I love people watching. And as a movement nerd, I am always fascinated by seeing the way people move their bodies through space. What makes me really sad is seeing younger and younger people adopting shapes previously reserved for seniors. Shoulders are slumped and internally rotated. The thoracic (upper) spine is overly rounded. People are walking around with their head out in front of their body. And toes are increasingly pointed out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to walk around looking like a duck! Repetitive patterns will dictate the form we take. Unfortunately, our modern devices and long hours at desks move us quickly out of alignment. But there are daily measures that you can take to keep your body in line.
I love my phone as much as the next person. I text, email, and check various social medias. All the while my hands are together in front holding my phone. This causes rounding of my upper back, and my head is jutting out in front. (This also goes for tablets.) So you know what I do when I catch myself here? I put my phone down! Of course, I pick it up again later. But I try to use my phone in snack sized time increments. That gives my body periods out of modern-device-position.
I try to use my phone in snack sized time increments. That gives my body periods out of modern-device-position.
Desk time falls into a similar category. I’m sure you have all seen headlines about how excessive sitting is bad for you, so I am not going to get into too many details. It contributes to the same upper body conditions as our handheld devices, but also the constant hip flexion causes tight psoas muscles and weak glutes. Many people’s jobs require long hours at a desk, but there are strategies to counter the stress that it puts on the body. First, is to sit with good posture. Keep your pelvis from tucking under you and think about your spine being long. Sit on your sit bones. When I am at sitting at the computer for a while, I like to periodically squeeze my shoulder blades together to remind my shoulders that they belong on either side of my body, not in front of me. Also, from time to time find something far away to look at. It will help bring your head out of screen position. If your office has the option of a desk that can raise and lower, spend some time sitting and some standing. Anything done all the time will cause imbalances, so the more you can change your position, the better.
Time to move away from adverse impacts on our alignment and on to proactive steps that you can take to create and maintain youthful and strong posture. First, stand tall! I remember as a child being told not to slouch, but as an adult, it is my responsibility to remind myself. When you are standing still, take your hands and place them directly at your sides. Your middle finger should follow the seam down the sides of your pants. My hands want to go more towards my front pockets, so this is something that I am always adjusting. With your hands at your sides, your shoulders will open up. Point your feet straight forward when you walk. Use the outside of your foot as a measure for that straight line. And lastly, your head goes on top of your body, not in front. Forcing your muscles to hold your head up, instead of letting your skeleton do its function, can lead to chronic tight neck and shoulders and even headaches. Let your bones do the work!
It is also important to create a strong frame to hold your bones and joints in place. I have heard the posterior chain (muscles on the back of your body) referred to as the muscles of youth. A strong back and glutes can help hold the body in alignment. Plus who doesn’t like having a good butt? So even if your exercise of choice is Muay Thai, come in for Kettlebells or Fighter Fit at least once a week to get in some pulling movements and some squatting and hinging (deadlift, swing, goat bag). My favorite pull is the pull-up. If you aren’t doing strict pull-ups yet, using a resistance band for assistance will give you the same benefits. Rows are great too, and there are many variations (TRX, kettlebell, dumbells, barbell, sandbag, plank, etc.), so there is a good option for all strength and experience levels.
Lastly, stay mobile!
Come in for our Recovery and Mobility class on Sunday to get supple. The couch stretch, which is part of every session, is is by far the best stretch to combat hours spent at a desk. It may be extremely uncomfortable at first. It was for me! But I did it three times a week for three minutes on each side for a few months, and I saw drastic improvements. We also work on quite a bit of shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, as that is a common point of tightness for many people. I feel much better, move with more fluidity, and stand taller when I incorporate this mobility work into my routine.
The benefits of optimizing your posture are numerous. It can alleviate headaches, make you less prone to injury as your body doesn’t have excessive stress on specific points. It has been shown to increase testosterone and reduce cortisol. And ladies, we need testosterone too, just not as much as the men. The increase is appropriate to the gender, so no need to worry. Proper loading of the skeleton also sends a mechanical bone building signal, so it helps bone density. Plus, good posture simply looks good! I think these are reasons enough to break our modern-device-positions, mobilize, get strong backsides, and hold our bodies in proper alignment!