I’m currently studying to be specialized in functional movement, which concentrates on the biomechanics of movement and corrective exercises in order to relieve or prevent pain. One specific area of focus utilizes the importance of good posture, particularly to prevent lower back pain.
The human body is a highly adaptable organism. In some cases, this can be good, such as ballet dancers whose feet need to adapt to pointe shoes. In other cases, this can go very, very wrong for those whose bodies have adapted to poor postural habits. The body thinks that because you’re constantly slouching or sinking into hyperextended knees that it’s supposed to always do that, so it adapts to the functions you commonly put your body through. For example, someone who lifts heavy loads quite a bit is eventually going to adapt to this load lifting if there is no exercise being utilized to balance out the antagonist muscles, which are the opposite muscles in an antagonistic pair that are relaxing while the others are contracting. The contracting muscles become too tight while the relaxing muscles become too weak. Thus, someone who lifts heavy loads is likely going to have a tight abdominals and a weak lower back if they’re not working out to balance out all of their muscles in a functional manner.
As you can see from the graphic above, the posture on the right is correct posture, where all of those little squares designating certain parts of the body are stacked neatly over one another. If you have poor posture, those little squares are going to be all over the place, like Jenga blocks.
As humans, we are not mean to adapt to such poor postural habits. However, it is not uncommon due to the lifestyles we have forced ourselves into. Before agriculture, our ancestors were constantly active with hunting and gathering, which was enough to utilize the body to its full potential. Now that we no longer need to do that, we find ourselves in sedentary lifestyles that either involve standing or sitting too much. At my job, we have to stand too much, which is not good for the body, particularly if you start slouching. My older co-workers suffer with pains as a result of this. In fact, one had varicose veins as a result of standing constantly on hard surfaces. She then had to have surgery. Yet, by utilizing full-body exercises, such pains can be prevented. Take me, for example. Because of ballet and pointe shoes, standing for long periods of time doesn’t bother me at all. Three hours into a shift, and my co-workers are complaining about sore backs and feet and what have you. I, unless my hip is acting up (it usually doesn’t when I am consistent about working out my adductors and abductors), generally don’t have any problems with standing for long periods. I am also very aware of how I am standing as well.
Good posture is being aware about where your body is standing in space. Most people are unaware and not in tune with their bodies. This is where a personal trainer can become handy, as we help people connect with their bodies to understand every movement in space.
The way you can assess good posture is by standing back against a wall and keeping your heels three inches from it. If you can flatten your entire body against the wall, you have good posture. If not, then you need to see what areas need to be adjusted. Can you flatten your lower back? Do you have to look up in order to put your head against the wall? Doing this little exercise will help you become more aware of your body and what it’s doing to compensate for what it cannot do.
Now go out there and get in tune with yourself!
For more information, I recommend reading The Pain-Free Program by Anthony B. Carey.