How To Improve Your Posture, Part I

posture

Posture. I don’t talk about it much here because it seems a little, well, boring. On the other hand, when it comes to fitness, it’s of major, major importance: where your ‘neutral’ is determines everything about the way you move, how the various parts of your body are stressed all day, every day, indeed, it determines a lot about how you’re going to age: whether you’re going to look vigorous and fit in old age or more like Liam Neeson in Ethan Frome after the sledding accident (obscure movie reference alert!).

Most health-conscious people know this already, however, and many will take steps to improve their posture in the gym–some by doing core exercises, some by working the scapular retractors, some by doing lots of low-back movements. As far as I can see, however, trying to ‘fix’ your posture through traditional exercises is almost always ineffective.

Here’s the trouble with postural exercises as I see them: optimum posture is not really a matter of muscular strength, or even muscular endurance. In many, perhaps most cases, flexibility or joint mobility isn’t really the major key either. So working to improve posture by addressing only muscular strength, flexibility, and/or joint mobility, though it would seem to solve the problem, only addresses the symptoms of the root cause of bad posture.

The root cause of poor posture lies in the nervous system. It’s the nervous system which controls the muscles, of course, which in turn move the joints of the body into the various shapes you assume throughout your day. The muscles, as important as they are, are really foot soldiers. They’re grunts, and they ain’t that smart. They just do what you tell them to do: lengthen or shorten. Contract or relax. Work hard, work soft, anything in between.

By posture, we’re not just talking about the shape your body takes when you’re standing or sitting upright; really we’re talking about all your physical habits, which includes how you look and feel when you pick up a child, a bag of groceries, how you get up out of a car seat, as well as how you lift a dumbbell or perform any athletic movement. As mentioned above, posture is where your ‘neutral’ is and how that plays into every movement you do.

We are, for better or worse, creatures of habit. Again, the muscles just do what we tell them, and typically, if we find something that works–even if it’s sub-optimal–we tend to stick with it. This is true on a physical level and on a psychological level as well: think of your favorite restaurants in the city or town where you live. Did you systematically try every restaurant in town before you settled on the ones you like the best, or have you tried just a few and keep returning back to those because they ‘work’? When you see and interact with your parents, do you immediately revert to the twelve-year-old version of yourself because that ‘works’ and you don’t know a different way of relating with them?

Habits die hard. We find behaviors that are ‘good enough’ and tend to stick with them, sometimes even at the cost of our own health (fill in your unhealthy habit of choice here).

Throw in the fact that our personal history tends to narrow our options significantly, and it’s kind of a wonder that anyone changes any behavior, ever. Postural habits, shaped by personal experience, a lifetime of repetitive movement patterns, and whatever injuries and traumas you’ve happened upon in your life, aren’t going to give up just because you did a few shoulder-retraction exercises and plank exercises. Much as I like that stuff and agree that it’s helpful, it’s a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to fixing an ingrained issue like a postural inefficiency.

I see programs all the time that include ‘corrective’ exercises designed to improve posture and physical habits. You do them ten minutes a day, three days a week, for four weeks. Then, presumably, your problems are fixed and you move on to hardcore training.

Dreamworld.

Sorry for the cliffhanger, but I’ve got to pick this up next time. More on this soon.

Comments about your own experiences with corrective exercises–in agreement with the above or absolutely, adamantly opposed to it–are encouraged and welcome.

About Andrew Heffernan 3 Articles

I’ve been a professional trainer since 2003 and since then have helped people from diverse backgrounds achieve their fitness goals.

From corporate types to schoolteachers to luminaries in the entertainment industry, I’ve helped clients lose weight, bulk up, and feel their best in record time.

Finally—and I think, most importantly—I’ve helped to reshape how people feel about, and think about their bodies, so they feel great 24-7.

Nationally Recognized Expert: 

In the last few years, I’ve become a go-to resource for some of the top fitness publications in the country.

I’ve written dozens of articles for national magazines, including Men’s Health, Experience Life (where I am a contributing editor), and T-Nation.com.

I have also co-written two books on fitness:

 The Exercise Cure (Rodale) and

Your New Prime (HarperWave).

 In 2012 I presented a lecture on the Feldenkrais Method® at the IDEA Fitness Summit in San Diego

23 Comments

  1. The god issue aside, I definitely think consulting adults who choose polygamy should be left the fuck alone. In fact, it’s only BECAUSE of “god” that society persecutes them. It’s one of those non-moral problems, that is turned into one ONLY once you insert religious viewpoints. Minus them, there can be no rational argument against it.

  2. まずは、ご懐妊おめでとうございます。そしてコメント、ありがとうございます。こちらの「井戸端会議」に相談させて頂く前は、私の体を心配した実母から「あと2回くらい移植したらもう止めなさい」と言われたり、夫からは「卵がたくさんあるんだからそれが無くなるまでは頑張ろう(=12回)」と言われたり、もうすっかり混乱してしまって・・・気持ちばかりが焦って自分の考えがまとまらない状態でした。でも、今はお陰さまで「休み休み進めばいいんだ」と思えるようになりました。あきさんのおっしゃるように、「もうあと一歩!」と考え、ダメでも焦らないで趣味のことなど、妊娠以外のことを考える時間を増やしたいと思います。夫や主治医からは、「あと12回分もあるんだから」と良い意味で言われますが、私にはかえってプレッシャーとなっていて、「これで妊娠しなければ、あと12回も続けなきゃならないの?」と気が重くなっていました。先々のことは考えないようにして、穏やかに過ごす方法を何とか見つけたいと思います。

  3. Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  4. In my country ( cape? verde) 80% of the houses use the roof to capture water, and store it in a underground reservoir. This would be an extraordinary idea for the USA, because America rains more than my African country. You can use the water for gardening, bathroom, Swimining pool, and much more. You will be saving money and the environment.

  5. Rufus II that's a good point. I just did a quick check and did not see any numbers. Maybe a more detailed look will find the numbers for business starts and closing each month. Funny that we can get the housing numbers, but not the business starts and closing. I probably looked in the wrong place.

  6. I’ve been making a dent in my stash mainly by not buying new stuff and knitting what I have. I agree with you on knitting being both soothing and productive. I do miss reading and wish I could knit and read together but since I’ve had to pick one, it’s knitting all the way!

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