feel the good posture.
A person who wants to correct his or her posture must be put in a position in which he or she can EASILY maintain the good posture.*
Only after one becomes aware of how the good posture feels and its benefits can one strive to attain it or regain it.
A very important threshold in posture correction is becoming aware of discomfort when letting the posture slip and of the relief that a correction brings.
3. Do corrective exercises (actually, all exercises) in a way that makes it impossible, or at least difficult, to assume a poor posture while exercising.
Why have I singled out the bench press and spinning as examples of stupid exercises?
The short answer:
Because these very popular exercises exacerbate postural problems.
The longer answer:
1. It wastes time and energy that could be used for more effective upper body exercises.
2. It predisposes one to shoulder injuries.
1. More sitting after sitting for most of the day at work.
2. Excessive intensity, which results in the opposite effect than that sought.
The long answer is in Injuries, Sports Training, and Posture, Part II.
* Good posture is such that all muscles exert a minimal effort to maintain it—and all work in a balanced way, with none fatiguing to the point of forcing its load on other muscles. Bad posture is such that some muscles carry most of the load, until they give up and others must compensate. The muscles forced to compensate are not in the best position to do this (“it’s not their job”) and so they get too tense and too short, while those opposing them get lax and too long. The compensations cascade, affecting more and more muscles and causing tension pains, weaknesses, poor stability of joints, and eventually an injury.
And here is an excellent lecture on good posture and exercise:
5 Steps To Correct Bad Posture and Movement Habits–Permanently! by Dr. Steve Hoffman