Aesthetics, Balance, Coordination, Speed, Power, Longevity & More
NOTE: This article explores posture and movement limited in context to the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, joints and connective tissues). It will not cover the role of the nervous system, other lesser involved organ systems or subsystems within the musculoskeletal system such as bone marrow or blood, or degenerative diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system.
Think about this:
Imagine a 300 lb professional football player tackled you. Your head slams forward against their weight, straining the back of your neck and giving you whiplash. This hurt, but only happened once and lasted one second.
Now imagine sitting at a computer all day, slouched, with your head just 3 inches forward with your back rounded. The average human head is 11 lbs. There are 2,400 seconds in a 40 hour work week. 11 lbs x 2,400 seconds is a cumulative 26,400 lbs of force pulling on your neck in just one work week. That’s exactly 88 times more tension than that one tackle!
Now, there are so many things wrong with this example: physics, distance, force being applied all at once versus over time, and the practicality of you getting hit by a professional football player. However, the example stands. Poor posture over time is painful and causes unnecessary strains on your body.
What is Posture & Form?
Posture refers to the alignment of your body’s musculo-skeletal system: bones, muscles, joints and connective tissues. Proper posture creates a stable environment for your body at rest.
Movement form refers to how your musculo-skeletal system moves through space. Proper movement lets you create motion efficiently without resistance.
Improper posture and movement can cause instability, loss of power, joint wear or deterioration, and increased risk of orthopedic injuries or conditions. Plus, it just doesn’t look good.
In this article we will explain what proper posture is, why it’s important, how the body moves, and how to maintain, fix and develop your musculo-skeletal system properly to improve your daily living and exercise plan.
Let’s get moving!
The Musculoskeletal System
The musculoskeletal system is the framework of your body, creating stability and giving humans the ability to move. It is primarily comprised of these parts:
- Skeleton – the rigid framework of your body made up of bones
- Skeletal Muscles – contractile tissue that creates movement in bones
- Ligaments – fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone
- Tendons – fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone
- Joints – points where two bones fit together
- Cartilage – a flexible connective tissue aiding in articulation and padding at joints
- Bursa sac – a fluid filled membrane providing lubrication at joints
Your skeletal system is made of many bones in many shapes and sizes. These bones create a rigid framework that supports your weight and organs.
Joints, think “join,” are where two bones meet, allowing the bones to move independently. Joints also come in many shapes and sizes. The elbow joint is an example of a hinge joint. It lets your upper and lower arms bend and extend, but not rotate. Your shoulder and hip joints are ball and socket joints, allowing multiplanar range of motion.
Your muscles are contractile tissue, meaning they can lengthen and shorten. Tendons are thick, fibrous connective tissues that join bones to muscles. When muscles contract, they pull on tendons which pull on muscles, creating movement at a joint. Compound movements are movements that involve multiple muscles, across multiple joints.
Ligaments are similar to tendons in makeup, but they join bone to bone. Ligaments primarily provide support and limit excess movement at the joint, such as hyperextension.
Understanding these basic parts allows us to break down posture and movement so we can understand what’s proper, what’s not, and how to maintain and restore good posture and movement.
What is Proper Posture?
In science and medicine, the human body is studied from the Standard Anatomical Position. The standard anatomical position is a person standing upright, eyes straight ahead, with legs straight and slightly apart, feet flat and forward, arms out to the sides slightly off the body with palms facing forward and thumbs away from the body.
Establishing a standard anatomical position is important so health, fitness and medical professionals have a uniform way of addressing the body.
Let’s make this a bit more practical.
Simply put, proper posture means your body is in anatomical alignment with no deviations that cause imbalances. Your musculoskeletal system is at rest with the muscles and connective tissues creating a balanced, stable environment.
Issues arise when you are off balance.
Bad posture, if you haven’t guessed already, is any deviation that causes misalignment or imbalance.
When we say imbalance, we are not referring to stepping on something and losing your balance, although this counts. What we are talking about is an imbalance caused by life and exercise.
Importance of Posture
Posture plays a very important role in everything that you do. Here are just a few examples:
Slouching compresses your torso, chest and diaphragm, limiting your breathing and oxygen intake. Oxygen fuels everything that you do, so poor posture limits everything you do.
Your body is designed to move a certain way. If you have knots, tightness, your alignment is off, or any combination, your body can’t move the way it’s supposed to. You may be exerting 100% but wasting 5%. Over time, that’s a lot of wasted energy.
For example, if your hamstrings are tight and you can’t extend your knee the last two inches, if you run 1 mile and take 2,000 steps, you wasted 4,000 inches of productivity. It’s much easier, and safer, to release the tension in your hamstring than to keep running to make up that 4,000 inches.
