Hello, my name is Nathane, and (when I am not thinking about it) I have poor posture. It is not uncommon to find myself slouching over the armrest of my office chair. Just because I work out daily and preach the benefits of good posture to my clients all over the world, my 6’4″ frame is not exempt from collapsing like a melting candle, when I allow it to.
Give these 11 tips a serious go and I bet you start feeling better within a week. It isn’t going to be easy as good posture isn’t something that comes naturally and it definitely doesn’t stick around for very long if ignored. Many of you suffer from some sort of hip and back pain, I know this because I specialized in corporate wellness for a while, I work with many of you and I read your questions daily. If you are up for the challenge of potentially relieving some of your aches and pains by improving posture, then follow the recommendations below.
I am going to start by sharing a checklist that Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of Becoming A Supple Leopard created which refers to, what he calls the “organization” that you should follow to align the body in an optimal position before exercise. That’s great, thanks for the tip but what does this have to do with posture? We are helping to correct your posture as the act of sitting, especially for long periods of time, is no different than preparing to perform an exercise. This postural checklist that is done before exercises, can transfer over to the other 22-23 hours each day when not exercising, that being sitting and laying down. It doesn’t matter if you are a person who slouches or a person who sits on the edge of their chair with chest held high and butt pushed out resting on your sit bones, you are probably experiencing discomfort in either the hips, glutes, hip flexors, lower back and/or lower abdominals. Where exactly you experience pain doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this post, as I am not here to diagnose anything, nor am I legally able to do so, but many times these aches, pains and stiffness is the result of poor posture.
While you are reading this, and out of respect for Dr. Starrett, I am going to ask you to stand up and follow my instruction as we get organized.
1. PELVIC TILT
This one is easy, while standing all I want you to do is squeeze your glutes together as hard as you can for a few seconds. 1….2….3….relax. Lets squeeze again but this time only maintain about 20% of that maximum squeeze and try to keep that 20% squeeze, or tone as we call it in the industry, while we go through the next three tips.
2. RIB CAGE DOWN
We have always been told to sit up straight and the first thing we do to accomplish this, is puff out our chest. Boosting up our chest throws our lower back into hyperextension. To correct this, take a deep breath filling the belly, exhale slowly and pull your rib cage down towards your hips. This automatically allows your spine to shift into a neutral position.
3. TONE IN ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
Butt check! Are you still maintaining a 20% squeeze in your butt? If not, the please get it back.
Did you notice when you pulled the rib cage down your abdominal muscles turned on? If you did, great keep holding it. If you didn’t feel it, then take a deep breath again into your belly, and exhale slowly pulling the rib cage down and bracing the abdominal muscles, continue bracing at about 20%.
4. DOUBLE CHIN
At this point your glutes and abdominals are turned on and your rib cage is pulled down, all of which sets your spine in a neutral position. Let’s finish this ideal posture off by pulling your chin back, creating a “double chin.” You will probably feel a stretch in the base at the back of your neck. Notice your ears are situated over your shoulders and your shoulders are directly over the center of your hips.
You now have proper standing posture. The next time you are around a bunch of people standing, for instance while in that line at your favourite organic fairtrade coffee house, or on the street corner waiting for the light to change or at a house party, take a moment and observe the posture of the people around you. See if you can spot anyone, other than your reflection in a mirror or window, who is standing in proper alignment.
5. PREPARING TO SIT
Before sitting down let’s make sure not to lose this great alignment we just created. In order to maintain it, the first action necessary is to think about pushing your hamstrings (back of legs) and glutes back while hinging at the hips. Do so slowly staying aware of the 20% tone in the glutes and abdominals, pulling the ribcage down and maintaining the double chin until your butt and hamstrings reach the chair.
6. RESET OFTEN
You are now in a great position, the question is how long can you hold it for before your body starts to rebel? I admit, holding ideal posture for more than a few minutes is difficult at first, and that is why you should get up and go through the checklist whenever you lose your posture or after every 10 minutes, which ever occurs first. Some of you may be thinking every 10 minutes is way too often and how would you possibly get any work done/ The alternative is back pain and stiffness so just reflect to the last time you elevated from a seated position and didn’t feel your age but rather a much older version of yourself?
LONG TERM SOLUTION
Tips 1-6 are the foundation of long term healthy posture however there are other factors outside the realm of actually sitting (and standing) that need to be addressed.
Every office should invest in tools to offer its staff potential relief from hours of sitting. Depending on the size of the company, we are talking about items that won’t cost more than $120 combined. The return on investment, will come back roughly ten fold, per person. Below are some of my favourite tools and a rough estimate of how much they cost.
Below is a video of how to use some of these tools to perpetuate some relief.
8. DEEP BREATHING
In North America, as a society, we are mostly shallow breathers and and this is a direct result of how much stress we are exposed to and more importantly how poorly we manage it. A few large deep breaths in through the nose filling the belly, or diaphragm (again, not the chest), followed by a slow exhale will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help calm the body. Stress leads to tension and many of us carry that tension in our upper back and neck.
9. STRENGTH TRAINING
Many years ago when I was in the bodybuilding scene, my favourite bodybuilding personality, Bob Chicarello, had a saying “It isn’t how much you lift but how good you look lifting it.” A small paragraph won’t do the topic of strength training any justice but if you follow the cues from tips one through four (include tip five when deadlifting, stiff leg deadlifting, squatting, and lunging) you will be well on your way to safe, injury free training. Make sure the muscles of the upper back are a priority when strength training along with training the core (I hate this trendy word). Here is part one of a seven part blog series I wrote a few years ago that will offer you effective core strengthening alternatives, titled
“Stop with the Crunches Already” (Part 1 of 7)
10. YOGA POSE
Yoga in general is great for posture but the pose in the video below is one that has helped me immensely on a number of occasions when in pain, stemming from poor posture at my desk, to waking up from an awkward sleep position to tweaked muscles as a result of picking things up incorrectly, yes I do this on occasion too, usually picking up something light but doing so while balancing on one leg and reaching beyond a normal range of sensible motion. I learned this pose while studying with Jon Hinds at Monkey Bar Gymnasium.
11. WORK STATION ERGONOMICS
Setting up your workspace unique to you is key and if your setup is not ideal it won’t matter if you follow everything on this list, I guarantee, something will eventually start to hurt.
-The top of the computer screen should bein line with eyes
-Elbows bent with your forearms creating a 90° angle or slightly elevated
-If you use a head rest, it should be no more than 4 four inches away from the center of the back of your head.
-Thighs parallel to the floor and feet should be flat on the floor.
These 11 tips will go a long way in helping to correct your posture. Be aware, as great as these tips are, as soon as you stop practicing them and fall back into poor habits, back pain will likely return. That is why focusing on these maintenance tips daily and having them become habits is so important.