Learning and maintaining good posture can not only improve how you look, when it comes to exercise it can help boost performance and reduce injury risk. Phoebe Doyle finds out more…
If you hear the word ‘posture’ and think of your Mum nagging you to “stand up straight” whilst you adopted an obligatory teenage slump, you might be forgiven for wanting to tune out right now. But, if you’re someone who’s ever suffered a running injury, a muscle or joint pain after exercise, or even someone who wants to simply improve form, technique and performance, you might be ignoring the power of posture at your peril!
“Adopting correct posture during exercise is essential to ensure you are focusing on the muscle groups the exercise is designed to work and will help to reduce your risk of injury”, says specialised Sports Injury Physiotherapist Chris Myers (www.complete-physio.co.uk ) adding, “What’s more, if you can maintain the correct posture and help focus on the right areas throughout an exercise, you will ensure that you achieve your goals quicker.”
Our posture has consequences for every area of our lives; from carrying our shopping to sitting at our desks – correct stance makes for superior movement, and increased comfort, in all everyday situations. But if you’re someone who regularly exercises, pounds the pavements or rushes to the gym for a thrice weekly session, then posture should sit even more prominently on your list of priorities.
Why is good posture important?
“Good posture results when the muscles of the body align properly, allowing for efficient movement”, says Scott Marsh, Posture Expert from Xcelerate Fitness (www.xceleratefitness.co.uk). Scott explains; “When your body's muscles and joints are balanced and supported properly, you're better able to perform everyday activities and certainly better placed to exercise.
“However, when you are poorly aligned, the joints (e.g. in your shoulders, spine, hips, and knees) do not fit together efficiently. This causes an imbalance, meaning that some muscles will work harder than others. All of this can lead to injury when exercising and will harbour performance success.”
Posture and Exercise…
If you’re a regular runner or gym-go-er you’re likely to be no stranger to the pain of injury. And the physical discomfort is usually coupled with (and often out-weighed by) the enormous annoyance of having to stop exercising and partake in that most annoying of acronyms R.I.C.E (that’s Rest Ice Compress Elevate – if you’re lucky enough not to know!)
“Experts suggest that this frustrating experience of, often re-occurring, injury could be less likely if exercisers improved form and technique, and this largely means improving posture”, says PT Dave Clamp (www.daveclamp.com).
What to do?
Many regular exercisers say that building in Yoga or Pilates into their training can really make a difference. Lead Physio & Pilates Teacher at Physiotherapy Plus, Jen Redfern says: “Pilates focuses on various elements related to health and posture is certainly one of them. Regular Pilates practice can help us learn good posture as the exercises mobilize the spinal and peripheral joints, enhance muscle flexibility, strength and endurance.”
With a focus on core strength, Pilates helps the spine to be stronger and more stable and, Jen says, this in turn assists control of our back, arms and legs, “Good technique whilst undertaking the Pilates repertoire is fundamental to posture, with consideration being given to the head, neck, shoulders, spine, pelvis and lower limb positions. The whole body is considered when practicing the movements, rather than just one particular area.”
Other steps for a posture-friendly workout:
Engage your core: This is all about focusing on your stomach and lower back area, Dave says, “Ensure you engage the core before lifting any weights and always look ahead. This will help the weight workout to be working correctly and efficiently”.
Row your boat (probably best a rowing machine!): Dave says, “To counteract a round shouldered tendency, it is an important part of an exercise regime to perform exercises that use the muscles of the upper back, especially those between your shoulder blades.” Rowing is great for this – so increase your usual intensity and distance!
Become a vain gym-bunny: “When at the gym, a good tip is to exercise near a mirror so that you can check that you are holding your shoulders up and holding your core muscles firm in the stomach area”, advises Dave.
Final Thoughts… Pondering Posture
Just because us regular exercisers need to give more thought to posture, it doesn’t mean that exercise is bad for posture, in fact on the contrary. Don’t forget our bodies are designed for activity; built to run, climb and jump. Far better that we move more and slump over our laptops a whole lot less! But hundreds of thousands of years of running could only have happened with easy, balanced posture which minimises damage and maximises efficiency. In 2012 living, with ‘slumping over laptop’ being the default position for most, we need to give posture extra thought and care and as Dave says, “Just think back to your mother telling you to sit up straight... good advice indeed.”
Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
Jen Redfern tells us how to…
Lie: We should aim to align the head in line with the spine, ribs gently lifted away from the floor/mat and neutral position of the pelvis. When working the muscles around the hip, use of the upper arm for support can help to maintain this posture, as can bending the underneath leg.
Sit: Neutral pelvis is also the aim with a gentle feeling of lift in the breastbone. This helps to maintain a neutral spine and minimises pressure on the joints, discs and soft tissues around the spine. It also enhances shoulder and neck posture which is particularly relevant for seated work postures.
Stand: Even weight between the toes and heels should be encouraged, rather than weight bearing more through one side which can stress the hip, pelvis and lower back unnecessarily. As with the other positions, a neutral pelvis position is vital with the ribcage positioned in line with the pelvis. Often by imagining a string on the top of the head guiding you upwards can be a sufficient way of getting someone to think more about their posture in standing...and they tend to grow an inch!