We’ve all heard them all before, so often that they stick with us even today. Fix your posture! Shoulders back! Stand up straight! Stern motherly commands reminding us of our postural deficiencies and exhorting us to repair them. This assumes poor posture is a choice, however, and that posture can be changed. Coach D explains how posture is the result of both genetics, environment, and our habits, and discusses whether poor posture is something that can — or should — be fixed.
What is good posture, anyway? Coach D explains normal, good posture as measured against a plumb line — a vertical line that bisects the body in the frontal, sagittal, and transverse planes. From a side (transverse) view, that line should:
- Fall in the middle or slightly anterior of the earlobe
- Bisect the acromion process,
- Down through the middle of the elbow (the hands will be slightly forward)
- The spine should show a gentle double S curve from the cervical to sacral region.
- The plumb line should bisect the middle of the thorax down through the greater trochanter of the hip,
- Bisect the knee,
- And end at the lateral malleolus of the foot (the fibula and ankle joint).
Remember, though, humans are not symmetrical! Joint angles, limb lengths, and other structures vary, meaning humans will vary somewhat from the “ideal posture” spelled out above. If there are no symptoms, and movement quality is good, don’t worry about it! There is no data that suggests people with perfect posture are healthier than those who don’t.
Nevertheless, we sometimes see problems with movement quality that, although they may not present problems at lower loads (for strength training) or intensities, may cause problems as the trainee progresses. In this case, fixing postural issues — to the extent they CAN be fixed — becomes important. One example is an older trainee who cannot fully flex their shoulder, i.e. they cannot raise their arm high enough to get their thumb over their midline.
Recall from episode #41 – Why So (Up)Tight? Developing Mobility and Flexibility for Life that the mobility of a joint is a function of both structural (bony structures, ligaments, etc.) and functional (tendon and muscle attachments, elasticity of tendons) components. Barring surgery, bony structures cannot be changed. Soft tissue, on the other hand, can be made more pliable through dynamic, loaded stretching. Soft tissues become more plastic as we age, however, so there is a limit to the mobility gains of soft tissue as well.
Coach D recommends that, in addition to strength training (which is itself an excellent form of dynamic, loaded stretch), trainees trying to correct postural deficiencies focus on the antagonist muscle groups. For instance, a lifelong powerlifter who has only trained the bench press will likely present with forward rounded, heavily developed anterior shoulders. To correct this, she should focus on stretches and strength exercises that work the antagonists of the bench press: the lats, rear deltoids, the traps, and other shoulder flexors.
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