Force Production, Speed & Power
Misaligned and shortened muscles cannot contract fully which limits their ability to generate force, speed and power. Building on the previous point, anything that compromises the ability of a muscle to move properly directly limits speed and power. Sprinting in a straight line will yield more speed than sprinting at an angle while hurdling obstacles.
Balance & Stability
Tight muscles can’t fully lengthen or contract. At rest, this restricts the body from maintaining a fully erect posture. During movement, the skeleton is restricted by these muscles and is not able to move freely through its ranges of motion. The resistance from shortened muscles pulls on the skeleton knocking it off balance.
Longevity & Injury Prevention
Poor posture unevenly loads joints and supportive tissue which can wear on the body prematurely and put a person at greater risk of injury. Many common issues like meniscus and labral tears occur because poor posture and form put your skeleton in a position where it grinded away at the padding in your joints.
Proper posture can make you taller, broader, and more relaxed.
Common Causes of Bad Posture
There are many other factors that can contribute to poor posture and form. Some are biological, some from accidents, but for the vast majority or the population, the most common causes of poor posture come from lifestyle, bad exercise plans (or no plan at all), and bad form when exercising.
Here is a small list of common lifestyle causes:
- Prolonged sitting causing rounding in the lower back (posterior pelvic tilt)
- Prolonged computer use causing tight shoulders, a rounded upper spine, and forward head position (upper cross syndrome)
- Wearing heels or unsupportive shoes for prolonged periods of time shifting your pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt)
- Looking down at a phone all day making your head and spine look like a wilting flower
A few common exercise examples are:
- Not properly balancing muscles during exercise such as doing heavy pressing exercises like bench presses more often than similar pulling motions
- Lifting weights that are too heavy and cause jerking or use of bad form
- Not using full ranges of motions or “locking out” when appropriate
- Not warming up, stretching and rolling
How to Prevent Developing Bad Posture & Form
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of correction. Basically, do your best to not contribute to the deterioration of your posture and form.
- Be mindful of your sitting and standing posture. Keep your head up, shoulders back, breathe deep, and relax
- Avoid uncomfortable shoes and heavy clothing, bags, or other accessories that may put you out of alignment or weigh down your joints
- Invest in ergonomic accessories for work such as ergonomic standing pads and chairs
- Stretch regularly and consider adding gentle, restorative activities such as yoga, swimming, steam and sauna therapy, or tai chi into your routine
- Make sure you have a balanced exercise plan, not loading any particular muscle group more than others
- Consider hiring a professional to help create an exercise plan and teach you form, at least until you feel comfortable doing exercises on your own
- Don’t push yourself too much. You don’t always need to lift the heaviest weights. Focus on form and consistency. Strength will come
- Rest, relax, eat well, stay hydrated, and prioritize sleep
How to Restore Posture & Improve Movement
Identify any imbalances and improper movement patterns. Release any areas that are restricted. Activate and strengthen any musculature that is underactive. Condition proper movement patterns once deviations are addressed.
For example, someone who types on a computer all day may have:
- Kyphosis (rounded upper spine)
- Internally rotated humerus, protracted and elevated scapula (shoulders turned in, shoulder blades widened and bunched up)
- Anterior shift of head and cervical spine (forward head position)
The correction would be:
- Release internal rotators of the humerus with manual therapy (open chest muscles through massage/foam rolling/trigger point release)
- Activate scapular retractors (turn on rhomboids and strengthen them)
- Stretch and elongate the front of the torso
- Strengthen spinal extensors
- Prevent relapse by fixing sitting posture and environment
Another common example for runners is:
a runner who starts developing pain down the side of their leg and IT band into their knee. Symptoms include:
- Pain down the sides of legs and IT band
- Knee or ankle pain
- Knock knees (knee valgus)
- Fatigue and inflammation
- Tight hips
The corrections would be:
- Strengthen glutes/butt muscles to keep femur from internally rotating causing knock knees
- Strengthen abductor complex and Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip-Complex (LPHC) to support legs tracking in line rather than falling to the midline of the body which hyperextends the IT band
- Barefoot balance exercise to teach small muscles of the foot to activate and prevent inversion/eversion of the ankle
Unfortunately, most of the time people don’t realize their form and posture is deteriorating, or they don’t know how to properly restore it. A qualified health or fitness professional can help you create a plan that properly addresses any imbalances while developing your strength and conditioning.
Consider talking with a sports physical therapist or experienced personal trainer with a corrective exercise background for help. We would also be happy to assist, just send us a message or schedule a free consult here: cygmaperformance.com/contact.
Maintaining good posture and form will help keep your body healthy longer. You’ll breathe better, look better, move better, and feel better. Good form will reduce your risk of acute or overuse injuries and unnecessary strains on the body. Plus, your strength, speed, endurance and power will all improve!